Monday, 13 August 2018

STRATHBRAAN RAVEN LICENSE UPDATE

Scientists in the Strathbraan area witnessed nests with four fledged Curlew chicks this year: a first.
An update on the Raven License: The Community perspective.

Scottish Raptor Study Group has launched a Judicial Review of SNH’s decision to grant a licence to the Strathbraan community to control ravens to protect critically endangered wading birds.
The Research licence was the result of 18 months of work by the local farmers and gamekeepers here who undertook counts of ravens and wading birds before applying for the license, which is supported by the SGA and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Many of the land mangers in the license area had taken part in the Scottish Government ‘Understanding Predation’ project, overseen by Scotland’s Moorland Forum.
A multi-party project, Understanding Predation brought together farmers, gamekeepers, ornithologists, raptor workers, RSPB Scotland, forestry interests and others with the shared objective of saving declining waders.
The final report- a unique collaboration of science and local knowledge- concluded that bold and urgent actions were required if Scotland was to save its dwindling populations.
Breeding Curlew, described as the UK’s most urgent conservation priority, have declined by 46 percent in 25 years.
There are now estimated to be only 250- 300 pairs south of Birmingham, a population which could be lost in 8 years.
In Wales, it is predicted the birds could be gone completely by 2025 and Scotland’s response to this urgent wake-up call is now vital.
The UK hosts about a quarter of the world’s breeding pairs in Spring and Summer and what happens here has an impact on global survival.
Inspired by the project, land managers in Strathbraan, who had witnessed the devastation caused by flocks of juvenile ravens hunting fields of wader chicks and eggs, decided to apply for a control licence to protect the local populations.
The Strathbraan area is a core site for breeding waders; something acknowledged by the RSPB’s own  Tayside Wader Survey summary report 2013.
It described Strathbraan East as ‘nationally important’ for Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Snipe and Strathbraan as nationally important for Lapwing and Oystercatcher.
Despite this, populations are still suffering decline (although comparatively less than many other un-managed areas).
The research licence, now to be contested, is an attempt to preserve the core breeding population in a key area.
Crucially, the licence is to protect waders and ravens. In deciding upon the number of ravens to be taken (69), SNH approved the licence on the basis that the numbers would not affect the conservation status of the raven.

Recently, news emerged of the assessment by SNH’s SAC on the ‘science’ of the license.
In terms of the community, we volunteered to suspend the licence whilst these aspects were being looked at. It should be noted that it was not the job of the local land managers to craft the scientific model. It was the job of local land managers to look after the birds and carry out the control humanely and in compliance with the law and spirit of the license, which they have done.

For the community, the justification for the licence came in the shape of what everyone expected- a very good breeding season for Waders here and much better protection for them than in recent times when raven flocks have wiped out chicks in the lowland fields. This, for us, has been a success, no matter how it is measured.

Here is the Community’s statement and latest position: 

“Local farmers and gamekeepers have been united in trying to prevent further loss of rare birds such as the Curlew, which would be tragic especially as action on the ground clearly makes a difference.
“Thanks to the licence, and hens being in good breeding condition, we are delighted to say it has been an excellent breeding year in Strathbraan. Folk at the sharp end have even seen nests of four fledged Curlew chicks for the first time, greatly helped by being better able to protect the chicks and eggs from the raven flocks that have been so damaging in recent years.
“In terms of wader conservation, therefore, it has been a much better season. The license has been temporarily suspended so those on the science side can make adjustments.
“However, the community remains committed to wading bird conservation, spurred on by what has been achieved so far.”


SGA STATEMENT: MOUNTAIN HARES

With reference to a news item on mountain hare, focusing on a paper by Adam Watson and released by RSPB at the start of the grouse season, the SGA has released the following media statement.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “This work is largely at odds with what is being seen on the ground in grouse moor areas, where hare numbers- in good breeding seasons- remain very, very high, sometimes reaching densities of up to 200 hares per sq km.
"It will be helpful to scrutinise the study's methods and consistency given such a discrepancy with the current reality.
“Many of the gamekeepers in the survey area didn't see the author undertake counts, even when they were working in these areas daily, and the study's methods have now been superseded by the new science conducted by GWCT and James Hutton Institute for SNH, which was published in January this year. (1)
“A lot of tax payers’ money was spent conducting that work on how to count hares as accurately as possible and gamekeepers are committed to adopting this in 2018 onwards so the true picture emerges as to where mountain hares may be struggling. 
“Data held by GWCT shows the number of hares taken on grouse moors shows no overall discernible trend since 1954, despite the claims by those seeking to legislate against grouse shooting that culls have been escalated to protect grouse (2). The average annual hare cull of 25 000 represents only 7 percent of the estimated population.
“Whilst on Scottish grouse moors hare numbers remain amongst the highest in Europe, we know there are campaigning wildlife charities, looking after hundreds of sites, with suitable habitat but no mountain hares at all. That revelation may shock and will become clearer to the public and government when the new counting methods are widely adopted, which is what the SGA is calling for.
“Scotland-wide counts of areas where hares were once present will also show exactly how many thousands of acres of the species’ preferred heather habitats have been given over to tree planting and regeneration in areas such as the Cairngorms and what impact this has had on the conservation of the species.”


  1. https://www.snhpresscentre.com/news/new-research-determines-the-best-ways-to-count-scottish-mountain-hares
  2. GWCT graph (below).




Friday, 10 August 2018

POORER GROUSE SEASON WILL STILL NET CONSERVATION 'MILLIONS'

"“They might not have research letters after their name but they are carrying out practical conservation, paid for by the shooting income that drives the business model."

Scotland’s gamekeepers will deliver millions of pounds of ‘free’ conservation this year despite bracing themselves for a poor grouse shooting season.
That is the view of Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg ahead of the start of the 2018 season on Monday (13th August).
With grouse breeding hit by extreme weather there will be less harvestable surplus for paying visitors to shoot and many estates are cancelling days to preserve future stocks, losing income.
Scottish Government will miss out on tax revenue and the tourism sector will suffer but gamekeeping bodies say Scotland’s countryside will still gain millions from un-costed conservation.
Tens of millions of pounds of public money has been claimed in recent years by bird charities and NGOs, through lottery, EU schemes and grants, to conserve species- cash which could become tighter after Brexit.
However skilled legal predator control, benefitting a range of threatened species, is undertaken by gamekeepers daily as part of their employment, lessening cost burdens on tax payers.
And SGA Chairman Alex Hogg says Scotland will still benefit handsomely from the work of gamekeepers which he believes would cost millions each year to replicate or replace.
“Someone ultimately has to pick up the tab for conservation because it is expensive,” he said.
“Our members are out every day in all weathers controlling predators and undertaking habitat work at landscape scale. This protects game species- the business model- so some of the income comes back, but it also benefits an array of species particularly the many threatened ground-nesting birds we now have in Scotland.
“This year, sadly, it looks like we will welcome less international shots for the grouse and that will squeeze the money available for estates to pay for everything else.
“But the management still goes on every day, without diverting public cash the government needs away from other priorities like schools, roads and hospitals.”
Placing a monetary value on gamekeepers’ conservation work is problematic but the SGA Chairman points to recent conservation projects in Scotland and a 2014 report which estimated the conservation value of shoots to be worth 16 000 full-time jobs. (1)*
It is expected that eradicating stoats in Orkney by trapping and lethal control, for example, will cost £3m of public money. Trapping grey squirrels in order to protect the native red led to Scottish Wildlife Trust receiving £2.46m of lottery grants last year. Millions of pounds of European and heritage cash has been spent trying to increase declining Scottish Capercaillie numbers; a small part of which was used up in attempts to control foxes.
“Stoat and fox control are two examples of skilled work which trained gamekeepers undertake every day using approved traps and snares. They are not involved in eradication programmes. They are trying to keep a balance in the countryside so things don’t get to that point.
“They might not have research letters after their name but they are carrying out practical conservation, paid for by the shooting income that drives the business model.
“By controlling foxes, rabbits, deer and mountain hares, they are also helping the farmers protect livestock, poultry and crops for the food chain, and young trees.
“I don’t think it is an over-estimation to say this service would be valued at millions per annum, if it was to be funded by public finance.”
The 2014 report: The Value of Shooting by PACEC placed the value of conservation on all UK shoots at 3.9 million work days; the equivalent of 16 000 full-time conservation jobs.
Nearly 30 percent of UK shoots are also responsible for sites containing conservation designations.



The Grouse season in Scotland is estimated to be worth £32m to the economy each year.
A survey of 45 grouse estates last year showed that £23m of trade to local businesses was generated by grouse estates before a grouse was even shot. Despite projected lost shooting income that level of investment will already have been committed in 2018.


The Costs of Conservation and Pest Management (some examples).












Saturday, 4 August 2018

RONNIE ROSE AWARD AND LONG SERVICE MEDAL WINNERS


Four individuals who worked to end a controversial deer management dispute in Assynt have been presented with a major rural award.
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith, Ray Mackay of Assynt Crofters’ Trust and woodland adviser Victor Clements all played a part in breaking an impasse over deer impacts at a designated woodland site at Ardvar.
The issue regarding the extent of deer browsing damage to protected woodlands became divisive and Scottish Natural Heritage had decided to impose a statutory Order on the community until fresh evidence forced a rethink.
On Friday, the persistence of the individuals in presenting their case against the odds was honoured with the presentation of the Ronnie Rose award at Moy Game Fair.
The trophy, in the name of the late author, deer manager and MBE, was inaugurated by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) in order to recognise individuals who have devoted significant energy to rural conservation or education.
Judges deemed the work of the quartet to be an example to all fragile communities who believe local knowledge should play a part in shaping futures.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “All of these individuals, and others, played a part in different stages in Assynt, assisted by Victor Clements’ knowledge of how deer interact with their habitats. What unites them are the hours they gave and the passion with which they pursued evidence to re-state their position. They refused to give up and, in doing so, demonstrated to authorities that the knowledge of land managers on the ground should not be dismissed when making decisions affecting peoples’ lives. Their resilience is an example.”
Ray Mackay, Vice Chair of Assynt Crofters’ Trust, who could not make the presentation in person, was at the helm of the local deer management group when SNH decided to back away from using statutory powers.
He said: “This would not be possible if it had not been for all the people who advised, cajoled and encouraged - members of the Assynt Peninsula Deer Management Sub-Group and members of the Sport & Game Committee of the Assynt Crofters' Trust. I would like to thank two people for their support- Jim Payne, owner of Ardvar Estate, and Michael Ross, the gamekeeper there. I would also like to acknowledge the gracious support offered by Dr Mike Cantlay. His first Board meeting as Chair of SNH was the meeting at which the Assynt Peninsula came under the spotlight. Although the Board's decision went against us, Mike kept a line of communication open and, with his input, SNH adopted a different approach which eventually led to the agreement we now have.”
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith led the local deer group at the beginning of the dispute. They were delighted to receive the award at Moy.
“I feel very honoured that the work I and other colleagues have done for deer in Assynt led to ournames being put forward,” said Mary.
David added: “Hopefully what has been learned will make those responsible for policy documents to listen to those on the ground involved in deer management on a daily basis.”
Victor Clements, who advised the group, said: “The resolution at Ardvar/Assynt shows what can be achieved when people focus on issues and evidence, not the arguments.”
Three individuals also received long service medals from the SGA for 40 years of unbroken service to their profession.
Badanloch Stalker Brian Lyall, Kinloch-Hourn stalker Donald Cameron and Glenfeshie gamekeeper David Taylor all received medals over the weekend, presented by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and Committee Member, Iain Hepburn.





Tuesday, 31 July 2018

RONNIE ROSE AWARD TO BE PRESENTED AT MOY ON FRIDAY

David Howarth with the 2017 Ronnie Rose Award
The SGA is delighted to announce that the 2018 Ronnie Rose Award for conservation and education will be presented on Friday (3rd August) at Moy Highland Fieldsports Fair.
Team SGA is gearing up for the second show event of 2018 and will welcome Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP to present the awards.
As well as the Ronnie Rose award presentation, we will also be handing over the next set of Long Service medals to individuals who have given 40 years of unbroken service to the gamekeeping, stalking, gillie-ing or wildlife management professions.
The first recipients received their medals and framed certificates at GWCT Scottish Game Fair at Scone, a ceremony which swelled the crowd at the SGA stand.
We look forward to seeing everyone for the presentations on Friday, which will get underway at 11am.
See you there.


Friday, 27 July 2018

Newcastle Disease - Threat Level Raised By Government


Diseases - Newcastle Disease

Newcastle Disease

Newcastle disease is a highly contagious disease of birds caused by a para-myxo virus. Birds affected by this disease are fowls, turkeys, geese, ducks, pheasants, guinea fowl and other wild and captive birds, including ratites such ostriches, emus and rhea.
The disease is transmitted through infected birds' droppings and secretions from the nose, mouth, and eyes. The disease is spread primarily through direct contact between healthy birds and the bodily discharges of infected birds. Virus-bearing material can also be picked up on shoes and clothing and carried from an infected flock to a healthy one.
Possible routes of transmission therefore include contact between poultry and also through movements of contaminated vehicles, equipment, manure, feed and water.
The virus can survive for several weeks in a warm and humid environment on birds' feathers, manure, and other materials.
Effective vaccines are available and some poultry are vaccinated routinely.

Current Situation

Following a number of outbreaks of a virulent strain of Newcastle Disease in small poultry flocks, commercial layers and other captive birds in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the risk of a disease outbreak in GB has been raised from low to Medium (meaning ‘outbreak likely to occur’).
Although the risk has increased, government has advised that shows and gatherings can still take place subject to increased vigilance and rigid compliance with a biosecurity plan, as required by the current General Licence.  As an added precaution we are advising organisers of gatherings to require all exhibitors and participants to complete and sign a declaration, confirming that birds at the event have not been outside of the UK within the last 21 days and that none of the birds are showing any signs of, or have been in contact with birds showing any clinical signs of Newcastle Disease.
In Great Britain, isolated cases of this disease were first reported in the 1930s.  From 1947 outbreaks occurred here over the next 30 years, and there were further isolated cases in 1984 and 1996-7.  The most recent case was during October/November 2006 in East Lothian.

Biosecurity Guidance

The best defence - as with all exotic animal diseases - is a high level of awareness and good biosecurity. Poultry keepers and businesses in Scotland are reminded of the importance of maintaining biosecurity in their flocks and being vigilant to any signs of disease in their birds.
We have published a new biosecurity leaflet for all bird keepers and detailed guidance advising poultry keepers how to minimise the risk of infection on their premises.
If you suspect Newcastle Disease is present in your flock, you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant and Health Agency (APHA) office immediately. Failure to do so can be deemed an offence.
Further information on biosecurity and good practice is available via the links below:

Bird Gatherings

Bird gatherings are permitted (outside any specific control zones which may be in force) but must comply with all of the conditions in the bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings general licence.
The general licence allows the collecting together of poultry and other captive birds from more than one source at one location, while minimising the risk of disease spreading between flocks. The licence allows bird gatherings to proceed subject to conditions and prior notification to the Inverness Animal and Plant Health Agency Office.
If holding or attending a bird gathering, you must read and adhere to the conditions within the general licence. You may also wish to read our guidance for the conduct of bird fairs, markets, shows and other gatherings. Non-compliance with the general licence may constitute an offence and a person may be liable to a term not exceeding six months in prison, and/or a £5,000 fine on conviction.
Should the risk change, the veterinary risk assessment will be revised, subsequently the general licence may be amended or revoked.
Biosecurity measures should also be considered at events that do not require general licensing, such as sales or showing of birds from single flocks on premises at which other bird events may take place. The following measures should be taken:
  • All litter and manure within the cages, crates or baskets must be contained until disposal; any spillages outside the cage to be cleansed and disinfected immediately
  • All litter and manure must be disposed of in a manner which does not present a risk of spread of the disease (e.g. in sealed bags for normal refuse collection, so that other birds do not have direct access to it)
  • All exhibitors/entrants must be instructed to cleanse and disinfect the show cages, crates or baskets before the event and advise them that the show cages, crates or baskets should be cleansed and disinfected on return to the home premises and before they are used to hold any other bird.

Great Britain Poultry Register

There is a legal requirement for all commercial poultry keepers with 50 or more birds to register their premises. The voluntary registration of premises with fewer than 50 birds is encouraged.
You can find out more information about registration here: https://www.gov.uk/poultry-registration

Credit to Brittish Goverment Website

Thursday, 26 July 2018

ADDITIONAL TIME TO REPLACE PREDATOR TRAPS

Image: Legal trap intentionally vandalised by a member of the public in Scotland.
The SGA is pleased to announce to members that, following a consultation, additional time is to be given for replacement of stoat traps. 
Under the new Spring Trap Approval Order, announced by DEFRA and Scottish Govt, those who legally trap abundant stoats to protect ground-nesting birds will be given until January 2020 to replace the current Fenn-style traps with new AIHTS compliant traps.
This sensible extension allows time for a new trap models to be developed and avoids the very real possibility of manufacturers being swamped with orders at the one time and people being devoid of compliant traps until orders can be fulfilled.


Thursday, 12 July 2018

CURLEW BOUNCE BACK IN CONTROVERSIAL RAVEN CONTROL AREA OF STRATHBRAAN

*The SGA is delighted to hear news of wader success in Strathbraan in 2018. The SGA is providing technical support to the SGA members within the control area.



Land managers in Strathbraan are predicting an excellent year for endangered waders following the granting of measures to protect vulnerable chicks from predation.
Farmers and gamekeepers were granted a license from Scottish Natural Heritage to control juvenile flocks of predatory ravens in a bid to protect birds such as Curlew; now classed the UK’s most urgent conservation priority.
Breeding Curlew populations have crashed by half in the UK in 25 years and, across Europe, the estimated breeding success per pair is only 0.34 chicks per nest- not enough to prevent further declines.*
The management trial, which allowed up to 69 ravens to be taken this year, was controversial in some quarters, despite frequent and widely accepted observations of chick predation by marauding raven flocks.
Anecdotal reports on the ground suggest the additional protection afforded to the wader chicks has already paid dividends this year.
Strathbraan has seen the rare and welcome sight of nests fledging four Curlew chicks this year, leading to optimism that productivity counts will demonstrate much needed relief for the embattled birds.
Encouragingly, raven predation pressure seems to have been low this year, with fewer than half permitted under the license, having been taken.
“There is a definite upsurge this year in the waders,” said local gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen, whose ground falls within the licensed area. “We have barely seen a pair of Curlew without chicks.
“Oystercatchers are roughly the same as we observe but Curlew and Lapwing have made a big shift. The hens were in good breeding condition but the chicks have been much better protected.
“The ravens have got clever, which we anticipated, plus they have not been able to build up enough in numbers to cause the damage this time.
“That was the main problem last year; ravens coming in and hammering the chicks on the floor of the glen.
“I think we would be very surprised, next year, if we did not see high numbers return from the wintering ground, given the sheer amount of chicks we have put away successfully this year.”
While wading bird numbers have plummeted in the UK, ravens have benefitted from full legal protection. Their numbers have doubled since 1994 while Curlew have declined 46 percent in 25 years.
Low breeding success is cited as the principal reason for Curlew population decline.
A recent Scottish Government funded multi-party report, Understanding Predation, concluded that ravens were predators of ground nesting birds and that bold and urgent conservation measures were required to save red-listed waders.
*Roodbergen M, et al. Journal of Ornithology 2012; 153: 53–74.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Letter Of Thanks From Gamekeepers Welfare Trust


Dear All

Thank you very much to everyone who could attend yesterday Sunday 1st July on the GWCT stand and to GWCT for kindly hosting our gathering on a very hot afternoon – it is not easy getting away from stands and we do appreciate your time and support.

I hope you will agree we are off to a great start in achieving the aims and objectives we set out at our meeting at The Borders College.

Please could you contact your relevant departments to organise incorporating the Stag training course on your websites and contact me as to requirements i.e. logos, images etc.  This is very important in ensuring that everyone knows that you all support our initiative and delegates can easily access information to book their places.

Please feel free to circulate our group photo on any of your social media platforms which I hope to receive shortly and will forward.

Thank you very much indeed.

Helen M J Benson
Gamekeepers Welfare Trust
Keepers Cottage West Tanfield Ripon North Yorkshire HG4 5LE
Office:  01677 470180
Jamies Helpline: 0300 1233088

Saturday, 30 June 2018

SCOTLAND'S TOP YOUNG GAMEKEEPER AND VETERANS RECOGNISED BY SGA







Scotland’s young gamekeeper of 2018 was crowned at Scone Palace on Friday (29th), fringed by veterans with nearly 200 years of combined land management experience.
It was generation game on day one of Scottish Game Fair as Craig Hepburn (22) was declared Young Gamekeeper of the Year, an award presented by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.
Selected from a final shortlist of 3, the highlander, who works at Candacraig Estate, was presented with first prize by SGA Vice Chairman Peter Fraser and NFUS Vice President Martin Kennedy.
Also receiving the inaugural SGA long service medals were four stalwarts still employed after over 40 years of managing Scotland’s countryside.
Hamish Ferguson (76), Michael Ewen (64), Lea McNally (66) and ‘nipper’ of the quartet, Colin Espie (63) received specially engraved medals for unbroken service.
SGA Vice Chairman Peter Fraser said: “It is great to see ambassadors, spanning the generations, being recognised. In Scotland’s Year of Young People, we have Craig- in his early career- standing shoulder to shoulder with individuals whose passion and devotion to good land and river management are examples to all.
“Scotland is internationally renowned for its landscape and it is the gamekeepers, farmers, ghillies and land managers, with their hours of toil and care, at the frontline.
“These professions and the skills and stewardship required bring people to Scotland, put food on tables, sustain fragile wildlife and keep young people and opportunity in our glens.
“The SGA is delighted to honour Craig, Hamish, Michael, Lea and Colin for the part they have played, and will continue to play, in a major success story for Scotland.”
Craig completed Modern Apprenticeship and NC qualifications in gamekeeping at North Highland College UHI before becoming beat keeper at Candacraig in 2014.
Despite being a 6th generation gamekeeper, Craig’s progressive outlook, education work with youngsters, commitment and early promotion to second position impressed judges.
“Gamekeeping is in the family blood,” said Craig. “I think gamekeepers today, as well as working hard, have to do their bit in education so the public understand more about what we do and the benefits of that.”
At the opposite end of the seniority scale, stalker and gamekeeper Hamish Ferguson was honoured for 61 years of service, starting at Balmoral in 1957 and continuing today at Glenogil Estate, Angus.
Stalker Lea MacNally’s 40 years of helping clients pursue the ‘Monarch of the Glen’ at Glenquoich landed him a medal, while Colin Espie’s 47 years at Glen Tanar Estate guiding guests in stalking and landing the ‘king of fish’ was rewarded.
Michael Ewen, who started out as a ghillie on the Spey in December 1969, collected his prize, admitting he never imagined he’d still be on the Rothes beat 48 years on.
“I didn’t think much about it,” he said, “I always loved fishing. The opportunity came up and I took it. I think today’s young ghillies move jobs more. I suppose it is quite rare these days to be in one place, or one job, so long but we have been lucky with our guests.

“The Spey is a big employer and it’s vital we do all we can to ensure we still have fish in future.”