SGA chair blasts RSPB for ‘demonising gamekeepers’

SGA chairman Alex Hogg
SGA chairman Alex Hogg

A Peeblesshire gamekeeper has rounded on RSPB for calling on more sporting estates to protect hen harriers during the breeding season.

It comes in the wake of revelations that two people with shotguns tracked then shot a male hen harrier in the Cairngorms last year.

The charity wants grouse moor managers and gamekeepers to do more to prevent illegal persecution, following a 20 per cent decline in the bird of prey’s population between 2004 and 2010.

RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations Ian Thomson said: “All the evidence indicates that this appears to have been an appalling, organised killing of one of our rarest birds of prey, which shows a complete disregard of the laws protecting our wildlife.”

And the charity cites work at Langholm Moor, saying diversionary feeding during the breeding season reduces grouse predation by the protected harrier.

But Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) chairman, Peeblesshire’s Alex Hogg, said: “The RSPB could spend donor money more wisely by assessing the bigger picture of harrier decline and the criminal drop in the smaller, less iconic prey birds, rather than spending it on demonising gamekeepers, the vast majority of whom work within the law every day, under very trying circumstances, to produce a balance of species as well as a surplus of grouse to shoot.

He continued: “Prior to 1995, Langholm Moor was one of the most successful grouse moors in the world, but became commercially unviable when a build-up of protected predators, including hen harriers, forced it to close.

“When the gamekeepers lost their jobs, hen harrier numbers dropped from 28 to two and the wading bird population on the moor crashed by 75 per cent. These (gamekeepers) are not people who should be demonised en masse by RSPB if we are interested in preventing hen harrier decline.”

He said the SGA supported diversionary feeding, but added: “Faith in its deployment will depend on it being proven to work when harrier numbers rise. As yet, there is no evidence to show this is the case.”