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Scottish Land and Estates - Moorland Conference 2024 - Report

Jim Fairlie at the Scottish land and estates moorland conference.

Tuesday 11th June was a big day for upland land managers in Scotland with the first open public forum and run through of the new Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Act 2024, introducing three new licences for ‘the taking and killing of red grouse (16AA Licensing (Grouse))’, muirburn and the use of certain wildlife traps, as well as the two associated Codes of Practice for Grouse Moor Management and for Muirburn.

The day was expertly opened by Scottish Land & Estates Chief Executive Sarah-Jane Laing, with host for the day Ross Ewing (SLE Director of Moorland) taking the reins and running us through the history of the bill and where we are now with the resulting legislation. The slots throughout the day were interspersed by MSPs including Jim Fairlie, Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity with his strong views on desired changes in the rural sector. Rachael Hamilton MSP put across honest views on the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee and was followed by the committees convenor, Finlay Carson MSP,  who joined Rachael in describing the challenges of bringing forward a workable piece of legislation in what they felt was a constant uphill battle against an urban-centric government.

It was reassuring for those of a sporting persuasion to hear NatureScot demonstrate willing to have grouse shooting licences in place by the 12th August this year, and that it would be primarily an online registration rather than an application process.

Of most specific note to CCP and peatlands, was the review on Muirburn licencing, and the new changes to the Codes of Practice. The new Code of Practice comes into play on the 15th September 2025, and mainly focuses around the following:

  • The new burning season will be the 15th September until 31st March (Currently 1st October to 15th April).
  • Deep Peat will be classified as anything deeper than 40cm in depth (previously 50cm in depth), thus reducing the overall area of land where muirburn will be licensable.
  • The licence will sit with the landowner and it will be differentiated between Peat and Non-Peat areas, with both having to be highlighted on a map that is submitted with the licence application.
  • There are four exceptions to being allowed to burn on peat, of which are as follows:
    • For the purposes of restoring the Natural Environment.
    • To reduce the risk of loss of habitat through wildfire
    • To reduce the risk of loss of property by wildfire.
    • Research purposes.
  • Landowners will not be able to carry out muirburn on deep peat for the purposes of Game and Wildlife management.
  • Compliance checks can be carried out by NatureScot on estates who have licences to make sure they are not burning on areas of peat and on areas where the licence has not been granted.
  • Two quick ways to lose your licence will be to burn without a licence, or to burn out with the approved licence areas.

The mapping being submitted with the licence application can be derived from an online database being developed by NatureScot which is expected to be a blend of the existing online peat and carbon maps along with soil type maps, which will narrow down the areas the licence can be submitted for to make it easier for the end user to get correct. It is also proposed that the peat depths in certain areas will have to be manually peat probed in order to verify the exact points where muirburn can start if the mapping is unclear, but what there was a distinct lack of clarity on was what the trigger is between the online maps and when the manual intervention has to take place and also what the methodology will be for carrying out peat depth surveys. Caledonian Climate will remain close to these developments and will report back when we have clarity on the approved approach.As ever, we will continue to support our clients in making sure that their peatland assets are managed effectively and in line with regulations – we believe this will be of particular relevance as sporting estates continue to muirburn under licence nearby to their restored peatland sites.

After a heartwarming close to the day by SLE Chair – Dee Ward, I felt the day brought around what could be considered a weight (albeit a small one) lifted off upland managers shoulders after several years of uncertainty around how upland moorland management will take place in years to come under the existing Government. The hard work carried out by the likes of Ross Ewing and Ashley McCann (SLE Legal Advisor) has hopefully set a marker which will allow a blend of different integrated land management practices to take place, whether that be for sporting purposes or for Natural Capital ambitions , which can both work together and alongside each other in an effort to meet Scotland’s Net Zero targets.

Andrew Adamson - Head of Operations 

For more information on this article, please contact:

Freddie Ingleby

Managing Director

+44 (0) 7840 998 944

About Caledonian Climate

Working responsibly with the custodians of Scotland’s beautiful countryside, Caledonian Climate is committed to tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

To achieve this, we talk to forward-thinking businesses who want to fulfil their ambitions for carbon emission reductions through high-quality carbon credits with multiple co-benefits. We then partner them with landholders in the Scottish Highlands, maximising the ecological value and sustainability of their estates.

Building on our significant experience, and guided by a distinguished Advisory Board, Caledonian Climate is delivering the benchmark for long-term restoration of Scotland's degraded peatlands, locking away the carbon for good.

Our work also enhances biodiversity, improves water quality, boosts local economies and creates a compelling story for all of our partners to share.