Tuesday, 22 May 2018


In response to a story released this morning by RSPB regarding the loss of transmission from 2 satellite tags worn by Hen Harriers, the SGA has released the following statement to media.
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “We sincerely hope these 2 birds will be found. As an organisation, there are very few full-time gamekeepers in the Moffat area for us to make inquiries. If the public know anything they should contact Police on 101.
“The loss of tag transmission in Angus, like the tag in Moffat, merits further, independent, investigation. There has been a commitment in Angus over the last few years to changing past reputations. The high numbers of raptors on local moors are proof of that and the first Harrier breeding attempt for some time, last year, in the region was a sign of progress. We know talks have been held between sporting estates regarding translocating a pair of breeding Harriers so those on the ground will be seeking further evidence and an accountable explanation regarding this loss of satellite tag transmission.”

Thursday, 17 May 2018


The SGA would like to remind members and supporters that time is running out to submit entries for our three main organisational awards for 2018.
Nominations for the newly inaugurated Long Service medals have defied all expectations with no fewer than 6 individuals meeting the criteria of 40 or more years of active and continuous service.
If we have missed anyone, please ensure their feats are recognised by getting nominations into the SGA office info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk before the closing date of May 31st 2018.
The medals and framed certificates will be presented at the 30th GWCT Scottish Game Fair at Scone Palace grounds on Friday 29th June http://www.scottishfair.com
and Moy Highland Fieldsports Fair on Friday 3rd August http://www.moyfieldsportsfair.co.uk
The SGA will be represented at both events this summer.
Also being presented at Scone will be our coveted Young Gamekeeper of the Year Award 2018.
This prize is one of the leading annual accolades in the game sector and recognises those undergoing learning or in early career stage who demonstrate a flair for sustainable management and a care and passion for their profession.
Nominations will be accepted from college lecturers, estates, fellow professionals or peers and should be sent into the SGA office before the closing date of Friday 15th June.
Being a Young Gamekeeper winner will help any young professional in their career as they move forward, and there is also a cash prize and merchandise at stake.
Despite the name, nominations are welcome for stalkers, wildlife managers, rangers and river or land ghillies.
Finally, the Ronnie Rose Award for conservation and education, in memory of the late SGA advocate, deer manager, forester and author, attracts a rich pool of entries annually.
This year’s prize is the 4th and several strong nominations have already been received, suggesting a hard choice for the judges on the committee and the Rose family.
Please submit all nominations by the closing date of Friday 20th July.
Anyone can nominate an individual or individuals who, by their efforts, have demonstrated a commitment to conservation, wildlife management and/or education on hill, low ground or river.
To recap on last year’s prize, which was presented at Moy by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, http://www.fergusewing.com

Monday, 23 April 2018


The Curlew is regarded as the UK's most pressing conservation concern
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has backed the granting of a research license by SNH in Perthshire to control abundant raven populations in an urgent bid to save crashing wading bird numbers.
The licensing authority has granted a 5 year research license to the Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders in a bid to save birds such as the Curlew, now described as the UK’s most pressing conservation concern.
Curlew numbers have crashed by 62 percent in only two decades and fears have been raised that the distinctive and evocative call of the bird could soon be lost forever.
The local community, representing farmers, gamekeepers and private interests, contacted SNH after participating in Scottish Government’s multi-party ‘Understanding Predation’ project which brought all rural stakeholders together and concluded that urgent and bold action was now necessary if waders were to be saved.
After over a year of bird counts and other discussions, a research license has been drafted which will initially permit the cull of up to 69 ravens in a geographically defined control area to relieve predation pressure on waders such as Curlew, Lapwing and Plover at breeding time.
The license, and any proposed raven management numbers, will be adapted each year depending on regular ground counts of both ravens and wading birds.
SNH has attached conditions to ensure the license will pose no threat to raven populations which have risen by 134 percent in the UK in only two decades.
Over many years local land managers in the area have witnessed flocks of juvenile ravens, sometimes numbering over 30, picking off wader chicks and eggs at breeding time; evidence submitted to the Understanding Predation project.
Campaigners have attacked the plans, launching a petition over the weekend.
Alex Hogg, Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The reality is no number of keyboard petitions will save the Curlew. Only action will. The practical land managers, who have shared their land with these birds for decades know the time for talk is long over.
“Scottish Government’s Understanding Predation project brought together natural science and local knowledge with the common aim of saving these birds.
“Raptor workers, RSPB, farmers, gamekeepers and everyone with a stake in the countryside agreed in countless workshops that urgent and bold action was now necessary. Adaptive management was identified as one of the tools to save the Curlew and other wading birds whose populations have crashed dramatically. There is no point in reaching those conclusions then failing to act. This licence is a positive action to address a known problem before it is too late.”
He added: “The combined field knowledge of farmers and gamekeepers, gleaned over centuries, is no less valid than other science on this issue.
“Managed moorland and farmland in Strathbraan has been identified as key sites for many wader populations. Even then, losses have been evident, with predation by ravens regularly observed by land managers in the area, with juvenile flocks of 20s and 30s hoovering up chicks and eggs at breeding time.
“SNH deserve credit for working with the community to design a research license to ensure the conservation status of the raven is safeguarded while allowing an assessment of the level of enhanced protection waders could receive in the area by reducing the predation by ravens.” 
A Spokesperson for Strathbraan Community said: “Farmers and keepers in the community have for a number of years identified ravens as a predators of wading bird eggs and chicks, particularly at breeding time. The people here are proud of the number of waders they have locally and their contribution to the numbers nationally. 
“Some of the local land managers were part of the Scottish Government’s Understanding Predation project which brought together conservationists, scientists, government bodies and practical folk to identify what was causing the sharp declines in population of waders across Britain and what might be done to protect those we still have.

“By approaching SNH we have agreed a community licence which will help tell us about ways to protect the waders and conserve ravens. This licence will also allow us to limit the effects of ravens predating on sheep and lambs at this time of the year.”

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Thirteen Perthshire gamekeepers have assisted Police Scotland in searching for a sea eagle after learning the bird’s satellite tag stopped working in a local glen.
Estates were informed of the loss of signal from the bird’s tag and offered their co-operation with ground searches after heavy snows around the area in recent weeks.
Yesterday, the gamekeepers accompanied Police and RSPB officials in searching areas of moorland and woodland several kilometres west of Dunkeld in the hope of finding either the bird or the tag device.
Two sea eagles have been seen in the glen since the tag stopped functioning and Golden eagles are also regularly sighted in the skies above the moors and low ground farmland.
The gamekeepers’ national body, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), has asked anyone locally with any information or sightings to contact Police Scotland.
Unknown individuals were seen by gamekeepers quartering and searching the area, days ahead of yesterday’s (Tues) search, and may know something of value to the investigation.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “When learning about the bird, the gamekeepers- working in the area around where the sea eagle’s tag was reported to have last signalled- were keen to assist the Police and immediately offered their help in the searches. There has been a lot of snow drifts in the area recently which has obviously made searching problematic, logistically.
“The gamekeepers want the bird found, if it has perished. They are first to be accused when any bird of prey goes missing, or a tag stops, so these guys want to find the bird and assist the Police in every way they can.
“They have also pledged to search other areas in the vicinity over the coming days and report to Police. With some tags, there can be hours between one signal and the next so the location of the last bleep is only an indication of where the bird was. Eagles are capable of covering considerable distances in a short space of time. If anyone else has any information on this, they should contact Police Scotland.”
Sea eagles, reintroduced to Scotland, rely on carrion for food, especially in winter.

A study of pellets of young eagles by Leitch and Watson showed 40 percent contained sheep, deer and goats, 48 percent comprised rabbits and hares and 12 percent consisted of birds such as ducks, seabirds, gulls and grouse.

Monday, 9 April 2018


Friday, 6 April 2018


Picture credit: SNH.
Gamekeepers fingered in a controversial mountain hare film have sent an open invitation to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to learn about hare management on their ground.
Last week BBC Scotland aired a film obtained covertly by animal rights campaigners showing what they described as ‘military style’ hare culls.
The broadcast led to the First Minister describing the practices in the film as ‘unacceptable’ during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
Now gamekeepers in the film have written to the First Minister to invite her to the highlands to see first-hand why the hare management is carried out.
They feel it is wrong for Government to obligate land managers to control deer populations then leave high populations of hares to graze the same habitats.
A number of protected sites exist on the ground and gamekeepers possess correspondence from statutory agencies outlining the value of their control of grazing in improving site condition.
Transparent records showing hares taken compared to population numbers will be made available to the First Minister, with Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham also being invited to the highlands.
Head Gamekeeper for one of the estates concerned, Duncan MacKenzie, said: “We’d really like to be able to show the First Minister around rather than discuss these issues in Edinburgh. I think it would be beneficial for everyone to get an understanding of why the hares need to be managed, here.
“We had SNH out a few years ago to see how the hare populations were being controlled. We invited them out recently also, so nothing is being hidden.
“We have good records of the amount of hares in comparison to the amount we have taken off the hill, covering a number of years, and there are still high numbers of hares on the ground.
“What the footage by the anti grouse-moor campaigners showed was working people being
secretly filmed carrying out a legal management activity which is no different to other forms of species management and is well within the laws passed by Scottish Government.
“The ironic thing is that those who are seeking the end of grouse management would also be signalling the beginning of the end for the mountain hare in Scotland.
“Populations are thriving on grouse moors but are struggling badly elsewhere due to predation and loss of their preferred heather habitat and we hope to have the opportunity to explain this in full to the First Minister.”
New methods of counting mountain hares were published by SNH on 26th January and those methods are to be adopted by the estates to inform all future hare management operations.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


A carer in East Kilbride has turned pioneer by introducing disadvantage kids in South Lanarkshire to the wonders of the wild deer that find a home on the city fringes.
David Quarrell wanted to combine his skills as carer and as an authority on urban deer to help connect local kids in the care system to nature and their environment.
Now, after successfully hosting the first organised trip of its kind for children in care, he hopes to roll out the education programme further.
Passionate about the roe deer that share green spaces on the outskirts of Glasgow, the experienced deer manager showed youngsters deer, explained about their lives, how to identify them and where they prefer to live and find food.
He also explained why populations sometimes required management to minimise damage to nature reserves and gardens, to keep populations healthy and to prevent road traffic accidents.
South Lanarkshire Council helped facilitate the trip and kids were given special learning packs and identification sheets from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and British Deer Society.
Lowland Deer Network also provided funding for costs and a breakfast for the kids and carers, who were out spying the deer at 6.30am before most people were awake.
“It was very worthwhile,” said David, who is a member of the SGA Deer Group and Chairs the South Lanarkshire Deer Group.
“None of the children had ever seen a wild deer before. They have coped with a lot of negative challenges in their lives to date and some of them have not had the chance to experience the positives of the wildlife around them. We saw about 14 deer over the morning and the kids were passing the binoculars between them, very excited.
“We talked about numbers of deer and whether they would expect the numbers to be higher or lower the following year. They also saw Herons at a protected SSSI site as well as pink footed and graylag geese, and enjoyed the whole experience.
“At the moment it is just a pilot but it teaches them a lot about their local environment. It was really good to see them connecting with nature and we hope to do more visits in the future.”
At the end of the visit, carers were given packs of venison sausages, burgers and steaks to cook; prepared by Tweed Valley Venison.
The initiative, taking place in the Year of Young People 2018, was supported by the Social Work Department of South Lanarkshire Council.

Foster carers have since given positive feedback on both the visit and the venison, saying the kids were engaged and enjoyed the experience and getting out into the outdoors.


All members should be aware that the office is suffering unforeseen disruption this morning due to weather conditions and issues with phone systems. Please allow for this when contacting the office. Due to the nature of the disruption, email is the best way to make contact. All email requests will be answered as soon as is practical. Thanks for your patience. Team SGA.

Friday, 30 March 2018


Red Deer continue to inspire Scottish people of all generations- and sell newspapers!
Hill users are being asked to take care to avoid disturbing deer over the Easter holidays as the prolonged winter has exacted a heavy toll on Scotland’s iconic species.
With a return to wintry weather predicted, stalkers are reporting many deer severely weakened by having their food source cut off and are cautioning against stressing the animals further.
The long winter has seen higher than normal levels of wildlife mortality, with sea creatures washed up on beaches and conservation groups urging the public to help vulnerable song birds survive to breeding time.
Some farmers are reporting difficulties with lambing due to the prolonged winter weather.
Deer have also been hit hard across Scotland’s hills with food buried for months under deep and drifting snow which has then crusted over with hard frost, leaving vegetation virtually inaccessible.
Stags already in poor body condition after the annual rut, where they fight for females- sometimes to the death- have been particularly hit by weather events such as the Beast From The East.
In poor weather, deer retreat from the high tops to lower ground for shelter but have not yet returned to the tops in many areas as they are too weak from having food cut off by snow.
It will be more likely that those talking to the hills for recreation this Easter will encounter deer and are being asked to be mindful of their plight, if possible.
“It is probably the worst conditions for over a decade for deer. Normally it is harder for them in the west during winter because it is generally wetter. However, this is affecting deer all over the high ground in Scotland whether numbers in that area are relatively high or number very few,” said Lea MacNally, of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, a professional stalker for almost half a century.
“The food source is there, they just can’t get it due to the length of time there has been full snow cover. Every winter there is an expected natural mortality but there has been much higher than normal mortality this year. Deer are having to expend a lot of energy scraping down through frosted snow to get to food and, in many areas, snow hasn’t lifted for a long time. The deer’s backs have not been dry for months and some calves are barely standing.
“If folk are out and about over Easter, where possible, they should try and give the deer a wide berth so as not to move them out of shelter. Disturbance causes deer to move and, if people take care to avoid that, it could make the difference between life and death for weakened animals.
“It would also be prudent for dog walkers to ensure their pets are under close control.”
Stalkers are warning the public that, should they see deer that have succumbed to the weather, it is likely to be around hill burns where they have moved to seek shelter.
Studies in other European countries like Norway have shown the link between hard winters and deer mortality (2) so, while concerning, this phenomenon is not unusual at the northern edge of the red deer range.
The latest SNH report on Deer Management in Scotland, 2016, reported that increases in deer numbers on the open hill have halted in Scotland in the last 15 years (1), allied with higher culling effort.

1/ Reference: Deer Management in Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, 2016.

“The results indicate that the population of red deer in open-hill ground in Scotland has been increasing. Data from 1960 - 2016 show that deer density increased steadily since 1961 (around 8 deer/km2), and peaked in 2000-01 at around 13 deer/km2 – an increase of 60%. In the last 15 years, the population growth appears to have halted and the estimated deer density in 2016 is around 12.5 deer/km2. Figure 3.1 illlustrates the changes in deer density (stags, hinds and calves) since 1961. The trend supports the contention made by Clutton- Brock et al5 that the population growth rate was slowing by 2000.

Thursday, 29 March 2018


SGA Statement: Covert Mountain Hare film obtained by OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports and broadcast by BBC.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “In two area shown in the film, the habitats are protected. Land mangers were notified by SNH that one was in unfavourable condition. There are no deer on that holding. The over-grazing damage was caused solely by mountain hares. Another area in the film is designated for dwarf woodland and there is a duty to reduce grazing pressure on the habitat. The other holding has significant areas of forestry as well as moorland. Both of these habitats require grazing assessment and management.

“If SNH and Scottish Government want protected sites to be in favourable condition then refuse to back the management actions to achieve that, then estates should stop being thrown to the mercy of animal rights campaigners with secret cameras and SNH should carry out the management themselves. We are not far from the stage now where people will not want to manage deer and hare populations because they cannot operate without being covertly filmed.

“Thousands of deer are killed annually, under Government instruction and a potential £40 000 fine for non-compliance, to protect designated sites, habitats, crops and trees. Killing thousands of deer then leaving thousands of hares to feed on that same habitat defies any sense or logic. The sad thing is that there are people within public agencies who know that very well but seem ready to let those tasked with carrying out the task, take the flak.

“Welfare is important. However no one managing any species can guarantee human error will never play a part. That is why dogs assist with wounded animals. 

“SNH stated in Parliament recently that there is no evidence available to suggest a threat to the conservation status of mountain hare in Scotland.

“The issue has become a Trojan horse for those seeking to end grouse shooting. Yet, if filming took place on nature reserves, viewers would see numbers barely able to sustain population viability. That is the true, untold story of mountain hares in Scotland and it is time it was told."

Friday, 23 March 2018


Statement from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association regarding statement issued today (March 23rd) by Chris Packham on missing eagle near Edinburgh.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA repeats its previous message. If you know anything contact the only authority able to deal with such information, the Police.
“If persecution is at play, we condemn that. If this is found to be anything to do with any of our members- and we have no reason whatsoever to believe it is- they will be removed from our organisation.
“We will not, however, be involved in more media trials. If everyone’s job is to lead wildlife crime to court, and we were led to believe it is, then this case has made a total mockery of that objective and the process by which we investigate wildlife crime in Scotland. 
“Piecemeal presentations of evidence to Police by a collective of individuals and groups campaigning together to legislate against grouse shooting, while offering a running commentary in the media on live police investigations, is nothing other than shambolic. We have sympathy with authorities trying to establish criminality.
“Given the public interest generated by the campaigners, all the evidence in this case should be presented in the open so the truth can be established and, if we are to learn lessons, a system must be introduced whereby data from satellite tags can be monitored in future by independent authorities.
“The SGA has not joined in with theorising on blogs or private social media accounts.
“What we do know is that this satellite tag never once pinged on the grouse moor implicated but instead signalled in woodland some distance from a piece of moorland which hosted no commercial grouse shooting in 2017. The wood is close to one of the biggest public car parks in the Pentland Hills Regional Park. In short, there is no more evidence to implicate that landholding, or those who work there, than any other in the surrounding area or any other visitors to the park which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.
“If anyone was intent in causing harm to this bird then, according to the narrative presented, they would have done so on a weekend morning in one of the busiest public areas close to Edinburgh. Someone must have seen that, therefore, and should contact the Police. 
“The fact SNH published a paper on satellite tagged eagles between 2004-2016 has nothing to do with any case happening years later, in 2018.

“To suggest otherwise is to institutionalise prejudice against a community of people: Scotland’s gamekeepers. We will not tolerate this and are extremely disappointed and angry that this attitude now appears to be at large within some sections of our parliament.”

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


Responding to a press release regarding a missing eagle, distributed by RSPB Scotland, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: 

“If anyone has information they should contact Police Scotland. If it is proven any harm has come to this bird and if it transpires there is evidence that that harm was the responsibility of an SGA member, they will be subject to our very strict wildlife crime disciplinary code.
“The legal process deserves respect before people automatically jump to apportioning blame.
“It is becoming increasingly impossible to gain full transparency surrounding these incidents when those holding the data are the tag owners who then dictate process and message.
“At the same time, these tag owners are actively lobbying to persuade government to legislate against grouse moors.
“If investigations were to have the best chance of success and procedural transparency, this data would be held centrally by an impartial body who could look into everything such as the reliability of the tag, who fitted it, the evidence of criminality which exists and the full range of other factors which could cause a mechanical device to stop signalling after many months in the wild.
“When a tag from a Hen Harrier stopped signalling on one of RSPB’s own nature reserves in the Cairngorms National Park, the charity stated the last known location of a tag was ‘only an indication of the broad general area’ where that bird was spending time.
“That being the case, the public deserve to see the hard evidence which exists that the lost signal was down to grouse management and not any other cause such as a faltering tag, natural mortality, eagles fighting over territory or any of the other land uses in the broad general area which include farming, forestry and wind energy.”

Friday, 9 March 2018


This morning (Friday 9th March), Scottish Government announced financial resourcing to assess declining salmon stocks in Scotland.

You can see the full press announcement details, here: https://news.gov.scot/news/support-for-wild-salmon

The SGA Fishing Group has welcomed the investment.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association Fishing Group said: "It is heartening to see Scottish Government looking into declines in the round. It is known we cannot get to grips with all the causes of salmon mortality at sea, but we can make sure we are doing what we can to safeguard salmon when they are here. We hope the investment will be targeted at declining salmon rather than all being swallowed up in streamlining governance processes. 
"Conservation measures on rivers were the first steps taken by government so tackling the many other factors identified in the announcement is now overdue. Smolt tagging work on the River Dee recently highlighted the problems of predation. The decisions of Scottish Government around fish farm expansion- currently being reviewed at Holyrood- will be an indicator as to the level of government commitment which exists to addressing wild salmon declines on the west coast."

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Image from the live traffic cam at Drumochter, taken in the last hour.
The SGA office would like to inform everyone that, despite the snow today (Wed), the 2018 SGA AGM with Simpson Game Ltd at Caledonian Stadium Inverness on Friday is still on.
We have a diverse array of speakers lined up for what promises to be a fascinating event for members and we look forward to seeing as many members as possible on the day.
People traveling distances should make themselves aware of weather warnings in their area, and on the journey, and act accordingly before deciding to travel to Inverness.
Should there be any weather-related change to Friday's AGM, the SGA will inform members immediately.
Those planning to attend the AGM should contact the office on info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk so seating and lunch options can be factored into the event planning.

Friday, 23 February 2018


Ewan with his prize at The Scottish Gamekeepers Association HQ in Perth- a brand new Polaris Sportsman 570.

Long standing SGA member Ewan Archer expressed his gratitude to Polaris UK after taking delivery of his brand new Polaris Sportsman 570, won in the 2017 SGA raffle.
The Carrbridge gamekeeper, who works at Kinveachy Estate, was handed the keys to the hard-working ATV at the organisation’s Perth HQ on Thursday after buying his winning ticket through the SGA member magazine, Scottish Gamekeeper.
Fringed by SGA Chairman Alex Hogg, Richard Coleby of Polaris and Iain Stratton of supplier Stratton ATV Ltd, Ewan was delighted to get the first glimpse of his prize.
After entering the annual draw every year since the SGA formed 21 years ago, he admitted he entered the 2017 draw more in support than expectation of winning.
Luck proved to be on his side, though, and he was enormously thankful to collect the smooth riding sage green vehicle.
“Since the outset of the SGA, my family and I have always bought tickets but I didn’t believe it when my wife informed me I had won this year,” he smiled. “A lot of the estates around about us are using Polaris to great effect for grouse moor management and for day to day getting about.
“I am very grateful to Polaris. It is a very generous prize.”
The 44 horsepower ATV is built for safety off-road, with smooth suspension and All-Wheel Drive on demand, single lever brake system and automatic transmission.
It is already a highly popular choice on Scottish estates, as Director of Stratton ATV Ltd, Iain Stratton, acknowledged.
“Ninety five percent of our custom comes from sporting estates. A lot of gamekeepers will use them for feeding in areas they can’t reach with bigger machinery and for towing behind game feeders. It is great for deer extraction as well.”
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg was delighted to see the 2017 prize go to a long-time member of the SGA family.
On the back of successful partnership, the SGA and Polaris are set to renew their arrangement for 2018, with the raffle prize again set to be provided by the company.
“It is really important we have partners like Polaris,” said the SGA Chairman.
“I have used a 6 wheeler Polaris UTV myself for 5 years and it has been really good. In terms of this particular bike, it is a quality product, very sturdy with a good engine. I am sure it will suit Ewan perfectly.”
Polaris UK District Sales Manager Richard Coleby said the partnership was a win-win for all parties and both organisations are looking to make the most of their continued association in 2018.
“Shoots, estates and gamekeepers represent a big market for us, as a business, so it is important to support where we can in Scotland. We are probably the leader in the estates market so it is important for us to maintain profile. All our products are designed for heavy off-road performance so they really suit this type of work.”

Left to Right: SGA Chairman Alex Hogg (left), Richard Coleby of Polaris UK, winner Ewan Archer and Iain Stratton of supplier Stratton ATV Ltd at the official hand-over of the 2017 SGA Draw prize in Perth.

Thursday, 22 February 2018


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has called for an end to the ‘trial by media’ over a golden eagle which has gone missing near Edinburgh.
Last week, BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham issued a press release claiming a young satellite tagged eagle had gone missing just miles from the Scottish Parliament, in a wood in the Pentland Hills.
According to the Springwatch presenter, the tag was later found to signal in the North Sea, after appearing to stop transmitting for three days.
A video released to the media by Packham - who actively campaigns for grouse shooting to be banned- implied that the eagle, which has not been located, had been illegally killed.
The video the BBC presenter appeared in, pointed the finger at a grouse moor as it was geographically close to the wood and fields where the bird was understood to be.
Now the SGA has called for an end to what it describes as unsubstantiated speculation and for greater transparency over evidence.
Despite media claims that the area 7 miles to the south of the capital is managed for driven grouse shooting, the moor is used principally as a partridge shoot as quarry numbers are now too low to sustain viable grouse shooting due to high levels of public access.
The area is popular with hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers from Edinburgh and beyond, with the Pentland Hills welcoming 600 000 visitors per year. *1
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Trial by media has already taken place. Now everyone who has been drawn into this needs the truth as to what happened to this eagle. 
“It is not enough for people to be implied as being criminals and those in possession of the satellite tag evidence to walk away, after presenting their judgement to the media, then say no one will probably ever know what has happened.
“If the tags are as reliable as everyone has been told, then the tag data will surely provide conclusive evidence. Many questions need to be answered including why it could not be located in the sea, if it continued to transmit locational data for several days. 
“There needs to be greater transparency because there are too many elements to the carefully stage-managed narrative which do not stack up despite its presentation as a fait accompli.
“If, by releasing this evidence, in full, to Police Scotland, it helps to bring this to a successful conclusion or prosecution, then the SGA and others would be satisfied that justice, as we have come to expect justice to look like, will have run its course. 
“In the meantime, serious allegations have been made against a community of people on the basis of a running commentary of media speculation, implication and suggestion which makes a laughing stock of what looks to be a live investigation.”
*1: Pentland Hills Regional Park annual report 2012/2013.
A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “If evidence is forthcoming to prove this eagle’s disappearance had anything to do with grouse interests and involved any SGA member, we will be quick to act and we will act with the appropriate force. The SGA has a very strict wildlife crime policy and will use it, where there is evidence to do so.
“Unlike other organisations, however, we are not going to convene a trial by media or trial by implication. Similarly, we will not label people criminals simply because something occurred within a geographic distance from their work. In no other walk of life does this happen.
“Beyond implication, no one knows what has happened to this bird so anyone with information should contact Police Scotland and we would encourage them to do so. We also feel that Police should attempt to search the water for the missing tag.
“The moor, which lies away from where the eagle was, is - like most in the Pentlands- the site of a very occasional 50-bird day now due to high levels of public access from Edinburgh. It is operated ostensibly for partridge shooting. Notions that this is an area managed for driven grouse shooting, therefore, are suggestive on the part of those making the allegations; people who campaign openly against grouse shooting. 
“Our understanding is that one of the individuals quoted in the media story works for a website (Raptor Persecution UK) which besmirches grouse shoot management, under the veil of anonymity, and seeks to ban it. We will, therefore, continue to investigate the allegations being made, as far as we can, rather than heaping more unhelpful speculation upon existing speculation.”

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)

DOC 150The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) is an attempt to establish and enforce an international standard on humaneness for traps. It’s likely to be implemented in the UK in the near future, so here is what you need to know.
[Updated 15 February 2018]

What is AIHTS?

The agreement was brokered in 1997 to resolve a trade embargo threatened by the EU in 1991 against countries that traded fur from wild animals caught by inhumane methods. The dispute had begun with pressure inside the EU from animal rights groups protesting against fur trade, focused particularly on the use of leg-hold traps. This backfired to some extent because fur-trading nations pointed out that similar traps were commonly used in EU countries to catch the same species (e.g. muskrat, coypu) or similar species as pests, and that no humaneness standards were applied there. Because fur trading was economically important — particularly for Canada and Russia, but also for some EU countries like Denmark and Iceland — and because pest control was also critical, a compromise was thrashed out: the AIHTS. This requires signatory countries to prohibit traps for fur-bearing species that will not pass a clearly specified humaneness test.
The AIHTS humaneness test was derived from discussions towards an international standard on humaneness in traps, a process which had been derailed by animal rights lobbyists within the technical working group, who ultimately asserted that no trap could ever be considered humane. The ISO standard salvaged from those failed discussions defined how to test traps but stopped short of defining a threshold for acceptability. An acceptability standard was defined in AIHTS. This reflects performance of the better traps available, but is nevertheless realistic.
AIHTS applies only to a list of species commonly caught in the wild for their fur. Of these, only otter, beaver, marten, badger and stoat occur in the UK, and under current UK law only stoat may be taken or killed without special licence. Notably missing from the AIHTS list are mink and fox. This is because fur from those species is mostly taken from fur farm stock, to ensure consistency, and to use variants that are rare in the wild. Weasel is also not listed: this is because it is not caught as a furbearer.
The AIHTS standard is not fixed, and it was anticipated that both the humaneness criteria and the list of species to which AIHTS applied would evolve in time.
A timeline for the evolution of AIHTS and its implementation by signatory countries can be found here.
AIHTS timeline

What does AIHTS mean for gamekeepers?

There will be changes to the list of traps that are approved to catch stoats. From what we already know about trap performance, the Fenn Mk 4 and Mk 6 traps (and copycat designs), and all the BMI Magnum traps fail the AIHTS standard. These probably account for 90% or more of all traps currently used as tunnel traps in the UK.
So the main likely consequences of AIHTS are:
  • Cost of replacement traps
  • Modification of tunnels to suit replacement traps
  • Cost of deployment in the field
  • It will probably be necessary for rat and squirrel control to become separate exercises using pre-baiting, appropriate baits, in more intensive campaigns focused on specific locations. Stoats and weasels can then be targeted using traps approved for them, with suitably restricted entrances to the tunnels.
Some other traps currently approved for stoat have not been tested to AIHTS standard, and are unlikely to be tested because of lack of interest from the manufacturer or the user community. These include the WCS tube trap.

Are Fenn traps going to be made illegal?

Fenn traps, and all copycat designs such as those by Springer and Solway, will be made illegal to catch stoats, because tests have shown that they fail to kill stoats reliably within the time-frame required by AIHTS (45 seconds). We do not yet know whether Defra will continue to allow their use to catch other target species for which they are currently approved (e.g. weasels, rats, squirrels). That decision will not be made until after a public consultation expected to be launched in January 2018. The AIHTS does not apply to those other species, and few traps have undergone humaneness testing for them, because of cost constraints.

Is the UK obliged to implement AIHTS?

The AIHTS is binding on all EU member states, and Defra has indicated that the UK will remain committed to it after Brexit. Morally, a commitment to raise humaneness standards in wildlife management is unarguable, provided it doesn’t render management ineffectual or prohibitively expensive. We do, however, have concerns about its implementation, which we will voice in our response to the public consultation.

Why didn’t we get more warning?

The AIHTS allowed an eight-year period for implementation, from the moment the agreement was signed in 2008. Most of this was squandered through protracted negotiations and indecision within the EU and lack of preparedness at member-state level. As far as we know, only Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and possibly Hungary were already compliant with AIHTS by the July 2016 deadline. See the next section for more detail about the UK specifically.
Because few fur-bearing species addressed by AIHTS are trapped in the UK, the UK was largely compliant by July 2016, with stoats the principle outstanding issue. The problem with stoats was that no trap had been found that made a satisfactory substitute for Fenn traps from a practitioner’s point of view. The UK therefore argued that it needed extra time to facilitate changes.

How did the UK reach the current predicament?

Following completion of signatures to the AIHTS in 2008, a period of five years was allowed for trap testing to take place, followed by three years for trap users to make any necessary changes to their practices. The total eight-year transition expired at the end of July 2016. The GWCT began warning about the implications of AIHTS for predator and pest management in 1997, with an article in the Review, but the UK was slow to implement AIHTS. In part, this was because, for four years after ratification, the EU was apparently working towards a Directive on the matter. The EU dropped that ambition in 2012, arguing that member countries should in any case be implementing the agreement in their domestic law. That still left four years before implementation had to be complete.
In the UK, Defra is the government department responsible for regulation of spring traps (Pests Act 1954). All spring traps must be approved by Defra, although there has not previously been any published standard they must conform to for approval. In 2012, Defra stated that future new trap approvals would be granted only to traps that pass the AIHTS standard, irrespective of species. They even extended this scrutiny to fox snares, which did not fall under either the Pests Act (because a snare is not a spring trap) or AIHTS (because fox is not one of the species it covers).
Defra finally got to grips with implementation of AIHTS in spring 2015, leaving only 15 months of the original eight years to complete trap testing, amend legislation relating to traps, inform the trap-using community of changes to trap approvals, and for the ‘industry’ (manufacturers, importers, retailers, users) to effect those changes. In spring 2015, Defra held discussions with organisations (including the GWCT) associated with shooting and pest control, and with UK trap manufacturers/retailers, to clarify the options for trap testing and trap approvals. Defra expected to progress to a public consultation on the matter by the end of September 2015, but this was deferred pending further developments. When the deadline of July 2016 passed, no suitable substitutes for failed stoat traps had been identified.
Subsequently, however, Defra set up a Technical Working Group with members from organisations representing all the major practitioner groups (including the GWCT). This group oversees the use of a fund to cover the cost of humaneness-testing for promising candidate traps. 50% of the fund was put up by Defra; 50% by the other members of the group. It is expected to be sufficient to see a handful of models through to approval. Trap-testing progress has been slow, chiefly because of a shortage of suitable candidate traps that are developed to a point where they could be manufactured in quantity.
Defra has proposed that in future, those who submit new traps for approval (i.e. manufacturers/importers/retailers) will have to bear the (substantial) cost of trap testing.

What is Defra’s proposal for implementation of AIHTS?

Defra’s proposals will be revealed in a public consultation expected to be launched in late February 2018. It proposes that the use of traps that have failed the AIHTS for stoat will now be withdrawn on 31 December 2018. The consultation documents will detail what alternative traps will be approved for stoats by that date.
We understand that Defra will propose to implement AIHTS by moving stoat to Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This would make stoat a protected species, but there would then be a General Licence allowing it to be caught using specific trap types detailed in a Spring Traps Approval Order.
Defra’s final policy decision will be influenced by the outcome of the public consultation. Although the GWCT will of course respond to the consultation, individuals from all sectors (gamekeepers, landowners, pest controllers, trap manufacturers) are also encouraged to respond. A major concern will be the desperately short period allowed for outgoing traps to be replaced, particularly considering the modest production capacity of the trap-manufacturing companies. We will include a link to the consultation on this web page when it is announced.

What is the UK situation as of January 2018?

We understand that approval for stoat will be withdrawn from the following traps:
  • Fenn Mk 4 and Mk 6 and copies thereof (e.g. Springer 4 and 6; Solway Mk 4 and Mk 6)
  • BMI Magnum 55, 110 and 116
  • WCS tube trap
As well as a few ‘legacy’ models (e.g. Juby, Imbra) that are no longer manufactured. Subject to conclusions of the public consultation, approval of these traps for other species will be unchanged, but wherever there was a risk of catching a stoat you would have to use a trap approved for stoats.
Approval for stoat will be continued for:
  • DOC 150
  • Goodnature A24
The list of traps approved for stoat will be supplemented further by the time the AIHTS is implemented, but Defra has not yet announced the details. Watch this page for further news.

What if I need to buy traps right now?

If you are considering buying traps for use in 2018, you currently have four options:
  • Option 1: Don’t buy anything until it’s all a lot clearer. Cheapest and safest, but if you are short of traps for spring/summer 2018, may not be a real option.
  • Option 2: If you want to do untargeted tunnel trapping where there’s a likelihood of catching stoats, and really don’t mind if they become redundant at the end of 2018, Fenn Mk 4s are the cheapest option. But at some time in the near future (probably 1 January 2019, but this is not yet absolute) these will definitely become unlawful for stoats.
  • Option 3: If you want to do untargeted tunnel trapping where there’s a likelihood of catching stoats, and you want the traps to be useable beyond 2018, you’d have to go for DOC 150s, because these are the only future-proof brand that’s already legal and compatible with existing tunnels. During 2018, you’d have to use these in the currently prescribed (single-entry) tunnel design, although it’s likely that Defra will relax this restriction later. DOC 150s are a more expensive option than Fenn Mk 4s, and by making this investment now, you miss the chance to consider other trap designs that will be approved during 2018/19.
  • Goodnature A24Option 4: In England only, if you want to be adventurous, you could go for Goodnature A24s, which are not a tunnel trap but are self-emptying and self-resetting, and therefore need less frequent maintenance visits than other traps. Efficacy in UK conditions is unproven, but their use in attempted stoat eradication in New Zealand is well documented on the manufacturer’s website. A24s are relatively expensive, require a radically different approach, and depend on the use of a long-life scent lure.

    Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s stoat lure is not yet available in the UK, although we understand that plans are afoot to remedy that. Also, A24s are coloured orange and black, which is not ideal where the public might interfere with traps. Finally, in New Zealand these traps are approved as humane to kill hedgehogs, which are an introduced pest in New Zealand, but a protected native species in the UK. To be right side of UK law, you must take precautions to exclude hedgehogs and other Schedule 6 species from A24s. The UK importer sells an add-on hedgehog excluder. Goodnature A24s are not currently authorised for use in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Credit for Article to Game & Wildlife Cconservation Trust - https://www.gwct.org.uk/