Sunday, 23 February 2020

THE SGA AND LEAD SHOT

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is wholly in agreement with the principal of seeking to be environmentally responsible.
Getting rid of plastics in ammunition, for example, is entirely sensible and there has been development in the production of biodegradable wads.
The issue of lead shot is presently less clear.
Evidence regarding impacts of lead traces in food is limited. What evidence there is tends to be contested. We are not blinkered on this matter. 
The SGA Deer Vision, for example, seeks more Scottish wild venison to be consumed and we are aware that lead can be an issue- and perhaps a barrier- in some markets.
However, we believe more research is required on lead in food. Many foodstuffs contain lead traces. It is probable that other food products, perhaps less scrutinised than shot game, may contain lead at amounts which could merit public guidance.
There is a need, therefore, to study the impacts of lead in food, in the round, to ensure any proposed changes are well evidenced. The majority of people in our industry have eaten shot game all of their lives, from childhood- and during times where food testing and scanning was less comprehensive than it is today. 
It is natural for them to be somewhat sceptical of lead impacts, given that they have eaten it all their lives without any quantifiable impact on their health.
That said, if quantitative and comparative science on lead in foodstuffs comes forward to suggest real dangers to eating products containing traces of lead then, of course, due diligence must be heeded.
Improvements have been made in non-lead ammunition in recent years. However, our members require to use reliable ammunition which takes into account animal welfare and shot safety. The evidence on these issues, amongst practitioners, remain mixed. 
In Norway, for example, where a ban on lead was in place, the decision was made to reverse it on the grounds that the non-lead alternatives used did not offer a ‘clean kill’, in comparison.
Our members, whose responsibility it is to control wildlife populations, want to have confidence that the ammunition they are using is going to be effective, quick and humane. This is considered to be of paramount importance. 
While they seek to be environmentally responsible, it is not their desire to be wounding animals during population control or to be endangering public safety due to issues such as higher frequency of shot ricochet from objects. Rather than shooing lead out the door without proper impact monitoring, they would prefer that trials were carried out, guided by practitioner knowledge, under ‘field’ conditions, allowing decisions to flow from there.
If alternatives were readily available on the market, which could match or improve upon the lead product in these regards, more people would be confidently switching, or would have switched already.
That said, as wildlife managers, it is not SGA members’ responsibility to manufacture new ammunitions. The manufacturers must take some initiative in providing viable alternatives in the marketplace, making them available at an affordable price.

The SGA agrees that environmental concerns are highly important. However, lead impacts must be better studied in case we fail to see other dangers rearing in our blindspot. 

Thursday, 20 February 2020

GAMEKEEPERS PROVIDING 'MILLIONS' OF GREEN BENEFITS, SAYS REPORT


SGA Young Gamekeeper of the Year Ciarin-Woodman Robinson on the Perthshire estate where he works. Supplementary food put out on shoots helps declining farmland birds through the 'hungry' gap.
Skilled land management by gamekeepers provides tens of millions of pounds of free environmental and climate benefits every year in Scotland and beyond.
That is the findings of a new report called Gamekeepers: Conservation and Wildlife which surveyed nearly 1000 gamekeepers working over 1.6 million acres of the British landscape, including Scotland.
Among the key findings were the multi-million pound private investment in planted game crops and supplementary food on lowland shoots which helps susceptible farmland birds survive into spring.
In the uplands, 93.5 percent of the moorland gamekeepers surveyed have blocked old agricultural drains to ‘re-wet’ the moors in the last 5 years, helping to reduce downstream flooding and to restore peat forming species which help store carbon.
No fewer than 71 percent of respondents have planted trees in the last decade, with the average size of planted area being the equivalent of 47 football pitches per respondent.
Gamekeepers are also controlling deer populations to protect the forest habitat with their holdings investing, on average, nearly £10 000 a year on protective fencing.
As well as 30 percent of respondents having biomass or solar energy projects on the land they manage, 54.5 percent of upland gamekeepers are engaged in privately funded control of invasive bracken on an average of 85 football pitches per respondent.
The email and postal questionnaire responses were analysed by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) Director of Research, Professor Nick Sotherton, after members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and GWCT were polled last April.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “In popular media, Gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies and wildlife managers can often be portrayed, wrongly, as standing in the way of habitat rejuvenation or progress. This survey shows entirely the opposite to be true. It gives a flavour of what it taking place in managed areas, every single day.
These skilled land managers are not bashing away at keyboards, they are on the land in all weathers. The many aspirations we, and governments, have for our land and our climate must encompass their know-how, their passion and their ability to deliver effectively at minimal cost to the public purse. Shooting income provides the investment and incentive to continue that management.”
While some gamekeeping activity, such as the planting of wild bird cover, is partly met by state-funded environmental schemes, the scale of private investment remains significant.
Of the 90 percent of respondents who planted game cover (which benefits other birds and wildlife) 81 percent of that was financed privately.
A total of 98 percent of those who were providing grain did so after the end of the shooting season when species such as linnets and thrushes encounter their ‘hungry gap’.
Private food provision on pheasant shoots after the end of the shooting season amounted to 4309 tonnes. 
If this was translated into typical Garden centre prices for 1 kg bags of woodland bird and table mix, this tonnage would cost in the region of £15-£17 million to fund.
Liam Bell, Chairman of the NGO, said: “The extent of their role (gamekeepers) is not always fully appreciated, but without their efforts, knowledge, skills and love for their individual patches of land, our countryside and wildlife would be in a much more precarious condition.”
Professor Nick Sotherton, director of research with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, who analysed the results said, “We were delighted to repeat the analysis of this survey which was first carried out in 2011.  
Comparing the two studies has been fascinating and shows unequivocally how modern gamekeepers, with their extensive skills and knowledge, are now at the vanguard of the conservation movement in this country.  Without their considerable contribution to conservation in the UK, wildlife and landscapes would be much the poorer.” 



* See the full report, here: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/pdfs/SGA_NGO_REPORT.pdf




Tuesday, 18 February 2020

AGM PLACES FILLING FAST - BOOK NOW.


It’s just over 2 weeks to the 2020 AGM but spaces inside Caledonian Stadium, Inverness, are filling fast, highlighting just why this is such an important meeting for our industry and way of life.
Please book your space NOW to avoid disappointment.
In recent weeks, there have been 2 major government-commissioned reviews into grouse shooting and deer, with Scottish Government set to announce shortly what it plans to do.
On the rivers, salmon numbers are causing deep concern, with many feeling that action needs to be quicker and more decisive.
The Animals and Wildlife Bill currently going through Holyrood will mean even more significant changes for the industry, at the time when members are just beginning to register how the General Licence changes are going to affect their daily management. 
In train, too, is the Government’s review of fox management and their announcement that fox control using dogs will be limited to 2 dogs only- yet another cut as members try their best to protect birds of economic and conservation concern as well as farm livestock.
Never before have our jobs and way of life been in the spotlight so much, with members rightly demanding robust action. 
New stoat trap regulations will come into being just weeks after the AGM as well so there are many issues to discuss with the membership.
As well as our speaker list, announced earlier, we will be joined by principal sponsor, Grahams of Inverness, as well as Gamekeepers Welfare Trust as they champion the Year of the Gamekeeper.
Representatives from the Denis Brinicombe Group, which specialises in feeds for livestock and wildlife, will also be demonstrating at the event.
To ensure your place at the AGM is booked, and your lunch order is placed, please contact the office on 01738 587 515 or info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
Booking is essential so Team SGA can ensure sufficient seating and catering. 

We look forward to seeing you in the capital of the Highlands.

Friday, 7 February 2020

CHANGES TO GENERAL LICENCES AND SGA COMMENT


Scottish Natural Heritage today announced the changes to the General Licences, coming in from April 1st 2020.
and scrolling down to the links entitled: General Licensing Changes Summary and General Licensing Changes for 2020 FAQs.

In response to the changes, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The changes as regards SPAs are nothing other than a cave-in to Wild Justice who are motivated by causing as much disruption and frustration to shooting as possible.
“SNH itself has admitted there is no evidence to suggest General Licences are causing adverse impacts on SPAs but that ‘potentially’ they could.
“This is not justifiable or proportionate. There are lots of things in life that could ‘potentially’ happen. That doesn’t justify licensing everything. This is a response, in our view, motivated more by fear of legal challenge than the conservation of wildlife. 
“We are forever told SNH’s licensing team is too stretched to deal with often routine licensing matters. If predators are hammering fragile species on an SPA and a land manager can’t act because SNH have staff on holiday, and can’t process a licence, then those species will take a step nearer the exit door. 
The fact black backed gulls have been removed from both licences (GL1 and GL2) will cause real concern in some areas because, in some parts, they are the single biggest predatory problem land managers have to deal with to protect wildlife and livestock. 
“In general, other than helping a bit with Greylag geese, this is all going one way. It is a General Licence of fear and makes protecting species like globally threatened waders even more difficult.
“On rivers, where salmon are struggling, the opportunity to look closer at predatory piscivorous birds has again been lost, despite predation being identified as one of the key factors imperilling this iconic species.”


The SGA has contributed to an industry wide statement from a coalition of land management organisations. See below.


GENERAL LICENCE RESTRICTIONS POSE A THREAT TO CONSERVATION

Greater restrictions on the use of general licences - which allow certain birds to be controlled to prevent crop damage, predation of at-risk bird species and the protection of public health – could pose a threat to wildlife conservation efforts.

Following the announcement today of new restrictions on general licences by Scottish Natural Heritage, a joint statement was issued by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Scottish Association for Country Sports and Scottish Land & Estates. 

The organisations said:

“The use of general licences has long been a vital tool to help preserve wildlife and precious habitats. While SNH has recognised that they are useful, legal methods, the land management sector is very disappointed that, yet again, we are being burdened with excessive and unnecessary regulation and red tape.

“We feel particularly let down over changes that will mean land managers having to apply specifically for prior approval from SNH’s licensing team to control certain birds on Special Protection Areas. The birds customarily controlled in these areas can be vast in number and any delay in approval being granted could well have a detrimental impact on protected at-risk species. This seems counter-productive.

“It is regrettable that SNH has taken this decision while it acknowledges there is no clear evidence that the use of general licenses have an adverse impact on Special Protected Areas.

“There has been insufficient engagement and communication with land managers who will have to implement these changes and our organisations are seeking urgent reassurance from SNH and Ministers that consents will be granted quickly and easily in the face of the likely impacts on Scottish biodiversity.”

ENDS 

Monday, 3 February 2020

BLOG: WHY POLITICIANS SHOULD HEED THE WORKING VOICE


I was left shaking my head reading comments on Twitter from people objecting to Pete Wishart and John Swinney attending an end of season game dinner hosted by BASC.
I would like to show my support for both for doing so. In fact, it has never been more important for politicians of all colours to listen to the working people of our countryside.
Maybe I am wrong but when the Parliament was set up in Edinburgh, I thought it was so that the voices of all Scotland could be heard, not just the vocal people who believe their view is the only one.
Sadly, I feel we are getting further and further away from that optimism of when the Scottish Parliament came into being and what it was meant to deliver - for all the geographic locations of Scotland.
Both of these senior politicians make a living from representing the constituents in their areas and, in those areas right now there is a lot of genuine concern for their jobs and the future.
The votes of those individuals matter the same as any others and it should be remembered that it is by serving the interests of their constituents that politicians return to Westminster and Holyrood to deliver what their voters- and their parties- want.
A lot of the comments I read seemed to come from issues of class. There is a very narrow focus and it infuriates people like me.
What commentators don’t seem to understand when they jump on bandwagons is that our members represent the working people of the countryside. They have the same worries, trying to bring up families and keep roofs over heads as the factory or shift workers of Glasgow or Dundee. The difference between the rural working person and the urban working person is often very little, other than geography. A decent wage, decent conditions, good healthcare and schools for their kids. That is what most of us want.
Whether we like it or not, most people work for a wealthy man or woman somewhere down the line, whether you are working for an estate owner, working on the rigs or working for Amazon.
Like any other industry, there are good bosses and bad. Our members are thankful that, in the main, they have bosses who have continued to invest and have kept jobs on, when seasons have been wiped out by weather or other factors beyond control. That doesn’t happen in all industries and we all know folk that have lost jobs when times get hard. I don’t want to see that for our members.
Our skilled membership are delivering a lot for rural Scotland. They are a quiet folk by nature but they are growing increasingly irritated by what they see as a continuing attack on all they hold dear.
Despite being working people, they have been largely abandoned by parties who once considered themselves to represent working people. This is a real shame and something I have found difficult to understand.
There are many people in our industry that will vote different parties. We are not a political organisation. We are a broad church that represents all our members. There are members of our own committee who have been SNP supporters for decades and they, too, find some of the venom directed on these Twitter posts to be galling to say the least.
What our members are crying out for just now are politicians that will listen to their concerns, on moor, hill, forest, riverbank or wherever and will give them their voice, even if that is to disagree or to debate.
In my view, the politicians that do that are more likely to find support for their aims in their own constituencies than those who continue to ignore them. It is those who ignore, and not people who do take the time to listen to the views of all, that will fan the tension that is beginning to grow among rural working folk.



On that note, we are running a political poll for members on our website, in response to all the feedback we have been getting. There are 3 basic questions. It takes under a minute. Scroll down the website homepage and take the poll. Find it, here: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk