Saturday 23 December 2017


The SGA membership has expressed concerns to us regarding a recent vote taken by the SNP National Council to curb fox hunting in Scotland and to licence grouse moors.

The relevant motions leading to these decisions appeared to have been motivated by the Scottish figurehead for the organisation, The League Against Cruel Sports; an organisation with an openly stated agenda on both issues, and a history of making donations to political parties.

Decisions on these subjects will have far reaching consequences. During evidence at Holyrood, we made clear our view that a licensing system, centred on a civil burden of proof, would lay open lawful working people to the types of individuals and groups who would view such a decision as a green light to causing further problems for those working within our industry.

It was no surprise to us, therefore, that the news of this National Council vote was being hailed very soon afterwards by such groups, on social media, as a step to ‘inevitable’ licensing and a ‘staging post’ to their end game of banning driven grouse shooting altogether. This, in our view, has always been the tactic, regardless of the veneer.

We have been contacted by many members about this and have written to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to clarify what consequences, if any, this will have for the independent review of grouse moors. We will let members know in due course.

Whether people like shooting or not, our industry produces employment on a vast scale in rural Scotland. These managed moors are the last refuge of some of our iconic flora and fauna and a significant food source for Scotland’s raptor population- and increasingly the human population.
Hard working gamekeepers, with their skills and knowledge, help preserve our unique open landscapes, admired the world over; landscapes which set us apart from many other countries. There are more eagles now in Scotland than there have ever been in recent memory and more raptors regularly feeding on grouse moor areas than anyone will see in many un-managed places with the exception of feeding stations and some islands. The notion put about that these spaces are devoid of raptors is politically-motivated. 

As an organisation, we have made tough and often unpopular decisions in order to contribute to an almost year on year decline in raptor persecution, expelling 6 members in 5 years. We will continue to promote those policies, which focus on legal measures to tackle species conflicts. We continue to argue for people having access to the legal and adaptive tools they have been told by Scottish government agencies exist, but are yet to be delivered. We were highly encouraged, once again, to see a further 8 percent fall in wildlife crime in Scotland although, as ever, there is still much to do.

If licensing is to be pushed through and the vital role of the gamekeeper is to be protected from those intent on seeing this as a green light towards a ban, Scottish Government will have to introduce new measures which would embed impartiality into wildlife crime policing, ensuring any system had a sound evidential basis. They will have to tighten up on people being able to walk over estates wilfully causing trouble in a way which could get gamekeepers’ licenses removed, if this was allowed to pass. 

For the vast majority of our members who are wholly law abiding, we will, and are ready to contest ill-judged elements of this proposal whilst offering Scottish Government solutions to improve the way Scotland’s countryside operates. These are the pledges we can give to you, the members.

In January, everyone has the opportunity to respond to the consultation on fox hunting, which closes on 31st January. You will find details on our website news page. Political noises surrounding this issue seem to suggest proposals may be put forward for a total ban or a reduction to 2 hounds. For those who depend on foot packs to manage foxes in forestry, the latter is as unpalatable as the former. Don’t miss the opportunity to respond. It is now vital!

As the seasons are pushing busily to a close, I and everyone at the SGA would like to wish all members the joys of the season and good health and friendship in 2018.
Our management remains under perpetual scrutiny but despite this attention, by following best practice and operating  diligently and lawfully, we can continue to share the benefits of all we do.

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

Thursday 21 December 2017


All members should make themselves aware of the recently published guidance on Bird flu and Gamebirds, endorsed by Defra, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments.

This is standing advice regarding measures which can be taken to minimise the risk of disease.

Advice on this subject was first agreed nationally last winter during a severe outbreak of notifiable bird flu in the UK. The new advice differs in that it is general in nature and no longer date sensitive. Specific advice relating to any actual outbreaks will be published separately so that this standing advice can remain clear and widely available.

A spokesman for the eight stakeholder bodies said, "The UK is currently free of bird flu and whilst we hope that will remain the case, it is important to keep awareness and biosecurity high to reduce risks and to be ready should the disease reappear. Gamebirds can catch bird flu and the activities of gamebird rearers may also be affected by official controls introduced to eradicate the disease elsewhere. The advice explains the signs of the disease and what to do if it is detected. It also sets out the typical control measures, explaining how they might affect each aspect of gamebird management. It urges all gamebird keepers to make contingency plans now, lest their birds be infected with bird flu or their activities caught up in movement restrictions and other control measures."

The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, said:"We are pleased to endorse this important revised advice. Bird flu remains a serious concern and the control measures required can be fast-moving and comprehensive. 

It will help the gamebird industry to have approved, standing advice widely available so that keepers can plan ahead to minimise their risk of the disease."

Wednesday 20 December 2017


Have you read the Updated Code of Good Shooting Practice, 2017, yet? 
It is time to do so.

The SGA is delighted to have been be part of this revised Code, which sets out the benchmarks for maintaining the highest standards.

Game management and conservation help shape and enhance our landscape. Wildlife thrives where land is managed for shooting. Over a million people are involved in shooting; many more enjoy the end product as consumers of pheasants, partridges and other game. Moreover, shooting makes a substantial contribution to the rural economy – often at times and in places where other income is scarce. Shooting is worth £2 billion to the UK annually and £200m to Scotland each year.

But the good name of shooting depends on everyone involved following this Code. Whatever your role within shooting, you should always be ‘Code-aware’ and raise awareness of this Code in others.

You can download and save your own copy, for reference, by clicking here:

Please also make yourself aware of the revised Code to Game Handling.

Ensuring the best game ends up on the table, in a way which meets all food safety requirements, is critical. The appetite for game meat is growing. By maintaining the highest standards, we can ensure more and more people are enjoying high quality, healthy free-range game.

This guide can also be downloaded from

Monday 11 December 2017


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is once again pleased at continuing progress in terms of a further reduction in wildlife crime in Scotland, at a time when public scrutiny and awareness has never been higher.
As a body we have a strict code regarding wildlife crime which is fully understood by our membership. 
The SGA advocates and seeks only legal and adaptive solutions to resolving species conflicts.

We note Scottish Government’s intention to hold a review of grouse shooting in Scotland and will participate fully in what we hope will deliver sound evidence over implication or speculation.

Friday 1 December 2017


You can help these (very) hard working SGA stalwarts- and your guests- by  ensuring you call to arrange insurance before the office closes for Christmas and New Year.
The SGA office would like to alert members that, if you are looking into insurance for guests to participate in shoots over the festive period, please contact the office before December 22nd.
The office will be closed from mid-day on 22nd December until 9am on 4th January 2018.
No one would want anyone to miss out over the festive season so make sure you contact us in good time so we can process all inquiries.

Thanks. #TeamSGA.


One lucky individual is set for a very merry Xmas after being drawn in the SGA office today as the winner of the 2017 SGA raffle with Polaris.
The SGA has been inundated with entries for this year's draw, with a prize of an all-wheel drive, hard working Polaris Sportsman 570 up for grabs.
The SGA is delighted to announce that the winner is Ewan Archer from Carrbridge, who has been notified of the outcome.
We would like to congratulate Ewan on his success and to thank Polaris for providing such an excellent prize, as well as the many hundreds who bought tickets. Your support is vital and welcome to the SGA. Thank you.

Wednesday 29 November 2017


UPDATE: 2.25pm. ALL OFFICE SYSTEMS NOW BACK UP AND RUNNING. Thank you for your patience and sorry for any inconvenience caused.

Dear SGA members. Please note the office computing systems will be down for a large part of tomorrow (Nov 30th) as the IT team update the office systems to Windows 10. 

The telephone systems will be functioning as normal but if members do call with renewal or joining inquiries, please have membership number and postcode to hand to allow for ease of processing. 

Full service will resume on Friday 1st December. Thank you from TeamSGA.

Wednesday 15 November 2017


Due to an unfortunate bout of staff illness- and on doctor's orders- we regret to say that the SGA office will be closed on Thursday and Friday this week (16th and 17th November).
We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause members. Normal service will resume again on Monday November 20th.

Sunday 12 November 2017


Shoot Beater below a wind turbine in Scotland.  Tightened monitoring and reporting could end the 'blame culture' should anything happen to wildlife.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has called for monitoring and reporting around wind farms to be tightened up to provide greater transparency regarding wildlife impacts.

The representative body, which has 5300 members, believes an agreed code could replace a ‘blame culture’ should raptors or other wildlife disappear.
Gamekeepers on grouse moors were implicated this year when a report concluded up to 41 out of 131 satellite tagged eagles in Scotland may have disappeared over 12 years.
At the time of publication, The SGA noted its dissatisfaction with findings on wind farm impacts but chose not to speak out, focusing instead on condemning wildlife crime.
Now, however, with more and more highland windfarms in existence, many overlapping with grouse moors, the gamekeeping body believes new monitoring codes will be needed.
Their call comes after a September report by BTO, RSPB, Birdlife International, IUCN, Cambridge University, University College London, Imperial College London, University of Stellenbosch and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee showed raptors such as sea eagles and golden eagles to be at the highest risk to turbine mortality of all bird species (1).
Gamekeepers have witnessed raptor mortality at wind farm sites and have themselves located stricken birds in vegetation outlying turbines.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg says the body has no issues with renewables, with many estates now augmenting sport shooting with wind farms or hydro schemes.
However, its members feel post-construction monitoring codes need to be revisited so causes of bird mortality are clearer.
“A code for on-going monitoring of windfarms, for wildlife impacts would be helpful. Checks exist but are inconsistent and organised by operators themselves, often using maintenance crew. There is no statutory duty to report bird collisions in Scotland.
“We said at the time we were not convinced by the wind farm element of the satellite tagged eagle report but we didn’t want to detract from our condemnation of illegal behaviour.
“We have, ourselves, expelled 6 members in 5 years for wildlife crime convictions.
“However, we disagreed, and still do, with the report’s assumption there would be little motive for wind companies not to report downed birds. Our members have witnessed dead raptors under turbines and up to 200 yards from turbine masts- way beyond the 50m radius operators are recommended to search and report. Most have felt duty bound not to speak because turbines march onto land they manage.
“The report also said turbines could not be seen as a major cause of missing eagles because no final tag signals were within 1km of a turbine. But we know signals only register a limited number of times per day. Also, when a missing Hen Harrier’s tag’s final signal was found to be on an RSPB reserve, at Insh Marshes, the public were told last signals were only an ‘indication’ of a broad general area the bird was in (2). We feel there is insufficient data to corroborate.
“By speaking out there will be people all too ready to damn us but, as a representative body, we see it as our duty to defend our members’ right not to be assumed as guilty until proven innocent for the disappearance of every bird that flies over a moor in Scotland, when other factors may or may not be at play. By agreeing codes for monitoring, there would be greater transparency.”


(2) See 'Update' at the foot of link:

Beaters lined out below turbines marching moorland in Scotland. Land uses, side by side like this, are increasingly commonplace today in Scotland.

Wednesday 1 November 2017


Comment from SGA on stories relating to a BBC report from RSPB on bird crime.

"As the report introduction itself says, the figures quoted are taken from a collation of bird crime 'incidents' reported to RSPB.
"The official records of verified crimes in Scotland, authorised by Police, SASA and Scottish Government agencies are published annually and represent the authoritative figures on the extent of bird crimes in this country.
"The latest figures showed bird of prey poisoning to be down 40 percent on 4 years ago, and birds illegally shot to be roughly halved over the last three years. Whilst, regrettably, there was a small rise in crimes by 2 last year, the official data runs contrary to the narrative RSPB is following from its own unofficial report of incidents.
"There are many bodies involved in tackling wildlife crime. Our own organisation has a strict code  governing our members, with a tiny percentage having been convicted of wildlife crime.
"We will continue to work with the Police and Scottish Government on this important issue in the hope that the significant recent improvements in the wildlife crime picture continues in Scotland."

Friday 27 October 2017


ORGANISATIONS involved in shooting and gamebird management have welcomed a big fall in the amount of antibiotic used in the rearing of pheasants and partridges in the UK. 
Figures endorsed by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) have been released today showing that antibiotics used in gamebirds were brought down voluntarily by 36 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016, including a 53 per cent reduction for those administered in gamebird food. (Gamebirds are reared in the spring, which is why the 2017 results are already complete). 
The 36 per cent fall comfortably exceeds the 25 per cent official reduction target for gamebirds in 2017, developed by the sector and agreed by the VMD earlier this year. The actual reduction was calculated from veterinary records. Vets are responsible for prescribing all antibiotics administered to gamebirds.
The encouraging results come at a time when all livestock sectors have been asked by government to reduce their use of antibiotics in the face of global concerns about antimicrobial resistance – the evolution of bugs that will not respond to treatment with antibiotics.
A spokesman for the shooting and gamebird management organisations said: “These large reductions have been achieved voluntarily and in just one year through the hard work of game farmers, gamekeepers, the veterinary profession and the game feed trade. We welcome today’s results as an excellent start to our continuing campaign for antibiotic reduction.”
Professor Peter Borriello, Chief Executive Officer of the VMD, said: “The significant reductions achieved in 2017, the same year that the sector started to collect and scrutinise its antibiotic usage data, highlight the strong commitment of the game bird industry to bring down antibiotic use. The reductions achieved in 2017 are to be highly commended, and are an encouragement to all to continue the good work.”
John Fitzgerald, General Secretary of RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance), whose conference, ‘Facing Up to the Antimicrobial Resistance Challenge’ was held in London today, said: “We congratulate our colleagues in the game sector on their excellent 2017 antibiotic reduction results. The enthusiasm and commitment with which the whole sector has engaged with this process is exemplary and we have every confidence that they will achieve further reductions in future years.”
Antibiotics are used in gamebird rearing, as in other livestock sectors, for the treatment of natural diseases. Their use is sometimes essential for welfare reasons but administration of antibiotics can be reduced through good biosecurity and correct management, in close liaison with specialist vets. 

The lessons learned from this year’s rearing season will be collated during November at a meeting of vets being hosted by the Game Farmers’ Association. Advice arising from that meeting will be provided free of charge to all game-rearers in anticipation of further antibiotic reductions next year. 

Thursday 26 October 2017


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to seek discussions with Police and Government Ministers over an escalation of vandalism and interference with legal traps by activists and the public.
Members of the gamekeepers’ representative body are reporting increasing incidences of intentional damage to predator control traps and snares operated as part of their employment.
In the past fortnight alone, legal Fenn traps have been vandalised, rail traps smashed, wires cut and traps left in the open air in Tayside, Perthshire, Angus, Speyside, Grampian, Tomatin and the Great Glen area.
In one incident in Angus, 22 traps, approved for legal predator control by Scottish Natural Heritage, were damaged in one afternoon.
The SGA, which represents 5300 members in Scotland, believes the number of incidents is now becoming unsustainable and that lawful businesses are being targeted.
They feel specific offences need to be worded to tighten up ‘wooly-ness’ around vandalism and interference and are seeking discussions with Scottish Government and Police Scotland.
Licences to control predators legally are subject to regulation by Scottish Natural Heritage and gamekeepers are trained to operate traps and snares legally, using approved equipment.
Predator control has been scientifically proven (1)* to benefit ground nesting game species and threatened birds such as the red-listed Curlew.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “Members are extremely worried. The situation can’t go on like this. The biggest problem is the law, as written, and the lack of a specific offence. 
“Every time damage or interference is reported, Police say no crime has been committed. Yet, if a trap was interfered with by a member of the public and a non-target animal was caught in that trap, a gamekeeper could lose his General Licence and charges would be brought yet the law wouldn’t touch the person committing the interference. That surely cannot be allowed to continue.
“The Police have given some members explanations as to why they cannot act, which we welcome, but it seems their hands are tied as well.
“Some people might not agree with some things, and predator control might be one of those things, but that doesn’t legitimise people vandalising people’s work tools, or worse, rendering them illegal.
“If a gamekeeper’s snares are tied up or someone has smashed a boulder through a Larsen trap, that gamekeeper cannot perform his duties. It would be like a bus driver expecting to drive a bus with tyres removed.”
Under the Land Reform Act, it is illegal to enter land and commit crime and the SGA hope to discuss possible routes forward with authorities.
Gamekeeper and SGA member, Andy Smith, provided video recordings to the Police of a member of the public releasing a call bird from a Larsen trap on a farm, leaving the trap vulnerable to catching a non-target species, which itself could lead to a charge against the operator.
“If a gamekeeper or farmer failed to comply with the General Licence in the operating of that trap, the licence would be withdrawn and charges brought,” said Mr Smith. “The owner of the land could also be liable for punishment and heavy financial penalty under Vicarious Liability law.
“The member of the public who made the trap non-compliant, on the other hand, can walk away.
“Everyone has a responsibility to wildlife and that should mean members of the public as well.
“There is also the possibility now of people removing traps then setting them incorrectly elsewhere. There are far too many loopholes which can threaten the employment of people operating their business within the law.”


Game shooting is worth £200m a year to Scotland’s economy. PACEC Report 2014:

Tuesday 24 October 2017


An online questionnaire has been launched by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland designed to gather views from all those who have applied to have firearms licensed or renewed in the last two years.
This is an opportunity for all those who have gone through the process, to comment on their experience ahead of an investigation on what is working well and not so well.
The SGA has had a lot of engagement with members who are having issues with firearms licensing and would encourage all members and supporters to take the time to fill this out and register their feedback with those investigating the process.
Full details can be found here:

The closing date of November 3rd is fast approaching but the questionnaire takes 10 minutes to complete and could make a big difference.

Thursday 12 October 2017


For members reading media reports about mountain hares this morning , please see the SGA response here, in full. It is possible only certain elements of the response have been reported.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "The activist organisations constantly calling for this in press releases would be better to explain to the public why they themselves have such comparatively poor populations of mountain hares on their holdings and why their management is producing so few.
"This is the elephant in the room which has never been properly addressed, amidst the campaigns. When the new guidance on best methodologies to count mountain hares is published, the SGA will be asking Scottish Government to ensure hares are counted on all holdings, including nature reserves and re-wilding areas not just grouse moors, so the public can finally get a transparent picture of where hares are declining and why.
“Voluntary restraint is being exercised on grouse moors. Where hares are over-running, populations are being controlled to prevent disease and habitat damage. Where their numbers are lower, there is less or no need for management. It is the same with deer. In our view, that is what voluntary restraint is.”
*The SGA would also like to receive reports and images, by SGA members, of any mountain hares seen on nature reserves or areas of rewilding run by charities or outdoor organisations. If you are accessing any such areas for walking or leisure, please report any sightings of mountain hares and numbers seen to 'SGA mountain hare study' and email them to the SGA office.

Friday 6 October 2017


The Scottish Government has this afternoon announced a consultation on fox hunting. This follows  a review of how the Wild Mammals Act is working in Scotland, undertaken by Lord Bonomy.
The SGA was one of four stakeholders asked to provide oral evidence during the review and currently sits on the working group tasked with examining the issue in the light of the Bonomy report recommendations.
Recognising the crucial importance to our members of retaining the ability to use hounds to flush foxes to guns, particularly in dense forestry and cover, the SGA would strongly encourage all those who have an interest in this issue to respond.
You can find the details here:

Monday 2 October 2017


Valuation notices for sporting rates, plus essential information, will soon begin to arrive on doorsteps. 
Throughout the Land Reform deliberations in 2016, the SGA argued that reintroducing rates would have negative impacts upon skilled land management jobs and opportunities. This could also affect species diversity in Scotland.

The published rates are: £2 per hectare for Deer forest, hill, moor.
Improved Grassland: £3.50 per hectare
Unimproved Grassland: £4 per hectare
Arable: £4 per hectare
Woodland/Forestry: £5 per hectare
Mixed: £5 per hectare.

Those unhappy with their ratings can appeal within 6 months. 
The SGA would also like to hear from any member whose operation is expected to be adversely affected by this, so we can take these concerns directly to representatives.

To find out more about the assessment process, click here:

Friday 22 September 2017


Commenting on the revised Muirburn Code, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “There are elements of the updated Code which are undoubtedly an improvement. However, we are disappointed that additions to the document – not discussed by the Moorland Forum partners or working group -were introduced late on, turning what was planned to be a practitioner’s guide more into a list of what people should and shouldn’t do. 
“We have heard similar views from other stakeholders who genuinely saw this as an opportunity to get everyone who practices muirburn, as an important management tool, to do so to an agreed high standard.
“If work on the supplementary material takes greater account of the working knowledge of those who actually practice muirburn, it may stand a better chance of getting the buy-in it seeks but we cannot be assured this will be the case.
“We hope that there will be continuing support from the Scottish Government to continue the work that has been started.”

Saturday 16 September 2017


River workers are expressing growing concern for wild salmon around Mull after it emerged a recent escape from a local fish farm saw over 11 000 farmed fish entering rivers.
On August 21st the escape from a Scottish Salmon Company farm at Geasgill near Ulva was reported to Marine Scotland after employees noted low numbers during a routine grading exercise.
It has now been confirmed 11 040 farmed salmon have entered local rivers including the River Ba, one of very few rivers in the west of Scotland given a class 1 rating for salmon conservation.
On four beats directly affected by the escape, a total of around 250 of the fish have been accounted for, leaving thousands traveling through local systems.
Ghillies have been ordering any farmed salmon caught to be killed and not returned.
However, given other high profile escapes around the island’s waters there is now real concern that cross-breeding between cage escapees and wild salmon will weaken the wild gene pool, with unknown biological consequences.
There are also longer-term fears over the health of wild fisheries being expressed by riparian owners around the affected river system, with visiting anglers landing modified fish.
Greg Marsh of the SGA (Scottish Gamekeepers Association) Fishing Group, who looks after operations at River Coladoir and Loch Scridain says Scottish Government attempts to make aquaculture more environmentally sustainable are not working.
“The Ba is a class one river, which means it is rated by Scottish Government scientists as having the highest grading for conservation of wild salmon.
“There are now a lot of farmed fish through it and up into Loch Ba. People here are up in arms.
“What effect is this going to have on the wild fish? What will fisheries be offering in 3 or 4 years’ time? Fish of unknown genetic purity.
“We can continue to catch and dispatch as many of the escaped fish as we can but the damage has been done because lots won’t be caught.
“Those on the environmental side in Scottish Government need to raise greater awareness of the dangers to wild fish caused by escapes from fish farms and start doing something more effective about it.”
Marsh says all Scottish anglers now need to now be able to identify farmed salmon in rivers to ensure the fish are not being re-released into the system, if caught.
Back in April this year 20 000 fish and 1300 wrasse escaped from a Scottish Sea Farms plant at Bloody Bay on Mull, with predictions that some of those escapees will now be in mainland rivers.
“One of the key differences in appearance between wild and farmed salmon is that the vents on a wild salmon will be reddy/brown and slightly swollen at this time of year.
“Farmed salmon have silver vents, their adipose, tail and pectoral fins look smaller and are often shredded and there is very little to identify whether they are male or female.
“The likelihood of crossbreeding is a real concern so people need to know the difference if the impacts of these escapes are to be contained in any way.”

Thursday 31 August 2017


In response to an RSPB media release seeking more information regarding a tagged Hen Harrier which has gone missing in Deeside, the SGA has asked any members who know anything to assist Police Scotland.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”

Wednesday 23 August 2017


Earlier this week, the popular walking website Walkhighlands published a blog 'primer' article by David Lintern on grouse shooting (you can see the original article, here).

The SGA Committee has responded to the article, with a post on the Walkhighlands forum. Please see the reply, in full, below. 

I write in reply to David Lintern’s blog post ‘The Numbers Game- a grouse moor primer for walkers’. 

David makes a manful attempt to get to grips with the endless politics surrounding grouse shooting, which is no easy task. Anyone tackling it deserves congratulations for even starting.

There are some points which do require another perspective if walkers taking to the moors are to receive a rounded account of the many issues.

To an extent, David is correct when he talks about grouse and numbers, or volume. Numbers are critical to rural businesses survival, whether canoe hire companies angling for leisure customers or livestock farmers. Grouse moor managers are no different. Businesses take steps to ride out financial gullies, maximising in the good times, knowing it may not always be thus, and they need to study the balance sheet keenly in leaner times. The farmer may sell more cattle in a down cycle or raise the head of cattle in peak times. From time to time, we could all do with making a human effort to walk in the shoes of those trying to operate any successful rural business in the present environment.

There are big, small and medium grouse moors across Scotland, just like in other market models. Those who tend to see the moor as their primary commercial concern will look at how they can minimise the blips which come with the management of a wild quarry on a high hillside in indefinite Scottish weather which will be all too familiar to readers of this (Walkhighlands) blog. If an estate has other primary interests, it may make a decision to devote more investment to its tourism or forestry offering and will plough less cash resource into the management of the moor and employ fewer gamekeepers. 

There is an implication in David’s article that running the business of grouse shooting in a way which brings the benefits of upscaling and investment is questionable. This deserves greater analysis at a time when other industries are trying hard to encourage investment and growth. 

A recent survey of 7 regional moorland groups highlighted the amount of money grouse estates in Scotland spend in their local communities. The fact that, across Scotland, a grouse estate will spend, averagely, over £500 000 in the downstream economy before a shot is fired, was well covered in the media. What was less reported was the fact that some of the larger commercial estates were spending up to 4 times that amount, employing more gamekeepers and shepherds to manage the moors, and were investing far bigger sums in infrastructure projects. 

Numbers are important in these communities, as David states, and it important to look at the whole picture of how these communities might sustain themselves in the absence of grouse shooting, which David touches upon eloquently at the end of his piece.

Importantly, that financial injection into trades and businesses continues, whether there is any grouse shooting or not - and, yes, there are seasons when there is not, whether due to bad weather at breeding time, disease, predation or combinations of all of these, coupled with sheer bad luck.

David mentions management interventions which are designed to help ride out the blips, such as using medicated grit to prevent disease outbreaks. There are guidelines as to the use of medicated grit. It must be signed off by a veterinarian and the new design of coating, mentioned by David, makes it a product no less reliable or environmentally secure as any other form of standard cattle wormer.
We need to ask ourselves whether this is objectionable, or whether it is a reasonable price, to give the moor owner at least some confidence in a harvestable surplus which will allow some ‘let days’ for visiting shooters, and some income.

Many moor owners may be wealthy individuals and, for some reason be scorned for that, but no business can sustain upwards of half a million of losses indefinitely, and keep employment, without recouping some cash from shooters, rich or otherwise. At the very least, there might be some sympathy for a moor owner trying to manage her/his estate, using those legal interventions afforded them, so that they didn’t have to lay off gamekeeping or office staff every time there was the reality of a poor season.

David’s comments regarding muirburn impacting seriously on air quality are not backed by consistent science. According to a 2006 paper by Buchanan GM, Grant MC, Sanderson RA, Pearce-Higgins JW, ‘The Contribution of Invertebrate Taxation moorland bird diets and the potential implication of land-use management’, states: “So far, research has produced inconsistent evidence, with predictions, including both positive and negative effects of burning.”
Similarly, David’s assertion that grouse moors are drained to maximise grouse is factually incorrect. In what has been proved to be a short-sighted prescription, government subsidies were given out in the 60s and 70s for moorland ditching or ‘gripping’ for agricultural reasons as part of the ‘more food from our own resources’ programme. Often wrongly criticised, present grouse moor owners are actually at the vanguard of blocking these historic drainage ditches and reversing that oversight, with over 120 hectares of the North Pennines moors being ‘re-wetted’ as well as significant areas of upland Scotland.

The original article talks about predator control and rightly so. It is a key element of grouse moor management. There tends, however, to be a considerable degree of dishonesty about controlling predators in this country. For example, the original article talks of ‘eradication’ yet few people question the fact that Scottish Wildlife Trust has been running a successful grey squirrel eradication programme in Scotland for some years, to revive the native red. SNH and RSPB are about to attempt to access £3m of public money to eradicate stoats on Orkney for conservation reasons. The control, but not eradication, of stoats and other abundant predators by gamekeepers is not only a service, delivered free, benefiting game birds. The same reason it is being considered for Orkney is why it is undertaken on moorland, with proven results. Britain’s biggest conservation priority, the Curlew, is found to breed up to three times better on moors managed by gamekeepers than elsewhere. Predator control may not always be palatable to everyone but the truth is most conservation organisations in the UK today will also carry out some degree of predator control (and sometimes controlled muirburn) even if they won’t want to shout too much about it for fear of prigging membership sensibilities.

The article speaks of there being no data for standalone subsidies given to grouse moors in Scotland. Moors, like other holdings, may receive subsidies for tree planting or projects such as creating habitat for black grouse but there is no standalone subsidy for red grouse management in this country. David is correct in his assertion that grouse moor management is a ‘manipulated system’ but care needs to be taken here because most land-based industries are. Forestry and woodland regeneration has, within its business model, an increasing reliance on the killing of deer out of season and all year round to protect the crop, as well as the culling of mountain hares which also damage young trees. All ‘crops’ depend on some form of environmental and economic trade-off.

David is right to point to raptor persecution as a blot. There is no hiding this or any attempt to. Much is being done to root this out and much more will have to be done, although the sustained reductions in illegal poisonings do point to progress, as does the recent return of the golden eagle to favourable status. The Hen Harrier faces an uncertain plight, as mentioned, yet persecution on moors is not the sole problem facing the bird, nationally, even if it remains a genuine concern and headline grabber. For many years Harriers have also been failing on Special Protection Areas established for their safety and are struggling also on mainland reserves, where there is no grouse shooting. The role of predators and weather merits deeper analysis but partnership working between conservation bodies and shooting estates, rather than the erection of barriers, is likely to be the best hope for the Harrier in the years to come.

David concludes his article by suggesting that grouse shooting’s number is up and that grouse shooting is not remotely sustainable in environmental terms.
There are certainly some individuals, celebrities and organisations who would clearly like nothing more. Indeed, some activist groups are sustained by their opposition to the shooting community. However, equally the question must also be asked whether NOT having grouse shooting is sustainable in environmental and economic terms and David, rightly, points to the need for campaigners to develop alternatives, rather than simply denounce. Without shooting to provide the income to cover moorland management, who cares for the globally rare heather moorlands and the species which rely upon it? Someone will have to, and likely at a significant public cost. These moorlands support biological communities found only in the UK and contains 18 species of European or international importance, with the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity ratifying the global importance of UK heather moorland.

When grouse shooting stopped in Berwyn in Wales, designated as an SPA for Hen Harriers, merlin, peregrine, red kite and upland waders in 1998, studies were undertaken to examine the impact of lack of management by gamekeepers on moorland species. Between 1983-5 and 2002, lapwing were lost, golden plover declined 90 percent and Curlew declined 79 percent. While Buzzard and Peregrine numbers increased, Hen Harriers numbers dropped 49 percent, which perhaps explains the earlier point about the role of predation. Black grouse numbers declined by 78 per cent. On the one remaining moor with a full-time gamekeeper, Ruabon Moor, black grouse numbers increased tenfold, with 200 males in Spring. Red grouse management techniques are being reintroduced slowly, assisted by public money from the Welsh Government, in order to bring about the proven benefits which will help return the birdsong to moors now sadly quieter.

Similar projects are happening in Northern Ireland. Only this week, red-listed Curlew were reported to have bred succesfully at Glenwherry Farm for the first time in 20 years. This is a site where the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust are working with farmers, conservationists and public agencies to benefit hill wildlife through integrated management, with red grouse management a major plank.

No system is ever perfect and cannot be improved. The land is dynamic and encounters threats and challenges. However, those taking to the hills should be aware that not all campaigners are right and all land managers are wrong. Scotland’s lauded landscape is a managed landscape and has been for many centuries. It is a land for communities and life as well as leisure and tourism and ought to be respected for both, with understanding on both sides.

Kenneth Stephen on behalf of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association Committee.