Petition asks Holyrood to back predator control

Thousands of rural stakeholders are expected to sign a petition by the leader of Scotland’s gamekeepers asking that MSPs officially acknowledge predator control as an act of conservation.

Alex Hogg, MBE, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (pictured below) says he has launched the petition in response to the Nature Emergency and extinction threats to ground-nesting birds.


Nearly 900 people signed within 24 hours - please sign the Petition, here: 


Mr Hogg feels skilled legal control of abundant generalist predators such as foxes, corvids and stoats has an important role to play in saving ground-nesting bird species such as Curlew, which are now globally at risk.

Alex Hogg believes the Parliament has an opportunity to prove it values land managers' work

The gamekeeper’s leader says Scotland’s countryside has lost ‘armies’ of working conservationists in just a few decades, with fewer gamekeepers employed and predator management no longer being carried out in public forests.

While farmers still manage local fox populations, regulations have become increasingly burdensome, with many no longer applying to Police for firearms certification. 

Scotland has lost 60% of its Curlew in 25 years

In 25 years, Scotland has lost 60% of its Curlew and Lapwing populations and 36% of its Oystercatchers. 

Ptarmigan and Dunlin were recently added to conservation’s red list and Capercaillie are on the brink of a second extinction, with around 500 individual birds left.

Mr Hogg says the petition is not about replaying arguments about extent of control or whether the benefits occur as a spin-off to other activity, but rather about the net impacts for ground-nesting birds.

By accepting the concept that legal predator control is a legitimate conservation tool he believes Parliament can help galvanise all land managers behind the national effort for nature.

“Parliamentarians hear a lot of campaigns opposed to certain countryside activities, like aspects of shooting or farming but this should not make us lose sight of the benefits of skilled legal predator control, of itself, as an act which can have a positive impact on conservation and biodiversity.

“This is doubly significant in a Nature Emergency where we are at grave risk of losing keystone species. Everyone needs to play for Team Scotland now and the Parliament can send out that signal by supporting this petition’s aim,” he said.

He added: “Forever arguments about who is carrying out the predator control, whether it be the NGO worker, the farmer or the gamekeeper, is no longer relevant when the emergency is on.

“That stoat managed in Orkney, to protect native wildlife, has the same diet on the mainland, no matter who it is that is setting the trap.

“Basically, some ground-nesting species are now at such a low ebb. They need help to produce enough young to survive, if populations are to remain viable.”

Mr Hogg, who has worked the land for over four decades, says the petition is in direct response to changes he has seen in land management and rural policy.

SGA NEWS photo

“We now have nearly 20% forest cover, predominantly conifers. These habitats hugely benefit generalist predators whilst shrinking core habitats of some upland birds.
“Forest rangers used to manage foxes and crows as part of their work. This no longer happens. Similarly, almost every farmer in every village used to manage foxes and crows. Nowadays, a great many will not have the required firearms certification but some still, thankfully, do, and play a huge part. 

Fox caught on camera raiding a Lapwing nest
Fox caught on night camera predating a Lapwing nest

“In a relatively short space of time, we have lost an army of skilled wildlife managers. I have seen this as a forester and gamekeeper and I find the silence in some areas deafening and sad.

“The Parliament has a chance to prove that Scotland values its skilled land and wildlife managers and the important work they do.”

Mr Hogg also expressed concern that further restrictions on traps and snares in the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill could reduce predator control effort in Scotland further.

Snares, an important tool in fox control for land managers, are being considered for a ban whilst the Bill is recommending all trap users are trained, licensed and must have an ID on every trap.


Further Reading


Predator management can be controversial with the public but it is a conservation tool with proven success.

In a UK context, the best science correlating breeding success of ground nesting birds with predator control (the purpose of the Petition) comes from England.

In 2010, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust published the results of their 9 year scientific experiment at Otterburn (link and graphic below) which compared plots where predators were legally managed and plots where they were not, charting the impact on ground-nesting birds. (1)

On average, lapwing, curlew, red grouse, golden plover and meadow pipit bred three times more successfully where legal predator control (of abundant generalist predators: foxes, weasels and carrion crows) was carried out by gamekeepers.

The Otterburn experiment demonstrated almost three times the breeding success of waders when gamekeepers managed predators



Science published in Journal of Applied Ecology 2014, entitled Upland land use predicts population decline in a globally near threatened wader (Curlew)

had, amongst its key conclusions: 

- Curlew population changes over an 8- to 10-year period were positively related to gamekeeper density (a surrogate of predator control intensity) and inversely to the area of woodland surrounding sites, as a likely source of predators to adjacent open ground. Model predictions suggest that increasing woodland cover from 0% to 10% of the land area within 1 km of populated sites requires an increase in human predator control effort of about 48%.


It also concluded

- The removal of isolated woodland plantations from otherwise unafforested landscapes may help reduce predation pressure across a range of systems including moorland. However, direct predator control may also be important to conserve ground-nesting birds in these landscapes, for example, where moorland management and forestry coexist as major land uses. Predator control may also mitigate climate change effects by enhancing wader productivity, particularly where climate effects coincide with changing land use. 


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