The fall-out from the shock custodial sentence for raptor-killing gamekeeper George Mutch continues….
The following appeared in yesterday’s Scotsman weekend magazine (24th January 2015). It’s the regular country sports column written by Alastair Robertson, the pro-game shooting journalist who also contributes to Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Telegraph, The Sun, Country Life & The Field.
“I only met George Mutch a few times. We were both in the beating line on a local shoot early in the season. Later, when I was shooting myself as a guest of a friend on Donside, I spotted him with his dogs picking up behind the guns. “Changed days from beating”, we laughed. Like most keepers he was helping out on the next door shoot for a few quid and a dram. At the time Mutch’s name didn’t mean anything until I spotted his face on Raptor Persecution Scotland, a website dedicated to the iniquities of gamekeepers and the game shooting world and a site which I highly recommend to anyone who likes shooting.
Which is why Mutch’s photo had appeared. He was captured on a hidden RSPB “research” camera killing goshawks caught in a vermin trap on Kildrummy where he ran the pheasant shoot.
His jailing for four months is being hailed as a breakthrough by the anti-shooting lobby which for years has complained that the government, police and courts have underrated the seriousness of wildlife crime. Perhaps, in their unofficial minds, police put the discomfort of birds rather further down their list of priorities than domestic violence, paedophilia, rape and drink-driving. But now the worm has turned. Mutch is the first keeper to be jailed for killing a raptor. The sad thing is that there is little understanding really on either side of the raptor argument.
The comments on Raptor Persecution following Mutch’s jailing were largely of the “Yippee, serves him right” sort. On the other side there are clipped official statements deploring wildlife crime, while among keepers and shooters a sullen silent resentment pervades that the RSPB, generally loathed for its interfering ways, has somehow “won”.
The only sensible comment I have seen, on the Raptor Persecution site as it happens, is that instead of jailing Mutch at great expense he should have been sent, possibly as a community service order, to work on an RSPB reserve. This may have been a joke and I missed it. But at least the reserve wouldn’t have any vermin problems.
The Mutch affair will inevitably increase demand to ban all legitimate live traps which keepers use to keep down vermin. It might, however, be better to turn the whole bird of prey argument on its head. Instead of trying to catch keepers at it, pay them a bounty for all raptors caught, logged and/or released. Poachers turned gamekeepers as it were. If, as the anti-shooting/raptor lobby insist, raptor persecution is widespread, then what is the point of conducting a war of low level attrition in the countryside which no-one is winning? Banging up Mutch pour encourager les autres isn’t the answer”.
So, no real surprises. Gamekeepers and shooters apparently ‘loathe’ the RSPB for ‘interfering’ (= catching raptor-killing gamekeepers and reporting them to the police). Oh, and killing raptors doesn’t really merit a custodial sentence because it doesn’t rank as a priority crime, even though the Government and Police Scotland have both stated that tackling wildlife crime IS a priority, and even though the penalty available for EACH offence could be a £5,000 fine and/or a six month custodial sentence. Some would say Mutch got off lightly with just a four-month jail sentence.
Instead of trying to catch gamekeepers at it, Robertson’s theory is that gamekeepers should be paid a bounty for each raptor they manage not to kill. A bit like giving a bank robber a bounty for each bank he manages to walk past without robbing it. ‘Ah, well done lad, you’ve managed to go a whole day without committing a crime – here, have some tax-payer’s money in recognition of your self-control’.
Talking of Mutch, we were interested to receive this photo taken on a grouse moor in September 2014. This was on Edinglassie Estate in Aberdeenshire. Edinglassie is an award-winning estate, receiving the GWCT’s Golden Plover Award in 2013 for their progressive & sustainable moorland management, and becoming WES-accredited (SLE’s Wildlife Estates Scotland thing). Is that George Mutch, clearing the butts after a drive? Who would employ Mutch to help out on a game shoot? (There’s no more helping out for a few quid and a dram – new rules mean that, unless in exceptional circumstances, HMRC views beaters etc as ’employees’ for tax purposes). Interesting. Although to be fair, in September he was still denying his guilt and hadn’t yet been convicted (that came in Dec). Can’t imagine an esteemed estate like Edinglassie would employ him now he’s been convicted of raptor persecution…..