Today, the Glorious Twelfth, makes the start of the grouse shooting season – but there is a dark side to the industry for the people who work in it.
Scottish grouse shooting estates fear any introduction of a licensing system will expose them further to false claims by campaigners vying to have them closed down.
In 2017, Scottish Government announced an independent review of grouse shooting, looking at new legislative options including licensing.
Campaigners want licensing so that, should criminality be suspected on a grouse moor, licences could be removed on a reduced proof burden.
However, regional moorland groups have surveyed illegal acts by third parties on their ground since 2018; something they regard as a campaign of intimidation timed around the government review.
Mountain hares strung up by rope near roads and illegal snares photographed for publicity- then removed- have appeared, urging Ministers to ban grouse shooting.
One Grampian estate is now having to employ a security firm to safeguard employees after covert cameras were illegally deployed by campaigners to film gamekeepers’ family homes.
In the same area, gamekeepers found GPS tracking equipment which has been known to be fitted illegally to the underside of work vehicles by saboteurs.
Hand written hate letters and persistent online abuse have been endured, whilst supportive businesses and charities have also been targeted.
Around 300 instances of vandalism and theft of legal traps and snares have been discovered, with countless incidents reported to Police without resolution.
One estate in West Perthshire legally captured on CCTV a member of the public urinating on legal fox control snares, rendering them inoperable.
In Angus, one estate previously reported 3 dead buzzards to Police which they believe were planted on their ground to manufacture a criminal case against them.
Lianne MacLennan, spokesperson for Scotland’s regional moorland groups, said: ‘It should be everyone’s right to work without fear. That is no longer the case for a gamekeeper in Scotland.
‘The strain on them, partners and kids would not be tolerated in any other walk of life.
‘If licensing is introduced, this will only escalate. Campaigners want grouse shooting banned. This is their green light. Licensing is their first step.
‘People have a right to know what protection they are going to have, if this comes in. If anyone is breaking the law, they deserve to be punished but no estate is safe and we ask Scottish Government to consider evidence carefully before making decisions which will affect families’ lives.
‘Because nothing is being done to protect estates just now, it is becoming passively accepted in Scotland that people can go onto land, cause wilful damage and manufacture problems for those involved in occupations that campaigners don’t like.’
In one incident in Grampian, bolts securing a high seat 3m off the ground were removed, with potential to cause serious injury if not spotted, especially a fall with a firearm.
One gamekeeper, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘I’ve been filmed, verbally abused, verbally threatened and had very unpleasant messages left for me. On most occasions I have a firearm so I never respond as I would put myself in a difficult position, no matter how innocent I am.
‘We’ve had 33 incidents of damage since last July and, on most occasions, the Police don’t even know if a crime has been committed, nor do the Wildlife Crime unit. We’ve lost countless work hours and thousands of pounds in revenue.’
The regional groups and The Scottish Gamekeepers Association are to present the survey findings to politicians, with crime/ incident numbers, where available.
The grouse season, which generates £23m of contracts for external traders, begins today.