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

Thursday, 6 August 2020

BLOG: POLARISING DEBATE AND THE RSPB

The RSPB blog: ‘A comment on some recent unpleasant events’, published August 4th, has created quite a bit of anger amongst the SGA membership, particularly at the same time as a Tweet, posted by RSPB investigator Ian Thomson, was attempting to make mischief for the grouse sector over mountain hares.


See, the RSPB blog, here: https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/martinharper/posts/a-comment-on-some-recent-unpleasant-events


The first point to make, on behalf of the SGA membership, is that hopefully the RSPB employee on the receiving end of what Mr Harper described in his blog is safe, feels supported and is ok.


One of the things which can be agreed upon is that incitement to violence in public messaging is unacceptable, particularly when it involves staff members who are simply there to do their jobs, away from the front-line of a highly polarised snake-pit of ‘debate’.


However, it is wholly wrong and an extremely low blow for the RSPB to take the moral high ground on this issue and conduct some form of revision of history. There are not enough pots and kettles in the universe to make this stand. The most quoted comment we have received from members is “how dare they?”.


The RSPB media machine, for years, has worked very hard to bore away at working land managers UK-wide (see one image above from an RSPB publication, 2011). A rich conservation ‘business’, they have been highly successful in tapping into annual streams of public cash and managing to keep their metropolitan membership happy with colouring books for kids at summer fairs whilst the hierarchy tries to keep as quiet as they can about the role the RSPB has in things like tipping poison from helicopters on Gough Island and eradicating whole species of wildlife from geographical areas.


What they cannot do, though, is claim they have played no part in alienating swathes of working people who have major roles to play in ongoing conservation (but have to do so while making a living), free of the tranches of public cash which are meat and drink to RSPB. The RSPB are as much the architects of the poisonous media atmosphere which follows countryside issues, today, as anyone else.


It is only a few months since the SGA had to seek private assistance to investigate death threats to staff following a very public intervention by the RSPB’s Vice President Chris Packham into the attempts by farmers and gamekeepers in Strathbraan to secure a legal licence to control a tiny proportion of Scotland’s raven population in order to protect a disappearing red listed bird, described by the RSPB as the UK’s most pressing conservation concern. Not only that, following a public letter by Mr Packham- one of the most polarising figures in countryside politics today- encouraging everyone to write to SNH about the licence, even the Chairman of the nature body received threats on his life; his family home being guarded at one stage by private helicopter.


These are not idle comments by some rogue on a Twitter thread who’s had a few shandies. These are planned attempts to shut things down, disrupt the course of events and use BBC celebrity status, emotive and derogatory language and anything else to hand to change matters affecting working people in their own communities. Mr Packham’s dual role in RSPB- who claim not to be anti shooting - while he petitions the Westminster Parliament to ban driven grouse shooting- is another matter but, like predator control and the use of species control licences- land working people have become inured to the conflicts and apparent hypocrisies lying within this power-bloated organisation.


The most recent death threats are not the only ones received by SGA staff members. There have been others and equally as troubling to those innocent people involved, some who are no longer with us. The public messaging from RSPB has had a role to play in all of them, particularly around the time of the red kite poisonings in Ross-shire. 


The RSPB may be many things to some people but they cannot cry wolf when they reap some of what they, themselves, have sown. 


No one- including this RSPB employee- deserves the incitement of violence but the change of tone in public messaging is not, as Mr Harper puts it, just ‘more prevalent in modern life’, it has been going on awhile and RSPB, probably even before his time, have not been backward in coming forward when engaging in it.



OFFICE MOVE: MEMBERS TAKE NOTE

Today, August 6th, the SGA office will be temporarily closed as staff complete the move to a larger office in the same building.
The office will afford staff greater ability to put social distancing measures in place, as they stagger a return from home working.
It will also provide the SGA with access to a larger meeting space.
Unfortunately, this will mean that all telecommunications systems will have to be closed down in the old office until the move is completed and services are re-connected. It is estimated that this will be done in the one day.
We apologise for the temporary inconvenience.
If you have queries, please email us on info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk and staff will answer as soon as possible.
The SGA would like to applaud the attitude and commitment of the office team of Carol and Sue in coping  with all the changes during the Covid 19 upheavals but still maintaining services for the membership.
Well done #TEAMSGA.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

BLOG: THE COMEDY OF THE MOUNTAIN HARE TWITTER STORY


How to set a hare running. Literally.


Above is a tweet by RSPB’s wildlife crime investigator, Ian Thomson.

Why would Ian Thomson, an investigator who- because of his position within the law- obviously values the rule of evidence above all else, want to set a (mountain) hare running with a half-baked tweet implying that hare shooting was taking place on an Inverness-shire grouse moor?


Of course, he wouldn’t be aware that such a tweet would set the Twitter echo chamber booming and bring to heel all the extremists which no longer look as if they are merely on the fringe of the RSPB, for whom Mr Thomson is employed.

After all, how could the poor investigator imagine that this would be the consequence? He is in a profession, where truth, neutrality and the law are the prized currency, not politicised Twitter campaigns.


Indeed, impartial investigation must be why SNH have paid RSPB for their investigations services down the years, using Scottish tax payers’ money.


The relevance of this will not be lost on anyone in Scotland who has become accustomed to the tactics of RSPB, extreme campaign groups such as Revive, the Scottish Green Party, the animal rights mobs and the conduits between them all, when they smell blood and want to pressure a nervy Scottish Government, increasingly dislocated from the countryside, into making decisions to benefit their own interests.


To recap, the mountain hare open season began on August 1st. 


Since then, the coalitions have been pressurising Scottish Government to move away from their stated position in the Parliament, on the day the Animals and Wildlife Bill was passed, that they would not rush to ill-considered legislation on mountain hares without consulting relevant stakeholders about how a licensing system for managing hares would work.

That would make some sense, given grouse moors are the only places in Scotland which now have mountain hares in any number (up to 35 times more than non-grouse moors).

So, how do you get your way? You go looking for pictures of gamekeepers legally killing hares, use words such as ‘slaughter’ and ‘organised shoots’ a lot and, if none of this is happening- well,… you can always imply that it is. Nothing to lose, lots to gain.

A few tweets, the drums start beating. Hell, even Dr Ruth will write a blog on ‘unconfirmed reports’ and Scottish Raptor Study Group (again a non-politicised group paid for using tax payer’s money) will retweet it and keep the jungle drums beating. Tag in the relevant Ministers, urge the belligerent to write to Mairi Gougeon and Nicola Sturgeon to ‘stop the slaughter’ and to accuse them of ‘blatant disregard for Scotland’s protected wildlife’ and sit back and wait until Govt loses its bottle. Job done.

Premeditated, calculated, political, mischief making. The stuff for dark arts practitioners but surely a line not to be crossed by impartial investigators in the law.


Now, the truth. 


We know what the Inverness-shire red flags and ‘shots’ were and it was nothing to do with mountain hares. It is very comical, though. Only the politically desperate or people with fantastical imaginations would confuse target shooting with benchrest rifles (the ‘cameras’ on tripods) as ‘a slaughter of mountain hares’; or the hanging red flags to be sinister attempts to keep observers away (they were for wind readings and to keep the public safe and out of the line of fire). The boxes were rifle cases.

The Angus ‘reports’ are on the entirely falsified end of ‘unconfirmed’. 

Then again, truth or proof, in rural matters- it seems- does not matter any more. 


If you are fed up of this relentless castigation of hard working rural land workers by cash-rich campaign groups who will use any tactics to put families out of work and on the dole, tell the same Ministers copied into all the seedy tweets. 


Roseanna.Cunningham.msp@parliament.scot


Mairi.Gougeon.msp@parliament.scot


Nicola.Sturgeon.msp@parliament.scot




LOCKDOWN HEN HARRIER SUCCESS IN ANGUS GLENS


Four Hen Harrier chicks fledged successfully from a nest in the Angus Glens during lockdown, reversing breeding fortunes for the raptor in the region in recent times.

It is 4 years since Harriers reared young in the local glens, with a returning pair of birds breeding successfully.

However, since that nest was found and monitored by the local raptor study group, the adult birds have failed to rear chicks in 3 consecutive years, to the disappointment of land managers.

Now the wait for new chicks is over with a different pair successfully breeding during lockdown on a mixed estate in the glens which welcomes visitors for grouse shooting and deer stalking.

The success was recorded by licensed monitor, Mike Groves, who observed the youngsters whilst respecting the wishes of the estate gamekeeper to allow the birds peace to nest, with minimal disturbance.

“For a few years, in another nest in Angus, the same pair of Harriers have been trying to breed without success. I, and others, were beginning to wonder if we would see chicks in the Angus Glens again,” said Mike, who has been monitoring raptors in the area for decades.

“This is a historic moment. This is a different pair of adult birds. When I spoke to the estate, they were aware the Harriers were there and understandably wanted to keep it low profile, which I had sympathy with. 

“Personally, I believe in minimum disturbance to give the birds the best chance. When you visit nests, it places immense stress on the adults and they don’t settle for a while afterwards.

“Thankfully, as of yesterday, all the young were flying. It is wonderful to see. It is a stepping stone for Harriers in this area.

“Some people make comments online saying that the Angus Glens are desolate. The estates are proud of the wildlife they produce. All around, I see attitudes changing. This is an example of that.”

Hen Harriers are often the subject of polarised debate between game estates and anti-grouse shooting factions.

Scientists on the multi-party Langholm Moor Demonstration Project found that breeding Hen Harriers benefit from grouse moor management by gamekeepers but campaigners blame grouse estates for persecuting the birds because they eat red grouse.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “We know from the gamekeepers in the area that sightings of Hen Harriers are now much more frequent in Angus.

“Even though the other pair have not bred successfully recently, they have been coming back safely to the Glens for years, flying around many of the local estates.

“The news of this successful nest is hugely welcome.”

Despite a slight drop in Harrier numbers at the last review, the Scottish population of the raptor is holding up well compared to the UK-wide population.

Lianne MacLennan of Angus Glens Moorland Group said: “The estate and the gamekeeper deserve huge credit. It is that work which has provided the habitat and food source for this nest to be successful. We only hope now that the birds are allowed peace as year one chicks are highly vulnerable anyway without the stress of excessive monitoring.”

Lockdown has seen successes for other breeding raptors in the Angus Glens, with peregrines, eagle chicks, high numbers of merlins, buzzards, short eared owls and kestrels fledging on local moors.