Why Scottish grouse shooting industry may face ruin – gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen

A shooting party sets off on Forneth Moor near Dunkeld (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A shooting party sets off on Forneth Moor near Dunkeld (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Estate owners are already growing weary of the attacks on grouse moors and investors may decide to take their money elsewhere, writes gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen.

Nobody likes to be told that their job is about to get a lot harder. I’m no exception and it looks like my job is going that way.

I’m a gamekeeper and like many other keepers working across rural Scotland, we take a lot of pride in what we do.

Apart from the obvious part of the job of managing moorland for grouse shooting, we look after wildlife and do a lot of good environmental work.

It’s crystal clear to me that the recently published review of grouse moor management for the Scottish Government is going to mean massive changes to the way gamekeepers like myself operate.

There is a view that gamekeepers, because they’re working in remote glens, can go out and do whatever they like. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I was starting out as a gamekeeper, my job seemed a lot more straightforward but it’s changed so much over time. I can barely walk out the door in the morning without requiring a piece of paper or training certificate to allow me to do my job. Firearms, all terrain vehicles, the legal tools for predator control – which require training and an individual ID number from Police Scotland. All in a day’s work, they say.

READ MORE: Grouse shooting on moors ‘helps other species thrive’

READ MORE: Here’s why grouse shooting is bad for the Scottish countryside – Robbie Marsland

There are new laws and guidelines all the time, whether it is animal welfare legislation, reviews of general licences that the gamekeepers and farmers need to work and to protect the rarer species in our countryside that are highly vulnerable to being eaten by crows.

The last decade has seen big changes. We are not against improvement, providing it can let you carry out the vital work you do – and our work has scientifically proven benefits for moorland flora and fauna, not just the birds for game shooting.

Controlled burning

But this review is going to make the job much, much harder. It’s going to scunner a lot of people who feel, already, that the sector is being weighed down by perpetual attack from campaigners.

For example, the idea that you will have to get a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage any time you want to carry out controlled heather burning is going to be a real obstacle.

Personally, I think it will be a negative step. The window for burning heather to regenerate the plants and provide food for grouse, deer, sheep and hares is short. The gamekeeper, farmer or crofter needs to carefully assess conditions to make sure things are safe.

If people decide to carry our controlled fires only after a license from SNH is granted, it could push them to do it when the conditions are not optimum.

At a time when using burning techniques to prevent potentially damaging wildfires is becoming common in many parts of the world, we in Scotland are about to make that harder. With increasing worries over the climate, I struggle to see how this is good.

This review was set up to try to stop wildlife crime and, in this regard, the new sentences that are set to be announced are a total game changer. Scotland already has the toughest laws in the UK, with measures such as vicarious liability where an employer can be prosecuted for an employee’s actions.

Five-year sentences a massive deterrent

Wildlife crime does deserve attention but it is important that those committing criminal acts are not seen as representative of our profession. Punishing everyone for the sake of a minority is not something done in any other walk of life.

Wildlife crime has now been escalated to ‘serious crime’ in Scotland and that will please a lot of people. It will also help the police and courts. Five-year jail terms will certainly be a massive deterrent to anyone thinking of committing a crime. These sentencing changes will have an impact in driving wildlife crime cases down even further and that is something to be welcomed.

It is shoot income which helps to pay for jobs like mine and helps to keep the management going over large areas of our uplands. I think owners are already getting weary with the attacks on the industry and my fear, as a countryman, is that they decide to take their investment elsewhere. That would not be good for jobs and communities and it would not be good for the wildlife either.

We need to be very careful and take the time to appreciate what we have, or we can ruin the whole thing. Hopefully the Scottish Government will consider things very carefully.

Ronnie Kippen is a gamekeeper in Perthshire