Ending rate exemptions for deer stalking and shooting will sacrifice more than 100 rural worker jobs immediately, with further losses to follow as land reforms bed in.
That’s the view of Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), which has announced a year-long initiative outlining the vital role land labourers and their families play in community life.
The proposed abolition of business rate exemptions for country sports and the imposition of new angling taxes have been identified by the SGA as two potential causes of rural job losses.
At present, the organisation represents 5,300 members with around 1,500 of those employed as full-time gamekeepers, land or river ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers, many of which are in the Borders.
After taking soundings from its membership, the feeling is that seven per cent of those may face redundancy and housing problems immediately if radical land reforms are pushed through.
Launching The Year of the Rural Worker, at the body’s AGM in Perth, chairman Alex Hogg, gamekeeper at Portmore in the Borders, urged politicians from all parties not to make stretched families pay the price for change.
Mr Hogg said : “As an organisation, we are aware there are situations in which land reform can work. We oppose bad management of all kinds, whether the ownership is public or private.
“However, removing business rate exemptions for shooting and stalking won’t help achieve a million acres of land in community hands by 2020, it will simply cost the job of a working person on every marginal estate or shoot across Scotland.
“Businesses adapt to financial change. The overwhelming view of our members is that, on estates where sporing profits are tight, that adjustment will be a wage.
“That is likely to be a worker on a modest salary who receives a house to bring up a family in the local community. These individuals give a great deal back to Scotland, for which they take little in return, but they keep the heartbeat in small places.
“They have had nothing to do with the way land ownership patterns have emerged, yet it is them who will be made to suffer. That’s not social justice. If land reform is such a priority for Scottish Government, they must find a better way to finance The Land Fund than by placing working people on the dole.”
At the launch at Perth Racecourse, the group outlined its Year of the Rural Worker programme, which follows its conservation project, the 2014 year of the Wader.
Work over the next ninemonths will be devoted to highlighting the unseen hours given freely by rural workers in areas such as lifeline services.
The SGA is in talks to formalise existing ties with Mountain Rescue, with many of its members already volunteers in both rescue and fire services.
Mr Hogg also pointed to a Christmas community initiative in Aberdeenshire, where local workers, councillors and estates provided free game to vulnerable families.
He commented: “The human face of working people in the countryside is too rarely seen and their contribution undervalued.
“These are people with the same desires for bringing up a family, having good local schools and access to services as anyone else. They deal with low wages, the highest fuel and heating costs and patchy or non-existent broadband. It is time their contribution was seen as under-pinning the countryside rather than having job threats hanging over them.”