A Scottish Gamekeeper Speaks Out

BY BERT BURNETT

On Thursday STV were too quick to highlight that Scotland’s wildlife population is in a state of consistent decline, referencing a new report. 70 wildlife groups joined forces with Scottish government agencies for the first time, to analyse data about nearly 6500 species across land and sea for the latest ‘State of Nature’ report. It found that in the five decades since monitoring began, there has been a 24 per cent decline in “average species abundance” in Scotland.

Jo Pike, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, told STV: “This report clearly sets out the grave threats to Scotland’s wildlife. Nearly half of the country’s species have declined, and more than one in ten are threatened with extinction.”

The reality is that a great deal of those declines are as a result of protectionist policies carried out by conservation charities. If you refuse to kill foxes, which are a hundredfold higher than three decades ago, then you can expect ground nesting birds etc. to become depleted.

Many farming practices need altering, like the timing of rolling fields and the application of some sprays but there’s no point in doing any of that if the badger population is burgeoning and destroying a huge percentage of our wildlife.

Creatures like pine martens and kites are being introduced into areas where much of the wildlife is already being reduced and, when their populations are uncontrolled, they add to the impacts of crows, foxes and badgers etc.

We have to assume that as conservation charities receive millions in subsidies and conservation grants their habitats are or should be the best possible – they should be the ones bucking the downward trends dramatically reported by STV?

The strange thing is they are not, they are actually suffering some of the worst declines in ground nesting birds in particular, so much so they are now ringing their holdings with electrified fencing to keep many predators out. They have increased their controls on corvids and are possibly the biggest clients for protected species management licences.

It’s mostly these people calling for increased payments for conservation efforts who are the people who will suffer reduced income from these previous handouts when Brexit comes into force. Perhaps what we are actually seeing is an orchestrated effort of doom and gloom to maintain their income from the public purse in the UK. Not only are they calling for more funding but in a rather hypocritical manner they are also calling for the cessation of moorland/shoot management and fox controls. They are the same people questioning the uses of the general licences, something that in the round has halted many localised declines and produces the habitats for wildlife from insects to golden eagles.

I’m sure many changes need to be made by all but unless the money involved – £3 billion I believe – is spent wisely and given on results, then, just like the £13 million spent on capercaillie, which have seen their population halved in the spending of this money, the cash will be wasted.

The clues to this call for money lie in the actions of the same conservation bodies asking for it. They are the same bodies who are all working together to change the upland management which has produced the best habitats for upland wildlife, they are the same organisations that are attacking lowland game management which again bucks the downward trends for much of the species they are flagging up as endangered elsewhere.

The real question is – if that particular management is stemming the downward trends and is locally enhancing the survival rates of most species – why are these conservation bodies working against this management in the first place?

Bert Burnett is a retired gamekeeper with more than fifty years involvement in gamekeeping.

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