Grouse moors – ‘a birdwatchers’ paradise’ according to Chair of Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Don’t laugh.

Actually, do laugh.

Alex Hogg, Chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, was interviewed last week and he said some pretty baffling things about gamekeeping and grouse moor management, including the fantastic statement, “This is a birdwatchers’ paradise“.

Yep, he really did.

[An illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle, found dead on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park earlier this year – see here and here. What a birdwatchers’ paradise!]

Alex was talking to a presenter on ITV’s regional news programme Representing Border on 2nd December 2020. The programme featured a piece on the Scottish Government’s recent decision to introduce a licensing scheme for driven grouse shooting (here) and it’s well worth five minutes of your time.

The programme is available here (starts at 15.49 mins, ends 22.01).

There was more baffling commentary from Alex, including this unfathomable statement on the effect a licensing scheme would have on gamekeeping:

We’ve done it for 200 years, we’ve kept a balance in the wildlife, and if we, it’s like a three-legged stool, if they take the leg away, we’re gone“.

Eh? I’ve no idea what ‘the leg’ is that he thinks is being ‘taken away’ and why he thinks a licensing scheme means gamekeepers will be ‘gone’. They’ll be gone if they breach the conditions of the licence (assuming it’s effectively enforced) but if they’re not doing anything illegal why would a licence cause them difficulties?

Unfortunately the presenter didn’t follow up on this, or if he did it was edited out. It’s also a shame he didn’t pick up on Alex’s statement about 200 years worth of ‘balancing the wildlife’ and ask him questions about why several species of raptors became extirpated from the UK about 100 years ago? And although some have made a brilliant comeback (with some help), why some populations are still struggling, notably in areas managed for driven grouse shooting? He could also have asked this question of Liz Smith MSP (Scottish Conservatives) who said she didn’t think that “fairly draconian” licensing was needed now!

Other interviewees were much more lucid, including Ian Thomson (RSPB Investigations, Scotland), Claudia Beamish MSP (Scottish Labour) and Mairi Gougeon (Environment Minister), who gave a robust argument for bringing in a licensing scheme now instead of sitting around for another five years doing nothing, including this statement:

There are still persistent problems out there with the illegal persecution of our birds of prey“.

It’s good to see this statement from a Scottish Minister. Can you imagine a similar comment from a Minister at Westminster?

41 thoughts on “Grouse moors – ‘a birdwatchers’ paradise’ according to Chair of Scottish Gamekeepers Association”

  1. I think Alex Hogg is correct. Only on a grouse moor would you be able to see a White-tailed Sea eagle so close that you could touch it.

    As for that stool. The leg that’s being removed is the one titled “act with impunity with no fear of prosecution or sanction”.

  2. Alex Hogg May have a point. The last time I walked a grouse moor I saw :-

    The common Lesser spotted Tweedie tit. Camouflaged.

    A few Turdus tediousum. Braying sort of call, not super bright.

    And the nocturnal Turdus Uptonogoodii.

    Apart from that, not much else to be seen.

  3. Unfortunately a lot of people watching this will believe what he says and still think that gamekeepers are there to protect the countryside.

  4. Interesting that he says “a bird watchers paradise” because my personal experience as a bird watcher when visiting grouse moor areas of the Scottish Highlands and glens is the hostile attitude of gamekeepers and similar ‘professional guardians of the countryside’. The silent scowling faces as you walk past a group of men in camouflage gear grouped around ATV’s and quad bikes. The threatening warning notices on the moorland roads around Tomatin and above the Findhorn Valley warning hikers and birdwatchers NOT to interfere with ‘professionally set traps’ etc. And the curt questions “where are you going?” or “what are you looking for?” with the clear attitude that you should not be out here on the open moors.

    1. I have also had two times in the last few years when they try to find out about you & your movements in a slightly subtler way, i.e. driving up and with a friendly smile say, “How do, Are you lost?” When they know fine well I am not lost.
      Maybe this is the approach BASC & others are now promoting. Nicer than being scowled at, but cringeworthy.

    2. I’ve had similar experiences on some Yorkshire grouse moors, keepers stopping and asking what you’re doing and where you’re going, in some cases even asking who’s given “permission” despite it being open access land and you don’t need anyone’s permission. This mainly happening on two or three estates.

      In their defence it’s always polite at least, and plenty of others seem OK and are not like this. And of course you do get issues of vandalism of legal traps which they may be legitimately worried about. But specifically the talk of “permission” on open access land for example seems dodgy, as if they’re hoping you don’t know your own rights or something.

      On one particular estate (where without going into detail I later found dubious looking rail traps set without entrance restrictions) the questioning definitely felt intimidating, and this again was open access land.

  5. I was pleasantly surprised by the responses given by Mairi Gougeon. It is shame that none of the others were given the same grilling. I suspect that poor Alex might have turned from medium rare to well done.

    Anyone know which moor Alex manages near Peebles so we can all appreciate his bird watcher’s paradise?

    As always the devil is going to be in the details of the licensing conditions but there are hopeful signs.

    1. Alex is the gamekeeper at Portmore Estate which does not have a grouse moor to my knowledge. I am sure someone will put me straight if I am wrong.

      1. According this bio

        Alex Hogg began his keepering career on Kelburn Estate in Ayrshire where his father worked as a shepherd, and has spent the last 20 years on Portmore Estate near Peebles, a mixed estate of policies, fringe hill and hill land which ranges to around 2000ft. He rears pheasants, manages a small grouse moor and herds of roe and red deer. His son Kyle works alongside him, giving him time to carry out his duties as chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, a position he has held for the past eight years.”

        Looking at the area on Google Maps there is muirburn, but it is not on large scale, nor is it clear where the estate boundaries are.

  6. Ah yes…the paradise of lovely summers evening with dusk approaching, when you have been watching a Buzzard wheeling about in a valley and drifting casually away over the moor, and it has lifted your spirits. Soured slighly when you walk on and 15mins later hear 4 or 5 shots rattled off in the distance from a semi-auto. And you think, “I really hope that was a Stoat that just bought it”. And the sad thing is you like Stoats too! I tend to stick to the moorland edge for my wildlife watching, preferably on land not owned by a big Estate, heading onto the open heather is just a bittersweet heartbreak.

  7. Yes it really does need someone to literally laugh in the face of grouse kiling types making these sorts of statement. Would one have to be polite to a burglar trashing your home or someone killing your cat? I am of course not advocating violence, I leave that to the killers for crowd.

  8. ‘It’s also a shame he didn’t pick up on Alex’s statement about 200 years worth of ‘balancing the wildlife’ and ask him questions about why several species of raptors became extirpated from the UK about 100 years ago?’
    Oh i would love to have seen Ruth asking him that question.

  9. Alex does talk utter Hogwash one wonders sometimes what thought altering substances he imbibes. Although I recall a retired Nidderdale keeper writing to the papers decrying the fact that we were re-introducing all the predatory birds his “profession’s” Victorian forebears rightly exterminated. Perhaps Alex and his cohorts feel the same way!

  10. Voiding stools, legs or no, from the face sounds like a gamecreeper’s Speciality.
    How do these people think they advance civilisation?

    1. “Alex does talk utter Hogwash one wonders sometimes what thought altering substances he imbibes”—–Steady diet of meat laced with lead.

    2. Lance perhaps a classic case of when in the shit stop speaking it! Although licencing game keepers out of existence is indeed often a promising and attractive topic.

  11. Hogwash!
    I am a birder and I live on the North York Moors. I walk the Moors at least twice a week. I was up on top on Sunday doing an 8 mile walk and I saw nowt!….apart from some grouse.
    200 years of balancing nature, my arse!

  12. Are they just programmed automata? Pull a string and out comes… “We look after all birds.” … “Look at all the eagles and hen harriers. I see them enjoying our moors every day.” … “Feed me a mountain hare butty.” …” Nice day, where are going?” … “Yes, your lordship I will restore our moors to your liking.” …”Wee dram, that’ll do nicely.” … “You may get shot if you go that way.”

    xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx


  13. How predictable a statement from Alex Hogg. Looking after the land for 200 years, does he actually know how many birds and animals that have been killed in that time. Large estates used to boast of their killing with annual lists that appeared in Statistical Accounts. We don’t seem to hear much about that these days.
    There is no doubt in my mind that our problems began with Queen Victoria purchasing Balmoral and ever since Scotland has become one large shooting country for those who are rich enough to own some of it.

    How refreshing it is to see how Wildland is progressing with a change of focus and all thanks to a Dutch landowner who is showing Scots the way in how to manage the land in a different way to the benefit of all animals and birds. We owe him a great debt.

  14. Whilst it’s entirely understandable that those who oppose our moorland and privately owned Estate protocols will rubbish any claims which may be made as to the positive effects of the time served management systems which are in place, the simple fact is that the reports on SMS pages, from bird watchers and twitchers contradict the claims of wildlife deserts, with fulsome reports of all manner of birdlife and in exceedingly healthy numbers.

    Reports of the allegedly persecuted Harriers, Peregrines and Merlins abound, which does rather make a nonsense of the hysterical claims to the contrary, most will accept.

    Curiously, or so it seems to me, the positive reports from visiting bird watchers and to those areas given over to supposed sanctuary enclaves, always seem to be few and far between – let’s face it, why go bird watching when there’s little of interest?

    Even more curious is that many of the bird watchers, whilst claiming a bias towards field sports, name the very moorlands where their sightings are based.

    1. You imbibing the same mind altering and delusion creating substances as Alex now Perdix? There seems no alternative explanation of your convoluted bullshit.

    2. That’s a very interesting comment.

      SMS stands for – short message service.
      Usually SMS is a one to one communication tool, unlike Social Media (Twitter, Facebook etc) which are a one to many communication tool.
      Normally it is not possible to see SMS texts sent between individuals, as they are delivered direct from the senders mobile device to to receivers mobile device. (Unless of course you hack the devices- which would be a breach of privacy laws.)

      So I am not sure what you mean by “SMS pages” ?
      I am not sure these actually exist? – As SMS is simply an old technology enabling a short text message to be sent directly to an individuals device.

      Perhaps you would like to clarify your comment??
      Or could you be mistaken about viewing these “SMS pages”??
      And therefore, could you perhaps also be mistaken about your claims regarding all the birds of prey that are apparently being reported on these SMS pages??
      Do either actually exist?

    3. Par for the course for the bullshit artist currently known as Perdix. Yet another pretentious diatribe, bereft of any supporting evidence.

    4. How many Hen Harriers nested this year in the Peak District, perdix? I know you’re keen to waffle on about nothing, but a simple number will suffice as an answer.

    5. My personal experience of two moors; one managed very intensively had nothing but grouse, and I mean literally no other bird life, the second much less intensively farmed but also heavily visited by walkers, MTBers etc and funnily enough bird life thrives not just grouse!

      Another moor near by, I have noticed they don’t burn the heather instead it is cut with a tractor, obviously you can do this on steeper ground or peat bog(which you shouldn’t burn anyway) but so much better for all the invertebrates and small mammals,

    6. As well as describing a fantasy world in which hen harriers, peregrines and merlins abound on driven grouse moors, Perdix also makes an unfounded attempt to suggest that bird reserves (I guess that’s what he means by ‘supposed sanctuary enclaves’) are devoid of bird-life. Just like the rest of his comment (and all his other comments) this is informed solely by his own prejudiced imagination. It really isn’t hard to find reports of birds seen by visitors to RSPB reserves (other reserve managing organisations are available) and they reveal a rather greater diversity of bird-life than on your typical grouse moor.

  15. Dear Perdix,

    As someone who works in the North York Moors and lives in the North Pennines, I can confirm that the areas managed to maintain artificially high numbers of red grouse are highly degraded and largely bereft of other avian species, even the waders that the keepers use as a smokescreen for their zero tolerance predator control policies. Maybe you should get out more, buy some binoculars, purchase a bird guide and get an eye test.

    1. And…

      “There are only 200 grouse moors left in Scotland and they bring in something like £14 million to the rural economy. If those moors have endangered species on them—such as ring ouzels, dotterels, lapwi ngs and curlews—why can the Government not license the grouse moors in some way? In that way, when a raptor or raven or other predatory bird appeared, the gamekeepers could phone the Government and ask it to remove the raptor, because the land would be a registered grouse moor. That would not just benefit the grouse; other bird species would benefit and their populations would rise. That would seem to be a commonsense thing to do.”

      Alex Hogg, February 2003.

      P.S. On reading the full transcript, statements from Hogg and his pet monkey Bert are comedy gold!

      1. “when a raptor or raven or other predatory bird appeared, the gamekeepers could phone the Government and ask it to remove the raptor”

        And the huge red phone lights up and start’s ringing on the Minister’s desk…

        “Is that the Government? Aye, it’s me – Ally Hogsbrush, and ah’ve goat a big bird here wi an aw-mighty sharp beak n claws ye ken! The hungry eyed basket just flew onto ma muir! We’re doomed ah tell ye, we’re doomed…” etc, etc

  16. It may be uncharitable but every time I read a commentary like this I find myself wondering about the long term impact of low-level lead poisoning on intellectual capacity.

    1. I feel the same John. I check out the BASC FB page from time to time. There was a fellow there the other day saying there is no proof that lead is toxic. I wondered if he had ingested too much, too often also.

  17. ‘Birdwatcher’s Paradise?’ In a pig’s eye!
    Plenty of flying birdlife; all red grouse. I’d prefer to see black grouse, personally, as well as all the other species that should be there, including Raptors.

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