A CHARITY is calling on MSPs to ensure that new legislation meaningfully protects animals from illegal killing.

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill currently making its way through parliament aims to introduce a licensing scheme for the grouse shooting industry in a bid to end the illegal killing of birds of prey.

If passed, it will also more strictly regulate the trapping the animals such as foxes and the use of muirburn by landowners. 

On Wednesday, the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee will debate the Stage 2 amendments to the draft bill.

The National: Hen harriers are one the species it is hoped the legislation will protectHen harriers are one the species it is hoped the legislation will protect (Image: Andy Hay/RSPB Scotland)

Some amendments, such as Tory MSP Edward Mountain’s proposal to exclude the over-40s from animal trap training, have already been criticised by campaigners.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, urged MSPs to ensure the final legislation acted as a “meaningful deterrent” to wildlife crime.

“For too long, the illegal killing of birds of prey, inextricably linked to intensive grouse moor management, has been a stain on Scotland’s international reputation,” he said. “We hope that these new laws will, at last, provide a meaningful deterrent.

“We strongly support the proposals set out in this legislation and commend the Scottish Government for bringing them forward and the Scottish Parliament for its overwhelming support for the principles of the bill at stage 1.

”RSPB Scotland is urging the members of the rural affairs committee to reject some of the proposed changes to the bill that would apply to grouse shooting and muirburn licences, calling them ‘unnecessary and unworkable’ and says they ‘undermine the overall intention of the bill’” .

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It comes after new research found that the voluntary code advising landowners not to undertake muirburn on peatland was failing to have an impact in Scotland.

Orr-Ewing added that the licencing of muirburn had to protect peatlands.

He said: “Muirburn is a high-risk land management activity which is currently weakly regulated by legislation which is almost 80 years old and desperately needs to be brought into the 21st century.

“We believe a licence should only be awarded if, as the Bill states, it is appropriate to do so, including ensuring that those undertake this practice are professionally trained, and that peatlands – our most important carbon stores – are effectively protected from damage.”

RSPB Scotland has previously estimated that 35 satellite-tagged birds of prey disappeared on Scotland’s grouse moors between 2017 and 2022, including golden eagles, hen harriers and white-tailed eagles.