Saturday, 23 December 2017

SGA MEMBERS' UPDATE


The SGA membership has expressed concerns to us regarding a recent vote taken by the SNP National Council to curb fox hunting in Scotland and to licence grouse moors.

The relevant motions leading to these decisions appeared to have been motivated by the Scottish figurehead for the organisation, The League Against Cruel Sports; an organisation with an openly stated agenda on both issues, and a history of making donations to political parties.

Decisions on these subjects will have far reaching consequences. During evidence at Holyrood, we made clear our view that a licensing system, centred on a civil burden of proof, would lay open lawful working people to the types of individuals and groups who would view such a decision as a green light to causing further problems for those working within our industry.

It was no surprise to us, therefore, that the news of this National Council vote was being hailed very soon afterwards by such groups, on social media, as a step to ‘inevitable’ licensing and a ‘staging post’ to their end game of banning driven grouse shooting altogether. This, in our view, has always been the tactic, regardless of the veneer.

We have been contacted by many members about this and have written to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to clarify what consequences, if any, this will have for the independent review of grouse moors. We will let members know in due course.

Whether people like shooting or not, our industry produces employment on a vast scale in rural Scotland. These managed moors are the last refuge of some of our iconic flora and fauna and a significant food source for Scotland’s raptor population- and increasingly the human population.
Hard working gamekeepers, with their skills and knowledge, help preserve our unique open landscapes, admired the world over; landscapes which set us apart from many other countries. There are more eagles now in Scotland than there have ever been in recent memory and more raptors regularly feeding on grouse moor areas than anyone will see in many un-managed places with the exception of feeding stations and some islands. The notion put about that these spaces are devoid of raptors is politically-motivated. 

As an organisation, we have made tough and often unpopular decisions in order to contribute to an almost year on year decline in raptor persecution, expelling 6 members in 5 years. We will continue to promote those policies, which focus on legal measures to tackle species conflicts. We continue to argue for people having access to the legal and adaptive tools they have been told by Scottish government agencies exist, but are yet to be delivered. We were highly encouraged, once again, to see a further 8 percent fall in wildlife crime in Scotland although, as ever, there is still much to do.

If licensing is to be pushed through and the vital role of the gamekeeper is to be protected from those intent on seeing this as a green light towards a ban, Scottish Government will have to introduce new measures which would embed impartiality into wildlife crime policing, ensuring any system had a sound evidential basis. They will have to tighten up on people being able to walk over estates wilfully causing trouble in a way which could get gamekeepers’ licenses removed, if this was allowed to pass. 

For the vast majority of our members who are wholly law abiding, we will, and are ready to contest ill-judged elements of this proposal whilst offering Scottish Government solutions to improve the way Scotland’s countryside operates. These are the pledges we can give to you, the members.

In January, everyone has the opportunity to respond to the consultation on fox hunting, which closes on 31st January. You will find details on our website news page. Political noises surrounding this issue seem to suggest proposals may be put forward for a total ban or a reduction to 2 hounds. For those who depend on foot packs to manage foxes in forestry, the latter is as unpalatable as the former. Don’t miss the opportunity to respond. It is now vital!

As the seasons are pushing busily to a close, I and everyone at the SGA would like to wish all members the joys of the season and good health and friendship in 2018.
Our management remains under perpetual scrutiny but despite this attention, by following best practice and operating  diligently and lawfully, we can continue to share the benefits of all we do.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.