More Guga ‘controversy’

I started writing the piece below as a letter to the Times, to complain about an article that appeared in the paper on Tuesday of this week. I’ve since learned that the story was also on Good Morning Scotland on Radio Scotland on Wednesday, but I am unsure as to whether or not this article prompted the BBC to follow it up.

Here is an image of the article, I don’t want to link to the original.


On Tuesday 2nd September, a story ran in The Times newspaper on the Guga Hunt titled ‘Scottish SPCA wants end to ‘brutal’ hunt’ and I wish to raise some issues with the reporting of this.

While the SSPCA has raised issues in regards to the Guga Hunt in the past, they have not, to my knowledge, issued a press release on this matter since 2011. The piece in the paper appears to be a rehash of old releases, with no new quotes and referring to SSPCA efforts from over 3 years ago. Why this is deemed to be newsworthy is unclear.

There are also no attempts to gain the Ness men’s perspective, with a quote from John MacFarlane (Dods) lifted from a 2011 BBC documentary. The article also describes Mr MacFarlane as ‘retired from leading the cull’. Mr MacFarlane is currently on Sulasgeir, having led and partaken in this year’s hunt.

I also have issues with some of the over the top language used in the report. I am unsure as to why they are referred to as ‘baby’ gannets. This kind of language is not used when talking about ‘baby’ lambs or ‘baby’ chickens as food sources. It is an unacceptable bias in the article, attempting to humanise the juvenile gannets and make them appear ‘cute’.

The description of the process after death is also unnecessary. Use of words like ‘decapitated’ and ‘singed’ are totally unnecessary in this context. Nearly every animal eaten in the UK is decapitated after slaughter, yet we won’t hear of a piece of sirloin steak having been decapitated, skinned and butchered as part of it’s preparation.

That brings me to the slaughter process. It is described in the article as ‘clubbed to death’ and ‘killed with a stick’. These terms are used, in my opinion, in an inflammatory manner to make it appear barbaric and give the image of numerous blows required to kill each bird. This is not the case, with birds killed by a single blow and are dead within 2-3 seconds of leaving the nest.

We currently have an issue of geese wreaking havoc on crops and land in the Western Isles and the only way of dealing with this is shooting them. This is deemed to be acceptable, despite wounded birds dropping from the sky and possibly dying a slow and painful death.

Do the SSPCA or news media raise issues about this on as regular a basis as they do about the Guga? Or about Halal slaughter? Or the mincing of male chicks, which are of no use to egg laying industry, at birth? No, because these have big industry and money behind them. They continually target a small community and attempt to bring negative world-wide attention on them through half-truths and inflammatory language.

Long live the Guga Hunt!

The aftermath

I should be elated and relieved today, at how successful the inaugural World
Guga Eating Championships were, but I’m not. Instead, I am considering whether or not I should remain involved in community activities at all.

The competition itself went to plan; we filled all available spaces (8 because of the number of gugas we could get), we had spectators come in for it, and there was a great atmosphere. That’s pretty much all we wanted.

Peter MacRitchie, from Fivepenny, Ness, was the champion, eating his half Guga and 400g of potatoes in 3 minutes 44 seconds. An unbelievable time. I came in 5th, after 5.52.

We knew there would be media interest in the event, that’s partly the reason why we did it, and the ‘World’ part of the title was a tongue-in-cheek attempt at building things up beforehand.

Anything to do with the Guga generates interest, good & bad. Today there is a piece on the Independent website (I’m not linking to it) which I haven’t been able to face reading in its entirety. Lifting quotes from my blog, making no attempt to get in touch and with several inaccuracies. If it was me that was doing this off my own back, fine, but it’s not. It’s potentially affecting all of Ness and a unique way of life and community spirit that you won’t find elsewhere. I’m convinced some folk won’t be happy until everyone on this planet is exactly the same.

I suppose this comes with the territory of sticking your neck out, but people aren’t indestructible. I certainly amn’t anyway.

The Guga

This week we are holding the first ever Guga Eating Championship in Ness. It is being organised by the Ness FC Social Club, of which I am vice-chair, and it has made me think about the way the Guga (and hunt) is perceived outwith these islands.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Guga Hunt, you can have a look at the BBC documentary that was broadcast in 2011, photos from my trip to Sulageir this summer, and here is my own post about Super Guga Saturday. The Hunt is still as fiercely defended in Ness as it ever was, although criticism of it today seems to arise from far-off places, from people who appear to have little clue what they are talking about. I suppose it is a sign of the times and the reactionary social media culture that we have, that these ‘campaigns’ raise their heads, disappearing as quickly as they appear. Personally, I steer clear of all kinds of online campaigns. People think they are making a difference by supporting a campaign, or signing a petition, but they usually have little, or no impact. Fortunately, that is the case with the Guga. I don’t believe there is any danger at all of the license granted to the Guga Hunters of Ness being revoked, and the ill-informed rants that appear don’t worry me at all, only anger me. There was one in 2010 that read “The guga hunt is not vital to the inhabitants of Sula Sgeir.”. Of course it’s not vital to the inhabitants of Sulasgeir. Sulasgeir doesn’t HAVE any human inhabitants; it is merely a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic! This kind of behaviour isn’t restricted to the Guga, though. One of my favourite examples are the comments in this blog post Highlighting beautifully some of the ludicrous arguments that are put forth.

The most popular argument used is that the Hunt is “barbaric” and that the animals suffer. Now, I am an animal lover. I rear plenty myself and care about their welfare. I personally have no issue at all with the methods used to dispatch the Guga and I know, from my time working there, that the RSPB locally have no issues with it, just as the local vet and local SSPCA have no issue with it. Those who criticise it are themselves often guilty of extreme hypocrisy; happy enough to eat their intensively reared chicken, pork or any other meat, without thinking about how it lived, where it was reared and how it was killed. The population as a whole seems to be increasingly detached from where their food comes from, and it takes something like the horse meat situation to highlight how little people think about what they eat. The best a comment I have seen from a do-gooder, was questioning a crofter as to why on earth a pig had to die to provide his family with food, when he could go down to the supermarket and buy sausages like a normal person. Yes, I know. Ludicrous.

To the critics, I often reply with a series of questions: what about all those poor fish who suffocate on boats? What about the deer/rabbits/game birds that are shot and possibly not killed instantly? What about pigs who spend their lives in a crate? Out of sight, out of mind.

So, back to the first ever World Guga Eating Championships. Yes, the ‘World’ part is tongue-in-cheek and the event is a celebration of all things Niseach. We are so proud of where we are from, we have a strong identity as Ness-folk and the Guga is a big part of that. I for one cannot wait!