THE Scottish Gamekeepers Association has expelled four of the organisation’s members for wildlife offences, it was revealed today.
The organisation, which represents all gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies, wildlife managers and rangers in Scotland, has taken the ultimate sanction against the four unidentified members in recent weeks.
And today Alex Hogg, the chairman of the SGA, called for “responsible game managers” to be given a greater role in eagle conservation in Scotland.
Mr Hogg said it would be wrong for government agencies to overlook the contribution conservation-minded gamekeepers already make to protecting iconic birds of prey like the golden eagle and other raptors.
And he revealed that the organisation had completed a survey of members in the keepered grouse areas of East and Central Scotland which has identified at least 55 active eagle nests which were still in place since the last census was taken in 2003.
Earlier this week the Scottish Government announced plans for a fresh offensive against the wildlife criminals who are continuing to persecute iconic birds of prey including the golden eagle and the sea eagle.
The raft of new measures include proposals to restrict the use of licences to trap and shoot wild birds on land where raptors are suspected to have been poisoned or illegally trapped or shot. And a special task group is also to be formed to review whether the current penalties available for wildlife crime are adequate in acting as a deterrent
Mr Hogg said he believed that responsible game managers, as well as conservationists, had the knowledge to benefit golden eagles. And he declared: “The conservation work done by many of our members in this area is forgotten because of the actions of a few. As an organisation we, along with the other members of PAW (Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) continue to address this issue.
“As well as educating, we have expelled members found to commit wrong-doing and where conflicts arise, as they will, we advocate lawful solutions.
“That said, many responsible game managers have had eagles on their land for many, many years now. They are willing to assist wider eagle conservation and have skills to be an asset.
“Management for grouse provides the abundant small prey eagles need to feed chicks, even if many moors don’t have the crags or trees eagles prefer for nesting”
He continued: “Legal heather burning produces a rich food source for red grouse and hares which eagles eat and, despite the ever increasing chance of unintentional disturbance from recreational access, there are still a significant proportion of Scotland’s eagles in grouse areas. This is all paid for through private investment by landowners.
”Conservationists can take elements of the game management model, for example, to assist in the west where increased forestry plantations and windfarms could cause problems for eagle conservation going forward. They key constraint which has been identified in the west is the lack of small prey.”
Mr Hogg pointed out that in deer stalking areas, gamekeepers leave the grallochs (entrails) of culled deer on the hills, away from public access, to help sustain eagles. Studies had acknowledged the initiative’s contribution to eagle survival, particularly during winter.
And he continued: “For the sake of the golden eagle, all countryside stakeholders can work together to address the many issues affecting eagles.
An SGA spokesman said: “Scotland’s golden eagle population has recovered from historic lows of 190 pairs in the early 1950s and 300 pairs in 1968 to 442 pairs in the summer of 2003. This makes the Scottish eagle population one of the largest in the world per land mass.
“The population has been stable for 20 years although targets to define ‘favourable status’ were set at 450-500 breeding pairs in 2008. There are virtually no golden eagles left in England, making Scotland’s population ecologically important.”
The SGA spokesman added: “One of the expelled members was convicted for poaching and the three other members were convicted for raptor persecution.”