Ken Thomson

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) ask questions in order to elicit data and/or statements of intent from the Scottish Government (SG). Answers are published on the Parliament’s website. A few, published since July 2021, are given below (slightly edited) on topics likely to be of interest to Mountain Views readers.

Question S6W-04839, asked by: Sharon Dowey, 6 December 2021: How much has [the SG] spent on saving the capercaillie in the last 10 years?

Horse of the woods sighmanb cc by-sa 2.0

Answer, by Lorna Slater, 20 December 2021: The Forestry Grant Scheme … will provide £307,759 of support specifically for capercaillie between 2016 and 2025. Prior to this, the SG paid out £781,452 between 2008 and 2019. NatureScot (formerly SNH) made payments of £544,705 towards the research and conservation of capercaillie in Scotland during the period December 2011 – December 2021. Other SG funding in support of habitat management is likely to have benefited capercaillie but where not specifically provided for this species no breakdown is available.

Question S6W-04046, by Beatrice Wishart, 4 November 2021: In light of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s seventh quinquennial review of schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, what assessment has [the SG] made of the potential removal of schedule 5 legal protection for mountain hares, and would [the SG] support such a recommendation?

Answer by Lorna Slater, 18 November 2021: The JNCC published stakeholders consultation, including a list of provisional recommendations regarding the addition, retention, regrading or removal of each species on 08 November 2021. Those proposed recommendations do not include the removal of schedule 5 legal protection for mountain hares.

Mountain hares are now a protected species following the passage of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) Act in June 2020. The protection came into force on 1 March 2021, meaning that the species can no longer be taken for sporting or recreational purposes. We will also continue to work with several partner organisations to continue to improve our understanding of mountain hare populations across Scotland, along with other work, to support the conservation status of this iconic species.

Question S6W-03212, by Alexander Burnett, 28 September 2021; What action is [the SG] taking to ensure that grouse moor management is fully supported, in light of the recent report published by the University of Northampton, Sustainable Grouse Shooting?, which stated that “Compared with upland areas where grouse shooting does not take place, the biodiversity of ‘grouse moors’ seems to be at least as rich, if not richer”, and the reported comment by the First Minister that she has an “unwavering commitment to address biodiversity loss across all ministerial portfolios”, and what analysis it has carried out of the biodiversity of these moors?

Answer, by Mairi McAllan, 20 October 2021: The SG recognises that well-managed grouse moors can produce favourable habitats for certain species such as curlews and that land managers have an important role to play in enhancing biodiversity. As I set out in my response to question S6W-03211 on 20 October 2021, the SG commissioned Scotland’s Rural College and the James Hutton Institute to undertake extensive research into the biodiversity and economic impacts of grouse moors, and the findings of this research were taken into account when we developed our response to the Werritty review. The research found that, whilst some land management actions undertaken on grouse moors could enhance biodiversity, the findings were clear that there could also be a negative impact resulting in species decline.

All of these factors will be taken into account when we publish our new biodiversity strategy in Autumn 2022 followed by an underpinning 5 year delivery plan, including changes in the way we use and manage land and our approach to protecting habitats and ecosystems. We have also announced that we will introduce a Natural Environment Bill in year 3 of the current session, which will include statutory, enforceable targets for nature restoration, and actions to deliver on our ambitious voluntary commitment to protect 30% of Scotland’s land and seas by 2030, with 10% highly protected. We will invest at least £500 million in the natural economy over the course of this Parliament, including £150 million for forestry, ongoing investment in peatland restoration and multi-year funding for the Nature Restoration Fund.

Question S6W-06069, by Colin Smyth, 1 February 2022: “What is [the SG’s] position on data published by NatureScot reportedly stating that the deer population in Scotland now exceeds one million and is increasing?

Answer by Mairi McAllan, 2 March 2022: The review of deer management by the independent Deer Working Group (DWG) found that deer populations in Scotland have grown significantly since 1990, when the population estimate was approximately 512,000 wild deer. The DWG estimated the current deer population to be in excess of one million animals through analysis of data published by NatureScot in recent years. We have no reason to doubt the credibility of this estimate. The DWG report is also clear that high densities of deer cause not only serious environmental and agricultural damage, but may also have a detrimental effect on wild deer welfare. That is why we asked the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission to consider recommendations made by the report, and we considered their views alongside all other evidence when forming our response, published last year.

Question S6W-03493, by Alexander Burnett, 6 October 2021: What assessment was made of deer-browsing damage in all state forests prior to a licence being given to Forestry and Land Scotland to cull them out-of-season?

Answer by Mairi McAllan, 10 November 2021: FLS takes an evidence-led approach to its deer management activities. On the National Forests and Land (NFL), FLS has a target of not incurring more than 10% deer damage to young trees. In 2020 the 3-year rolling average of deer damage impacts was 18% for the leaders on young trees, i.e. trees planted for 1 year in the ground. The regional variation for damage impacts ranged from 7% to 38% in 2020. Along with monitoring deer impacts on biodiversity, FLS also monitors deer populations (densities). Over the past 5 years, approximately one third of NFL have been surveyed as part of a rolling programme. The mean average deer densities in these survey areas have ranged from 4.2 deer per km2 to 64.7 deer per km2. The FLS target range as published in the FLS deer management strategy in 2014 is between 2 and 7 deer per km2. Of the land surveyed in the last five years, 89% has deer density well above this widely accepted [target?].

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