Thursday, 12 October 2017

MOUNTAIN HARE RESPONSE (IN FULL)


For members reading media reports about mountain hares this morning , please see the SGA response here, in full. It is possible only certain elements of the response have been reported.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "The activist organisations constantly calling for this in press releases would be better to explain to the public why they themselves have such comparatively poor populations of mountain hares on their holdings and why their management is producing so few.
"This is the elephant in the room which has never been properly addressed, amidst the campaigns. When the new guidance on best methodologies to count mountain hares is published, the SGA will be asking Scottish Government to ensure hares are counted on all holdings, including nature reserves and re-wilding areas not just grouse moors, so the public can finally get a transparent picture of where hares are declining and why.
“Voluntary restraint is being exercised on grouse moors. Where hares are over-running, populations are being controlled to prevent disease and habitat damage. Where their numbers are lower, there is less or no need for management. It is the same with deer. In our view, that is what voluntary restraint is.”
*The SGA would also like to receive reports and images, by SGA members, of any mountain hares seen on nature reserves or areas of rewilding run by charities or outdoor organisations. If you are accessing any such areas for walking or leisure, please report any sightings of mountain hares and numbers seen to 'SGA mountain hare study' and email them to the SGA office.

Friday, 6 October 2017

SCOTTISH GOVT ANNOUNCES FOX HUNTING CONSULTATION


The Scottish Government has this afternoon announced a consultation on fox hunting. This follows  a review of how the Wild Mammals Act is working in Scotland, undertaken by Lord Bonomy.
The SGA was one of four stakeholders asked to provide oral evidence during the review and currently sits on the working group tasked with examining the issue in the light of the Bonomy report recommendations.
Recognising the crucial importance to our members of retaining the ability to use hounds to flush foxes to guns, particularly in dense forestry and cover, the SGA would strongly encourage all those who have an interest in this issue to respond.
You can find the details here: https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/wildlife-management-and-protected-areas/improving-protection-for-wild-mammals/

Monday, 2 October 2017

SPORTING RATES: VALUATIONS, APPEALS AND MORE INFORMATION.


Valuation notices for sporting rates, plus essential information, will soon begin to arrive on doorsteps. 
Throughout the Land Reform deliberations in 2016, the SGA argued that reintroducing rates would have negative impacts upon skilled land management jobs and opportunities. This could also affect species diversity in Scotland.

The published rates are: £2 per hectare for Deer forest, hill, moor.
Improved Grassland: £3.50 per hectare
Unimproved Grassland: £4 per hectare
Arable: £4 per hectare
Woodland/Forestry: £5 per hectare
Mixed: £5 per hectare.

Those unhappy with their ratings can appeal within 6 months. 
The SGA would also like to hear from any member whose operation is expected to be adversely affected by this, so we can take these concerns directly to representatives.


To find out more about the assessment process, click here: https://www.saa.gov.uk/re-entry-of-shooting-rights-to-the-valuation-roll/


Friday, 22 September 2017

COMMENT ON REVISED MUIRBURN CODE


GAMEKEEPERS COMMENT ON LAUNCH OF REVISED MUIRBURN CODE.
Commenting on the revised Muirburn Code, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “There are elements of the updated Code which are undoubtedly an improvement. However, we are disappointed that additions to the document – not discussed by the Moorland Forum partners or working group -were introduced late on, turning what was planned to be a practitioner’s guide more into a list of what people should and shouldn’t do. 
“We have heard similar views from other stakeholders who genuinely saw this as an opportunity to get everyone who practices muirburn, as an important management tool, to do so to an agreed high standard.
“If work on the supplementary material takes greater account of the working knowledge of those who actually practice muirburn, it may stand a better chance of getting the buy-in it seeks but we cannot be assured this will be the case.
“We hope that there will be continuing support from the Scottish Government to continue the work that has been started.”

Saturday, 16 September 2017

SGA FISHING GROUP CALLS FOR ACTION AFTER SALMON FARM ESCAPE ON MULL

River workers are expressing growing concern for wild salmon around Mull after it emerged a recent escape from a local fish farm saw over 11 000 farmed fish entering rivers.
On August 21st the escape from a Scottish Salmon Company farm at Geasgill near Ulva was reported to Marine Scotland after employees noted low numbers during a routine grading exercise.
It has now been confirmed 11 040 farmed salmon have entered local rivers including the River Ba, one of very few rivers in the west of Scotland given a class 1 rating for salmon conservation.
On four beats directly affected by the escape, a total of around 250 of the fish have been accounted for, leaving thousands traveling through local systems.
Ghillies have been ordering any farmed salmon caught to be killed and not returned.
However, given other high profile escapes around the island’s waters there is now real concern that cross-breeding between cage escapees and wild salmon will weaken the wild gene pool, with unknown biological consequences.
There are also longer-term fears over the health of wild fisheries being expressed by riparian owners around the affected river system, with visiting anglers landing modified fish.
Greg Marsh of the SGA (Scottish Gamekeepers Association) Fishing Group, who looks after operations at River Coladoir and Loch Scridain says Scottish Government attempts to make aquaculture more environmentally sustainable are not working.
“The Ba is a class one river, which means it is rated by Scottish Government scientists as having the highest grading for conservation of wild salmon.
“There are now a lot of farmed fish through it and up into Loch Ba. People here are up in arms.
“What effect is this going to have on the wild fish? What will fisheries be offering in 3 or 4 years’ time? Fish of unknown genetic purity.
“We can continue to catch and dispatch as many of the escaped fish as we can but the damage has been done because lots won’t be caught.
“Those on the environmental side in Scottish Government need to raise greater awareness of the dangers to wild fish caused by escapes from fish farms and start doing something more effective about it.”
Marsh says all Scottish anglers now need to now be able to identify farmed salmon in rivers to ensure the fish are not being re-released into the system, if caught.
Back in April this year 20 000 fish and 1300 wrasse escaped from a Scottish Sea Farms plant at Bloody Bay on Mull, with predictions that some of those escapees will now be in mainland rivers.
“One of the key differences in appearance between wild and farmed salmon is that the vents on a wild salmon will be reddy/brown and slightly swollen at this time of year.
“Farmed salmon have silver vents, their adipose, tail and pectoral fins look smaller and are often shredded and there is very little to identify whether they are male or female.
“The likelihood of crossbreeding is a real concern so people need to know the difference if the impacts of these escapes are to be contained in any way.”

Thursday, 31 August 2017

SGA URGES MEMBERS TO ASSIST POLICE WITH MISSING HARRIER

In response to an RSPB media release seeking more information regarding a tagged Hen Harrier which has gone missing in Deeside, the SGA has asked any members who know anything to assist Police Scotland.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

RESPONSE TO WALKHIGHLANDS ARTICLE - ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON GROUSE


Earlier this week, the popular walking website Walkhighlands published a blog 'primer' article by David Lintern on grouse shooting (you can see the original article, here). https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/the-numbers-game-a-grouse-moor-primer-for-hillwalkers/0016780/

The SGA Committee has responded to the article, with a post on the Walkhighlands forum. Please see the reply, in full, below. 


I write in reply to David Lintern’s blog post ‘The Numbers Game- a grouse moor primer for walkers’. 

David makes a manful attempt to get to grips with the endless politics surrounding grouse shooting, which is no easy task. Anyone tackling it deserves congratulations for even starting.

There are some points which do require another perspective if walkers taking to the moors are to receive a rounded account of the many issues.

To an extent, David is correct when he talks about grouse and numbers, or volume. Numbers are critical to rural businesses survival, whether canoe hire companies angling for leisure customers or livestock farmers. Grouse moor managers are no different. Businesses take steps to ride out financial gullies, maximising in the good times, knowing it may not always be thus, and they need to study the balance sheet keenly in leaner times. The farmer may sell more cattle in a down cycle or raise the head of cattle in peak times. From time to time, we could all do with making a human effort to walk in the shoes of those trying to operate any successful rural business in the present environment.

There are big, small and medium grouse moors across Scotland, just like in other market models. Those who tend to see the moor as their primary commercial concern will look at how they can minimise the blips which come with the management of a wild quarry on a high hillside in indefinite Scottish weather which will be all too familiar to readers of this (Walkhighlands) blog. If an estate has other primary interests, it may make a decision to devote more investment to its tourism or forestry offering and will plough less cash resource into the management of the moor and employ fewer gamekeepers. 

There is an implication in David’s article that running the business of grouse shooting in a way which brings the benefits of upscaling and investment is questionable. This deserves greater analysis at a time when other industries are trying hard to encourage investment and growth. 

A recent survey of 7 regional moorland groups highlighted the amount of money grouse estates in Scotland spend in their local communities. The fact that, across Scotland, a grouse estate will spend, averagely, over £500 000 in the downstream economy before a shot is fired, was well covered in the media. What was less reported was the fact that some of the larger commercial estates were spending up to 4 times that amount, employing more gamekeepers and shepherds to manage the moors, and were investing far bigger sums in infrastructure projects. 

Numbers are important in these communities, as David states, and it important to look at the whole picture of how these communities might sustain themselves in the absence of grouse shooting, which David touches upon eloquently at the end of his piece.

Importantly, that financial injection into trades and businesses continues, whether there is any grouse shooting or not - and, yes, there are seasons when there is not, whether due to bad weather at breeding time, disease, predation or combinations of all of these, coupled with sheer bad luck.

David mentions management interventions which are designed to help ride out the blips, such as using medicated grit to prevent disease outbreaks. There are guidelines as to the use of medicated grit. It must be signed off by a veterinarian and the new design of coating, mentioned by David, makes it a product no less reliable or environmentally secure as any other form of standard cattle wormer.
We need to ask ourselves whether this is objectionable, or whether it is a reasonable price, to give the moor owner at least some confidence in a harvestable surplus which will allow some ‘let days’ for visiting shooters, and some income.

Many moor owners may be wealthy individuals and, for some reason be scorned for that, but no business can sustain upwards of half a million of losses indefinitely, and keep employment, without recouping some cash from shooters, rich or otherwise. At the very least, there might be some sympathy for a moor owner trying to manage her/his estate, using those legal interventions afforded them, so that they didn’t have to lay off gamekeeping or office staff every time there was the reality of a poor season.

David’s comments regarding muirburn impacting seriously on air quality are not backed by consistent science. According to a 2006 paper by Buchanan GM, Grant MC, Sanderson RA, Pearce-Higgins JW, ‘The Contribution of Invertebrate Taxation moorland bird diets and the potential implication of land-use management’, states: “So far, research has produced inconsistent evidence, with predictions, including both positive and negative effects of burning.”
Similarly, David’s assertion that grouse moors are drained to maximise grouse is factually incorrect. In what has been proved to be a short-sighted prescription, government subsidies were given out in the 60s and 70s for moorland ditching or ‘gripping’ for agricultural reasons as part of the ‘more food from our own resources’ programme. Often wrongly criticised, present grouse moor owners are actually at the vanguard of blocking these historic drainage ditches and reversing that oversight, with over 120 hectares of the North Pennines moors being ‘re-wetted’ as well as significant areas of upland Scotland.

The original article talks about predator control and rightly so. It is a key element of grouse moor management. There tends, however, to be a considerable degree of dishonesty about controlling predators in this country. For example, the original article talks of ‘eradication’ yet few people question the fact that Scottish Wildlife Trust has been running a successful grey squirrel eradication programme in Scotland for some years, to revive the native red. SNH and RSPB are about to attempt to access £3m of public money to eradicate stoats on Orkney for conservation reasons. The control, but not eradication, of stoats and other abundant predators by gamekeepers is not only a service, delivered free, benefiting game birds. The same reason it is being considered for Orkney is why it is undertaken on moorland, with proven results. Britain’s biggest conservation priority, the Curlew, is found to breed up to three times better on moors managed by gamekeepers than elsewhere. Predator control may not always be palatable to everyone but the truth is most conservation organisations in the UK today will also carry out some degree of predator control (and sometimes controlled muirburn) even if they won’t want to shout too much about it for fear of prigging membership sensibilities.

The article speaks of there being no data for standalone subsidies given to grouse moors in Scotland. Moors, like other holdings, may receive subsidies for tree planting or projects such as creating habitat for black grouse but there is no standalone subsidy for red grouse management in this country. David is correct in his assertion that grouse moor management is a ‘manipulated system’ but care needs to be taken here because most land-based industries are. Forestry and woodland regeneration has, within its business model, an increasing reliance on the killing of deer out of season and all year round to protect the crop, as well as the culling of mountain hares which also damage young trees. All ‘crops’ depend on some form of environmental and economic trade-off.

David is right to point to raptor persecution as a blot. There is no hiding this or any attempt to. Much is being done to root this out and much more will have to be done, although the sustained reductions in illegal poisonings do point to progress, as does the recent return of the golden eagle to favourable status. The Hen Harrier faces an uncertain plight, as mentioned, yet persecution on moors is not the sole problem facing the bird, nationally, even if it remains a genuine concern and headline grabber. For many years Harriers have also been failing on Special Protection Areas established for their safety and are struggling also on mainland reserves, where there is no grouse shooting. The role of predators and weather merits deeper analysis but partnership working between conservation bodies and shooting estates, rather than the erection of barriers, is likely to be the best hope for the Harrier in the years to come.

David concludes his article by suggesting that grouse shooting’s number is up and that grouse shooting is not remotely sustainable in environmental terms.
There are certainly some individuals, celebrities and organisations who would clearly like nothing more. Indeed, some activist groups are sustained by their opposition to the shooting community. However, equally the question must also be asked whether NOT having grouse shooting is sustainable in environmental and economic terms and David, rightly, points to the need for campaigners to develop alternatives, rather than simply denounce. Without shooting to provide the income to cover moorland management, who cares for the globally rare heather moorlands and the species which rely upon it? Someone will have to, and likely at a significant public cost. These moorlands support biological communities found only in the UK and contains 18 species of European or international importance, with the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity ratifying the global importance of UK heather moorland.

When grouse shooting stopped in Berwyn in Wales, designated as an SPA for Hen Harriers, merlin, peregrine, red kite and upland waders in 1998, studies were undertaken to examine the impact of lack of management by gamekeepers on moorland species. Between 1983-5 and 2002, lapwing were lost, golden plover declined 90 percent and Curlew declined 79 percent. While Buzzard and Peregrine numbers increased, Hen Harriers numbers dropped 49 percent, which perhaps explains the earlier point about the role of predation. Black grouse numbers declined by 78 per cent. On the one remaining moor with a full-time gamekeeper, Ruabon Moor, black grouse numbers increased tenfold, with 200 males in Spring. Red grouse management techniques are being reintroduced slowly, assisted by public money from the Welsh Government, in order to bring about the proven benefits which will help return the birdsong to moors now sadly quieter.

Similar projects are happening in Northern Ireland. Only this week, red-listed Curlew were reported to have bred succesfully at Glenwherry Farm for the first time in 20 years. This is a site where the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust are working with farmers, conservationists and public agencies to benefit hill wildlife through integrated management, with red grouse management a major plank.

No system is ever perfect and cannot be improved. The land is dynamic and encounters threats and challenges. However, those taking to the hills should be aware that not all campaigners are right and all land managers are wrong. Scotland’s lauded landscape is a managed landscape and has been for many centuries. It is a land for communities and life as well as leisure and tourism and ought to be respected for both, with understanding on both sides.

Kenneth Stephen on behalf of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association Committee.












Tuesday, 22 August 2017

RODENTICIDE SURVEY

Participate in the The UK Rodenticide Use Survey 2017
The way we use rodenticides in the UK is changing.  There are many reasons for this including the requirements of UK regulators, pressure from environmental groups and the action of the European Union, which has reduced our options for controlling rodents.
We want to get a snap-shot of how people are using rat baits.  So during the summer of 2017 there will be a survey about rodenticide use in the UK.  It is carried out by telephone and takes no longer than about twenty minutes.  No personal information will be published.  All survey information is expressed as averages for many different survey participants.  So no individual replies can be identified.
If you use rodenticides and are willing to participate in this important survey, please send an email with your name and telephone number to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association here: info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk.  Please confirm in the message that you wish to participate in the rodenticide survey.  You may then be contacted by telephone.

The names of all those who register will be entered into a prize draw, whether they are chosen for a telephone call or not.  The winner will receive a prize of £200.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

OFFICE CLOSURE- TECHNICAL PROBLEMS (NOW FIXED)

We are pleased to say that, following successful resolution of our technical problems regarding connectivity in the SGA office, we are now back up and running.
The office will be open from 9am-1pm today and tomorrow and will be back to full service next week. Thank you for your patience as this matter was resolved.



Friday, 4 August 2017

WINNER OF 2017 RONNIE ROSE MEMORIAL TROPHY ANNOUNCED


SGA Chairman Alex Hogg today announced the winner of the 2017 Ronnie Rose Memorial Trophy as David Howarth. See press release below.

A Speysider whose quarter century of research into reducing diseases which impact on Scotland’s iconic moorland bird, the red grouse, has landed a major award for his work.
David Howarth (64) ran a guesthouse before an early interest in the countryside morphed into a career, monitoring the impacts of parasites on the breeding success of the native bird in the mountains close to his Kingussie home.
During 25 years at Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, David – who started with no scientific qualification- gained respect for his research into how gut worms and tick affect grouse breeding.
Working with local gamekeepers, his hours spent on the high tops of the Cairngorms National Park in all weathers helped inform new management approaches to reducing the parasites which cause cyclical fluctuations in red grouse populations.
Today (Friday) his research work was recognised with him receiving the Ronnie Rose Memorial Trophy for Conservation and Education, presented by Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing.
The award, inaugurated by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association in honour of late conservationist, forester and author, Ronnie Rose MBE, is for lasting contributions benefitting Scotland’s land and rivers.
“It is a real honour to receive this award,” said David. “My work, particularly in the last 20 years, focused on diseases which were having a deleterious affect on grouse populations. 
“If you manage to reduce the disease burdens, naturally you get greater productivity. This benefits the grouse as a bird. On a local level, it also benefits the nearby sporting estates which helps, in turn, to finance the continued management of the moorlands in the area. This management benefits other species, as well as having wider economic benefits.
“When my wife and I moved here in 1990, the estate behind us employed 2 gamekeepers, now there are 6. When I gave talks with the Trust, I always tried to explain to people that the heather hills people love are not just there, naturally or by accident. It is the gamekeepers out there, 
largely unseen, managing the heather and keeping a lid on the predators that makes it look the way it is. It is important that message is not lost in future.”
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said the work of researchers like David had helped to create stability and employment in rural communities and encouraged people to invest in the countryside.
“Like farmers and other land managers, grouse estates need a level of confidence that the area they are working in is sustainable.
“The work of people like David in helping us understand how populations fluctuate with disease, and how to minimise that where possible, has led to employment for gamekeepers and other land managers such as shepherds, who will manage hill sheep in order to reduce tick burdens. 
“Although not a scientist by training, David established very good relations with practical people and his work makes him highly deserving of this award.”