Wednesday, 17 July 2019

GENERAL LICENCE CONSULTATION NOW OPEN- PLEASE RESPOND.

The General Licence challenge in England caused widespread chaos for land managers.
SNH today announced details of its General Licence consultation. Please see the full SNH press release, below, along with the survey link to fill in. As you will know, the General Licences are critical to most members' operations, and it is vital these are retained as practical, workable tools.
The SGA urges all members who use General Licences to respond to this consultation, particularly following the disastrous situation in England which left land businesses struggling to protect stock, crops and wildlife at a critical time. There is still a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with new licences in England and it is important that we get this right in Scotland. Please see details, below.


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced it will launch a 12-week consultation about wild birds today (July 17th)
The consultation covers circumstances when wild birds can be controlled under General Licence. All wild birds are protected by law. But in some circumstances, SNH allows wild birds to be controlled – for example, to prevent serious damage to crops, protect public health, and ensure air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths. 
Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of Wildlife Management, said:
“Our role is to help wild birds thrive, but we must balance this with making sure the public is safe from health and safety risks, as well as ensuring that farmers can protect their crops.
“We have brought forward our planned consultation in light of the ongoing legal challenges in England. We want to ensure that our licences take into account the implications of those challenges and remain clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose.
“The consultation, along with our ongoing work, will provide us with valuable feedback - this will allow us to consider if we need to make changes to the current set of licenses for 2020.”

General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. General Licences must strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.
SNH is looking for feedback specifically on the three most commonly used General Licences: those covering conserving wild birds, preventing damage to agricultural interests, and protecting public health and safety.
Robbie added:
“We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under the current 2019 General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.”
The consultation documents are available at https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/2019GL/

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: LEADHILLS QUESTIONS


On Monday the SGA condemned the actions of anyone setting an illegal trap to catch a bird of prey. This was in the wake of reports which emerged regarding a Hen Harrier being found in a trap at Leadhills.
This should always be the reaction of everyone in our industry when we hear of such things. It is so, within the SGA Committee and our membership and we await further news.
As is normal, we know very little about this case but we hope the Police will have full co-operation from everyone as they seek to get to the bottom of things.
Leadhills Estate has made its own statement saying that it reported interference with traps by third parties to Police on the same day. Everyone in our industry knows this type of activity on estates is now rife.
This is a criminal offence and, while this does not deter those who are out there to cause trouble, it makes things very, very difficult for Police. We have always been told that, if you suspect a wildlife crime in the countryside, leave everything as it is. Take photographs but don’t touch anything. This is obviously because this is evidence at a potential crime scene which could potentially lead to prosecution. When this is done, you call the Police.
While it is not unreasonable to expect SPPCA to remove the bird, in this instance, as- according to reports- it was in distress, it beggars belief why people are not reporting such incidents to Police in the first instance. Ultimately, all crime evidence was removed from the scene, members of various organisations with clear campaign objectives all turn up and the evidence is then photographed in the hands of RSPB’s Chris Packham.
I have sympathy for Police trying to do their job, with so much at stake for everyone and little evidential trail left.
What is also clear from the photos of the second trap allegedly left on a nest with eggs is that this trap is not set and would, therefore, have been unable to catch anything. Why would it be there?
Those involved in filming that will know that, too, but continued with their narrative regardless. It is highly unlikely a Police Officer at a crime scene would do that, then broadcast it, as it would be regarded as important evidence in a live investigation.
Whether by good intentions or other, organisations have been given powers within investigations which- deployed in certain ways- now seem to outdo those of the Police trying to investigate them. That observation is not specific to this case, only.
This is highly worrying and, like any form of persecution, must be tackled. 
I, like others, want to know the truth. Only by knowing the truth can proportionate action be taken by Police, decision makers and representative bodies. If this type of thing continues, it seems highly likely we are not going to get it. We have said for years, if you resource and train the Police, there is no need for outside charities in wildlife crime cases.

Please help Police with any information regarding this incident. Despite Monday’s press headlines, this remains a live investigation.

Alex Hogg. Chairman. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

STATEMENT: HEN HARRIER

The statement below was released to the media yesterday (July 15th) regarding reports of a Hen Harrier caught in a trap in South Lanarkshire.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: "Setting a trap illegally to catch a bird of prey is simply not acceptable. The SGA wholeheartedly condemns the actions of whoever has perpetrated this crime and hope the Police can gather evidence to enable the courts to do their job.

"Scottish Government, working with Police Scotland, have powers under present legislation to deal with crimes such as this.”

Sunday, 7 July 2019

MEET OUR AWARD WINNERS, 2019.


A youngster earmarked as a potential future golfer was named Scotland’s Young Gamekeeper of the Year 2019 on Friday at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair in Scone Parklands.
Ciaran Woodman-Robinson (22) grew up in Worcestershire with no background in gamekeeping, spending hours caddying for his dad, PGA Golf Professional, Noel Woodman.
However, after becoming hooked on gamekeeping after helping a club greenkeeper with squirrel and deer control, Ciaran opted to follow his new vocation.
Yesterday, his determination and maturity was recognised as he was crowned Scotland’s best young gamekeeper, after narrowly missing out the year before.
The accolade is one of the most prestigious in the profession and is awarded by Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) judges, in recognition of beneficial management and ambassadorial aptitude.
Ciaran was drafted in at Edradynate Estate, Perthshire, in 2017 as part of a completely new management approach and team, headed up by new Head Gamekeeper, Ian Smith.
Since then the gamekeeping staff have made significant positive changes, leading to the satisfaction of sporting customers and a much improved net benefit for wildlife.
“There has been a big and recognisable change at the estate,” said Ciaran, who was so determined to succeed in his new calling that he told a former Head Gamekeeper he would work for free.
“We have been planting trees, game cover and wild bird mixes and working closely with the farming side, improving things. We have a lot of songbirds here, there are a lot more lapwing and curlew in different areas and we are starting to do a little controlled burning now on the hill as well.
“With the game cover and wild bird mixes, we have much more birdlife in total.
“It is lovely to see them. The land management and predator control on the shooting side of the operation helps all the other things, too.”
According to his first Head Gamekeeper, Ciaran first arrived in Scotland on a voluntary 3 week placement with ‘2 or 3 sets of clothes, a clapped-out car and a couple of Pot Noodles’.
However, after proving himself, he refused to leave and has been in Scotland ever since.
“I think, because I did not come from a gamekeeping background, it made me determined to prove myself and to make an impression,” said the youngster, who has been given a high level of responsibility within the new approach at Edradynate.
Also receiving Long Service Awards from the SGA for 40 years or more of un-broken service to the profession were Ronnie Francis Grigor, who worked 50 years in the industry after leaving school at 15.
Gordon Mullen, who retired in 2016, Len Dey - who works at Stair Estates - and Bryan Burrows, who now has a role with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, were all recipients.
However, the biggest surprise of the day was for The SGA’s own Chairman, Alex Hogg, who was secretly nominated by his family for 45 years and counting as a gamekeeper.
He said: “It was a complete and utter shock but, like all the recipients, a real honour,” said the Borders gamekeeper, who started out at Kelburn Estate in 1974. “My wife Caroline and daughter Kirsty even made an excuse to come to the Fair without me knowing about it. It’s been a great day. Every one of these individuals should feel proud of what they have given back to Scotland’s countryside.”






Wednesday, 3 July 2019

BLOG- EVIDENCE: DOES ANYONE CARE ANY MORE?


The SGA office was yesterday inundated with individuals angered by the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show where RSPB Vice President Chris Packham was given privileged air time to espouse views on grouse moors. This blog, entitled: Evidence: Does anyone care any more? is a response to them and an acknowledgement of the depth of their feeling.
The RSPB Vice President unsuccessfully petitioned the Westminster Parliament for grouse shooting to be banned in England. https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/125003
He actively lobbies Scottish Ministers to try to force legislation against the sector in Scotland.
Whilst campaigning is a legitimate right in a democratic society, which deserves to be preserved, there is a need to be aware of the tools being deployed at a time when Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse shooting, authored by Professor Werritty, is due to be published. Everyone who this review will affect, directly or indirectly, is aware that this is a highly sensitive time, politically.
On Monday, the SGA questioned why two publicity videos featuring the RSPB Vice President, regarding Fred the Golden Eagle ( a satellite tagged bird which disappeared from the Pentlands last year) appeared to be shot on the same day, during a live Police investigation. The films insinuated that the disappearance of the bird was down to a grouse moor.
A Freedom of Information request to the Police by the SGA revealed that Police Scotland investigators had not received all the vital evidence from the bird’s satellite tag, from Chris Packham and Dr Ruth Tingay, at the time those publicity films appear to have been made.
There are mixtures of emotions for everyone at news of unexplained disappearances of any bird. This is understandable. However, these apparent anomalies during investigations- which could potentially lead to criminal proceedings- are deserving of scrutiny at government level. Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham herself was drawn into the filming process and was interviewed in the first film, perhaps rightly seeing it as an opportunity to condemn raptor persecution in Scotland in general.
Whether she knew the full picture about all the tag data, at that point of agreeing to the interview, is not known. Police Scotland is yet to establish criminality in that case.
Yesterday, Mr Packham used radio airtime to make statements which many SGA members found lacked substantiation. There is now a real concern, amongst a whole sector and community who feel condemned without evidence, that the shaping of public opinion on the basis of misrepresentation will be used as vehicle to drive political change, regardless of the research presented to Scottish Government in their commissioned review.

Some of the comments which most angered members was the RSPB Vice President’s allegation that the only species you see on a grouse moor is grouse and that all predators are ‘exterminated’ (amounting to a serious allegation that everything which predates grouse is killed either legally, under license, or through illegality).

One member who listened to the programme, sent on the following information from a driven grouse moor in Inverness-shire. It came from BTO and showed the sampling of two random sq km plots, chosen by BTO, on the estate he manages. The plots were analysed as part of the Spring 2019 Breeding Bird Survey.

Feedback on Breeding Bird Survey
Map of transects provided by BTO.  Outbound transect (1-5) slightly altered to follow quad track / swipes to reduce disturbance to any grouse broods on second visit.
Number of each species recorded (in alphabetical order)



This perhaps illustrates the point better than anything else. These are the facts and, in making his comments yesterday on the Jeremy Vine programme that grouse moors are only for grouse, Chris Packham lied. He also knowingly lied in an attempt to swing public opinion. 
Chris Packham may be a respected wildlife presenter. Good luck to him in that. He is also calculated in his attempts to manipulate public opinion. On behalf of all SGA members who were angered at his comments and his continued attack on their professional integrity and honesty, we hope Scottish politicians will consider evidence in policy making, whenever the Werritty Report is published, and will leave campaigns at the door.













Monday, 1 July 2019

STATEMENT: MISSING EAGLES, PERTHSHIRE


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has issued the following statement regarding the story of two missing Eagles in Perthshire, which was released today.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Where there is evidence wildlife crime has taken place, the SGA acts and acts robustly, as we have done on 7 occasions in the past 7 years by expelling members who have committed wildlife crime offences. We have a very strict policy regarding this.
"We have been heartened by record low wildlife crime rates in Scotland, according to Scottish Government’s own official statistics, but we have concerns regarding missing satellite tagged birds which are being monitored by non-independent agencies.
"There is a need for everyone to better understand the discrepancy between independent figures verified by Police Scotland and Government agencies, showing a clear and consistent pattern of declining raptor crime in Scotland, and cases which are brought by outside bodies on the back of missing satellite tags. 
"Some of these outside bodies have both an investigative and a campaigning role which we feel can blur the line between seeking prosecutions and seeking publicity for campaigns, such as the present campaign to legislate or ban grouse shooting.
"That is why The Scottish Gamekeepers Association intends to petition Parliament so these tags can be monitored independently, giving Police Scotland, Scottish Government and the Scottish public greater openness and understanding of what is going on.
"We understand, despite extensive and thorough searches by the Police, that no evidence of a wildlife crime was discovered on the land in question.”

Ends.

For more on the SGA petition and the reasons behind it, see: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2019/07/sga-to-petition-parliament-on-satellite.html

  • The Scottish Gamekeepers Association lodged the Petition wording with Petitions clerks at Holyrood on Monday June 24th 2019.

SGA TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS

GAMEKEEPERS TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS
'Fred the Eagle case showed current failings'

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to launch a Parliamentary petition calling for independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to birds of prey.
Greater accountability, they feel, could assist Police in prosecuting potential wildlife crime and provide a more transparent record of raptor persecution.
Presently, Police must obtain satellite tag data from owners or third parties before commencing investigations if a tag stops signalling.
The SGA feel the potential for bringing cases to court are currently minimal, with tag reliability, type and functionality amongst many limiting factors.
The SGA also feels the legal process can be obscured, with some tag owners publishing interpretations of events to advance campaign objectives to legislate or ban certain activities.
Ownership of tag data has enabled campaigners to present versions of evidence for publicity, even in instances where Police investigators have not been able to establish criminality.
“Accountability and transparency has to be the objective,” said SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg.
“Despite media accusation and trials, no cases of missing satellite tags have ever had the evidential rigour to go to court. If Police had the oversight on the data and the independent expertise to analyse it, there is greater potential for prosecution. Police themselves admitted in Parliament recently that establishing criminality in satellite tag cases is difficult.”
The SGA points to the case of ‘Fred the Eagle’ as evidence of a need for review.
A tag fitted to an eagle as part of a collaboration between Raptor Persecution UK and Chris Packham, lost signal in January 2018 in the Pentlands only to signal days later in the North Sea.
In presenting the collaboration’s interpretation of events, in two videos on his YouTube site, BBC naturalist Packham insinuated that the suspicious disappearance of Fred was likely to have been the work of a grouse moor.
The story generated global attention, with questions asked of the First Minister but, despite thinly veiled public accusations towards a local moor, Police Scotland have not yet established criminality.
Furthermore, SGA legal advisers have shown Police the 2 YouTube videos which, despite being released weeks apart (15th Feb and 22nd March), raise questions about the timeline of data being handed to Police for investigation.
The first film shows Packham in a wood and also features interviews with RSPB Investigator Ian Thomson and Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham.
In the second film, Packham claims ‘new evidence’, from the tag, previously unavailable, gives more information about Fred’s disappearance.
In that film, although released weeks later, the same snow patterns are clearly visible on the ground as well as clothing, background and papers.
According to the SGA, this indicates the second video was likely to have been filmed on the same day (before the 15th Feb release date of the first film) and weeks before Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK and Packham had delivered Police Scotland the new tag information.
An FOI from Police, obtained by the SGA, showed that Police did not receive that new information until 1st March.
“Although the second video was not released until 22nd March, this is an indication of how this data can be held for publicity," added Mr Hogg. "During a live investigation, campaigners were making films, referring to new information, yet that tag data was not- at that point- in the hands of Police. 
“What it looks like is a strategy to gather footage in order to drip-feed a narrative interpretation which Police have, even now, not been able to substantiate. It is highly worrying that a Holyrood Environment Minister was drawn into this, too.
“If tags were independently monitored, scenarios like this would simply not occur. Evidence would replace speculation.”

FURTHER NOTES:


  • The Scottish Gamekeepers Association lodged the Petition wording with Petitions clerks at Holyrood on Monday June 24th 2019.
  • Police Scotland have themselves admitted that investigating crimes where satellite tags are involved is problematic. Addressing members of the ECCLR Committee on March 12th 2019, Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren (Police Scotland), said, in answer to a question from member John Scott who asked if the tags were 100 percent reliable: “There is still a margin of failure. Some tags are out in the extremes for a long time, they have issues and they fail…From an investigator’s point of view, it is often difficult to hang your hat on a tag’s disappearance definitely being the result of persecution. There is no doubt that that will be the case on some occasions, but differentiating between tag failure and persecution is a real challenge.” He added: “In the past six months to a year, there have been instances of birds seeming to disappear then to reappear due to issues with the tags. That is always a challenge for us.”
  • Some groups/individuals owning tags and interpreting the data from them, have clear campaigning objectives. At the launch of the group, Revive, The Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform in Edinburgh in November 2018, Chris Packham told attendees: “One can only hope, when the Werritty report comes in (Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse shooting) that we will be moving towards licensing or a ban. You see, Mark Avery (former RSPB Director) and I, and others, have been asking for a ban for some time…”
  • When the tag fitted to Fred the Golden Eagle stopped signalling, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham could have gone first to Police Scotland. Instead they went to RSPB Head of Investigations Ian Thomson. RSPB also want grouse moors licensed and officially supported the parliamentary petition for the introduction of game shoot licensing. See: https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615 If tags were independently monitored for the Police, the influence of campaigners would no longer be a factor. All data would be in the hands of Police instantly and they could then choose when, or if, to release public information during the course of a live investigation. RSPB currently have a dual role of investigation and campaigning which raises questions about conflict of interest.
Image 1: Screenshot from the first Fred the Eagle film, released on Feb 15th 2018. See film, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blncTG68qs0


Image 2: Screenshot from the second Fred the Eagle film, released on March 22nd 2018. See film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz7sqe-QuTU
Note the same snow patterns on ground and frost on fallen timber, same jacket worn by presenter. If the second film, claiming ‘new evidence’ from the satellite tag, was made on the same day (pre-Feb 15th, as these images would suggest), Police Scotland had not received that satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham, as the SGA Freedom of Information request shows.


Image 3: Freedom of Information response showing Police received the new satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham on 1st March 2018, weeks after the second video talking about ‘new evidence’ was made. 








Image 4 (above) Screenshot of Police Scotland statement regarding Fred the Eagle. The Police had not established criminality at the time of the release of the first film in which insinuations were made that the bird’s disappearance was likely to have been the responsibility of a grouse moor. Police Scotland is still to establish criminality in the case of Fred the Eagle.



Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham was interviewed as part of the first film. If those interviewing the Minister knew about 'new data' at that time, they had not given that data to Police Scotland and the investigation was still 'live'.




Thursday, 27 June 2019

STATEMENT: HEN HARRIER

A statement from the SGA was released today in response to an RSPB story regarding a Hen Harrier in a trap in Perthshire.

A Spokesman from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “As an organisation, where there is proven criminality, we share the abhorrence felt when a bird of prey is illegally killed. If such a case involves an SGA member, we take firm and appropriate action by revoking membership, as we have done on 7 occasions in the past 7 years. In this case, we understand that the estates co-operated fully with Police, and Police did not treat anyone as a suspect.
“The estates have made it clear they were not responsible for the setting of the trap. 
“A number of things may have happened to the bird in the lengthy intervening period between the tag signalling in November then again in May.
“We are aware that grouse moors are currently the subject of governmental review, with some organisations actively seeking legislation of the sector. However, we consider it irresponsible for assertions of guilt to be levelled with no supporting evidence during a live investigation and at a time when Police do not consider staff at the estates to be suspects. 
“All evidence from the tag should be made available for independent scrutiny and assessment; something which does not happen currently. It appears this tag was going on and off over long periods which begs questions as to what can actually be known. Perhaps with greater transparency surrounding the tag data, those responsible can be caught and brought to justice.”


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

MEETING OF SGA FISHING GROUP


In the wake of a decision being made to expand the existing SGA Fishing Group, a meeting has been organised to discuss group operations and buy-in and to establish key priorities for 2019 and beyond.
Those who made a pledge to join the group and now want to know more about how it will work, how it will be run and resourced will be able to ask all questions on the night.
We appreciate not everyone will be able to make the meeting but there is no time to waste in moving forward. We hope that those not able to make it will be able to able to follow any bulletins from the meeting, as they are published on the website, or will be able to call in or email the office with any questions.
The meeting will be held at 6.30pm to 8.30pm at the office of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Inveralmond Business Centre, 6 Auld Bond Road, South Inveralmond, Perth, PH1 3FX on Thursday July 11th 2019.
It is essential that you notify the office that you intend to come along as we may have to book more space than the current office capacity.
To do so, call the office on 01738 587 515 or mail info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
We look forward to seeing existing and potential new members on the night.

To recap on recent developments leading to the meeting, see: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2019/06/worried-about-salmon-and-jobs-read-now.html


The agenda for the meeting will be:

  • Group expansion: Reasons, objectives, resourcing and Q and A.
  • Assessing current and future buy-in to the group.
  • Establishing work priorities for 2019 and beyond.



Tuesday, 25 June 2019

PLEASE RESPOND TO CONSULTATION ON FOX CONTROL AND MOUNTAIN HARES.

The fox will often kill far more than is needed to feed itself or young.

On Monday June 24th 2019, Alison Johnstone MSP (Green Party) launched a public consultation on her proposal to ban the use of dogs in fox control and to outlaw all management of mountain and brown hare populations, unless under license.
The SGA will be strongly opposing all elements of this proposal.
Ending the use of scenting dogs to flush foxes from thick forestry blocks in Scotland, where no other  practical alternatives exist, will spell disaster for farm livestock and ground nesting wildlife, for which these proposals show no regard.
Much science has already been published on 'edge effects' around forestry which makes predation risk far higher in this environment for ground nesting birds, with the red fox a prolific predator.
The UK has the second highest fox population in Europe after Italy. There is no threat to the Scottish fox population and, while animal welfare must be a priority for all, the need for population control is beyond question. These proposals must be contested by those who believe in protecting farm livestock and species now classified as globally vulnerable. Removing a key tool for management within the very type of habitat where the fox thrives, defies all logic. Remember, Green MSPs, too, want to see an end to legal snaring. No consideration has been given to livestock which often have to be humanely dispatched following injuries by foxes.
The proposals surrounding mountain hare ignore the most up to date research, published in 2019, which showed that- even after population control- grouse moor management provides a net benefit for mountain hare conservation in Scotland.
These proposals, therefore, effectively seek to legislate against the landholdings sustaining the most robust populations whilst choosing to ignore the non-managed moors where hare populations are in inexorable decline through destruction of habitat and lack of beneficial management.
If the purpose of good legislation is to penalise those doing best- in population terms- then back this proposal. If, however, you do not believe this to be an evidenced step, please respond to the Consultation ahead of the closing date of September 15th 2019.

You can find the Consultation, here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/WildMammals/

The beneficial impacts of fox, crow and stoat control for threatened wading birds.