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Upland Keeper: Scottish licensing

I must confess I am more than ashamed of some of my countrymen who are contemplating removing the right to carry out normal duties from individuals or estates they “suspect” of carrying out wildlife crimes simply by withholding the use of General Licences — with no proof required.

I am of course referring to the possibility that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) may be able, at a stroke, to sweep any meaningful sporting management from the face of Scotland (News, 8 January), which, given the dire mess most ground-nesting birds are in, seems beyond belief — especially as most groundnesting birds are on managed estates. I may be a complete cynic, but I reckon that fact alone may be an embarrassment to those who believe it is better to leave nature alone, rather than manage it.

Looking forward, I would be surprised if what is being proposed would hold one drop of water if taken to the European Court, because even to a complete layman, it appears a real travesty of justice. If we were to transpose the scenario to any other alleged crime it would be laughed out of court, not that I believe it would ever get to court in the first place.

The whole sordid affair brings me on to what might well bring the wrath of the agency down on to some hapless individual. Both in Scotland and England the current members of Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) agreed some time ago that they would use only confi rmed wildlife crime cases in any of their press releases. But there was one exception to that agreement — the RSPB. So we have the situation that all the other members of PAW, including the police, will not recognise or accept some figures which are pushed out for public consumption by the RSPB because it includes unconfirmed incidents in its reports.

Furthermore, following a recent push by the RSPB using these figures, I noted that more than one area of the country had been shown to be the worst in England. Since you can only have one worst bit, these figures are worthless, though they did get the RSPB much-needed publicity and, if nothing else, gave us fieldsport organisations a chance to tell the other side of the story.

Allegations flying

As it transpires, within a week or so of the “story” making the press, my local police station phoned to inform me that they had received an anonymous call from someone who had made certain allegations regarding a gamekeeper they had seen. The details were so close to a scene from The Archers it was verging on stupidity and, knowing my neighbours well, I would have put my house on the fact it was purely a figment of a more than fertile imagination.

It was soon obvious the police had come to the same conclusion, but the reality is that there is now one more reported incident in the file for Durham this year. As it happens, there were around 15 in 2013, but none confirmed, and therein lies the crux of this whole issue. Though it is bad enough for us to have to defend against these allegations south of the border, we don’t have the threat of the actual removal of our livelihood hanging over us, as in Scotland. Should the SNH proposal go through, it will leave Scots open to persecution by any malicious individual who has an axe to grind.

From past experience I am well aware that there are plenty of those out there who, for whatever reason, simply do not agree with much of what we do. Indeed, there are those opposed to all that we do, and what is being promoted is an activists’ charter to shut down shooting — no more, no less. I hope SNH sees some sense; there is plenty of room in there for it.

On a brighter note, the year has turned, the days are getting longer once more, the stock pigeon which inhabit the nearby quarry are back, some of them anyway, and they are raiding my hens’ food. The grey partridges are running around like whirling dervishes trying to sort out pairs from coveys, and the ground is sodden from day upon day of unrelenting rain. The fields have been scattered with duck dabbling for the feast of worms trying to escape a watery death.

It has not been good weather for anything which does not have a roof over its head — we can but hope the grouse have seen the back of the worst of it, but I am sure it is not over yet. We could do with a dry spell, to get some heather burnt, but that may be some way off yet.