Under the coverts with Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association
Martin Puddifer of Shooting Gazette asks a few questions
SG: Firstly, many congratulations on your MBE. How does it feel to have those three letters after your name, Alex Hogg?
Alex Hogg: I feel very proud to have been given the MBE but, at the same time, very humbled. This has been a huge team effort from all the families and supporters behind the scenes, over many years. They are equally deserving, if not more so.
SG: What kind of year has it been for you, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and Scottish keepers in general?
AH: We have seen far more local access being taken due to the COVID-19 situation. Because of the restrictions, there have been fewer holidays abroad. This has led to our estates being busy with people, at the weekends especially. In Scotland, we have open access everywhere and, while this has some positives, it has caused huge problems with wild camping, dogs out of control, wildfires, trap and snare interference and litter, to name but a few things. The Scottish Parliament was quick to pass the Land Reform laws but there is still a great ignorance about how the rural folk work in the countryside. A lot of members of the public treat the place with no respect whatsoever. It’s sad and it causes problems for a lot of people who rely on the countryside for their wages. In terms of the SGA, we have been even busier than normal, advising members on how they can operate within this new climate and advising on all the new steps that they must take to keep themselves, and their guests, safe. It has been a rapidly changing picture at times so it has been a difficult year, like it has been for many.
SG: How do you think the current situation has been handled by the Scottish government?
AH: As far as the rural land working folk are concerned, the government has hidden its head in the sand on a number of issues. There has been very little financial support for small country sports businesses and anything received has been hard won. The venison market has effectively collapsed yet state forests started killing female deer on 1 September with no consultation with local deer managers nor with game dealers. We raised a petition on this issue but it seems there is little government support for an iconic species if there is to be any impact on trees, even minimal impact.
SG: What has been getting you and your members through the really tough times?
AH: The new ways of communicating have been amazing. The SGA has not held a physical meeting since February but we can have our online meetings, which keeps everyone in touch. Email is still great. Gone are the days when you were waiting for reams of fax paper to come through with a message. One very trying episode during lockdown was the parliament’s decision to suspend muirburn. It was politically motivated by the Green Party, who said it could stretch frontline services. Thankfully, the Scottish government has since overturned that suspension and admitted, albeit belatedly, that muirburn has minimal resource impact on frontline services in Scotland.
SG: You became SGA chairman in 2000. What has changed for better or worse in the past 20 years?
AH: In terms of negative changes, despite warnings to NatureScot and the Scottish government over the past 20 years that we need zoning areas for our wildlife and more flexible use of species licensing options, these have been totally ignored. Those authorities should be held accountable for the perilous situation many of our wading birds and other species, such as capercaillie, find themselves in. Red deer are our number one iconic species yet they are being treated like vermin. When the John Muir Trust left 86 stags to rot on the hill, that was a real low point. This should not be happening in Scotland.
SG: What’s been your proudest achievement since you took over as chairman and what legacy do you hope you will leave when you eventually hand over the reins?
AH: I think that there may be a couple of achievements that stick in my mind. One was saving our terriers and hounds from being banned forever and, at the minute, we can still control foxes. The other one that stands out was having our puppy tail shortening ban reversed, which has saved thousands of dogs unnecessary pain and suffering.
SG:How will you be spending Christmas this year and what will you be raising a glass to?
AH: I will be spending Christmas with my family. I will be raising a glass to the staff and committee of the SGA for all their hard work and the social cohesion that you only see in the fieldsports world.