The killin fields!
I wis watchin a bonnie cock pheasant makkin his wey alang the road aside ma hoose; in his ain guid time, o coorse, as their kind ar wint tae dae, an regairdless o the caurs fleein close by. His heid an tail war up, birse puffit oot an shimmerin in the sun. Tae see sic gledsome beauty in aw its glory is aye a sicht for sair een. But I wis mair than delichtit whan he sprackelt awa fae the road an throu the fence intae a field. Livin in the Lawlands, near tae a sportin estate, it’s likely I see thae bonnie birdies gaein aboot mair nor maist. It’s aye vexin tae find ane deid on the road, but the thing that mair maks ma hert sink is the sound o gunfire, for I ken the wee craiturs ar bein forced tae tak wing anely tae be a target for sae-cawed sportsmen.
I’v been agin field sports aw ma days, an whiles I ken it’s big business, an aboot makkin siller, I hae tae say, I will niver unnerstaund hou onybody could tak pairt in sic deliberate destruction an cry it sport. But there’s a hale industry dedicatit tae it; the shootin estates e’en proscribin tae thirsels whit ither craiturs alangside their sportin targets should be allou’t tae live or dee. Sae it’s aye guid whan sic muckle pouer gets cawed tae accoont; brocht intae the licht for a bit o closer scrutiny as happent in the last week or twa, wi a video makkit on the fly in Januar on the grouse muirs an gied tae the BBC by an animal richts chairity.
Onybody wi e’en the tottiest bit o compassion couldnae help but be scunnert at the film shawin the systematic killin in muckle nummers o oor ain muntain hares. Craiturs wha belangt tae Scotland; native tae the land for thoosands o years. Yet the film shaws them bein hairrit an harassit by teams o gemmkeepers fae the private estates oot at nicht on the bens whan the craiturs ar gaitherin for shelter or tae scrape awa the snaw tae feed on the heather an gress. The keepers organisin theirsels in their muckle aw-terrain caurs in sic a relentless wey as tae clear aw the wee feart beasts aff the hillside an daein it like sodgers on a military operation. The puir wee hares, frantic, wi nae wey tae get awa, bein drivin richt intae an ambush o mair gemmkeepers juist waitin tae shoot them deid. An if that’s no callous eneuch, settin their dugs on the woundit anes tae finish them aff. The corps gaithert up an piled intae a truck. Sic hellish destruction, an aw duin in the name o ‘estate management’. It’s hert-rendin juist tae think on it.
I’m gled tae sae there’s been a muckle stramash ower the film, wi the scenes bein describit in the Scots Pairlament as ‘sickening slaughter’ an the First Minister shawin she wisnae at aw happy aboot sic ill-farrant gaeins on, promisin tae leuk at aw the options includin a licensin scheme tae pit a stap tae sic activities. Her wirds hae pit the wind up the gemmkeepers fae the video. Scrievin they haed duin naething wrang nor on the fly an invitin baith the First Minister an the Environment Secretar tae their grund whaur they can tak tent o hou hares ar ‘managed’. Whiles weel-kent TV naituralist Chris Packham gied a warnin the beasts could be wipit oot in the Soothren Uplands acause o dulefu culls o this naitur. There’s nae dout the laund-owners will no be wantin ony chynges tae the rules sin they can mair or less dae whit they like the nou, bein allou’t tae shoot the hares wi’oot a licence fae August tae Februar wi nae restrictions. But fowk agin it jalouse the true aim o the estates is tae hae nae hares at aw on their managed grouse muirs.
O coorse the laund-owners wad claim it’s aboot protectin the rid grouse fae disease; ticks an the like cairit by hares, an that they maun keepit the nummer o hares doun. Yet, the verra craiturs that by naitur wad dae juist that — the tods an futrets as weel as craws, buzzards, hen harriers, eagles an mair — ar bein trappit an shot on thae estates as weel. The gemmkeepers micht want tae deny it wi regairds birds o prey like hen harriers or eagles, but as it happens aw thae craiturs ar predators o rid grouse. An fine they ken: the hen harrier is the maist persecutit o aw the raptors. An further mair, juist like the hares, grouse feed on heather an gress. Sae it leuks tae me like outside o the season whan they get blastit oot o the lift by peyin sportsmen, it’s the grouse wha maun be the ower-protectit species. Anent they ither beasts wha bide on the estates, it’s an aw-roond killin spree wi man, their maist deidly predator.
Whit a sad state o affairs.
Social media thumbnail image: pentin by Elizabeth Thoumire