Scotland’s gamekeepers are feeling under attack as hatred grips the countryside, says Ross Ewing of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation in Scotland, but there is a better way
“I never imagined having to deal with threats made to my family.”
“We’ve had death threats to the owners’ children by letter.”
“It feels like you have axe murderer tattooed to your forehead.”
These are the testimonies of gamekeepers living and working in modern-day Scotland, given to researchers as part of a study commissioned by the Scottish Government in order to better understand the profession.
The same study found almost two thirds of the surveyed gamekeepers had experienced abuse in the course of their work.
If you consider it a representative sample of the profession that amounts to as many as 972 individuals.
You have to ask how on earth we got here – where objections to the work of gamekeepers have transcended into threats of physical violence and death.
Raptor persecution is abhorrent and convicted perpetrators deserve to be punished
There are several drivers, perhaps the most disconcerting being the untrue assumption that all gamekeepers are criminals.
It’s no accident. It is the work of radical campaigners who wish to rid the Scottish countryside of shooting – and by extension, the gamekeepers too.
The crime of raptor persecution is often used as a front to push this divisive agenda.
Make no mistake – raptor persecution is abhorrent and convicted perpetrators – gamekeeper or not – deserve to be punished with the full force of the law.
But for some this isn’t enough.
Where is the evidence?
For some, prosecutions involving gamekeepers are far too infrequent and the criminal burden of proof is a troublesome inconvenience that exists only to protect these countryside criminals.
So what do you do when not enough gamekeepers are being fined or thrown in jail? You incite anger. You cast aspersions. You demonise.
The goal? To whip up hate that will, in time, cut through to a wider audience who will take matters into their own hands.
Shouting, swearing, scaring children, threats of violence, threats of death, assault are all part and parcel of what comes next.
Is it any wonder that almost 80% of respondents to the same Scottish Government study are less optimistic about their future than they were when they started gamekeeping?
I have an enormous respect for the resolve the profession is displaying in response to the pressures they face.
One issue is the weaponisation of data from satellite tags, which are fitted to raptors to monitor their movements.
The resulting data is often shrouded in secrecy, only emerging to coincide with campaigns being run by certain individuals and organisations.
Co-operation in action
There have been numerous calls over the years to make the data more transparent and accountable, and it is encouraging to see the Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group pledging to work with conservation organisation, Wildland, which was established by rewilding tycoon, Anders Holch Povlsen.
The intention is to tag a golden eagle chick in Strathbraan and display the data publicly using an app developed by Wildland – a transparent arrangement that others would do well to replicate.
The profession is demonstrating it is willing to work to find solutions and it is time for the Scottish Government to step up and support them.
Good gamekeepers care passionately about ecological balance and the survival of threatened species.
Their potential to confront biodiversity loss is immense. We would be fools not to capitalise on their considerable skills and experience.
With this in mind, we have three simple messages we would like the new Scottish Government to consider.
Three steps forward
Firstly, do not be taken in by the campaigns of hate directed at gamekeepers.
Secondly, establish a gamekeeping taskforce to help address the challenges facing the sector.
And finally, understand that Scotland’s gamekeepers have a diversity of skills that can effectively assist in efforts to tackle momentous issues, such as biodiversity loss and climate change.
The campaign against the profession has harmed families, stoked division and frustrated progress for long enough.
Every citizen should be able to pursue their chosen career without fear of abuse. It is a basic right, and gamekeepers are no exception.
Ross Ewing is the public affairs manager for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) in Scotland.