Again, trying to avoid the political side of things, I can’t resist making mention of the SNP’s sudden interest in wild fish. The definitive salmonid was feted as he opened the Tay season last month, and a few other SNP MSPs have been showing their faces at fishing events, including Aileen Campbell, MSP for Clydesdale, who was inexplicably present at opening of the season on the Clyde a few days ago. Would it be cynical to suggest that, with a referendum on the cards, this is a bit of an effort to curry favour with the “rurals” by a government that has done little for the countryside but introduce red tape and bureaucracy over the past few years?
Under an SNP government, tail docking is now illegal and crow traps need to be identified by an “operator number” (which is such a good idea that England picked up on it straight away… er…). Snares need to be individually tagged, mapped and logged, and anyone who wants to set even a rabbit snare has to pay upwards of £60 just to complete the paperwork. You can’t set snares on a fence line, even if you make sure that there is no risk of entanglement, and you have to “peg down” all larsen traps; even the ones which are so heavy that you need two people to lift them.
The General Licence changes in marginal and needlessly complicated ways every year, sometimes to be reversed again mid way through the year (remember mandatory springs for gravity operated larsen doors in 2013?), and there is now talk of revoking an estate’s General Licence even on the basis of suspected wildlife crime. This penalty would be illegal under European Law, not only on the basis of collective punishments but also because we live in a world where you have to be proved guilty in order to be punished. But that hasn’t stopped the lawmakers spending our money considering it.
The Scottish Executive is actively considering whether or not to licence the use of airguns, and does not rule out the possibility of licencing gamekeepers themselves. It is quite possible that you will soon be unable to shoot a deer without accreditation, and there are going to be an awful lot of deer that need shooting under current proposals. It has never been harder to be a gamekeeper in this country, entirely because of legislation introduced not by Westminster but by Holyrood.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the SNP harbours the possibility of, post Independence, shattering the traditional estate and redistributing land in a manner so totally incompatible with conservation that it takes your breath away. Press releases yell that the future of the Scottish hills is forestry, despite the self-evident truth that peat and heather moorland can out-perform woodland on almost every so-called “ecosystem service”, including the preservation of rare and unique species.
I’m not so naive as to wonder why Alex Salmond doesn’t turn up at Millden with a pair of Dicksons on his back on the 12th August to have his photograph taken “opening the grouse season”. Shooting is not a convenient political tool in anyone’s eyes, and it probably hasn’t been since the days of Lord Home, but there is an insidious irony to the popular profile of a suburban political party when it begins to feign an interest in the countryside and fieldsports
Next time that Alex Salmond pops his arm around your shoulder and tells you that he cares about the future of Scottish country-sports, remember that he is not your friend.