Friday, 9 April 2021

RURAL WORKERS' PROTEST, #RWP21: Support and the next steps

On behalf of the organisers of #RWP21 (ourselves and Scotland’s regional moorland groups) the SGA office was delighted today to receive the latest response to the Rural Workers’ Protest, this time from Finlay Carson, Scottish Conservatives.


Mr Carson praised the success of the Protest in highlighting the thousands of rural workers whose concerns are often overlooked. He expressed support for accelerated research into salmon decline and also for one of the key asks of #RWP21 - that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should become part of the Scottish school curriculum. See the 5 ASKS of #RWP21, here: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/03/rwp21-5-asks.html



This proposal has also received supportive comments and suggestions from Kate Forbes and Graeme Dey of SNP whilst further positive messages regarding #RWP21 have been received from Fergus Ewing, Alexander Burnett, Edward Mountain, Liz Smith, Murdo Fraser and Oliver Mundell. 


We are grateful to all of them for their responses.


On top of messages of support for the objectives of #RWP21 from 17 political figures across 4 different parties, it seems the Protest, conducted in an honest and constructive manner, reached out beyond party political lines, highlighting some real issues which are of genuine concern to rural workers on river and land.


It has also been encouraging to see the Scottish media and diverse stakeholders from across the countryside expressing an interest in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code being formally taught in schools.



If you agree that the Code should become part of the schools curriculum, take the poll on the home page of the SGA website. It takes 2 seconds and can be found at www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
Want to find out how to take the poll? Watch the film below. 



Organisers note that the election manifesto of Alliance for Unity, announced this week, references the need for a policy forum for rural workers at Holyrood. See their manifesto, here: https://www.alliance4unity.uk/manifesto/ This was one of the key asks of the Protest and it is encouraging to see parties developing these themes. We hope others follow suit as we try to make Holyrood a place where the practical knowledge of rural workers, hewn from years of experience on water and land, is given greater credence than at present.


On behalf of the thousands who took part in the Protest, the organisers are determined to ensure that the 5 ASKS are taken forward after the Election by the elected politicians and that the spirit of the Protest results in tangible change and progress.


Following a review by organisers, some initial data has emerged from #RWP21 which we want to share for the benefit of all those who gave up working time to take part, whether they were ghillie-ing for fishing guests, taking bookings for the 2021 seasons, serving customers, prepping for lambing, feeding hungry birds or using the weather window to undertake some planned muirburn.


The Media reach of #RWP21 was 2.24 million people (print, online, broadcast)

Social media reach was over 1.8 million people

5213 people added #RWP21 frames/Twibbons to profile pages

Over 3100 people posted individual posts using the #RWP21 hashtag

Over 8000 people referenced #RWP21 as part of posts

The 5 key ASKS were delivered to all Scottish politicians along with the ‘Grow the Protest’ statement, which was signed by 2172 people in a matter of days.

#RWP21 responses and endorsements have been received, so far, from 26 politicians.  





SGA PAYS RESPECTS AT PASSING OF DUKE OF EDINBURGH

A statement from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association on the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh today, aged 99.

Everyone at The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) wishes to pass on respects and condolences to the Royal family following the sad passing of the Duke of Edinburgh.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg, MBE, said: “The Duke was a fine man and a lover of country sports. He spent happy times in Scotland and showed nothing but respect for the skills and knowledge of people in our industry whom he enjoyed spending time with. We send on our wishes to the Royal family and to all his friends at this sad time.”


Thursday, 8 April 2021

MAY ELECTION: SNP/GREEN PACT: The consequences for rural workers

 SGA members have made us aware they would like to know more about the Election on May 6th and candidates they can vote for. 


We will be providing overview information on several seats prior to the Election. 

Please note: The SGA is not affiliated to any political party. The information is intended only as a helpful guide, offered from the perspective of members' interests, as requested.


People should vote according to personal choice. However, we will give advice for circumstances in which people would wish to vote solely for the purposes of protecting their profession.




SNP/Green pact: the consequences for rural workers.


In looking at seats, we have provided an analysis based on what candidates have done for rural workers in Holyrood or, if not yet elected, looked at their standpoints on issues to gauge where they might stand in relation to workers on river and land.


See our overviews of Perthshire South and Kinross-shire: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/04/may-election-perthshire-south-and.html

and Aberdeenshire West: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/04/may-election-aberdeenshire-west-overview.html


The introduction of new regional list parties, this time, introduces fresh dynamics but one particular potential alliance which rural workers should be wary of, if voting for professional reasons, is the potential for a deeper relationship between a dominant SNP and the Green Party. 


Following the 2016 Holyrood election, the SNP chose to form an alliance with the Greens in order to build a ‘majority’ which would enable them to pass budgets as Scotland’s Government. The Greens, too, are pro-independence. The partnership, therefore, was understandable. This alliance gave Scottish Government the numbers required to progress its priorities, with the Greens supporting budgets and even providing the balance to help tip crucial no confidence votes at the end of the term. 


In turn, however, the Scottish Government also had to accommodate the Green agenda when it came to bills, priorities and commitments. The urban-focused Greens wielded this influence punitively against sections of the land management community in the last Parliament, despite its vote share being 0.6% of the constituency vote and 6.6% of the regional vote in Scotland. (See: Greens in the last Parliament, below).


The perception from rural workers, which came to the fore in #RWP21, the Rural Workers’ Protest (and hence this article) was that this alliance had damaged trust in Scottish Government in issues affecting the countryside.


Rural workers who had supported SNP as a rural party or because they personally aspired to independence, had turned to other parties or had become disillusioned or torn because their hopes for their jobs and homes were at odds with their personal beliefs. If pushed, they felt they now had to speak up for their jobs, first. The adoption of Green priorities was cited as the principle cause of this change. 


Recent messaging and polling would suggest there may be little comfort for the voter falling into this category. 


Present polls suggest the Greens may move from the 6 seats won in 2016 to 10 or 11 seats. Should the SNP gain an outright majority, the need to partner with the Greens, on the face of it, has less urgency. 


However, if they fall short of a majority, the Greens’ will gain further ground as SNP’s partners in Edinburgh. Naturally, they will demand more in return. 


Recent stories have emerged which seem to suggest the prospect of a deeper alliance between the Greens and SNP are real, potentially regardless of whether that majority is secured or not. The reason for this would appear to be that this would strengthen the SNP’s hand to demand an independence referendum from Westminster. A report in the Daily Record quoted Green co-leader Lorna Slater as saying she would accept a Ministerial role.


See: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/scottish-green-party-co-leader-23872431


https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/snp-on-green-alert-for-holyrood-election-as-hopes-of-majority-recede-and-coalition-seems-likely-npv87xsw7


If members intend to vote purely to benefit their employment as a rural worker, we felt it was important to make this information available. There may be other candidates or parties who have shown a willingness to work with, or listen to, rural workers. You should make yourself aware of these before heading to the polling booth.


Here is a handy full candidate list for the May 6th Election, published by the Daily Record. Punch in your postcode to find the full list of candidates for where you stay, and their parties: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/scottish-election-2021-find-candidates-23835321

 

Also, as mentioned in our other election overview articles, there are other pro-independence options on the ballot paper in the regional list other than the Greens (if independence is your prime motivation when voting). One obvious example is Alex Salmond’s recently created Alba Party.




Greens in the last Parliament:


The Scottish Green Party have inflicted damage to sections of the rural workforce and are outward when it comes to advocating policies that will harm existing rural employment. 

Vociferously opposed to the shooting community, they want to end grouse shooting and ban the use of hounds for fox management, see: https://greens.scot/news/scottish-greens-vow-to-end-fox-hunting-for-good They want to further restrict muirburn. 


Green MSP Alison Johnstone was the architect of the move to place mountain hares on Schedule 5, an ill-advised policy attached to a passing bill at Stage 3 during a pandemic which had no Parliamentary debate and no scrutiny by the Bill’s lead Committee. Mountain hares will now be killed under flexible licences for tree planting schemes, which the Greens favour. Other Green amendments were added to the Animals and Wildlife Bill at late stages such as reintroducing the ban on tail shortening of working dogs and restricting the ability to manage beavers, which would have adversely impacted farmers and some river workers. Andy Wightman, when working as a Green MSP, drove the suspension of muirburn during lockdown, in contrary to advice given to SGA members from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and NatureScot.

The Scottish Greens have acted as an unofficial Parliamentary delivery arm of the group, Revive, who want to end grouse shooting and place families on the dole. The Greens have been parroting false factsfrom Revive on 2021 election material. See: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/03/sga-complain-to-electoral-commission.html  The Scottish Greens want new Green jobs but are blind to the fact that those who will have to deliver climate mitigations, on the ground, are the very people they are trying to make unemployed.





Wednesday, 7 April 2021

MAY ELECTION: Aberdeenshire West overview

SGA members have made us aware they would like to know more about the Election on May 6th and candidates they can vote for. 


We will be providing information on several seats prior to the Election. 

Please note: The SGA is not affiliated to any political party. The information is intended only as a helpful guide, offered from the perspective of members' interests, as requested.

People should vote according to personal choice. However, we will give advice for circumstances in which people would wish to vote solely for the purposes of protecting their profession.


Overview: Aberdeenshire West


Choices on the ballot paper: 


On May 6th, voters will get the opportunity to vote for which person they want as their Constituency MSP. This person will be an individual representing a party or will be independent.

Voters will also get the opportunity to vote for a Party in the Regional List.


For the Constituency vote, the person with the highest number of votes becomes the Constituency MSP. In the regional list, a total of 7 MSPs are selected. This is allocated around the share of the vote. If a party has already won a Constituency seat, they will win less regional list seats. The system is designed this way to avoid any one party dominating.



One of the key seats in this election will be Aberdeenshire West - one of the most marginal seats in Scotland and a 2 horse race between the Conservatives and SNP when it comes to the constituency vote.


The constituency seat is currently held by Alexander Burnett, Conservative, who held a 900 vote majority over SNP’s Dennis Robertson after the 2016 Holyrood election.


This time, the SNP candidate is Aberdonian Fergus Mutch, a former SNP Communications Director. Mutch, in his early 30s, ran for the Westminster seat, losing narrowly to Andrew Bowie (Conservative) and led the SNP’s ‘rejoin the EU’ campaign.


The SNP will have targeted this seat as a priority to win back while the Conservatives will want to hold the seat in a region they have recently done well in (also holding 4 regional list seats).


Alexander Burnett, again the Conservative candidate in the constituency seat, operates an estate in the area, with interests in farming, sporting and forestry. During his time at Holyrood, he has campaigned on tick-borne Lyme Disease and has spoken up for rural workers in his constituency in debates and bill readings and during his time on the ECCLR Committee. He recently endorsed the aims of the Rural Workers’ Protest, #RWP21 (see Twitter post below).



The extent of Fergus Mutch’s backing (SNP) of rural workers’ concerns is, presently, unknown given that he has no current record in Holyrood. This, of course, may change if he wins the seat.

He supported a motion at SNP conference for replanting of the Caledonian pine forest and wants to make Scotland a ‘prosperous nation through independence.’


Votes for other parties in the constituency vote are unlikely to impact the final outcome in this particular seat with all other contenders some distance behind (see 2016 election results, above). The Lib Dems, however, enjoy seeds of support in the area and will want to maintain a presence.


The regional list is different. (see regional vote share, 2016)



Voters will have a bigger choice of parties on the regional list including some new parties which could have a significant bearing on the final election result eg: Alex Salmond is running for his new pro-independence Alba party on the regional list in this region. The anti-independence, pro-Union party, Alliance for Unity, will also run candidates.


With this seat being such a close contest, it is likely that those wanting to maximise their vote could opt for both votes going to their main candidate/party choice - in constituency AND regional list- in order to hedge their bets and get the representation they want.


For example, pro Conservative or even pro-Union supporters may vote for Alexander Burnett and may also vote Conservative in the regional list in case Fergus Mutch should claim the constituency seat back for SNP.

Similarly, pro SNP supporters may vote for Fergus Mutch in the Constituency vote and SNP in the regional list, in case the constituency seat remains with the Conservatives.


If voting purely to benefit your employment as a rural worker, rather than voting along personal conscience lines, a rule of thumb is that people should be wary of any vote for the Green Party on the regional list, in any area, even if it was a decision taken to potentially boost a pro-independence aspiration (there are other pro-independence options on the ballot paper, chiefly Alex Salmond’s Alba Party).


The Scottish Green Party have inflicted damage to sections of the rural workforce and are outward when it comes to advocating policies that will harm rural employment. 

Vociferously opposed to the shooting community, they want to end grouse shooting and ban the use of hounds for fox management, see: https://greens.scot/news/scottish-greens-vow-to-end-fox-hunting-for-good They want to further restrict muirburn. 


Green MSP Alison Johnstone was the architect of the move to place mountain hares on Schedule 5, an ill-advised policy attached to a passing bill at Stage 3 during a pandemic which had no Parliamentary debate and no scrutiny by the Bill’s lead Committee. Andy Wightman, when working as a Green MSP, was behind the suspension of muirburn during lockdown, in contrary to advice given to SGA from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and NatureScot.

The Scottish Greens have acted as an unofficial Parliamentary delivery arm of the group, Revive, who want to end grouse shooting and place families on the dole; even to the point of parroting false factsfrom Revive on election material. See: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/03/sga-complain-to-electoral-commission.html  The Scottish Greens want new Green jobs but are blind to the fact that those who will have to deliver climate mitigations, on the ground, are the very people they are trying to make unemployed.



How do I find the polling station?: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/elections/scottish-parliament-election/

Monday, 5 April 2021

MAY ELECTION: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire overview

SGA members have made us aware they would like to know more about the Election on May 6th and candidates they can vote for. 

We will be providing information on several seats prior to the Election. 
Please note: The SGA is not affiliated to any political party. The information is intended as a helpful guide, from the perspective of members' interests.
People should vote according to personal choice. However, we will give advice for circumstances in which people would wish to vote solely for the purposes of protecting their profession.


Overview: Perthshire South and Kinross-shire.

On May 6th, voters will get the opportunity to vote for which person they want to be their Constituency MSP. This person will be an individual representing a party or will be independent.

Voters will also get the opportunity to vote for a Party in the Regional List.


For the Constituency vote, the person with the highest number of votes becomes the Constituency MSP. In the regional list, a total of 7 MSPs are selected. This is allocated around the share of the vote. If a party has already won a Constituency seat, they will win less regional list seats. The system is designed this way to avoid any one party dominating.


One of the key seats in this election will be Perthshire South and Kinross-shire - a 2 horse race between SNP and the Conservatives when it comes to the constituency vote.


The constituency seat has been held for SNP by former Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham, who is not running in this election.

Her place, as a candidate, has been taken by Jim Fairlie.

At the last election in 2016, Roseanna Cunningham’s majority was cut as Liz Smith made headway for the Conservatives. 

The final winning margin was 1422 votes. Both SNP and Conservatives will make winning this seat a high priority.


Liz Smith visiting SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and rural workers in the Scottish Borders, 2020.


Jim Fairlie, SNP, has not been an MSP before so it is difficult to analyse his record of support for rural workers. However, as a former hill farmer of 13 years and founder of Perth Farmers’ Market, he has an understanding of rural issues and has shown a willingness to meet local land workers. https://www.facebook.com/JimFairlieSNP/


SNP candidate Jim Fairlie


Liz Smith, Conservatives, was very supportive of rural workers in the last Parliament, most recently expressing admiration of the work of local gamekeepers, ghillies and farmers in the constituency through a video supporting the Rural Workers’ Protest #RWP21 See: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=802302387307514

She has spoken up during debates on rural issues at Holyrood and has also tabled Parliamentary questions on issues such as September deer culls in state forests- a major SGA concern.


Votes for other parties in the constituency vote are unlikely to impact the final outcome in this particular seat with all other contenders some distance behind (see 2016 election results, above)


The regional list is different. 


Voters will have a bigger choice of parties on the regional list including some new parties which could have a bearing on the final election result eg: Alex Salmond’s pro-independence Alba party and the anti-independence, pro-Union party, Alliance for Unity, led by Jamie Blackett and George Galloway, who also expressed support for #RWP21 See: https://twitter.com/ScotGamekeepers/status/1372890573703643138?s=20


With this seat being such a close contest, it is likely that those wanting to maximise their vote could opt for both votes going to their main candidate/party choice - in constituency and regional list- in order to hedge bets.


For example, pro SNP supporters may vote for Jim Fairlie in the Constituency vote and SNP in the regional list, in case the constituency seat goes to the Conservatives.

Similarly, pro Conservative or even pro-Union supporters may vote for Liz Smith and may also vote Conservative in the regional list in case SNP hold the constituency.


If voting purely to benefit your employment as a rural worker, rather than voting along personal conscience lines, a rule of thumb is that people should be wary of any vote for the Green Party on the regional list, in any area, even if it was a decision taken to potentially boost a pro-independence aspiration (there are other pro-independence options on the ballot paper such as Alba).


The Scottish Green Party, who will have Mark Ruskell as a candidate on the regional list in this seat, have inflicted damage to sections of the rural workforce and are outward when it comes to advocating policies that will harm rural employment. 

Vociferously opposed to the shooting community, they want to end grouse shooting, ban the use of hounds for fox management and further restrict muirburn. Green MSP Alison Johnstone was the architect of the move to place mountain hares on Schedule 5, an ill-advised policy which was attached to a passing bill at Stage 3 and had no Parliamentary debate and minimal scrutiny. Andy Wightman, when working as a Green MSP, was behind the suspension of muirburn during lockdown, against the advice of Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and NatureScot. The Scottish Greens have acted as an unofficial Parliamentary delivery arm of the group, Revive, who want to end grouse shooting and place families on the dole; even to the point of parroting false ‘facts’ from Revive on election material. See: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2021/03/sga-complain-to-electoral-commission.html  The Scottish Greens want new Green jobs but are blind to the fact that those who will have to deliver climate mitigations on the ground are the very people they are trying to make unemployed.



Wednesday, 31 March 2021

SGA COMPLAIN TO ELECTORAL COMMISSION OVER MISLEADING GREEN FLYER

The misleading Scottish Green Party election flyer

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to write to the Electoral Commission about Green Party campaign literature they say promotes misleading information about grouse moors.

The Greens have been posting leaflets for May’s Scottish Parliament elections telling potential voters they will campaign to phase out grouse shooting in Scotland.

Grouse shooting supports 2500 full time Scottish Jobs, creating more per hectare employment than forestry and woodland schemes which also require more public subsidy (1).

However, in a flyer, Maggie Chapman, who is running for the Greens in the North East region is quoted as saying that grouse moor owners averagely pay less than the minimum wage.

She is also quoted as saying that grouse moors cover up to a fifth of Scotland.

Gamekeepers point towards research into grouse moor socioeconomics by SRUC and James Hutton Institute, which was commissioned by Scottish Government and dismisses the claims. 

The reports, published in 2018 and 2020, state that grouse moors cover, as a maximum, up to one tenth of Scotland’s uplands, with authors acknowledging this is likely to be less.

Gamekeepers’ wages vary across full-time and part-time employment, with full-time positions often providing a home and vehicle as part of employee benefits.

The majority of gamekeepers are also providing unsubsidised deer and predator management as part of their roles on grouse moors.

“The Green Party have the right to campaign on whatever platform they choose. However, if they are going to propose measures which will put 2500 skilled workers and their families on the dole, they shouldn’t be trying to dupe voters on the basis of inaccurate information,” said Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman, Alex Hogg.

“The Scottish Government’s report into grouse moor economics was paid for by the Scottish tax payers. It seems the Greens have selectively chosen to ignore it.

“If voters are to be able to make informed choices and for confidence in the Parliament to be maintained, surely politicians have at least some duty to present a semblance of fact.

“This is especially true if what they are proposing is the destruction of peoples’ livelihoods and a way of life which is part of the country’s cultural heritage.”

The Green Party leaflet is critical of grouse moor owners for supporting less than 3000 Scottish jobs.

However, the 2020 research, commissioned by Scottish Government, demonstrated that driven grouse moors provided more jobs, per hectare, than all the other moorland land uses which the authors studied.

The Electoral Commission was critical of political parties in its review of the 2019 General Election urging candidates to take greater responsibility for how their campaigns impacted public trust.


(1): https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-report-socioeconomic-biodiversity-impacts-driven-grouse-moors-employment-rights-gamekeepers/pages/4/


A visual summary of what the Scottish Government commissioned report said about grouse moor socio-economics.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

TROUBLE AHEAD: Viewpoint article following the Deer Working Group report

Trouble Ahead by Victor Clements.

Copyright: Andy Udall.

Introduction

The Scottish Government have just published their reply to the Deer Working Group (DWG) Report, then promptly closed down parliament and left how to deal with it to their successors. There can be no discussion or scrutiny at this stage while they go off to try and get elected again. 


The DWG report had 99 recommendations. For the record, I agreed with 86 of them, seeing the opportunity to clear up ambiguous areas of the existing legislation, and to deal with a range of matters that seem sensible and practical. There are certainly some good parts to the report, and we should acknowledge this. 

The remaining recommendations seemed to me to be unnecessary and inflammatory to an industry that has been progressing well in recent years. 

The Scottish Government have however decided that they approve of these measures as well. As a deer advisor and a native woodland enthusiast from long before this has become fashionable, the proposals have left me deflated, and now angry. 

I don’t often get angry. 

From being in a strong position in 2019, we have to fight all these battles again. Government have the ear of those who can shout the loudest. The evidence seems to matter less. This goes to the core of what the #RWP21 Rural Workers Protest was and is about.
 
Stalkers will look immediately to the proposal to remove the stag season and I have something to say about that, but we need to look at the back of the report first, and work forward from there if we are to appreciate fully the full extent of what is going on. The stag season is only part of it. 

A Planned Cull Approval System 

At the moment, you set your own cull targets. If your deer group is working well, you analyse all the information available to you, decide what your cull should be, and allocate this to each property. Nature Scot (formerly SNH) will be party to your deliberations, and contribute to this process. They can intervene if you are not doing things well. It is a voluntary approach, but it can be made to work. This is why we have been doing population models and suchlike in recent years, planning ahead using the information available. 

There is a proposal now that Nature Scot approve your planned cull. Some will try to tell you that this is no big deal and no doubt it will be presented as something fairly benign, but if this is to be robust and gain the backing of the conservation charities, then they will want their say, and want to be consulted. 

A flexible and proportionate voluntary approach will inevitably have to become stringent enough to withstand challenge, both from external parties and from property owners. The convoluted paper trails so beloved of government agencies will then apply to us, too. There will have to be penalties that can be levied for non- compliance. You will not be setting your cull levels. Nature Scot will be doing this for you on behalf of the government. Bear in mind that there is already provision for fines of up to £40,000 for not abiding by the requirements of a deer management plan, and you get an idea of the kind of pressure that could be brought to bear. 

Alternatively, you could be licensed to shoot so many deer, and if you cannot do this, then the license could be transferred to some-one else. These options are speculation on my part, but “A Planned Cull Approval System” is most certainly statutory deer management, and to be legally compliant, would need to apply to not just the 2000- odd estates within the main deer range, but the other 50,000 land holdings in Scotland as well. 

It would be a massive bureaucracy that would tie both government and every one of us up in red tape. They cannot make a new law just for the people they don’t like, it has to be for everyone. Any government who tried to bring in such a regime would simply not understand the people or culture of the country they claimed to represent, but this is what they say they are going to try to do. Imagine some-one else shooting deer on your ground because you are deemed not suitable for doing so. 

This is the big one, tucked away at the back of the report where few will see it. Everything else is a point of detail in comparison. This is the direction of travel that everyone must now be aware of. 

A National Cull Database

This is something I find quite insidious, and I think stalkers need to be aware of this. We are part of an industry that involves killing animals. 

At the moment, your deer culls are only made known to other deer group members and Nature Scot. In theory, the public can access these through FOI, but this hardly ever happens. We now have a proposal that your culls are publicly available online. If you think for a moment about some of the abuse and intimidation that many keepers have to suffer from animal rights activists and suchlike, the government are now going to start telling them just what you are shooting each year. Can you see what can go wrong here? 

We have heard a lot recently about “jigsaw identification”. This proposal would, I think, allow a malevolent individual to take information from this database, your online deer plan and other sources, and work out exactly who you are and what you do in the course of your everyday work. The only people worse than those who want all the deer shot are the ones that don’t want anything shot. We must not be na├»ve about the implications of this. Deer cull data is only meaningful to members of your deer group and Nature Scot. No-one else needs to know this level of detail, merely that you are working to a plan that is considered to be fit for purpose. 

This can only go wrong, but it will backfire on the conservation NGOs as well, who will then have to declare to their members what deer they are killing. We already know that RSPB are sensitive to the point of paralysis about culling goats, and that the Scottish Wildlife Trust have to tiptoe around their members over what deer they kill, to the point of not doing any management at all on almost all their reserves. This is a very bad idea for everyone. 

Deer densities capped at 10 deer per sq km 

Although the average deer density in the Highlands is less than this, and most north and west Highland areas will have little to worry about, there are much more fertile areas of the eastern and southern Highlands where the ground can support greater densities than this with little consequence, especially if shelter is available and there are few sheep present. 

The Scottish Government are now suggesting that you cannot have more than 10 deer per sq km, in any circumstances. It doesn’t seem to matter what your habitat monitoring says. Densities over this will, at best, be viewed with suspicion. At worst, they will trigger intervention. There then is the question of what scale this is applied at. Some small properties can often gather up high densities in winter, with 30-40 deer per sq km not unusual on small fertile areas for a temporary period. Any group of more than 10 deer standing together will give you a density that is higher than that allowed in that particular square kilometre. It would be like the very worst deer equivalent of the COVID rules for people meeting together. It will certainly be used to target wintering grounds, no matter how few deer there might be elsewhere. Think this one through and what it might mean for you. 

No More Deer Group Assessments 

I should declare an interest in this, having done so many, and some people might be happy to see these go, but the deer group assessments have driven progress over recent years, encouraged people to articulate what they are doing, and have been in many ways the best defence deer managers have had against outside criticism. 

They have provided robust evidence of progress across the country, strengthened the current voluntary approach and allowed Nature Scot the sort of information they need to have more oversight of what is going on. 

Scottish Government now say they want to stop these, but that will undermine progress, and allow them to make the case for why they need a statutory approach. In my opinion, the assessments negate the need for a statutory approach, and those familiar with them know the type of changes that can be made to save time and expense and make them more effective. The assessment process is a much better way of doing things than anything mentioned in the DWG report, whose authors seem to be completely unaware of the benefits of it and how it worked in practice. It brings structure and oversight to the mechanisms already in place, and everyone has bought in to it. 

You can’t say that about what is coming forwards now. 

Beyond this, the DWG report is very lukewarm on the whole collaborative approach and deer groups in general. It implies that deer groups have become too effective, and that this is now a problem. They prefer divide and rule, and government seem to have bought in to this. They cannot have a situation where deer groups have higher capacity than Nature Scot. Government cannot have that, so a process that works must be dismantled to preserve the narrative of others who prefer to belittle us. They are more comfortable with that. We are being penalised for the progress we have been making, by people who do not want to acknowledge that, not really. 

Copyright: Victor Clements

No closed season for stags 

This will be the headline proposal for most stalkers. I won’t rehearse the arguments here, but I will add some thoughts on the implications of this.

If there is no closed season, it is open season all year round. You may well choose not to shoot your stags during this period, but others around the periphery of the deer range will quickly work out that instead of getting £50 from the game dealer for the venison, that they can put a paying guest in accommodation and get £5- 800 for the same animal, at any time of year. 

Others may extend their stag season well in to November to get some extra weeks. The law of unintended consequences would dictate that deer numbers could well go up if stags became more in demand, and people left more hinds to try and produce these. 

Removing the closed season gives us a sporting value all year round. A new and very perverse dynamic could be created that drives even more conflict than we have now. 

There is no need to remove the close season for stags. If you have enclosed farmland or forestry, you can already shoot all year round under General Authorization. You can get a specific authorization for unenclosed ground, but only if you make the case for it through a management plan and liaison with your neighbours. This gives Nature Scot some leverage and forces people to co-operate. 

Removing the closed season only makes sense if your objective is to allow everyone to do exactly as they please with stags and you want to destroy a collaborative system. The proposal is unnecessary, and it will not end well. This is another recommendation designed to undermine our current structures. It is not one that will improve the environment. 

Authorizations 

There is a proposal that the Out of Season (OOS) Section 5 (6) Authorization should now apply to ANY land, whether there is a specific reason or not. So, extended seasons can be used on unenclosed ground without a specific reason. Combine this with the proposal to use night sights, and you can see how easily you could remove a lot of deer very quickly. Admittedly, this is the end being sought. 

There is also a proposal to extend the use of the Section 18 (2) night shooting authorizations to not just owners but occupiers as well. Imagine you are out lamping foxes and you meet your tenant farmer out shooting deer at the same time. What could go wrong? Safety could well be compromised. 

On the flip side, EVERYONE shooting deer will have to be Fit & Competent. I wonder what the crofters and farmers shooting a single beast will think of that? Perhaps an exception will be made, as has happened in the past, but farmers and crofters need to be aware of all this as well. 

What was not approved?

With all the above, you wonder where the checks and balances might be. To their credit, the DWG did suggest that there should be a mechanism whereby deer culling on a property could be constrained in certain circumstances if this was in the public interest. For example, if high deer culls could not be justified on environmental grounds, and threatened local livelihoods. This is one of very few DWG recommendations that the Scottish Government did not support. So, checks and balances do not figure in all this new thinking. This is what we are facing after the election is done. 

For someone who is quite partial to the odd deer argument, I should be looking forward to all this, but it would be better for everyone if we had some level of stability to grow and improve in a more measured and sustainable way. 

These provisions are unnecessary. We will spend the next few years arguing when we should be building our capacity. Why should anyone invest in training, equipment or habitat monitoring if this is the chaos ahead? Why would you update a deer plan when you don’t know what to plan for? This is the trouble ahead, and this is the conscious choice that has been made. 

Does it make you angry, too?

We have already shown that there is a better way. The alternative already exists, and has been evidenced to work. 

Victor Clements is a native woodland advisor working in Highland Perthshire. He is secretary to the Breadalbane DMG and has worked extensively on deer management plans throughout Scotland over the past ten years, and on native woodland schemes for long before that.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

SGA STATEMENT: DEER WORKING GROUP REPORT

Caption at the foot of this statement.

This morning, Scottish Government issued its response to the Deer Working Group report. You can read it, in full, here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/deer-working-group-recommendations-scottish-government-response/

Please see the SGA response, below.

GAMEKEEPERS DEMAND INPUT TO PROTECT HUMAN AND DEER WELFARE.
Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg, MBE, said: “Tax payer forestry and woodland schemes are installing Scotland’s next wealthy landlords. The direction is clear; iconic deer stand in the way. Wildlife and Green groups will be rejoicing.

“We need input on male and female deer seasons to ensure respect remains for the species and the deer managers doing the culling. Their mental welfare wasn’t considered by this report.

“Sanctioning night scopes for culls will be endorsing something illegal across much of Europe. 

“Asking deer managers to cut large moving calves from the stomachs of pregnant hinds into mid-April must be off the table if Scottish Government wants to avoid public distaste.”


Film: "Our fears for the mental health of Scotland's deer managers- if Scottish Govt changes the deer seasons." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTz2PVGO7XQ 


Image caption: March 2002, deer carcasses dumped from a lorry onto a car park after lying on a hill for 36 hours.  Deer were culled, out-of-season, by Forestry Commission staff (public body) within the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.

130 Carcasses were collected from the hill by helicopter before being dumped in the car park and later sold. 




Tuesday, 23 March 2021

MENTAL HEALTH FEARS FOR DEER MANAGERS IF GOVERNMENT CHANGES SEASONS

Steps will have to be taken to protect the mental health of Scotland’s deer managers if Scottish Government doubles the length of the female cull season.

Red deer hind in Caledonian pine forest, credit: Michael Callan.

That’s the view of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) who represent professional deer managers.

A Deer Working Group report, commissioned by Government, recommended a major overhaul to the female deer seasons, which normally run from 21st October to 15th February.

These seasons were put in place in Scotland to protect the welfare of females giving birth to calves and the welfare of dependent infants.

Should Scottish Government sanction the new season recommendation, which will mean a cull start date of 1st September to a latest point of 15th April, it effectively doubles the season.

This will mean greater chance of dependent calves starving to death if their mothers are shot in September and the deer manager can not also dispatch the calf.

Furthermore, it will mean deer managers will have to cut large calves from the stomachs of heavily pregnant mothers, potentially into mid April.

That, Scotland’s gamekeepers say, could leave mental scars on deer managers unaccustomed to this style of management.

They have produced a film (below) to show the public the size of a deer foetus, which was cut from the stomach of a female deer which had to be humanely dispatched following a road accident in March.




Should the season change be brought forward, they say, it will open skilled deer managers up to abuse, reducing their status as wildlife managers.

Scotland, a nation of animal lovers, will also see the dignity stripped from a species regarded as iconic.

“Anyone who loves animals would not love this,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

‘We fought hard for deer seasons so some dignity and respect could be preserved.

“If the Deer Working Group recommendations are adopted, extending the seasons by over 15 weeks, Scotland is basically endorsing slaughter in the open air. 

“I have managed deer for over four decades. I don’t know anyone who has had to cut a large foetus out of a mother and enjoyed doing so. This will become the norm in public forests, paid for by the Scottish tax payer.

“Some people will do it just because they need to pay the bills and to follow orders. They should not be placed in this position, but we fear for the mental wellbeing of deer managers if Scottish Government decides to adopt this. Officials need to consider these implications. The politicians need to ask if they would be happy to carry this action out, themselves, on the ground.”

The SGA has written to Environment Ministers on several occasions expressing disappointment at lack of professional deer manager representation on working groups and reports.

Its Vice Chairman Peter Fraser says this proposal would not have come forward, if practitioners had more say.

“An experienced deer manager would have questioned this immediately because they would probably have had to do it, at some stage.

“If a farmer turned up at an abattoir with a late pregnant cow in Scotland, it could only be killed for disease control or welfare purposes. 

“Deer managers will be asked to cull deer into mid-April when the mum is heavily pregnant. 

“They will then have to remove the calf, which will be moving. There will definitely be deer managers who just simply won’t do this.”


Ends.


Link to YouTube film: 'Our fears for the mental health of Scotland's deer managers'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTz2PVGO7XQ



Thursday, 18 March 2021

#RWP21 - The 5 ASKS

On behalf of all those who are standing up, on river and land, for a new politics for rural workers in Scotland, here are the 5 initial asks of Scottish Government. Thanks to you all from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scotland's regional moorland groups. Unite on Land and River.



#RWP21- The 5 Asks


  • That Scottish Government backs the establishment of a cross-party group to hear rural workers’ concerns, first-hand.


  • That Scottish Government affords equal weight in law making to local and indigenous knowledge, respecting its own (missed) Target in Point 18 of the Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity.

  • That Scottish Government commits to a robust and open auditing of publicly-funded conservation projects, ensuring measurable returns for tax payers. If targets are not met- the cash returns to Scottish people.


  • That Scottish Government commits to a review of Access so that the positive freedoms are matched with similar responsibilities. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code should become part of the school curriculum.


  • That Scottish Government addresses the clear findings of 2 Parliamentary inquiries into salmon farming and delivers a public timeline for actions.