Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Own Experience!

As an Underkeeper myself in the early 1970s. I was trained by an English Gamekeeper in the ‘Noble Art’ of using illegal Gin Traps, & Pole Traps, shown how to shoot protected Raptors, instructed on how to lace baits with poisons like Strychnine & Alphachloralose. I witnessed Sparrowhawks being shot & poisoned, attempts made to destroy Barn Owl nests, Long Eared Owls caught in Pole Traps and even Otters caught in Gin Traps, despite the fact that nobody actually fished the estate river.

2.5" Gin Trap

One year, the Head Keeper shot a pair of Sparrowhawks at their nest, which contained 4 quite well developed youngsters. He intended to just  leave the young birds to simply starve to death, but having experience as a Falconer I persuaded him to let me rear them. So those 4 young Sparrowhawks were actually reared, on mostly dead Pheasant poults, in a pen on the Rearing Field! I then passed them on to a full time Falconer who hacked them back into the wild, many miles from our estate. 

4 Rescued Sparrowhawks

We snared around 100 Foxes each year but not surprisingly, I hated the use of these barbaric weapons of pain & suffering. As well as the untold agony & suffering these disgusting tools of the trade caused to so many Foxes, especially those which weren’t caught cleanly around the neck, we always caught numerous harmless Badgers in them too & the odd stray dog.

From my own observations, it appeared that Keepers were often ingrained almost, with a sort of pathological hatred of anything with a hooked beak or a talon, no matter whether it actually posed any real threat to any of their game charges or not. As an example of this uncontrolled hatred of raptors, I once witnessed my own Head Keeper jumping out of his van & running with a loaded Shotgun across private fields in pursuit of a Sparrowhawk which had dared to fly across the road in front of him ~ all this, Ten Miles from our own estate. Such obsessive, driven and clearly illogical behaviour, demonstrated to me at least, that the old instinctive & deep rooted negative attitude towards Raptors in the mind of Gamekeepers, had actually changed very little, if at all, since those far off days of mass slaughter on the Highland Estate of Glengarry!

The final straw for me was the day a Peregrine actually flew right out across the line of guns on the day of a shoot. As a flanker that day I had a clear view of the whole scene & couldn’t believe it when at least one gun tried to shoot the Falcon. This all took place long before any Pheasants were flushed from the wood so there was absolutely no doubt what the gun was shooting at. I immediately shouted – “Don’t shoot, it’s a Peregrine” but no action was taken and all that happened was that I was severely reprimanded after the drive, by the Laird, for causing him to feel embarrassed. He actually claimed, in the gun's defense, that -"it was only a Kestrel", as if that made it alright. Of course both species are protected by the law & in any case, any keeper worth his salt would recognise a Peregrine at a glance, especially one like myself, who had experience as a full time Falconer, not to mention being a life long Birdwatcher. 
Anyway, that was the day I decided to get out of Gamekeeping!

Peregrine Falcon

So it was my understanding that the illegal persecution of protected raptors was rife and commonplace amongst Gamekeepers at that time. In fact, such activity was talked about quite openly, even bragged about, amongst keepers, even on shooting days. I would like to think that things have improved since those days, but sadly, because so much evidence of raptor persecution still appears regularly each year, up and down the country, I have absolutely no reason to believe that those outdated & deep rooted attitudes towards Raptors have changed very much amongst Gamekeepers in general, since my own days as a Keeper. It is for this reason that I would urge people to sign the petition for change.

The Rearing Field

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