Wednesday, 31 July 2013

SCOTTISH GAMEKEEPERS AND GHILLIES HELP ENDANGERED MUSSELS

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is teaming up with wildlife crime officers in a bid to prevent illegal freshwater pearl mussel fishing in Scotland.The bi-valve mussels, Margaritifera margaretifera, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are often found on the bed of salmon rivers where they can live for up to 80 years.Seventy two of Scotland’s rivers support reproducing populations and represent some of the world’s most important sites for the survival of the mollusc.Sadly, the population is now critically low, due, in large part, to pearl fishers hoping to find the precious white pearls, for which they are famous, inside the shells.Pollution is also a cause of their decline and a case in March saw directors of A & Construction fined £11 000 for causing irreversible damage to hundreds of pearl mussels in the River Lyon while working on the Inverinian Hydro Scheme.Now the SGA has signed an agreement with the National Wildlife Crime Unit in order to build intelligence that can help tackle illegal fishing.Gamekeepers and ghillies often work around the remote rivers containing mussels and guidelines have been set out to encourage confidential reporting of suspicious activity to police. Activity they will be looking out for includes persistent wild camping beside rivers containing mussels, suspicious vehicles and individuals wading through mussel rivers taking an interest in or using glass bottom buckets to survey the river bed.Keepers and ghillies will also have their eyes peeled for piles of discarded shells although it is understood many modern fishers dispose of shells away from the banks.SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “This is a really important initiative and the SGA is delighted to offer the assistance of its members. Many of them are working these rivers and I know some have contacted Police before when they have seen suspicious activity.“This agreement gives people the information to help and gives them the confidence that they can engage freely with the Police, knowing the information will be treated confidentially.“I would encourage as many of our members as possible to get involved for the good of the remaining freshwater pearl mussel stock in Scotland.”Charlie Everitt, Investigative Support Officer of NWCU said it was important that wildlife crime officers engaged with those who could offer vital information.“We recognize that the only way we can start to identify illegal pearl fishers is with the help of the rural workers and the NWCU are very grateful for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s support and assistance of their members.“Pearl fishing can happen in some of the remotest parts of Scotland and the only way the Police may ever hear about it is if members of the public working in those locations inform them. This is why we are appealing to ghillies and gamekeepers who work on the land around rivers containing freshwater pearl mussels to please contact the National Wildlife Crime Unit if they see any suspicious activity – however small or insignificant - that may be related to illegal pearl fishing.”NWCU have also enlisted the help of members of Scottish Land and Estates and the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards. Ends.

Monday, 29 July 2013

REAL TIME INFORMATION: REMINDER FOR SHOOTS

The introduction of Real Time Information (RTI) by HMRC will change the way estates are required to inform the tax authority about money paid to casual labourers such as beaters, pickers-up, ad hoc loaders, heather burners and students. With the shooting season now almost upon us, it is important estates and shoots have taken appropriate steps to keep themselves in line with the new policy. As of 6th April 2013, employers operating PAYE have been required to send electronic details to HMRC, online, in real time ie: on or before they pay an employee, rather than at the end of the year which has been common practice for shoots for some time. Employers have no choice in this and those failing to comply will be penalized.As well as the technical aspects of when and how PAYE returns are submitted to HMRC, other changes brought about by RTI have involved the payment of casual workers or students as these are categorized the same as any other employees and have to provide a minimum amount of information PRIOR to any payment being made. In order to assist the collection of this required information, we have a template available in the SGA office for this purpose. Estates/shoots should contact the office on 01738 587 515 if they require a copy which can be presented to casual workers to fill in. This template should be used every time a new employee is taken on, even if he/she is a casual worker or a student. HMRC are clear on this point. The relevant information on the sheet must be provided PRIOR to payment being made. Information required includes names, addresses, date of birth, sex, NI number, bank details and employment information. If fake information is provided, it could result in penalties for the estate/shoot and employers should only pay when they have this information and know it is correct. Disclaimer: While the SGA is seeking to provide helpful information on how the changes will affect estates and shoots, each estate may have different ways of working/number of employees, etc, and the SGA strongly recommends that each shoot/estate contacts its own accountant to make sure it complies. The SGA cannot accept liability for the content contained above, which was correct at the time of printing. Please Note: RTI is a system of reporting how payments are made. Income from beating has always been taxable, unless the individual's total income is below the minimum tax threshold. That remains the case. Similarly, beaters and other shoot helpers can still be paid in cash. The new electronic RTI system may make it easier to catch up with some people not paying enough tax (that is one reason it has been introduced - to reduce fraud and tax evasion) but the requirement to pay tax or not on beaters earnings, depending on total income, is completely unchanged.Beaters still need to declare their beating income on their annual tax return, even if they know the shoot has already paid their tax at source.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

2013 SGA YOUNG GAMEKEEPER OF THE YEAR NOMINATIONS NOW SOUGHT

The SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year Award is now open for entries and we want to hear from you.Not only is this an opportunity to endorse the work of a young keeper/ghillie/wildlife manager/ranger who is making a real difference in his or her profession, it is also a celebration of what responsible management brings to Scotland and wider biodiversity.If you work with, tutor, or employ a young gamekeeper you feel deserves recognition for their work, the SGA would love to know about it.College lecturers, Head Keepers and individual estates are all allowed to nominate candidates.The nomination process is now open for the 2013 Award, won last year by 23 year old Paul Kidd from Dundee, who was raised in a non-gamekeeping family in a Scottish city.A £125 cheque is on offer for the winner, plus coverage in Scottish Gamekeeper magazine.What the judges are looking for is: • A Demonstrable passion for gamekeeping. • Adherence to/appreciation of, the law and best practice. • Strong work ethic/willingness to learn. • Good understanding of why gamekeeping is important in Scotland’s countryside. Please send your entries to: The Editor, Scottish Gamekeeper on ks.writer@virgin.net by the closing date of August 9th, 2013.
Candidates will be short-listed by the SGA Committee and the overall winner will be announced in September, following a round of short, informal interviews.

Friday, 5 July 2013

GAMEKEEPERS AND DEER ADVISERS HIGHLIGHT DEER WASTING DISEASE

Gamekeepers, Deer welfare advisers and deer managers will use this weekend’s Scottish Game Fair to raise awareness of a disease affecting large numbers of deer in USA and Canada. The British Deer Society (BDS) and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) will exhibit information sheets on their stands outlining the nature and impacts of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is a highly infectious disease which has killed every known deer infected with it in the USA and Canada, where it is currently confined. To date there are no effective vaccines to treat the disease which is caused by a prion transmitted in deer fluids and body parts. There are concerns that if steps are not put in place to halt its spread, it could lead to loss of large numbers of wild deer across the world and restrict sales of venison. It could also spread into Europe, with potential repercussions for country sport tourism which generates significant sums annually. The group of diseases CWD belongs to are known as ‘TSE’, short for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. A leaflet, produced by the British Deer Society, gamekeepers, deer groups, vets and Scottish government will be launched officially in August. However, with sporting agents and countryside groups bound for the Game Fair at Scone, BDS and SGA , who have driven the project, feel it is an opportune moment to raise awareness of how the disease could be prevented from spreading. John Bruce Director in Scotland of BDS said: “Our intention in raising awareness of CWD is not to raise alarm. No threat to humans, for example, has been found. “On the other hand, it is vital people are aware of it and can start taking preventative measures now to stop it moving across borders. “The prion, transmitted in deer urine, faeces, saliva and meat can remain infectious for up to ten years when bound to soil and defies normal farm disinfection processes. “Infected deer may take 18-24 months to exhibit clinical signs and will become more infectious to other deer during this time. “CWD has infected both wild and farmed deer in USA and Canada, with red deer also susceptible. “Efforts to control CWD is USA and Canada would seem to have failed.” A possible route of transmission into the UK could be through countryside users bringing in contaminated clothing and equipment. A specific risk group which has been identified is individuals who have been deer stalking in North America where CWD is present. George Macdonald, Development, Education and Training Manager at the SGA said: “If the disease became established stopping its spread might be extremely challenging or practically impossible. “By raising awareness, sporting agents can make prospective clients from USA or Canada aware of the issues. “They can tell them in advance to check all their kit for cleanliness or advise them, if possible, to buy their sporting equipment in this country upon arrival rather than bring it with them.” “If people are bringing clothing or equipment to the UK from USA or Canada they should make sure it is clean of all potential contamination. “This would significantly reduce the risk of introducing CWD into this country, although it will not eliminate the risk. “It is also important stalkers do not bring trophies back into the UK from USA or Canada.”

Thursday, 4 July 2013

RESPONSIBLE GAME MANAGEMENT HELPS SCOTLAND'S GOLDEN EAGLES

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association believes working with responsible game managers can help government aid golden eagle conservation in Scotland. Grouse managers are often blamed for loss through illegal persecution, with the SGA acknowledging persecution, coupled with land use change, has been a constraining factor.Recently the organisation expelled 4 members for wildlife offences, including raptor persecution, and advocates legal solutions to conflicts.The SGA, however, believes it would be wrong for government agencies to overlook the contribution responsible gamekeepers make to eagle conservation.The organisation has completed a survey of members in the keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland which has identified at least 55 active eagle nests (see map).The nests have remained since the last census in 2003.A recent FOI request also revealed the majority of the 66 Scottish eagles chicks translocated for the Irish reintroduction programme, started in 2001, were from keepered uplands.On the west, where there is little grouse interest, eagle productivity is being constrained by lack of small prey, reduced deer numbers and extensive forestry, proven to shrink their range. There are fears the government’s onshore wind policy and its target of having 25 per cent of Scotland under forestry by 2050 could also compromise linkage of eagle territories.Against this backdrop, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg believes responsible game managers, as well as conservationists, have the knowledge to benefit golden eagles.“The conservation work done by many of our members in this area is forgotten because of the actions of a few. As an organisation we, along with the other members of PAW continue to address this issue.“As well as educating, we have expelled members found to commit wrong-doing and where conflicts arise, as they will, we advocate lawful solutions.“That said, many responsible game managers have had eagles on their land for many, many years now. They are willing to assist wider eagle conservation and have skills to be an asset.“Management for grouse provides the abundant small prey eagles need to feed chicks, even if many moors don’t have the crags or trees eagles prefer for nesting.“Legal heather burning produces a rich food source for red grouse and hares which eagles eat and, despite the ever increasing chance of unintentional disturbance from recreational access, there are still a significant proportion of Scotland’s eagles in grouse areas. This is all paid for through private investment by landowners.”Conservationists can take elements of the game management model, for example, to assist in the west where increased forestry plantations and windfarms could cause problems for eagle conservation going forward. They key constraint which has been identified in the west is the lack of small prey.”In deer stalking areas, gamekeepers leave the grallochs of culled deer on the hills, away from public access, to help sustain eagles.Studies have acknowledged this availability of carrion has aided eagle survival, particularly during winter although conservation policies are reducing deer numbers.The SGA believes government agencies, working in collaboration with game managers can produce a positive net benefit for Scotland’s eagles.“For the sake of the golden eagle, all countryside stakeholders can work together to address the many issues affecting eagles.“In Sweden it has been proven that eagle success is dependent on prey abundance so the loss of heather, for example, has a significant impact. Gross changes of habitat- especially in heavily forested areas of South Scotland- have altered the way eagles use the landscape. No up to date science has been done on the impacts of access despite one Scottish study accepting eagle sites with easier access are more likely to fail.“A 1995 study flagged up problems eagles could have with displacement due to windfarm spread but, again, no further research has been done.“There are many threats- and new ones- such as desertion of nest sites due to disturbance though nest visits, likely to affect Scotland’s eagles and those with an interest have a responsibility to look at all constraining aspects.”Scotland’s golden eagle population has recovered from historic lows of 190 pairs in the early 1950s and 300 pairs in 1968 to 442 pairs in the summer of 2003. This makes the Scottish eagle population one of the largest in the world per land mass.The population has been stable for 20 years although targets to define ‘favourble status’ were set at 450-500 breeding pairs in 2008. There are virtually no golden eagles left in England, making Scotland’s population ecologically important.