Thursday, 3 December 2020

WANT TO SAVE MOUNTAIN HARES? TRANSLOCATE FROM GROUSE MOORS


Gamekeepers are advocating a conservation plan to save the mountain hare which would see the native mammals translocated from grouse moors to areas which have lost viable populations.

The countryside workers believe grouse estates could act as donors of live trapped hares which could be used to rebuild populations where land use change has shrunk their range.

This summer Scottish Parliament voted to protect the mountain hare and end all management of the species, unless under specific licences.

Gamekeepers previously managed populations in the open season to reduce disease and tick numbers and to protect habitats. Organised hare shoots also brought money to the local economy and food for the food chain.

Land managers are now in discussions with Scottish Government about how a licensing system may operate but believe licensed translocations should be on the table in talks, alongside lethal control options.

Species translocations have been used successfully in conservation with donor beavers from the Tay this week building their first dams in Exmoor for 400 years.

Pine martens, Capercaillie and Sea Eagles have all seen UK populations bolstered at various times through translocation.

Mountain hares are currently in unfavourable status but latest research shows grouse moors can contain populations up to 35 times higher than non-managed moors.

Whilst gamekeepers believe full protection is not the solution for hare conservation, they feel the surfeit of hares on grouse moors could be used positively to help expand the species’ shrunken Scottish range elsewhere.

“Our opposition to the Parliament’s decision is well known, especially if conservation was the principal purpose. However, politicians decided, so it’s time to move on," said Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman, Alex Hogg.

“Traditionally, hares were managed on moors when their numbers got very high.

“One consequence of that population reduction was that the remaining hares were healthy and less susceptible to die-off events from the close spread of the gut parasites which they are highly susceptible to, although this was experienced on Perthshire and Donside grouse moors when deep snow made management impossible and hares died in big numbers.

“Obviously, hare management is no longer an option, unless through lethal control under licence. Instead of culling as the only option- and the environment NGOs made their views clear on this- why not use a quota of these hares from the remaining core grouse moor areas to expand the hare range in places which used to have them but no longer do because the management, or mismanagement, shrunk their habitat? It would also lessen the chance of hares dying off from disease.

“If the point of protection is conservation, this should be roundly supported. It would also avoid a similar scenario to beavers which were protected, then campaigners opposed them being legally killed, in number, under licence.”

Gamekeepers believe the mountain hare faces more threats now, since protection was announced, because of Climate Emergency mitigations.

Scottish Government has increasing annual targets for subsidised tree planting but mountain hares eat young trees, and new plantings will squeeze their already contracting range.

“The loss of the hare’s preferred habitat through afforestation and regeneration has been continuous over decades. That will get worse," added Mr Hogg.

“There will be a need to cull more hares under licence, as a response to climate concerns, and encroachment onto their habitat will increase as more areas are planted or re-stocked. This is why translocating a quota of hares to areas which want them, and previously sustained them, will make them more resilient generally.

“It is entirely wrong that gamekeepers should be associated negatively with mountain hares when they have managed populations for centuries and still have more hares than anyone else. 

“This is an opportunity for grouse moors to be positively associated with their improved conservation status, something which the Parliament desires.”

 

Friday, 27 November 2020

PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS FOR 2021

The SGA has dealt with an unprecedented number of calls, messages and other communications through the night, since the Scottish Government decision to move to an immediate licensing of driven grouse moors.

As members will know, the SGA wrote to council officials in Edinburgh in February for permission to hold a protest demonstration outside Scottish Parliament.

Due to being placed in a national lockdown, that planned protest could not go ahead, despite travel plans having been made by many.

Covid-19 has meant sacrifices for all and our members were in agreement that no protest should be held as the country deals with the pandemic.

The SGA fully intends to honour that. However, following yesterday's events, it is clear that members wish their democratic right to protest not to be denied.

With this in mind, and recognising the country is still in the grip of a health emergency, we will today begin planning localised direct protests so that our members can have their say.

We will keep members updated over the coming weeks, with protests set to happen in 2021 and ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections.

Chairman Alex Hogg said: "People take to the streets when they feel they are no longer being listened to. That is where our members are right now and this is the message we have received loud and clear since yesterday's events in Holyrood, and leading up to this.

"Since the Scottish Parliament was built, few sectors have been scrutinised like ours, not just the grouse sector but deer, low ground shoots, salmon rivers, everything to do with our way of life. It is relentless and it is affecting people and the health of their loved ones. We are now being blamed for climate change and the nature 'emergency' by politicians in Scotland's Parliament. When things get to that level, it is dangerous. All perspective has been lost.

"Our members will no longer be political low hanging fruit or a community to be sacrificed because some politicians want to right old wrongs that we had nothing to do with. Our members are living, breathing human beings with hopes and fears like everyone else but they are being treated like a minority group who are fair game to be attacked at every turn, even in the chambers of our Parliament.

"We will engage with Scottish Government on licensing, when the time is right, but our members want to have their say and it is only correct that they should be allowed to do so."


Thursday, 26 November 2020

CHAIRMAN COMMENT: GROUSE MOOR LICENSING

 


Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “This decision will anger our community. It will not be easily forgotten. Our members have effectively had targets painted on their backs, today. 

Our responsibility now is protect them from spurious claims sure to come their way from those seeking to end grouse shooting in Scotland and to have licences taken away.

“Ironically, those who lobbied so hard for licensing have no interest in seeing it being a success. For them, this was always a vehicle to agitate for a full ban. Scottish Parliament legislators should not be naive in thinking otherwise.

“I am angry beyond expression at the way a community of working people is being treated today in this country and the strain they and their families are constantly having to face as they cope with never-ending scrutiny and inquiry driven by elite charities with big influence over politicians and axes to grind against a people who produce so much for Scotland yet ask little back.

“If we are not to lose an important element of Scottish rural life, gamekeepers require some substantive recognition from Parliament for the many benefits they deliver and not the endless battering they perpetually experience.”

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Update on Coronavirus Restrictions From 20th November 2020

Following yesterday's announcement from the First Minister regarding Scottish Government guidance regarding non-essential travel which will become Law on Friday 20th November 2020.

What does this mean for our members?

As of Friday 20th November People living in Tier 3 or Tier 4 areas MUST NOT travel out of their local authority area, except for certain essential purposes. (to check your tier please use the following link https://www.gov.scot/check-local-covid-level/) Also , people living elsewhere in Scotland MUST NOT travel into Tier 3 or Tier 4 areas, except for essential purposes.

Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK

Restrictions and advice on what you can do and where you can travel are also in place within England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The current Scottish Government guidance, given the state of the epidemic across the UK is that people avoid any unnecessary travel between Scotland and England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

This applies to people who live in Scotland and to people who live elsewhere in the UK who are thinking of coming to Scotland.

This may change as the virus spreads or is suppressed in different areas, and as the rules and guidance in place there change. Please check the Scottish Government website before starting any journey. 

If you have to travel for essential purposes, follow the guidance on travelling safely which can be found via the following link https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-travel-and-transport/.

Recreational shooting activities including target shooting, game shooting, deer stalking and wildfowling would NOT be an essential purpose for travel.

Shooting related work such as beating and picking-up on shoot days; essential bird and mammal pest control to protect crops or livestock would be an essential purpose to travel.  Pest control activities would be as follows Shooting or trapping of pest bird species under general licence, management of rodents and rabbits; deer management as part of a plan agreed with and requested by the landowner. Also game management or gamekeeping activities such as looking after game birds, habitat management and pest/predator control.

Members in Tier 4 need to be aware of the following change.

As of Friday 20th November shooting will No longer be exempt from socialising restrictions in Tier 4 areas.  This means that shooting activities may only take place with up to a maximum of 6 people from no more than 2 house holds.

For Tiers 1, 2 and 3

In Tier 1, 2 and 3 multi-person shoots will be able to continue providing they follow the Covid-19 guidance framework for country sports https://countrysportscotland.com/framework-of-appropriate-covid-19-precautions-for-country-sports-updated-october-2020.

However, persons living in Tier 3 areas will not be permitted to travel to other Tier areas for any purpose other than essential purposes, which does not include organised shooting sports.

Persons from Tiers 1 and 2 areas will be able to travel to other Tier 1 and 2 areas, including travelling through Tier 3 or 4 areas to get to their destination.

We will be updating this guidance as and when we get new information from the Scottish Government so please keep an eye on the website and social media site for updated information.

Should our members have any other queries  or require a Risk Assessment Template please do not hesitate to contact the office and they will endeavour to assist you.

 

 

 

 

 

GREEN-SCARING: NATURE EMERGENCY AND GROUSE MOOR MANAGEMENT

Today the Scottish Green Party instigated a motion at Scottish Parliament, asking that the Parliament declare a Nature Emergency.

As part of this, The Scottish Green Party want an end to driven grouse moor management.

What would this actually look like?

There are living, real life, examples.

Consider key findings from the report: Changes in the Abundance of Some Ground-Nesting Birds on moorland in South West Scotland (1)


What did it show on Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA, after driven grouse moor management ceased?


Moorland transect surveys at Muirkirk and Garpel covering 2 periods ( 1994 and 2009/2017)- when gamekeepers managed the moors and when they did not- showed a decline in Curlew abundance of 38 percent, associated with the cessation of grouse shooting at Muirkirk.

Golden Plover (a species for which the SPA status still applies) and Redshank were no longer found at Muirkirk after gamekeepers were off the moor. Lapwing and Snipe observations halved from the time keepers were there and when they were not. 


At Garpel, repeat surveys after gamekeepers left, failed to find any Waders at all. Garpel was previously described as one of the most favourable sites in Britain for Golden Plover.

Upland Bird Surveys at Muirkirk, from the early 80s to 2015 showed an 84 percent decline in Golden Plover, an 88 percent decline in Lapwing and a 61 percent decline in Curlew.


In 2015 SNH classified the SPA's Golden Plover population as Unfavourable Declining. Hen Harrier (another principal reason for the SPA designation), and over-wintering Hen Harrier, were both classed as Unfavourable Declining. Merlin and Peregrine (two other species for which the area was designated) were classified as Unfavourable. Given that the stated objectives for the site are to maintain the populations of designated species as a vital component of the site, present solutions are palpably failing. It is only the short eared owl populations which have been maintained.


This mirrors what happened in Wales, in the Berwyn (SPA). When driven grouse shooting ceased, Lapwing became regionally extinct, there was a 90 percent loss of Golden Plover and a 79 percent reduction in Curlew, between two study periods of 1983-85 and 2002. Berwyn has been held up as an example of what happens when grouse moor management ceases. UK and EU funding has now been made available for moorland restoration work.


Good luck to the Scottish Green Party as they try to exploit every vehicle - including a global health crisis -  to ban driven grouse shooting and still hope to reverse the 'Nature Emergency'. 



* (1) The  report used existing national and regional datasets from BTO, RSPB and Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme as well as case studies and additional field monitoring work in 2017.



Monday, 16 November 2020

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: Elections, Scottish Independence and my hopes for rural land workers


I got an email over the weekend from a long-time friend - an individual who has played a big part in the history of the SGA.

It was a letter he had written to the National newspaper about a story they ran last week.

The paper didn’t use it but he wanted me to see it.

This is a big time in Scottish politics. There are party conferences coming up, all the big environment groups are lining up demands. As well as pushing for laws, there will be big demands for cash. The papers are full of talk about the 2021 elections and Independence referendums and I am aware how hard it is for people working in rural land working sectors to be heard just now.


I thought I would put the email into in my regular blog because it is something I am hearing more and more of and it is something our members and members of other groups have spoken to us about. Where rural land workers sit today when it comes to Holyrood and the political system.


The original story which prompted the letter was talking about SNP members wanting a motion at conference which, when you read it, would basically amount to a ban on grouse shooting and many hundreds of our own members being out of a job and a home. It had been apparently written up with the help of Revive, who want grouse shooting banned. Here is the letter.


Dear Letters editor, in reply to the Nov 11th article by Andrew Learmonth, SNP face conference rebellion over watered-down grouse shooting motion, Id like to remind fellow SNP members that countryside votes are required to win Independence.


I am a retired gamekeeper and run a rural tourism business. I have supported the SNP most of my life because I think Scotland should make its own decisions here, not London. I dont think people realise how many others there are like myself among the people who work on the land that have been supporting SNP.


Not everyone is a fan of shooting. Thats fine, Ive argued the toss all my days. But I do find Ruth Maguires comments about employment and the environment confusing. She says there is little economic benefit in grouse moors compared to other land uses. That is not right. The latest report from our own Government, published in the last few days, says it creates more jobs than all the other studied land uses, per hectare. The Government report also says the management benefits some species like the curlew which is in serious danger of disappearing.


If we are going to make arguments, we have to get them right, especially when it is the SNP Governments own reports. If not, its like the Boris bus and Brexit and I dont think that kind of thing works up here. It saddens me to see the SNP turning rural voters away. I speak to a lot of people who would vote for Independence but they are unhappy the way rural politics is going and they are switching off from it altogether. The SNP has done well to win votes in the big cities. These people will vote for the party come what may because they want Independence but past election results are showing ground slipping in the countryside. That needs to be recognised if Independence is going to happen any time soon.


Davie Thomson

Tomatin.


I’ve written about this topic before, when Pete Wishart and John Swinney received a lot of unfair criticism for attending an event hosted by BASC in Perthshire. Whatever party people vote for, politicians should not be criticised for listening to the constituents in their area. That is what they are paid to do. In my view, it is their duty.


There are a lot of big, wealthy groups lobbying hard against our sector and other land sectors at the moment, knowing that elections are coming up. Farmers, too, are caught up in battles over standards, future subsidy and the green lobby.


I can only hope that, whichever party a politician represents, that they give some consideration to the voices of the people living in their constituencies that rely on our sectors for their work and their living. Whichever party is the government of the day, Scotland’s economy, wildlife and environment will be much poorer if gamekeepers’ jobs were lost on the back of policies that are pushed through because they seem to have popularity rather than being the right ones. 


I think how the rural areas vote will have an impact on the coming elections and even on Independence. My hope is that politicians on all sides take the time to listen properly and think about the arguments and consequences of their actions instead of bulldozing away people’s hopes and careers and cutting away big parts of our cultural heritage.



Monday, 9 November 2020

Comment: HERALD GROUSE POLL AND THE CURIOUS 7PM SPIKE

In the court of public opinion, you can’t beat a decent poll result to prove your point and it would seem there are some people out there at the moment who are deadly keen to get a poll result, whatever it takes.


In the day’s before the publication of the Scottish Government’s commissioned report into grouse shooting (which was, in the main, positive for grouse shooting), the League Against Cruel Sports published a poll it commissioned saying 7 in 10 people were against grouse shooting. Careful timing. It wouldn’t do, after all, to have proper, adult scientific research unpicking the group’s case, point by point. (Read the Govt research, here: https://sefari.scot/research/phase-2-grouse-research-socioeconomic-and-biodiversity-impacts-of-driven-grouse-moors-and


This ‘poll’ was part of their work with Revive, a coalition seeking to ban grouse shooting. There was no substantiation of the question the ‘public’ was asked on grouse shooting or how it was worded, framed or how the respondent selection was made or randomised.


As an animal rights coalition, for example, Revive deploy phrases such as ‘blood sports’, knowing this plays on the emotions of people who might otherwise have no opinion on grouse shooting at all, until having a clipboard waved in their face or an email sent. The words are designed to turn people against something. That’s the whole point.


Polls, unless they are rig-proofed through tungsten randomisation, can throw up interesting results.


While it was not an ‘official’ poll as such, the Herald decided to push a poll a few days after the League Against Cruel Sports, on whether readers were in favour or against grouse shooting. It was a good move for the Herald, as their audience and clicks on that particular page soared. 


The poll was placed at the foot of the Herald’s coverage of the Scottish Government report and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it showed a healthy percentage of people in favour of grouse shooting. 

Again, this was an example of how polls can be skewed one way or the other. A positive story from the Government report about grouse shooting followed by a poll. People predisposed to grouse shooting in a favourable way read the report and poll in favour. At one stage, the polls were sitting at those in favour being in the high 90s.


But then things started to change. The poll was shared on shooting sites during the day and also on pages such as Rewilding Scotland as the interest in a favourable result in this poll grew, albeit gradually. The interest wasn’t a burning one, maybe more a curiosity on both sides. The numbers taking it were not switching the dial, it was more dribs and drabs. People maybe voting, if they remembered to, after their tea-break, or if they had nothing better to do. After all, it was only a newspaper poll.


Then something very interesting happened. 


At 7pm, the night before the poll was due to close, suddenly and inexplicably, the dial did switch- big time. 


See the graph below.



Now, it could be said that the spike was a result of one or two influential, high traffic, websites plugging the poll and that making the difference. This is possible, of course. We’ve seen it before. How some petitions manage to get over 100 000 signatures through intense canvassing lasting months, with celebrities, videos, blogs, quite a lot of smoke, mirrors and fliers on the streets of urban areas.


But this does not explain adequately why, precisely at 7.01pm, there was one single pronounced spike of 4287 votes, then the vote pattern returned to normal, bar one other short spike at 9pm. Prior to that, the vote numbers had increased maybe 100 to a few hundreds at a time, rose and dipped, reflecting the fact that people were switching on social media after work or eating, or whatever. 


Then, at 7.01pm, that one block of over 4000 votes in one go. Curious.


Whatever was behind it, we will never know but there was certainly something highly unusual going on. Unless this was some technical malfunction, there is someone or some group very keen to influence the outcome on what, or what not, can be portrayed as the ‘public’s’ opinion of grouse shooting, at this time.


On top of the Government’s report which said that two thirds of gamekeeper respondents to their wellbeing survey had received abuse and threats as part of their employment, gamekeepers should also be wary (when dealing with the mental health implications of this) that there are political lobby consultancies in Edinburgh making good money trying to do them out of a job and their house in the glen.




Wednesday, 4 November 2020

NEW GOVT REPORT PROVES VALUE OF SCOTLAND'S GROUSE MOORS


The second piece of Scottish-Government research into the economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse shooting in Scotland has been published today (Nov 4th). It also includes a gamekeeper survey which some of you may have participated in.

This is an important piece of work and will inform the Government's deliberations on Professor Werritty's report into grouse shooting. 

It corrects some of the myths which campaigners have peddled about grouse shooting, confirming the disproportionate economic and employment benefits of driven grouse shooting to the remote communities in which it occurs.

It proves the economic and jobs case for driven grouse shooting, examining other alternative moorland uses. We recommend you read it as well as the Gamekeeper survey and Biodiversity impact report which contains some positive messages regarding the trade-offs of grouse moor management.

On the question of intensity of management, the report concludes that there has been some evidence of intensity in some areas and evidence of a decrease in intensity in others.

Commenting on the reports, and the gamekeeper survey, Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The report researchers have substantiated what we have said all along. Driven grouse shooting has disproportionate employment and economic benefits in the areas where it occurs. It helps to keep the heartbeat in fragile communities and lights on in the glen houses.

“Gamekeepers play key roles in their communities and their work, which has no drain on public finances, extends beyond their own ground. They are offering un-subsidised deer management, habitat improvement and predator control which also helps protect farm livestock and forestry. This comes at no cost to the public purse.

“These people offer much to Scotland and it troubles me deeply that so many (64%) are suffering threats and abuse in their jobs. They are under intense scrutiny at all times, they are persistently targeted by campaign groups and they are suffering from a lack of government support and little appreciation of the work they do.

“They are a major part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and deserve government backing instead of constant attack.”


To read the Scottish Govt summary of the reports, by researchers from Scotland's Rural College and the James Hutton Institute, go to: https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-report-socioeconomic-biodiversity-impacts-driven-grouse-moors-employment-rights-gamekeepers/

For the full, detailed reports, go to: https://sefari.scot/research/phase-2-grouse-research-socioeconomic-and-biodiversity-impacts-of-driven-grouse-moors-and



Monday, 2 November 2020

Important: Office systems issue creating delay

An important message to all members. Due to the weekend storms affecting the office phone systems, the office are currently dealing with a high volume of messages. If you are trying to get through and can't, please leave a message and the staff will return your call when they have cleared the backlog. Thank you for your patience. Team SGA.

Friday, 30 October 2020

CHAIRMAN: SHOOT IMPACTS IMPORTANT, DESPITE ATTEMPTS TO STOP THEM.


I was pleased to see the results of the survey between the regional moorland groups and the SGA this week on the amount of money being spent by grouse shoot guests this year. https://www.facebook.com/AGMGuk/posts/2084872711645988

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18827735.grouse-shooting-survey-reveals-scotlands-grouse-shooting-tourists-spend-3000-per-person/


I’ve met a lot of people on shoots over the years, from all walks. What people on the outside don’t realise is that, while everyone takes potshots at them for being wealthy, there is no real understanding of who these people are. They are just faceless folk so they are ripe for antagonism. A lot of the time there is no real justification for it. I meet lots of professional people, doctors who have just done well in their careers and love shooting in Scotland. It’s something they look forward to. They are willing to spend to do it, and bring their families, who then also have a connection to the country and may, too, come here in the future and maybe even start a business or a family. Surely that can’t be a bad thing. I’ve had good conversations standing loading for people and I’ve had bad, but it would be no different than if I walked down a High Street anywhere.


To those who don’t see these things, first hand, these people are just rich or toffs and, to be honest, it’s another form of discrimination, even if it seems more acceptable. It’s not a great look. It can make you feel quite uncomfortable as well. 


People spending £3500 each to participate in their hobby, as the survey found, doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. I see the enthusiasm at shoots. Folk get so much from it. They might be stuck in businesses or a stressful profession or managing lots of staff but, when they get out into the hills, with the craic and the camaraderie, they just seem to get lost in it. The fresh air, the dogs, and just being amongst people. They are interested in Scotland and they leave, almost looking forward to when they are next back. It is like a connection in the same way rural land workers are connected to land.


All over the country, businesses are either struggling or are about to be. We’ve seen it from the shoot perspective. Some shoots didn’t put any birds down this year and the smaller operators are really feeling it. But this is just our own wee bubble. The whole hospitality and tourism sector is really up against it, Scotland-wide. There are warnings every day about job losses, chaos and business failure. It’s a terrible thing; one of the worst things in the world to cope with, waking up and wondering whether you are going to go under and what impact that will have on you or your loved ones. Bloody awful.


The Green Party were desperate to get our shoots stopped this year. They played the toff card and, even though our sector had worked hard on guidance with government, tried to get shoots stopped. I am glad they didn’t and I think this survey shows why. Thousands of pounds more per person would have been lost to local businesses in the smaller places. Whatever folk say, having these shoot visitors here has helped businesses keep staff on, as they try to get through the pandemic to the other side. I am reading today that nearly a quarter of businesses think things are about to get worse for them. I get that and it’s terrible that some politicians were trying to take even more away from them.


This week we had Revive making jokey films about grouse shooting. That’s fine and well but I don’t think there are many people finding this all a joke just now. I don’t know what they have done during lockdown to make things better for struggling people in remote places but I know that the gamekeepers, who they want to make unemployed, have been doing their bit and making the most of it, keeping people safe and ensuing they get their wee bit of enjoyment while spending in our communities. That’s not a bad start at trying to make things better in a difficult year.


Most of these areas are either in Tier 1 or 2 of restrictions. None are Tier 3. Having less people, enjoying an outdoor hobby, has not endangered people- like the Greens were trying to make out- and folk have worked hard to get things right. It can be a tricky balance.


Thanks to all those who took part in the survey, the organisers and the people who come to Scotland to take part in their sport and enjoy themselves, here. 


The money has been welcome, too.