THE Scottish Government is facing calls from more than 120 academics – including a Nobel laureate – to end “cruel” predator control measures on shooting moors.

Other animals which prey on grouse are killed to boost their numbers so they can be shot for sport.

A new report by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics said as many as 260,000 are killed for this purpose every year.

The report has the backing of Scottish academics St Andrews, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Aberdeen, and South African novelist and academic JM Coetzee, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2003.

Animals are killed by traps, snares and poison, with snaring singled out in the report for “inevitably” meaning that “animals can struggle for hours in considerable pain and distress”.

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The report also said the most humane trap used only kills 80% of its victims quickly, while the remaining 20% die slowly from injuries.

It comes as MSPs consider the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill, which would set new restrictions on how people can capture and kill certain wild birds and wild animals.

The Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, said predators were a "major moral issue”.

He added: “It simply cannot be right to cause tremendous suffering for non-essential purposes.

“When we began the report, we knew hardly anything about these control measures, but we have been staggered by the degree of suffering.

“Few people are cognizant of the situation. It is a much neglected and overlooked area of animal cruelty.”

The report calls on the Scottish Government to bring in new laws to recognise the “sentiency” of wild animals.

The report said: “Scotland could lead the way in pioneering legislation that encompasses not only domestic animals, but also free-living ones. This legislation should begin with the recognition of sentiency and enshrine in law the value and dignity of free-living animals such that their right to live unmolested is respected.”

Robbie Marsland, director of the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland, said grouse moors were an “animal ethics free zone”.

He added: “This report clearly outlines the ethical case against this uncontrolled killing. The biggest surprise is that any suggestion that this killing should stop is met with incredulity by the shooting fraternity. We hope the report will open the eyes of politicians considering the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill to the enormous ethical issues before them.”

The bill would create a new licensing scheme for some types of traps used to kill wild animals, as well as outlawing the use of glue traps on most animals.

Environment Minister Gillian Martin said: “The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill contains a range of measures that will strengthen protections for our wildlife, ensure that grouse moors are managed in a sustainable way, and will combat the blight of raptor persecution throughout Scotland. 

“It is clear that the use of snares risks unacceptable levels of harm to both animals targeted by snares and those accidentally caught in them. 

“We therefore intend to bring proposals forward for a complete ban on the use of snares in Scotland during stage two of the bill.”