Sunday, 17 March 2019

SGA RESPONSE TO MORE SMOKE AND MIRROR CLAIMS FROM EXTREME CAMPAIGN GROUP

Today, campaign group Revive put out a press release about muirburn accompanied by a film showing gamekeepers carrying out legal, well-managed muirburn.

Here is the SGA response, in full.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “This is another orchestrated attempt by a group desperately seeking legitimacy to smear legal management activity; an activity, in this case, which has been scientifically proven to provide many benefits for red grouse, black grouse, deer and sheep and to prevent more devastating moorland wildfires like the recent one at Saddleworth, through the creation of vital fire-breaks. 
“Last week this group made unsubstantiated claims at a party conference about numbers of missing raptors. This week it is an attempt to create an emotive message out of legitimate moorland habitat management carried out by trained people guided by the Muirburn Code. Contrary to this attempt at media manipulation, the most recent published long-term study showed that rotationally burned moors promote the growth of sphagnum moss, essential for peat formation and carbon storage, better than un-burned moors.
“Those behind this wrecking ball campaign against grouse moors have only one thing in mind, despite see-through attempts to deny it. They want grouse shooting banned and rural working families on the dole. It is no surprise that this offering is the new tactic.”

Thursday, 14 March 2019

OFFICE NETWORK UPDATE

Dear members, we are happy to say that the SGA office networks will resume this afternoon (estimated to be around 12.30-1pm). Engineers have identified the fault, which has now been fixed. Thanks to everyone for their patience. All inquiries will be worked through by the office team as we get back online.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

OFFICE NETWORK SYSTEMS CURRENTLY DOWN


Dear SGA members, we are writing to alert you that the systems in the SGA office are currently down.
This includes both broadband and phone systems. Engineers are working to rectify the issue at present.
We are really sorry for the inconvenience and hope to have everything back up and running as soon as the causes can be identified.

Team SGA.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

CALL TO MEMBERS: PLEASE HELP THE LOWLAND DEER MANAGEMENT PROJECT

Urban Deer Photo credit: David Quarrell.
Calling all lowland deer managers who are SGA members.

The SGA has committed to assisting the Lowland Deer Management Project Phase 2.

This involves asking our Scottish lowland deer managers, particularly those in the G and FK postcode areas, to complete a 10 minute online survey (link at the foot of this news bulletin).
SNH has identified a 950 sq km area north of Glasgow as the project area and the survey findings will help identify the extent to which current collaborative deer management approaches are delivering public interests.
There are questions regarding how, where and why deer management is being carried. The answers will help inform policy and prioritisation around the following areas in line with Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy


  • designated sites
  • native woodland
  • woodland expansion
  • climate change
  • economic costs and benefits of deer management.




Monday, 11 March 2019

NEW REPORT A 'REALITY CHECK' ON ALTERNATIVES TO GROUSE MOORS

More headlines from today's press at the foot of this story.

The review, commissioned by Scottish Government and authored by James Hutton Institute and Scotland’s Rural College, looked at the economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse shooting.
Authors acknowledged data limitations regarding both the grouse sector and possible alternatives, but acknowledged the importance of grouse shooting to local economies, jobs and in retaining populations.
The biggest beneficiary regions were Aberdeenshire, Highland and Perth and Kinross.
Grouse shooting is responsible for 2500 full time equivalent jobs with estates spending averagely £212 000 a year in wages and £515 0000 on suppliers per annum, reported the study authors.
According to the report, most expenditure remains in Scotland; a study in the Cairngorms National Park showing that 89 percent of staffing costs and 77percent of management spend occurred locally.
One survey in the Angus Glens and Monadhliaths, referenced in the new report, stated that over a quarter of respondents in these two areas said their livelihoods were linked to grouse shooting.
The report acknowledged that all of Scotland’s grouse moors are sited on areas of very poor agricultural ground, classified by the EU as being Less Favoured.
“There are clearly some knowledge gaps to be filled by Government before we get the full picture of upland land uses, and we are willing to help the process, but we welcome the work done so far,” said Alex Hogg, Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.
“The jobs created by grouse shooting, like gamekeepers’ roles, are important because they keep people in some of the most fragile and remote parts of Scotland where opportunities can be very hard to come by. There has been a lot of talk recently about converting grouse moors to other uses. This report brings a bit of reality regarding the constraints, one of the biggest being finance, although there are many others.
“In poor years like the 2018 grouse season, profits are hit but the grouse sector fills the gap through owners financing the shortfall from other areas of their business, sometimes up to £40 a hectare. All in all, the grouse industry delivers a lot on very, very poor land in Scotland with no government subsidy from tax payers.”
According to the report’s authors, there is currently no direct government subsidy support for grouse shooting in Scotland although some moors can receive the same grazing payment as sheep farmers, if livestock are grazed on the hills.
Many grouse estates today are integrated, with income also being derived from stalking, fishing, in-hand agriculture and renewables on the same ground, making it impossible to calculate how much of Scotland’s uplands are used solely for grouse shooting.
The report considered alternative uses of upland marginal lands such as hill sheep farming, forestry, windfarms, rewilding and nature conservation.
However, authors acknowledged that, whilst possible in certain circumstances, alternatives were constrained by regulations, geography and climate and a heavy reliance on tax payer subsidy.
“Some alternatives (eg. farming, forestry and renewables) are heavily reliant on public payments to justify the activity economically, with others (eg: rewilding, conservation) more reliant on the benevolence of owners of members,” the report stated. 
According to their 2018 accounts, RSPB received £19.8m of tax payer funding in the UK, equating to over half of the £38.2 sum it spent managing its nature reserves.

Other headline statements from the report. 

Knowledge Gaps and the need for longer term studies: The narrow evidence base and inconsistency in data collection approaches mean that evidence on socio-economic impacts is open to criticism. Some of the methodological criticisms are not unique to grouse studies and indeed often apply to sectoral economic impact study approaches.
“However, despite the limitations, the existing evidence base does provide some context relating to the social and economic contributions of grouse moor management.”
“There is limited evidence on the socio economic impacts of alternative land uses on moorland areas, particularly of the emerging rewilding and conservation approaches being taken on some private estates."
There is a paucity of evidence to say that negatives from grouse moors impacts on the £187 m brought in from bird watching and wildlife tourism country-wide. Similarly there is little reported on the social or cultural aspects of alternative land uses."

Is forestry an alternative to grouse moors? “Indeed GFA-RACE and Macaulay (2003) suggested that “the financial viability of afforestation of moorland and moorland fringe areas, even with existing public financial support, is doubtful. The pressure of greater environmental constraints has increased this position, and therefore this option has not been revisited in any depth. Whilst the economics of forestry and woodlands have improved significantly since 2003 the hard fact remains that there is limited scope to plant grouse moors due to regulations and poor quality of land. There are limited published details of the costs and returns of planting moorland areas."
Land Capability for Forestry is also typically low, for the holdings with grouse butts present. "Indeed, the areas considered unsuitable for trees with any expectation of delivering harvestable timber are substantially greater than the areas considered as having very little agricultural value." 

Is hill sheep farming a viable alternative to grouse moors?"While change to an exclusive use of this land as unimproved pastures could be feasible it seems unlikely to be viable given reduction in stocking of hill land since decoupling of CAP payments in 2003. Creation of permanent pastures is likely to be prohibitively costly and may conflict with the desires of the proprietors and with designations."
“The quality of the grouse moor land is generally very poor in agricultural terms, comprising mainly rough grazing. The current quality of the grazing is likely enhanced from regular muirburn that grouse moor management entails and would likely deteriorate over time without active heather management. Indeed, many hill farms no longer fully utilise or manage their high hill ground as a response to lower stocking densities, driven largely by changes to the CAP support regime in 2005 (Thomson et al. 2011).”

What about rewilding and conservation? “Recognising that the socio-economic impacts of alternative land use are not comparing like with like, and there are biophysical, landscape, or designations restrictions of replicating them across all Scottish moors. It should be noted that each of these land uses is dependent to varying degrees on the public purse, with for example renewable energy, farming and forestry being heavily supported by the Government, whereas conservation / NGO land management often receives Government support as well as private membership support.
"Private estates engaged in rewilding in Scotland receive significant levels of support (with one rewilding estate getting an average of £205,000 direct support and £170,000 rural development support in 2016 and 2017). Trees for Life’s annual report reveals that amongst £1 million expenditure in 2017 they spent: £240,000 rewilding the 10,000 Dundreggan Estate; £243,000 on forest restoration projects across the Highlands; £208,000 propagating trees. £500,000 was supported through grant aid and trusts, £110,000 through companies and about £230,000 each by members and donations; products and; other sources such as gift aid.”
As this review process finalised the Revive campaign group published “Back to life: Visions for Alternative Futures for Scotland’s Grouse Moors” (Common Weal and Lateral North, 2018). This is a useful addition to the debate, although there is a lack of consideration over the practicalities of some of the alternatives suggested in the discourse (e.g. landscape, species and habitat protection; inadequate infrastructure; land-use planning regulations; biophysical challenges) or the reliance on public expenditure to provide positive returns.”

What about Staff Wages and Management Costs?: "Park (2008) reported costs of £99,500 for maintaining the grouse moor at Langholm in 1996 (with very limited income from grouse over the same time period). Savills (2013) estimated the cost of employing a gamekeeper at £45,000 per annum (including housing, vehicle, salary and equipment) and the cost of running a day of driven grouse at approximately £2,500 (including staff time, catering, pickers-up and beaters’ costs and transport) – although this does not include capital costs of the supporting infrastructure, which is often considerable." 

Are there benefits for non-shooters in managed moorlands? “Whilst tourism often benefits from managed moorland (whether that management is for deer, grouse, woodlands or farming), it rarely contributes to the maintenance costs of Scotland’s rich landscape which people come from around the globe to visit. Grouse moors have been used as recreation areas in Scotland for decades, mainly for walking, but also to access mountains, and more recently for mountain biking."
"In the surveys of the Tomintoul community (Mc Morran 2009) and Angus and Monadhliath communities (Mc Morran et al. 2015), a majority of community respondents used grouse moors for recreational or other purposes (e.g. work). A majority of community respondents also viewed grouse moors as attractive or extremely attractive in Angus (75%) and in the Monadhliath (60%)."

 Link to report, here: https://sefari.scot/research/socioeconomic-and-biodiversity-impacts-of-driven-grouse-moors-in-scotland


Thursday, 21 February 2019

RIVER GRADINGS FOR 2019 SALMON SEASON ANNOUNCED


The gradings for all of Scotland's 173 salmon rivers have been laid before Parliament and will take affect from 1st April 2019.
The gradings are an analysis of conservation status of salmon on each river and dictate whether fish can be taken sustainably or whether mandatory catch and release must be applied.
To find the status of each river, go to https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-salmon-conservation/
and use the drop-down menu.
For more on the new gradings, please see:https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/marine/Salmon-Trout-Coarse/fishreform/licence/status

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

BLOG: DAMAGE TO LEGAL PREDATOR CONTROL TRAPS



A post yesterday (above) on Twitter showing images of legal predator control traps for stoats created a lot of heat. When the SGA reminded those in the comment thread, who had already started to talk about knowingly damaging these traps, that this was a criminal offence (which it is), this caused outrage.

By saying that the SGA would inform Police (which the organisation has a policy on due to the amount of vandalism to legal property which goes on today) this was viewed with further ire.

The SGA will never stop reporting damage to legal predator control traps to Police. They are legitimate tools used by trained operators as part of their employment. Not everyone is a fan of every industry but we would expect retribution if we walked into someone’s office, threw their computers out the window or wrecked them because we didn’t like what they did.

Rail trap in Angus damaged by the public and rendered inoperable.
Wildlife or species management is difficult for some. This is acknowledged. SNH reviews trapping and the General Licences which permit their deployment in the Scottish countryside are assessed annually. All snare operators in Scotland must be trained and personal ID numbers, obtained from Police Scotland, must be attached to every snare set legally in this country, as part of the Snare Training (Scotland) Order 2011.

The SGA was not attempting to intimidate Helen for having a view or wanting to spark debate on issues of trap setting. She is perfectly entitled to do so and hold those opinions. We asked, legitimately, whether she was reflecting the views of Environment Link, of whom her organisation (The Ramblers Association) is a member. She said she was not, which was accepted. We are sure Helen will air similar views again on other elements of legal management.

What the SGA did, for those who wanted to read the tweets (see all below), was remind that we should be mindful of social media posts and that the hills walkers enjoy are also people’s workplaces. We said to her that her comments had encouraged the type of activity that perhaps she had not intended. If this is deemed to be an act of intimidation or a ‘sinister’ warning off, as was suggested and shared elsewhere, then we will have to agree to differ. It does raise questions over whether free speech is afforded only to those on one side of a debate. 

It is the SGA’s responsibility, as a member organisation, to protect our trained members who are carrying out legitimate and legal work; work which they should be able to undertake without the fear of having their tools criminally damaged. It is well acknowledged that control of abundant predators, using humane traps and snares, benefits a range of ground-nesting species, not just game.

A 9 year experiment by GWCT at Otterburn in England showed that, on land managed by gamekeepers, where predator control of crows, stoats and weasels was carried out, wading birds had up to 3 times more chance of breeding success. If we want to maintain red-listed wildlife in our country, then there should be some acknowledgement of the benefits of predation control. Indeed, RSPB and SNH are to receive £6m to eradicate stoats from Orkney in order to conserve the wildlife there, by eliminating them.


Helen may not have been intending to encourage the comments about how to illegally disable, wreck traps or throw them in burns. In fact, we would like to put it on record that we do not believe this was her intention. It was, however, undeniably one of the consequences, with a number of posts in the thread, and other posts relating to the original, clearly alluding to this type of activity.

The SGA will not be reporting Helen, as this was never the intention or meaning. We dealt with that by pointing out, in her second tweet, that her post had had a different affect than she intended (see below). We will be reporting the comments about damaging legal tools to Police, as is our policy to do so.


*All members, please continue to report all damage, tampering, theft and vandalism of legal traps and snares to Police Scotland. Please ask for a crime number or, if applicable, incident number. Please also report this to the SGA office. 

UPDATE: Hours after this 'debate' on Twitter, 17 legal stoat traps were damaged on an estate in Grampian. Details have been passed to Police Scotland.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

NOMINATE NOW FOR OUR 2019 AWARDS

The SGA is now accepting nominations for its three mains awards of 2019, recognising the achievements of individuals and the wealth of talent and knowledge within the game and wildlife sector.
The first closing date is June 7th for Long Service Medal nominations. 
These new awards proved popular in the inaugural year (2018) and it’s now time to forward the names of anyone who has given 40 years of unbroken and continuous service to gamekeeping, gillie-ing, stalking or wildlife management.

Next up is the deadline of June 21st for nominations for SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year, 2019. The award is open to nominations from estates, senior staff, shoot operators or college lecturers who believe an individual to be a youthful ambassador for their profession, on land or river.
Finally, it’s the 4th Ronnie Rose Award for services to conservation or education on river, low ground, hill or forest.

The award has a closing date of July 19th and, already, some nominations have arrived; proving the importance placed on this trophy within countryside management circles.
To nominate in any of the three award categories, please contact info@scottishgamekeeper.co.uk naming your candidate and providing a supporting statement or evidence to justify their consideration.





*Photos show our proud award winners from 2018. Well done to all. 


2019 SGA AGM WITH BUSHWEAR- full details

The 2019 SGA AGM with BushWear will have a European favour this year, with members set to hear management insights from a range of cultural and social perspectives.
On Friday March 1st, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg will welcome members and invited guests to the Centenary Suite at McDiarmid Park, Perth, for the organisation’s biggest membership event of the year.
The SGA is delighted to announce outdoor clothing and equipment specialists, BushWear, https://www.bushwear.co.uk as this year’s headline sponsor and company representatives will be showcasing Pulsar thermal technology at the event.
There will also be special pre-order offers on selected new Pulsar products for SGA members on the day.
Over the past few years, the annual general meetings have been very well attended and, with the industry readying itself for deer and grouse reviews in 2019, a large turnout is again expected.
As well as the traditional Chairman’s address, this year’s event will welcome special guest from Norway, Hans Ulberg, as one of the principal speakers.
Hans is set to fly in prior to the AGM and his talk will focus on interactions and conflicts between large carnivorous species and livestock populations in rural environments and economies.
Now primarily a dairy farmer, Hans has spent years studying predator/prey relationships and sits on the government agency assessing autopsies of dead animals for evidence of predation. 
Hans will discuss key species; deer, bears, lynx, wolves and beavers; their differing levels of protection and legal management approaches in Norway.
“We are delighted to have Hans with us. Vice Chairman Peter Fraser has been in regular contact with him, organising for him to come over and, with emerging challenges for everyone when it comes to species management, reintroductions and large predators, I am sure that a perspective from Norway will be of great interest to attendees,” said Chairman, Alex Hogg.
“We have a diverse range of speakers once again, all bringing something different to the day the Committee is certainly looking forward to hearing their views and life experiences and giving members the chance to ask them more about their chosen subjects.”
Also on the speaker list will be Simon Lester, former Head Gamekeeper on the Langholm Moor Demonstration project. http://www.langholmproject.com
Sadly, the ‘Beast from the East’ meant Simon’s flight from England had to be cancelled last year but the SGA is delighted to welcome him this time, weather permitting, and will be interested to hear his views on Langholm’s lessons and valuable insights from his work with DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery programme over the border. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/innovative-licence-issued-to-help-hen-harrier
Author, speaker and ambassador for greater understanding of Lyme Disease, Morven-May MacCallum, will address the floor with her personal experiences of coping with the debilitations of a disease which is becoming a growing public health issue.
Her acclaimed book, Finding Joy, has helped raise awareness of the life-threatening condition whilst her inspiring talks at events and in Parliament have encouraged greater engagement on Lyme Disease and the journey health authorities and others need to travel to combat Lyme Disease in future. https://morven-may.co.uk
Doors will open for registration at 9am and all members must bring their membership numbers for check-in. As well as selected merchandise, new SGA wall-planners will be available for the first time.
AGM sponsors BushWear, established 15 years ago and with stores in Perth and Stirling to cater for central belt country sports enthusiasts and outdoor workers, are delighted to be partnering with the SGA during the course of 2019.
“The gamekeepers the SGA represent are so vital to the rural way of life and preserving the sport we all enjoy. Indeed, gamekeepers are the core of our business, not just as they need the best clothing and equipment but because they are such good product testers,” said Managing Director, Andrew Small.
“There is no other group that will put a product through its paces as quickly as the Scottish gamekeeper!”
BushWear has been at the forefront of changes in technology in the outdoor sector and several new products will be available for demonstration.
Something that has seen huge changes in the last 5 years and has revolutionised vermin control for keepers is Night Vision and Thermal equipment. We are delighted to be attending the AGM in partnership with our good friends from Thomas Jacks, the importers of market leading Pulsar Night Vision and Thermal equipment.
“We will be showcasing a selection of new Pulsar products, which will give attendees the opportunity to handle them and test their impressive performance. Star of the show will undoubtedly be the state-of-the-art Pulsar Thermion Riflescope. This revolutionary new piece of thermal technology is housed within a compact magnesium alloy bodyshell that is strong and lightweight. With five models in the series, the Thermion Riflescope features a 320x240 12µm thermal sensor on the XM30, XM38 and XM50 units, whilst the XP38 and XP50 units feature a 640x48 17µm thermal sensor, all of which have exceptional image quality and digital zoom.
“Dependent upon the model, the Thermion Riflescopes can reach a detection range of up to 2300m. They are Stream Vision compatible and include built-in video and can record still images.
The redesign of the Thermion Scopes has the appearance of any regular dayscope and feature a 30mm tube that can be attached with standard mounts.”





Saturday, 26 January 2019

BLOG: WHY THE SGA WILL NOT STOP CALLING FOR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SATELLITE TAGS



Angus eagle with tag visible below the neck.
Reactions to Friday's media story make it apparent that those presently in ownership of satellite tags aim to resist calls for them to be deployed in a more transparent and accountable way and to have them monitored independently.
It can perhaps be understood why such transparency may be resisted. Tag ownership provides those deploying it with publicity and political leverage, without the requirement of a standard of evidence normally expected for accusations of criminality.
For avoidance of doubt the SGA will never refrain from calling for greater accountability over the use of sat tags and independent monitoring of what they show.
Satellite tags can, when used in a collaborative manner and with appropriate data sharing/ownership arrangements, offer useful conservation benefits and insights. The SGA is not advocating stopping using them.
However, as an organisation, the SGA believes they are now being deployed for a very different reason. The organisation also believes that the statistical significance of tag failures, re-appearances of tagged birds, the number of birds and tags that are not recovered even when no criminality is suspected (a quarter of the 'suspicious tags' in SNH's satellite tagged eagle report were recorded away from grouse moors yet these tags were never found) makes the case robust for independent analysis of what they are telling us.
There is a need for evidence, not interpretations of evidence, particularly when countryside matters can be divisive with often conflicting interests. It is also concerning that SNH holds no data from the many tags currently in operation.
The SGA will not stop calling for accountability and transparency, therefore, because it believes it is right and reasonable to do so.
The SGA made it clear that, if greater transparency means a greater ability and likelihood of bringing criminal cases to court, then that openness should be in the interests of all seeking to tackle wildlife crime.
Authorities must decide, going forward, whether they regard this to be of value.

Below is testimony of a gamekeeper from one of the estates questioned over the loss of transmission from the tag of the Hen Harrier reported as missing in Angus, as referenced in the original SGA story on Friday 25th January. Until recent communication, local estates have had the burden of criminal suspicion hanging over them.

"When the story came out, the Police came to the estate and said what had happened with the tag stopping. I offered to get a team to help with the search. We were told that wouldn't be necessary. I was then told we would hear what was happening, probably by the end of the week. That didn't happen. I called the Police 7 or 8 times afterwards to see what the latest was but never got an answer or a call back.
"It was only when the Police came back to ask about something else that I got a chance to ask about the missing Hen Harrier. I was told 'oh, that pinged back up again and re-appeared'.
The understanding was that the bird had been spotted in North Perthshire.

When the gamekeeper in question asked why no one had told him this before and why something had not been put in the paper to clarify that point, he was told that it was not the role of the Police to do so.

Update: Attempts by a blog (with the sole aim of banning grouse shooting) to undermine the veracity of the SGA's stance on satellite tags fail to address the simple, key issue of accountability and transparency which would clear up the many issues regarding tags.

This morning, Police Scotland acknowledged in communications with a freelance journalist that the reasons for the loss of submission from the tag fitted to the Hen Harrier in question remains unexplained; the classification for this stemming from an acknowledgement within Police Scotland that there can be a number of reasons why tags lose transmission.






Friday, 25 January 2019

SGA CALLS FOR SATELLITE TAG ACCOUNTABILITY

An eagle in Angus photographed with a tag dangling below its head.  Pics by Mike Groves.

Angus eagle with dislodged tag, clearly visible.

Scotland’s gamekeepers are calling for accountability regarding satellite tags fitted to wildlife.
The call comes after The Scottish Gamekeepers Association learned that a tagged Hen Harrier, reported as disappearing ‘suspiciously’ in Angus last May, was re-sighted in Perthshire afterwards, according to investigators *.
Anti-grouse moor campaigners who owned the tag’s data publicly blamed the grouse industry, urging Scottish Government to license the sector.
However, no media statements were issued to correct the accusations, leaving local estate employees living with the burden of criminal suspicion.
The SGA has also learned of a sea eagle currently flying around Grampian with a tag dangling from its body, potentially endangering its welfare.
The female sea eagle, pegged with yellow wing markings and the letter ‘E’, has been spotted by concerned land managers.
In recent times, four golden eagles have also been independently photographed in the Angus glens with displaced tags; one clearly hanging from a bird’s neck.
Another eagle was observed in Perthshire last week with the bird’s feathers completely obscuring the tag; something manufacturers acknowledge will distort readings.
Gamekeepers believe tags are now being deployed by campaigners as political weapons, aware there is no independent scrutiny.
Whilst the SGA is not advocating a ban, they believe Scottish Government must act to make fitting and monitoring of the devices accountable.
An FOI to Scottish Natural Heritage by SGA revealed that the heritage body currently holds no information from satellite tags in Scotland, despite hundreds being operational.
Similarly, tag reliability cannot be independently verified as there is no duty for tag owners to disclose information regarding malfunction.
“At the moment, satellite tags are like the wild west,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg. “Anyone with funding can buy one, have it fitted to a protected bird, and retain its data. They can then release interpretations to the media, if the tag stops. We saw this with the choreographed ‘Fred the Eagle’ case near Edinburgh, which remains unexplained despite a concerted attempt to finger a grouse moor.
“Although tag fitters are approved, we have seen basic ‘granny knots’ used to fit tags and we have just heard of two tagged Harriers in Perthshire being killed by foxes within three days, with only one tag and body recovered. A tagged adult Harrier lost on National Trust ground this year was never found, neither was its tag, and a predated youngster was only discovered by chance. These are stories the public never hear and it is a shame they have to come out behind a veil of secrecy.
“Despite claims these devices are almost infallible, failure rates and unexplained loss are high and there have been numerous examples of lost birds turning up alive or birds re-appearing miles or days from last tag signals.
“If this information was held independently, all this could be scrutinised transparently by experts and the relevant authorities could act accordingly.”
Late last year the SGA commissioned a legal opinion of SNH’s report into the fates of satellite tagged golden eagles, a paper which sparked the present review of grouse shooting.
The opinion, authored by QC Ronald Clancy, made a strong case for independent scrutiny of tags as the report relied entirely on manufacturer data for its conclusions.
“The present tagging system gives rise to accusation but no prosecutions. 
“If tags are to be used to identify crime then the information must be held independently so it may lead to court action.
“If independent data monitoring makes things more difficult for people committing wildlife crime, that surely is in everyone’s interest,” added SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

*The SGA learned of the re-sighting of the bird in Perthshire through one of the estates questioned following the original accusation. The estate were later told by those investigating the case that the bird had subsequently been re-sighted in Perthshire. The SGA, rightly, has no investigative function but the organisation has no substantive reason to doubt the estate, or the information forwarded by those involved in investigating the case.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

SGA WILL CHALLENGE FOX HUNTING PROPOSALS

The results of one evening of fox predation at a woodland edge.
Earlier today (9th Jan) Scottish Government announced proposals to alter fox hunting legislation in Scotland.
Of principal interest to SGA members who rely on foot packs as the only effective and humane way to control foxes in dense forestry blocks, Scottish Government appear to have departed from Lord Bonomy's views in their commissioned Review (see below) and have stated that they will limit the number of hounds which can be used to flush foxes to 2.
Minister Mairi Gougeon said that a licensing scheme was being considered which could permit more hounds to be used for legitimate pest control.
The SGA is to seek discussions with other countryside groups who require packs of trained dogs for legitimate fox control in order to ensure a robust challenge to any proposals which might limit the ability for foot packs to operate effectively in Scotland, something which will have serious consequences for threatened wildlife and valuable farm stock.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said:"We will be seeking talks with farmers tomorrow. If any proposed licensing system makes it onerous for fox control with pack operations in dense woodland, vital foot packs for legitimate pest control will just give up.
"Scotland has one of the highest fox densities in Europe. We say, on one hand, we want to save the Curlew, then do this. Maybe this shows where priorities lie. It is another nail for important rural industries and rare ground-nesting wildlife that Scotland has a global responsibility to protect."Reducing the ability to control foxes in forestry will be a disaster for wildlife and farm stock. Two hounds will simply not work. It’s a totally ineffective tool. We are already seeing Forestry Commission denying people access to woods for legitimate fox control because it has become too political. This will pave the way for a complete lock-down and is poorly thought through."I think there is a growing awakening amongst rural workers that they are becoming political bargaining chips and I think we can expect a very strong reaction to this."

Lord Bonomy stated in his Review of fox hunting legislation, commissioned by Scottish Government, that using two dogs could 'seriously compromise effective pest control'.