Thursday 27 February 2014


Gamekeepers descended upon Parliament this week urging the SNP administration to mend a broken promise made by Alex Salmond to reverse the ban on tail docking of working dogs.

Officials from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association delivered a petition, calling on the ruling administration to put the issue back on the Parliamentary agenda, for animal welfare reasons.

The petition comes as new research is set to reveal as many as one in two working spaniels have suffered agonising tail injuries as a result of the ban.

The Scottish Government has confirmed the new research from Glasgow University will be published ‘within weeks’, with researchers finding almost 57% of working spaniels suffered at least one tail injury during the 2010-2011 shooting season.

Around 38.5 % of Hunt Point Retrievers suffered the same fate, with many tail injuries in working breeds resulting in prolonged distress and, ultimately, amputation.

Prior to the ban, it was legal to dock the tail of working pups at 2/3 days old to prevent serious tail injuries in later life, when working in thick undergrowth such as bramble and whins.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland- where docking is also illegal- exemptions were made for working dogs in acknowledgement of their specific purpose in the countryside.

Scotland has not followed suit; something gamekeepers believe is causing needless pain and distress for working dogs and working people across the country.

Delivering the petition, with 4158 signatories, to the SNP’s Richard Lochhead, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “When this evidence is finally published, it will show a clear need to review this legislation, in respect of the welfare of working dogs. Instead of promoting animal welfare, this research will prove it has done the opposite.

“We fully agree dogs’ tails should not be docked for cosmetic reasons but working dogs, by nature, are different and every other UK country has recognised this except Scotland.

“Alex Salmond promised at our AGM seven years ago that any government he led would reverse this ban, if there was evidence to do so. He said his government would stand up for rural Scotland, and that gave people hope.

“However, all these years on, people are entitled to feel that promise has been broken. Working dogs are the victims. We were told 14 months ago that this research would be published ‘within weeks’. Nothing has happened. It’s cruel. It’s time to get this  reviewed.”

Owners, many dressed in tweed, took their dogs to Holyrood; some of the animals having undergone amputations following tail tip injuries.

Researchers have acknowledged that injury in an adult dog, followed by amputation, inflicts more pain and distress over a longer period than the preventative docking of a pup’s tail in the first days of its life.

Veterinary Surgeon George Greig, a partner in a leading Scottish veterinary practice, believes the legislation has been disastrous for working breeds.

“It’s morally indefensible. From my experience, 1 in 3 dogs that suffer tail damage suffer a further breakdown before the decision is finally taken to amputate.

“The suffering is, therefore, prolonged, both before and after the amputation.

 “On the other hand, I’ve docked thousands of puppies at 2 days old and it is nothing. It is a little snip and the pups barely notice it whereas, in an adult dog, it is major surgery. If a dog is going to work, it needs a shorter tail, end of story.”

Retired pest controller Gerry Oliphant from Perthshire was at Parliament with spaniel Struie, who had to have its tail amputated in his first working season.

Mr Oliphant has two other working dogs- both legally docked in England. Neither have suffered a tail injury whilst working.

“If Struie’s tail had been docked legally, by a vet, at 2 days old, he would never have suffered the distress he did. I’m only concerned about the welfare of my dogs. My other two cockers have docked tails and they’d never had an injury in their lives.”


NB: The research, by Glasgow University, which the Scottish Government has stated it will publish ‘within weeks’, took a survey of 2860 dogs working dogs over the 2010/2011 season.

The survey found that 56.6 per cent of working spaniels sustained at least one tail injury in that season. 38.5 per cent of Hunt Point Retrievers sustained at least one tail injury in the same season.

The study states:

“We believe that this work provides the best available evidence on which to base a consultation for changes to the legislation on tail docking in working dogs in Scotland. Docking HPR and spaniels by one third would significantly decrease the risk of tail injury sustained while working in these breeds.

Wednesday 5 February 2014


After providing an extensive written submission and oral evidence to the Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has welcomed the announcement that a voluntary approach to deer management in Scotland is to be given the appropriate time to bed in before judgements on its effectiveness, or otherwise, are made. The SGA will now work to ensure this approach, which it considers to be the best, works effectively across the whole of Scotland. “The SGA welcomes the decision of the RACCE Committee as we strongly believe the voluntary system of deer management in Scotland best serves rural jobs and communities, biodiversity and the welfare of Scotland’s deer. “We found it strange this subject was brought back to Parliament so soon when it was agreed during lengthy consultations of the WANE Bill that the Code of Practice should be introduced and given time to bed in. “Progress towards goals has been made and more needs to be done before we can accurately assess the effectiveness of this. It would be unfair, in any situation, for a judgement to be delivered part-way rather than at the end of a process. “Scotland’s gamekeepers remain committed to making this work and the SGA will do all it can to facilitate progress.”

Tuesday 4 February 2014


Dr James Fenton appeared on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, addressing the subject of Scotland's deer in the wake of a comprehensive new study into native woodlands by Forestry Commission Scotland.Here, the foremost ecologist and author of Towards a new paradigm for the ecology of Northern and Western Scotland offers his perspective on the conservationists' view that more deer must be culled in order to expand native woodlands. "Native woods woods covered 4% of Scotland at the beginning of the 20th Century. Evidence suggests that woodland was rare because the ecological conditions of Scotland were not suited to trees. Hence the natural state of the Highlands is for an open landscape of moorlands and peatlands, with woods confined to a few optimal areas. "It seems strange, therefore, that the management of the whole landscape, particularly of grazing animals, should be directed towards conserving a minor element of the landscape, i.e. woodland. "Ecosystems are not static entities and if some woodlands die out because grazing is preventing trees regenerating, then this is a natural characteristic of upland Scotland. "Looked at another way: the natural habitat of central Brazil is rainforest, with open areas rare. But conservationists are not arguing for the expansion of the few open areas - just the opposite: they are wanting the forest protected. In Scotland the situation is reversed: the natural habitat is moorland and peatland, with woodland rare. Hence conservationists should be focussed on wanting the moorland protected rather than encouraging trees. Every loss of open moorland is the equivalent of cutting down an area of tropical rainforest. "If conservationists want to conserve woodland in a locality where grazing pressure is high, then the logical approach is to keep out the grazing animals, most easily done by fencing - not by killing deer to achieve a grazing level way below the ecological carrying capacity. A recent report by Scottish Natural Heritage, for example, says it is impossible to manage grazing so that all ecosystems are kept in optimal condition. It seems more sensible, therefore, to manage the landscape to conserve the dominant element - moorland, which is globally rare and for which Scotland is internationally important - rather than the minor element of woodland which is globally common."

Monday 3 February 2014


In response to the launch of the first detailed map of Scotland’s native woodlands by Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “We agree with well sited planting of native woodland, providing it is fenced, but we fear the danger in this considerable piece of work is that conservationists will translate it as a green light to hammer Scotland’s deer, which is not the long-term answer. “Conservation groups are quick to claim there are too many deer. What is rarely mentioned is that, since 2004, there’s been a 10 per cent drop in deer numbers in the Monadhliaths. There’s been a 26 per cent drop in Knoydart in 7 years and 14 per cent drop in West Sutherland in seven years. “A lot of the aggressive reductions of deer have been to protect unfenced forestry. In an FOI to SNH, we learned that in one of the two closed seasons in 2013, 99 licences out of 113 were applied for, to kill females out of season to protect unfenced forestry. Not only is it having a serious affect on deer numbers regionally, it raises serious welfare questions for deer, which are now being culled all year round. “Trees should be treated as a crop. A plant that is going to live for 200 years deserves respect and should be protected for the first 15 years of its life from deer, hares, rabbits and sheep. This is particularly true of Scotland where both soil and climate are poor for native woodland and where it takes very little grazing to hamper regeneration.”