Friday, 18 September 2020

PETITION LETTER TO FIRST MINISTER: SEPTEMBER DEER CULLS IN THE NATION'S FORESTS

Below is the full letter from Alex Hogg, Chairman of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, on the subject of September female deer culls in the nation's forests, ordered by Forestry and Land Scotland.

Dear Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland,

I am writing to you today with a petition signed by 5000+ people across Scotland and beyond.


The signatories want a halt to the Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) policy of culling female deer (under authorisations from Nature Scot) in the nation’s forests from September 1st. This date is 7 weeks before the opening of the legal season.


Many people will have signed this petition because of concerns for the welfare of dependent young who could starve to death if their mothers are shot and they, themselves, survive. At this time, some youngsters- particularly late ones- will depend on the mothers for survival.


Although best practice dictates that young should be shot before the mother, this will not always happen. It places a big responsibility upon individual deer managers. In September, vegetation is waist high. Young are easily camouflaged and can be missed. Similarly, it can be difficult to identify which calf belongs to which mother/family group. 


These problems can be exacerbated by financial incentives which FLS, a public body, place on each deer culled. There is an argument that selectivity is not always best enhanced by a policy which rewards for the number of deer culled, as opposed to which deer are being culled.


In addition, the policy to begin culls on September 1st means that young which are shot will be very small. 


Some game dealers will not collect carcasses under a certain weight and this policy will result in wasted venison, paid for by the tax payer. After consulting various game dealers, it seems this policy was not communicated to, or discussed with them, prior to it being executed. This seems an omission given the many problems the venison sector is currently facing due to Covid 19.


When the legal mechanism to allow the shooting of females from September 1st came into being, in 2012, it was contested. It remains so. In fact, The SGA was contacted by contracted deer managers, operating for Forestry and Land Scotland, who do not agree with it. Many of them were unhappy at having to carry out early culls but did not want to whistleblow. Some employed rangers feel the same. They were told to use the authorisations from September 1st. Many felt uncomfortable.


The welfare issue remains a concern for some. Secondly, the damage being witnessed did not appear to justify a Scotland-wide approach to culling females from 1st September. The feeling is that this is being done because it is a licensing tool available to be used rather than the tool being necessary, per se.


Due to lockdown, assessors have not been out in the nation’s forests. Any data justifying this action is based on modelling from 2019. Indeed, FLS made the Association of Deer Management Groups aware of their intention to begin this September 1st cull, back in January of this year. At that point, ADMG said they had to accept it, although they did not necessarily agree with it.


While we appreciate deer can do damage at any time, experts in forest deer management within our membership tell us that a/ there is enough vegetation at the moment for females and youngsters to eat.

b/ the only real concern in terms of damage by females in September will be new plantings and re-stock sites. Generally, after 5 or so years, most trees will be beyond the vulnerable stage.


The SGA accessed the latest UK forestry statistics for September 2019. These show that around 6 percent of the entire national forest estate in Scotland is under new planting and restock. This 6 percent, therefore, represent the forests most vulnerable to damage. 


Give that, we question whether a Scotland-wide policy is appropriate, given that it is most necessary over only 6 percent of the national estate. Would targeted approaches not be more sensible, given that this licence remains contested and has the consequences which have been outlined above?


The same UK forestry statistics tell us that Scotland’s forests contain 265 000 hectares of trees aged between 21 and 60 years yet only 76 000 hectares of trees between 0-20 years (the age where damage can be a limiting factor). Despite this, the policy of culling females has been taken Scotland-wide, regardless of age class. The 0-20 age class represents 21 percent of the national forest estate.


This would seem to be a blanket policy, therefore, to reduce numbers by knocking deer over rather than addressing impacts. Recent Parliament committees have acknowledged that deer issues should be seen in the light of impacts, rather than just numbers.


Finally, one of the conditions for licences such as these are that those operating under them should have had prior dialogue and consultation with neighbours. This has not taken place. Neither did FLS discuss this with the SGA, which represents the largest number of on-the-ground deer managers in Scotland. The lack of consultation is a further reason the SGA is opposed to this Scotland-wide policy.


Given the above, and understanding the concerns about balancing deer impacts and trees/habitats, we ask that the licence be suspended until more targeted approaches can be fine-tuned which safeguard trees but also prevents the continued, drip, drip erosion of the final protections afforded to one of Scotland’s favourite and iconic animals.


I look forward to hearing from you regarding this.



Yours Sincerely, 



Alex Hogg, Chairman, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.


*Notable area signatories are below.


ABERDEEN city and ABERDEENSHIRE: 439

ANGUS: 268

ARGYLL: 127

BORDERS: 130

DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY: 119

EDINBURGH and the LOTHIANS: 169

FIFE: 165

GLASGOW city: 133

HIGHLAND: 598

INVERNESS city and INVERNESS-SHIRE: 145

PERTH AND KINROSS: 334

MORAY: 183





Tuesday, 15 September 2020

BLOG: TOLERANT, INCLUSIVE SCOTLAND - SCOTTISH GREENS STYLE.

Scotland today: Tolerant, inclusive, progressive (as long as you are not a Scottish land worker or a wealthy person shooting grouse). If you are feeling disenfranchised, you may want to add your own special category.

Yesterday we saw the Scottish Greens’ version of the bright new Scotland it envisages. At either end of the class warfare scale, it is a pretty uninhabitable place.


It’s going to have a Siberian feel for people with money, even if they might help the economy by being amongst the tiny fraction of the Scottish population paying higher rate income taxes; funds which may help to fund things like new green deals, NHS and the like.


Also, it doesn’t contain rural working class families tied to land workers whose salaries are dependent on grouse shooting or, indeed, any other forms of shooting. 


A pretty cold place too, then, for hard working folk who participate in community life in the villages that can feel distant and disconnected from the central belt politics which the middle class, white collar Scottish Green MSPs engage in, in their own high-brow bubble.


In a tolerant, inclusive Scotland, grouse shooting brings in circa £25m in a short window, employs 2500 people in remote glens and hamlets and, as Scottish Government-funded research has shown, has a disproportionate importance in some remote areas in terms of population retention and local area spend. 


But that country is not what we are looking at, here.


Yes, there are hard pressed families in small places biting their hands off just now for the trade they are getting from the sporting season so far, even if it is a scaled back affair, like many things are in this new Covid normal.


In the Greens’ new Scotland, though, it will all be banned. Wealth creators? No home, here, for you, unless you are the right type. Land working families. Nah. ‘Live and let live’ is clearly an outmoded idea in the inclusive and tolerant new Green Scotland.


Scottish Government supports responsible country sports activity. Significant efforts were made, back in late Spring, between the shooting bodies and Scottish Government to construct guidelines to ensure a safe return for participants and shoot day staff. Country sports are amongst the other organised sporting categories which can continue if they are operating under approved guidance. These also include around 30 other sporting exemptions like kids football and all the basketball and hockey clubs that have been permitted to open under the routemap. Even paintballing is included, so at least some adventurous birthday parties will be able to carry on.


In the same way sports coaches are washing down footballs and goalposts, in line with guidance, gamekeepers are sanitising facilities and making multiple trips in additional vehicles to maintain social distancing. Masks are being worn, hand sanitising is now the norm. The guidance even looked at the implications of patting a fellow shoot member’s dog. If people are eating or staying over, the same granular rules now apply as to other caterers and accommodation providers. 6 max to a table, 2 households max. Masks on unless eating, etc.


The Scottish Green Party have done very well in exploiting the opportunities the pandemic has presented them to drive a relentless, class-driven bid to ban shooting sports. In fact, they have never had it so good, in that regard, as during the national health emergency.


Andy Wightman tagged the muirburn suspension into the Coronavirus Bill, even although Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were not recommending muirburn be stopped. In a reduced capacity Scottish Parliament, which did not even have a facility set up for MSPs to vote from home, they slipped the last minute mountain hare protections into a ‘tightly framed’ Animals and Wildlife Bill, bypassing any debate from the lead committee. A law which will affect none of their daily lives was ‘debated’ and signed off in a single discussion lasting around half an hour.


And now…this. Calculated and vindictive. On a day when the figures for people being made unemployed across the UK due to Covid headed ominously towards the 1 million mark, they would be happy to send others to the edge in small communities reliant on shooting.


Meanwhile the Green MSPs in Edinburgh go to work, take their 5 figure salaries, cushioned in their bubble, funded by the tax payer. Must be a cosy perch from which to throw their classist stones.



Image: comments by Alison Johnstone on the government's 'wealthy friends'. Gamekeepers' salaries must have shot up since last we looked.



Friday, 4 September 2020

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: END THE SEPTEMBER DEER CULL IN THE NATION'S FORESTS

"I am utterly appalled and sickened at the policy by Forestry and Land Scotland to start killing female deer on 1st September. 

Whatever people say, dependent calves will be left to die because of this, barely weeks old and unable to survive without their mother’s milk.

Some have said, if best practice is followed to the letter, this is not a welfare issue- you shoot the calves first and then mum.

Well, on paper, that all sounds fine. But reality is different and it is not the superiors in offices who have to do the job, it’s the people on the ground.

With roe deer, the mother will feed and then go off and the young will lie down in cover until she returns. When the calves are born, they weigh about 2kg. The mothers will have two calves, sometimes three.

With the best will in the world, some forestry contractors being paid per carcass (not all), will not worry too much about identifying family groups. In some cases, they won’t even see calves in bracken and broom, which is over waist height just now. Those calves will be left and will starve. If calves are shot, many of them- in September- will not be fit for the human food chain. Late season calves will just be weeks old. They will be left where they fall and the tax payer will be picking up the tab.

What sort of a life is that?

It was Forestry and Land Scotland contractors, themselves, who asked us to take up this issue; experienced deer managers who agree that the seasons were put in place for a reason- animal welfare- and that September was far too early. Why contact us? One reason: they think this policy is wrong.

As soon as the Independent Working Group’s review of deer management came up with the idea of tinkering with deer seasons, we all said, ‘here we go’.

Members told us they would rather go to jail than see seasons extended at either end.

But guess what? It looks like it is happening. 

In Scottish Government’s Programme for government announcement this week, they stated they were yet to respond to that report. 

Can we take it, then, that this is the way they are going to go and there will be no discussion, no Parliamentary consultation? 

They are going to use the tax payers’ money to rob Scotland’s iconic species of some of its last protections, while policy after policy tries to demonise deer as a national menace?

Surely, the Scottish public have a right to be consulted on whether they want their public cash (harder than ever to come by in this pandemic) to be used to leave dependent calves starving slowly in our forests and on our hills. 

This is the reality of this policy. 

One experienced deer manager told us just the other day that he had seen a late red deer calf born on 24th August. That is very late but think how tiny that calf would have been on September 1st.

I encourage you to sign our petition to stop this cull- you can do so, here: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/petition/

A few months ago, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill, with the minimum scrutiny possible, giving protection to mountain hares (ignoring the latest science). Hares were already subject to a legal season. Months later, a Scottish Government agency is shooting deer out of season with no way of knowing whether animal welfare is being safeguarded. It is hypocrisy. It is selective. Where are the noisy animal rights parties now; those who have an increasing hold in the seats of Holyrood? Barely a cheep.

We hope they will be signing our petition, too, and taking up the cause. This policy needs to be stopped and that will only happen if people send a strong signal that they care about the welfare of our deer.

This is not the only attempt to change the seasons, either. There’s more to come. The Independent Working Group also wants to extend the female season at the other end, so deer managers are killing mothers with viable foetuses inside of them.

If you shoot a deer that late in the season, at the other end, you are basically cutting the young out of their mothers. It is wrenching. 

Deer need to be managed. Habitats protected. We all get that, but this is not the way. Even FLS contractors and many staff are sickened.

Resist this by signing the petition but also tell your MSPs you don’t want extensions to the seasons for female deer, either. 

Stand up for a species loved by the nation, before it is too late.

Sign the petition: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/petition/ "

Thursday, 3 September 2020

GOVERNMENT POLICY COULD SEE DEER CALVES SLOWLY STARVE



A Scottish Government agency has sanctioned a controversial policy which could see young deer slowly starving to death this month in the nation’s forests.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) has been contacted anonymously by deer management contractors working for Forestry and Land Scotland who believe the new central policy is ethically wrong and contravenes animal welfare.

From September 1st, the government agency has asked contracted deer managers and employed rangers to begin shooting female red and roe deer in the nation’s forests, weeks before the start of the legal season on October 21st.

The open season for females was established in law for animal welfare reasons in order to protect youngsters dependent on their mothers for survival.

This new policy will lead to mothers, who are still heavy with milk, being killed under authorisation, with their orphaned youngsters dying through starvation, unless they are also shot.

Furthermore, with game dealers refusing to take venison carcasses under a certain weight, it is highly likely any shot young calves, barely weeks old, will be left on the hill.

The policy will be subsidised by Scotland’s tax payers, because Forestry and Land Scotland’s budget is allocated by Scottish Ministers. Contractors will be paid whether the venison enters the food chain or not.

The SGA has taken up the contractors’ cause, with some fearful of losing income if they whistle-blow.

Those who have contacted the SGA say that, although the body will blame Coronavirus for delaying deer management, the policy change was mooted before the pandemic.

An Independent Working Group report, which Scottish Government is yet to respond to, recommended controversial changes to deer protections which some professional deer managers warned they would ‘go to jail’ over.

“What is happening here is a national disgrace,” said experienced West Highland Head Stalker, Lea MacNally, from the SGA Deer Group.

“Those who approached us are conflicted. They are working people. They need money, like all of us, but they respect deer and believe this is wrong. 

“Spotted calves, whose mothers are shot, will die slowly from starvation, unless they are also culled. There won’t even be a use for the carcass because the calves are so small. They are not viable. We really hope the Greens and the animal rights parties take this on.

“The whole wildlife management issue in Scotland at the moment, stinks. Scottish Government, led by the Greens, regulated against the legal management of mountain hares through the Animals and Wildlife Bill -ignoring the latest science- yet they are permitting young deer to starve to death on their watch.

“We would like to know who sanctioned this policy of cruelty to an iconic species and ask whether they consulted the Scottish people. We would also like to know the role Nature Scot, Scotland’s nature body, has had.”

The SGA understands some Forestry and Land Scotland contractors will refuse to carry out culls of females this month, on welfare grounds, and that many rangers, too, reacted in disbelief upon hearing of the policy from superiors.

With lots of vegetation available in the forest understorey, they do not believe females and young are causing significant damage to trees in September.

The blanket policy will also cover the whole of Scotland, rather than being targeted to areas where damage has been identified.

“If the Scottish public really knew the persecution and cruelty endured by Scotland’s deer population they would be appalled,” added SGA Vice Chairman, Peter Fraser.


Image (left) shows shot mother's milk clearly visible. This image was taken on 1st September.





Friday, 28 August 2020

2020 AWARDS PLACED ON HOLD

2020 has been a difficult year globally for all with Coronavirus and its impacts very much still with us.

As you will be aware, both our regular shows have had to be cancelled, at Scone and Moy, due to the pandemic.

Given this, and the fact that the shows are traditionally the place where we can present the awards to those who deserve recognition for their great work, we have decided to place the 2020 awards on hold.

The idea of hosting a virtual awards ceremony was mooted but, on reflection, it was felt that we would like to hand out the prizes face to face and share the memory, in person, with recipients and their loved ones, as we normally do.

What this means is that the entries we have received for 2020 will be rolled over for the 2021 awards and these will go straight 'into the hat' when we reopen the nominations period next year.

Naturally, this will increase competition but the awards are always keenly contested and, on balance, rather than dampen the experience for the 2020 winners, it has been decided to come back bigger and better in 2021 and make the celebrations even more memorable when (hopefully) we can all come together again as a community at the shows. 

Thank you for the nominations received- they are in the running!


 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

RIVER GRADINGS FOR 2021 PUBLISHED- 28 DAYS TO COMMENT OR OBJECT

Marine Scotland has today published its river gradings assessments for the 2021 season. You can find them, here: https://scotland.shinyapps.io/sg-salmon-conservation/

Rivers now have 28 says to make comments or objections on the assessments. These should be mailed to salmonandrecreationalfisheries@gov.scot by September 25th.

By clicking on the first link, a window opens where you can find your river, in a drop-down menu (where it says 'Choose' and 'Show location'. Select your river and the assessment will be shown. 

For all details, including how the assessments were arrived at, see: https://www.gov.scot/publications/salmon-fishing-proposed-river-gradings-for-2021-season/

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

SGA FISHING GROUP SEEKS ANSWERS OVER FISH FARM ESCAPES

Commenting today (Aug 26th) on the news that nearly 50 000 salmon escaped from a Mowi fish farm near Campbeltown during Storm Ellen, a Spokesperson for The SGA Fishing Group said: 

“Whilst this mass escape was the result of a major storm, storms are not infrequent occurrences in Scotland. There needs to be an inquiry into why these breaches keep occurring in a storm-prone country. In other nations with sizeable aquaculture operations, this type of event would lead to sanctions. What are the procedures in Scotland?

“The agencies involved need to give clear and urgent guidance as to how these escaped fish, threatening the integrity of our wild fish, should be treated. What status do they have and should they be caught and killed in the interest of conserving wild salmon and sea trout?

"The conservation of wild salmon is a commitment in Scottish Government's programme of government."


Monday, 17 August 2020

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: MISINFORMATION FUELLING SO-CALLED DEBATE

Image: Official Police Scotland crime figures, 2011-2016. Wildlife crime in relation to other crime types in Scotland. Wildlife crime is a priority for Scottish Government and Police Scotland.

          "In our sector it’s a really busy time just now. Folk are into their seasons, trying to work around Coronavirus and keeping visitors safe. Others are preparing for their season’s start. Getting something of a shooting season will make a big difference in the wee places which rely on this influx of visitors for turnover, especially this year.

You don’t often have the hours in the day to turn your hand to much else at this time of the year but after seeing some of the stuff on social media over the weekend, I thought I’d take a little time to address some of it.


People are rightly angry when there are cases of wildlife crime. I get it. So am I. It kicks the guts from you, but the lack of perspective on this issue is, I believe, presently, off the scale. I am quite staggered at how poisonous things have become, that venom being fuelled by unhealthy doses of misinformation. I only hope that those who are paid to represent constituents take the time to build their knowledge before making big decisions.


There are co-ordinated groups now operating whose reason for existing is to end shooting. They can weaponise big PR and political campaign budgets against busy land managers and their families, trying to make a living. Paid investigators are dispatched across the country from Edinburgh and Glasgow in search of the emotive picture to try to force legislation and to lobby. The invasion is relentless.


The commentary has become increasingly extreme as animal rights groups have become embedded at the centre of the Scottish political scene, trying to force the licensing of grouse moors. Perhaps they will succeed and move onto the next target, leaving the anarchic destruction behind them. You would have thought that, if the case was that strong, you wouldn’t have to do things like fit up fake photos on ‘reports’ and spout endless fiery rhetoric.


The poisoning of a Sea Eagle in Donside, as I’ve written before, was a shock. It was a shock to me and to everyone else at the SGA because everyone thought we’d managed to get beyond the use of illegal poisons. Only 10 years ago, these cases were in the low thirties in some years in Scotland. That was completely unacceptable. 


These days, cases are very, very rare. Hopefully the Police can get to the bottom of that case; a bird found on a grouse moor, close to the edge of a Forestry Commission wood and with no visible sign of any other stricken birds around it- unusual in a poisoning case. If anyone has information, they should assist the Police in any way they can. Although agenda groups have continued to try to muscle in on the investigative side of policing, it is the Police- a neutral body- who are the investigative authority and information should be given to them, not others.


The disappearance of a satellite tagged eagle in Perthshire is still a matter of Police inquiry. I note that the local community joined our call for independent monitoring of satellite tags, so people can get to the truth of these disappearances. Bringing independent agencies and analysis will serve the truth better than any trials by media.


These 2 cases are the ones in the public spotlight and the anger has been noisy and pointed. That is understandable. One commentator suggested that SGA and BASC members are killing all Scotland’s eagles, forcing them to be reintroduced. What planet are people living on? The Golden Eagle population has never been higher than it is now in Scotland, donor eagles from game estates are currently bolstering the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project and when 59 young eagles were sent to Ireland for their reintroduction project, most of those eagles came from game estates, where productivity is high. Acknowledge the truth, please, at least.


Does persecution exist? Yes. Do we want rid of it? Yes but, please, some recognition of the progress made and the part game estates play in eagle conservation. Many have had eagles on their ground for decades and are rightly proud and defensive of them. They are a wonderful bird.


Just weeks ago, four young Hen Harriers were successfully fledged from a nest on a moor in the Angus Glens, the first for four years when a nest produced 7 successful chicks. Local gamekeepers put that success- and the one before- down to lack of disturbance by raptor study group monitors. As the licensed raptor worker who recorded the youngsters said: ‘things are changing in the Angus Glens.’ They may not be on Twitter but they are in real life and it is important to distinguish the two.


Despite the constant racket of those seeking to build support for the lie that every gamekeeper in the country is a criminal, it is interesting to see how recreational enthusiasts are dealing with the despoiling of the countryside by campers. When our industry makes the argument that all industries- from teachers to police to political parties- will contain rogue elements, the noisy bat that suggestion away. Should all wild camping be legislated against now because of the actions seen during lockdown? I am sure there will be vociferous resistance to that.


Last week, League Against Cruel Sports brought out a ‘report’ on trapping and snaring, claiming high numbers of animals being killed in traps and snares. The end numbers were extrapolated up from 7 holdings and a figure multiplied up from there, completely ignoring individual management objectives. It was put together from unverified observations from the side of roads by an anonymous ‘surveyor’ with an alleged game background and written up by Professor Stephen Harris; an individual accused of misrepresenting science, resigning from his University post by mutual consent. It contained so many confusions about what was legal and what was not that you couldn’t read it; one estate mentioned had actually had all its traps approved by the local wildlife crime officer. To top it off, a fitted-up photo was used on the front cover, to give it the appropriate ‘smell’. No wonder these people hated the Werritty report’s calm analysis of evidence.


This pamphlet is now in the boxset put together by Revive to end grouse shooting. When it comes to propaganda, Revive are the ministry. They have been wrong on how much of Scotland is grouse moor, wrong on wages, wrong on jobs, wrong on predator eradications, wrong on muirburn and wrong when it comes to wildlife. They compare traps and snares to ‘landmines’ and produce farcical ‘alternatives’ which they think can be practiced above 1500ft in Scotland on land with designations which would prohibit them. 


They think they can wreck peoples’ lives and everything will be a land of milk and honey. I don’t see them all leaving Edinburgh and rushing to live in the remotest parts of the country where you barely get a mobile phone signal or enough broadband to upload your latest campaign video. 


All industries, at all times, can improve. Since the Parliament was opened, we have had more change than most industries to deal with. Deer management is under constant review, there were major changes in the Wane Act, snaring has changed, trapping has changed, seasons have changed, muirburn is regularly reviewed, we’ve had Werritty, 2 land reform acts, sporting rates, Vicarious Liability, General Licence withdrawals, regular General Licence reviews and the recent Animals and Wildlife Bill. These are just off the top of my head- there’s been more. This is an industry constantly being reviewed and scrutinised but yet we continue to provide many benefits. 


With no tax payer subsidy for shooting, the country gets over 11 000 jobs, significant income in taxes and VAT, tourism, food supply, the retention of globally rare habitats, the management of fuel loads in the countryside, un-subsidised deer management for food, animal health and habitat protection, benefits to rare species such as the Curlew and black grouse and protection for the farmer’s lambs in Spring, public health protection from pests, tick management, the creation of wetlands and woods for shooting, rural stewardship and the preservation of a culture which maintains work and opportunities for families to live in remote places rather than community being eroded through purchases of second homes and Airbnbs. 


I hope politicians understand fully what is at stake and the type of tactics that are now on the go to discredit working land managers. There’s a sniper round every corner for us but we are proud of what we’ve given back to our country, in peacetime and war."

Thursday, 13 August 2020

LACS TRAPPING REPORT BY PROFESSOR ACCUSED OF 'MISREPRESENTING SCIENCE'- RESPONSE

 

Today, the League Against Cruel Sports, released a document on trapping in Scotland (image above).

The SGA has issued the following response to the media. We would also encourage readers to reference the links at the foot of the media response plus the final link- the response issued by Scottish Government (5th August) to a Petition by OneKind calling for a review of animal welfare implications of trapping and snaring in Scotland.

Please find below a response from The Scottish Gamekeepers Association to League Against Cruel Sports report on trapping, released today (August 13th).

 

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “It is more customary for us to answer press queries on genuine research. This is not that. This is a tactic by an animal rights group designed to cause as much noise as possible around the 12th August.

“The document, which is not a peer reviewed report, is riddled with fag packet estimates and wild extrapolations, major confusions over what is legal and what is not and ‘facts’ from discredited papers from the anti grouse moor group, Revive, which have already been exposed.

“For example, one of the named estates in Inverness-shire, which has photos in the document, actually had its traps assessed and approved by the local Wildlife Liaison Officer. 

“This propaganda document is cobbled together by an anonymous ‘investigator’ and authored by an individual, Professor Stephen Harris**, who was called out by fellow academics for misrepresenting science, only to leave his post at Bristol University by mutual consent weeks later.

“His funding by animal rights groups over many years is worthy of an investigation in itself.

“Scottish Government’s own nature advisers, Scottish Natural Heritage, conducted a thorough and independent review of crow trapping only a few years ago. Stoat traps have recently been overhauled by EU legal changes.

“While it is now sadly customary for rural debate to be blindsided by alternative facts such as this latest attempt by LACS, we hope Scottish Government sees beyond the agenda and treats this with the disdain it deserves.”

 

Ends.

 

 

**Telegraph articles (2) and solicitor submission to Scottish Government regarding report author, Professor Stephen Harris: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/11/foxhunting-prosecution-professor-misrepresented-science/

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/05/11/professor-employed-independent-witness-hunting-prosecution-tried/

 

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/consultation-analysis/2016/10/review-protection-wild-mammals-scotland-act-2002-written-submissions/documents/00507929-pdf/00507929-pdf/govscot%3Adocument/00507929.pdf


Response by Scottish Government to the Petition by OneKind: (5th August): 


http://www.parliament.scot/S5_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Submissions%202020/PE1762_A.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1MGcwryIL5OLuA3fHI_0E534CJVCn9rq9WdMpHION8kdFHjoBpn5orHUk


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

TO THE GAMEKEEPERS ON 12TH AUGUST

To the gamekeepers on the 12th August, well done to all those working people who have shown pride and professionalism through the hardships of winter, the long hours at the fox dens with the eyelids almost stuck together so that all the birds that share the moor with the red and black grouse- and the farmer- can get a breeding season and a successful lambing.

Your crow control, too, helping the wildlife and preventing injury to both ewe and lamb.

Your reward- if you are getting a season- is to please not yourself but others, to share their enjoyment and take pride in the bountiful wildlife your management has created with all the wee changes you have made over your many hours of toil and planning. Managing tick burdens, managing deer, managing the pests that don’t just affect game but other species and people, too.

To all those who wail and decry that the 12th is all so ‘toffs can blast things from the sky’, do not let them belittle your contribution to Scotland. The world is full of critics and negative folk who will never put in as much as what gamekeepers do, thanklessly. 

The shooting, done by guests, is just an income stream. It is a source of income to enable all the rest to happen, just like growing trees, farming fish or keeping sheep. The income enables the boots on the ground, the lights in the glen windows and the safe havens for birds like the Curlew, soon to be a memory in other parts.

It maintains the moorland environments that some don’t appreciate but others look jealously on as precious and unique in other parts of the globe.

With Covid an ever-present, who knows when lockdowns may happen again.

Important to get some money back into the local businesses and trades that have suffered. The communities need the business and the VAT and tax will be handy for Scotland HQ, too.

Every land use has a trade-off. A gamekeeper’s job is to keep game. If the land was for another objective there would be no use for the gamekeeper. We don’t go to the bank and complain there is no fruit and vegetables. These parcels of land are for game birds and deer just as the bank is for money. That is the objective.

But, for all that, Scotland is getting its Less Favoured land used in a way that creates employment, avoids the fracturing of community, stops designated habitats from failing, preserves iconic species, provides access for leisure and mental health benefit, manages pests from foxes to rats, bouys up trade, produces healthy food, provides community help for Police and the Fire Service, prevents rural littering and fire raising, provides tick management and cements a culture which has served Scotland in wartime and peace. All that for very little public money spent and none whatsoever for the shooting of a grouse.


If your glass is permanently half empty, the 12th August is about toffs blowing birds out of the sky.

If you are the person working the 60 hours weeks, 23 more than the UK national full-time average, it’s your calling, your family and everything else besides.


Good luck!

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

GOLDEN EAGLE TOM: THE NEED FOR NEUTRAL BROKERS

Last month, members of Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group made a plea for satellite tags fitted to raptors to be monitored independently and not by campaigners. 

Their reasoning was that campaigners fitting the tag and paying a company for the data can interpret that data and use it for their own media objectives, without law enforcers actually being able to identify any evidence (not even a feather or a thread of cloth in this world of major DNA advancement) of criminality at an alleged crime scene. 


In certain cases, there is actually no concrete evidence to suggest that the bird is even dead at the time media coverage begins to land on timelines.

The publicity objective, principally, is to call for a ban on driven grouse shooting or to attempt to influence Scottish Government to introduce a licensing system.


Some members of the Tayside group plus local shepherds, community members and families had been out, combing the hills looking for golden eagle, Tom, whose last signal had come from a grouse moor in the area. Landowners had issued an appeal for information.

They were not happy at, again, the prospect of being smeared and were hoping beyond hope that something could be found to lay some of the allegations to rest. Theirs is now a world where there is no protection from such allegations.


Yesterday, Golden eagle Tom was the subject of a campaign video- just ahead of the grouse shooting season on 12th August- involving Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Ian Thomson, the trio involved in a similar video about Fred the Eagle not all that long ago.


In that incident, the same trio signposted Fred the Eagle’s demise to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills; something which the Police never really bought into, although all the proper investigations were carried out.


To this day, despite generating millions of pounds of media coverage, eliciting an interview from a Government Minister and stoking ire amongst everyone from councillors to Parliamentarians, criminality has not been established in the case of Fred the Eagle. There is no evidence in existence to suggest it was killed by anyone connected to a grouse moor in the Pentland Hills which can only ever manage to shoot a few infrequent family days for the pot because of the huge amount of public access from the city of Edinburgh. Fred never spent any length of time on that moor.


It didn’t help the course of an investigation that satellite tag information was handed to Police in an unorthodox manner, and in two stages, because those who fitted the tag (the people making the video and media claims) had yet to interpret all the data before giving it all over to those who actually enforce the law in Scotland. It might be presumed, in a just country, that the Police would be better making those interpretations. If that cannot be done, then a mechanism ought to be introduced where the Police are assisted in doing just that, which is what the SGA would like.


It did not help, either, that Chris Packham was busy making a second publicity video- a further interpretation- before Police were actually handed all the tag evidence. It was like running a major court trial where there was no need for any judge or defence. The verdict had ostensibly been delivered.


Whatever happened to Fred the Eagle, the conflicts between campaigns, publicity and justice were more than amply highlighted, in a very public way. It was this embarrassment which sparked The SGA to petition Parliament on the need for satellite tags to be monitored by neutral bodies who did not have such an inordinate amount of ‘skin in the game’. 


Ruth Tingay has been involved for many years as the central author of a previously anonymous website whose rationale is to end driven grouse shooting. Chris Packham has petitioned the Westminster Parliament calling for exactly the same thing. 

There can be no doubting the ‘skin in the game’ with this pair. Ian Thomson- an RSPB investigator- has seen his impartiality placed under recent spotlight. Last week, a teasing tweet on his private account literally set a Twitter hare running; the implication being that grouse gamekeepers were possibly shooting mountain hares. Twitter’s hounds of hell descended and, in a few hours, there were tales of hare ‘slaughter’ being shared on pages such as Scottish Raptor Study Group. Mr Thomson seemed to want to explain his tweet away as an innocent ‘question’ after it was all exposed as lies. He wasn’t fooling anyone. See a blog on this, here: https://news.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/2020/08/blog-comedy-of-mountain-hare-twitter.html


What is perhaps more concerning is that tax payers’ money goes into paying for RSPB’s investigative services and also into the coffers of Scottish Raptor Study Group monitors who provide data on raptors. Their political agendas are barely hidden yet both are now firmly part of the establishment which influences how wildfire crime is handled today at a national level in Scotland.


In Mr Packham’s video about Tom, he did state that he did not know precisely what happened to Tom. He didn’t need to. The signposts and insinuations were all there. In terms of public perception, it was job done. 


What this case does, in our view, is highlight again why satellite tags fitted to raptors ought to be monitored independently. Whether Scottish Government chooses to licence grouse shooting or not, who knows. It is not the central question. 


However, individuals and communities deserve to be protected from smear and allegation. Two sides of a story ought to be heard in a country which prides itself on justice. If due process is followed and evidence suggests someone is guilty, be that on their own head. The playing field would be level and people could have no complaint. No one is seeking special dispensation from the law. The SGA, for one, would wholeheartedly accept the conclusions of a fair and honest process.


However, this process- as it stands- is neither fair or honest and, if judgements are to be handed down through the media by celebrities and those with ample skin in the game, it simply denies the rights of the other side to defend themselves properly, other than a few paragraphs at the tail end of a story which has already damned them. 


We agree with Mr Packham, no one can know what happened to Tom, but there are a number of things to consider. 


As RSPB themselves stated, when Hen Harrier Brian’s last signal was sent from one of their own nature reserves in the Cairngorms National Park in 2016, tags only offer an ‘indication of where a bird has been’. They cannot establish causality. Similarly, tags will be programmed to give readings at specific intervals, for example hourly or more. Birds, if they have come to an end, could travel some distance from the last received signal, making that last signal less meaningful. 


This is a crucial point which deserves independent analysis. Birds will- and do- spend time around moors because there is a food supply. Perhaps it explains why even some Police officials will state that final searches are often more procedural- although thorough- rather than being conducted with any real hope of finding clues. Why are there never clues at the site of the last signal, not even a solitary feather that can be tested in a lab? Is the last signal site actually that meaningful at all, beyond ‘indication’?


The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Reintroduction project is an interesting case. A female eagle allegedly killed two other eagles in a territorial battle. All birds were tagged but only the body of one of the two dead birds was found despite land being walked with trained dogs. That 2nd body is still missing. Campaigners say that birds which have died without human intervention are found and birds illegally killed are not, because criminals hide both body and tag.


This case turns that on its head. No bird, no tag, nothing found: yet no one has called out ‘persecution!’


If that tag data had been held by campaigners, would they have alleged persecution?


Satellite tags can stop with no warning if they are subjected to trauma. Birds fighting can be a cause of trauma, as above. 


What is known is that Tom flew into an area of Perthshire (not his natal area) where there are already eagles. Indeed, independent bird monitors recorded an eagle in exactly the same location just hours after Tom’s tag last signalled. It is not beyond plausibility that territorial tussling occurred over that territorial area. 

Similarly, there are 2 wind turbines three quarters of a mile from where Tom’s tag last signalled and 16 turbines about a mile and a half away. It is not beyond possibility that Tom could have entered those areas. Indeed, turbines and bird strikes are recorded the world over.


Other reasons for tag failure can be simple technical malfunction. Any piece of electronic equipment can fail without prior warning. Unfortunately, you don’t always get a friendly message urging: ‘download your data because I’m going to crash in around 1 hour 35 minutes.’ In addition, place this equipment in the wilds of Scotland, in all weathers, and there is an additional possibility of malfunction.


Some other potential causes of tag failure are:


  • wintry/inclement weather
  • partially obstructed habitats
  • transmitter failure
  • end of tag lifespan/degradation
  • forest cover (research of 181 attempted ‘fixes’ to the satellite from a Microwave Telemetry tag in forest cover showed only 7% to be successful)*
  • poor fitting of tag (feathers can grow over the tag, preventing accurate readings). One study showed fitting of the device can ‘bias resulting data’. Photographs have also captured images of eagles with tags hanging off.
  • bird dies of natural causes, tag battery too low to enable accurate final signal and recovery.
  • persecution


Trapping and Satellite tagging of raptors such as Golden Eagles, has also been found, in several studies, to


  • decrease survival


*’An Investigation into the accuracy and performance of a lightweight GPS tag used to track wildlife.’ Paul Duffy, 2010. Dept of Spatial Information Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology.


If a gamekeeper killed Tom, they deserve everything coming to them. The SGA would condemn it wholeheartedly.


But satellite tagging has become political. There are too many people with too many agendas (on all sides). Some neutrality must be brought to bear.


If you would like to see independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors, why not write to Nicola Sturgeon firstminister@gov.scot

Roseanna Cunningham CabSecECCLR@gov.scot