Rural workers sick of being pawns in 'done deals'

Read in full the SGA response to the consultation on the proposed ban on snaring in Scotland.


Snaring Response


As consultations with practitioners are not what they once were, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) will not be submitting the standard consultation response, in pre-set boxes.


This is a consultation coming about after a decision has been made and announced. In our view, therefore, it is a consultation which seems more about ticking a box to meet a minimum legal requirement to consult, rather than representing a genuine and meaningful consultation, per se.


This type of decision making process is sadly becoming a pattern when it comes to big changes impacting the lives, practices and jobs of professional rural workers in Scotland.


It may also go some way to better explaining why the SGA lodged a petition at Holyrood last year, seeking formal recognition and integration of local or practitioner knowledge in rural policy making; a petition which is still ongoing


Ticking boxes


This summer, for example, Scottish Government asked stakeholders working within the estate deer sector for views on the abolition of male deer seasons. Stakeholders were given very little time to craft a response but when doing so, almost unanimously, disagreed. This is not insignificant, given the vast majority of deer management in Scotland today is carried out privately, not through public agencies using tax payer money.


Within days, and with barely any time for the responses to be meaningfully collated, the decision which Government always intended to take (to end the male deer season) was announced. 


While Minister Lorna Slater argued that the legal requirement for consultation had been met, a motion of annulment by Edward Mountain MSP succeeded in securing a majority at the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, with several members acknowledging that a decision of such magnitude was deserving of greater Parliamentary scrutiny than it had been afforded, particularly given stakeholder misgivings about the consultation process.


In the end, the secondary legislation was brought back to Parliament and succeeded in progressing, courtesy of the majority held by the Government and its coalition partners.


As a result, it is now legally possible for an iconic animal to be harassed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even as it is stumbling at its lowest ebb after the rutting season. Game dealers will have to work overtime to try to sell out-of-season ‘run’ stags that virtually no one would want to eat, at a time when we are trying to supercharge a domestic venison industry. Welcome to Scotland.


Public trust


We wonder how these processes, including this particular consultation, reflect on trust in the workings of our Parliament amongst rural working people.


Bluntly, our members are sick of being pawns in, what they perceive to be ‘done deals’ and, on evidence, it is hard to argue. This response is on their behalf.


The Government announced its intention to ban snaring and humane cable restraints (also referred to as humane holding devices in this response) on 22nd August 2023, saying it was ‘subject to consultation’. Then, in the Programme for Government, published on 5th September (2 weeks later) it stated that the Government would ‘Ban snaring through the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill'. What, realistically, is the point of this consultation? 


It would be illuminating, for the benefit of all those soon to be directly impacted, to know whether the decision to ban snaring was recent or whether it formed part of the discussions at Bute House some time back in 2021. 


As committed to, at a recent roundtable discussion with new Minister Gillian Martin (again, taking place after the Programme for Government commitment to ban snaring had been published) the SGA will work with others in the sector to bring forward a sensible and balanced proposal for a scheme to retain humane cable restrains, which are a significant welfare upgrade to existing snares, under licence. 


We hold out no hope of it making any difference, even if we maintain, as we do, that this would be the correct decision.


The SGA’s Grouse group delivered, to three separate Ministers, a proposal which, we felt, would enable Scottish Government to achieve a balance in what, we acknowledge, can be an emotive subject. The first proposal was sent on 23rd September 2022, giving plenty time for engagement (see our video below on new humane holding devices).



Our proposal to ban all existing snares for use and sale in Scotland and for trained professionals to move over to welfare-friendly humane holding devices, or humane cable restraints, would have struck that balance between improved animal welfare and the ability of trained professionals to carry out responsible fox management. Such management is scientifically proven to be beneficial to livestock and to red-listed ground nesting birds which, as the recent State of Nature report alarmingly highlights, we are in danger of losing forever in Scotland. 


The ability of professionals to be able to use humane, approved tools, with training, carries even greater importance now, given Scottish Government’s recently passed Hunting with Dogs Bill which, due to extreme levels of bureaucracy attached to a virtually unworkable licensing scheme, will make it very hard for professional foot packs to be able to manage fox populations in dense forestry through the use of more than 2 trained scenting dogs. This was previously a staple method used, without incident, in parts of heavily afforested highland landscapes. In a matter of months, therefore, 2 key tools will be lost in the quest to professionally control fox predation damage.


This outcome will fly in the face of what Lord Bonomy, who was commissioned by Scottish Government to review existing hunting with dogs arrangements, himself recommended in his final analysis.


Despite tabling our proposal on humane holding devices, the SGA was never afforded a hearing with any minister prior to the announcement of this consultation, or the Programme for Government’s commitment to ban snaring and humane holding devices. 


The first time we were afforded a hearing was last week, in a meeting with several other bodies. 


It is up to others to judge whether this is adequate, but here is the context.


The SGA is a Scottish Government-approved training body for snare operators and has trained more operators than any other organisation in Scotland. This ought to make the SGA the first port of call on the subject of responsible snaring, given that it is actually our members, in the majority, who carry it out, at considerable personal expense for training. It should also be noted that, since training became mandatory, very few snare offences have occurred in Scotland involving trained operators; something we are proud of.


Judging by Committee deliberations on this matter, we remain unconvinced that the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission considered these new humane holding devices when it formulated and published its report to Government, which recommended a ban on snares. We believe that their recommendation, at the time published, was formed solely on the basis of present snare models being used by the majority of operators in Scotland, not the new ones proposed by ourselves, which had only been used on a few estates in this country, again without incident.


Nor were we convinced, judging on the evidence heard, that SSPCA chief Mike Flynn (whom we respect has held a long-standing commitment to a snare ban) had actually had many dealings, if any, of these new type of devices in his welfare work. His comment that, on the basis of videos seen on the SGA website, the they ‘looked like’ existing snares is not, in our view, a credible summation of the many new features and fully tested technical design improvements (including testing by DEFRA) inherent in these new devices.


This is our opinion. We are happy to place it on record, understanding some may disagree.


We do not feel our proposal was given due consideration. Instead, we feel it was viewed more as an inconvenience, with the journey having already been mapped out some time before.


We can only hope that, in the weeks and months ahead, working people in Scotland, with combined centuries of practical knowledge, are given a fairer hearing rather than feeling that our Parliament is only there, in their eyes, to dish out rough justice. 



In the gamekeeping sector, morale is at an all-time low, with negative impacts on the mental wellbeing of our members and their families. Jobs are being lost in our profession at a time when reports, commissioned by Scottish Government agencies, tell us there is a dearth of rural practitioners, with the necessary skills, for the Government and the country to achieve its biodiversity and climate targets by 2030 and 2045. 


With our members highly skilled and knowledgeable in humane deer management and with the SGA running an approved training centre for the deer managers of today and tomorrow, we would have felt there was some merit in a better standard of engagement between the Government and ourselves than we have recently experienced and we hope this will change.


Our members, who are ordinary working people, stand shoulder to shoulder with our fire service, helping put out the wildfires that threaten Scots’ lives and properties as well as our environments. They have not been treated with the respect they deserve. In this, they have been badly let down.


This is self-defeating for Scottish Government - and Scotland - and Scottish Government has to take some responsibility because its policies, reviews and Bills have played a part in the situation our profession now finds itself in.


We maintain our views that SSPCA should not be given additional powers when investigating wildlife crime as we do not consider them suitably impartial. Police Scotland should be the body to investigate wildlife crime and we note Police Scotland’s own concerns on this matter, as expressed at Committee evidence sessions. 


Given that Scottish Government has announced its intention to give SSPCA more powers, we would recommend an annual review of the change, as one form of check and balance, with a report from Police Scotland to the relevant Committee on whether SSPCA’s remit has remained within the intended scope and whether they, Police Scotland, have been able to retain the necessary primacy in criminal investigations. We note recently an article in the Daily Record, dated September 25th, where the SSPCA was quoted alongside RSPB Scotland. The article included speculation, without any evidence of proof, that individuals were using night vision equipment to illegally target wildlife. 


While we, as an organisation, have never condoned wildlife crime, and are pleased with the considerable progress in this area, we feel this illustrates the type of conflict which can arise when a body with both a policing and campaigning function - answerable only to its board - is given greater investigative leeway within the Scottish legal system, without appropriate checks being put in place by the appropriate authorities. We consider annual reporting and Parliamentary scrutiny, therefore, to be the very least Scottish Government can put in place, in proposing this change.



Signed, the Committee of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, acting on behalf of 5300 members in Scotland.


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