Under consideration PE2021: Ensure the definition of protected animals in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 applies to the sheep on St Kilda

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to clarify the definition of protected animals contained in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and associated guidance, to ensure the feral sheep on St Kilda are covered by this legislation, enabling interventions to reduce the risk of winter starvation and the consequential suffering of the sheep.

Previous action taken

We have written to and received responses from the Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment and the Chief Veterinary Officer, which state that the sheep are not protected by the 2006 Act and that the Scottish Government’s position on this has been consistent for many years.

We have also received a response from Roseanna Cunningham, then Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, which confirmed that NatureScot view sheep as livestock but would defer to advice provided by the Chief Veterinary Officer.

We also contacted Mark Ruskell MSP and Alasdair Allan MSP who have raised parliamentary questions on this matter. We are now raising this petition following advice from Dr Allan.

Angus MacNeil MP has also written to the Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment, but it remains unclear why the Scottish Government are ignoring the guidance accompanying the 2006 Act.

We have also received a letter from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) noting their refusal to manage the sheep on St Kilda.

Background information

The St Kilda sheep have been feral since 1930, but millennia of domestication have altered their physiology, making them unsuited to life unmanaged.

Information suggests overpopulation contributes to a yearly average of 600 sheep dying of starvation each winter on Hirta alone.

NatureScot and NTS were unaware of the Scottish Government’s position that the sheep are not protected under the 2006 Act, and had, before May 2020, viewed the sheep as livestock. This confusion means researchers have potentially committed multiple offences under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 by releasing non-native “wild” animals without a licence between 2012 and 2020.

The Scottish Government position appears contrary to its own guidance on the Act, which includes all feral sheep as protected animals because domestication has left them reliant on man.

The consequence of allowing this confusion to persist will be to weaken the Act and allow unnecessary suffering, not only on St Kilda but potentially elsewhere in Scotland.

  • Created by David Peter Buckland and Graham Charlesworth
  • Considered from 12 April 2023
  • Petitions can collect signatures until the petition has been closed

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