Tuesday, 22 December 2015

CALL FOR GOVERNMENT PROBE AFTER STAGS LEFT TO ROT

One of the Stags left to rot at Li and Coire Dhorcail, managed by conservation body, John Muir Trust.



The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has today called on Scottish Government to investigate why a landowning conservation charity left dozens of Stags to rot on a Knoydart hillside.
The deer culling practice by the John Muir Trust on their land at Li and Coire Dhorcail has left neighbouring deer managers sickened.
Stags, some with haunches and heads removed, were left to decompose on the moor and online images of the carcasses, viewed by thousands, have elicited angry responses.
The normal practice of engaging with neighbours in the local deer group about intentions for the cull was not observed by John Muir Trust who, instead, informed Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
Despite only 14 Stags being observed during indicative cull counts by SNH on Li and Coire Dhorcail, the conservation body shot 86 Stags, most of which it admits were left on the open hill.
Neighbours in the deer management group have claimed, whilst being disrespectful to the animals, the practice has cost the local area £100 000 in wasted venison and income from visiting stalkers.
It is not the first time the wild land charity has been criticised for this practice.
In 2008, senior officials from the conservation body promised to stop the policy after over 40 discarded deer were discovered left on a west coast property where it was advisor.
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The charity in question have made it their political prerogative that they stand outside of the voluntary code respected by other deer managers in Scotland because they are lobbying to have this replaced by statutory arrangements.
“The only body who can scrutinise this incident properly to decide whether it is in the best interests of deer, best practice or the local people in Knoydart, therefore, is Scottish Government.
“The lobbying charity has claimed this is about repairing ecological damage. If a private estate did this, there would be an outcry. Leaving deer in this manner has nothing to do with environmental repair.
“Deer were extracted from this area successfully before it was managed by John Muir Trust. The culled animals do not need to be left on open hill.
“Sometimes a stalker has to leave a deer, if its condition makes it unfit for consumption. A professional decision may be taken to leave it to feed a bird of prey and it may be placed out of view of those accessing the countryside.
“However, not at this number. What is considered ethical and decent has been over-stepped. Deer management groups are under close scrutiny by government in context of the Land Reform Bill. It is only fair similar scrutiny is applied to bodies who place themselves outside of existing local engagement processes.”
John Muir Trust has successfully applied in recent years to cull deer on Li and Coire Dhorcail, outside of the legal seasons, under authorisation by licensing body, SNH.
This year, the licence was refused by SNH as John Muir Trust did not provide enough evidence of winter habitat damage by deer.
An SGA Spokesman added: “John Muir Trust officials have claimed this is a difference of opinion between traditional sporting estates and those who wish to repair ecological damage. It is highly unlikely anyone on either side of the argument would view leaving deer to rot, lack of community engagement and an over-reliance on out of season culling as either progressive or modern.”
John Muir Trust deer culls were called into question recently in the Assynt Community when SNH counts revealed hundreds of deer were missing.
Despite arguing their cull policy in the area is to promote regeneration at Ardvar SSSI, independent woodland advisers say deer numbers have been low enough for five years to achieve this aim.



*If the cull policy at Li and Coire Dhorcail is of concern, individuals can write to their constituency MSP to make their case. MSP contact details can be found, here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps.aspx








Monday, 21 December 2015

FESTIVE OFFICE HOURS


The SGA Office will be open on 21st – 23rd December from 9am – 12 noon. It will then be closed  until 9am on 5th January.

Urgent enquiries should be emailed to Carol@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk or by calling 07471 350950. This number will be checked periodically over the festive period.

The SGA wishes all members and supporters a wonderful festive season and prosperity in 2016.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

SURVEY SHOWS EXTENT OF EAGLES NESTING ON MOORS


A new survey by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has identified golden eagles nesting in 58 occupied territories managed by their members for grouse shooting.
The survey was carried out this year over four key regions covering the Cairngorms National Park and surrounding lands lying outside the National Park boundary.
The findings eclipse the SGA’s previous eagle study of 2013, which showed 55 eagle nests on grouse areas managed by gamekeepers.
New figures also include the driven grouse estate in the eastern highlands which made headlines in late Spring this year when three healthy chicks were fledged from the one nest.
According to RSPB Scotland, eagles usually lay two eggs in a year when breeding has been successful. 
In 2014, Invermark Estate in the Angus Glens, managed for grouse and deer, also boasted three young from the one breeding site.
Scotland is home to the entire UK population of eagles with the exception of one male in the English Lakes.
The population is stable, at around 450 breeding pairs, after recovering from a sharp decline in the sixties due to organochlorine pesticides which caused infertility and eggshell thinning.
Ronnie Kippen of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, one of the four members of the SGA tasked with collating the regional information, said: “It was important to update our previous work from 2013 and it is good to see more eagles nesting on occupied territories where our members are working every day.
“Without their local knowledge, it would not have been possible to pull the survey work together as it covers grouse areas from the Monadhliaths, the Cairngorms National Park and land which lies outwith the boundary.
“Legal predator control and heather management by gamekeepers has been proven to help provide a vital food source for eagles such as red grouse, mountain hare and rabbits. 
“The lack of a small prey in the west, for example, is a problem for the eagles on that side of the country so providing this food source is important. Obviously breeding success can vary, depending on weather and food availability but despite the wetness this year, we have heard of good reports of nests coming away with youngsters. Although we have not included them previously in our counts, we also had sea eagles breeding successfully this year on managed ground, which is positive.”
Although the SGA has been advised not to publish a map, in order to protect the birds, nesting eagles were identified in 12 grid referenced territories in the Monadhliaths grouse areas.
Amongst the findings, 19 nesting eagles were located in occupied territories to the west of the A9 corridor.
Golden eagles have been constrained by historic persecution and poor quality habitat, with lack of prey a particular problem in the west of Scotland.
Range loss through afforestation- particularly in the South and West- disturbance and displacement through the spread of renewables have all been cited by scientists as constraining factors.
An FOI by the SGA in 2013 showed that the majority of the 66 golden eagle chicks relocated to Ireland for their golden eagle reintroduction project came from keepered uplands.
A Spokesman for The SGA said: “Where persecution has been a constraint, the SGA and others have worked hard to tackle this through partnership and education. We were pleased to see the number of crimes committed against wild animals in Scotland falling to its lowest level for five years, according to the latest official Scottish Government figures. This shows tangible progress being made although there is an acknowledgement from everyone that more work remains to be done.”

Friday, 11 December 2015

MEMBERS HELP FOOD BANK WITH CHRISTMAS VENISON


A deer management group in South Lanarkshire has teamed with a church in East Kilbride to provide fresh local venison for Christmas dinner to around 100 food bank users.
The South Lanarkshire Deer Group, members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, made contact with Calderwood Baptist Church, asking how the local deer resource might be used to benefit those in need.
Now they are to prepare food parcels of venison steaks, sausages and burgers as part of the festive food hampers handed out to 80-100 individuals and families on 23rd December.
Calderwood Baptist Church co-ordinates the East Kilbride Community Food Bank, a partnership of churches which provides between 450 and 500 food parcels per month across East Kilbride.
As part of a wide-ranging community care programme, the Maxwellton Road church also offers debt management, job clubs and training as well as helping families with household goods.
The Christmas venison, supplied with cooking instructions, will come from the area around the Whitelee Forest, which is leased to the group from Forestry Commission Scotland and also houses Britain’s largest onshore wind farm.
Highly trained deer managers from the South Lanarkshire Deer Group control numbers on the ground and its fringes whilst maintaining a balance of healthy roe deer in the area.
After becoming aware of the work of the church and food bank, they wanted to play their part to help at a time when some families may be stretched by the pressures of Christmas.
David Quarrell, Chairman of the group, said: “We knew about the work of the church. My daughter gives to the local food bank and the lads in the group wanted to do something which might help.
“The venison comes off public land, locally. It is a sustainable resource and there are no food miles. We wanted it to be going back into the community and, aside from being charitable, we feel the more people get a chance to try it, the better. Thanks to the Forestry Commission leasing us the ground, we can use the venison in a way that might help people, locally. With the right infrastructure, it is something that could be done in many areas.”
The group initially volunteered to provide a cooked venison meal for the church’s Christmas event on 18th December but the more traditional turkey had already been ordered.
Instead, after church officials enjoyed some ‘tasting’, it was decided that it would form the fresh food offering for the seasonal hampers, given out 2 days before Christmas.
Lead Pastor, Rev. John MacKinnon of Calderwood Baptist Church said: “We feel this could be the beginning of a very positive relationship.
“When we started providing food parcels to people in our own locale, as part of our community care, we discovered very quickly there was actually a real need for it all over the town. Our aim has always been not just to prop up the problem but to address the root of it, hence the other support that we give people.
“What David and the lads are doing is a super thing. We give food parcels to regular users of the food bank, to keep them going over Christmas time and it will be great to see something of such quality going into the parcels this year.”
The project has been supported by local MSP for East Kilbride, Linda Fabiani, who backs local resources being used to benefit communities.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

SGA REPORT HIGHLIGHTS UNTHINKING LOSS OF MOORLAND IN SCOTLAND


Scotland’s gamekeepers have launched a new report aimed at halting the ‘unthinking’ loss of Scotland’s globally rare moorland landscapes.
Seventy five per cent of the world’s remaining heather is found in the UK, with most found in Scotland.
Yet despite the defining role open moorland landscapes of all types have played in the nation’s history and psyche, Scotland has never had a unified national policy to retain its signature treasure.
The dramatic open moors lure international tourists, generate vital rural employment, are home to threatened bird species and have inspired artists, writers and film-makers.
However, a lack of a policy vision has seen huge areas of open moorland being lost in this country since the 1940s, with afforestation and reclamation for farming hastening its fragmentation.
An estimated 20 per cent of heather moorland disappeared between 1940 and 1970, a decline which continues today with new emphasis on energy and woodland expansion.
Indeed, if the Scottish forestry strategy target of 25 per cent of land under trees by 2050 is realised, potentially a further 5000 sq km of moorland will be lost, as trees will have to be planted on open moors.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association say the devaluation of one of Scotland’s greatest national assets cannot be allowed to continue blindly, through the lack of a unifying objective.
Today (Dec 8th) it launched, A Future for Moorland in Scotland: The need for a locational strategy at an event in Edinburgh, attended by heritage bodies and MSPs.
The 34 page report, authored by independent ecologist, Dr James Fenton – who previously worked for NTS and SNH- maps the extent of the moorland left in Scotland, highlighting the obligations Scotland has to its conservation.
It also recommends that woodland creation should be targeted on areas already fragmented in places where moorland remains common, to avoid complete disappearance in some regions.
“Bearing in mind the importance of moorland to Scotland’s landscape, biodiversity and economy, it is surprising that there is no strategic policy guidance available, similar to the Scottish Forestry Strategy for trees and the regional Indicative Forestry Strategies,” the report says.
“Although the justification for new woodland has been made strongly, there is no similar justification for the retention of moorland.”
Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg believes the importance of moor habitats should be reflected in the forthcoming Land Use Strategy 2016-2021, under consultation until January 29th. He fears that, without a proper pause for thought, Scotland could lose species like the Curlew forever.
“This report is not a ‘no-trees’ policy, but a ‘where-trees’ policy. It acknowledges competing demands on land use and makes sensible suggestions as to where moorland must be retained and where we can afford to lose bits without breaking the whole thing.
“We need to value these special landscapes again instead of paying lip service, and place them at the heart of our land use strategy. Last week, the Curlew was placed on the red list and described as the UK’s most pressing conservation concern.
“What are we offering the Curlew when we don't even have a policy to retain one of its key breeding grounds? Our members work these areas every day and have a depth of attachment to them few would understand. By controlling common predators, they give birds like the Curlew a chance. If we continue to stumble blindly and allow our moorlands to disappear, we won’t have these species any more.”
Dr James Fenton said: “Perhaps because it has always seemed to be common, we tend not to value our moorland in Scotland even though it defines our upland landscapes. Our open moors and hills are our speciality which distinguishes us from our European neighbours.
“It is surprising, therefore, that there is no strategic guidance for its conservation and that we continue to accept its loss in an ad hoc manner.
“This new document has mapped all the moorland on mainland Scotland and has identified the remaining core areas. It calls for a public debate to discuss and agree where in Scotland we want to retain our open moorland landscapes as the dominant landscape.”
*********The Scottish Gamekeepers Association represents 5300 gamekeepers, stalkers, land and river ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers across Scotland.
The report’s author, Dr James Fenton, is an independent ecological consultant based in Argyll. Previously he has worked as a scientist for the British Antarctic Survey, been the first Ecologist employed by the National Trust for Scotland, worked with Scottish Natural Heritage on landscape policy, and, most recently, been CEO of the Falklands Conservation in the Falkland Islands.
This report represents, as its subject, a locational overview of land use type in Scotland. It is not intended to add to the myriad scientific reports or studies on woodland or moorland management.
Printed copies of the report ‘A Future for Moorland: the need for a location strategy’ can be obtained by contacting the Scottish Gamekeepers Association on 01738 587 515.
Digital copies will soon be available to download from the SGA website: http://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
For a short video presentation about the SGA’s Moorland vision, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cmUrQ_sigA

Friday, 4 December 2015

RESPONSE TO LAND REFORM BILL REPORT BY RACCE COMMITTEE

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association welcomes the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s report on Stage One of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “In particular, we back the need for a more robust assessment of economic, social and environmental impacts of ending the exemptions from non-domestic rates for shootings and deer forests.
“Whilst supporting fully the principle of community empowerment, careful consideration has to be given to maintaining that which is currently a source of resilience in our present communities, particularly in fragile rural areas.
“Shootings and deer forests, which can operate on marginal profitability, currently provide valuable employment, youth opportunity, tourism and spin-off business as well as vital land management at minimum public cost.
“The benefits of this helps to keep families in our glens and communities alive, which is surely the agreed collective aim of land reform. Indeed, some communities which have purchased land have themselves realised that sporting potential assists their own economic viability.
“We are pleased the Committee has recognised the fundamental role these activities play in rural communities and agree Scottish Government needs to provide a more rigorous analysis of community and economic impacts if it is to justify the removal of exemptions which currently remain in place for many similar rural industries such as aquaculture, forestry and farming.”