Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Office Communication Now Back Up and Running

Dear members, we are happy to say that the SGA office networks have resumed . Engineers have identified the fault, which has now been fixed. Thanks to everyone for their patience. All inquiries will be worked through by the office team as we get back online.


For the attention of members. Unfortunately, an unforeseen issue has hit the SGA office systems today (May 21st) with internet and phone both affected.
Until the issue is sorted, staff are going to work off-site. Communications should by email only until we resolve the unexpected issue. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Staff will endeavour to answer all emails sent to us and will try to keep any delays to a minimum.
Thank you all for your patience regarding this matter.

Friday, 10 May 2019


Dear members, with our jobs, way of life and values under threat more than ever, it has never been more important to respond to the new joint SGA/NGO survey.
This survey is your opportunity to let the wider world know about all the conservation and other important work you do and will enable the SGA and NGO to take the value of that work to decision makers and the wider public.
If everyone takes 5 minutes to respond, together we will have a much stronger story to tell.
You can take the survey, online, NOW, by clicking https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CST6TZV
You can contact the SGA office for a physical form by emailing info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk or by calling 01738 587 515.

Let's make sure our voices are heard above the noise. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019


Burnt out trees in Moray following the recent wildfire
The SGA recently blogged about the difference between planned muirburn and wildfire. 
Since then, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has announced it is to learn from other countries where fire is used effectively to fight wildfires- and from gamekeepers- who have been deploying controlled muirburn for centuries, providing a food source for red and black grouse, deer, sheep and other moorland inhabitants, as well as nesting cover.
Controlled muirburning, in rotational strips or patches of different aged heather, also creates fire breaks over the moor, reducing fuel load, so the moor is less susceptible to wildfire, which would kill the heather habitat of the birds as well as losing vital shooting income for years.
Recapping on the original blog, we have now uploaded a short video clip to the SGA YouTube channel showing the devastation of vast areas in the recent wildfire at Moray. This is only a small section of the burn-out, with frazzled and blackened trees and miles of black ground which will take decades to recover. The wildfire covered 23 square miles in total and has taken out woodland schemes, important moorland habitats and forestry.
This fire started in woodland in an area where muirburning of the heather around the woodland has been restricted for 10 years and where no heather management has been allowed at all for 3 years. Despite being put out some days before, the fire re-started and got away, causing extensive damage to the holdings nearby.
You can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/G4BjELWA7cs
There will also be an article in the next edition of our member magazine, Scottish Gamekeeper.

***Please also subscribe to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association YouTube channel to keep up with latest news.

Scenes of devastation at a wind farm site in Moray following the wildfire.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019


There has been a lot of recent debate around legal predator control traps. Clearly, there is a need for wider education around this subject. Such issues are rarely black and white. Firstly, the predator traps currently available in the open marketplace and used by gamekeepers, farmers and conservationists are legal, tested and approved in design, operated by trained operators and, whether some like them or not, are approved by governmental agencies such as SNH because they are acknowledged to have a legitimate conservation purpose. It is illegal to vandalise approved traps and snares set by approved operators in the countryside. 
Unfortunately, such incidents are becoming more and more prevalent, making it very difficult for people to work.
In this post are photographs sent to the SGA by residents in Orkney. The traps in the photos are legally set. They are being operated by RSPB Scotland as part of the plan to kill all stoats on Orkney in a bid to save native wildlife. SGA members, too, use approved legal stoat traps to control their numbers. Stoats, abundant in number, are proven to have a negative impact on an array of ground nesting species; some of which are gradually- and in some cases quickly- disappearing from our countryside.
This project will see RSPB Scotland receive £7.265 million of public money. SNH, Scottish Government’s scientific advisers, have paid £526 000 towards the project which involves training people to use these legal traps to eradicate stoats. EU Life have paid £2 636 597. Heritage Lottery Fund, an arms length body but accountable to Parliament via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, have funded stoat eradication to the tune of £3.48 million.
People may comment on how openly these traps have been set, in public areas, and whether they will be effective.
However, they are there for a purpose, ultimately, to kill predators in order to save vulnerable species. They are the same traps available for use to gamekeepers and farmers and have the same biodiversity spin-offs for the types of species which form part of the diet of the stoat. Furthermore, their use is not only backed by government advisory agencies and national funding bodies; these bodies are happy to spend significant sums of tax payers’ money to see them operated. Predator control is a key component in conservation. Hopefully those intending to damage the tools to carry it out legally and humanely will think beyond narrow agendas and leave them to do their intended job. 
That said, if you see a trap which is set illegally, contact the Police*
* The notice on the top of the Orkney trap recommends that, if you want to report an injured animal in the trap, you should contact RSPB or SNH, not the Police.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019


SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has today welcomed a new report from scientists from GWCT and RSPB who were working at Langholm Moor during the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (2008 to 2017).

The paper, published on April 26th 2019, highlights the benefits of legal predator control by trained gamekeepers to the survival of threatened wading birds including the Curlew, regarded as the UK's most pressing conservation priority.

The control of abundant predators such as foxes, crows, stoats and weasels, using approved traps and snares, benefits a broad range of wildlife, particularly ground-nesting species.

The report can be found, here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10336-019-01667-6?fbclid=IwAR2ZoP4pZ7Yze18lSnJz42B1bUtMjanfUXBJAAYw1vMP9hK3Gz24-5YR1TE

Watch Alex speaking about the paper, here, from outside the Scottish Parliament today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vXxOxLOaYk

Wednesday, 24 April 2019


The SGA has welcomed some clarification today by Scottish Natural Heritage on the present status of General Licences in Scotland but stands in unity with colleagues in England whose lives have been plunged into chaos and confusion over the past 24 hours.
Nature conservation, food production and the welfare of farm livestock all stand to lose from a self-centred action by activists, flooring the countryside at the busiest time.
The SGA has communicated over the course of today with farmers and decision makers, seeking clarity for our members and offering future support.
A functioning licensing system enables individuals to retain businesses and important employment, to protect the welfare of sheep and cattle, to grow economic crops for food and to sustain threatened species at a time when 56 percent of all UK species are in decline, despite considerable public investment in charity-guided conservation.
We will continue to liaise with SNH and relevant authorities to ensure we have a workable licensing system for land managers in future.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019


Vice Chairman Peter Fraser and Martin Kennedy of NFUS announcing award winners at the Scottish Game Fair, summer 2018.

The SGA awards season is almost upon us and we want to make sure you have time to nominate your chosen candidates in each listing.
The deadline for nominations for the SGA Long Service awards is Friday June 7th followed by the SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year deadline of Friday 21st June.
Finally, the Ronnie Rose Award nomination deadline is Friday July 19th.
Nominations in each award should be emailed to info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk or can be phoned into the office on 01738 587 515.
Long Service Awards are for individuals who have given 40 years or more of unbroken service to gamekeeping, stalking, wildlife management or as a ghillie on land or river.
Young Gamekeeper nominees should be in the early years of their career, including in traineeship, and will have proven by their management, dedication and actions to be a youthful ambassador for the profession on land or river.
The Ronnie Rose Award recognises services to conservation or education on river, low ground, hill or forest.

Get nominating now!

Friday, 19 April 2019


Wildfire at Loch Doon, Ayrshire- black grouse viewing points close by.
With warnings of tinderbox conditions this Easter holiday, it is everyone’s duty to respect the countryside, ensuring our activities, whatever they are, do not become tragedies.

Gamekeepers almost exclusively have the finger of blame pointed at them when it comes to fires getting out of control in Scotland and, yes, it is true, muirburn fires do sometimes ‘get away’. Everyone who has lit a fire over the years will tell you that conditions can change unexpectedly. Thankfully, with today’s muirburn practice, better warning systems and collaboration, greater industry awareness, training and more equipment, being caught out is becoming less and less prevalent when it comes to strip muirburn practised by gamekeepers on grouse moors.

That said, assess the comment threads on many social media posts (even in the last few days), and it is clear there remains a lack of understanding regarding the controlled use of fire in grouse moor areas and in the wider countryside.

Indeed, public opinion, it would seem, starts from the premise that all out of control fires must be those’ bloody gamekeepers’, quite often followed by a call to ban something. For those investing much time and energy into doing things properly, following Scotland’s Muirburn Code, this is undeniably a source of frustration and The SGA receives many such messages and emails.

This is, however, the modern world of social media, a world where misinformation can spread as fast as a Spring fire on dry ground. That aside, there is a need for the grouse industry itself to communicate better about muirburn, its benefits, why it is done and its role in preventing devastating wildfires. 

We can all do better when it comes to challenging misinformation, educating where appropriate or helping to inform a more rounded understanding.

Statistics have emerged within the past few years, for example, where recorded fire ‘incidents’, which gave an impression -by the way they were recorded on a computer system- that the majority of these happen as a result of muirburn, whether on grouse moors or farmland. 

There is a big difference, however, between actual fires which required action by services and fires simply reported by the general public. This recording system is to be re-evaluated and qualified better and more news on this is likely to emerge soon.

As the climate warms and fuel loads increase, the need to use fire in a planned way in the countryside increases. Skills, knowledge, equipment and training are of huge value to Scotland’s hard-pushed services and you only need to look to other countries to see the devastation caused by wildfires. Interestingly, the mitigation response in these countries has been to look to places, like Scotland, where there remains active fire use or a fire culture and to adopt techniques such as creating fire-breaks by burning selected areas of accumulating vegetation before wildfires can take hold.

Most of the big UK fires we have seen over the past few weeks, where conditions have unfortunately been ripe, have not involved gamekeepers burning heather. There have been big fires on grassland and gorse, crofting land, on nature reserves and land run by NGOs and environmental charities and partnerships. Domestic supplies have been cut, roads closed for public safety in Harris and people have had to temporarily leave homes, reminding us all of the power of fire.

Sadly, knowledge of this has not stopped some from manufacturing issues around grouse moors while fire service workers have barely had the chance to look up, trying to tackle blazes ripping over kilometres of parched hillside.

One tweet from an individual last week, for example, showed a picture of a distant fire within the Cairngorms National Park, accompanied with allegations that gull colonies had been burnt out - a wildlife crime (see image below).
The tweet proved to be a gathering storm, shared by groups with known agendas against grouse moors and grouse shooting. It didn’t matter one bit that it was factually wrong.

The fire in the photo was a muirburn fire on a grouse moor. However, it was a controlled, planned fire. Never at any stage was it out of control. It was managed by the gamekeepers on-site, using their own knowledge and manpower. No gull colony exists where the muirburn took place although those in the area do remember a historic black headed gull colony which moved on many, many years ago. Several years ago, a wildfire which started from this very ground, burnt out thousands of acres of the nearby estate and, with it, valuable breeding habitat for wildlife. With the un-managed heather again creating similar conditions for another big fire, putting in a number of fires to break up dense vegetation would be regarded as a sensible buffer against the potential for a much more devastating blaze.

Furthermore, the same people implicitly blamed for the fire in the picture had actually put out a fire which did burn into gull nesting grounds just days before - a fire caused by a cigarette carelessly discarded by a member of the public. Indeed, had one of them not spotted it on the side of a single track road whilst driving and alerted colleagues, who put it out themselves with their own equipment, that gull nesting area would now have been decimated. 

Fortunately, it is too early for gulls to nest in that area. Regardless, it is easy to see how misinformation can be circulated and can spread. 

Contrast this with the fire event at Loch Doon in Ayrshire where kilometres of un-managed heather (heather where no muirburn or cutting/swiping has taken place, enabling fuel build-up) were scorched. Endangered black grouse lekking ground will have been lost. Protected pine marten breeding areas are monitored in nearby woods. Fires in these areas are now becoming, sadly, a regular occurrence. 

It is everyone’s responsibility to take care when accessing the countryside but not all fires are the same. Controlled, cool burns by gamekeepers, which create a mosaic of habitats for grouse, other ground-nesting wildlife, deer, sheep and hares are not the same as wildfires and not every out of control fire in Scotland is caused by ‘those bloody gamekeepers’. 

A little more light rather than heat over this issue will benefit everyone, whether you are accessing the countryside for recreation, trying to establish woodland, to rewild or are involved in economic activity with conservation spin-offs.

Stay safe this Easter.

For facts on muirburn, what it is, why it is undertaken and what its impacts are, see: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/land-and-sea-management/managing-land/upland-and-moorland/muirburn-code

Sunday, 17 March 2019


Today, campaign group Revive put out a press release about muirburn accompanied by a film showing gamekeepers carrying out legal, well-managed muirburn.

Here is the SGA response, in full.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “This is another orchestrated attempt by a group desperately seeking legitimacy to smear legal management activity; an activity, in this case, which has been scientifically proven to provide many benefits for red grouse, black grouse, deer and sheep and to prevent more devastating moorland wildfires like the recent one at Saddleworth, through the creation of vital fire-breaks. 
“Last week this group made unsubstantiated claims at a party conference about numbers of missing raptors. This week it is an attempt to create an emotive message out of legitimate moorland habitat management carried out by trained people guided by the Muirburn Code. Contrary to this attempt at media manipulation, the most recent published long-term study showed that rotationally burned moors promote the growth of sphagnum moss, essential for peat formation and carbon storage, better than un-burned moors.
“Those behind this wrecking ball campaign against grouse moors have only one thing in mind, despite see-through attempts to deny it. They want grouse shooting banned and rural working families on the dole. It is no surprise that this offering is the new tactic.”