Posts Tagged ‘scottish gamekeepers association


NatureScot Chair Mike Cantlay writes puff piece for Scottish Gamekeepers’ rag

How come, if Scottish gamekeepers feel so downtrodden, unheard, overlooked, side-lined etc (e.g. see here), the Chair of Naturescot is writing puff pieces for their quarterly rag?

In the Spring 2021 edition of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s newsletter, Mike Cantlay blows some serious amounts of smoke up the SGA’s backside. It’s a shame his organisation isn’t as enthusiastic about revoking General Licences on shooting estates where there is strong evidence that raptor persecution continues.

Mike Cantlay isn’t the SGA’s only friend at NatureScot.

The recently-updated list of Board Members includes one David Johnstone, former CEO of Scottish Land & Estates whose responses to raptor persecution incidents leave a lot to be desired (e.g. see here and here) as does his view on vicarious liability (see here) and grouse moor licensing (e.g. see here and here).

Ah, nothing like a modernising, forward-thinking progressive to join the NatureScot Board, eh? Which Scottish Government Ministers approved the current intake of Board Members and how many candidates with expertise in wildlife, science and nature conservation were overlooked in favour of landowning Lord Johnstone?


Scottish Minister Fergus Ewing under fire for auctioning Holyrood tour for Scottish Gamekeepers’ fundraiser

Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing has been accused of breaching Parliamentary rules by ‘flogging’ access to Holyrood in a silent auction organised by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

Lot #59 in the SGA’s annual auction, donated by Fergus Ewing MSP, is squeezed in between a week’s holiday in a cottage in Strathbraan (a well-known raptor persecution hot-spot) and an offer of a smock and half a pig. Here’s what Fergus Ewing is offering (closing date 7th May 2021):

Amusingly, one of the people who has questioned whether the Minister’s actions are appropriate is Edward Mountain MSP, a Conservative candidate who will be challenging Fergus Ewing for the Inverness and Nairn constituency in the May election.

Along with Fergus Ewing, Ed Mountain is also a long-time supporter of the SGA, and is even a “proud” SGA member (see here).

It isn’t clear who went to the press about this (although as an SGA member, Ed Mountain would certainly have had access to the silent auction lots because the auction booklet was included in the mail out of the SGA’s most recent quarterly rag) but today the Scottish Daily Mail was running a story on it:

‘That tour has not taken place’, says the SNP spokesman. No, because the auction doesn’t close until 7th May!

To be honest, there are much bigger fish to fry than this but the reason I’m blogging about it is because the SGA has been wailing quite a lot recently about how it has been ‘overlooked’ by the Scottish Parliament. In my opinion this is completely untrue – the SGA has just as much access to politicians as any other organisation, illustrated quite well by the players in this latest tale.

I plan to blog a bit more about that shortly.


Scottish Gamekeepers Association on the attack about ‘misleading’ information – oh, the irony

The latest target in the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s (SGA) rifle sights is the Scottish Green Party.

I say latest, I’m not sure I can remember the SGA ever supporting any policy of the Greens, and some members of this political party have long been targets for personal abuse by some SGA Committee Members and supporters, so this current attack is just more of the same.

It all stems from a short piece in a regional campaign newsletter, currently being distributed by supporters of the Scottish Greens:

Of course, anybody challenging the status quo of grouse shooting is going to be a target for hatred and it will come as no surprise whatsoever to learn that candidate Maggie Chapman has been subjected to disgraceful misogynistic abuse on Facebook by SGA supporters, on the SGA’s own Facebook page. It appears that real women can’t have short hair AND breasts. It’s all too confusing if you still think it’s the 1950s. I’ll bet she was wearing trousers too. Shocking. The misogyny centred on Maggie’s appearance – god help us if they’d realised she was actually standing for election.

The SGA’s reaction to the Scottish Green Party’s campaign newsletter has been astonishing, although actually it shouldn’t be astonishing at all in light of their recent antics in relation to the death threat received by Chris Packham (see here). It seems they’ll complain about anything in their quest to resist progressive modernisation and so this time they’ve threatened to write to the Electoral Commission to complain about what they call ‘misleading information’ about grouse moors.

Here’s what the SGA published on its website earlier this week:

On the face of it, this SGA statement might seem like reasonable comment, especially as it was citing the results of a recent Government-funded study in to the socio-economic and biodiversity impacts of grouse shooting.

The thing is, the SGA isn’t accurately reporting that study’s findings. At all. In fact some might argue it was deliberately mis-reporting the findings.

How so?

Well, in the summary report of that study being cited by the SGA, the authors are quite clear about how the study results should be interpreted. In fact they couldn’t have been clearer (underlining added by me):

Furthermore, the small set of case study samples that the study used are also kind of skewed in favour of grouse shooting. This is not a criticism of the study authors, they have been totally upfront about it, but it just emphasises the caution urged by the authors on how these results should be interpreted; caution which the SGA has ignored:

There were nine case studies that involved some sort of grouse shooting, but only two involving rewilding/conservation. There’s absolutely no way that the study results can be seen as being representative of these land-use differences across Scotland, as the SGA is trying to claim.

I’d encourage the Scottish Green Party to study the summary report closely, and also read some wider research commissioned by REVIVE (especially this one) to rebut any complaint the SGA may make to the Electoral Commission about so-called ‘misleading information’.

The supreme irony of this latest attack is that the SGA is accusing the Scottish Greens of promoting ‘misleading information’ about grouse moors. The SGA are the masters of ‘misleading information’ (i.e. utter rubbish), and here is a small selection from over the years:

‘Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors’ (May 2011)

‘It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime’ (June 2011)

‘Will these very large creatures [white-tailed eagles] differentiate between a small child and more natural quarry?’ (September 2011)

‘Raptors are thriving on game-keepered land’ (July 2013)

‘I strongly believe the goshawk was never indigenous to the United Kingdom and there is absolutely no hard evidence to suggest otherwise’ (September 2013)

When asked whether gamekeepers are involved with the poisoning, shooting & trapping of raptors: ‘No they aren’t. We would dispute that’ (March 2014)

‘In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning. We’ve absolutely finished it’ (October 2014)

‘We kill animals because probably we’re the doctors and nurses of the countryside’ (January 2015)

‘Grouse moors are a birdwatcher’s paradise’ (December 2020)


Online protest tomorrow about ongoing raptor persecution on Scottish grouse moors

Tomorrow (Friday 19 March 2021) is the online protest organised by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and seven regional moorland groups, who represent grouse shooting estates and their gamekeepers across Scotland.

This is the protest that the SGA has been threatening since November when the Scottish Government had finally had enough with the decades of criminality in the grouse-shooting industry and promised to bring in a grouse moor licensing scheme as soon as possible (see here).

The protest has been named the Rural Workers Protest in an attempt to garner more support from other industries and will be using the hashtag #RWP21 on social media.

Here’s SGA Chairman Alex Hogg promoting the protest at the SGA’s online AGM earlier this month:

It’s still not clear what the SGA et al are protesting about, other than progress and modernisation, although I keep reading that they’re not being listened to, which is an interesting concept given the tv coverage and media column inches they’ve had this last week, as well as the vocal support of a number of MSPs and their ‘friend in Parliament‘, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing.

We do know that Alex isn’t happy about the drink driving laws being applied in rural areas because it ‘affected social cohesion in the countryside’, according to the speech he read out at the SGA AGM a couple of weeks ago. That’s an interesting position given the display of empties lining the walls in the bothy from which Alex was speaking.

What, you don’t remember seeing them? Well that’s maybe because someone might have angled the camera to make sure they were carefully obscured. Compare and contrast these two photos….. the first one was a screengrab from the actual AGM. The second photo, from the SGA’s facebook page, shows a slightly different camera angle from the day before when Alex and his team were preparing the scene.

It’s also interesting that Scotland’s seven regional moorland groups are co-hosting the event, especially when grouse moors in five of those seven regions have been in the last three years, or currently are, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (grouse moors in the regions covered by the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group and the Southern Uplands Moorland Group). Do you think tomorrow’s protesters will be shouting about the illegal killing of birds of prey, on their grouse moors, right under their noses but apparently without any of them seeing anything suspicious? Or will they be arguing for getting licences to kill birds of prey, as we know that’s what the SGA has been campaigning for for years.

Not to worry. A number of us will be joining the online protest tomorrow, not to complain about modernisation or progress, nor to call for licences to be issued to kill raptors so more gamebirds can be produced for the guns. No, we’ll be there to protest about the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey, on grouse moors, in Scotland. We’ll also be using the #RWP21 hashtag and we’ll be sharing information and photos with the general public who may not previously have been aware of what is going on. Join us if you can.

[This young white-tailed eagle was found dead on a grouse moor inside the Cairngorms National Park in April last year. It had been poisoned to death with a banned substance. Nobody has been prosecuted for this crime. Photo by Police Scotland]


Chris Packham did not forge death threat, say Police

Further to yesterday’s blog where I revealed that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) had told Police they had ‘evidence’ to believe Chris Packham had probably faked his own death threat (see here), today the story has hit a national newspaper but not in the way in which the SGA had hoped.

They’d probably hoped to embarrass Chris, undermine his credibility, cast him as a villain and turn public support against him. What they’ve done is the complete opposite and shown themselves as the blithering, nasty idiots they are.

Here’s what appeared in the Sunday Times today:

A complaint made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association against the TV naturalist, who wants grouse shooting banned, has been refuted.

His support for a ban on grouse shooting has ruffled feathers. Now tension between Chris Packham and Scottish gamekeepers has boiled over after police were asked to investigate an extraordinary suggestion that he may have written himself a death threat to smear the shooting lobby.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) lodged a complaint with Hampshire Constabulary last month that questioned the authenticity of a letter sent in 2019 to the television naturalist, who lives in the New Forest. The complaint included reports from two graphologists commissioned by the rural body, which has 5,300 members, to compare the letter with examples of Packham’s handwriting found online.

Hampshire Police said on Friday evening that the complaint had been reviewed and no action would be taken. Packham, 59, one of Britain’s best-loved naturalists with more than 450,000 followers on Twitter, has come out with guns blazing.

“I’m pretty obviously not the sort of bloke who writes death threats to himself”, he said this weekend. “I’ve got plenty of better things to do. Like campaigning about the relentless illegal persecution of birds of prey on Scottish grouse moors. And this action by the SGA is transparent – they are playing the man because they can’t win the game”.

Gamekeepers have accused campaigners such as Packham of escalating tensions between the pro-and anti-shooting lobbies. Many feel their profession is unfairly maligned. A recent Scottish government survey suggested that 64% of Scottish gamekeepers experienced threatening behaviour or abuse from the public at least once every year.

Packham, however, said the killing of golden eagles and hen harriers on grouse moors was a “national embarrassment for Scotland”.

He added: “Due to their criminal fraternity, [the SGA] are losing – licensing of shooting estates is coming, mountain hare culling has been banned and muirburn is constantly under the spotlight, due to its negative impacts on our climate. Frankly, they’re desperate to the point of embarrassing themselves”.

Packham went public about the death threat in April 2019. He reported it to the police and later released it on social media. Written in block capitals with a ruler to disguise the handwriting, it stated that Packham’s address was known and warned him to be “very, very careful…we want you dead”, with references to a car crash and poison.

It is understood that one graphologist commissioned by the SGA believed there were strong similarities between Packham’s handwriting and the writing in the letter. Another, from London, found “moderate” similarities. When this newspaper became aware of doubts being raised over the letter’s authenticity, analysis was sought from a forensic document examiner who concluded that Packham was not the author.

Packham said the letter was forensically examined by police. His fingerprints were not on the letter, he said, and no matches for several other prints were found against a national database.

Last week, the SGA insisted that the reports it commissioned “were worthy of police investigation” and would be “retained for our members”.

“We believe we undertook our duty to our members who felt that handwriting similarities they they alleged to have seen, ought to be investigated further. We did so, by taking external expert advice. In similar circumstances, we would take exactly the same course of action again”.

He added: “We understand that Chris Packham is a television celebrity…contracted by the BBC to provide content on wildlife programmes. We understand and respect that he would want to provide his view”.

In April 2019, Packham found two dead crows hanging outside his thatched cottage, an act he described as “ghastly”, after a decision by Natural England to revoke a general licence for birds to be shot after a campaign by Packham’s pressure group, Wild Justice. It upset farmers who were prevented from killing pest birds such as crows that can kill lambs.


To be honest, I’m surprised that it was the Sunday Times who took this piece on. It’s more tabloid fodder than broadsheet. However, the Times has produced a fair article that includes context (i.e. Chris’s campaigning work to ban driven grouse shooting) and includes the full quote from Chris, not an edited version cut to support a particular narrative.

I did laugh, though, at the inclusion of the line that ‘64% of Scottish gamekeepers experienced threatening behaviour or abuse from the public at least once every year’, as if this justifies the SGA’s appalling behaviour. In any case, that is a mis-reported interpretation of the Scottish Government’s report, which actually showed that between 10-13% of Scottish gamekeepers had reported abuse from the public at least once every year (see here). And not to diminish that stat in any way, the Times should have provided balance by reporting the abuse that some of us, including Chris, receive on a daily basis, not just once a year but every single day, week in week out, from members, supporters, a former Director and even current Committee members of the SGA (see here).

All in all though, this latest malicious attack on Chris Packham by the SGA has backfired spectacularly, with Twitter in meltdown last night with support for Chris, including from a number of MSPs. If I was an SGA member I’d be pretty upset with the idiocy of the so-called leaders, for once again bringing the organisation in to disrepute.


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s latest malicious attack on Chris Packham

Just when you thought the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) couldn’t get any more desperate, their latest stunt will blow your mind.

This is such batshit bonkers desperation that I don’t really know where to start.

How about with a definition? From the Cambridge English Dictionary:

Desperationthe feeling of being in such a bad situation you will take any risk to change it

In this situation, the SGA blames Chris Packham and a number of other campaigners for asking for the law to be upheld (i.e. for gamekeepers and others to stop killing birds of prey) and for game-shooting to be regulated and the associated land management to be sustainable. These challenges to the industry are finally leading to legislative change, e.g the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse moors in Scotland due to ongoing raptor persecution (here) and the banning of the mass killing of mountain hares on grouse moors because self-regulation has failed (here).

Chris Packham is the obvious target of hate because he’s so high profile and this has led to him being the victim of a long-running dirty tricks campaign by the shooting industry (see here), as well as on the receiving end of some disgraceful online personal abuse, some penned by senior SGA Committee members, see here and here. He’s also had dead animals hung from his gate outside his house (here and here) and in 2019 he received a chilling death threat (here).

It is this death threat that the SGA has decided to focus on, two years later.

For some reason best known to themselves, although I would guess it’s yet another attempt to smear and undermine Chris’s credibility because his campaigning skills are having such an impact, I understand that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has employed the services of a ‘handwriting expert’ who has apparently concluded that Chris probably wrote the death letter and posted it to himself for a bit of publicity.

Armed with this ‘intelligence’, I’m also told that the SGA has made a formal complaint to Hampshire Police, questioning the ‘authenticity’ of the death threat letter.

I’m also told they’ve taken this outrageous claim to one of the Scottish Sunday papers who apparently will be publishing this nonsense tomorrow!

Now, I haven’t been told the identity of the ‘handwriting expert’ – it may have been one of the SGA’s ‘office girls‘, or perhaps the SGA is expanding its services from killing stuff to a bit of mystical witchcraft. I did notice this DIY consultation booth in the corner of Alex Hogg’s bothy the other day, which perhaps gives us a clue:

Whoever did the analysis, whether it was a DIY psychic from the SGA office, Mystic Mags from Montrose after a consultation with her crystal ball, or crystal meths, same result, or Mystic Smeg the Fortune-telling fridge, the SGA has wasted its time and money. I’m told Hampshire Police have dismissed the complaint and have reiterated their position to the newspaper that Chris has been the victim of persistent crime, that they will continue to offer him protection, and that they will investigate any further attacks on him with a view to prosecute wherever possible.

This latest display of desperation from the SGA reminds me of their failed attempt to undermine the scientific robustness of the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, two years after it was published, by paying a high-ranking QC to ‘critique’ it even though he had no scientific expertise or knowledge of the subject and judging by his comments, hadn’t even read it properly anyway! That little SGA stunt was also roundly dismissed, that time by the Scottish Government (see here).

It’s the latest in a long, long line of distraction techniques…..from accusing raptor conservationists of poisoning eagles and then of ‘planting’ the corpse on a grouse moor to ‘set up’ an innocent estate, to falsely accusing conservationists of withholding evidence from the police, to now suggesting that Chris Packham might be faking his own death threats. You couldn’t make it up, but the SGA has.

Meanwhile, as the SGA stands with its pants around its ankles once again, the campaign to bring about fundamental change to the unregulated, unsustainable, and frequently criminal practices associated with gamebird management continues apace, with Chris Packham leading from the front.

UPDATE 14th March 2021: Chris Packham did not forge death threat, says Police (here)


Political hustings: who’s promising what to the Scottish Gamekeeepers Association

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) held its AGM last Friday (5th March 2021) – here are two earlier blogs about that event (here and here).

The vast majority of the 2.5 hour event was taken up by a political hustings. Candidates from five different parties were invited to introduce themselves and tell the SGA members ‘what they would do for gamekeepers’ if elected in May, and then there was a tortuous period of questions for the candidates that had been submitted by SGA members.

The participants of the hustings were (from top left): Peter Fraser (Vice Chair, SGA), Carol (one of the ‘girls‘ from the SGA office who’s actually a woman, who was in charge of time-keeping and recording – unseen in this screengrab), Jamie Blackett (All For Unity [George Galloway’s new party, say no more] and author of spectacularly crap articles in Shooting Times), Alex Hogg (Chair, SGA), Edward Mountain MSP (Scottish Conservatives and the un-fiercest critic of raptor persecution), Catriona Bhatia (Scottish Lib Dems), Ian Davidson (Scottish Labour) and Fergus Ewing (Cab Sec for Rural Economy & Tourism, SNP).

You’ll notice the Scottish Greens weren’t represented and at one point Catriona Bhatia asked why they weren’t there. Alex Hogg admitted they hadn’t been invited because before Xmas the SGA had asked for a meeting with Andy Wightman and apparently he hadn’t responded. Er, ok. He does realise Andy left the Greens in December, doesn’t he? Still, the Greens’ absence didn’t stop some of the panellists slagging them off, even though they weren’t there to defend themselves.

I’m not going to post about the entire tedious session because I fear I’d lose the will to live but as an overview of what each of these candidates had to say about what they’d deliver for gamekeepers, I think it’s useful to blog about their introductory speeches.

Jamie Blackett (All for Unity): I’m Jamie Blackett, I’m the leader of All for Unity, we’re a new party founded by my good friend George Galloway, with the intention of unifying the pro-UK anti-nationalist vote to feed[?] the SNP green government and install a government of national unity in May.

Some of you will know me, I write a column each month in the Shooting Times, I’ve written a book, Red Rag to a Bull, about the countryside, I’m a passionate campaigner for the countryside and I hope that if we achieve what we want to achieve in May we will all have a much stronger voice for the countryside and get the government off all our backs so we are no longer looking over our shoulders as we look after the countryside and conserve its wildlife. Thank you.

Alex Hogg: What would you do for gamekeepers if you got elected, Jamie?

Jamie Blackett: Well, we’re running a full slate of candidates across all regions. We’re still looking for some candidates and we hope very much that there may be some people in the SGA who will join us. As I say, I have a strong stake in the countryside, I actually run my own shoot here. George Galloway, as you all know, is not a countryman but he has moved to the countryside and believe it or not I’m teaching him to shoot, er, or I will do when Covid conditions allow.

And we feel very strongly that the justice system needs reforming so that gamekeepers are no longer presumed guilty before they’ve even started in court, we must sort out the burden of proof, corroboration of evidence and all these things so that we in the countryside no longer have this threat hanging over us.

We also want to, er, completely obliterate the Greens in George Galloway’s terminology, the SNP gardening section, who we believe are grinos, greens in name only, they know absolutely nothing about the environment and care even less. We will act rather as the Greens do on the list. The Greens mop up all the spare separatist votes. We will do the same with on the unionists side of the argument and return more pro-UK MSPs to the Parliament. And, er, as I say, we want to get rid of the Green party, diminish the voice of the RSPB and others, and hear more of the voices of people like your members who are the true experts who care about the environment because they spend every waking moment looking after it.

Edward Mountain MSP (Scottish Conservatives): I’m Edward Mountain, I’m a Conservative member of the Parliament on the regional list at the moment, and I’m standing in Inverness and Nairn at the next election. If I can say, at the outset, Alex, that I’m really sad that we’re not all meeting in person. I’ve had some really happy memories of past AGMs. I’ve been a proud member of your Association as you know, almost since its inception, and for 40 years I’ve shared your passions and your experiences.

And I stood for election because I felt that the Scottish Parliament was letting the countryside down. It was clear to me that many politicians relied on briefings by pressure groups such as Revive, RSPB and the League Against Cruel Sports and not from those people who work the lands, people like your membership. And in the Parliament I haven’t been surprised, we’ve had debates on deer management, led by the Green party who’d be happy to see all deer shot all year round. And when I questioned them about it their retort to me is that it was clear that I know nothing about deer management. Well, I wonder. I wonder what 40 years of experience gives you. Perhaps I would suggest to you and your members, as they know, it gives you more than you can read in a book.

And when it comes to hare control the decision to set culls should be done locally, that’s something that I believe, not by a national ban, something that Fergus Ewing, despite his warm words outside the Parliament, meekly followed his party line on and voted for.

And when it came to wildlife crime which I’ve always called out, Claudia Beamish called me out when I suggested that accidental damage of a badger sett should be viewed differently to malicious damage to a badger sett. Her suggestion was that all farmers should walk through the field before harvest to ensure they were free from badgers and setts. Well Claudia, what I say to you is lead the way. I’m happy to follow you through every field in Scotland.

So in summary in the last five years I’ve stood up for you and your industry based on my knowledge and belief. I’ve had your group leaders, Alex and his team, in to the Parliament on numerous occasions to brief me and my members. I’ve never promised to do one thing when I talk to you and do another in the Parliament. And I’ve ensured that my party fully considers your views at all times. And in the next five years if our party is in a strong position and I’m re-elected I will ensure that you get not just warm words of platitudes but actions and results, which is what I think we’ve delivered in the last five years. Thank you.

Fergus Ewing (Cab Sec Rural Economy & Tourism, SNP): Good morning everybody and thank you very much indeed for this invitation. May name is Fergus Ewing. I have spent around 20 years working as a solicitor with my own legal practice and the last 21 years as the MSP for Inverness and Nairn, 13 years as a Scottish Government Minister and for the last five years the Rural Secretary in the Scottish Government.

I have been a supporter of country sports. I am and always will be a supporter of the good work, the excellent work, Alex, that your members do. And I made it my business as somebody who didn’t have that background to learn about it by visiting estates, speaking to you, by learning from the late great Ronnie Rose, from Peter, from many others, and I think it’s essential going forward that we continue to listen to what you have got to say in formulating all policy.

Over the past couple of decades in public life I have done a few things which I hope have helped and I think action speaks louder than words. In the Watson Bill I worked cross-party with others to secure the future of legitimate, necessary and valuable control of foxes by more than one dog flushing the foxes to be despatched. I learnt why that was necessary and we delivered that result.

Over the years I’ve launched the good guidance on snaring at Moy, I voted against the ban on tail docking, I thought that caused cruelty to hunting dogs because their elongated tails became wounded by gorse and bracken and the nerves in the tail mean it was difficult to heal. So it was actually a cruel measure and I really campaigned very hard with you and others to restore that and the tail shortening can now be carried out and I’m pleased about that.

It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn. We might come to that later. It’s absolutely essential to protect peatland. I’ve seen the Mars Bar film – I get it.

Lastly, on positive things, over the past year in Covid, last year I made sure that country sports qualified for support as a branch of hospitality and tourism. This year and very recently working with you and BASC and others, who understand the countryside very well, we’ve set up a million pound support for compensation, particularly for businesses that have really lost all their custom, guides, agents, who bring in valuable business to Scotland. Country sports are worth £155 million a year to the Scottish economy, there’s four million participants, and contrary to what some may believe, they’re not all titled or landowners. They’re ordinary people, up and down the UK, who enjoy taking part in lawful country sports.

In conclusion, I know that there are serious criticisms of your members of my Government but I hope I can say and I genuinely believe that I am a friend in Government and my objective is to continue to be your friend, in Government, acting on the basis of the evidence and making sure that we can continue to see country sports form a hugely important part of the life of Scotland’s rural societies. Thank you very much.

Catriona Bhatia (Scottish Lib Dems): I’m Catriona Bhatia and I’m the lead candidate for the Lib Teams in the south of Scotland and I’m also their spokesperson for the rural economy and tourism. Formerly I was a councillor in the Scottish Borders for about 14 years and Deputy Leader of the council there.

In terms of what I can do for gamekeepers, ghillies and other land managers, well I grew up in the Scottish Borders, my family are keen shooters, keen anglers and my daughters like to partake in the odd hunting when they get the opportunity on hunting land so I 100% get the contribution that country sports make to the rural economy and not just the rural economy but the wider economy in Scotland. I don’t think we should look at ourselves as just distinct. If you look at the 11,000 jobs that are within the industry that’s equivalent to say a shipyard on the Clyde, there’s no politician who would say we’re gonna just close that overnight because we don’t like what they do and I think we should avoid doing the same sort of attrition that we’re trying, that some members of Parliament and political parties are trying to do to the country sports sector.

So I think in terms of what I would like to see, I think we need to lower the temperature, we need to work together because it’s in everybody’s interest to address some of the issues which, you know, there are in any profession, and as politicians we have problems in our profession the same way that you all have within the country sports sector so we need to lower the temperature, we need to work together to look at the issues around raptors, around licensing on grouse moors, but what we don’t need to do is to say that we’re just not gonna have grouse shooting, we’re not going to have deer-stalking, we’re going to ban all these things because people don’t understand them, it’s not just a question they don’t like them, they don’t understand them.

These 11,000 jobs are not just jobs, it’s a way of life. And I think the other key thing which I’d really like to see is more promotion and education, as Fergus was saying it’s not just the titled landlords, there’s many people working in here who probably need better housing, who may need better wages, here are people who partake in the sports who are just ordinary mean and women in the countryside who just like a day out and I think we need to educate the wider public on that and I think we also need to provide better routes in to the country sports industry from schools and from colleges and that again is across Scotland, there’s no reason why a young girl growing up in Glasgow shouldn’t become a ghillie in the Highlands and yet they probably don’t even know there is such a thing so I think we need to look at how we can get more in to schools and that way get more understanding so that’s what I would like to see, I would like to see a lot more dialogue, a lot more positive engagement with yourselves but also with the wider public within Scotland and stop us being quite so distinct from the urban areas but get them to see that we’re part of the wider Scottish economy not just the rural economy.

Ian Davidson (Scottish Labour): Ian Davidson, I was born and brought up in the Borders, I may be the only candidate here that’s prepared to admit having been chased off land by some of your members at various points when I was a youngster but like so many in the Borders and in rural areas I had to leave and go abroad and into the city to get employment, I then became a Labour MP for 20 years representing part of Glasgow and I retired by public demand in 2015, and now I’m a candidate in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwick for the Labour party.

Boris Johnstone [sic] said, not somebody I am often quoting, said that allegedly that devolution was a disaster. I don’t disagree that devolution has been a disaster but I do think it has been a disappointment. I think it has grossly under-delivered, particularly for rural issues and for rural areas. And particularly, for the south of Scotland and the rural areas there, that’s the neglected part of a neglected area.

And I think that your members are more than just simply their jobs, they’re also sons and daughters or spouses or parents, they’re concerned about where they live as well as just simply how they’re employed and that’s why I think that for your members, the fact that Scottish education has deteriorated considerably over the years of devolution, that health over the last decade has consistently failed to meet the targets for waiting times, is relevant.

I think the fact that rural transport is a disgrace affects your members and their families. The idea that it’s free for the elderly is a great thing. The idea that it’s gonna be extended to be free for young people is excellent as well and we would support it. But there’s no point in having free travel if there’s no buses.

And I think that the way in which all of these services have been allowed to deteriorate, partly by the under-funding of local Government in Scotland has been a disgrace and it has impacted considerably on the life opportunities of your members and their children and the quality of life that’s experienced by people in the countryside and that’s not to mention the question of care of the elderly in the countryside which is a particular issue even pre-Covid.

And I don’t think that all of these difficulties are the fault of the English, or somebody else, I think that these questions could have, and should have, been addressed under devolution.

Turning to your jobs, I think that there’s growing interest in nature, in rural and in land issues. Change is coming and I think that your organisation has got to take some strategic decisions about whether or not you’re going to be campaigning basically for a better yesterday or whether or not you’re going to be dragged resisting into the future, or you’re going to try and mould the future in the interests of your members.

And can I just say as an aside, when I was just preparing for this I got one of your staff to send me some information about salaries, I’m surprised how badly paid many of your members are considering the experience and ability that they’ve got. In a way I shouldn’t be surprised because the feudalism, the class divisions that are so prevalent in rural areas in Scotland…..

[Carol (SGA) interrupts to say he’s got five seconds left]

Ian Davidson: Vote for me



Embittered speech by Alex Hogg, Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) held its AGM online last Friday (4th March 2021).

The majority of the two and a half hours was taken up with a political hustings – more on that event later.

To kick off proceedings, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg delivered an opening speech, read deadpan from his laptop. It’s an interesting insight in to what, exactly, it is that the SGA is intending to protest about later this month, as so far it hasn’t been clear to many of us, including the Scottish Government (see here).

It turns out, judging from Alex’s embittered speech, that it’ll be a protest against progress and modernisation. From the restrictions imposed by drink driving limits, to no longer being allowed to slaughter mountain hares in their thousands with zero accountability, the resentment about being dragged in to the 21st century is clear. Personally I don’t think the SGA can legitimately argue that it doesn’t get a fair hearing – it gets just as much opportunity to be heard as everyone else and some of its members and supporters are anything but the so-called ‘quiet people’ described in the speech (e.g. see here and here). Sorry, Alex, it ‘ain’t the 1950s anymore, the world’s moved on massively and so must the SGA if it’s to survive.

Here is the transcript:

“Welcome everybody to our 2021 SGA AGM in our bothy. It’s fantastic to see everyone, albeit through the lens of a video camera.

Can I take a moment to thank the girls in the office, Carol and Sue, and the Committee for all the hard work and diligence which has gone on in this difficult Covid year.

On behalf of our protected wildlife, can I say a huge thanks to our keepers who carried on working throughout Covid saving countless numbers of endangered waders and other keystone species. As well as trying to make the most of an interrupted and difficult season. Even as we speak low ground keepers are still feeding out game and all the other declining wee birds. Whether they manage to get any shooting or not.

Members are also helping to control foxes and crows during the lambing time. This is a huge benefit for the farmers and crofters as well as ground-nesting birds. Many crops would never have gotten away if they’d not gained the protection by the keepers and shooters, keeping crows and pigeons at bay. Public land managers and RSPB on other hand were largely on furlough. Orkney being a case in point with stoat traps lying unattended for months. What an embarrassment given the millions of public cash doled out. Our work during lockdown was carried out with no public money. People were out, seven days a week, getting their hands dirty for Scotland.

The keepers’ skills when it comes to fire fighting are recognised as being up there with the best. The fire service has recognised these important facts and we hope to work with them on things like training days in the future. Again, all of this will be offered at no cost to the public purse.

We have managed more than a million deer in the last decade with reference to best practice and almost all going back in to the food chain. Again, at no cost to the public purse. Sustainable natural protein, low food miles, respect for management. Do we have to down tools and stop providing these services for free before people actually sit up and actually realise what they are getting and acknowledge the great work you, our members, do.

How many ghillies will run mink traps and keep the river banks free of invasive species? Or plant trees just for beavers just to chew them down. It shouldn’t have to be the case that you have to take something away before people realise why they get from gamekeepers, ghillies and deer managers but sadly decision makers in Edinburgh would rather listen to campaigners and then get out in the countryside and see the work first hand.

When the SGA invited MSPs out to see a local foot pack in operation to control foxes, only one MSP turned up willing to see how things actually work. Then a foxhunting bill was rushed through by Scottish Government. No wonder people want to take action. I will come on to how you can do that later.

Where is the old fashioned idea that you make a decision after seeing the situation for yourself, first hand? What about mountain hares? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that mountain hares will be extinct in the not-too-distant future. Protectionism will actually kill them. Their habitat will get wiped out for the ever-increasing tree planting targets, they will die of disease on our moors cos their numbers can’t be thinned out to preserve a healthy population.

The new law is a disaster and translocations from grouse moors, SGA’s idea, is probably the only chance for them now. The politicians who made the decision are about to find out the bitter and inconvenient truth about how few there actually are away from grouse moors. They didn’t listen but their decision will come back to haunt them.

Government interference generally in rural life has not helped sustain community. The drink driving limits. It’s great in the city, trains, buses and taxis everywhere. Try finding a bus or taxi in the rural areas where most of us live and work. This policy has seriously affected social cohesion in the countryside, along with rural pubs having to close.

Access without responsibility. How the hell were we ever actually going to work in the countryside. People and dogs popping up all over the place. I’m very sure that the police in this day and age wouldn’t allow this to happen near their firing range yet we’re expected to carry out our work with high velocity rifles, it is an accident waiting to happen.

When Holyrood first opened, I was a great supporter. This was a chance to influence decisions at a local level. It was a fantastic voice for the people in rural Scotland, but as has happened with the police force, everything, all the power has become centralised. Remember getting your firearms certificates from the police locally? The Scottish Government has removed power from the local rural communities faster than snow melting from a dyke. Holyrood is not too different from Westminster now in that it operates from the centre in Edinburgh.

We must continue to do what we do for the countryside. To manage best practice and to deliver economic and biodiversity benefits. Even if we have to do it despite the capital law makers putting barriers in the way. Perhaps with the economy shaken people may begin to wake up and realise which people are getting their hands dirty for Scotland and those who will barely get out of bed without a tick on a public grant application form.

I was reminded recently that there are some out there in the world who do appreciate our work and it was heart-warming to hear”.

[Ed: Alex spent the next 7 minutes slowly reading out a letter from a health professional called Ewan (or Euan) with links to an estate in Angus, who was basically blowing smoke up the SGA’s arse, questioning what governance is in place to ensure the RSPB meets its stated objectives, and asking why so much parliamentary time was given to the issue of grouse moor licensing. It’s someone else’s opinion so it’s excluded here to save time].

Back to Alex:

“Ewan’s words and his questions are relevant and they’re similar to what I hear amongst the members and others who work in traditional rural industries today. Our quiet people are finding their voice, we must speak often and clearer than ever.

On the subject of questions for MSPs we asked members to send us some questions that we could ask election candidates in our political hustings which we recorded last week. You can now watch the event here and I hope you enjoy it.

Following that we will move on to our annual accounts so members please stick around for the next part of the 2021 AGM and thanks very much everybody for your time today”.


UPDATE 12th March 2021: Political hustings: who’s promising what to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (here)


“It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn”, says Scottish Government’s Rural Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing

Climate emergency? What climate emergency?

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, was speaking at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s political hustings last Friday (and more on that soon!), and this is a direct quote from his two-minute position statement on what the SNP can do for gamekeepers:

It’s essential that we carry on with muirburn. We might come to that later. It’s absolutely essential to protect peatland. I’ve seen the Mars Bar film. I get it“.

Good grief. Let’s hope Fergus, if re-elected, isn’t part of the delegation attending the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 1 – 12 November 2021; a summit to bring together parties to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Meanwhile, as we wait to find out what the proposed muirburn licensing scheme will look like, post-Werritty, the grouse moors are once again being set alight up and down the country.

Here are some photographs of the moors on Lochan Estate in Strathbraan this week, sent in by a blog reader:

And not for the first time (see here, here and here), here is the grouse moor on Moy Estate in the Monadhliaths, set alight last week, perversely next to the wind turbines installed to to create renewable energy and thus reduce the carbon emissions that would otherwise be created from burning fossil fuels:

The ParkswatchScotland blog has also reported on grouse moors being set alight inside the Cairngorms National Park this week (see here).

But not to worry – we’re only in a climate emergency and these fires are just like having your hair cut. And besides, the Cabinet Secretary has watched an amateur video made by some gamekeepers to convince himself that muirburning “is essential“. Who needs scientific research, eh?

If you’re in England, where DEFRA has announced a pathetic proposal to ban burning on moorland that isn’t anywhere near as strong as it should be (see here), the RSPB has launched a burning reporting system where members of the public can report any upland burning that they see. Please report your sightings here.


Scottish gamekeepers’ petition calling for independent monitoring of raptor satellite tags is ‘fact-free nonsense’

One of the petitions under consideration tomorrow by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee is PE01750 – Independent monitoring of satellite tags fitted to raptors – submitted by Alex Hogg on behalf of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

I’ve written about this petition before (here), back in late 2019 when it was first lodged, as did Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland (here). It’s useful background reading for those with more than a passing interest.

As a brief summary, satellite-tagged raptors have caused the grouse-shooting industry all sorts of pain in recent years, because scientists have been able to use the analysis of extensive tag data to expose the scale of previously-hidden raptor persecution on or close to some driven grouse moors, even when the raptor-killing criminals thought they’d done a good clean-up job by destroying and removing the raptor corpse and the tag. Although sometimes the clean-up job wasn’t done so well, as evidenced last year by the discovery of a golden eagle’s satellite tag, its harness cut, wrapped in lead sheeting (to block the signal) and dumped in a river (see here and here).

[Young satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

Two significant scientific reviews based on tag analysis have identified illegal persecution hotspots for golden eagles (here) and hen harriers (here) in the UK. And indeed, the whole Werritty Review in to whether grouse moors should be licensed was triggered in 2017 by research that demonstrated almost one third of tagged golden eagles had ‘vanished’ in suspicious geographic clusters that were also areas being managed for driven grouse shooting and at a rate 25 times higher than anywhere else in the world.

Raptor persecution crimes in the UK continue to attract huge media attention because it’s hard to believe that people are still poisoning eagles in Scotland in the 21st century. As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks and by making outrageous defamatory claims targeted against named individuals involved in the projects, or by blaming disappearances on imaginary windfarms, faulty sat tags fitted to turtles in India & ‘bird activists‘ trying to smear gamekeepers, or by claiming that those involved have perverted the course of justice by fabricating evidence, or by claiming that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. There have also been two laughable attempts to discredit the authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review (here and here), thankfully dismissed by the Scottish Government. The grouse shooting industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors, hence this latest petition from the SGA.

What hasn’t previously been made public, but can be now as the papers have been published on the ECCLR Committee’s website, is a formal response to the SGA’s petition by the Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Group (GESTG), a research group established in Scotland by scientists as a forum for data exchange, tagging coordination and general cooperation.

The GESTG’s response takes apart the SGA’s petition pretty much line by line and eviscerates it. You almost feel sorry for the SGA, who up until last Thursday wouldn’t have known that this response even existed. It is a masterclass, and you have to admire the restraint behind the summary dismissal of the petition as ‘fact-free nonsense’.

There’s some other paperwork of interest, too. A letter to the ECCLR Committee from Ian Thomson (Feb 2020) and a letter from me (Feb 2021), pointing out to the Committee that despite the SGA’s misinformed rants and smears, raptor satellite-taggers in Scotland were told recently by NatureScot (formerly SNH) that neither NatureScot nor Police Scotland had any substantive concerns about the way we operate and communicate with the licensing and police authorities.

You can download the documents here:

The ECCLR Committee’s virtual meeting starts tomorrow at 9am. The meeting papers can be viewed here and the meeting can be watched live here.

Transcripts from the meeting will be posted here when available and I’ll be blogging about the Committee’s decision on this petition and a number of others of interest.

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