Friday 27 September 2013


Scotland’s gamekeepers fear the iconic Capercaillie is doomed unless conservationists advising government agencies get real to tackle pine marten predation.Despite an assurance by First Minister Alex Salmond that the Caper would not be allowed to ‘die on his watch’, keepers fear a second extinction is perilously close.While individual birds exist in fragmented pockets, the only remaining viable breeding population exists in Badenoch and Strathspey.And while better weather in 2013 is expected to show fragile productivity increases, gamekeepers expect those gains to be off-set by predation in the coming months.The Scottish Gamekeepers Association warned 12 years ago that increased predation, by pine marten, foxes and crows, would imperil the largest member of the grouse family. A scientific study in 2009, using cameras at 20 nests, showed predators destroying 65 per cent of those nests in Abernethy Forest, part of a reserve run by RSPB.Of those destroyed, 57 per cent were proven to be by pine marten, which, like the Capercaillie, is legally protected but significantly more numerous.Members of the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) group for Capercaillie have acknowledged the need for a trial removal of pine marten from core areas to assess the problem.So far, no research license has been granted and frustrated gamekeepers, represented on the group, fear conservationists are running scared of making the tough decisions required to prevent the bird becoming extinct.“If all the right things are done, there is still a good chance we could save the Capercaillie. However, there needs to be some hard decisions taken and some bravery from the government and those advising them when it comes to dealing with the pine marten issue,” said the SGA’s Allan Hodgson, who sits on the BAP group.“Unless advisors make the case that having an infinite number of predators and a finite number of prey in the remaining core area is unsustainable, the Capercaillie will be lost.“When it was suggested deer fences were the problem for Capercaillie, they were removed quickly. When it was suggested habitat loss was the problem, lots of public money was ploughed into that. All of these things are important, as is weather, but it has taken those tasked with saving Capercaillie far too long to act consistently on predation, despite warnings from practical land managers. It has been danced around for years at meetings because no one has been willing to get their hands dirty; fearful it may make them unpopular with their members.“There seems to be a realization, finally, that predation by foxes and crows is a problem but on areas such as the RSPB reserve at Abernethy, where chick productivity has been consistently poor, the control of foxes is inadequate. The habitat there draws in Capercaillie from other areas to be eaten. Forestry Commission rangers are now doing a bit more predator control but it is like placing a sticking plaster over a mortal wound.“What’s needed are new conservation measures, alongside the existing programme of work, and that must include measures to deal with all predators and pine marten in the remaining core Capercaillie area.”A managed scientific trial using live traps to capture and transfer pine marten during the breeding season in the remaining Capercaillie heartland has been mooted.Such a localized trial may establish the benefits or otherwise to Capercaillie survival in the core area, if pine marten were removed. So far, nothing has been done.In 2011, SNH updated their science on Capercaillie, acknowledging that changes in weather patterns and increasing evidence of predators in forest habitats were a factor in steep declines.Previous studies focused on deer fence collisions and weather while new evidence showed a fourfold increase in pine marten, through legal protection, and a threefold increase in foxes in Capercaillie forests.“The correlation between weather and generalist predators has been realised but there now needs to be movement on a trial for pine marten- and fast. We’ve tried everything else,” added Hodgson.“This is not about popularity contests, it is about stepping up to save a bird which has a resonance with Scotland or just letting it die without getting the gloves off.”


Contrary to what is being reported in some areas of the press today, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association would like to make it clear that the idea of a trap and transfer trial for pine marten in core Capercaillie areas was mooted by the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Group for Capercaillie, of which the SGA is only a part. It was not a specific proposal from the SGA (as press release states). The SGA has legitimate concerns about shifting problems elsewhere; problems which will required to be tackled later. However, in the interests of proving that Capercaillie benefit from the removal of pine marten (or otherwise), then the SGA is willing to assist such a scientific project. This outcome would be seen by the SGA as more progressive than the present crippling inaction which is putting the Capercaillie at great risk.

Friday 20 September 2013


Scottish Natural Heritage is looking for responses to this short survey regarding wild deer best practice training, which organisations should deliver wild deer best practice training, costs, travel and further training. If you are interested in wild deer best practice training by the SGA, please contact the office on 01738 587 515.

Friday 13 September 2013


A Perthshire teenager honing his craft at the royal estate of Balmoral has been named The Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Young Gamekeeper of the Year 2013.Despite his tender years, judges were impressed with the aptitude of 18 year old Greg Sinclair, who has already gained experience at both Atholl Estates and the Queen’s estate in Deeside.The award recognizes the contribution made to responsible game management in Scotland by a young gamekeeper, ghillie, wildlife manager or ranger.Candidates are recommended by estates and course leaders from Scotland’s three gamekeeping colleges.The winner is then judged from a short-list, with criteria including adherence to law and best practice and an understanding of the value of gamekeeping to Scotland’s biodiversity and economy.Raised in Alyth, Greg entered the profession initially through a 2 year Skillseekers programme at North Highland College UHI in Thurso.He is now studying for a National Certificate through the college whilst working at Balmoral and has gained experience of management from riverbank to mountaintop.SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “There were a number of very good candidates; youngsters that represent the next generation.“Their work in creating the conditions for gamebirds and other wildlife such as Curlew, Lapwing, Plover, red squirrel and Black Grouse to flourish in our countryside is vital. Responsible game management brings so much to Scotland and to rural communities and that is why it is so important to have a well trained, skilled workforce of the future.“Greg has already worked with deer, grouse and on the salmon rivers and shows great potential. He is held in high regard by his college lecturers and on the estates where he has been learning his craft. We are delighted for him and, indeed, all the youngsters that were interviewed on the short-list for the award.”Greg first took an interest in gamekeeping when helping his brother on an estate when he was only 12.At Atholl Estates he managed for deer, grouse and salmon as well as looking after stalking ponies and engaging with sporting clients on shoot and stalking days.His current role at Balmoral encompasses a similar wide spectrum.“It is great to win this award. I have been interested in gamekeeping from a very young age and I took the opportunity to learn through the college and through the practical work on the estates, which I have really enjoyed,” he said.“Managing the countryside keeps everything the way it should be and helps maintain a balance. It is not just gamebirds. The work of gamekeepers is very important for other species. We have Black Grouse at Balmoral, for example, and there was a lot at Atholl as well.”Minister for Environment and Climate Change, and Chair of PAW Scotland, Mr Paul Wheelhouse said: “I am very pleased that a young gamekeeper, Greg Sinclair, and all the other nominees, are being recognised for their contribution to responsible countryside management. It is always encouraging to see young people making the most of skilled and specialized training and then graduating into work.“Countryside sports create valuable income and employment in rural areas.“This award recognizes that young gamekeepers, ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers have an important and varied role to play in managing Scotland’s natural environment and ensuring that safe, modern and progressive land management practices are promoted.” The final short-list for SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year 2013. Greg Sinclair Connor Campbell Paul Rafferty Ryan Stewart. All finalists deserve recognition for their contribution to their profession. The SGA would like to pass on its best wishes to all as they pursue their careers.