"It’s been another difficult week for everyone as we get to grips with changes in our lives. The
SGA has been busy on members’ behalf."
Last week word started to come through that members were being excluded from Government support
because shooting and deer forests were exempt.
We have been trying to get to the bottom of this, speaking to impacted members and engaging with
On Thursday I was involved in a helpful teleconference with some other rural stakeholders and put
forward our members’ case. We have been told that 4 Government officials will be assigned to looking at
countryside businesses who have been left with little, and have been cut out of the type of support
other businesses in exactly the same situation are receiving. This is a nightmare for small operators
and jobs will go.
Personally, I think this has been poorly thought through and should have been discussed. Civil
servants have a poor understanding of how rural businesses in our sector operate. We will continue to
fight for our members’ rights and there are to be more discussions this week but we want to see firm
action from Scottish Government, not just talk.
For example, some of our members are paying sporting rates. While other rate payers are getting
payment breaks, sporting rates are exempt. This looks very much like discrimination and it cannot
continue. Deer stalking businesses can be marginal at the best of times. They now face
Coronavirus-related income cuts, with people not booking, and sporting rates.
If this is ideological, politicians should remember the people most hit will be the small operators
trying to eke a living in remote Scotland.
The money sporting business creates for rural Scotland is considerable. It is real money, not
part-public and state-aided and it will help to get wee places back on their feet again when we all
emerge from this, whenever that might be. Government has a duty to represent all sectors making up the
economy of Scotland and not just to prop some and cut others adrift.
This week, we saw Green MSP Andy Wightman’s amendment being passed to stop muirburn in Scotland for
the term of the Coronavirus Bill.
As I said in our statement, the SGA sought official advice from Government bodies and the relevant
authorities regarding muirburn. We did so because our members, rightly, wanted to know the official
position. When they asked us, we gave them the official position. If this was re-run tomorrow, we would
do exactly the same.
The position of SNH was that muirburn was a legal and legitimate land management activity and,
providing the Muirburn Code and Government guidance on distancing could be followed, was a matter of
individual choice. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were in contact with us and, at no time,
suggested that muirburn should stop providing the guidance was followed. Both of those positions
remained the same until the vote was passed in Holyrood to stop it. The Scottish Fire and Rescue
Service, at no time, attended any Scottish muirburn fire.
I have no doubt that some MPSs who voted in favour of the amendment did so purely because of
Coronavirus concerns and I fully respect that reasoning.
I am also in no doubt that some others saw this as a political opportunity to push a pet dislike,
goaded on by RSPB and other anti grouse moor factions, in order to bring this in, in disguise, while
Parliament’s mind was distracted. Murdo Fraser, in opposing the amendment used the word ‘vindictive’. I
cannot disagree with that.
We move on, but this act, at this time, will be remembered long in the minds of the land working
Irresponsible access during lockdown
A lot of members are continuing to deal with irresponsible access by people on the ground they work
on. It is very clear that Government guidance is not working.
Where we are, I’d say the amount of people around our estate has quadrupled and we are busy at normal
times. Last week, we erected a sign, which was torn down. The arrogance of some people is staggering.
Last week we had mountain bikers who had come 15 miles. They don’t even look up to acknowledge you are
there or raise a hand. They are head down at speed, opening and shutting gates with bare hands and very
little respect. In my own family, we have people with health vulnerabilities who are rightly concerned
about Coronavirus, and the amount of traffic is making a lot of rural workers more at risk than ever.
I’ve had local people call me to ask if it is ok to walk and I say: of course it is. They show
respect because they know what it is like living in these places. Sadly, some folk are treating it like
a holiday park. At the moment, there is lambing going on, here, but it doesn’t make the blindest bit of
difference. It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend.
As we said before, in a previous blog, maintain calm and proper distancing if you have to approach
people to ask them their whereabouts but it is for the authorities to police the lockdown, not us.
Fox control in public forestry
Some of the anti shooting groups, whose sole reason for being these days, it appears, is to put
people like me out of work, have been patting each other on the back for participating in it.
I’d just like to say that, if we manage to bring the Curlew back from the brink, individuals like
Fergus Ewing should be given a medal, not criticism.
The day we cannot control foxes in thick forestry with a pack of dogs at foot is the day species like
the Curlew take the step towards the exit door. The people crowing just now will have helped to play a
part in that.
Alex Hogg, Chairman. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association. April 3rd 2020.