Tuesday, 30 July 2019

SGA FISHING GROUP MEETING MINUTES


The SGA Fishing group met at the SGA offices in Perth on 11/07/19

The meeting was informed that the SGA would assign and finance a worker for 4 hours per week, initially, with the aspiration that the group would continue to grow organically and become more self financing in time through membership subscriptions. 

The meeting welcomed the decision by Mowi to relocate one of its farms in Loch Maree but noted with concern the escape of large numbers of rainbow trout in Loch Awe. It was felt that it was important to maintain pressure on SEPA over pollution issues.

The group asked for some research to be undertaken into the current licensing arrangements for salmon farms in Scotland and to compare them to the ‘colour coding’ system used in Norway for potential salmon farm sites.

The group agreed to investigate the economic effect of declines in Salmon fishing with a view to using it as evidence to challenge decision makers. The group will also review progress with the recommendations of the REC committee report.

The group will look at how to engage with and support the Scottish Angling National Development Strategy.

It was agreed that while the group recognised the employment generated by salmon farming in remote rural areas, there was a necessity to focus on shaping the future. The idea of an SGA fishing group manifesto for salmon farming was discussed.

An article is being prepared for Shooting Scotland with a further one on the economic impacts of lost salmon on local communities and businesses being undertaken for the next edition of Scottish Gamekeeper. 

*Due to staff holidays, we apologise for the meeting minute not appearing immediately after the proceedings. SGA Fishing Group members will be notified of the next meeting in the coming weeks.







RONNIE ROSE AWARD 2019 TO BE PRESENTED AT MOY


The SGA welcomes all members and supporters to the presentation of the 2019 Ronnie Rose Award which will take place at 11am in the SGA stand at Moy Highland Fieldsports Fair on Friday August 2nd, 2019.
This is a major event in the organisation's annual calendar and it will be great to see as many well kent faces as possible for the trophy hand-over.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg will present the award, which was inaugurated by the SGA in 2015, in memory of the late Ronnie Rose MBE.
The award recognises lasting contributions to conservation, habitat, species management or rural education on river, low ground, hill or forest.

About Ronnie Rose: 

Ronnie Rose MBE was a central figure in the SGA’s development, an acclaimed author, forester, and wildlife manager.
His pioneering principles of forest design, which viewed wildlife as an asset, saw him oversee a 300 percent increase in bird species in the forests of Eskdalemuir.
It is in his memory that this annual award is presented, at Moy Highland Field Sports Fair. 
In a 50 year career, Ronnie Rose, whose father and grandfather were both Balmoral Head Stalkers, received many conservation accolades including the Balfour Brown Trophy for Humane and Sustainable Management of Deer.
He helped establish the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Loch Lomond and his pioneering work for Economic Forestry Group Scotland at Eskdalemuir is a permanent legacy to his stewardship.
At neighbouring Blackhouse Forest, his management saw lekking blackcock rise by over 50 percent at a time of spiralling national decline.
His book, Working with Nature: The Conservation and Management of Scottish Wildlife is still widely read and appreciated today.

The 2018 award presentation.



Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Critical update to permanent rodenticide baiting conditions

Critical update to permanent rodenticide baiting conditions
Conditions under which permanent baiting with rodenticide is allowed have been updated by the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use UK to cover a critical difference between outdoor and indoor locations.
In both situations, CRRU chairman Dr Alan Buckle emphasises that the fundamental requirement remains for a professional rodenticide user responsible for the site to identify and document 'a high potential for reinvasion where other methods have proved insufficient'.
The updated ruling applies to indoor locations only, where permanent baiting is usually more likely against reinfestation by mice than rats. It specifies that the frequency of routine inspections and re-visits when target pest presence is indicated are a matter for the pest control technician in charge of the control programme.
Dr Buckle says this update comes about in response to feedback from professional pest controllers at a British Pest Control Association (BPCA) forum.
Unchanged is that permanent outdoor bait points loaded with rodenticide continue to require re-inspection at least every four weeks. Permanent baiting in any location is permitted only using products with labels stating specifically such use.
Full details are available in 'CRRU Guidance: Permanent Baiting, revised July 2019', downloadable from thinkwildlife.org/downloads/

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

BLOG: WHERE HAVE ALL THE BIRDS GONE?


Remember Berwyn? 

Well, it seems Scotland has suffered similar declines in ground-nesting moorland birds, as was witnessed in Wales. 

Again, these declines can be associated with the loss of management for red grouse.

People were rightly horrified- and governments took notice- when the full extent of species decline became apparent at Berwyn SPA. 

When driven grouse shooting ceased and gamekeepers left the moors, Lapwing became regionally extinct, there was a 90 percent loss of Golden Plover and a 79 percent reduction in Curlew.

This occurred between two study periods (1983-85 and 2002). 

Berwyn was held up as an example of what happens when grouse moor management ceases and gamekeeping stops.

Governments woke up and, now, UK and EU funding has been made available for moorland restoration work.

A new research paper by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, funded by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land and Estates, has found similar alarming trends in the South West of Scotland.

This is an area where management for red grouse previously took place but no longer happens.

Using existing datasets from BTO surveys, RSPB and Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, plus some new fieldwork, the research paper identified some insightful - and deeply worrying - trends.

The research looked at the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA in the South of Scotland.

Moorland transect surveys at Muirkirk and Garpel covering 2 periods, 1994 and 2009/2017,  (when gamekeepers managed the moors for red grouse and when they did not) showed a decline in Curlew abundance of 38 percent, associated with the cessation of grouse shooting at Muirkirk.

Golden Plover (a species for which the SPA still applies) and Redshank were no longer found at Muirkirk after gamekeepers were off the moor. 

Lapwing and Snipe observations halved from the time keepers were there and when they were not. 

At Garpel, repeat surveys, after the gamekeepers left, failed to find any Waders at all. 
Garpel was previously described as one of the most favourable sites in Britain for Golden Plover.

Upland Bird Surveys at Muirkirk, from the early 80s to 2015 showed an 84 percent decline in Golden Plover, an 88 percent decline in Lapwing and a 61 percent decline in Curlew.
“Thus waders and harriers declined in parallel with those of red grouse once levels of moorland management by gamekeepers had been reduced,” observed the report’s authors.

The research also looked at the Langholm- Newcastleton Hills SPA.

This is where grouse moor management took place in two phases as part of a multi-party project attempting to resolve conflicts between grouse management and raptors.

When gamekeepers were on the moors, Hen Harriers peaked at 20 breeding females in 1997. After the gamekeepers were removed in 2000, the breeding Harriers plummeted by 61 percent.

When the gamekeepers went back on the moor again in 2008, 12 breeding female Harriers were recorded in 2014 before the project was wound up. No Harrier chicks were lost to predation during the entire second phase of the Langholm Moor Demonstration project, when gamekeepers were on the moor.

Similarly, when it was being managed for grouse, the Langholm-Newcastleton Hills SPA boasted Hen Harrier breeding success more than twice that of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA or Glen App and Galloway Hills SPA (both designated for Harriers and where no grouse management takes place).

Grouse moor management is criticised by campaigners who say the moors are ‘burnt and barren deserts’ which are only home to grouse.

This research shows the opposite to be true. 

If you are a gamekeeper, take pride in what you deliver. Show your MSPs this work.














Court case: Scottish Borders.


A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA does not condone any form of wildlife crime. We have a strict policy regarding this. The organisation will make a full response when the legal process has run its course.”

Monday, 22 July 2019

NEW STUDY: HUGE DECLINES IN BIRDS WHEN GROUSE MANAGEMENT ENDS


Ending grouse moor management risks declines - and possible local extinctions - of a range of ground-nesting bird species, a new study has revealed.
Published today by Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the new research looks at the impact of stopping grouse management on wader species in the south west of Scotland.

Its conclusions are drawn from studies in two Special Protection Areas, Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands and Langholm/Newcastleton Hills (which will shortly be the subject of a report from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project). A Special Protection Area (SPA) is a designation under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. Under the Directive, member states have a duty to safeguard the habitats of migratory birds and certain particularly threatened bird species.

Among the key findings in the report are:-

  • Red grouse bags have declined, with 42% of 31 moors now no longer shooting red grouse.
  • Increases in the numbers of hen harriers during the keepered phase of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project contrasted with a collective decline in other SPAs in south west Scotland where there was almost no grouse keepering
  • The numbers of black grouse attending leks declined by 80% during an approximate 15-year period from the early 1990s onwards. However, twice as many lekking males found where gamekeepers were employed to provide driven grouse shooting.
  • In Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands, where keeping has sharply declined, an 84% drop in golden plover population, 88% drop in lapwing and 61% drop in curlew.

The research mirrors an equivalent study carried out in north Wales which examined the end of grouse moor management within the Berwyn SPA. That research showed a local extinction of lapwing, 90% loss of golden plover and a 79% reduction in curlew between 1983-5 and 2002 (Warren & Baines 2014). Over the same period, substantial increases in carrion crows, ravens and buzzards were noted. 

Dr Si├ón Whitehead, lead author of the newly published report, said: “The declines in moorland birds may be attributed to changes in land-use, including afforestation and agricultural intensification or abandonment, as well as a decline in the extent of grouse moor management. The impact of the latter is clearly illustrated in both case studies, in which significant drops in ground-nesting moorland birds happened in tandem with evident declines in levels of keepering. 

“The findings demonstrate that existing funding schemes for managing moorland birds at an appropriate scale are clearly not working. Urgent implementation of measures, which include both habitat management and predator control at an appropriate scale and intensity are needed to prevent further declines, and possible local or regional extinctions, of ground-nesting moorland bird species.”

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said:  “There are some who suggest grouse moors only support grouse and nothing else. This is proof that this notion is not only incorrect, the opposite is true. Where gamekeepers are not managing moorland, we are witnessing the tragic loss of globally threatened species. When calls are being made for grouse shooting to be restricted, everyone needs to think carefully about the species declines that would occur across the rest of Scotland; declines which have evidently already taken place in the south west.”

Tim Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Few other land uses provide the outstanding biodiversity benefits that grouse moor management does. From curlew to black grouse to hen harriers, all see population declines where keepering is withdrawn. The exceptional land management is paid for privately by grouse shooting and where huge bird declines have occurred in south west Scotland, we would like to see Government support  the return of red grouse management which would help to fulfil its obligations to rare and threatened species.” 

Further Notes:
Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA
Moorland transect surveys at Muirkirk and Garpel covering 2 periods ( 1994 and 2009/2017) - when gamekeepers managed the moors for red grouse and when they did not- showed a decline in Curlew abundance of 38 percent, associated with the cessation of grouse shooting at Muirkirk.
Golden Plover (a species for which the SPA status still applies) and Redshank were no longer found at Muirkirk after gamekeepers were off the moor. Lapwing and Snipe observations halved from the time keepers were there and when they were not. 
At Garpel, repeat surveys after gamekeepers left, failed to find any Waders at all. Garpel was previously described as one of the most favourable sites in Britain for Golden Plover.
Upland Bird Surveys at Muirkirk, from the early 80s to 2015 showed an 84 percent decline in Golden Plover, an 88 percent decline in Lapwing and a 61 percent decline in Curlew.
“Thus waders and harriers declined in parallel with those of red grouse once levels of moorland management by gamekeepers had been reduced.”

Langholm-Newcastleton Hills SPA 

On Langholm Moor where grouse moor management took place in two phases, Hen Harriers peaked at 20 breeding females in 1997. After the gamekeepers were removed in 2000, the breeding Harriers dropped by 61 percent. When the gamekeepers went back on the moor again in 2008, breeding female Harriers increased again to 12 in 2014 before the project was wound up. 
No Harrier chicks were lost to predation during the second phase of the Langholm Moor Demonstration project although they were seen on nest camera being predated again after keepering stopped for the second time. 
When it was being managed for grouse, the Langholm-Newcastleton Hills SPA boasted Hen Harrier breeding success more than twice that of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA or Glen App and Galloway Hills SPAs (both designated for Hen Harriers), where no grouse management occurs.

*The study was funded by The Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Land and Estates.

The Berwyn report is on https://www.gwct.org.uk/wales/research/bird-populations-on-the-berwyn-special-protection-area/ 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

GENERAL LICENCE CONSULTATION NOW OPEN- PLEASE RESPOND.

The General Licence challenge in England caused widespread chaos for land managers.
SNH today announced details of its General Licence consultation. Please see the full SNH press release, below, along with the survey link to fill in. As you will know, the General Licences are critical to most members' operations, and it is vital these are retained as practical, workable tools.
The SGA urges all members who use General Licences to respond to this consultation, particularly following the disastrous situation in England which left land businesses struggling to protect stock, crops and wildlife at a critical time. There is still a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with new licences in England and it is important that we get this right in Scotland. Please see details, below.


Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced it will launch a 12-week consultation about wild birds today (July 17th)
The consultation covers circumstances when wild birds can be controlled under General Licence. All wild birds are protected by law. But in some circumstances, SNH allows wild birds to be controlled – for example, to prevent serious damage to crops, protect public health, and ensure air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths. 
Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of Wildlife Management, said:
“Our role is to help wild birds thrive, but we must balance this with making sure the public is safe from health and safety risks, as well as ensuring that farmers can protect their crops.
“We have brought forward our planned consultation in light of the ongoing legal challenges in England. We want to ensure that our licences take into account the implications of those challenges and remain clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose.
“The consultation, along with our ongoing work, will provide us with valuable feedback - this will allow us to consider if we need to make changes to the current set of licenses for 2020.”

General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. General Licences must strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.
SNH is looking for feedback specifically on the three most commonly used General Licences: those covering conserving wild birds, preventing damage to agricultural interests, and protecting public health and safety.
Robbie added:
“We would like to reassure those who are currently operating under the current 2019 General Licences in Scotland that these remain in place, allowing those who comply with the conditions to continue to use them.”
The consultation documents are available at https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/2019GL/

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: LEADHILLS QUESTIONS


On Monday the SGA condemned the actions of anyone setting an illegal trap to catch a bird of prey. This was in the wake of reports which emerged regarding a Hen Harrier being found in a trap at Leadhills.
This should always be the reaction of everyone in our industry when we hear of such things. It is so, within the SGA Committee and our membership and we await further news.
As is normal, we know very little about this case but we hope the Police will have full co-operation from everyone as they seek to get to the bottom of things.
Leadhills Estate has made its own statement saying that it reported interference with traps by third parties to Police on the same day. Everyone in our industry knows this type of activity on estates is now rife.
This is a criminal offence and, while this does not deter those who are out there to cause trouble, it makes things very, very difficult for Police. We have always been told that, if you suspect a wildlife crime in the countryside, leave everything as it is. Take photographs but don’t touch anything. This is obviously because this is evidence at a potential crime scene which could potentially lead to prosecution. When this is done, you call the Police.
While it is not unreasonable to expect SPPCA to remove the bird, in this instance, as- according to reports- it was in distress, it beggars belief why people are not reporting such incidents to Police in the first instance. Ultimately, all crime evidence was removed from the scene, members of various organisations with clear campaign objectives all turn up and the evidence is then photographed in the hands of RSPB’s Chris Packham.
I have sympathy for Police trying to do their job, with so much at stake for everyone and little evidential trail left.
What is also clear from the photos of the second trap allegedly left on a nest with eggs is that this trap is not set and would, therefore, have been unable to catch anything. Why would it be there?
Those involved in filming that will know that, too, but continued with their narrative regardless. It is highly unlikely a Police Officer at a crime scene would do that, then broadcast it, as it would be regarded as important evidence in a live investigation.
Whether by good intentions or other, organisations have been given powers within investigations which- deployed in certain ways- now seem to outdo those of the Police trying to investigate them. That observation is not specific to this case, only.
This is highly worrying and, like any form of persecution, must be tackled. 
I, like others, want to know the truth. Only by knowing the truth can proportionate action be taken by Police, decision makers and representative bodies. If this type of thing continues, it seems highly likely we are not going to get it. We have said for years, if you resource and train the Police, there is no need for outside charities in wildlife crime cases.

Please help Police with any information regarding this incident. Despite Monday’s press headlines, this remains a live investigation.

Alex Hogg. Chairman. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

STATEMENT: HEN HARRIER

The statement below was released to the media yesterday (July 15th) regarding reports of a Hen Harrier caught in a trap in South Lanarkshire.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: "Setting a trap illegally to catch a bird of prey is simply not acceptable. The SGA wholeheartedly condemns the actions of whoever has perpetrated this crime and hope the Police can gather evidence to enable the courts to do their job.

"Scottish Government, working with Police Scotland, have powers under present legislation to deal with crimes such as this.”

Sunday, 7 July 2019

MEET OUR AWARD WINNERS, 2019.


A youngster earmarked as a potential future golfer was named Scotland’s Young Gamekeeper of the Year 2019 on Friday at the GWCT Scottish Game Fair in Scone Parklands.
Ciaran Woodman-Robinson (22) grew up in Worcestershire with no background in gamekeeping, spending hours caddying for his dad, PGA Golf Professional, Noel Woodman.
However, after becoming hooked on gamekeeping after helping a club greenkeeper with squirrel and deer control, Ciaran opted to follow his new vocation.
Yesterday, his determination and maturity was recognised as he was crowned Scotland’s best young gamekeeper, after narrowly missing out the year before.
The accolade is one of the most prestigious in the profession and is awarded by Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) judges, in recognition of beneficial management and ambassadorial aptitude.
Ciaran was drafted in at Edradynate Estate, Perthshire, in 2017 as part of a completely new management approach and team, headed up by new Head Gamekeeper, Ian Smith.
Since then the gamekeeping staff have made significant positive changes, leading to the satisfaction of sporting customers and a much improved net benefit for wildlife.
“There has been a big and recognisable change at the estate,” said Ciaran, who was so determined to succeed in his new calling that he told a former Head Gamekeeper he would work for free.
“We have been planting trees, game cover and wild bird mixes and working closely with the farming side, improving things. We have a lot of songbirds here, there are a lot more lapwing and curlew in different areas and we are starting to do a little controlled burning now on the hill as well.
“With the game cover and wild bird mixes, we have much more birdlife in total.
“It is lovely to see them. The land management and predator control on the shooting side of the operation helps all the other things, too.”
According to his first Head Gamekeeper, Ciaran first arrived in Scotland on a voluntary 3 week placement with ‘2 or 3 sets of clothes, a clapped-out car and a couple of Pot Noodles’.
However, after proving himself, he refused to leave and has been in Scotland ever since.
“I think, because I did not come from a gamekeeping background, it made me determined to prove myself and to make an impression,” said the youngster, who has been given a high level of responsibility within the new approach at Edradynate.
Also receiving Long Service Awards from the SGA for 40 years or more of un-broken service to the profession were Ronnie Francis Grigor, who worked 50 years in the industry after leaving school at 15.
Gordon Mullen, who retired in 2016, Len Dey - who works at Stair Estates - and Bryan Burrows, who now has a role with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, were all recipients.
However, the biggest surprise of the day was for The SGA’s own Chairman, Alex Hogg, who was secretly nominated by his family for 45 years and counting as a gamekeeper.
He said: “It was a complete and utter shock but, like all the recipients, a real honour,” said the Borders gamekeeper, who started out at Kelburn Estate in 1974. “My wife Caroline and daughter Kirsty even made an excuse to come to the Fair without me knowing about it. It’s been a great day. Every one of these individuals should feel proud of what they have given back to Scotland’s countryside.”






Wednesday, 3 July 2019

BLOG- EVIDENCE: DOES ANYONE CARE ANY MORE?


The SGA office was yesterday inundated with individuals angered by the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show where RSPB Vice President Chris Packham was given privileged air time to espouse views on grouse moors. This blog, entitled: Evidence: Does anyone care any more? is a response to them and an acknowledgement of the depth of their feeling.
The RSPB Vice President unsuccessfully petitioned the Westminster Parliament for grouse shooting to be banned in England. https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/125003
He actively lobbies Scottish Ministers to try to force legislation against the sector in Scotland.
Whilst campaigning is a legitimate right in a democratic society, which deserves to be preserved, there is a need to be aware of the tools being deployed at a time when Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse shooting, authored by Professor Werritty, is due to be published. Everyone who this review will affect, directly or indirectly, is aware that this is a highly sensitive time, politically.
On Monday, the SGA questioned why two publicity videos featuring the RSPB Vice President, regarding Fred the Golden Eagle ( a satellite tagged bird which disappeared from the Pentlands last year) appeared to be shot on the same day, during a live Police investigation. The films insinuated that the disappearance of the bird was down to a grouse moor.
A Freedom of Information request to the Police by the SGA revealed that Police Scotland investigators had not received all the vital evidence from the bird’s satellite tag, from Chris Packham and Dr Ruth Tingay, at the time those publicity films appear to have been made.
There are mixtures of emotions for everyone at news of unexplained disappearances of any bird. This is understandable. However, these apparent anomalies during investigations- which could potentially lead to criminal proceedings- are deserving of scrutiny at government level. Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham herself was drawn into the filming process and was interviewed in the first film, perhaps rightly seeing it as an opportunity to condemn raptor persecution in Scotland in general.
Whether she knew the full picture about all the tag data, at that point of agreeing to the interview, is not known. Police Scotland is yet to establish criminality in that case.
Yesterday, Mr Packham used radio airtime to make statements which many SGA members found lacked substantiation. There is now a real concern, amongst a whole sector and community who feel condemned without evidence, that the shaping of public opinion on the basis of misrepresentation will be used as vehicle to drive political change, regardless of the research presented to Scottish Government in their commissioned review.

Some of the comments which most angered members was the RSPB Vice President’s allegation that the only species you see on a grouse moor is grouse and that all predators are ‘exterminated’ (amounting to a serious allegation that everything which predates grouse is killed either legally, under license, or through illegality).

One member who listened to the programme, sent on the following information from a driven grouse moor in Inverness-shire. It came from BTO and showed the sampling of two random sq km plots, chosen by BTO, on the estate he manages. The plots were analysed as part of the Spring 2019 Breeding Bird Survey.

Feedback on Breeding Bird Survey
Map of transects provided by BTO.  Outbound transect (1-5) slightly altered to follow quad track / swipes to reduce disturbance to any grouse broods on second visit.
Number of each species recorded (in alphabetical order)



This perhaps illustrates the point better than anything else. These are the facts and, in making his comments yesterday on the Jeremy Vine programme that grouse moors are only for grouse, Chris Packham lied. He also knowingly lied in an attempt to swing public opinion. 
Chris Packham may be a respected wildlife presenter. Good luck to him in that. He is also calculated in his attempts to manipulate public opinion. On behalf of all SGA members who were angered at his comments and his continued attack on their professional integrity and honesty, we hope Scottish politicians will consider evidence in policy making, whenever the Werritty Report is published, and will leave campaigns at the door.













Monday, 1 July 2019

STATEMENT: MISSING EAGLES, PERTHSHIRE


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has issued the following statement regarding the story of two missing Eagles in Perthshire, which was released today.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Where there is evidence wildlife crime has taken place, the SGA acts and acts robustly, as we have done on 7 occasions in the past 7 years by expelling members who have committed wildlife crime offences. We have a very strict policy regarding this.
"We have been heartened by record low wildlife crime rates in Scotland, according to Scottish Government’s own official statistics, but we have concerns regarding missing satellite tagged birds which are being monitored by non-independent agencies.
"There is a need for everyone to better understand the discrepancy between independent figures verified by Police Scotland and Government agencies, showing a clear and consistent pattern of declining raptor crime in Scotland, and cases which are brought by outside bodies on the back of missing satellite tags. 
"Some of these outside bodies have both an investigative and a campaigning role which we feel can blur the line between seeking prosecutions and seeking publicity for campaigns, such as the present campaign to legislate or ban grouse shooting.
"That is why The Scottish Gamekeepers Association intends to petition Parliament so these tags can be monitored independently, giving Police Scotland, Scottish Government and the Scottish public greater openness and understanding of what is going on.
"We understand, despite extensive and thorough searches by the Police, that no evidence of a wildlife crime was discovered on the land in question.”

Ends.

For more on the SGA petition and the reasons behind it, see: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2019/07/sga-to-petition-parliament-on-satellite.html

  • The Scottish Gamekeepers Association lodged the Petition wording with Petitions clerks at Holyrood on Monday June 24th 2019.

SGA TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS

GAMEKEEPERS TO PETITION PARLIAMENT ON SATELLITE TAGS
'Fred the Eagle case showed current failings'

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to launch a Parliamentary petition calling for independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to birds of prey.
Greater accountability, they feel, could assist Police in prosecuting potential wildlife crime and provide a more transparent record of raptor persecution.
Presently, Police must obtain satellite tag data from owners or third parties before commencing investigations if a tag stops signalling.
The SGA feel the potential for bringing cases to court are currently minimal, with tag reliability, type and functionality amongst many limiting factors.
The SGA also feels the legal process can be obscured, with some tag owners publishing interpretations of events to advance campaign objectives to legislate or ban certain activities.
Ownership of tag data has enabled campaigners to present versions of evidence for publicity, even in instances where Police investigators have not been able to establish criminality.
“Accountability and transparency has to be the objective,” said SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg.
“Despite media accusation and trials, no cases of missing satellite tags have ever had the evidential rigour to go to court. If Police had the oversight on the data and the independent expertise to analyse it, there is greater potential for prosecution. Police themselves admitted in Parliament recently that establishing criminality in satellite tag cases is difficult.”
The SGA points to the case of ‘Fred the Eagle’ as evidence of a need for review.
A tag fitted to an eagle as part of a collaboration between Raptor Persecution UK and Chris Packham, lost signal in January 2018 in the Pentlands only to signal days later in the North Sea.
In presenting the collaboration’s interpretation of events, in two videos on his YouTube site, BBC naturalist Packham insinuated that the suspicious disappearance of Fred was likely to have been the work of a grouse moor.
The story generated global attention, with questions asked of the First Minister but, despite thinly veiled public accusations towards a local moor, Police Scotland have not yet established criminality.
Furthermore, SGA legal advisers have shown Police the 2 YouTube videos which, despite being released weeks apart (15th Feb and 22nd March), raise questions about the timeline of data being handed to Police for investigation.
The first film shows Packham in a wood and also features interviews with RSPB Investigator Ian Thomson and Environment Minister, Roseanna Cunningham.
In the second film, Packham claims ‘new evidence’, from the tag, previously unavailable, gives more information about Fred’s disappearance.
In that film, although released weeks later, the same snow patterns are clearly visible on the ground as well as clothing, background and papers.
According to the SGA, this indicates the second video was likely to have been filmed on the same day (before the 15th Feb release date of the first film) and weeks before Dr Ruth Tingay of Raptor Persecution UK and Packham had delivered Police Scotland the new tag information.
An FOI from Police, obtained by the SGA, showed that Police did not receive that new information until 1st March.
“Although the second video was not released until 22nd March, this is an indication of how this data can be held for publicity," added Mr Hogg. "During a live investigation, campaigners were making films, referring to new information, yet that tag data was not- at that point- in the hands of Police. 
“What it looks like is a strategy to gather footage in order to drip-feed a narrative interpretation which Police have, even now, not been able to substantiate. It is highly worrying that a Holyrood Environment Minister was drawn into this, too.
“If tags were independently monitored, scenarios like this would simply not occur. Evidence would replace speculation.”

FURTHER NOTES:


  • The Scottish Gamekeepers Association lodged the Petition wording with Petitions clerks at Holyrood on Monday June 24th 2019.
  • Police Scotland have themselves admitted that investigating crimes where satellite tags are involved is problematic. Addressing members of the ECCLR Committee on March 12th 2019, Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren (Police Scotland), said, in answer to a question from member John Scott who asked if the tags were 100 percent reliable: “There is still a margin of failure. Some tags are out in the extremes for a long time, they have issues and they fail…From an investigator’s point of view, it is often difficult to hang your hat on a tag’s disappearance definitely being the result of persecution. There is no doubt that that will be the case on some occasions, but differentiating between tag failure and persecution is a real challenge.” He added: “In the past six months to a year, there have been instances of birds seeming to disappear then to reappear due to issues with the tags. That is always a challenge for us.”
  • Some groups/individuals owning tags and interpreting the data from them, have clear campaigning objectives. At the launch of the group, Revive, The Coalition for Grouse Moor Reform in Edinburgh in November 2018, Chris Packham told attendees: “One can only hope, when the Werritty report comes in (Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse shooting) that we will be moving towards licensing or a ban. You see, Mark Avery (former RSPB Director) and I, and others, have been asking for a ban for some time…”
  • When the tag fitted to Fred the Golden Eagle stopped signalling, Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham could have gone first to Police Scotland. Instead they went to RSPB Head of Investigations Ian Thomson. RSPB also want grouse moors licensed and officially supported the parliamentary petition for the introduction of game shoot licensing. See: https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615 If tags were independently monitored for the Police, the influence of campaigners would no longer be a factor. All data would be in the hands of Police instantly and they could then choose when, or if, to release public information during the course of a live investigation. RSPB currently have a dual role of investigation and campaigning which raises questions about conflict of interest.
Image 1: Screenshot from the first Fred the Eagle film, released on Feb 15th 2018. See film, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blncTG68qs0


Image 2: Screenshot from the second Fred the Eagle film, released on March 22nd 2018. See film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz7sqe-QuTU
Note the same snow patterns on ground and frost on fallen timber, same jacket worn by presenter. If the second film, claiming ‘new evidence’ from the satellite tag, was made on the same day (pre-Feb 15th, as these images would suggest), Police Scotland had not received that satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham, as the SGA Freedom of Information request shows.


Image 3: Freedom of Information response showing Police received the new satellite tag data from Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham on 1st March 2018, weeks after the second video talking about ‘new evidence’ was made. 








Image 4 (above) Screenshot of Police Scotland statement regarding Fred the Eagle. The Police had not established criminality at the time of the release of the first film in which insinuations were made that the bird’s disappearance was likely to have been the responsibility of a grouse moor. Police Scotland is still to establish criminality in the case of Fred the Eagle.



Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham was interviewed as part of the first film. If those interviewing the Minister knew about 'new data' at that time, they had not given that data to Police Scotland and the investigation was still 'live'.