Thursday, 19 December 2019

MASSIVE CHANGES FOR GROUSE MOORS FOLLOWING WERRITTY REVIEW



GROUSE SHOOTING REVIEW REPORT WILL
MEAN ‘SEISMIC’ CHANGE FOR MOORS IN SCOTLAND.

URGENT MEETING SOUGHT WITH GOVERNMENT
Rural organisations said today that the recommendations of a government-commissioned review of grouse moor management will mean a ‘seismic’ change for grouse moors across Scotland.
Following publication of the review group’s report, a joint statement was issued by: British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates. 
“The recommendations of the Werritty Review will mean a seismic change for grouse moors across Scotland.
“This report has recommended a barrage of measures that will leave the grouse shooting sector engulfed by legislation and red tape. On top of that, penalties for wildlife crime in Scotland are about to get much tougher.
“The sector has already willingly embraced change and improvements in how it operates.  We believe further enhanced training and codes of practice covering muirburn, mountain hare management and medicated grit are the best solution rather than onerous licensing provisions and we will be seeking an urgent meeting with government to discuss these key areas.
“The review group has recognised that there is no case for the banning of driven grouse shooting. They also accepted that licensing of grouse moors in general is hugely contentious, complex and unnecessary at this time. Nor is there scientific evidence to justify such a measure. Should it be introduced in the future, it would push an important rural business sector beyond breaking point.
“Grouse shooting plays a vital role in helping to sustain communities and delivers multiple social, economic and environmental benefits. It would be a tragedy if the massive private investment that underpins these benefits is put at risk by a package of regulatory measures that will herald fundamental change. 
“Scotland already has the most stringent laws to deal with raptor persecution in the UK and they’re about to get even tougher with proposed jail sentences of up to five years and wide-ranging new financial penalties – which we support. There has been huge progress in recent years to combat raptor persecution and incidents are now at historically low levels. We are committed to playing our part to help eradicate the problem but are deeply concerned that law-abiding rural businesses will be buried under an avalanche of regulation and added costs as a result of this review. That may well force people out of business and put families’ livelihoods at risk.
“At a time when climate change and the environment is of paramount importance, we take great pride in the environmental and conservation contribution made by grouse moors through carbon capture and the careful management of Scotland’s much-loved heather clad landscape. Inflicting an even greater burden on moorland managers would jeopardise this.
 “We welcome the fact that the review recommends greater transparency and independence around the satellite-tagging of birds of prey. However, its proposals do not go far enough in seeking to create an open and accountable system.”

THE FULL REPORT OF PROFESSOR WERRITTY'S PANEL CAN BE FOUND, HERE: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/publication/2019/12/grouse-moor-management-group-report-scottish-government/documents/grouse-moor-management-review-group-report-scottish-government/grouse-moor-management-review-group-report-scottish-government/govscot%3Adocument/grouse-moor-management-review-group-report-scottish-government.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3B08uOGlvxf0x6SoaL4Spfu5dw21UKDo3hVgIZm5GKe4YOdKa_ycXnx9w

What Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I would like to thank Professor Werritty and the other members of the Grouse Moor Management Group for undertaking this important review and for their extensive work over the last two years.
“As well as the issue of raptor persecution, the review was asked to look at grouse moor management practices including muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and also to examine regulatory options including possible licensing of grouse shooting businesses.
“It is important that we give careful consideration to the recommendations, alongside other evidence, before issuing a response. An important part of this will involve meeting key stakeholders to discuss the findings of the review, and we will publish a full response to the report in due course. At this early stage, however. I believe the option of a licensing scheme will need to be considered and - if required – implemented earlier than the five-year timeframe suggested by the review group.”





Wednesday, 18 December 2019

SGA FISHING GROUP PETITIONS PARLIAMENT ON STOCKING OF SALMON RIVERS


Robert White of the SGA Fishing Group has tabled the Holyrood petition on behalf of members.


The SGA Fishing Group has launched a parliamentary petition demanding a full stakeholder consultation on the future of stocking on Scotland’s salmon rivers.
On some waters in Scotland, hatcheries are operated, enabling salmon eggs to be stripped from broodstock and grown on in controlled conditions before being released back into the river.
The idea is to eliminate factors which can lead to early mortality, improving the chances of salmon reaching maturity, putting more fish into the system.
However, some ghillies and river workers with hatcheries are seeing increasing restrictions placed on the activity by Marine Scotland, who have developed a new position on stocking.
They are concerned that the fisheries scientists’ standpoint could become official government policy without proper consultation with ghillies, riparian owners and hatchery investors and employees.
Marine Scotland officials have discussed their position at river board meetings but have not achieved a consensus within the industry.
With salmon conservation becoming an increasing priority and Scotland’s fisheries struggling badly with declining catches, angler numbers and reducing local economic impacts, some ghillies believe the issue is too important to be slipped through without a full debate.
And while they understand that stocking can be contentious, even within the industry itself, they believe a full stakeholder consultation is the proper route for any future action.
“The SGA Fishing Group is not necessarily pro-stocking. There are a mix of views on the subject, across Scotland, some for, some against,” says Tay ghillie Robert White, who launched the petition on behalf of the SGA Fishing Group.
“However, we believe the proper process is for a full consultation. There is a feeling that Marine Scotland has rushed this through and then went out to try to build support. 
“We don’t feel that is the right thing to do and ruling stocking out, or certainly making it increasingly more difficult, may prove to be too hasty.
“Salmon catches are decreasing at a worrying rate in some areas and fisheries, too, are feeling the affects with some rivers recording their worst years recently. 
“Taking hatcheries - as a tool - off the table, without a proper debate, could be short-sighted and we hope everyone whose lives are bound up in salmon and the future of our rivers get a chance to have a full say.”
Hatcheries have proved successful in some rivers but less so in others, with local circumstances regarded as being a determinant.
Concerns, too, have been raised about genetic integrity of the fish although hatchery broodstock are from natal rivers in most cases.
On the other hand, some anglers in Scotland -worried at seeing their pastime eroded-, favour hatcheries because they see rivers taking a proactive approach to the problem of less fish.
“There are a number of different arguments,” added Mr White. “However, a lot of investment has also gone into some hatcheries and the people involved really need to be in the loop with the direction of travel.
“There is also a school of thought which says putting more fish into the river may enhance the chances of more coming back. All these views deserved to be properly aired.”

Ends.


You can watch Robert talking about the SGA Fishing Group petition on YouTube, link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y1NOe5DLiI


The SGA Fishing Group is the fishing section of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, which has 5300 members in Scotland. It has its own identity within the organisation as it is specific to fishing matters only, hence the name: The SGA Fishing Group.

To learn more about the petition and to sign: see Petition link: https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01782

Infographic courtesy of SGA Media.













STANDING UP FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES- FULL PRESS RELEASE


Press release, in full (below) from Scotland's Rural Communities. Well done to SGA members who joined the peaceful demonstration outside Perth Concert Hall on 17th December.

Around 150 rural workers staged a demonstration in Perth last night (17th Dec), protesting against Chris Packham’s ‘relentless drive’ to wreck their livelihoods.
The BBC presenter from the south of England- an outspoken critic of fieldsports- was giving a talk on nature photography at Perth Concert Hall.
However, his appearance was met with a crowd of rural demonstrators calling on the Springwatch presenter to end what they called a ‘relentless campaign of misinformation’.
Chris Packham has backed two Westminster petitions to end grouse shooting, which supports 2500 Scottish jobs, and has mounted legal challenges to other country sports and farming.
The Fair City protesters said Packham was waging war against rural workers and their families through misinformation and unsubstantiated allegations, designed to damage their futures.
“Chris Packham is well aware of his position but he is using his celebrity status to distort the truth with un-substantiated allegations, tarring whole communities,” said gamekeeper, Allan Hodgson.
“He doesn’t know these communities, how they work and what binds them together. It’s a bit rich. He hasn’t managed land in his life and knows nothing of the challenges. What he is seeking is to ban activities which bring benefits and jobs to people, helps threatened wildlife and fragile areas. Folk have had enough. If he is serious about making things better he shouldn’t start by trying to put people who manage the land every day, out of work- he should be talking to them. He has obsessive tunnel vision and is ignoring science.”
The  celebrity presenter, Vice President of the RSPB, has been on collision course with the countryside, leading to letters to broadcasting chiefs over his impartiality as a BBC presenter.
During a march in London he labelled the shooting community ‘psycopaths’ and was forced to apologise to farmers after falsely stating on social media that they shot endangered Lapwings.
His campaign group, Wild Justice, enraged both the farming and shooting community this year by legally challenging General Licences, the permits required to control crow and pigeon populations.
As the court process dragged on, farmers reported financial damage to crops, injury to livestock and the loss of dwindling birdlife.
“He is happy to mount legal challenges to fox and crow control, which helps protect rarer wildlife and farm livestock, yet he will call for deer to be slaughtered in Scotland if it fits with his own personal agenda,” said one of the protestors. “His concern for wildlife seems to be very selective.
“He protests against climate change yet flies off on carbon belching tours abroad and makes a business from tour parties doing the same in his name.
“Study upon study has shown that, where gamekeepers are managing for game, they are also giving a helping hand to many species which are virtually absent elsewhere in our countryside, including the nature reserves he seems to love.
“But there is no attempt to listen to that side or acknowledge the good that many long-serving land managers are doing in the countryside.”
Rural people from all over the country traveled to the peaceful demonstration, carrying banners saying: ‘Standing Up for Our Rural Communities’ and “Gamekeepers- the Curlew’s best friend’.

*NB: Chris Packham is currently campaigning against HS2. This morning, the TV celebrity announced on Twitter (18th Dec) that he is to take no more internal flights. 
His official website, as of 11.15am, was still advertising overseas wildlife tours. https://www.chrispackham.co.uk/category/travel-with-chris-packham





Friday, 13 December 2019

WINNER OF THE 2019 SGA ATV RAFFLE ANNOUNCED

The drumroll begins as Sue delves into the raffle entries box
The SGA is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2019 SGA ATV raffle, sponsored by WM Rose & Sons Ltd, is Mr William Halley of Saline, Fife.
The draw was made this morning (13th December) by SGA Office Administrator Sue Timms at our Perth HQ and, after learning of his win, by telephone, Mr Halley described the draw result as 'absolutely great.'
The SGA would like to thank WM Rose & Sons Ltd (please see their article in the forthcoming Winter edition of Scottish Gamekeeper) for kindly sponsoring the ATV and to Polaris for being our ATV partner.
We would also like to thank everyone who kindly supported the organisation by purchasing tickets for the annual draw.
In the New Year we will be presenting Mr Halley with the keys to his brand new Polaris ATV.
Well done, William, we hope this makes the festive season even better.

Wait for it................

And there we have it- well done, William.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

OFFICE SERVER ISSUE- WE ARE NOW BACK UP AND RUNNING.

To all our members, the SGA office was hit with a server breakdown this morning, debarring access to phones, computer systems and member database. Thankfully, the issue has now been rectified and we are all back online. Normal service will resume. We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. Team SGA.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

PROPOSED NEW SENTENCES A 'GAME CHANGER' IN WILDLIFE CRIME





The SGA was at Holyrood today in front of the ECCLR Committee for a round-table discussion on proposals contained within Scottish Government's new Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, laid before Parliament in September.
Within the Bill are proposals to increase maximum penalties for the most serious wildlife crime offences to 5 years in jail or an unlimited fine or both.
Maximum penalties for other wildlife offences are to be increased to a 1 year jail term, a fine up to £40 000, or both.
The Bill also extends the time available for enforcement bodies to bring evidence to court.
Crown officials admitted the new measures offer greater flexibility to deal with a wide range of offences and opens up the possibility for persons accused of serious crimes to be tried before a jury.
The 5 year jail term also elevates wildlife crime to the 'serious crime' category, increasing the ability  of the Police to be able to apply to deploy 'intrusive' surveillance in cases where a jail term of 3 years or more could be deemed an expected outcome and there was no other means to gather evidence.
With Scotland already having strict measures in relation to wildlife crime, the SGA said the proposed new penalties will raise the bar to a previously untold level.
Speaking to the Committee in Edinburgh, Gamekeeper Les George said: "The new sentences are a game changer. For a gamekeeper, the levels of fines are not affordable. If a gamekeeper was found guilty of an offence, they would lose their job, lose their home and their firearms. They would never work again as a gamekeeper. It would be over. It's a game-changer."
Les also told the committee that, while the Police deploying covert cameras in serious cases could be justified, their could be serious implications if campaign bodies were empowered to use covert surveillance.
He told the committee he had suffered, personally, from illegal filming.
"We are not against that (Police being able to deploy cameras in serious cases) but we are concerned about the impact on privacy. I have had people filming my house and my wife and daughter caught on camera. Our fear is that it will encourage vigilantes to do more illegal camera work."


Monday, 9 December 2019

STATEMENT: HEN HARRIERS

Following an RSPB report this morning regarding Hen Harriers, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: 

"The SGA has an unequivocal stance on wildlife crime. It has demonstrated this in action, removing 8 members in the last 7 years for wildlife crimes.
“However the lack of evidence in the press release suggests to us that this is an attempt to influence government over Professor Werritty’s imminent review of grouse shooting.
“Young Hen Harriers are scientifically proven to have very high natural mortality and 
more and more high profile cases of satellite tag failures are coming to light all the time.
“To suggest the tags of birds which die naturally are always found is simply untruthful.
“The RSPB know that. When Hen Harrier Brian disappeared on an RSPB reserve in the Cairngorms National Park, the tag was never found.
“Beyond the orchestrated campaign, there is no actual evidence to link these two losses of tag transmission to persecution or persecution on grouse moors."

GAMEKEEPERS RESPOND TO REVIVE'S LATEST ANTI GROUSE MOOR LOBBYING REPORT

At the official Revive launch in Edinburgh, RSPB Vice President Chris Packham said his aim was to ban grouse shooting. Ruth Tingay grudgingly said she would take licensing as a' first step' towards the ultimate goal of a ban.
Responding to Revive's latest anti-grouse moor lobbying report, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: 

“Revive use neutral words like ‘reform’ but their real aim is to ban grouse shooting in Scotland, empty the glens and put gamekeepers and families on the dole.
“Their wish-lists were effectively discredited in Scottish Government’s own commissioned report into grouse moor economics and alternative uses of moorland.
“We know what happens when grouse moors are abandoned. The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project report, published in October, highlighted net biodiversity gains when gamekeepers were employed. When grouse gamekeepers were lost on that moor, European protected open habitats degraded and red-listed and iconic birds crashed. Now Scotland, again, has a failing SPA for Hen Harriers, a silent moor with few jobs, little wildlife and millions of tax payer’s money blown that could have supported teacher posts in rural communities.
“South West Scotland has haemorrhaged rare wildlife since grouse moor management ended. If that is what people want, they don’t need a glossy report, they have 2 painful examples in real time.

“If Revive have the answers, why not invest the anti grouse shooting lobbying cash and go and live and work on land only suitable for rough grazing, to see if they can create and sustain 2500 jobs and associated environmental benefits in those communities.”



What the Scottish Government-commissioned report, Socio-economic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors in Scotland by SRUC (2019) said about Revive’s uplands plan:

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 the report also said about the alternatives for 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.”

What the report said about 'rewilding': 

“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.”


What the report said about other land use alternatives for moors and the need for public subsidy to achieve them:

“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 or members. It is challenging to make comparisons between land uses as there are regulatory limitations (eg; for windfarms, forestry and woodland management) and biophysical constraints (eg. to farming, forestry and woodland management, wind energy, housing) on some alternatives, meaning they are only viable or permitted across some of the current grouse moor area.”

Rewilding is currently practiced and funded by large scale landownership, with high estate sell-on values, how does this reconcile with Revive's land reform agenda? 

Economics: The context: Revive say grouse moors represent 0.04 % of the economy. All agricultural land in Scotland (80 percent of the nation's land mass, according to NFUS) represents 1.4% of the economy. 

Given the majority of grouse spend stays in Scotland, (as illustrated in the Scottish Government-commissioned report) circulating around sparsely populated communities with limited other opportunities, grouse moors deliver a disproportionately high impact in these fragile and remote areas. Each estate generates on average £515 000 worth of local trade contracts each and the sector sustains 2500 FTE jobs on some of the poorest land in Europe. There is no public subsidy for grouse shooting.

Other alternatives are heavily reliant on public funding. Environmental charities, whose work is conservation, are presently lobbying for more cash. 



Land area: The SGA considers Revive's estimate of 13 percent of land area for grouse shooting to be over-exaggerated and do not take into account recent lost moors. The SGA has calculated present day land area for grouse shooting as between 7 and 10 percent of upland land. Many estates will also use this land for other purposes such as stalking, fishing, accommodation, livestock, tourism, energy or forestry as part of integrated land usage.


Monday, 2 December 2019

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: THE TRUTH ABOUT MUIRBURN AND WILDFIRE


When it comes to land issues today, it seems a true story is not the one that gets the most coverage. Why let truth get in the way? Everyone can buy into the need to take action on climate change, for example, but some of the criticism of UK farming practices recently has been off the scale. I feel truly sorry for the farming bodies having to correct the many lies. The SGA has direct experience of this, too, as opinions stretch science and reality and campaigns become more and more extreme.

In recent times, some of the criticisms of muirburn have been similarly extreme. It is the case, now, that if people see wildfires in Scotland, the instant reaction is to point the finger at the land manager. "It must be those bloody gamekeepers burning the countryside again." It is then up to bodies like ourselves to try to get to the truth and correct the tidal wave of misinformation. 

We even saw it with elected representatives last year, jumping to conclusions and writing to newspapers before knowing anything about the situation on the ground. This doesn't help anyone though I dare say they maybe felt it personally helped their anti grouse campaign. That is the politics of today, less about fostering understanding. More about getting noticed. No wonder some people switch off. Fortunately, there are still some politicians left who will seek the views of the working practitioners instead of just allying themselves with the next campaign dreamt up in an Edinburgh lobbying office.

With the assistance of the fire service, which we are very grateful for, the SGA asked for an analysis of the service's own data to try to get to the bottom of the main causes of wildfire in our landscape today. That analysis covered 10 years of data.

Was it the case that these fires were all down to 'bloody gamekeepers and crofters scorching the land?'.

Well, actually, no. In fact, 90 + percent of major wildfires, like the ones we saw in Moray and the Flow Country this year, were caused by other factors not related to land management. You can see the information for yourself below.

Is it not the case, though, that a muirburn fire can get away and cause a blaze in our uplands? Of course. As it is with anything that humans are involved in, there will always be a margin of error. However, as the findings show, those carrying out muirburn today are increasingly aware of how fire behaves in our habitats, the knowledge and skills are better, the warning systems are better, the co-ordination with the fire service improves all the time- and so does the equipment estates use and can deploy in times of need.

Scotland benefits from men and women who have knowledge of how fire affects habitats and, as we consider all the tools in the box to protect against the types of wildfires like the Flow Country, which produced more carbon than Scotland did, we will need this knowledge more, not less.

The move to rewilding could be a nightmare in the making if those in charge of it are not making detailed plans to create firebreaks and manage high fuel loads. We have warned people. Only time will tell if anyone is listening.

MUIRBURN NOT A MAIN CAUSE OF WILDFIRE
Nearly 90 percent from ‘other causes’ in last decade.


Managed muirburn has not been a major contributor to wildfires in Scotland in the last decade, according to analysis of the fire service’s own data.
Burning moorland strips to regenerate heather and grass for grouse and sheep is an ancient activity undertaken by gamekeepers and crofters but critics cite it as a potential cause of wildfire.
Although muirburn is governed by strict seasons, controlled fires can sometimes spread, leading to deployment of fire crews.
However, analysis of raw data from 2009 to 2019 has attributed less than 10 percent of Scotland’s large wildfires to controlled muirburn, with the actual figure certain to be lower still.
Nearly 90 percent of large wildfires now stem from other causes which could be anything from campfires to discarded cigarettes and barbecues.
The data runs counter to a 2018 National Trust for Scotland paper, ‘The Relationship Between Prescribed Burning and Wildfires’ which ascribed 60 percent of wildfires to potential muirburn.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) asked the fire service for an evaluation of that report’s main dataset, which was taken from the service’s Incident Reporting System (IRS).
What was discovered was that figures had been skewed by the way data had been accessed from the database and by the way fires themselves are recorded on IRS.
Using additional notes from actual fires, it was found that only 9.3 percent of large wildfires could reasonably be attributed to muirburn since 2009.
Actual figures would be less, though, as ‘potential muirburn’ also contained entries such as bonfires, campsite fires and other controlled fires not related to land management.
SGA Vice Chairman Peter Fraser said: “We asked for the data to be analysed because we thought the 60 percent figure very surprising.
“We also wanted to understand how wildfires were classified under IRS.
“Obviously it has brought clarity. There is a marked difference between 9.3 percent of large wildfires potentially being caused by muirburn and 60 percent. There is a tendency, when people see big fires, to point instantly to muirburn. This data shows the extent of other factors.
“All land holdings have a role in managing fire in our landscape, whether conservation bodies, nature reserves, croft lands, recreation groups or estates.
“It is important the public get reliable information about muirburn, particularly as it has an increasingly important role in reducing fuel loads. High fuel loads can contribute to the types of extensive fires like Moray and the Flow Country this year, which were not caused by muirburn.”
In 2010/2011, 33 of 52 primary wildfires were classified on the IRS database as potentially caused by muirburn, using certain search parameters.
Further investigation, however, found that only 2 appeared to be caused by muirburn.
A fire service spokesman said: “I think where the discrepancies have come in is in the way the data has been recovered from the system. We have been able to further analyse the data and use the notes added by the officer completing the IRS to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of the causes of the wildfires we have attended.”
Earlier this year, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service stated that they are exploring the use of prescribed burning as a tool in the prevention and control of wildfires, through the creation of strategic fire breaks, and fuel management.
Dozens of gamekeepers assisted fire crews at the blazes in Moray and the Flow Country, with specialist equipment and manpower.


  • The wildfire which ravaged the Flow Country peat bogs in May doubled Scotland’s entire CO2 emissions in the 6 days it burned, covering 22 sq miles of protected blanket bog. Over £13m worth of public money has been invested at the site in the last 18 years to restore the Flows.
  • The Moray wildfire (see pic below) started in an area where controlled muirburn had not been permitted for 3 years and had been severely restricted for 10 years, leading to high fuel load.

For more on Muirburn and its impact on peat and the environment, see: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41561-018-0266-6




Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Kenny Wilson - Funeral Arrangements

Please see below the Funeral Arrangements for the Late Kenny Wilson


Kenny’s funeral will be at 10:30 in Biggar Kirk (Parish Church) on Friday 8 November.

Then to the cemetery at Elvanfoot followed by refreshments at the Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: NEWS, THANKS AND FISH FARM CONSULTATION


Dear SGA members. I hope the seasons are going well. I would like to personally thank everyone who responded to our request for information on how they use General Licences. I would also like to thank those who responded to the SNH consultation. The SGA submitted a detailed response on behalf of its members. We hope SNH will now consider the issue carefully before contemplating changes for 2020.

Update on SGA Petition on satellite tags fitted to raptors.

The SGA submitted a Parliamentary petition (PE1750) on 23rd September asking for satellite tags fitted to raptors to be independently monitored. The Petition received 1729 signatures ( 276 offline signatures ). Thanks to all those who responded and posted comments on the Scottish Parliament website. The Petitions Committee considered the petition on 10th October 2019 and has now agreed to refer it to the ECCLR Committee for consideration as part of its ongoing work on wildlife crime. 

If any members have had personal experience of satellite tagging of raptors, or have permitted raptor tagging on their ground and have a view of how the system can be improved, please contact the SGA office on info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

SEPA Aquaculture consultation

SEPA is calling for views on how organic feed load for fish farms should be regulated in order to ensure environmental protection. Materials from pens enter the water and it is SEPA’s duty to ensure any damage to the environment is minimised and measured.


The consultation will close on 27th November.  Please respond. All the details can be found, here: https://consultation.sepa.org.uk/regulatory-services/biomassfeed/






Monday, 7 October 2019

LANGHOLM: FACTS, FIGURES AND WHAT WE'VE LEARNED

Commenting on the results of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: 

“Langholm is not all moors. It is an island moor fringed by forestry. Most successful moors today will join onto others, preventing the combined build up of predators and improving the chances of successful shooting, in years when breeding conditions are favourable. This is achieved through legal predator control by gamekeepers, operating at a much bigger, landscape scale.

“However, Langholm gives valuable insights into the challenges of trying to produce economic return from a moor through shooting which, in turn, finances the land management of gamekeepers which, in turn, maintains globally rare, EU priority habitats, and bolsters globally threatened bird species.

“The possibility of removing some of the predation pressure was discussed during the project, under an adaptive licence, which may have led to a different outcome. However, that was not supported and it was frustration over this which ultimately led to the project’s premature end.

“Despite the investment of over £3m of private and tax payer money, 5 gamekeepers lost their jobs and the reality is that Scotland is left, again, with a failing SPA for Hen Harriers and a silent moor rapidly losing its keystone wildlife and heather habitat. At this critical juncture, with political spotlight on grouse shooting, we now need to ask if this is a wise use of scarce resources.

“Other studies, such as in South West Scotland, have shown a similar undeniable pattern: when grouse moor management is lost or curtailed, we lose endangered wildlife, jobs and community benefit and the combined weight of research must act as a warning to decision makers.

“In order to avoid more ‘lose, lose’ scenarios such as Langholm, agencies need to look more deeply and honestly at adaptive solutions which can help protect the interests of moorland owners and conservation. 

“England currently leads, with projects such as the Hen Harrier brood management scheme. Hopefully Scotland can look at Langholm, other studies and other potential tools, and grasp the nettle to avoid similar situations in future.”


What the report said: 

Question: Would lowering the expected ‘grouse bag’ not provide an economic solution?

Answer: “Setting a lower grouse bag target would not have altered this outcome
for two reasons. First, after allowing for an average annual loss of grouse to other causes, the number of grouse able to be shot without stopping grouse population growth was limited. Shooting a bag likely to generate enough revenue to sensibly contribute toward the management costs would certainly have been unsustainable. For example, 100 brace of grouse would need to cost £150,000, or £750 per bird (over ten times an average 2019 market price) to cover 50% of the annual management cost. Secondly the target of 1000 brace shot in a year during the project was itself only just enough to attract contemporary investors who balance increasingly high risk and uncertain rewards in game management.”

Question: Would diversionary feeding not provide the key to success?

Answer: “Restoration of grouse moor management, in combination with diversionary feeding of harriers, has not yet resulted in a sufficiently increased grouse density to allow driven shooting on Langholm Moor, and thus the management to be considered economically viable.”
AND: 
“Diversionary food influenced hen harrier nestling diet and reduced the number of red grouse chicks taken relative to modelled predictions. Such feeding may help reduce conflict between hen harrier conservation and red grouse shooting, but only if overall grouse productivity is thereby maintained or increased.”
Question: Is Langholm moor the same as every other grouse moor or are challenges more specific?
Answer: “On Langholm Moor, afforestation in the surrounding landscape and isolation from other heather moors may have led to a grouse population less well buffered against growing predation pressure, especially outside keepered periods. As grouse shooting could not be restored, the future management of the moor remains uncertain.” 
Question: Could better habitat not have improved grouse success?
Answer: “Despite diversionary feeding and the keepers’ predator control, the key losses of grouse still appeared to be to predators with adverse weather for chicks possibly playing a role in some years. Some 93% of grouse carcasses found showed signs of predation or scavenging (82% raptor, 8% mammal, 3% unknown predator, 7% other) and raptors were associated with 35% of grouse nesting failures. While several factors may influence these rates and their interpretation, the evidence available suggested that mortality associated with raptor signs was the most important factor determining adult survival and was closely linked, possibly alongside weather, to low rates of chick survival. 
“Habitat is important for ensuring there is the opportunity for the grouse population to expand, but as the project analysis indicated, habitat restoration alone does not improve survival or breeding success so may be insufficient to increase a population that has become constrained by high mortality associated with predation.”

Langholm, some numbers: 


  • In order to reach a financial break-even, Langholm Moor would have had to be able to shoot 3000 brace of grouse. The project target was set much more modestly at 1000 brace.
  • In 2014, 47 Hen Harrier chicks were successfully fledged from 10 nests, with none lost to predation.
  • In 2018 (after gamekeepers were removed), 3 Harrier chicks were fledged, 2 nests were predated by foxes and one nest was disturbed.
  • When gamekeepers were operating on the moor, the numbers of black grouse rose from 5 lekking males to 18.

  • When gamekeepers were operating, the moor had double figure Merlin nests. In 2018, after the gamekeepers were removed, only 1 of 9 Merlin nests hatched young, with all other nests predated. The one successful nest was in a tree.
What Head Gamekeeper Simon Lester said of the lessons of Langholm, when it comes to offering future solutions regarding the red grouse/raptor conflict.
“If a proper (species control) licensing system was in place, I believe you could almost eradicate raptor persecution. If there was more scope to manage problems legally, people would get more used to living with raptors.”
Bryan Burrows, a former grouse keeper and the SGA representative on the Langholm project steering group lives 1.5 miles from the moor. He still visits the moor regularly.
“People should see the moor now. There is little wildlife and it will get worse. When the 5 gamekeepers were on it, they did well to get the heather back because it had receded that badly. Now, since they’ve gone, there is heather beetle back on it again. There were 82 buzzards in the area when the moor was keepered. Now, when you walk, you see the odd 1 or 2. The Merlin nests have failed because of ground predation. Away from keepered areas, there are large chunks of Scotland like this now. It is actually a disgrace what has happened. It will be interesting to see if the Harriers even come back next year. When the project was running, you got the occasional party out looking at the Harriers but usually it was 4 or 5 cars parked up, containing the same people. They didn’t have to pay to do it, so I don’t know how much money can be made from tourism when Access laws make it free anyway, and there is nothing to see.”