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Upland Keeper

The Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill is now law in Scotland and, for those of us on the south side of a particularly old wall, Hadrian?s, we must not forget that Scotland has been a testing ground for other laws in the past. The poll tax and the Scottish version of the hunting ban were both given a run in my old country before being let loose on the rest of us. There is no doubt that some of the laws that have been dispensed with were well past their sell-by date, but with what, exactly, have they been replaced?

On the face of it, perhaps not very much in some cases, as the powers have been transferred to the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. This, as I see it, may have consequences in the future. I say ?may?, because I am no legal expert, but recently we have seen that ministers have the ability to change some things, such as licence dates, species and so on, that may be attached to such an Act. The potential for interference in the future could be considerable and have grave consequences. The ban on releasing alien species has allowed exemptions for the two main game species, partridge and pheasant, and this has been a huge relief for the sporting community. There appears, however, to be nothing about the plant species which we now use for gamecrops, not to mention mainstream agriculture itself.

Many of these plant species form an important food source for a host of small birds during the winter months and it would be a great shame if they were to be forced out of the landscape. To date, no problems seem to have arisen from their release but it is an opportunity for those who are against us to make life more difficult.

Complications for stalkers

Recreational stalkers will also find life more complicated in the future as it is almost certain that they will require some proof of their competence in deer management before they are allowed to stalk unaccompanied. This is already a standard part of any stalking lease and will probably become a fixture in every one before the date of enactment in 2014.

Perhaps the greatest victory the Scottish Gamekeepers? Association and its allies have secured is the ability to carry on using the snare. There are conditions attached to the new law, but at least the snare is still available as a tool. All users must be trained in its use and all snares have to carry an identification tag. This is not too onerous, you may think, and there is no doubt that it is a price worth paying for its retention. The fox is, without doubt, one of the most (if not the most) serious predators in some parts of the UK causing massive losses to agriculture and wildlife. Groundnesting birds of all descriptions are especially vulnerable, as there is a three-and-a-half weeks? laying time when they incubate their eggs.

Banning the snare would have achieved little, as the perpetrators of illegal snaring simply would have carried on as usual. It is up to the authorities to press on and prosecute those who do this and to help to preserve the good name of professional gamekeepers who do their best to work within the law.

Prejudice against the employer

The one part of this law that was causing the most trepidation for landowners was the fact they would have been held liable for the acts of their employees. Quite how any dead bird or poisoned bait can be attributed to the piece of land on which it is found, is beyond me. It should never be forgotten that there are more than a few who will break the law themselves to incriminate others. My understanding of this is that if an employer shows that they have taken all reasonable measures to demonstrate that their staff have received the necessary training to enable them to work within the constraints of the law, then all will be well and they, the employer, will not be liable.

We shall see if this works in due course ? I am certain someone will try to get an employer in the dock, even if there is no chance of a prosecution. It will be done for publicity purposes alone. We shall have to wait to find out just how this law pans out over time, but there is no doubt that, once again, politicians have listened to the real concerns of those whose livelihoods depend on working practices being retained, and have not given in to the rantings of many others who have not the slightest idea what they are talking about. Life in a cottage in a remote glen may seem like an idyllic life for many, but this is not the case if you rely on the vagaries of the weather and fi nances of others for your employment. Life, at times, is not so rosy.