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, Protectionsand 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