Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Update on Coronavirus Restrictions From 20th November 2020

Following yesterday's announcement from the First Minister regarding Scottish Government guidance regarding non-essential travel which will become Law on Friday 20th November 2020.

What does this mean for our members?

As of Friday 20th November People living in Tier 3 or Tier 4 areas MUST NOT travel out of their local authority area, except for certain essential purposes. (to check your tier please use the following link Also , people living elsewhere in Scotland MUST NOT travel into Tier 3 or Tier 4 areas, except for essential purposes.

Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK

Restrictions and advice on what you can do and where you can travel are also in place within England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The current Scottish Government guidance, given the state of the epidemic across the UK is that people avoid any unnecessary travel between Scotland and England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

This applies to people who live in Scotland and to people who live elsewhere in the UK who are thinking of coming to Scotland.

This may change as the virus spreads or is suppressed in different areas, and as the rules and guidance in place there change. Please check the Scottish Government website before starting any journey. 

If you have to travel for essential purposes, follow the guidance on travelling safely which can be found via the following link

Recreational shooting activities including target shooting, game shooting, deer stalking and wildfowling would NOT be an essential purpose for travel.

Shooting related work such as beating and picking-up on shoot days; essential bird and mammal pest control to protect crops or livestock would be an essential purpose to travel.  Pest control activities would be as follows Shooting or trapping of pest bird species under general licence, management of rodents and rabbits; deer management as part of a plan agreed with and requested by the landowner. Also game management or gamekeeping activities such as looking after game birds, habitat management and pest/predator control.

Members in Tier 4 need to be aware of the following change.

As of Friday 20th November shooting will No longer be exempt from socialising restrictions in Tier 4 areas.  This means that shooting activities may only take place with up to a maximum of 6 people from no more than 2 house holds.

For Tiers 1, 2 and 3

In Tier 1, 2 and 3 multi-person shoots will be able to continue providing they follow the Covid-19 guidance framework for country sports

However, persons living in Tier 3 areas will not be permitted to travel to other Tier areas for any purpose other than essential purposes, which does not include organised shooting sports.

Persons from Tiers 1 and 2 areas will be able to travel to other Tier 1 and 2 areas, including travelling through Tier 3 or 4 areas to get to their destination.

We will be updating this guidance as and when we get new information from the Scottish Government so please keep an eye on the website and social media site for updated information.

Should our members have any other queries  or require a Risk Assessment Template please do not hesitate to contact the office and they will endeavour to assist you.







Today the Scottish Green Party instigated a motion at Scottish Parliament, asking that the Parliament declare a Nature Emergency.

As part of this, The Scottish Green Party want an end to driven grouse moor management.

What would this actually look like?

There are living, real life, examples.

Consider key findings from the report: Changes in the Abundance of Some Ground-Nesting Birds on moorland in South West Scotland (1)

What did it show on Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPA, after driven grouse moor management ceased?

Moorland transect surveys at Muirkirk and Garpel covering 2 periods ( 1994 and 2009/2017)- when gamekeepers managed the moors 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.

In 2015 SNH classified the SPA's Golden Plover population as Unfavourable Declining. Hen Harrier (another principal reason for the SPA designation), and over-wintering Hen Harrier, were both classed as Unfavourable Declining. Merlin and Peregrine (two other species for which the area was designated) were classified as Unfavourable. Given that the stated objectives for the site are to maintain the populations of designated species as a vital component of the site, present solutions are palpably failing. It is only the short eared owl populations which have been maintained.

This mirrors what happened in Wales, in the Berwyn (SPA). When driven grouse shooting ceased, Lapwing became regionally extinct, there was a 90 percent loss of Golden Plover and a 79 percent reduction in Curlew, between two study periods of 1983-85 and 2002. Berwyn has been held up as an example of what happens when grouse moor management ceases. UK and EU funding has now been made available for moorland restoration work.

Good luck to the Scottish Green Party as they try to exploit every vehicle - including a global health crisis -  to ban driven grouse shooting and still hope to reverse the 'Nature Emergency'. 

* (1) The  report used existing national and regional datasets from BTO, RSPB and Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme as well as case studies and additional field monitoring work in 2017.

Monday, 16 November 2020

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: Elections, Scottish Independence and my hopes for rural land workers

I got an email over the weekend from a long-time friend - an individual who has played a big part in the history of the SGA.

It was a letter he had written to the National newspaper about a story they ran last week.

The paper didn’t use it but he wanted me to see it.

This is a big time in Scottish politics. There are party conferences coming up, all the big environment groups are lining up demands. As well as pushing for laws, there will be big demands for cash. The papers are full of talk about the 2021 elections and Independence referendums and I am aware how hard it is for people working in rural land working sectors to be heard just now.

I thought I would put the email into in my regular blog because it is something I am hearing more and more of and it is something our members and members of other groups have spoken to us about. Where rural land workers sit today when it comes to Holyrood and the political system.

The original story which prompted the letter was talking about SNP members wanting a motion at conference which, when you read it, would basically amount to a ban on grouse shooting and many hundreds of our own members being out of a job and a home. It had been apparently written up with the help of Revive, who want grouse shooting banned. Here is the letter.

Dear Letters editor, in reply to the Nov 11th article by Andrew Learmonth, SNP face conference rebellion over watered-down grouse shooting motion, Id like to remind fellow SNP members that countryside votes are required to win Independence.

I am a retired gamekeeper and run a rural tourism business. I have supported the SNP most of my life because I think Scotland should make its own decisions here, not London. I dont think people realise how many others there are like myself among the people who work on the land that have been supporting SNP.

Not everyone is a fan of shooting. Thats fine, Ive argued the toss all my days. But I do find Ruth Maguires comments about employment and the environment confusing. She says there is little economic benefit in grouse moors compared to other land uses. That is not right. The latest report from our own Government, published in the last few days, says it creates more jobs than all the other studied land uses, per hectare. The Government report also says the management benefits some species like the curlew which is in serious danger of disappearing.

If we are going to make arguments, we have to get them right, especially when it is the SNP Governments own reports. If not, its like the Boris bus and Brexit and I dont think that kind of thing works up here. It saddens me to see the SNP turning rural voters away. I speak to a lot of people who would vote for Independence but they are unhappy the way rural politics is going and they are switching off from it altogether. The SNP has done well to win votes in the big cities. These people will vote for the party come what may because they want Independence but past election results are showing ground slipping in the countryside. That needs to be recognised if Independence is going to happen any time soon.

Davie Thomson


I’ve written about this topic before, when Pete Wishart and John Swinney received a lot of unfair criticism for attending an event hosted by BASC in Perthshire. Whatever party people vote for, politicians should not be criticised for listening to the constituents in their area. That is what they are paid to do. In my view, it is their duty.

There are a lot of big, wealthy groups lobbying hard against our sector and other land sectors at the moment, knowing that elections are coming up. Farmers, too, are caught up in battles over standards, future subsidy and the green lobby.

I can only hope that, whichever party a politician represents, that they give some consideration to the voices of the people living in their constituencies that rely on our sectors for their work and their living. Whichever party is the government of the day, Scotland’s economy, wildlife and environment will be much poorer if gamekeepers’ jobs were lost on the back of policies that are pushed through because they seem to have popularity rather than being the right ones. 

I think how the rural areas vote will have an impact on the coming elections and even on Independence. My hope is that politicians on all sides take the time to listen properly and think about the arguments and consequences of their actions instead of bulldozing away people’s hopes and careers and cutting away big parts of our cultural heritage.

Monday, 9 November 2020


In the court of public opinion, you can’t beat a decent poll result to prove your point and it would seem there are some people out there at the moment who are deadly keen to get a poll result, whatever it takes.

In the day’s before the publication of the Scottish Government’s commissioned report into grouse shooting (which was, in the main, positive for grouse shooting), the League Against Cruel Sports published a poll it commissioned saying 7 in 10 people were against grouse shooting. Careful timing. It wouldn’t do, after all, to have proper, adult scientific research unpicking the group’s case, point by point. (Read the Govt research, here:

This ‘poll’ was part of their work with Revive, a coalition seeking to ban grouse shooting. There was no substantiation of the question the ‘public’ was asked on grouse shooting or how it was worded, framed or how the respondent selection was made or randomised.

As an animal rights coalition, for example, Revive deploy phrases such as ‘blood sports’, knowing this plays on the emotions of people who might otherwise have no opinion on grouse shooting at all, until having a clipboard waved in their face or an email sent. The words are designed to turn people against something. That’s the whole point.

Polls, unless they are rig-proofed through tungsten randomisation, can throw up interesting results.

While it was not an ‘official’ poll as such, the Herald decided to push a poll a few days after the League Against Cruel Sports, on whether readers were in favour or against grouse shooting. It was a good move for the Herald, as their audience and clicks on that particular page soared. 

The poll was placed at the foot of the Herald’s coverage of the Scottish Government report and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it showed a healthy percentage of people in favour of grouse shooting. 

Again, this was an example of how polls can be skewed one way or the other. A positive story from the Government report about grouse shooting followed by a poll. People predisposed to grouse shooting in a favourable way read the report and poll in favour. At one stage, the polls were sitting at those in favour being in the high 90s.

But then things started to change. The poll was shared on shooting sites during the day and also on pages such as Rewilding Scotland as the interest in a favourable result in this poll grew, albeit gradually. The interest wasn’t a burning one, maybe more a curiosity on both sides. The numbers taking it were not switching the dial, it was more dribs and drabs. People maybe voting, if they remembered to, after their tea-break, or if they had nothing better to do. After all, it was only a newspaper poll.

Then something very interesting happened. 

At 7pm, the night before the poll was due to close, suddenly and inexplicably, the dial did switch- big time. 

See the graph below.

Now, it could be said that the spike was a result of one or two influential, high traffic, websites plugging the poll and that making the difference. This is possible, of course. We’ve seen it before. How some petitions manage to get over 100 000 signatures through intense canvassing lasting months, with celebrities, videos, blogs, quite a lot of smoke, mirrors and fliers on the streets of urban areas.

But this does not explain adequately why, precisely at 7.01pm, there was one single pronounced spike of 4287 votes, then the vote pattern returned to normal, bar one other short spike at 9pm. Prior to that, the vote numbers had increased maybe 100 to a few hundreds at a time, rose and dipped, reflecting the fact that people were switching on social media after work or eating, or whatever. 

Then, at 7.01pm, that one block of over 4000 votes in one go. Curious.

Whatever was behind it, we will never know but there was certainly something highly unusual going on. Unless this was some technical malfunction, there is someone or some group very keen to influence the outcome on what, or what not, can be portrayed as the ‘public’s’ opinion of grouse shooting, at this time.

On top of the Government’s report which said that two thirds of gamekeeper respondents to their wellbeing survey had received abuse and threats as part of their employment, gamekeepers should also be wary (when dealing with the mental health implications of this) that there are political lobby consultancies in Edinburgh making good money trying to do them out of a job and their house in the glen.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020


The second piece of Scottish-Government research into the economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse shooting in Scotland has been published today (Nov 4th). It also includes a gamekeeper survey which some of you may have participated in.

This is an important piece of work and will inform the Government's deliberations on Professor Werritty's report into grouse shooting. 

It corrects some of the myths which campaigners have peddled about grouse shooting, confirming the disproportionate economic and employment benefits of driven grouse shooting to the remote communities in which it occurs.

It proves the economic and jobs case for driven grouse shooting, examining other alternative moorland uses. We recommend you read it as well as the Gamekeeper survey and Biodiversity impact report which contains some positive messages regarding the trade-offs of grouse moor management.

On the question of intensity of management, the report concludes that there has been some evidence of intensity in some areas and evidence of a decrease in intensity in others.

Commenting on the reports, and the gamekeeper survey, Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The report researchers have substantiated what we have said all along. Driven grouse shooting has disproportionate employment and economic benefits in the areas where it occurs. It helps to keep the heartbeat in fragile communities and lights on in the glen houses.

“Gamekeepers play key roles in their communities and their work, which has no drain on public finances, extends beyond their own ground. They are offering un-subsidised deer management, habitat improvement and predator control which also helps protect farm livestock and forestry. This comes at no cost to the public purse.

“These people offer much to Scotland and it troubles me deeply that so many (64%) are suffering threats and abuse in their jobs. They are under intense scrutiny at all times, they are persistently targeted by campaign groups and they are suffering from a lack of government support and little appreciation of the work they do.

“They are a major part of Scotland’s cultural heritage and deserve government backing instead of constant attack.”

To read the Scottish Govt summary of the reports, by researchers from Scotland's Rural College and the James Hutton Institute, go to:

For the full, detailed reports, go to:

Monday, 2 November 2020

Important: Office systems issue creating delay

An important message to all members. Due to the weekend storms affecting the office phone systems, the office are currently dealing with a high volume of messages. If you are trying to get through and can't, please leave a message and the staff will return your call when they have cleared the backlog. Thank you for your patience. Team SGA.

Friday, 30 October 2020


I was pleased to see the results of the survey between the regional moorland groups and the SGA this week on the amount of money being spent by grouse shoot guests this year.

I’ve met a lot of people on shoots over the years, from all walks. What people on the outside don’t realise is that, while everyone takes potshots at them for being wealthy, there is no real understanding of who these people are. They are just faceless folk so they are ripe for antagonism. A lot of the time there is no real justification for it. I meet lots of professional people, doctors who have just done well in their careers and love shooting in Scotland. It’s something they look forward to. They are willing to spend to do it, and bring their families, who then also have a connection to the country and may, too, come here in the future and maybe even start a business or a family. Surely that can’t be a bad thing. I’ve had good conversations standing loading for people and I’ve had bad, but it would be no different than if I walked down a High Street anywhere.

To those who don’t see these things, first hand, these people are just rich or toffs and, to be honest, it’s another form of discrimination, even if it seems more acceptable. It’s not a great look. It can make you feel quite uncomfortable as well. 

People spending £3500 each to participate in their hobby, as the survey found, doesn’t surprise me, to be honest. I see the enthusiasm at shoots. Folk get so much from it. They might be stuck in businesses or a stressful profession or managing lots of staff but, when they get out into the hills, with the craic and the camaraderie, they just seem to get lost in it. The fresh air, the dogs, and just being amongst people. They are interested in Scotland and they leave, almost looking forward to when they are next back. It is like a connection in the same way rural land workers are connected to land.

All over the country, businesses are either struggling or are about to be. We’ve seen it from the shoot perspective. Some shoots didn’t put any birds down this year and the smaller operators are really feeling it. But this is just our own wee bubble. The whole hospitality and tourism sector is really up against it, Scotland-wide. There are warnings every day about job losses, chaos and business failure. It’s a terrible thing; one of the worst things in the world to cope with, waking up and wondering whether you are going to go under and what impact that will have on you or your loved ones. Bloody awful.

The Green Party were desperate to get our shoots stopped this year. They played the toff card and, even though our sector had worked hard on guidance with government, tried to get shoots stopped. I am glad they didn’t and I think this survey shows why. Thousands of pounds more per person would have been lost to local businesses in the smaller places. Whatever folk say, having these shoot visitors here has helped businesses keep staff on, as they try to get through the pandemic to the other side. I am reading today that nearly a quarter of businesses think things are about to get worse for them. I get that and it’s terrible that some politicians were trying to take even more away from them.

This week we had Revive making jokey films about grouse shooting. That’s fine and well but I don’t think there are many people finding this all a joke just now. I don’t know what they have done during lockdown to make things better for struggling people in remote places but I know that the gamekeepers, who they want to make unemployed, have been doing their bit and making the most of it, keeping people safe and ensuing they get their wee bit of enjoyment while spending in our communities. That’s not a bad start at trying to make things better in a difficult year.

Most of these areas are either in Tier 1 or 2 of restrictions. None are Tier 3. Having less people, enjoying an outdoor hobby, has not endangered people- like the Greens were trying to make out- and folk have worked hard to get things right. It can be a tricky balance.

Thanks to all those who took part in the survey, the organisers and the people who come to Scotland to take part in their sport and enjoy themselves, here. 

The money has been welcome, too.

Thursday, 29 October 2020


UPDATE: The SGA Fishing Group's Petition seeking a full consultation on the stocking of Scotland's salmon rivers, submitted by Tay ghillie Robert White, remains open following deliberations by the Public Petitions Committee today (29th Oct) at Holyrood.

The Committee agreed that the subject was important and should involve all relevant stakeholders. The petition has been left open and the Committee will write to Scottish Government seeking details and update on further discussions and consultations on the issue.

See full press release, below.

Petitioner Robert White was satisfied at the outcome. 

How salmon rivers in Scotland may be stocked in future moved further up the political agenda yesterday with Holyrood’s Petitions Committee set to seek Government assurances on a full consultation.

Salmon hatcheries have been the subject of recent debate, with contrasting views on how rivers may supplement falling stocks of salmon in future, if at all, and under what conditions.

Wild fisheries in Scotland sustain 2800 jobs in remote areas and investment has been made in several hatchery facilities as wild salmon numbers have dipped worryingly through pressures in rivers and at sea.

Hatcheries strip salmon broodstock for eggs which are grown in controlled conditions before being released back into the river, eliminating certain factors which lead to early mortality.

Last year Government scientists at Marine Scotland were accused by some angling groups and river boards of rushing through a more restrictive policy position on hatcheries, without full consultation.

This sparked a Holyrood petition by the SGA Fishing Group urging that, due to its importance for ghillies, anglers and potentially jobs, it ought to be the subject of a full and transparent stakeholder consultation.

The petitioner Robert White, a ghillie on the Tay, acknowledged that there was a range of opinions but that Marine Scotland had moved to a position, then sought unsuccessfully to build support for it afterwards.

Since then Marine Scotland officials have written to the SGA Fishing Group promising initial discussions ahead of a ‘focussed’ consultation, something the group believes runs the risk of being perceived as another fait accompli.

Yesterday, MSPs on the Petitions Committee expressed sympathy with that view.

Convener Labour’s Johann Lamont, is set to write to Scottish Government seeking assurances that any consultations encompass the full breadth of opinion, reflecting the importance of the issue.

The Committee also agreed to keep the Petition active and to seek updates on discussions between relevant parties.

Maurice Corry, Conservative MSP, said there was a need for an 'all-round picture'.

“This is an important issue and one that comes up constantly in our mailbag in areas where we have salmon rivers and coastal waters. It is something which is now really coming up the agenda, wild salmon stocking, and I am very keen this is looked at in the proper detail.”

SNP MSP Gail Ross agreed with her Committee colleague.

“All stakeholders need to be involved in these discussion and consultations. I would keep this petition open and we should continue with Government to see the petition is being addressed.”

Petitioner Robert White of the SGA Fishing Group said he was satisfied with the outcome of the Parliament’s deliberations.

“It was encouraging to see the MSPs recognising how important an issue this is. We said at the outset that there were too many people with a relevant interest in this for it be rushed and then agreed afterwards, and we don’t want another fait accompli.

“Ghillies, anglers, hatchery employees and investors as well as riparian owners and conservationists all want to have a say. We don’t feel that is too much to ask and we look forward to future discussions with Marine Scotland and others.”

Monday, 26 October 2020

Arrangements for the European Firearms Pass following the UK’s exit from the EU.

 European Firearms Pass

Arrangements for the European Firearms Pass following the UK’s exit from the EU. As we approach the end of the transition period, we need to prepare for changes from 1 January 2021.

Changes to EFPs

When the UK transition period ends, from 1 January 2021 residents of Great Britain will no longer be able to apply for a European Firearms Pass (EFP) or use one to travel to the EU with their firearm or shotgun.

Residents of Northern Ireland will still be able to request an EFP and to use it to take a lawfully owned firearm to an EU country, including the Republic of Ireland, from 1 January 2021.

What this means for you

Before travelling, GB residents will need to check and follow the licensing requirements of any EU country they will be in with a firearm from 1 January, as well as UK import and export controls. This includes if you are in an EU country on 1 January.

Each Country may have varying lead times for applying for licenses, so we recommend you check the requirements well ahead of travelling.

If you’re sponsoring an EU visitor bringing a firearm to GB, you should apply to the local police force for a visitor’s permit like now but will not need to produce the visitor’s valid EFP. Visitor’s permits issued before the transition period ends will stay valid until they expire.

Information from UK Governement


Friday, 23 October 2020


On Industrial landscapes- 
the latest in our SGA Media articles on 'Context'.

In a recent video, RSPB Scotland, while trying to big up their flagship reserve at Abernethy *- a reserve which has been propped up for years by public grants- described grouse moors as ‘industrial landscapes’.

These terms are often used by anti-shooting campaign groups to describe grouse moors even although we all know such value judgements are in the eye of the beholder. 

A grouse keeper, for example, might regard these places as home; a place where great days are had, memories forged. They may be the places where their children grew up or they lost someone. 

Everything is relative. Live and let live, and all that.

But let’s allow ourselves to accept, for a few moments, that these landscapes are industrial, as described, in derogatory terms, by RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing. The land, after all, is managed to make some money, otherwise there would be no point in doing it. Industrial seems fair, when you look at it in that context.

In their most recent accounts, RSPB received £147 million from tax payer money, donations and corporate props. Their entire estate or landholding (220 nature reserves) covers 160 000 hectares of the UK.

How much money did they actually make from land management, other than that taken in from the public purse? The land management of others, after all, is what they spend a great deal of their time criticising. Land management. They have set themselves up as the arbiter of all things land management. They sit on land management forums, publish land management wish-lists, hector on land management and wave placards about it. Woe betide any land manager- and any politician- who doth not deliver what RSPB wants when it come to land management. We are all just waiting for the RSPB manifesto to land for the Holyrood elections in 2021.

In truth, when an RSPB employee gets out of bed in the morning, what pressures do they live under in order to make a financial return from land management? Are their pressures in any way like everyone else’s pressures?

According to their most recent financial statement, the RSPB brought in 3.6% of their total income as a return from land management, described in their accounts as ‘farming and fees for services’.

If you work your fingers bloody hard every day, take a few minutes to let that sink in. 

They brought in £5.3 million of their £147 million in income from land management which, in turn, generated any form of financial return. Less than 4 percent. The type of return or 'bottom line' which defines whether a land manager ( away from the cossetted world of ‘managing for nature’ ) feeds his or her family or whether their operation remains viable or not.

Only recently, the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust published the thought-provoking, Raising the Game Survey 2019/2020, which showed that only 10 percent of gamekeeper respondents got 8 hours of sleep a night. 88 percent have trouble sleeping. Around a quarter hadn’t taken a holiday or short break in over a year and 90 percent of respondents worked more than 37 hours a week.

Imagine if a gamekeeper or a crofter or a farmer or a forester or a fishing ghillie or a trawler captain had to get up in the morning and know that, even if very little was really produced from one day to the next in land/sea management income, the grants would still keep coming, the money in the kitty would still get topped up. Some publicly funded visitor centre would open up somewhere overlooking a reservoir which RSPB purchased because it already had a lot of wildlife on it before they signed off on the title deeds.

Kind of changes the motivation, doesn’t it.

Gamekeepers are called everything under the sun, often by RSPB members, for being the ‘toffs’ lackeys’.

Ironically, RSPB’s employees are working for one of the biggest individual cash-rich landowners in the known world. The difference is, if they don’t produce, well…

There’s something just a tad rich about that.

If a gamekeeper learns his or her trade and finds a job on an estate, they are there to create conditions which can allow a harvest of game. Simple. That income enables the retention of their jobs; the continuation of land management, a lot of which is beneficial to other species, even if this is not the primary motivation (who cares, if it is still being produced and funded without a drain on the public purse?). All land uses have trade offs.

So, the next time RSPB talk glowingly about something ‘now being managed for nature’, remember, 25 percent of its UK work is being done by unpaid volunteers and, despite having an income of nearly £150m, it is usually heftily propped up by the tax payer, donors or corporate supporters or sponsors. How many projects go ahead, from start to finish, without some level of public support? It’s a gutsy beast, conservation, and there are few willing to carry it out if they have to pay for it all themselves.

Meanwhile, RSPB also endlessly criticise other land managers who need to work bloody hard to make a living and to bring up their families. Sadly, the very people they alienate are part of the big picture if the UK is to meet all its environmental and biodiversity goals (not to mention feed the nation and retain jobs).

RSPB do money much better than they do, respect.

So, if grouse moors are industrial, maybe this is why they are sustaining the 2600+ jobs a year in remote places and helping to keep families in the houses of faraway glens.

If a new industrial estate opens up in Glasgow or Dundee, it is hailed as a sign of future prosperity; a city on the march. Why is ‘industry’ seen so differently if it is out in the fresh air? 

Why are there no pictures of city industries being ‘industrial’, all over social media? 

Maybe it is this industrial use which has enabled these remote rural houses not to become second homes and air bnbs and to retain a sense of community being lost so lamentably elsewhere. Folk can’t live forever on biscuit tin scenery and fresh air. Any historian of the highland population will tell you it is all wrapped up in jobs, from the herring to the whisky, to the oil, the wind farm and the space port. It’s the economy, stupid. There are people somewhere in this ‘wilderness’ and the miles upon miles of ‘nature’.

Cash-rich environmental NGOs have no grasp of the daily pressures normal working people in the countryside have, yet they lecture and campaign against them, persistently. They are the relentless judge and jury. Perhaps they have too much time on their hands? 

You sometimes wonder how their decision making might change if they actually had to do what the majority of land managers actually have to, to make ends meet. Imagine it. ‘Shall we release the sea eagles next to the croft land, with minimal consultation, when we have our sheep there and the need to sell 35 at the market? Mmm, let's put the foot on the ball and ask the bosses’. 

Sharpens the mind, doesn't it.

In this lies the root of what has alienated the RSPB from large sections of rural land working population of Scotland and the UK. Some of their recent, entitled, pronouncements only suggest that they are moving further and further away from working people and to the extremes, as they become more power- bloated and political.

Perhaps they could walk a day in other peoples’ shoes. Perhaps they could show some humility befitting of an environmental NGO the size equivalent of Amazon.

Remember, RSPB stopped recording the species on their reserves some years ago. So, not only does it not really matter if they make that much money from land management, the public don’t really need to know, either, if they are getting genuine value for all the many millions spent over the years on ‘nature’. The RSPB have placed themselves in the envious position of being judge and jury whilst being beyond judgement, themselves. Only very occasionally do people get a glimpse of the picture. 

While the ‘industrial’ shooting estates were keeping their employees on during lockdown (knowing income was going to be whacked by Covid) RSPB placed half of its workforce on Boris Johnson’s government’s furlough scheme. 

As the economic ship founders, give thanks to your god for industry, whether in the factories of Glasgow or the Grampian mountains.


*RSPB’s reserve at Abernethy was mentioned in the recent video in relation to nesting Golden Eagles. The RSPB Abernethy Golden Eagles are notoriously unproductive, compared to many Golden Eagles on the moors within the nearby area. 

  • on a recent visit to RSPB Abernethy, visiting land managers described seeing ‘one thrush and a buzzard’ as well as an out-of-season roe buck hanging in the game larder.
  • RSPB has been a significant beneficiary of Scottish and EU money to save Capercaillie over many years. Today, RSPB Abernethy has one of the poorest productivity and survival records of all the remaining Scottish core forest areas.
  • Despite enjoying a £2m uplift from the UK and EU tax payer in the last financial year, and a 3 percent increase in income on the year before, RSPB spent £1.6m less on its nature reserves.
  • RSPB has this year received £375k from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for Corncrake conservation. Under its watch, and whilst subsidised by public money, Scottish Corncrake populations have decreased by over 30 percent in the last five years.
  • RSPB has recently applied for £3.3m from the Heritage Lottery Fund to save black and red grouse, merlin, curlew and hen harrier at their Nature Reserve at Lake Vyrnwy. This forms the largest part of the Berwyn National Nature Reserve in Wales. The RSPB has a cafe, visitor centre, sculpture trails and 3 bird hides. However, visitors will see many less birds, now, from these hides than when RSPB took over the land management in this part of the Berwyn reserve. When management for red grouse shooting ceased in Berwyn and the management changed, lapwing disappeared, there was a 90 percent loss in golden plover and a 79 percent reduction in curlew. 


Thursday, 22 October 2020


Scotland’s Golden Eagle success: amongst the best.

Images by kind permission of Michael Callan.

It is not easy to find scientific data to make comparisons between populations of certain species in different countries.

Scientific papers tend to be spread around the web. Some don’t seem to exist for many countries, perhaps because there is no need - or too few of a species- to justify the financial outlay to study them.

However, SGA Media has been doing a bit of research from open source material and, despite limitations which are freely acknowledged at the outset, some data sources provide interesting findings when it comes to making comparisons.

If you read newspapers or watch the BBC, or fixate on the negativity spoon-fed to media outlets from campaigning organisations you may be forgiven for thinking that, in Scotland, everything regarding iconic species is doom and gloom. 

Only this week, multi-millionaire financier and environmentalist, Ben Goldsmith, was on Twitter bemoaning ‘nature deprived’ UK. These wailings are usually accompanied by a request for public funds to ‘save’ this species or that. Well, no one is going to cough up the cash if everything is alright. Right?

Not everything is alright. Some things are not alright. But, as these voices become louder and their demands on public funds- and their claim of right to public policy influence- becomes more vociferous, there is a need to apply some context. Even if it is to assess how not right something actually is, rather than taking the word of people or organisations with persistent political axes to grind or nests to feather.

Golden Eagles are an interesting study, particularly when you look at Scotland. 

What you actually see, from the comparative open source research that exists, is that the birder wanting to see a Golden Eagle should not, as some campaigners make out, take a body swerve when it comes to Scotland. 

Instead, they should be running towards Scotland with open arms and wallets. Relative to its land mass, Scotland has one of the highest populations of Golden Eagles in the world (from the open source research located).

The 2015 Birdlife International Report, ‘Reported national breeding population size and trends in Europe’ makes interesting reading. It’s not perfect. There are populations taken from different time frames (these are acknowledged, as the report acknowledges them), there are omissions from lack of data (ie: it cannot assess all data for each country because it is simply not available) but, in general, it is a decent starting point to make some broad, general comparisons.

We know from the 4th national population survey of 2015 (RSPB/SNH) that Scotland’s Golden Eagle population has risen to its highest recorded level (508 pairs) in modern times. This, in itself is great news. It is a hugely positive story. In only 12 years, there has been a 16 percent increase in the population, from the 3rd survey, undertaken in 2003. 

We also know that Scotland is home to ALL of Britain’s Golden Eagle pairs.

The Index of Abundance for Scottish Terrestrial Breeding Birds, 1994 to 2018, also showed a 24 percent increase in the Scottish Uplands, where Eagles are reportedly afraid to fly because of persecution by gamekeepers (if you subscribe to that view).

However, sticking to the Birdlife International report methodology, we are going to take the previous survey figure (of 2003) as our basis because this is the one the report’s authors allude to. That figure was the lesser one, of 440 pairs.

So, what do we see from the 440 pairs in Scotland (land mass of 77 910 km2), compared to European countries of similar size, in that report? 

Roughly similar are Austria (83 879 km2), Republic of Ireland (70 724 km2), Slovakia (49 035 km2) and Switzerland (41 285 km2).

In all these cases, Scotland is home to the most pairs of Golden Eagles ie: when it comes to countries of similar-(ish) land mass.

If you go up in size (land mass), we get to different breeding success levels.

The European countries listed in the report, which have the highest Golden Eagle populations, are:

Number 1: Norway, with a massive 1225 to 1550 pairs (as per 2008 to 2013 figures).

Number 2: Sweden, 580 to 800 pairs (as per 2008 to 2012 figures).

Number 3: Italy: 492-561 pairs (as per 2007 to 2013 figures)

and Number 4: France: 420 to 460 pairs (as per 2005 to 2009 figures).

So, when you add in these larger countries, Scotland’s (2003) figure of 440 breeding pairs would give us the 5th largest Golden Eagle population out of the European countries listed in the Birdlife International Report. 

If we were to spilt hairs, we would say our latest population record (from 2015- 508 pairs) would put us ahead of France in 4th but, as stated, we will stick with the lower 2003 figure, to remain faithful to the source report. Even then, this is not bad for a small country in ‘nature deprived’ UK.

What happens, though, when you factor in the Golden eagle populations from that report, relevant to each country’s land mass? 

Norway, with the highest population, has a land mass almost 5 times the size of Scotland (385 207 km2). Now academics and scientists will quite rightly say that land mass cannot simply be transferred over as a comparator. Some countries may have a large land mass but may contain large areas of land mass unsuitable for breeding eagles. This is wholeheartedly acknowledged and, in the absence of that level of granular data for each country, we simply cannot do that in this article.

Therefore, we are making broad comparisons. Scotland, too, contains populated urban areas unsuitable for golden eagle breeding and many people, when discussing land issues, like to make comparisons between Scotland and the landscapes of Norway and Scandinavian countries because they feel they are, in some ways, alike.

So, it can be argued that Scotland’s 440 pairs (as of 2003) compares very well indeed with Norway’s 1225 to 1550 pairs, when you factor in the fact that Norway’s land mass is around 5 times bigger. 

Indeed, Scotland’s Golden Eagle population could be read as being - comparatively- better than the country with the highest recorded Golden Eagle population in Europe, in the Birdlife International Report of 2015.

Using the same method of analysis (and acknowledging its limitations), Sweden’s 580 to 800 pairs dwarves Scotland’s 440 pairs - but not when you factor in land mass.

Scotland is well under a 5th of Sweden’s size (450 295 km2) so, comparatively, Scotland’s breeding population is much better than Sweden’s (potentially way more than double if you simply carry across land mass to breeding population).

Next, we look at Italy. Italy is 4 times the size of Scotland in land mass terms (301 338 km2) yet Scotland’s breeding Golden Eagle population ( in comparison) would smash Italy’s by over 3 times.

Similarly, France. France’s breeding population is not far off Scotland’s. When you factor in that France’s land mass dwarves Scotland’s by over 8 times (643 801 km2), Scotland’s breeding population of Golden Eagles by comparison eclipses that of France (by over 7 times). 

Going by the same method, it would seem that- of all the datasets listed in the Birdlife International Report from 2015 - only Switzerland’s breeding Golden Eagle population would better that of Scotland’s. 

At 320-340 pairs, Switzerland is just over 50 percent of Scotland’s land mass. That would make its tally bigger that that of Scotland, in comparative terms (640- 680 pairs).

With all the limitations inherent, it remains fair to say that Scotland’s latest Golden Eagle figures (2015) of 508 pairs are even more astonishing when viewed in a European context. 

Russia’s Golden Eagle population seems huge, in comparison, at 500 to 1000 pairs. Yet, these eagles are taken from a land mass of 17.1 million km2. Scotland’s eagle population, on a per land mass basis, dwarves that of Russia many times over.

It is also fair to say, in general, that Scotland (comparative to land mass) is home to one of the largest golden eagle populations in the world.

This is not something you will ever hear. But it should be heard.

At 77 910km2, Scotland has 508 pairs of eagles. Each eagle territory can be between 5km2 and 150 km2 in size. If you factor in that Scotland’s White Tailed Eagle population is now standing at 130 pairs, then - relative to its size - Scotland’s eagle territories are filling fast.

We know, anecdotally, that this is causing competition between Eagles, as territories are fought over. Indeed, there is even a Golden Eagle death, in the official SASA wildlife poisoning report from 2019, attributed to the likely cause of intra-guild fighting between a Sea Eagle and a Golden Eagle.

What the analysis definitely shows is that, if you are a birder in Scotland, you are getting an absolute belter of a deal. 

Persecution does exist. No one can deny that. The extent of it is hotly debated. 

Whichever way the arguments run, the evidence shows that Golden Eagle populations continue to rise in this country and that Scotland is in an enviable position in European and world terms. 

Are the people of Norway up in arms at the lack of eagles? Maybe if they looked to Scotland, they might find a case to be angry? Who knows. Compared to Scotland, perhaps the French should be hanging their heads in shame? Are they? What about Germany? Is Angela Merkel’s Government persistently harangued by campaigners seeking more and more legislation because Scotland’s Golden Eagle population is over 10 times times the size of theirs, despite Germany being over 4 times bigger? How nature deprived do the Germans think they are?

These are rhetorical questions, of course, but they are only cited to provide context. Context is something the Scottish public rarely get when it comes to these types of debates.

The truth is, when it comes to Golden Eagles in Scotland, we have never had it so good, whatever the external noise or the newspaper billboards suggests.

There are many in the gamekeeping world who would suggest that their management and stewardship has provided conditions to assist the rise in Golden Eagles in Scotland; a food source, a bountiful supply of mountain hare prey (some of the largest densities in Europe are recorded in Scotland), and the retention of open landscapes which have prevented the inexorable loss of good habitat which has been evidenced elsewhere.


These issues will remain matters of (endless) debate. It ought to be noted, though, that the majority of eagles donated to Ireland for their Reintroduction project were taken from Scotland’s game estates. The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Reintroduction project, thus far, is showing a similar pattern, too, with Scottish game estates acting as donors. Is it not odd to hear references to ‘raptor deserts’ when game estates are giving the things away?

When game interests promote the benefits of their management for species, detractors often comment that nature was taking care of itself fine and well before grouse and deer took hold as an interest in rural Scotland. 

Prior to gamekeeping, Scotland’s Golden Eagle population, in 1850, had fallen to 150- 200 pairs. It was a trend of decline which started in 1800 and only started lifting back out again around 1920 onwards.

What was the reason for that? We probably won’t know. But we know it is one loss that cannot be attributed to gamekeepers or grouse moors and we know that, since game shooting became a ‘thing’ in Scotland, the Golden Eagle population has risen, quite consistently.

Indeed, despite the woes and the campaigns, it is remarkable to think that Golden Eagle populations in Scotland have risen by 16 percent, even in the time period since Beyonce released ‘Crazy In Love’.

That cannot be all bad.

To recap:

Scotland’s Golden Eagle population is a success story standing compare across the world. When it comes to Golden Eagles, Scotland is a great small country which should be proud of its stewardship in this regard.

Scotland contains all of the UK’s Golden Eagle pairs.

While persecution does exist (not solely in game management sectors), and it may be one of many factors in the history of Golden Eagles in Scotland, its domination of the contemporary discourse surrounding Eagles is disproportionate, particularly when placed in a wider, less insular, European and world context. 

Prior to game shooting, Scotland’s Golden Eagle population was suffering severe decline.

In the time since the introduction of game shooting, Scotland’s Golden Eagle population has risen at a fairly consistent level.

People wanting to see Golden Eagles should go to Scotland AND they will get even greater value for money, now, than they did in the early noughties. 


APEP 4: Population Estimates of Birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom (Full report: Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A. & Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds 113: 69–104.)

Birdlife International Datazone:

Nature Scot: Index of Abundance for Scottish Terrestrial Breeding Bird, 1994 – 2018.

‘The history of eagles in Britain and Ireland: an ecological review of placename and documentary evidence from the last 1500 years.’ Richard J. Evans , Lorc├ín O'Toole & D. Philip Whitfield.