The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is clearly on the ropes as the mounting body of evidence showing criminal gamekeeper activity gains more and more public attention. One of the SGA’s regular spokesmen, the perenially entertaining Bert Burnett, has now suggested that raptor fieldworkers could be taking raptor eggs and chicks from nests, to launder them on the black market! It’s a bit like saying Greenpeace activists could be harpooning whales to sell to the Japanese, or that the RSPCA could be collecting stray dogs to sell the meat and skins to the Chinese. All possible, of course, but all as improbable as Bert becoming Head of MENSA.
In his latest message to the SGA membership, he also suggests that if licenced raptor workers don’t give prior notice to the gamekeeper of their intended visit, they are not following ‘good practice’. This is, of course, totally incorrect, as all licensed raptor fieldworkers in Scotland already know. The ‘good practice guide’ used by Scotland’s raptor workers (which incidentally is endorsed by SNH) does not say that raptor fieldworkers need to provide advance warning of their intention to visit any raptor site. Indeed, under the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003, volunteer raptor surveyors have a statutory right of access, just as any other member of the public. The difference between a raptor fieldworker and any other member of the public is that the raptor worker will have a Schedule 1 Disturbance Licence, issued annually by SNH, permitting them to visit the nests of certain protected species. Possession of this licence indicates that the raptor fieldworker is suitably competent in minimising the disturbance effect of his/her visit on the raptor’s breeding attempt.
There’s a very good reason why many raptor fieldworkers don’t give prior notice of their intended visit, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what that might be! Why do you think gamekeepers are demanding that they be given prior warning of a visit? Could it be so they can rush out and remove poisoned baits, dead birds, illegal traps? Bert suggests that the prior notice is to ‘minimise disturbance’ to the gamekeeper’s daily routine, such as ‘fox control’. What utter tosh! Other members of the public, such as hill walkers, cyclists, dog walkers etc, are not required to provide prior notice. Why should it be different for raptor fieldworkers? Could it be because raptor fieldworkers are more likely to be able to spot criminal activity, than say, a casual hill walker?
Bert goes on to urge his members to report anybody seen at a nest site to the police. This is actually a great piece of advice, because it will save the raptor fieldworker the trouble of making the call when he/she finds the poisoned bait, or dead raptor, or trampled chicks, or smashed eggs, or illegal trap during their site visit. The interesting part will be whether the police actually turn up to investigate!
Bert also talks about how raptor workers are licenced (the SNH-issued Disturbance Licence mentioned above) and how the system is ‘based on trust’ with ‘no built in accountability’. That’s also incorrect (where does he get his ‘facts’?). However, the interesting part in his article is where he calls for equality in terms of accountability for raptor fieldworkers and gamekeepers. We couldn’t agree more, Bert! The sooner that a licensing system for individual gamekeepers is introduced, the better!
Bert’s article on the SGA website here