Warning to Scottish Government that gamekeeping profession 'close to breaking point'

Young gamekeepers face an uncertain future

With the 2023 grouse season now underway Scottish gamekeepers are warning their profession stands at a critical juncture with job losses building.

Visitors from across the world take to the country’s moors every year for the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ with the season netting up to £35m annually for the rural economy.

A Scottish Government commissioned report found that grouse moor management supports higher per hectare employment than other moorland land uses such as forestry and conservation https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-report-socioeconomic-biodiversity-impacts-driven-grouse-moors-employment-rights-gamekeepers/pages/5/

Additionally, gamekeepers’ work in habitat and wildlife management helps to sustain declining upland bird species https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10344-022-01631-5  while protecting globally rare moorland habitats from further fragmentation https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/9048561.pdf 


Unprecedented change

However, rapid land use change due to incentivised carbon schemes and the political uncertainty caused by the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill, a licensing scheme for the use of dogs for fox control and other impending moves on predation control, licensing and deer are overshadowing this year’s season and impacting workers' confidence and wellbeing.

Furthermore, a member survey by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association is confirming job fears, with responses to date indicating positions being lost on estates and not replaced.

Now young gamekeepers with families are pleading with MSPs to understand the gravity of the situation facing their profession, with the twin climate and nature emergencies necessitating the retention of skilled land workers, not a haemorrhaging of jobs.

I am not sure the Scottish Parliament realises just how close we are to losing a rural sector. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much political change,” said Highland gamekeeper, Ed Jaundrell.

“We are at the stage where jobs are not being replaced. The young people the countryside needs are now thinking twice. They can’t see an end. It’s relentless.”

The prospects for this year’s grouse season are unlikely to boost long term morale, although limited shoot programmes will go ahead in the heartlands of the highlands, Angus and the Borders. 

Grouse breeding has been patchy, with some shoots reducing the number of let days, hoping for more birds by later into the season, which closes on December 10th.

Whilst grouse numbers - as a wild bird - fluctuate, recent years of shoot losses have not helped the sector rebound, amidst a build-up of external pressures.

Glenprosen Estate was bought by Scottish Government body, FLS. Sheds and buildings lie empty and gamekeeper jobs were lost.

High profile estates such as Kinrara and Glenprosen have been sold to drinks giant Brewdog and FLS respectively for centrally incentivised tree planting schemes, with gamekeepers losing their jobs and houses.

Corporates buying up Scottish land for relatively unregulated carbon credit initiatives, to mitigate against emissions created by their activities, has led to unprecedented speculation in land, with gamekeeper jobs negatively impacted.

“Those who advise estate owners will be seeing the money now for trees and the like. They are not daft. If an owner sells, though, it is generally the gamekeepers who pay the price, with jobs and houses, and I am not sure people really grasp that,” said Borders gamekeeper, Andy Buchan.

“For years, the Parliament has made our jobs harder. There’s not a part of what we do that hasn’t been picked apart. What we need is support, if we are to continue.

There’s one thing for certain, the Government won’t meet its targets for the countryside or for the climate if the people, who know the land, have been pushed off of it.

“Who do they think will manage species like deer? Who will help the Fire Service fight the wildfires?”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) which represents 5300 members, says its Jobs survey responses elicit real concern.

“While some places may have taken on the odd part-time staff member, the trend is clear and that is very worrying. Gamekeepers have been part of Scotland's cultural heritage for centuries. The Government needs to understand the seriousness and work with us to protect these positions, not dismantle everything,” stressed SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg, MBE.


Green MSP makes clear what the Government's coalition partners think

Amidst this warning, the Scottish Greens - who form a part of Scottish Government - have today described the 12th August to the media as a ' festival of violence'. 

This type of language from a party which has Ministers within the Government at Holyrood will be seen as a further kick to the guts of worried rural workers and their families at a time when the profession requires support.



The legislative cocktail

While much commentary on 12th August has focused solely on the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill, decision makers and the public should be aware of the current cocktail of legislation which is impacting/ will impact Scotland's gamekeepers.

In short, this Government term which will go down in history as the one which placed more pressure on the gamekeeping profession in Scotland than any other since the establishment of a Parliament in Edinburgh.

  •  Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill going through Holyrood at the same time as licensing provisions for the Hunting with Dogs Bill are being developed and remain, at present, unworkable for foot packs (despite Ministerial insistence that any scheme will be 'workable').
  • Secondary Deer legislation being rushed through Holyrood at the same time as the above, including abolition of the male deer season, without proper consultation with the sector.
  • Possible loss of snaring within weeks. Complete review of trap legislation which will lead to significant changes as to how gamekeepers can carry out wildlife management.
  • Primary legislation to come on deer within the next 12 months. A Biodiversity Bill within the next 12 months and the creation of a new national park, all of which are likely to impact gamekeepers' lives.
  • A full review of wildlife licensing to come, which - again - will impact how gamekeepers and other land managers work with wildlife.













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