‘Alarming increase in abuse of gamekeepers’ requires action
THE UK’s largest shooting organisation is calling for better protection for gamekeepers after uncovering an alarming increase in the proportion who have been victim of abuse and criminal behaviour from those against shooting.
A survey, published today (9 February), has revealed that almost two-thirds (64%) of gamekeepers across the UK have received abuse and threats as a direct result of their profession.
Among the 1,000 responses to the survey are shocking reports of gamekeepers receiving death threats and threats of arson and criminal damage.
Abuse via social media channels is a rising issue for gamekeepers, with 56% of respondents recording an increase in the number of incidents over the last 12 months compared to previous years. Over 30% of the respondents who have been targeted also recorded increases in physical and verbal abuse.
Some gamekeepers reported that the pressure of being targeted for doing their job has led directly to the breakdown of personal relationships.
Responding to the survey, Glynn Evans, BASC’s head of game and gundogs, said: “The survey reinforces what we have been seeing and hearing in the last couple of years. There has been an alarming increase in the abuse of gamekeepers.
“Due to the very nature of their jobs, gamekeepers often live in isolated locations and this leaves them exposed and vulnerable. Gamekeepers and other shoot managers are essential to the management of our countryside and it is important those involved and their families are given the appropriate protection from online and physical abuse.”
An ex-gamekeeper from Derbyshire, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals on his new business, was forced to leave the profession after being the victim of vexatious accusations online by an anti-shooting group. The targeted attacks left him ill and impacted his relationship with his partner.
He said: “Seeing hundreds of messages of abuse and threats on social media impacted my health and my home life significantly. These people did not know me, but led on by false accusations, they attacked me, my girlfriend and my way of life.
“The police were helpful but were limited in their powers to stop the online abuse. I felt utterly helpless, these people had a free run on my emotions. Direct threats on our health and life made it unbearable.
“Living rurally, we were isolated and alone. I ended up watching cars at night to make sure no one was outside. A verbal attack on my girlfriend at her workplace was the final straw that led us to walk away from a profession that I trained for and love.”
Glynn Evans, BASC’s head of game and gundogs, continued: “Attacks on the gamekeeping profession are unwarranted and highly damaging. Gamekeepers, like other job sectors, should be free to undertake their profession without fear of attack or abuse.
“Much of this aggressive behaviour on the ground is a product of targeted campaigns by those against the sport in the press and online. While debate and a difference of opinion is welcome, shooting organisations are calling on those against shooting to consider the consequences of their publicity stunts and social media campaigns.
“Social media has made targeting abuse all the easier, when individuals see public figures and reputable organisations attacking a whole community, they feel they can do likewise. This behaviour needs to be jointly condemned by all parties for and against shooting to stop the escalation.”
Helen Benson, from the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust, a charity set up to help the welfare of gamekeepers, has also seen incidents increase recently.
She said: “Living in fear of attack and abuse is an issue that we see on a regular occurrence. An isolated living and working environment present a number of challenges for gamekeepers, this level of abuse and threatening behaviour cannot be allowed to continue.”
The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “Gamekeepers do vital work as custodians of the land. They play an important role in the shooting industry, which delivers significant benefits to rural economies. Any form of abuse or intimidation is wholly unacceptable, and those responsible should feel the full force of the law. We will take the findings of this report on board.”
Richard Bailey, gamekeeper and Peak District Moorland Group co-ordinator, said: “Having been involved with wildlife management and gamekeeping for 30 years I have witnessed an increase in targeted abuse towards my sector from those who are predominantly anti-shooting.
“When challenged and the error of their ways are explained, some are understandable, but for many fuelled by an unattractive social media presence, it escalates. We have been subject to social media stalking and online attacks, and even verbal and physical abuse. The targeted abuse impacts not just the individual but also their family and community that they live in.
“It has become common practice for land managers to utilise not only vehicle dashcams but also personal body cameras, so that interactions can be recorded for analysis if needed at a later date.”