Monday 13 August 2018


Scientists in the Strathbraan area witnessed nests with four fledged Curlew chicks this year: a first.
An update on the Raven License: The Community perspective.

Scottish Raptor Study Group has launched a Judicial Review of SNH’s decision to grant a licence to the Strathbraan community to control ravens to protect critically endangered wading birds.
The Research licence was the result of 18 months of work by the local farmers and gamekeepers here who undertook counts of ravens and wading birds before applying for the license, which is supported by the SGA and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Many of the land mangers in the license area had taken part in the Scottish Government ‘Understanding Predation’ project, overseen by Scotland’s Moorland Forum.
A multi-party project, Understanding Predation brought together farmers, gamekeepers, ornithologists, raptor workers, RSPB Scotland, forestry interests and others with the shared objective of saving declining waders.
The final report- a unique collaboration of science and local knowledge- concluded that bold and urgent actions were required if Scotland was to save its dwindling populations.
Breeding Curlew, described as the UK’s most urgent conservation priority, have declined by 46 percent in 25 years.
There are now estimated to be only 250- 300 pairs south of Birmingham, a population which could be lost in 8 years.
In Wales, it is predicted the birds could be gone completely by 2025 and Scotland’s response to this urgent wake-up call is now vital.
The UK hosts about a quarter of the world’s breeding pairs in Spring and Summer and what happens here has an impact on global survival.
Inspired by the project, land managers in Strathbraan, who had witnessed the devastation caused by flocks of juvenile ravens hunting fields of wader chicks and eggs, decided to apply for a control licence to protect the local populations.
The Strathbraan area is a core site for breeding waders; something acknowledged by the RSPB’s own  Tayside Wader Survey summary report 2013.
It described Strathbraan East as ‘nationally important’ for Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Snipe and Strathbraan as nationally important for Lapwing and Oystercatcher.
Despite this, populations are still suffering decline (although comparatively less than many other un-managed areas).
The research licence, now to be contested, is an attempt to preserve the core breeding population in a key area.
Crucially, the licence is to protect waders and ravens. In deciding upon the number of ravens to be taken (69), SNH approved the licence on the basis that the numbers would not affect the conservation status of the raven.

Recently, news emerged of the assessment by SNH’s SAC on the ‘science’ of the license.
In terms of the community, we volunteered to suspend the licence whilst these aspects were being looked at. It should be noted that it was not the job of the local land managers to craft the scientific model. It was the job of local land managers to look after the birds and carry out the control humanely and in compliance with the law and spirit of the license, which they have done.

For the community, the justification for the licence came in the shape of what everyone expected- a very good breeding season for Waders here and much better protection for them than in recent times when raven flocks have wiped out chicks in the lowland fields. This, for us, has been a success, no matter how it is measured.

Here is the Community’s statement and latest position: 

“Local farmers and gamekeepers have been united in trying to prevent further loss of rare birds such as the Curlew, which would be tragic especially as action on the ground clearly makes a difference.
“Thanks to the licence, and hens being in good breeding condition, we are delighted to say it has been an excellent breeding year in Strathbraan. Folk at the sharp end have even seen nests of four fledged Curlew chicks for the first time, greatly helped by being better able to protect the chicks and eggs from the raven flocks that have been so damaging in recent years.
“In terms of wader conservation, therefore, it has been a much better season. The license has been temporarily suspended so those on the science side can make adjustments.
“However, the community remains committed to wading bird conservation, spurred on by what has been achieved so far.”


With reference to a news item on mountain hare, focusing on a paper by Adam Watson and released by RSPB at the start of the grouse season, the SGA has released the following media statement.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “This work is largely at odds with what is being seen on the ground in grouse moor areas, where hare numbers- in good breeding seasons- remain very, very high, sometimes reaching densities of up to 200 hares per sq km.
"It will be helpful to scrutinise the study's methods and consistency given such a discrepancy with the current reality.
“Many of the gamekeepers in the survey area didn't see the author undertake counts, even when they were working in these areas daily, and the study's methods have now been superseded by the new science conducted by GWCT and James Hutton Institute for SNH, which was published in January this year. (1)
“A lot of tax payers’ money was spent conducting that work on how to count hares as accurately as possible and gamekeepers are committed to adopting this in 2018 onwards so the true picture emerges as to where mountain hares may be struggling. 
“Data held by GWCT shows the number of hares taken on grouse moors shows no overall discernible trend since 1954, despite the claims by those seeking to legislate against grouse shooting that culls have been escalated to protect grouse (2). The average annual hare cull of 25 000 represents only 7 percent of the estimated population.
“Whilst on Scottish grouse moors hare numbers remain amongst the highest in Europe, we know there are campaigning wildlife charities, looking after hundreds of sites, with suitable habitat but no mountain hares at all. That revelation may shock and will become clearer to the public and government when the new counting methods are widely adopted, which is what the SGA is calling for.
“Scotland-wide counts of areas where hares were once present will also show exactly how many thousands of acres of the species’ preferred heather habitats have been given over to tree planting and regeneration in areas such as the Cairngorms and what impact this has had on the conservation of the species.”

  2. GWCT graph (below).

Friday 10 August 2018


"“They might not have research letters after their name but they are carrying out practical conservation, paid for by the shooting income that drives the business model."

Scotland’s gamekeepers will deliver millions of pounds of ‘free’ conservation this year despite bracing themselves for a poor grouse shooting season.
That is the view of Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg ahead of the start of the 2018 season on Monday (13th August).
With grouse breeding hit by extreme weather there will be less harvestable surplus for paying visitors to shoot and many estates are cancelling days to preserve future stocks, losing income.
Scottish Government will miss out on tax revenue and the tourism sector will suffer but gamekeeping bodies say Scotland’s countryside will still gain millions from un-costed conservation.
Tens of millions of pounds of public money has been claimed in recent years by bird charities and NGOs, through lottery, EU schemes and grants, to conserve species- cash which could become tighter after Brexit.
However skilled legal predator control, benefitting a range of threatened species, is undertaken by gamekeepers daily as part of their employment, lessening cost burdens on tax payers.
And SGA Chairman Alex Hogg says Scotland will still benefit handsomely from the work of gamekeepers which he believes would cost millions each year to replicate or replace.
“Someone ultimately has to pick up the tab for conservation because it is expensive,” he said.
“Our members are out every day in all weathers controlling predators and undertaking habitat work at landscape scale. This protects game species- the business model- so some of the income comes back, but it also benefits an array of species particularly the many threatened ground-nesting birds we now have in Scotland.
“This year, sadly, it looks like we will welcome less international shots for the grouse and that will squeeze the money available for estates to pay for everything else.
“But the management still goes on every day, without diverting public cash the government needs away from other priorities like schools, roads and hospitals.”
Placing a monetary value on gamekeepers’ conservation work is problematic but the SGA Chairman points to recent conservation projects in Scotland and a 2014 report which estimated the conservation value of shoots to be worth 16 000 full-time jobs. (1)*
It is expected that eradicating stoats in Orkney by trapping and lethal control, for example, will cost £3m of public money. Trapping grey squirrels in order to protect the native red led to Scottish Wildlife Trust receiving £2.46m of lottery grants last year. Millions of pounds of European and heritage cash has been spent trying to increase declining Scottish Capercaillie numbers; a small part of which was used up in attempts to control foxes.
“Stoat and fox control are two examples of skilled work which trained gamekeepers undertake every day using approved traps and snares. They are not involved in eradication programmes. They are trying to keep a balance in the countryside so things don’t get to that point.
“They might not have research letters after their name but they are carrying out practical conservation, paid for by the shooting income that drives the business model.
“By controlling foxes, rabbits, deer and mountain hares, they are also helping the farmers protect livestock, poultry and crops for the food chain, and young trees.
“I don’t think it is an over-estimation to say this service would be valued at millions per annum, if it was to be funded by public finance.”
The 2014 report: The Value of Shooting by PACEC placed the value of conservation on all UK shoots at 3.9 million work days; the equivalent of 16 000 full-time conservation jobs.
Nearly 30 percent of UK shoots are also responsible for sites containing conservation designations.

The Grouse season in Scotland is estimated to be worth £32m to the economy each year.
A survey of 45 grouse estates last year showed that £23m of trade to local businesses was generated by grouse estates before a grouse was even shot. Despite projected lost shooting income that level of investment will already have been committed in 2018.

The Costs of Conservation and Pest Management (some examples).

Saturday 4 August 2018


Four individuals who worked to end a controversial deer management dispute in Assynt have been presented with a major rural award.
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith, Ray Mackay of Assynt Crofters’ Trust and woodland adviser Victor Clements all played a part in breaking an impasse over deer impacts at a designated woodland site at Ardvar.
The issue regarding the extent of deer browsing damage to protected woodlands became divisive and Scottish Natural Heritage had decided to impose a statutory Order on the community until fresh evidence forced a rethink.
On Friday, the persistence of the individuals in presenting their case against the odds was honoured with the presentation of the Ronnie Rose award at Moy Game Fair.
The trophy, in the name of the late author, deer manager and MBE, was inaugurated by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) in order to recognise individuals who have devoted significant energy to rural conservation or education.
Judges deemed the work of the quartet to be an example to all fragile communities who believe local knowledge should play a part in shaping futures.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “All of these individuals, and others, played a part in different stages in Assynt, assisted by Victor Clements’ knowledge of how deer interact with their habitats. What unites them are the hours they gave and the passion with which they pursued evidence to re-state their position. They refused to give up and, in doing so, demonstrated to authorities that the knowledge of land managers on the ground should not be dismissed when making decisions affecting peoples’ lives. Their resilience is an example.”
Ray Mackay, Vice Chair of Assynt Crofters’ Trust, who could not make the presentation in person, was at the helm of the local deer management group when SNH decided to back away from using statutory powers.
He said: “This would not be possible if it had not been for all the people who advised, cajoled and encouraged - members of the Assynt Peninsula Deer Management Sub-Group and members of the Sport & Game Committee of the Assynt Crofters' Trust. I would like to thank two people for their support- Jim Payne, owner of Ardvar Estate, and Michael Ross, the gamekeeper there. I would also like to acknowledge the gracious support offered by Dr Mike Cantlay. His first Board meeting as Chair of SNH was the meeting at which the Assynt Peninsula came under the spotlight. Although the Board's decision went against us, Mike kept a line of communication open and, with his input, SNH adopted a different approach which eventually led to the agreement we now have.”
Mary Reid and David Walker-Smith led the local deer group at the beginning of the dispute. They were delighted to receive the award at Moy.
“I feel very honoured that the work I and other colleagues have done for deer in Assynt led to ournames being put forward,” said Mary.
David added: “Hopefully what has been learned will make those responsible for policy documents to listen to those on the ground involved in deer management on a daily basis.”
Victor Clements, who advised the group, said: “The resolution at Ardvar/Assynt shows what can be achieved when people focus on issues and evidence, not the arguments.”
Three individuals also received long service medals from the SGA for 40 years of unbroken service to their profession.
Badanloch Stalker Brian Lyall, Kinloch-Hourn stalker Donald Cameron and Glenfeshie gamekeeper David Taylor all received medals over the weekend, presented by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg and Committee Member, Iain Hepburn.