By Elizabeth Thoumire
I wis watchin a bonnie cock pheasant makkin his wey alang the road aside ma hous; in his ain guid time, o course, as thair kind are wint tae dae, an regairdless o the caurs fleein close by. His heid an tail war up, birse puffit out 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. Lívin in the Lawlands, near tae a sportin estate, it’s likely I see thae bonnie birdies gaein about 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 are 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 about makkin siller, I hae tae say, I will niver unnerstaund hou onybody could tak pairt in sic delíberate destruction an cry it sport. But thare’s a hale industry dedicatit tae it; the shootin estates e’en proscribin tae thirsels whit ither craiturs alangside thair sportin targets should be allou’t tae live or dee. Sae it’s aye guid whan sic muckle pouer gets cawed tae account; 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 ainimal richts chairity.
Onybody wi e’en the tottiest bit o compassion couldnae help but be scunnert at the film shawin the sýstematic killin in muckle nummers o our ain muntain hares. Craiturs wha belangt tae Scotland; native tae the land for thousands o years. Yet the film shaws thaim bein hairrit an harassit by teams o gemmkeepers fae the private estates out at nicht on the bens whan the craiturs are gaitherin for shelter or tae scrape awa the snaw tae feed on the heather an gress. The keepers organisin thairsels in thair 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 thaim deid. An if that’s no callous eneuch, settin thair dugs on the woundit anes tae fínish thaim 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 thare’s been a muckle stramash ower the film, wi the scenes bein describit in the Scots Pairlament as ‘sickening slaughter’ an the First Mínister shawin she wisnae at aw happy about sic ill-farrant gaeins on, promisin tae leuk at aw the options includin a licensin scheme tae pit a stap tae sic actívities. Her wirds hae pit the wind up the gemmkeepers fae the video. Scrievin thay haed duin naething wrang nor on the fly an invitin baith the First Mínister an the Environment Secretar tae thair grund whaur thay can tak tent o hou hares are ‘managed’. Whiles weel-kent TV naturalist Chris Packham gied a warnin the beasts could be wipit out in the Southren Uplands acause o dulefu culls o this natur. Thare’s nae dout the laund-owners will no be wantin ony chynges tae the rules sin thay can mair or less dae whit thay like the nou, bein allou’t tae shoot the hares wi’out 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 thair managed grouse muirs.
O course the laund-owners wad claim it’s about protectin the rid grouse fae disease; ticks an the like cairit by hares, an that thay maun keepit the nummer o hares doun. Yet, the verra craiturs that by natur wad dae juist that — the tods an futrets as weel as craws, buzzards, hen harriers, eagles an mair — are 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 are predators o rid grouse. An fine thay 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 thay get blastit out o the lift by peyin sportsmen, it’s the grouse wha maun be the ower-protectit species. Anent thay ither beasts wha bide on the estates, it’s an aw-round killin spree wi man, thair maist deidly predator.
Whit a sad state o affairs.
Elizabeth is an Edinburgh-born airtist drawin an paintin maistly animals an birds. Forby that, she is pairt o the organisation Hands Up For Trad wha wirk tae increase the profile an visibílity o Scottish tradítional muisic an cultur throu information, education an advocacy.
Social media thumbnail ímage: pentin by Elizabeth Thoumire