Coronavirus: Scottish gamekeeping perspectives

BASC Scotland gamekeeping and wildlife management working group

BASC Scotland gamekeeping and wildlife management working group

The BASC Scotland gamekeeping and wildlife management working group (GWMWG) has been operating for 11 years. The group’s primary role is to advise on all matters that may affect gamekeeping and deer stalking in Scotland.

Coronavirus has affected the Scottish gamekeeping sector just as much as any other in the UK. With keepers and their families relying on the forthcoming shooting season, it has never been more important to adhere to current guidelines issued by the government to ensure things can return to normal.

Following these guidelines will also ensure that deer stalking and the 2020/21 seasons continue as planned. It is critical that we all do our bit now to safeguard the future.

Members of the BASC Scotland Gamekeeping and Wildlife Management Working Group (GWMWG) describe how lockdown as affected Scottish gamekeeping:

Mike Holliday: chairman

Lockdown is not causing to many problems at the moment, although we did lose the last few days of doe stalking.

Routine maintenance of fences continues as we had a good stock of materials on site. However, I have had to embrace technology for meetings as we also have ongoing forest work. I have just finished a larger restock area and hoping to start felling next week.

Previously pest control involved friends coming to give a hand with lamping and corvid control. This now is conducted completely on my own.

Jim Goodlad: SRUC (Elmwood)

Here in Elmwood College’s gamekeeping department, we have our ongoing hatchery and rearing operation to fulfil. We still have a duty of care for the wellbeing and welfare of all laying stock. Therefore, we have decided to continue this work and operate under the current guidelines.

We have employed two students from this year’s cohort to assist with the essential duties. All other students are working remotely through online teaching materials and live tutorials.

Craig Brown:

We are a family shoot but do let a few walked up days.

As I work single-handedly, I’ve been able to do my trapping as normal, although we didn’t do any muirburn this spring. We have planted quite a few trees in the grass parks and erected post and rail fencing around them. Luckily, we had already ordered and received all the materials before the lockdown.

Our deposit has been paid for this year’s poults. Work will continue with the repair of pens and a few more plots of game crop later in the spring. Thankfully I’ve got two sons that still live at home who are able to help with lamping which is great.

Falcon Frost:

Lockdown curtailed the end of the in regeneration blocks and SSSI sites. In addition, the game dealer stopped picking up as they couldn’t take any more deer.

As for day-to-day work, it isn’t too much different to normal. I usually have help at the fox dens but it’s not clear yet if this is possible at the moment. But, if not I will be doing them myself.

The stags will need to be culled so I’m hoping the game dealers will be open for business by July. We are lucky here as all stags are culled by the land owners’ family and friends. However, depending how long this virus goes on will dictate whether they will be able to come or whether they will just be shot by me.

Mike Hardy:

Business is relatively normal here. Some deposits are in, but I will not be chasing anyone else for deposits for a while.

Birds are ordered and once we have them, we are committed. We don’t have any foreign clients, mainly local guns, so hopefully all will be okay.

I am still feeding pheasants and doing some maintenance such as pens, bridges, fences etc. Also, some vermin control but I have lifted all snares and grey squirrel traps etc.

Steve Toft:

We are functioning pretty much as normal. We have a very small team, and this allows us to get on with work safely.

Release pens are being tidied up along with small fencing jobs. However, fencing contractors are struggling and will probably be put on hold until next year now.

We managed to get our spring tree and shrub planting finished so now our focus is predator control

As for this coming season, deposits for birds have been paid and we have had assurances that birds will be delivered (fingers crossed). Being a private shoot with only one sold day, we have no issue with guns shooting here.

David Olds: UHI (Thurso)

For us here in the gamekeeping department at North Highland College, our highest priority is the safety and welfare of our students. All our students are out on workplace practices where they spend the majority of their time carrying out practical training. Therefore, we have been in regular contact with them to confirm their welfare status and have regular updates on their practical training delivery.

A few students have been advised by their estates/employers to move back home for the time being for their own welfare. These few instances have been predominantly on deer focused estates.

We have fantastic online learning resources where all our students can access their assessments, coursework and lectures remotely. Applications are still coming in for our courses for this forth-coming academic year and estates are still looking to take on trainees from Scottish gamekeeping colleges.

Garry Dickson: (Borders College)

At Borders College, we are carrying out online learning. This has impacted greatly on practical teaching, especially at this time of year with the onus being on pest and predator control.

These are difficult times ahead and hopefully our community can all pull together and ensure a positive future for shooting here in the UK.

What is obvious from these Scottish gamekeepers is the positivity and confidence that, providing we all continue to abide by the government advice, normality will return.

If you are a gamekeeper, stalker or ghillie and you have been adversely affected by Covid-19 then there may be help at hand.

For further advice please call the BASC Scotland office on 01350 723226 and leave a message or email us at scotland@basc.org.uk

If you are struggling to cope or things are overwhelming, please contact Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust – Jamie’s Helpline on 0300 1233088.