A further insight into the failure of the Cairngorms National Park to protect native wildlife was revealed in the article above which appeared in the Strathy last week. There may also be a link between the CNPA’s approach to mountain hares and its apparent attempt to silence Councillor Bill Lobban last week (see here).
While I welcome the fact that the estates involved in the mountain hare counting project have agreed to stop culling mountain hares – (and if Glenlochy’s claim is true it appears they stopped culling mountain hares while poisoning of buzzards was still happening on their land (see here)) – there is another agenda here which is illustrated by some of the quotes from the piece:
- Glenlochy is claiming that overpopulation of mountain hares can be detrimental while at the same time claiming mountain hares are “notoriously difficult” to count, which is why this project is needed. How, one might ask, does any keeper know there is an “overpopulation” of mountain hares if they do not know numbers?
- What is an “overpopulation” of mountain hares – who sets the criteria for this? – and what is the impact of hare numbers of flora and fauna? It is generally accepted that without human intervention, mountain hare numbers rise and fall naturally. If its impact of mountain hares on flora, from so many nibbling mouths, which estates are concerned about, well…………….how does this compare to the impact of the muirburn conducted by these same estates on vegetation? We know the main alleged impact on fauna which concerns estates is that Mountain Hares carry the tick which can infect Red Grouse with the louping ill virus and this is what has led to the mountain hares culls. But how will counting mountain hares tell us anything about the levels of transmission of ticks between one species and another? There appears very little rationale to the counting project unless its purpose is to kick any action to protect mountain hares in the National Park into the long grass for a three further years.
- The claim that culling hares is necessary for the “general health of the species itself” seems based in eugenics. While genetic manipulation and selection by humans has been integral to the development of farm crops and animals, applying such thinking to what should be wild is a different matter. Why not let nature sort this out? The claim is complete nonsense anyway. All the photos that have appeared on Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) show there is indiscriminate culling of mountain hares. If natural ecosystems were functioning in the Cairngorms no culling would be necessary anyway as there would be eagles and other predators which would live off the mountain hares and control their numbers. The populations of predators would then fluctuate along with the population of their food source. The fact that the impact of predators, or rather their absence, appears to have no role in this study tells you its not about tackling the real issue, wildlife persecution.
While the CNPA has no direct role in the study, to design a study which is to take place in the National Park without considering how it meets the overriding national conservation objectives of the National Park appears to me just wrong, a mis-use of public resources. The CNPA too has claimed it cannot take any action to protect mountain hares until this study is completed. Whatever happened to the precautionary principle, which says you protect nature until you know its safe not to, or the conservation objectives of the National Park?
Our public authorities and research institutions are studying all the wrong things in our National Parks. They should not be funding studies whose main purpose can be to serve the interests of the shooting lobby. What we need from the CNPA is a proper assessment of the wildlife deficit in the Cairngorms – just how many stoats, weasels, hen harriers, golden eagle etc are missing from the the eastern Cairngorms and what is the potential for species like the beaver – and then fund research into alternatives to the current model of sporting estate.
Species champions, in Highland Council and in the National Park
A few years ago Highland Council decided to support its Councillors becoming species champions:
The elected members will be invited to become a species champion. This follows on from the successful initiative that Scottish Environment Link undertook with MSPs. The choice of species will come from a list of over 70. The role of a species champion will be to take an interest in “their” species and act as an advocate for it, highlighting its importance and/ or the issues affecting it in relevant debates or other opportunities that arise.
There are currently at least 27 Species Champions in the Council including such species as harbour porpoise, red kite, strawberry spider. The three Highland Councillors who sit on the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board are all species champions, Dave Fallows for the Capercaillie, Gregor Rimell for the Northern Damselfy and Bill Lobban……………. for the mountain hare! Indeed, Councillor Lobban has spoken out for the Mountain Hare (see here) unlike the convenor of his planning committee (see here). Evidence I think that the attempt to silence Councillor Lobban last week on planning issues was part of an attempt to silence one of the few CNPA Board Members prepared to speak out for wildlife. .
The ability of the three Highland Councillors to become advocates for wildlife on Highland Council is quite a contrast to what they are allowed to do as CNPA Board Members. When the Cairngorms Nature plan (see here) was being drawn up, it was suggested that Board Members could become species champions – what an opportunity one might have thought for the National Park? After all according to the plan, the Cairngorms is home to 1/4 of all rare and endangered species in the UK. The CNPA rejected this proposal. This failure in leadership has had a huge impact. Contrast the attitudes of landowners and local communities in the West Highlands to species like the sea eagle, which they know are fantastic for tourism, and to how the Cairngorms National Park treats its wildlife. A little diversification of the tartan tourism on Deeside which is based on Balmorality to wildlife could do not harm.
What needs to happen
- In the forthcoming Partnership Plan the CNPA could show its commitment to wildlife by encouraging all its members to become species champions and allowing Highland Councillors to play this role both within their own Local Authority and the National Park. The first new species that should be championed is the beaver, with the Board Member advocating for it leading the re-introduction of this species into the National Park
- The forthcoming Partnership Plan needs to include a commitment to put wildlife in the National Park first and stop any species, including the mountain hare, being persecuted for the benefit of shooting interests. That entails developing measures to regulate shooting, trapping and the use of dogs to hunt wildlife in the National Park.