Hate mail, rampant online abuse and false claims of criminality are being deployed in a “campaign of intimidation” by activists determined to shut down Scotland’s sporting estates, it has been claimed.
On the eve of the traditional Glorious Twelfth, signalling the start of the grouse shooting season, estates have said they are coming under increasing attack through incidents ranging from hundreds of instances of vandalism to covert surveillance of gamekeepers’ homes by saboteurs.
The problems have forced one estate to employ a security firm amid fears for the safety of staff.
New legislative options including the introduction of a licensing system for estates are being considered as part of an independent review of grouse shooting announced by the Scottish Government in 2017.
Should criminality be suspected on a grouse moor, licences could be removed on a reduced proof burden but regional moorland groups have said they fear illegal acts on estates across Scotland are part of a campaign around the drive for a ban on grouse shooting.
“It should be everyone’s right to work without fear. That is no longer the case for a gamekeeper in Scotland,” said Lianne MacLennan, spokesperson for Scotland’s regional moorland groups.
The sporting interests claim around 300 instances of vandalism and theft of legal traps and snares have been discovered, with countless incidents reported to police without resolution.
A West Perthshire estate captured on CCTV a member of the public urinating on legal fox control snares, rendering them inoperable and it has been claimed three dead buzzards were planted in Angus in a bid to manufacture a criminal case against a local estate.
“If licensing is introduced, this will only escalate. Campaigners want grouse shooting banned. This is their green light. Licensing is their first step,” said Mrs MacLennan.
“People have a right to know what protection they are going to have, if this comes in.
“If anyone is breaking the law, they deserve to be punished but no estate is safe and we ask the Scottish Government to consider evidence carefully before making decisions which will affect families’ lives.
“Because nothing is being done to protect estates just now, it is becoming passively accepted in Scotland that people can go onto land, cause wilful damage and manufacture problems for those involved in occupations that campaigners don’t like.
“The strain on gamekeepers, partners and kids would not be tolerated in any other walk of life.”
One gamekeeper said: “I’ve been filmed, verbally abused, verbally threatened and had very unpleasant messages left for me.
“On most occasions I have a firearm so I never respond as I would put myself in a difficult position, no matter how innocent I am.”
The regional groups and Scottish Gamekeepers Association say they will include crime reports and incident numbers to politicians as part of their survey findings.
RSPB Scotland has called for greater regulation of grouse moors, but it is opposed by Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners and has said illegal bird of prey killings are at a record low.