The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) held its AGM online last Friday (4th March 2021).
The majority of the two and a half hours was taken up with a political hustings – more on that event later.
To kick off proceedings, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg delivered an opening speech, read deadpan from his laptop. It’s an interesting insight in to what, exactly, it is that the SGA is intending to protest about later this month, as so far it hasn’t been clear to many of us, including the Scottish Government (see here).
It turns out, judging from Alex’s embittered speech, that it’ll be a protest against progress and modernisation. From the restrictions imposed by drink driving limits, to no longer being allowed to slaughter mountain hares in their thousands with zero accountability, the resentment about being dragged in to the 21st century is clear. Personally I don’t think the SGA can legitimately argue that it doesn’t get a fair hearing – it gets just as much opportunity to be heard as everyone else and some of its members and supporters are anything but the so-called ‘quiet people’ described in the speech (e.g. see here and here). Sorry, Alex, it ‘ain’t the 1950s anymore, the world’s moved on massively and so must the SGA if it’s to survive.
Here is the transcript:
“Welcome everybody to our 2021 SGA AGM in our bothy. It’s fantastic to see everyone, albeit through the lens of a video camera.
Can I take a moment to thank the girls in the office, Carol and Sue, and the Committee for all the hard work and diligence which has gone on in this difficult Covid year.
On behalf of our protected wildlife, can I say a huge thanks to our keepers who carried on working throughout Covid saving countless numbers of endangered waders and other keystone species. As well as trying to make the most of an interrupted and difficult season. Even as we speak low ground keepers are still feeding out game and all the other declining wee birds. Whether they manage to get any shooting or not.
Members are also helping to control foxes and crows during the lambing time. This is a huge benefit for the farmers and crofters as well as ground-nesting birds. Many crops would never have gotten away if they’d not gained the protection by the keepers and shooters, keeping crows and pigeons at bay. Public land managers and RSPB on other hand were largely on furlough. Orkney being a case in point with stoat traps lying unattended for months. What an embarrassment given the millions of public cash doled out. Our work during lockdown was carried out with no public money. People were out, seven days a week, getting their hands dirty for Scotland.
The keepers’ skills when it comes to fire fighting are recognised as being up there with the best. The fire service has recognised these important facts and we hope to work with them on things like training days in the future. Again, all of this will be offered at no cost to the public purse.
We have managed more than a million deer in the last decade with reference to best practice and almost all going back in to the food chain. Again, at no cost to the public purse. Sustainable natural protein, low food miles, respect for management. Do we have to down tools and stop providing these services for free before people actually sit up and actually realise what they are getting and acknowledge the great work you, our members, do.
How many ghillies will run mink traps and keep the river banks free of invasive species? Or plant trees just for beavers just to chew them down. It shouldn’t have to be the case that you have to take something away before people realise why they get from gamekeepers, ghillies and deer managers but sadly decision makers in Edinburgh would rather listen to campaigners and then get out in the countryside and see the work first hand.
When the SGA invited MSPs out to see a local foot pack in operation to control foxes, only one MSP turned up willing to see how things actually work. Then a foxhunting bill was rushed through by Scottish Government. No wonder people want to take action. I will come on to how you can do that later.
Where is the old fashioned idea that you make a decision after seeing the situation for yourself, first hand? What about mountain hares? There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that mountain hares will be extinct in the not-too-distant future. Protectionism will actually kill them. Their habitat will get wiped out for the ever-increasing tree planting targets, they will die of disease on our moors cos their numbers can’t be thinned out to preserve a healthy population.
The new law is a disaster and translocations from grouse moors, SGA’s idea, is probably the only chance for them now. The politicians who made the decision are about to find out the bitter and inconvenient truth about how few there actually are away from grouse moors. They didn’t listen but their decision will come back to haunt them.
Government interference generally in rural life has not helped sustain community. The drink driving limits. It’s great in the city, trains, buses and taxis everywhere. Try finding a bus or taxi in the rural areas where most of us live and work. This policy has seriously affected social cohesion in the countryside, along with rural pubs having to close.
Access without responsibility. How the hell were we ever actually going to work in the countryside. People and dogs popping up all over the place. I’m very sure that the police in this day and age wouldn’t allow this to happen near their firing range yet we’re expected to carry out our work with high velocity rifles, it is an accident waiting to happen.
When Holyrood first opened, I was a great supporter. This was a chance to influence decisions at a local level. It was a fantastic voice for the people in rural Scotland, but as has happened with the police force, everything, all the power has become centralised. Remember getting your firearms certificates from the police locally? The Scottish Government has removed power from the local rural communities faster than snow melting from a dyke. Holyrood is not too different from Westminster now in that it operates from the centre in Edinburgh.
We must continue to do what we do for the countryside. To manage best practice and to deliver economic and biodiversity benefits. Even if we have to do it despite the capital law makers putting barriers in the way. Perhaps with the economy shaken people may begin to wake up and realise which people are getting their hands dirty for Scotland and those who will barely get out of bed without a tick on a public grant application form.
I was reminded recently that there are some out there in the world who do appreciate our work and it was heart-warming to hear”.
[Ed: Alex spent the next 7 minutes slowly reading out a letter from a health professional called Ewan (or Euan) with links to an estate in Angus, who was basically blowing smoke up the SGA’s arse, questioning what governance is in place to ensure the RSPB meets its stated objectives, and asking why so much parliamentary time was given to the issue of grouse moor licensing. It’s someone else’s opinion so it’s excluded here to save time].
Back to Alex:
“Ewan’s words and his questions are relevant and they’re similar to what I hear amongst the members and others who work in traditional rural industries today. Our quiet people are finding their voice, we must speak often and clearer than ever.
On the subject of questions for MSPs we asked members to send us some questions that we could ask election candidates in our political hustings which we recorded last week. You can now watch the event here and I hope you enjoy it.
Following that we will move on to our annual accounts so members please stick around for the next part of the 2021 AGM and thanks very much everybody for your time today”.
UPDATE 12th March 2021: Political hustings: who’s promising what to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (here)