Posts Tagged ‘scottish parliament


Political hustings organised by REVIVE – the coalition for grouse moor reform

Here is your opportunity to quiz parliamentary candidates from Scotland’s five main political parties about their position on grouse moor reform.

REVIVE, the coalition for grouse moor reform, is hosting an online political hustings next Thursday (22nd April 2021) between 6-7.30pm on Zoom.

Candidates will be asked specifically to discuss the following aspects of grouse moor management:

  • Raptor persecution
  • Muirburn
  • Mountain hare slaughter
  • Snaring, trapping and killing of wildlife on grouse moors
  • Mass outdoor medication (medicated grit stations)
  • The use of lead ammunition
  • Unregulated tracks and roads

The following candidates have agreed to attend:

Mairi McAllan, SNP (former lawyer & special advisor to First Minister on Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform)

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens

Ian Davidson, Scottish Labour (who also featured at the Scottish Gamekeepers Association hustings last month – see here)

Molly Nolan, Scottish Liberal Democrats (spokesperson for Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform)

Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservatives (who also featured at the SGA’s husting last month and describes himself as a ‘proud member’ of the SGA – see here)

The event will be chaired by Max Wiszniewski, REVIVE’s campaign manager and any questions you have for the candidates may be sent to Max in advance for consideration.

To attend this event you will need to register (for free!) HERE.

For those who can’t make it, the session will be recorded and will be available on YouTube later.

The REVIVE coalition for grouse moor reform comprises OneKind, Common Weal, League Against Cruel Sports, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Raptor Persecution UK. For more information on their work please visit their website here.


This ‘downtrodden gamekeeper’ act is fooling no-one

As campaigning for the forthcoming Scottish election gets in to full swing, I’ve been reading more and more about poor ‘downtrodden’ gamekeepers, how they’re not listened to, how hard done by they are, how they’ve been ‘vilified’ etc etc.

This article in last week’s Herald is a classic example, although pay close attention to who wrote it – Clare Taylor, Political Affairs Editor at The Scottish Farmer – her reference to farmers being “plagued” by the return of White-tailed eagles and commentary about “a growing obsession with rewilding” gives you a good idea about her environmental aspirations.

The truth is, rural affairs already have a very loud voice in the Scottish Parliament, in the shape of Fergus Ewing, Minister for Tourism and the Rural Economy who called himself “a friend in Government” to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association recently. Such a good friend in fact that he’s auctioning off a Holyrood tour (that should be free) to help the SGA’s fundraising activities (see here).

Clare Taylor’s tweet, promoting her biased article in the Herald, made me laugh:

After proclaiming that the Scottish Government ‘must stamp out the vilifying of individuals’, what does she think the accompanying photograph shows? Er, could it be a bunch of Scottish gamekeepers vilifying Chris Packham outside Perth Concert Hall, protesting about him having a job?

And are these the same gamekeepers who routinely vilify and abuse those of us campaigning against environmentally-damaging, unlawful and unsustainable grouse moor management (see here and here)?

And are these the same gamekeepers who continue to shoot, trap and poison birds of prey in the Scottish countryside?

Clare’s article includes a quote from the co-ordinator of Scotland’s Moorland Groups. That’ll be Tim (Kim) Baynes then, a Director of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates – hardly someone without connections to politicians and civil servants, is he? Yet another influential voice speaking to power on behalf of gamekeepers.

Although Scottish Land & Estates’ CEO, Sarah-Jane Laing, was on here last week in the comments section claiming that ‘The Regional Moorland Groups which exist across Scotland are not part of the SLE structure‘.

Really? Well why then does Tim Baynes’s job description, on the SLE website, say that he’s the co-ordinator of those seven moorland groups??

And what about those seven regional moorland groups? They’re an interesting bunch. 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).

And there are more ongoing police investigations linked to grouse moor management and raptor persecution that are yet to be publicised. Believe me, the public will be appalled when the news comes out and it’ll be a bloody brave (or desperate) politician that puts their name down to support this continued criminality.


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)


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



Crowdfunder to support Andy Wightman’s election campaign

Last month Andy Wightman announced he was standing as an Independent candidate for the Highlands & Islands in the May elections (see here).

To be elected he says he will need around 15,000 votes.

[Andy (Scottish Parliament’s Golden Eagle Champion) with golden eagle ‘Adam’, who later disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in Strathbraan (here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Andy has now launched a crowdfunder to raise £10,000 to help support his election campaign to include the development of a digital campaigning platform, newsletters and media and communications support.

For more detail about his campaign please read his latest blog here

To contribute to his crowdfunder please click here


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.


Gamekeepers angry as 8-year-old schoolchildren effectively engage in democratic process

I was told recently that public engagement with the Scottish Government on the issue of ongoing raptor persecution has never been bigger. For example, Ministerial aides say that now, whenever there’s a new case of an illegally-killed bird of prey, they can expect to receive about 4,000 letters/emails of protest/complaint and requests for the Government to get a grip of this issue.

There are lots of reasons why this level of public response has grown so high, but not least because of social media and the ability for campaigners to disseminate information quickly and widely and encourage new supporters to get involved.

Amongst those new supporters include the inspirational pupils of Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow. I’ve written about these schoolkids a few times, e.g. see here for a previous blog on their response to the suspicious disappearance of golden eagle Fred in 2018 and last month I wrote about how they’d congratulated the Scottish Government on its decision to issue a grouse moor licensing scheme (see here).

[Pupils from Sunnyside Primary School and their letters to Scottish Ministers congratulating them for the introduction of a grouse moor management licensing scheme]

That last blog elicited some remarkably aggressive online responses from some within the grouse shooting industry who accused Sunnyside teachers of ‘indoctrinating‘ their ‘vulnerable and easily led pupils‘, of this being ‘a disgusting failure by the school‘, of it being an example of ‘desperate virtue signalling‘, of the school ‘overstepping the mark massively‘, of it being ‘a disgusting brainwashing project‘, that teachers should be ‘struck off for misinformation‘ and that ‘this will not be allowed to go unchallenged‘.

Yep, way to go, grouse shooting industry, how to win hearts and minds.

Why do you think they feel so threatened by a bunch of bright 8-year-olds engaging with the democratic process?

Meanwhile, back in the real world the Scottish Government’s Environment Cabinet Secretary asked her aide to write to Sunnyside Primary pupils to thank them for their efforts. Here’s the letter:

If I was a member of the grouse shooting industry I’d be very concerned about the image it was presenting to the outside world.

I’ve blogged very recently about the vile harassment campaigns by gamekeepers directed against those of us who dare to ask for the law to be upheld and the environment protected (see here and here). If 8-year-old schoolchildren and their teachers are the next targets I can see that public tolerance of the grouse shooting industry will fall even lower.

Mind you, a skilled advocate told me recently, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when they’re making a mistake’. In which case, crack on, gamekeepers.


Andy Wightman to stand as an Independent candidate for Highlands & Islands

Just before Christmas, MSP Andy Wightman resigned from the Scottish Greens and has since been operating as an Independent MSP (see here).

[Andy (Scottish Parliament’s Golden Eagle Champion) with golden eagle ‘Adam’, who later disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in Strathbraan (here). Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Andy has just announced he will be standing again in the forthcoming May election as an Independent candidate for the Highlands and Islands region.

Here is his statement, posted on his blog yesterday:

Andy Wightman for Highlands and Islands MSP

I will be putting my name forward as an Independent candidate in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election for the Highlands and Islands Region. From the end of March, my home will be in Lochaber.

Holyrood needs more independent voices. Over the past 5 years, I have campaigned successfully on a range of issues.

As an MSP (2016-21), I led the successful legal challenge in the European Court of Justice that ruled that Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked.

I launched the Homes First campaign to better regulate short-term lets and led opposition to the latest regulations that affect Bed and Breakfast businesses.

I introduced a Bill to incorporate the European Charter of Local Self-Government to strengthen local democracy. It will be voted on at its final stage in Parliament within the next few weeks.

I have championed tenants’ rights and the need for more affordable housing.

As a long-standing land campaigner (author of Who Owns Scotland 1996 & The Poor Had No Lawyers 2010), a focus of my election campaign will be a Land for the People Bill to reform Scotland’s antiquated land laws and democratise the ownership and use of land and property.

In the coming days I will launch a crowdfunder and later in March I will formally launch my campaign.

It is very hard to be elected as an Independent candidate. I will need 12-15,000 votes across the Highlands and Islands.

I will be relying on a grassroots campaign of supporters who are able to mobilise voters by word of mouth and social media.

If you support my candidacy, please tell your friends and family. Very soon I will be offering you ways to get involved in the campaign.

Meanwhile, thank you for your support.


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