Thursday, 30 April 2020

SGA HOPES SPORTING BUSINESSES WILL BENEFIT FROM NEW GOVERNMENT FUND


The SGA has welcomed the news that sporting businesses look likely to be eligible to apply for Scottish Government's new creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund.
The new funding, now open for applicants, was formalised today by Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop as part of an overall £100m tranche of new business support.
With sporting activities locked out of the previously announced £10 000 grants, announced early in the lockdown, the SGA and other organisations actively pursued the sector's case with Government.
The SGA communicated with Ministers Fergus Ewing and Kate Forbes and was involved in 6 teleconferences with Scottish Govt Ministers and officials, highlighting the different ways sporting businesses operate, along with representatives from Scottish Land and Estates.
ADMG pursued the case for the deer sector and BASC, too, built a political case.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: "When the sporting sector was left out of funding, initially, it seemed to be partly because of a lack of understanding of how sporting businesses work.
"Not all are large estates. There are many smaller businesses and self employed operating within the sector and they were clearly being left out of the available schemes and falling through the cracks. Ourselves and SLE provided as much guidance and direction on this as we could during teleconferences. Everyone has played a part and it is encouraging that we now look to be getting somewhere.
"Obviously, people will need to apply and we will be doing all we can to ensure those entitled get their payments through quickly because it will be a lifeline for so many."
Fisheries should also be looking to access the fund, with angling representing a significant tourism draw in Scotland.

To find out more, and to apply, see: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/coronavirus/creative-or-tourism-and-hospitality-enterprises-hardship-fund

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG 3- Charlie Whelan

Kind thanks to SGA Fishing Group ambassador Charlie Whelan for today's Coronablog.

Charlie with a nice Spey brownie.

A lockdown in the Highlands where I live is not as much as a hardship as for so many others. 

There has only been one major changes to my daily routine and that’s not being allowed to fish.

Every day I take the dog down to the river Dulnain about a mile from where it joins the Spey. Every day I want to take my rod with me! 

Having said that I fully support all the lockdown measures. 


Most people who come here to fish travel from other parts of the country and whilst they would always get a warm highland welcome they wouldn’t now. 


It seems silly that the ultimate self isolation activity is banned but it’s the traveling that’s the problem as the highlands NHS just couldn’t cope with any major outbreak of covid 19. 


The angling trust have produced an excellent plan that they have sent to the government for the resumption of fishing. In the first phase it suggests that fishing could take place where people didn’t have to travel so, for example, you could fish your local river, Loch, or canal. 


That make sense and, here, it would mean that many of the association beats could allow the locals to fish. Here in Grantown on Spey we have a thriving association whose members are desperate to get back on the river.


Unfortunately, there may be a longer wait for the private beats and a return to river guiding for the Gillies. They and their families though would would probably want to wait and be safe rather than risk the social contact of anglers from the rest of the UK and abroad. 


Our thoughts are with them and their families much more than our personal desire to cast a fly.


Tuesday, 28 April 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG NUMBER 2- Peter Fraser

SGA Vice Chairman Peter Fraser's thoughts on the Dee.

For some time now, the older generation who fished the River Dee when it was at its peak as a salmon river, and returned year after year, have been threatening that that this visit would be their last due to declining salmon numbers. 

Up 'til now, many of them haven’t carried out that threat. However, the current situation we are now in and the prospect of a blank season may be the excuse some have been looking for to end their ties fishing the Dee. Hopefully not.

If, by some chance, fishing resumed later in the season, what would the attitude of locals be? Yes, businesses and everyone would like to return to normal but, as many fishers come up from the south where the virus problems may be greater, would locals be happy? 

At present all hotels, boarding and holiday houses are closed, so where would fishers stay? 

With this warm spell of weather, river levels are low and smolts are waiting for a rise in water levels for their journey down river to sea. 

With inactivity and little disturbance on rivers, the impact goosanders have on smolts in these present conditions are a major worry. 

Due to the close down, poaching on the river Don was a concern but thankfully, after three weeks, the water bailiffs managed to get on top of the situation. 

A worry for many gillies laid off due to the current situation, is the lack of keeping on top of river bank vegetation. If nothing is done to water banks, it's a mammoth task getting them back in order for the following season.

*** Want to participate in the SGA Fishing Coronablog? All subjects will be considered, long, short or somewhere in between. The aim is to provide a forum for people who participate in fishing or make a living from it, to share experiences, to debate, share laughter, fears, DIY tips, whatever comes to mind.

If you want to take part, send your thoughts to info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk with the subject: Coronablog. Send a photo, either of yourself or something appropriate to go with your entry. Videos can also be sent. Feel free, too, to make comments on the posts when we post them on social media.

Monday, 27 April 2020

THE SGA'S FISHING CORONABLOG- Bob White

Welcome to the SGA's new Fishing Coronablog.

During lockdown, every sporting sector has been hit and future consequences are also now being considered, with money flowing out of local economies, fast. The fishing season was already open when fisheries were forced to stop abruptly. Some ghillies have been furloughed. Others are taking the unexpected break to get odd jobs done.

We want to hear from ghillies, river workers, fishery board employees, anglers (anyone for whom fishing is a passion or a living) about their own experiences of lockdown; what they've been doing, how it will affect their fisheries and what, if anything may be learned from this crisis.

All subjects will be considered, long, short or somewhere in between. The aim is to provide a forum for people to share experiences, to debate, share laughter, fears, DIY tips, whatever comes to mind.

If you want to take part, send your thoughts to info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk, with the subject: Coronablog. Send a photo, either of yourself or something appropriate to go with your entry. Videos can also be sent. Feel free, too, to make comments on the posts when we post them on social media.

The first Coronablog entry is from Bob White, a ghillie on the Tay and a member of the SGA Fishing Group. Thanks Bob.

We are certainly living in strange and telling times with the Coronavirus hitting everyone in the fishing and ghillie world extremely hard. 

No one could have envisaged this onslaught a month or so ago, but we have had to accept it and adapt quickly, day by day. 

When the outbreak started in China no one could comprehend the speed of the spread and all over the world. Everyone is so interconnected nowadays and, yes, what a small world it has become with modern travel.

Commercial fishing stopped abruptly with the self-isolating advice being clear but fishing, as a whole, continued for a few days until it became abundantly apparent it was not the correct thing to do, even although on your own. This is still the case although there is some talk of fishing and golfing being able to commence soon but at distance. 

How it will work is certainly going to be interesting. The consequences of this are far reaching financially in terms of jobs and fishery survival. Most have taken big hits due to this, but it was already in a fragile state with dramatically reducing runs and catches in recent years, although there seemed to be an air of optimism with improvement this season so far, with some lovely spring salmon caught. However, that seems a distant memory now after 5 weeks of lockdown. 

This may be the straw that breaks the camels back in some cases. Fisheries have, by and large, understood the serious situation, honouring bookings that had to be cancelled, refunding money, providing alternative days or carrying it forward to next season and shame any that do not comply or try to wriggle out of that as they do not deserve to be supported. 
In the case of Timeshare, management fees have continued to go out despite no fishing but I am sure some form of compensation will be forthcoming.

Some Ghillies have been furloughed which effectively means staying at home all the time, taking away the opportunity of keeping the beats maintained and checking boats and huts. Fortunately others remain on full pay enabling them to work on their own on beats and honour their roll as guardians of the river and banks. There is always something to do on the beats and especially at this time of year with the grass growing quickly as the temperature warms up. River boards are under threat as well with river levies not being paid by some beat owners because they can not fish. The river still has to be run and looked after.

It is trying times for everyone, so what have ghillies been up to in recent weeks? The world seems to have stopped, enabling us to do all the jobs we have put off for years. Is this what retirement is like?

I am single but have my 2 lovely daughters back home from University in Edinburgh and we have been keeping busy daily. The car and my truck are spotless inside and out! We have been power hosing everywhere, getting the moss off the roof, roans are cleared and garden work in full swing. Our gardens will never look so good. I have even been making a new hen run to hopefully keep any predators away as my last hens got killed by a fox and pine marten. 

My daily routine includes a fly tying session and I see from Facebook lots of ghillies are passing on their secretes to anglers, with some outstanding patterns being shared, inspiring everyone for the preparation of the eventual restart. I have not really done much tying in years until recently, but I certainly have had a renaissance in that field. I am not sure what motivated me, but I saw an advert for Frodin flies and the rest is history, so to speak. I was inspired and started tying up some spring patterns which have been really successful. I had 2 catches of a couple of great spring salmon in a day prior to the shutdown and I had been letting clients use the flies as well to gain some great successes. I now have complete faith in the system, but I am now tying far smaller flies for the summer and early autumn- assuming we can get back to the river again. Videos on YouTube have been inspirational as well, brushing up on techniques and giving new ideas.   There is a team of us sharing our daily tyings on WhatsApp and my fly box is starting to fill rapidly. 

My daily routine has been going out early to walk my three labs and to check the estate, beats, boats and huts. It is truly a great time to be out at the river, with much better weather. I have been taking the river temperature daily and it is rising which will enable the salmon to run and spread throughout the vast Tay system as on all rivers. 

It is an exciting time of year but frustrating that we cannot be out enjoying the fishing and imparting our knowledge and experience to anglers. The countryside is coming alive in the tremendous weather that we have been witnessing with the leaves bursting out giving us a sea of green. Ospreys, Sand Pipers, Sand Martins, Swallows and Swifts have all arrived back and can be seen daily. The Geese have gone, travelling north and soon the wild flowers will be in full bloom by June making the riverbanks a glorious place to be. 

I will be on the riverbank on our beats on a daily basis cutting grass, planting flowers and keeping the beats smart for the eventual reopening. It is a passion of love of our glorious countryside. 
Hopefully we will all come out of this mess stronger and more resilient. Take care and stay safe. 



Thursday, 23 April 2020

FOX CONTROL: UNGLAMOROUS BUT ESSENTIAL IN A MANAGED WORKING LANDSCAPE

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg, rising at 5.30am to sit out for foxes.
At this time of year, a lot of gamekeepers will be sitting out for hours managing foxes, sometimes into the early hours. Fox population management is time consuming and changes, in its nature, over terrain type.

This is is why managers require different tools such as shooting, legal snaring and sometimes using foot packs of trained scenting dogs in dense forestry (a favoured hiding place of predators), where shooting and snaring is either unsafe or wholly ineffective.

Gamekeepers on estates will do this primarily to protect the economic game species they get paid to look after in their working environment but the activity is also scientifically proven to protect rare ground-nesting birds and other species*. 



At landscape scale, it is also providing a vital wider service to farmers at this time of year, ensuring that the lambs are not being killed; foxes being prodigious predators of farm livestock and poultry. 
Some fox controllers and gamekeepers are specifically enlisted by farms to patrol their lambing fields at this key time. A lot of farmers, today, do not have firearms licences or the time in their busy day to carry out specific stock protection beyond fencing and maintaining fences. Fox management has benefits across the landscape and helps to protect the farmer's income.

The work of gamekeepers in skilled- and methodical- fox control, therefore, has wider benefits for many species and helps protect the UK’s food supply as well as providing game shooting income which, in turn, sustains many families in remote rural areas.


Fox terriers, bred to hunt out foxes, can be useful over certain terrain.
Crow management is also of particular benefit to farmers just now because crows, an abundant species, will peck at the eyes and tongues of ewes and lambs, causing pain and distress and, sometimes, loss, if an animal has been injured so severely that it has to be put to sleep.** 

This work in controlling predators, unglamorous, always laborious and often misunderstood, is an economic service, serving biodiversity as well. 

No one is managing the fox out of existence. They are a keynote species. However, their numbers need to be controlled in a managed landscape, which is what we have in Scotland, and this requires selfless dedication and long, long (sometimes thankless) hours.

When surveying the countryside vista and seeing healthy gambolling lambs, remember the farmers and the hours spent to keep stock in as good a condition as can be. These images are not the product of luck or accident. Consider the role of the next door keeper, too, who was probably up half the night pitting wits with the wily fox when everyone else was getting some shut-eye or guiltily catching up with something on Netflix.


Management of foxes is not undertaken by gamekeepers for pleasure or unthinkingly.  It is a necessary element of their paid employment.


*Charities such as RSPB also sub-contract controllers to manage hundreds of foxes per year, to protect rarer species on their nature reserves. In 2016/17, it managed 414 foxes.
**Conservation charities employ contractors to do some crow management, acknowledging the crows’ prowess as nest raiders. In 2016/2017, RSPB managed 661 crows at 15 sites.

VENISON MARKET VALUE GROWS BY 11% IN 2019


UK retail venison market increases in value by almost 11% during 2019 latest research from Scottish Venison shows

Detailed market research undertaken across the UK has indicated that the retail home venison market is growing in value, recording an increase of 10.9% through 2019.

The market research undertaken by Kantar and new attitudinal research by 56 Degree Insight for for the Scottish Venison Association and SAOS and funded by the Scottish Government has, for the first time, given an accurate snapshot of how the UK retail venison market is performing and of consumer views in Scotland and across the rest of the UK towards buying and eating venison.

The Kantar research found that the UK retail venison market was worth £14.4m in 2019, with a total of 1,221 tonnes sold in the last 12 months.  An additional two times that amount of venison is produced, the majority of it from Scotland’s wild deer, which goes to market via other routes – catering, hotels and restaurants and foodservice; independent butchers, farmers markets and mail order; and for export.

Kantar’s research drilled down into the UK grocery retail sector, establishing that sales of primary cuts were worth £7.1m (up by 43%) and burgers and grills some £5.2m. The retail market is dominated by two brands accounting for 59% of sales with Highland Game at #1 and Waitrose own label at #2.  In terms of retailer share of venison Waitrose is in front with 33.2% of the market, Sainsbury’s following with 13% and then Morrisons with 10.7%.

The attitudinal research undertaken by 56 Degree Insight highlighted who is eating venison, when and why, and where they are buying it. Headline findings show that 49% of venison is bought from the supermarket; 26% from butchers; 14% from farm shops; and 9% from mail order.  Venison shoppers are likely to be older and more affluent, with 13% of those eating venison living in Scotland, and that 30% of all venison is consumed by those aged 65 and over. Also 52% choose venison because of taste; 34% because of high quality; 24% because of health/nutritional qualities; 22% to try something different; and 19% because they can buy it locally.  Venison is 5x more likely to be eaten as a treat and 2x more likely to be eaten for health reasons versus other red meat.

Bill Bewsher, Chairman of the Scottish Venison Association, said:

“For years we have lacked detailed information about the venison market and have needed to make certain assumptions based on news reports and other sources about it, how much is sold, and why people buy it.  With this new research we are now much better informed, as well as having confirmation that there is healthy growth for venison across the retail sector.

“With these data, processors and other intermediaries can now go to the market with confidence and talk to buyers armed with evidence and hard fact.  Venison is performing better than other red meats in general and that is good news for the wild sector, for deer farmers, and for those who have diversified into deer farming. We are keen to maintain this momentum if we can once the current constraints of the covid-19 crisis and uncertainties surrounding Brexit have past.”


The main research finding have been summarised in an infographic 

The SGA welcomes this news but there is clearly much more scope for increasing venison sales and value further. Our Deer Vision, published online at the end of 2019 and in print in March 2020, covered many of the points on how we get there.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

CHAIRMAN'S LOCKDOWN LATEST: A four legged visitor, Scottish Government support and a warning to shoots and fisheries.

Chairman Alex Hogg.

As we get deeper into lockdown, the challenges continue for all but, like life, there are always positives to find as well as negatives. 

A few days ago, I went out to my kennels to find an unexpected visitor- a wee Westie- just sitting outside.

I went over and had a look for a collar but it transpires the collar had broken off. I waited, expecting the owner not to be too far behind but no one came so I got a collar on him (he was a right wee biddable thing) and put him in the kennel.



I waited a while, just in case the owner was searching about but heard and saw nothing so, later, I called the local Police station, who were really good, and I said I would keep the wee dog overnight and they could collect it next day.
My son put a notice on a local Facebook page and there was a response. He told me to expect a call, which I got from the owner.

It turns out the owner had been exercising with the dog and they had got separated. Anyway, at the allotted time, I tied the wee dog up at the end of the road so he could be collected, adhering to social distancing, and when I returned there was a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of whisky.
What a very kind gesture. The whisky will certainly come in very handy when the supplies are running low!

While the numbers taking access on estates have increased in many areas (they certainly have where we are), what has been refreshing is the lack of background traffic noise. All of a sudden it is quieter again! 

Where I worked in Argyll, when I was younger, it was so quiet you could hear foxes rooting about. The only time I have experienced that, here, is during about one hour on Christmas morning, when people haven’t started travelling about. 
Now, it is like that Christmas hour but even better. The birdsong is amazing. It is like hearing nature again. It is really something. 

One of this week's jobs has been trimming around the high seats to help with fox control.

"Politicians may not yet be aware of the impacts a massively curtailed shooting programme will have on small rural economies in Scotland."

On Thursday, I will take part in my 4th direct teleconference with Scottish Govt officials about Coronavirus  support for shoots and deer forests. The calls have been useful in presenting the case but it is definitely the situation now where we need some answers on what Government intends to do, if anything.

It was good to see ADMG writing to Scottish Govt regarding support for the deer sector and BASC have also been building MSP support, but clarity is required from the Government’s officials now before the sector gets forgotten.
Sporting rates were brought back to bring shoots and deer forests ‘into line with other businesses’, so to then deny the same support given to others begs questions about the motivation at a time of crisis.
Smaller shoots are particularly vulnerable and we are also beginning to hear of gamekeepers being laid off on some bigger English shoots, who are curtailing programmes.

What happens in our sector is ‘real’ money, it does not normally require public help or support from lotteries or other schemes, but this is a unique time. Politicians may not yet be aware of the impacts a massively curtailed shooting programme will have on small rural economies in Scotland, with shoots bringing tourist spend, in season, from the UK and overseas and helping resident small businesses retain and keep staff in rural communities. These communities will already be disproportionately hit and can be less resilient to the body blows when things go belly up. By helping these providers now, Government will halt far bigger problems coming down the road.

On a final note, I’d like to speak up on behalf of members who are struggling a bit in the lockdown. Some have been furloughed and this can be hard for people who love being outdoors and keeping on top of things. Something the public maybe don’t fully appreciate is the care and love gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers have for the land they manage. We have been hearing of furloughed river ghillies becoming quite anxious because they know the growing season is on us and their banks will be like a jungle if we ever get back to fishing.

Fisheries are seeing a rise in poaching.

"This was a DIY shoot, built up by men of retirement or near retirement age..."
We had the very sad situation recently with syndicate SGA members losing over 30 years of work when their pheasant and partridge shoot was deliberately burned to the ground.

The incident has left them utterly saddened. This was a DIY shoot, built up by working men of retirement or near retirement age. They would go and invest time and their own money, building huts and kitchens and just using their own initiative to build a wee haven for them to go on their shoots and work parties. 

The building of the Bellefield Shoot
Anyone who has taken part in anything like that will know how much it gives to people; a sense of community and shared purpose, fresh air, treasured memories, lots of stories, camaraderie, a few drams. 

It is the sort of thing that gives you a warm sense of wellbeing and friendship, even in the darker times. 

Now all of that is gone. 

With less people able to check on the site because of lockdown restrictions on non-essential travel, criminals took advantage and torched the place.

The Shoot in happier times.
The members contacted us so we could get the message out to others that anti-shooting campaigners are still operating and may use the present situation to better their ends. 

Be extra vigilant. Stay safe.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

GAMEKEEPERS HELP EXTINGUISH SUTHERLAND WILDFIRE

A gamekeeper assesses how best to tackle the fire front.


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has paid tribute to quick acting gamekeepers for helping bring a croft fire under control on Tuesday evening, close to last year’s devastating wildfire in Sutherland.




Gamekeepers from Bighouse, Skelpic, Achentoul and Shurrery estates acted swiftly, mobilising leaf blowing equipment and fire beaters shortly after spotting smoke rising from whin bushes on a croft.

The gamekeepers were co-ordinated quickly by Bighouse estate staff using radio and phone communication and were on-site with members of the local community before the fire could spread beyond slow moving stage.

Flames from whins fanned out onto rank heather in wind and, without timely intervention, could have caused more serious damage.

Their professionalism and fire management skills helped to control the blaze, with fire engines from Dornoch traveling under blue light to assist the local fire crew, gamekeepers and the residents.

Last May, a fire which burnt for 6 days in the area (also attended by gamekeepers) was estimated to have released the carbon equivalent of 6 days of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman, Alex Hogg, said: “Well done to the fire crews, residents and the gamekeepers for their swift actions, especially as this was nothing to do with estate activities.

"Last Wednesday, when Green MSP Andy Wightman’s amendment to the Coronavirus Bill at Holyrood outlawed muirburn during the lockdown, we said that SGA members would still answer the call to help the frontline services at wildfires, utilising their skills and equipment for public good at this time.

“They put their own personal safety aside to turn out, as they have often done. We are pleased to work closely with the fire service and reiterate that our members will assist, wherever required.”

The fire service were not called to any Scottish grouse muirburn fires this season, prior to the activity being suspended during the lockdown period.



Tuesday, 7 April 2020

CORONAVIRUS LATEST AND SECTOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Buses had already been booked from across the country and the show of strength was indicative of feeling.
Members told us they had had enough and were deeply concerned at Government policy direction when it came to rural workers in our sector, from ghillies on the rivers to deer managers on the hills and gamekeepers on the moor. Intended curbs on fox control was also a significant factor in sector thinking.
Since then, the world has changed in so many ways for everyone.
However, as we stated at the time, the SGA will allow you, the members, to have your say in a re-arranged demonstration in the future, whenever it is safe to do so.
Since then we have been working hard on your behalf, despite staff working at home, to get you the proper guidance and information from authorities that you have needed to continue working- where appropriate- or to cut back in this time of emergency.
We will now be working to try to get to the bottom of some of the discrepancies in government support when it comes to our sector with some smaller operations, sadly, being pushed to the brink financially.
Like many sectors, this is going to hit ours hard and people are having to make very difficult decisions, now, which will affect the coming season- and family incomes- despite lack of any certainty on when the world may get back to a semblance of normality.
We have already started the process of trying to encourage some support from government.
One former long-standing member told us yesterday that he finds it unforgivable that, despite our forefathers in the profession playing a prominent role in helping to defend the country in two world wars, often as rear gunners and snipers, that this generation should be denied support at a time of need.
We will do all within our power to try to find ways forward with Government agencies that will not cut deserving, hard working people further adrift at a deeply worrying time.
To help us, we are asking all members to contact us if they are experiencing difficulty, with no access to support. We are not looking for confidential information, just an explanation of the challenges you are facing and what options you have been told you have, or don’t have.
Lots of people are in different circumstances but this will help us to get as rounded a picture as we can of how the sector is bearing up, as a whole, and where the deepest problems lie.
This information will help us in our discussions with Government agencies who, thankfully, are engaging with us and acknowledging that there are problems.
Email is best just now, on info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
If calling the office, please be mindful that we are currently down on staff numbers at present and it may take longer than usual to get through. Please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

*Thank you to the 133 people who took our website political poll, which ran over the month of March, when our Holyrood demonstration was planned. We have now analysed the data, presented on the page in 2 charts.







Friday, 3 April 2020

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG: Govt support, muirburn, irresponsible access during lockdown and fox control in public forests

"It’s been another difficult week for everyone as we get to grips with changes in our lives. The SGA has been busy on members’ behalf."



Last week word started to come through that members were being excluded from Government support because shooting and deer forests were exempt.


We have been trying to get to the bottom of this, speaking to impacted members and engaging with Government ministers.

On Thursday I was involved in a helpful teleconference with some other rural stakeholders and put forward our members’ case. We have been told that 4 Government officials will be assigned to looking at countryside businesses who have been left with little, and have been cut out of the type of support other businesses in exactly the same situation are receiving. This is a nightmare for small operators and jobs will go.

Personally, I think this has been poorly thought through and should have been discussed. Civil servants have a poor understanding of how rural businesses in our sector operate. We will continue to fight for our members’ rights and there are to be more discussions this week but we want to see firm action from Scottish Government, not just talk.

For example, some of our members are paying sporting rates. While other rate payers are getting payment breaks, sporting rates are exempt. This looks very much like discrimination and it cannot continue. Deer stalking businesses can be marginal at the best of times. They now face Coronavirus-related income cuts, with people not booking, and sporting rates.
If this is ideological, politicians should remember the people most hit will be the small operators trying to eke a living in remote Scotland. 

The money sporting business creates for rural Scotland is considerable. It is real money, not part-public and state-aided and it will help to get wee places back on their feet again when we all emerge from this, whenever that might be. Government has a duty to represent all sectors making up the economy of Scotland and not just to prop some and cut others adrift.





Muirburn

This week, we saw Green MSP Andy Wightman’s amendment being passed to stop muirburn in Scotland for the term of the Coronavirus Bill. 

As I said in our statement, the SGA sought official advice from Government bodies and the relevant authorities regarding muirburn. We did so because our members, rightly, wanted to know the official position. When they asked us, we gave them the official position.  If this was re-run tomorrow, we would do exactly the same. 

The position of SNH was that muirburn was a legal and legitimate land management activity and, providing the Muirburn Code and Government guidance on distancing could be followed, was a matter of individual choice. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were in contact with us and, at no time, suggested that muirburn should stop providing the guidance was followed. Both of those positions remained the same until the vote was passed in Holyrood to stop it. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, at no time, attended any Scottish muirburn fire.

I have no doubt that some MPSs who voted in favour of the amendment did so purely because of Coronavirus concerns and I fully respect that reasoning.
I am also in no doubt that some others saw this as a political opportunity to push a pet dislike, goaded on by RSPB and other anti grouse moor factions, in order to bring this in, in disguise, while Parliament’s mind was distracted. Murdo Fraser, in opposing the amendment used the word ‘vindictive’. I cannot disagree with that.

We move on, but this act, at this time, will be remembered long in the minds of the land working countryside.


Irresponsible access during lockdown

A lot of members are continuing to deal with irresponsible access by people on the ground they work on. It is very clear that Government guidance is not working. 

Where we are, I’d say the amount of people around our estate has quadrupled and we are busy at normal times. Last week, we erected a sign, which was torn down. The arrogance of some people is staggering. Last week we had mountain bikers who had come 15 miles. They don’t even look up to acknowledge you are there or raise a hand. They are head down at speed, opening and shutting gates with bare hands and very little respect. In my own family, we have people with health vulnerabilities who are rightly concerned about Coronavirus, and the amount of traffic is making a lot of rural workers more at risk than ever. 



I’ve had local people call me to ask if it is ok to walk and I say: of course it is. They show respect because they know what it is like living in these places. Sadly, some folk are treating it like a holiday park. At the moment, there is lambing going on, here, but it doesn’t make the blindest bit of difference. It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend.

As we said before, in a previous blog, maintain calm and proper distancing if you have to approach people to ask them their whereabouts but it is for the authorities to police the lockdown, not us. 

Fox control in public forestry

Finally, I noticed reports emerging yesterday about fox control with hounds in public forestry. The article was a sad example of how countryside issues are reported today. See here: https://theferret.scot/ewing-fox-control-hounds-forests/?fbclid=IwAR1BWwf97xiRp- Ltw6tAaLqOI90FLHVIxZMssw0FQ1Kxhhg7UCd9EzvE1e0s

Some of the anti shooting groups, whose sole reason for being these days, it appears, is to put people like me out of work, have been patting each other on the back for participating in it.
I’d just like to say that, if we manage to bring the Curlew back from the brink, individuals like Fergus Ewing should be given a medal, not criticism.

The day we cannot control foxes in thick forestry with a pack of dogs at foot is the day species like the Curlew take the step towards the exit door. The people crowing just now will have helped to play a part in that. 

Stay safe. Follow guidance.

If you have not visited our YouTube channel, you can see our latest film update on Coronavirus and your work, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA8Ljxf20RE

Alex Hogg, Chairman. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association. April 3rd 2020.