The UK’s largest shooting organisation is calling for the creation of a Scottish gamekeeping taskforce in the next parliament, amid concerns the profession is becoming increasingly marginalised.

In a manifesto published exactly a month ahead of the Holyrood election, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said a multilateral taskforce was required to address ‘worrying trends’ outlined in recent research undertaken by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

The research, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government, reported that almost two thirds of surveyed gamekeepers had experienced abuse, while around 80% of respondents said that they felt less optimistic about their future. Targeted anti-shooting campaigns, a lack of government support and the negative portrayal of the shooting sector in the public domain were referenced as possible drivers.

The research also showed that over half of surveyed gamekeepers had been impacted by rural crime, which included hare coursing and deer poaching. BASC argues that this is grounds for the inclusion of organisations representing gamekeepers in the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) – a coalition of rural stakeholders responsible for developing Scotland’s rural crime strategy.

The various revelations outlined in the research affirmed what many in the profession had been feeling for some time, and prompted the chairman of BASC Scotland’s gamekeeping working group, Mike Holliday – himself a gamekeeper in upland Perthshire – to write a heartfelt plea to the First Minister asking her to intervene.

A response came via the Scottish Government’s minister for rural affairs and the natural environment, Ben Macpherson, in which he said he was “appalled to hear of the experiences” reported by Scotland’s gamekeepers.

Mr Macpherson added that he “would work to ensure that no credence is given to any vexatious or malicious claims of malpractice”, amid concern that the establishment of a licensing scheme for grouse moor management could be exploited by malevolent accusations from anti-shooting campaigners intent on seeing grouse shooting banned.

BASC Scotland’s public affairs manager, Ross Ewing, said: “While the Scottish Government’s recent condemnation of abusive behaviour towards gamekeepers was welcome, it is abundantly clear that much more has to be done to support and protect the profession going forward. 

“The government commissioned SRUC research has clearly identified worrying trends with respect to abuse and crime, and it is unsurprising that a negative outlook is currently griping the profession. The strength of feeling at last month’s rural workers’ protest was palpable.

“The establishment of a Scottish gamekeeping taskforce will help to give gamekeepers the representation they deserve, and will place them at the heart of formulating strategies to make things better for a diversity of rural workers the length and breadth of the country.

“Gamekeepers have a unique set of skills to help tackle biodiversity loss and climate change, and it will be incumbent on the next Scottish Government to act in support of the gamekeeping profession if it intends to harness this considerable potential. We will continue to urge all of Scotland’s political parties to support the establishment of this taskforce without delay.”

Notes to the Editor:

  1. The SRUC research commissioned by the Scottish Government into the employment rights of gamekeepers was published last year and is available here.
  • More information about SPARC, its present membership and its role in formulating Scotland’s rural crime strategy is available here.
  • The British Association for Shooting and Conservation ‘Manifesto for Sustainable Shooting’ was unveiled on Tuesday 6th April. It outlines 5 key policies it would like to see taken forward in the next Scottish Parliament. They are:
  1. The establishment of a Scottish Gamekeeping Taskforce (SGT) in the new parliamentary term to combat the abuse, crime and widespread negative outlook impacting on Scotland’s gamekeepers;
  1. The inclusion of organisations representing gamekeepers, ghillies and deer stalkers in the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC);
  1. The national rollout of schemes which promote the management of deer on public land by qualified recreational deer stalkers, thereby reducing expenditure contractors and reliance on licences for extraordinary management (covered in The Sunday Times);
  1. Cross-party endorsement and support of the voluntary transition away from lead and single-use plastics in shotgun ammunition for live quarry shooting by 2025;
  • Increased recognition and enhanced utility of the data collected by those involved in gamebird management using citizen science technologies.
  • Information about the Scottish Gamekeeping Taskforce (SGT).

It is envisaged that the SGT would be comprised of representatives from the gamekeeping profession, landowners, academics, Police Scotland, NatureScot and the Scottish Government. The SGT’s principal role would be to make specific recommendations in response to trends outlined in the SRUC research including those pertaining to crime, abuse, job satisfaction, outlook and women in gamekeeping. We argue that the establishment of the SGT will honour the Scottish Government’s commitment to ‘protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland’.