Friday 25 September 2020



Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has been asked to investigate a near £200 000 grant awarded by a Government agency for a controversial 12 mile deer fence in Assynt.

Scottish Government’s nature advisers, Nature Scot, awarded Woodland Trust Scotland £198 341 during lockdown as part of a £420 000 scheme to fence deer out of the 5000 acre Eisg Brachaidh estate.

The Sutherland project represents the highest sum of tax payer’s money paid out by Nature Scot (formerly SNH) under the Biodiversity Challenge Fund which was launched in 2019 to finance priority habitat work.

Now impacted parties, who were not consulted beforehand, have flagged up the scheme to Audit Scotland after identifying what they believe are potential anomalies in the awarding of funds.

The independent watchdog received a letter yesterday (23rd) from a consultant to the neighbouring Inverpolly Estate asking them to probe aspects of the scheme including the tendering process for the fencing work.

In public procurement contracts, a number of costed tenders should be received and assessed before funding is awarded, to guarantee the Scottish tax payer value for money.

However, freedom of information materials sent to the auditors showed that the funds were granted on the basis of a single tender, secured after the award was made.

Furthermore, despite a 17.1km perimeter fence being erected over designated wild land and close to protected lochs, no Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out.

The sole agricultural tenant, who grazes cattle and sheep within the project boundary, wasn’t informed of the scheme until Nature Scot had awarded the funds.

Similarly no economic assessments were carried out in order to assess the financial impact of such a major project on neighbours.

Victor Clements, consultant to Inverpolly Estate, who wrote to the auditor, copying in relevant freedom of information material, said: “I think it is hugely important for all of us working and advising on woodland and conservation projects in Scotland that funding is not allocated in this way, and without any significant consultation or assessment of risk or environmental impact. 

“It undermines conservation management for all of us, and therefore, it is hugely important to bring this to public attention. This is not the way to develop native woodland projects in particular, and this episode has undermined the credibility and reputations of all those involved.”

Assynt Community Council has written to Scottish Ministers asking that the project be placed on hold until risks to community interests have been properly assessed.

The Eisg Brachaidh Revival project aspires to protect habitats including ancient woodlands by excluding deer and reducing the numbers within the fence to 1 or 2 deer per sq km.

Met entirely by different public funding schemes, the NGOs behind it say they hope it will be seen as an ‘exemplar project’.

However, lack of consultation, questions over funding propriety and lack of certainty over how much woodland will be delivered has intensified local pressure for a delay.

It is not the first time Nature Scot’s involvement in Assynt deer issues have been scrutinised.

In June 2017 the government agency used its power to force Assynt Crofters Trust and other landowners to cull large numbers of deer at Ardvar woodlands, claiming the deer were halting tree regeneration.

However, they abandoned the ruling weeks later after external surveyors found that their advisers had misrepresented the site condition; a protracted disagreement costing the tax payer £1m.


Responding to a media release from RSPB Scotland regarding a satellite tag recovered from a Perthshire river, a
 Spokesperson for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said:

“If RSPB’s interpretation of this is what has actually happened, which they do not have proof of, then, of course, we would share that concern. However, it is one of many possible interpretations and until any forensic process is concluded it would be unwise of us to comment further or add to speculation on who may have covered up a tag or what their interests were in doing so. To state that this is what happens to every missing satellite tag in Scotland is without evidential basis whatsoever.

"Satellite tags have become heavily weaponised by political campaigners. They elicit high levels of publicity and a person finding one on their land would not want it around, given the scrutiny they would come under. We will await to see what the Police can uncover from the evidence. We hope they find the truth of what has happened, for everyone’s sake.”


Wednesday 23 September 2020


Following Scottish Government’s announcement of 22nd September, our office will be physically manned only     part-time to enable staff to work from home, where possible, in accordance with Government guidance.

Telephones will be manned during office hours as normal with the exception of this week (week commencing 21st Sept). Due to a staff member unfortunately contracting Laryngitis, and being unable to speak, phones will be manned only part-time.

However, please leave a message on our voicemail, if you do not get an answer, and your call will be returned as soon as possible. Normal phone service will resume next week (week commencing 28th September).

We thank members for their understanding and apologise for any inconvenience as Team SGA adjust to the changes.

Friday 18 September 2020


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

Dear Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this.

Yours Sincerely, 

Alex Hogg, Chairman, The Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

*Notable area signatories are below.


ANGUS: 268





FIFE: 165

GLASGOW city: 133




MORAY: 183

Tuesday 15 September 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 4 September 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of a life is that?

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

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

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

But guess what? It looks like it is happening. 

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

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

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

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

This is the reality of this policy. 

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

I encourage you to sign our petition to stop this cull- you can do so, here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign the petition: "

Thursday 3 September 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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