Educating the 21st Century gamekeeper – with 19th Century ignorance

We often hear (from the shooting industry) about how well qualified young gamekeepers are these days and how these young men & women are so much better informed than their predecessors. Two years ago there was a parliamentary motion put forward to recognise the need for ‘well-trained young gamekeepers’ and the value of responsible gamekeeping to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity (see here), and this year, the SGA’s Young Gamekeeper of the Year Award was presented by none other than the Environment Minister (see here).

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg has hailed the Scottish colleges involved (see here), and apparently all graduates must pass key tests in various areas and have an understanding of conservation.

Sounds good, right?

One of the colleges offering qualifications in gamekeeping is Borders College. They have a webpage headed: ‘Educating the 21st Century Gamekeeper’ (see here).

Imagine our surprise, then, when we were sent the following image, captured from Facebook two days ago:

Garry Dickson

In case you can’t read it, here is the comment written by Garry Dickson about protected native goshawks:

Aye, it’s a pity that here in Scotland they predate our native reds as well. SNH should extract the digit and allow keepers to control raptors as well as badgers. Our reds are hanging on by the skin of their teeth“.

Who’s Garry Dickson? He’s a lecturer on the gamekeeping course at Borders College.

Is this the sort of ill-informed, unsubstantiated nonsense he’s teaching to young gamekeeping students at Borders College? Mind you, if they don’t hear it from their lecturer they’ll probably hear it from the SGA – Alex Hogg shared his ignorance on goshawks a couple of years ago – see here.

It’s no surprise that the goshawk is listed as a wildlife crime priority species (because of the extent of persecution against it) if armies of young gamekeeping graduates are being let loose in the countryside after being taught such moronic 19th Century prejudice.


24 Responses to “Educating the 21st Century gamekeeper – with 19th Century ignorance”

  1. 1 steve macsweeney
    December 10, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    What wouldn’t these people say to safeguard their precious imports?
    It’s a measure of their ignorance that they expect anyone with more than 2 grey cells to believe this propaganda.

  2. 2 Andrew
    December 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    rewind 200 or even 500 years to where we had a good resident population (many more than we have today) of goshawks and they killed all the red squirrels and made them extinct!
    What, they didn’t?
    But how did the squirrels survive if we didn’t have conscientious gamekeepers there to shoot the goshawks?
    Perhaps, out there, is a gamekeeper with an IQ greater than 5 that can explain!

  3. 3 Tony Warburtopn MBE
    December 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    NOW I understand the utter silence and lack of action from Aileen Mcleod on the subject of raptor persecution – she’s either ‘one of them’ or is totally ignorant of the subject! I hadn’t seen the Young Gamekeeper Award film before so thank you yet again RPS for keeping us Englishmen in the loop. What a load of drivel she uttered, and I note that she had to read her crib sheet even to say that! No wonder the noble Alex looked so smug. However, there is humour in everything and I loved the fact that no-one behind the three stooges paid the slightest attention to her ‘speech’. So who was she actually addressing?

    As for the gamekeepers course at the Borders College, with such as Garry Dickson preaching his Victorian bilge to young aspiring keepers we really do have a battle on our hands.

  4. 4 nirofo
    December 10, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    I wonder if it ever crossed Garry Dicksons mind, or does he even care that the Goshawk in the UK is far rarer than the Red Squirrel and is a Schedule One protected species! But then how would you expect a lecturer on the gamekeeping course at Borders College who’s mindset is still in the 19th century Victorian era to accept that it is illegal to kill any raptor in the UK. It seems pretty obvious that any training he passes on while he is ‘Educating the 21st Century Gamekeeper’ students is going to be biased in favour of some sort of “raptor control” and we all know what that means.

  5. 5 Les Wallace
    December 10, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    They are still doing their best to ignore the growing evidence that recovering pine marten populations are decimating grey squirrels and allowing red squirrels to return. I’ve spoken directly to someone who has said that the first pine marten in their garden was quickly followed by the first red. Last week someone on facebook said exactly the same. Anybody in the keeping fraternity went ‘Woo Hoo, good on the pine marten!’ Always a bit much to ask for, but absolutely no acknowledgement that martens are helping reds, like getting blood out of a stone. So it looks as if Goshawks are doing the same for red squirrels, they’d never have been a problem in the first place if our native predators hadn’t been slaughtered. That a lecturer is being so blatant with their prejudice and knee jerk reaction to try and be negative about a bird of prey is none the less pretty shocking.

  6. 6 Alister J Clunas
    December 10, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Gamekeepers changing attitudes to predators:

    19th century – kill everything with a hooked beak.
    21st century – get taught a college to kill everything with a hooked beak.

    Plus ca change!

  7. 7 Doug Malpus
    December 10, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    It is just as I thought and I’m sure that I’ve said, new gamekeepers are being kept in the Victorian mindset because that is the way to keep their job.
    More convictions required with hefty penalties of imprisonment not fines to be paid by wealthy bosses.

  8. December 10, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    It will probably come as a surprise to many of you who read this blog on a regular basis… but one of the reasons that red squirrels became so rare in Scotland was because they were killed in their thousands by “vermin controllers” as they were thought to be destructive to young trees by eating bark. Over 100,000 were recorded as killed in the Highlands up to 1946..with bounty paid. Remember that when you next get a keepers crocodile tears about raptors eating red squirrels. See http://www.highland-news.co.uk/Home/Reds-had-to-battle-after-bounty-hunt-6370043.htm

    • 9 nirofo
      December 10, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      I remember even into the late 60’s you could still get 2 shillings for a squirrel tail, no wonder they were almost wiped out.

  9. 10 George M
    December 10, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Despite the current media “charm offensive” by the combined forces gamekeepers, owners of grouse moors, those who sell shooting holidays and their PR teams nothing has changed on the ground. A quick look at some of their blogs and FB pages simply confirms this.

  10. December 10, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    A wee letter to the college I think….. does this bring the college into disrepute via social media…. they probably have a policy about that sort of thing….

  11. 12 Bimbling
    December 10, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    My thoughts exactly. To the college or if it has a governing body…

  12. 13 Chris
    December 10, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    A few years ago, I went to the Border’s College open day and asked about a gamekeeping course among other things. I was directed to a person said to be one of the instructors. He was less than impressed when I told him I hunt with goshawks, and have done for years. “The curtain of death” was how he described the partial migration of goshawks in Scandinavia. Strangely, he did not follow up by posting the details of courses as he promised.

    I don’t know, so I cannot say this was Mr Dickson, but I do know that this will be what young keepers are very likely to be taught, and it saddens me.

    I have to say though, about nirofo’s comment, goshawks are nothing like as rare as seems to be believed, and on a national basis, probably outnumber red squirrels by a significant amount. I know this from direct observations, a discussion with a registered bird ringer who specialized in ringing goshawks at nests, and yes, also from game keepers, not all of whom have the “Victorian mindset”. The bird ringer, incidentally, told me he knew of 3 nests within a mile of Tattenham Corner (Epsom racecourse), and that was 21 years ago. He also had other knowledge that made it clear he knew what he was talking about.

    • 14 Mike Price
      December 11, 2015 at 9:52 am

      “I have to say though, about nirofo’s comment, goshawks are nothing like as rare as seems to be believed, and on a national basis, probably outnumber red squirrels by a significant amount”.

      UK Goshawk population 400 Pairs (Musgrone A et al 2013), most recent red squirrel population estimate according to Red Squirrels Northern England Website (http://www.rsne.org.uk/) is 120,000

      • 15 Merlin
        December 11, 2015 at 2:14 pm

        I think I’ll take the word of the BTO on this one rather than one individual and a few Gamekeepers who just might be in good Goshawk area’s, Coner Mark Jameson’s book “looking for the Goshawk” makes interesting reading as a side on this point, remembering he had all the resources available to him at the BTO.
        That aside an interesting discussion point would be the potential population size of the Goshawk in this country, it should in my opinion outnumber the peregrine by the fact it preys on both mammals and Birds, how would it compare with the Buzzard, it’s certainly a better hunter of birds than the buzzard and is more adept at holding larger mammalian prey, its adaptable, In Berlin it nests in city centre parks, so with all that in mind just were are all our Goshawks?

  13. 16 Jimmy
    December 10, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    I’ve no doubt this mindset will not rest till many of our raptors went exitinct again. We live in worry times given their influence over the upper echelons of British society

  14. 17 Jack Snipe
    December 11, 2015 at 2:09 am

    I’m so glad that these PR blunders are helping people to understand what we’re up against – widespread and deeply entrenched ignorance of ecology and species interactions amongst the ‘Countryside Alliance’ community. I’ve got to know people from both sides, and believe me they are poles apart. For more than five decades I’ve tried to communicate this to my conservationist colleagues and friends, but often felt they believed I was exaggerating or simply making it up. Now the gamekeeper colleges and upper class twits in organisations like the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust are doing the job more effectively than I ever did! I just wish these facts could be communicated to a wider audience, and better understood by politicians like Dr Aileen McLeod. I’ve said it many times and I’ll continue to say it, the RSPB needs to be more aggressive and forthright in educating these ignoramuses, and should be fighting even harder to firm up the laws which protect wild birds and their enforcement. Education is the key, and as a former Teacher/Naturalist with the organisation in the 1970s, I would say that their educational standards have slipped badly since then, and they do not seem to be delivering the same fundamental conservation message, despite being far richer in resources and membership. What used to be the Junior Bird Recorders’ Club, then the Young Ornithologists’ Club, stimulating a lifelong interest in birdwatching to its younger members, is now little more than a child minding service in many cases (albeit by no means all). Most importantly however, it’s time to thoroughly expose the criminality, lies and deliberate obfuscation promulgated by the game killing industry and its institutions. I truly appreciate the service provided by Raptor Persecution Scotland.

  15. 18 NorthernDiver
    December 11, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    I have had a prompt reply from the Vice Principal of the Borders College. I will be replying that I am not re-assured. He is not the right person, in my opinion, to be training the next generation of gamekeepers. I quote the reply below.

    “Thank you for bringing to our attention the statements made on Facebook by Garry Dickson.
    We would like to be clear that the comments were his personal views and were not made on behalf of Borders College. The College ensures that its Gamekeeping students are trained to the highest standards and in compliance with the law. We require that our gamekeeping lecturers ensure that students are fully conversant with the requirements of the current wildlife legislation and codes of good practice.
    I hope this reassures you that Borders College do not support the views as expressed.
    Your sincerely
    David Killean
    Vice Principal

  16. 21 Bill
    December 13, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    and people aren’t aloud to have opinions now? (the correct opinion in this case)

    • 22 Merlin
      December 14, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      You are quite right, everyone is entitled to their opinion but, when that person giving an opinion is in a position of trust and teaching young students then the one most basic thing above all is that he check his facts first, Scottish population, Red Squirrel just short of 120,000, that’s hardly just hanging on by the skin of their teeth, here’s some figures of creatures that really are just hanging on for comparision
      Golden Eagle 442 pairs
      Goshawk 410 pairs
      Hen Harrier 806 pairs
      these are UK figures too, not just Scottish
      I could add Pine Marten to this list and strangely all of these creatures have been illegally persecuted in recent times by people of the same occupation that Gary Dickson teaches, is it any wonder!
      Watched the wonderful documentary “the hunt” last night, it showed people in India being compensated for having to move out of the vast forests in order to preserve the Tiger, it showed massive reserves in Zambia and South Africa fenced off to protect the Cheetahs and Lions, a couple of simple questions, what is being done in Scotland to protect the Scottish wildcat from keepers snares! Why doesn’t Gary Dickson take the plight of the Scottish Wildcat up instead of trying to cherry pick species that suit his agenda, the Scottish Wildcat here is a creature that really is hanging on and being completely let down by those charged with its protection

  17. 23 Jack Snipe
    December 15, 2015 at 2:31 am

    Thanks Merlin for raising the most obvious question regarding the Scottish Wildcat. For many years I’ve been puzzled as to why so much is focused upon the threat posed to wildcats by hybridisation with domestic or feral cats, which just seemed to me to be mimicking the Red v Grey Squirrel scapegoat for the decline of Reds. If anything the case against feral cats is even weaker than that against the Grey Squirrel, where a significant volume of contradictory scientific research is ignored by head-buried-in-the-sand cull fanatics. Wildcats have declined dramatically in areas where there are virtually no feral cats, and although there is ample DNA evidence that hybridisation with domestic animals is a problem, it is undoubtedly true that the demise of the Scottish Wildcat is mainly down to ruthless persecution by gamekeepers, and to some extent by farmers. Due to the secretive nature of this animal, unlike the Hen Harrier for example, gamekeepers can easily wipe them out with impunity over large areas. And this they have done very effectively, almost without anyone pointing the finger at them. Nature and biodiversity will never achieve its full potential in this country until we get rid of those people who will shoot these magnificent creatures on sight, whether they be threatened species like Goshawk or Wildcat, or common native predators like Buzzards or Stoats. Getting rid of grouse shooting would be a good first step.

    • 24 Les Wallace
      December 16, 2015 at 1:46 am

      Probably superfluous note for many RPS readers, but Mark Avery has a VERY enlightening guest blog ‘An Ex Gamekeeper Writes…’ On ‘Standing up for Nature’ posted on December 11th. It has some very interesting comments to make on many things, but what it says about wild cat persecution is damming, unfortunately very, very difficult to get firm evidence. How much has the recovery of the pine marten, and thereby the red squirrel, been slowed by illegal persecution and how much of the current plight of the wild cat is down to those great ‘conservationists’ the estates and their lovely employees?

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