Channel 4 stitch up gamekeepers

Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, says he was stitched up by Channel 4 News in a report on wildlife crime. He told Modern Gamekeeping that the broadcasters:

  • Asked the same question more than six times because they didn’t like his answer
  • Told him to repeat his answer without mentioning the plight of waders
  • Edited his answers to fit the story they wanted to tell
  • Produced an “extreme” report designed to provoke an emotional response from the public

The five-minute report, presented by Cordelia Lynch, was broadcast on Channel 4 on Wednesday 12 February. The studio introduction linked it to Prince Charles’ and Prince William’s support for the London summit on wildlife crime, saying that the royals “face charges of hypocrisy for taking part in a sport that campaigners say is linked to the death of iconic birds of prey like golden eagles and hen harriers.”

The report first interviewed Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, who suggested that grouse moor managers were behind the poisoning, trapping and shooting of golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, buzzards and hen harriers.

Also interviewed were Dominic Dyer of Care for the Wild and Logan Steele of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, who both lent support to the argument that gamekeepers were to blame for wholesale raptor persecution. Retired gamekeeper Colin Gair claimed that keepers could be pressurised by employers to break the law. “If you’re a young man with a wife and family and living in a tied cottage then you can be influenced,” he said.

Presenter Cordelia Lynch then quoted RSPB figures to claim that hen harriers were “close to extinction” on the grounds that none had bred last year in England – ignoring the fact that the bird is categorised as “Least Concern” worldwide with a global population of more than 1,300,000 and its major threat is stated to be “habitat loss.” It is also said to be “highly vulnerable to the impacts of potential wind energy developments.” (Source: BTO)

Northern Harrier

Cordelia Lynch challenged Alex Hogg with the question “Are birds of prey an issue for you?” His response was interrupted by RSPB statistics on the number of people prosecuted for wild bird crimes in 2012: “49 individuals including six gamekeepers… Yet Alex Hogg denies raptors are being deliberately targeted.”

The programme went on to ask Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse “why not just fully regulate the [shooting] industry like other countries?” He replied “We want to avoid putting in place something that might be seen as a draconian response” but added the rider: “I’m not saying we wouldn’t do this eventually.”

Alex Hogg told Modern Gamekeeping that during a one-hour interview he was asked the question of whether gamekeepers were killing raptors at least half a dozen times. “By the time the interviewer asked it the last time, I was so annoyed I just said ‘No’ and didn’t give a reason. It was clear that what the programme wanted me to say was ‘Yes, gamekeepers were killing raptors’.”

He believes that the producers arrived with a fixed agenda and were simply looking for the quotes to fit their story. “At one stage I mentioned wading birds,” says Hogg. “I said that Scotland was in danger of seeing its wading bird population disappear like in Wales and parts of Ireland, and that we needed a proper management system in place that could help us deal with that. The interviewer then said ‘That’s fine Alex but could we do that bit again but don’t mention waders this time?’”

An SGA spokesman said: “In our view, it was clear that Channel 4’s rationale was to get a story about raptor persecution designed to evoke an emotive response from the general public. It would not have been acceptable to resource a film crew to come north to talk about wildlife crime and raptor persecution and to then give airtime to a voice that was going to knock down its own story by adding too much perspective which would limit that emotive response.”

He added, ”The SGA was interviewed last so the questions asked were ‘in response’ to claims and accusations made by the organisations which were clearly on the front foot in terms of the crew’s filming schedule. This is the way of such programmes where there is a clear idea of what is to be achieved at the outset.”

Alex Hogg felt that the finished programme was extreme, and did not fairly represent what he was trying to say. “The point I was trying to make was that there should be a legal solution to problems through licensing, rather than wildlife crime being driven underground and, therefore, no one knowing who is perpetrating the crimes. Of course there have been gamekeepers who have been proven, in a court of law, to have committed raptor persecution. The last was in 2013 and we removed that individual from our membership, which is what we would always do. But when you have a camera in front of you, it is not always easy to get all of these points across.” He adds: “There were also a lot of figures used that were not official figures held by the Police or Scottish Government.”

The programme was hailed by antis as a success. The rabidly anti-shooting Raptor Persecution blog wrote: “The awareness-raising power of a news report like this should not be underestimated. Since the programme aired four hours ago, we’ve already been contacted by three journalists whose interest has been piqued.”

Some shooters complained gamekeeping had ‘shot itself in the foot’. Alex Hogg, however, said that critics often don’t understand ‘’the reality of these programmes and what it is like to be on the spot and constantly asked the same question.” He added: “I suspect there are others who do know that. I’ve not heard anything from those people. I think they can see it for what it is. I was at a shoot the other day and no one actually mentioned it at all.”

He says that speaking up for gamekeepers on TV is a stressful but necessary part of his role as SGA chairman. “It’s not enjoyable and the benefits of spending one hour filming and then seeing the end result doesn’t justify the effort. Unfortunately, it’s part of what you have to do.”

Channel 4’s write-up and the programme can be seen at

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