“Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” says Alex Hogg

Episode 11 of the BBC 2 Scotland ‘Landward’ programme went out on Friday 27 May and included a segment on the new vicarious liability regulation in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. The programme is available here for a limited period.

The segment opened with Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species at RSPB Scotland, who told the interviewer, “Bird of prey poisoning is particularly associated with driven grouse moors in the upland of Scotland, in the central and eastern highlands, parts of Perthshire and also down in the southern uplands”.

The interviewer, Dougie Vipond, asked: “So who is doing this? Who is killing the birds?”

Orr-Ewing: “Well, it is estate employees, gamekeepers who are usually involved, but they are only employees, they are acting under the direct instructions so ultimately it is the landowners that are responsible for this”.

A short section followed with a brief interview with Liz Plath, listed as a rural law specialist and a partner at Thorntons Law LLP. Basically she explained in simple terms how vicarious liability brings the landowner or the employer into the frame in cases of raptor poisoning.

Next up was Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, whose opening line was: “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors”. Funny that, because if you bother to look back at the statistics on raptor poisoning for the ten-year period that Hogg has been in post, you’ll see that raptor poisoning incidents have been recorded on many estates, and yes, ‘professional’ gamekeepers have been convicted.

He then contradicted himself (and not for the first time) by saying: “It’s only a small minority that are still at it. A rogue few if you like”.  Lest we forget, here is the official government map showing confirmed raptor poisoning incidents between 2006-2010. Widespread, I’m sure you’ll agree, and the trend is pointing upwards.

He continued: “And we’ve tried our hardest over the past, I’ve now been in this job for ten years, to impress on everybody that it’s absolutely illegal to poison raptors”. Peer pressure from Hogg and co., while welcome, has been ineffective. It can’t help the situation when he and others from his industry continue to claim that raptors are having a significantly negative effect on game birds, songbirds, waders and lambs. Is there any scientific evidence for this? No, not a shred.

Next up came David Hendry, listed as the proprietor of Cardney Estate, near Dunkeld in Perthshire. Now this was an interesting interview. The piece opened with an introduction to Hendry, and video footage of a diving osprey on his estate. We were told that this estate ‘is home to many endangered birds of prey’. Unfortunately, Hendry was not asked how many and what species of raptors made their home there. The osprey was implied, but of course the osprey only eats fish, not exotic red-legged partridge (also known as French partridge) or pheasant, which are reared and released in large numbers for sport shooting on this estate, according to this shooting directory.

Vipond talked about the belief that the only way to stop poisoning is to introduce a licensing system which would allow landowners to control [kill] raptors. Hendry agreed, and suggested “it should become the gamekeeper’s job for instance to look after the rare raptors like harriers, your merlins, bring on your red kites, but they should also be allowed to reduce buzzards and sparrowhawks to numbers that are sustainable, because what we have today is not sustainable”.

Ok, so this is the first time we’ve officially heard that sparrowhawks are also the landowners’ intended target for licensed killing. Until now, the list has ‘just’ included buzzards and ravens. So what happens if they get the go ahead to kill these species? Will we see goshawks added to the next list? They’re just an over-sized sparrowhawk after all, so why not? And golden eagles? They’re just over-sized buzzards, so why not? Where will it stop?

It’s also very interesting that he thinks the current number of buzzards and sparrowhawks is ‘unsustainable’. According to this shooting website, Cardney Estate offers shooting days where between 200-400 exotic birds (partridge/pheasant) can be shot. That’s 200-400 birds per shooting day, depending on the time in the season. In September 2010, a record 677 birds were shot on one day according to one participant! Sounds to me like this sporting estate is doing very nicely thank you, without the need to kill off any indigenous protected raptors, whatever species they may be.

We then went back to Orr-Ewing, who was asked for his opinion about the need to ‘manage’ [kill] protected raptors. “These birds of prey are rightly protected because they’re vulnerable. We have a history of killing birds of prey in Scotland, many species are just recovering from that situation, there’s no other country in Europe that [legally] kills birds of prey”.

His first three points are accurate, but his last statement is not. In 2008 the provincial government of Lower Austria issued a decree allowing hunters to shoot 1,000 buzzards and 250 goshawks over the following five years. It previously allowed the killing of Montagu’s harriers until the EC stepped in to halt it. The decree allowing the legal persecution of buzzards and goshawks resulted in an international public outcry – the same can be expected if the licensed killing of raptors for the benefit of the game bird-shooting industry is permitted in Scotland.

And of course, it’s not just poison that is used to illegally kill raptors. Unfortunately our government does not produce annual statistics on the other incidences of raptor persecution that take place every single year. Thankfully, the RSPB does. Their annual reports (one covering bird persecution in the UK as a whole, and the other covering incidents in Scotland) are a welcome insight into the extent of the problem. Their 2010 annual reports are due for publication in the very near future. Their efforts to compile and publish these reports are worthy of the public’s gratitude because without them, we would only have Alex Hogg and co’s word about the extent of illegal raptor killing on Scotland’s sporting estates.

11 thoughts on ““Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” says Alex Hogg”

  1. Once again a watered down program from the BBC, didn’t really look at the real reasons for the introduction of the vicarious liability regulation and how it’s going to work in reality.

    If what Alex Hogg says about professional gamekeepers not poisoning Raptors is true, then I think it’s about time the vast majority of all the other gamekeepers became professionals as soon as possible. If you look into what Alex Hogg has said more closely, it would appear as if he’s saying that the majority of gamekeepers are not really professionals, I have to agree with him there.

    If it ever comes to pass that it’s the gamekeepers job to look after the Raptors, then all i’ve got to say is god help the Raptors !!!


  2. A lawyer would have a field day [sic] over his definition of the word “professional”….there is no “professional” overseeing body for gamekeepers…such as doctors, lawyers, social workers, police etc have…certainly the SGA could not be seen as holding such a role,as it has no disciplinary capacity over gamekeeping as a whole.

    No, the nearest real meaning for the gamekeeper’s use of the word is ” good at their job” or “experienced”…

    Within that definition, grouse moor keeper’s are generally recognised as being at the top of their “profession”…..and yet we have government reports showing clearly that grouse moors are where the highest amount of poisoning and general raptor persecution is taking place. Directly contradicting Mr Hogg.

    Perhaps its time for Mr Hogg to admit that his and the SGA’s policies have not worked …and stand aside and let someone else try to make a real difference out there?

    [re Mr Hendry at Cardney – he was of course the originator of the SGA, a millionaire after he sold his undertaking business…an outspoken critic of the RSPB, setting up the SGA in the late 1990s by telling keepers they were being unfairly targeted by the RSPB, the Press and Media… a clear attempt to suppress any criticism…which as watered down programmes such as “Fair Game” showed, has been partly successful…but the truth will keep getting out!]

  3. As a keen countryside enthusiast, I find it almost commicle that so many people go by the British media. These reports of poisoning and un’professional’ gamekeeping by so many media sources must surely be questioned by these ‘educated’ people. Surely these reports must be questioned when these are the same organisations that reported on Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, I think we all know there are two sides to every story.
    I can also back this up with personal experience in that being a builder from the city, my reputation was tarnished before I’d even stepped into a clients house because of programmes such as ‘Houses from Hell’ etc who exposed cowboy builders (quite rightly so)but what happened to the programmes about good professional builders, obviously positive media doesn’t get the viewing figures! As a professional, I never rip a client off or do a bad job. It is extrememly unfair that I should be labelled a ‘cowboy builder’ just because I am a builder….the same goes for gamekeeper’s, if there are a ‘rogue few’ all should not be labelled raptor killers!
    From my experience, I know for a fact that many gamekeeper’s and landowners have actually enhanced the countryside by encouraging breeding programmes and wildlife conservation. Let alone the benefits to the local economy.
    I strongly believe, people who make such one sided arguments are probably the people who fight for fishing EU quota’s because it’s PC but probably don’t hesitate to go down their local chippie for a fish supper with salt and vinegar!
    I guess what I am trying to say is there are two sides to every story but in this case everybody takes the side of the nice looking animal instead of people’s livlihood. I bet the people who write these reports on anti country management are the same people who are anti carbon but will quite happily jump in their car to go and watch the wildlife at convenient hours of their working week and don’t live with it 24/7 365.
    A balance is required by realistic people.

  4. Unfortunately for your theory John…most of the people blogging here are very well educated in the countryside….not just professional conservationists [although they should be listened to as they deal with the problem of persecution on a daily basis, across the country and know more than just the circumstance of one narrow geographical area]but also shooters and stalkers, who have identified themselves as such.

    In my own lifelong connection with the countryside …the most serious and worrying reports of bird of prey persecution have come from those actually involved in shooting, stalking, farming and other staple countryside work.

    I sincerely hope that those people with a lesser knowledge of how the countryside is run do read and believe what we are all writing here…without a blog such as this they would think we were living in a sort of Brigadoon, courtesy of those nice grouse and pheasant shooting folk.

  5. Have to agree with Dave re the bloggers knowledge of the countryside. Although I live in a town I have been climbing/hillwalking.birdwatching all over Scotland since my late Twenties, I am now 62, and think of myself as reasonable experienced in the countryside and it’s wildlife, although I am always learning, which is part of the joy of being in the country. As for Gamekeepers care of wildlife etc. 2 examples which happened to me spring to mind. About 2 years ago in the spring I was with a companion in Langside on the B827 near Comrie, looking for Cuckoos when a Keeper stopped his Landrover and asked if we were in the R.S.P.B. when we said we were he proceeded to lambaste us about Raptors killing his Pheasant chicks. He said he killed Buzzards and Sparrowhawks on sight as he considered them as vermin. He was very aggressive towards us and only drove away after a half hour rant when it became obvious that we were beginning to get annoyed with him. About a year before this, again in the spring we were walking in Glen Almond, when we came across the remains of a Buzzard (long dead) in a hole in a ruined cottage gable end wall. It had obviously died of natural causes crawled into the hole then pulled stones into the hole to hide it’s body. Explain this Mr McDonald. I don’t take the side of nice looking animals/wildlife but use my own eyes and experience to look and listen to what is going on. Go into any countryside Hotel/bar of a Friday/Saturday evening listen to the conversation among Estate workers, it won’t take long to know what they think of Raptors.

  6. Not much sign of peer pressure from Alex Hogg and the SGA working. In fact “the small minority” of perpetrators of wildlife crime seem to be pretty widespread with recent incidents at Moy, Skibo, Glenbuchat, Bridge of Brown and now Ballater. For a small minority they do get about a bit!

    I sent the following enquiry by e mail to the SGA on 26 May.

    “The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has condemned wildlife crime and the perpetrators of wildlife crime?

    Two people were convicted of wildlife crimes today Dean Barr or James Roderick Rolfe. Are they members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association? Will the SGA be condemning the illegal actions of these two keepers and, if they are members, will their membership be terminated?”

    But have yet to have a reply.

    Perhaps other followers of this blog (any journalists out there) could also enquire to sgapress@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

    No sign of any of these news items on the SGA website.

  7. Thanks for the email address Alister have looked for it in the past but never found it for some reason. Think I will send a few emails to our friendly Gamekeeper Mr Hogg. Everybody writing to this blog should send him a wee note now and again to let him know we are all still here and thinking of him.

  8. Cheers for the info Alister. I expect SGA will show their ‘condemnation’ by attending the Highland Field Sports Fair at Moy Estate on 5/6 August. Given what we now know was uncovered at Moy last summer (illegal spring traps, poisoned bait, poisoned birds, trapped birds, severed bird leg) I’m pretty certain I won’t be taking my family anywhere near the place.

  9. Professor…perhaps a few letters pointing out what youve said about Moy…keeping it factual…in a couple of local newspapers [Strathy, Inverness papers] would be appropriate?

  10. Update

    I have been informed by Nancy Nicholson, Press and Public Rel;ations, SGA that neither Dean Barr nor James Roderick Rolfe are members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.

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