The first minister has promised a government investigation into Scotland’s nature agency after The Ferret revealed it allowed nearly 50,000 wild animals to be killed.
The licences awarded by Scotland’s nature agency allowed the killing of 46,985 animals spanning 84 species, including declining species and the iconic mountain hare – Scotland’s only native rabbit or hare species – between 1 June 2019 and 15 June 2023.
Reacting to The Ferret’s revelations, animal welfare and conservation groups said they were “appalled” by the “devastatingly high numbers”, and urged NatureScot to take a more evidence-based approach to licensed killing.
But a farmers’ union said the need to control certain species “goes hand-in-hand” with conservation to protect biodiversity and agriculture.
Watch: Yousaf challenged on the scale of NatureScot’s culls
“Does the first minister share the concerns of animal welfare organisations – and indeed myself – at the size of these numbers?”, Grahame asked Yousaf.
He replied: “Those numbers do, I think, cause us all to pause and to reflect”. NatureScot “takes licensed control of wildlife very seriously indeed and it’s only done when there’s no alternative,” he said.
“Licences are only issued only in accordance with strict criteria laid down in law. However there are occasions when wildlife does need to be controlled, when it presents a risk to human health or safety.”
He said reasons for culling animals included “protecting air safety around airports, safeguarding food production and retail environments, and protecting crops in fields”.
“As part of the Bute house agreement [the SNP’s cooperation pact with the Scottish Greens], we will undertake a full review of the species licensing system during this parliament,” added Yousaf.
“I will ensure that the appropriate cabinet secretary minister investigates the numbers that have been raised by Christine Grahame and write back to her with a fuller response.”
NatureScot stressed that licences covered five or ten-year periods, and did not reflect annual cull permits. Some 24,429 animals were confirmed to have been killed in recent years.
Killing was “a last resort” used in a minority of cases, did not impact any animal’s conservation status and cull members were rapidly decreasing, NatureScot added.
In 2019, we revealed that NatureScot had licensed the killing of 130,000 wild animals between 2014 and July 2019. Some 62,521 animals were reported as dead.
The wildlife agency said it licensed the killing of 177,651 animals over the last decade.
Header image credit: Jeff S. PhotoArt.