Regular readers will know that the new owners in the Angus glens have already caused us some concern. We objected to the large deer fence, with insufficient stiles, that was erected a few years ago and we continue to object to the ongoing construction of yet more hill tracks especially when planning conditions are flouted. Recently Glenogil featured in the Scottish Field and Millden featured in the Scottish Rural Property and Business magazine.
In common with a number of other Scottish estates these estates have embarked on intensive programmes to improve their grouse bags. Bigger bags lead to higher charges for shooting parties and much of this increased income finds its way into the local economies which typically need all the help that they can get. This approach can be summarized as follows:-
These methods do work and lead to more gamekeepers because all this work requires more people. More local employment is a good thing. However we have to realize there is another side to the coin...
The systematic extermination of the local mountain hare population, for example, is an environmental loss. The Hare Preservation Trust (Ref: P & J, 6th Sep. 2010) are rightly concerned that the above practice will "drive mountain hares towards extinction in some parts of Scotland". Dr. Adam Smith of the Game and Wildlife Trust replied (Ref: P & J 9th Sep. 2010) saying that, "It is legal and sustainable to take mountain hare in Scotland for sporting purposes". The exchange of letters concluded with one by Dr Adam Watson pointing out that this killing is unsustainable and in his opinion, effectively illegal. Dr Watson points out that "gamekeepers say that consultants instructed the heavy killing". If tick numbers are down and controlled by regular sheep dipping, do we have to exterminate the hare populations?
Reducing the number of local farmers has been going on for some time. Done well, individual farmers can be bought out of their tenancy for a sum of money that they are happy with. However, there are examples of pressure being brought to bear on those that weren't inclined to leave. Whether the individuals leave happy or because they were pushed out, it does lead to the loss of the local community as the gamekeepers that are brought in to replace the hill farmers often come from outside the glen in what has been described as a modern form of highland clearances.
Elimination of predators is probably the most controversial aspect. Trapping of ground predators such as weasels, foxes and stoats has dramatically reduced their numbers and the poisoning of the raptors has hit the headlines. Carcasses of poisoned birds are found regularly and studies show great holes in the range of these birds in grouse shooting areas. We have been advised that, in some areas, shepherds are told not to use dogs - presumably, the risk of them eating poisoned baits is too large! This year the Glen Tanar estate tried diversionary feeding of raptors and we look forward to hearing the results. This might point to part of the way to keeping a healthy number of raptors in grouse moor areas.
If a fraction of the money spent on boosting grouse bags was spent on finding ways of accommodating species such as Golden Eagles and Mountain Hares while still encouraging large bags, surely we could find ways for both to live together?
Finally, I come to hilltracks. The new regimes make no bones about it. They are building more and tracks claiming that they are to ease delivery of grit and grain. However, I find these new tracks always run to butts, which tends to give the lie to the delivery story. Alan Cochrane writing in the Scottish Field asserts that "given what guns pay to pursue their low-flying quarry they're entitled to be driven to their butts if they want". In terms of money, he's absolutely right but since when did having lots of money give anyone the right to cause long term landscape damage? Regular readers will be all too familiar with the hilltracks argument. I won't repeat it here.
The bottom line is that measures to increase the grouse bag are making a joke out of many efforts to increase biodiversity. Predator trapping, poisoning and mountain hare eradication is a very one-dimensional approach to managing the moors and we have to make ourselves aware of the full implications of what is happening out there.
Dave Windle, Chair
Please let the webmaster know if there are problems with viewing these pages or with the links they contain.