Tag: grouse moors

November 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
New track, slopes Creag an Loin, Glen Banchor looking towards Creag Dubh on the Pitmain Estate, behind Kingussie. You can tell this is intended as a track, rather than just caused by ATV use, by the bouldes lining the right hand side

Earlier this year, the owner of the Pitmain estate,  who appears to be Abdul Majid Jafar, bought the Glen Banchor and Strone Estate behind Newtonmore.   I say “appears” because the information on Pitmain Estate Ltd at Companies House fails to declare who has significant control over the company.

While  Abdul Majid Jafar resigned as a Director in June 2015, to be replaced by an Indian Accountant also based in the United Arab Emirates, it appears he is still the owner.   Its not only our landownership system which is opaque, our company system is too and there is abundant evidence for this in our National Parks.  Abdul Majid Jafar’s family run Crescent Petroleum, the Middle East’s oldest private oil and gas company, so not short of a bob or too and well able to afford to do things properly if he so wished.

Map credit Cairngorms National Park Authority estate maps

The previous owners of the Glen Banchor and Strone estate were the Lindt Family, of chocolate fame.  They appear to have managed the estate for purely private pleasure (for example the internet has stories about how you could not pay to stalk there).   This had its disadvantages, in that deer numbers were very high, but otherwise estate management appears to have been low key and unintensive.   That appears to have changed since Pitmain took over, with significant consequences for land-management.   This post will consider the new track works in Glen Banchor.

The section of newly engineered track above the esker – you can see one of the sheep dog trial gates on the left. The track bends left after about 700m to a sheep pen.

The boggy moorland where the road bends west into Glen Banchor (GR 702998) and lower slopes of Creag an Loin have long been used for sheep dog trials and there was a rough track along the fabulous esker – a deposit laid down by the glacier –  that snakes across the moor.  This then led up the slopes to a sheep holding pen.   Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the old track (photos gratefully received!), so you can compare then and now, but it was little more than two wheel ruts and much used by walkers.

The esker provides a dry passage across the moor but its character has been totally changed.  The top has been lopped off to create a track with no consideration given to the landscape impact.

Under the Prior Notification system, any changes to existing agricultural or forestry tracks which increase their footprint or new ones should be notified to the planning authority (see Scottish Govt statutory guidance Page 11 onwards).  There is no sign on either the Highland Council or Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portals that this has been done at Glen Banchor (I have written to the CNPA to double check and report the track works).

There is evidence all along the former landrover track that major upgrading works have taken place. Note the large lumps of turf in the foreground which could have been replaced down the centre of the track reducing erosion and the landscape impact.

While full planning permission is not needed for agricultural tracks, the point of the Prior Notification system is it is “an important tool in preventing inappropriate construction of private ways” (Government Guidance).   In this case there are plenty of signs of inappropriate construction (including above) which are not fitting for a National Park and do not meet SNH’s Best Practice Guidance on hill track construction.

The upper section of the track is too steep and already eroding away, not helped by the lack of vegetation down the middle and an absence of drainage bars which means water runs straight down the line of the track.

Start of track 7th November
Start of track 18th November

Since I learned about the track I have been twice, first time to have a quick look and then last Saturday when I walked along the track and beyond.  While it has been very wet, the two photos show there has been a considerable deterioration in the track over the intervening 10 days and much of it has been churned into a quagmire.

The turning circle at the top of the old section of track, sheep holding pen for the sheep dog trials in the background

The problem is even worse at the top of the old section of track.  I don’t think this mess has been created by sheep dog trials, the problem is the old land rover track is now being used for other estate management purposes and far more intensively than previously.  It links to a new estate management track (see top photo) which has been created without any planning permission.

The new track contours round and down the hillside from just below the sheep holding area. You can see the excavated boulders and vegetation dumped on the right of the track.

The new track leads to another turning circle and borrow pit:

The turning circle with hummocky moraine and Creag Dubh behind
The borrow pit below the turning circle

While the newly constructed track, which comes under planning law, ends at the turning circle beyond is an ATV track, if the quagmire created can be described as a track:

Behind the moraine on the right, the ATV track forks, one part linking to constructed tracks on the Strone part of the estate, the other heading up the hillside to a feeding station:

 

Red legged partridge in cage at feeding station

In terms of planning law, all this is important.  The new section of track is clearly for game management purposes and therefore does not come under the Prior Notification System.  Full planning permission was required, it has not been applied for and therefore this is yet another case of disregard of the planning system within our National Parks by landowners.  The ATV eroded track beyond, however, because it has not been constructed falls totally outwith the planning system.

 

What needs to happen

While I understand (from an update they provided) that the CNPA are still working on the enforcement action they have agreed against  the Cluny Estate for unlawful track on Creag an Leth Choin (see here), the basic problem the CNPA faces is that until they have taken effective enforcement action, landowners won’t see planning law as being important.  Generally landowners see themselves as having the right to manage land as they wish and not as custodians for it, even in the National Park.    The result has been that unlawful tracks continue to proliferate across the National Park.  The CNPA needs to be seen to take action (just as East Ayrshire has recently done for breach of planning conditions at a windfarm).

 

Determined and rapid enforcement action would I believe, make a great difference.  This track, being so recent, would be a good place to start.  In addition, while I appreciate the Prior Notification system is very weak and not fit for purpose, the creation of an unlawful track linked to an “upgrade” of an existing track, should make it easier for the CNPA  to argue that the “upgrade” of the existing track is more than that and not fit for purpose.

 

However, at present the CNPA has NO powers to address ATV created tracks, such as the featured here leading from the second turning circle to the feeding station.  While SNH has powers to control ATV use on protected sites, only the western half of the Glen Banchor and Strone estate is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so there are at present no controls in this part of the National Park.  In my view this has to change.  I would like to see all ATV use on the open hill in National Parks being subject to consent through farm/estate management plans.  The CNPA could do this through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes.

 

This leads to the wider issue of estate management and landownership.  On the landownership side, no additional checks are required before someone buys a large area of land in a National Park, either to establish whether they are fit to manage the land or what their intentions might be.    While the Gynack hydro schemes on the Pitmain Estate are in many ways exemplary (see here) , step beyond them and the tracks further up the hill are a disgrace to the National Park:

Massive turning circle on Meall Unaig, south of Carn an Fhreiceadain. This is visible from Glen Feshie.

I have always wondered why an estate can do one thing well and another so badly.  However, it appears from other new track works above Strone (which I will cover in a further post) that the estate is importing and applying its poor practice standards to Glen Banchor.   While the CNPA has tried to encourage estates to produce management statements for their land, neither Pitmain or Glen Banchor have done so.   The CNPA is therefore left in a position that when a new landowner takes over an estate, it has no idea what that landowner is planning to do in terms of estate management.  That cannot be right in a National Park.

 

What is clear from the new Glen Banchor track is that the new owners are wanting to produce more game for shooting on the estate – hence the feeding station for Red Legged Partridge.   This has implications beyond hill tracks and how they are designed.  The Red Legged Partridge, which is of Mediterranean origin, does best in the wild on dry sandy soils and so, in the wild, is normally found on agricultural land.  Increasingly though it appears to be being bred on moorland within the National Park.  This requires intensive game managements methods akin to farming.  On moorland, however, it is very exposed to predators, especially at feeding stations such as that featured here, and would provide the perfect food for hen harriers if they had not been persecuted close to extinction.  With feeding stations like this, we should expect the number of hen harriers to increase significantly.   Will that happen?

 

Leaving aside wider ecological consideration, feeding stations in our National Parks should only be allowed if estates can prove they are committed to protecting raptors.  In this case,  it would be in the public interest if that the Pitmain/Glen Banchor Estate were to clarify whether they are committed to this and whether clear instructions have been issued to staff telling them that if most of the Red Legged Partridge at the feeding station get predated by raptors that that is fine by the owners.  It would be good if the CNPA, which states it is committed to improving grouse moor management, started to ask the estate these questions and to make the responses public.

November 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

A few weeks ago I learned that someone had nominated me for the TGO Readers’ Award under the category Campaign or Campaigner of the year.    I am really grateful that someone appreciated parkswatchscotland sufficiently to nominate me for this.   I also think its great that TGO values campaigning and through the awards and its coverage makes more walkers aware that the outdoors is not just somewhere to enjoy but also a politically contested space.  For campaigning is politics with a small “p”.

 

I am not, however, canvassing for votes and am not interested in competing against other campaigns or campaigners.  The truth is parkswatch – and the whole outdoor movement if it can be described as such – supports most of the aims of those nominated for the TGO awards.   We need to work together.

 

And that is fundamental part of what parkswatch is about, working with other people.   While presently I write many of the posts, I have always hoped more people would do so and am particularly grateful to other contributors.   Behind the scenes however there is now a large number of people and organisations keen to promote critical debate about our National Parks in Scotland who support parkswatch in all sorts of ways:  providing information, making information requests, tipoffs about what is going on and what needs investigation, suggestions for critical analysis, drafting argument/pieces for potential use, sharing posts on social media etc.   Not only this, but people are taking action, everything from submitting complaints and contacting politicians at the individual level to working through organisations.   My thanks to each and every one of you.   I suspect similar stories could be told for the other campaign/ers nominated for the TGO awards.

 

While this gives reason to be optimistic about the future,  it is worth considering how successful all these campaigns – and the many others not nominated for the awards – have been to date.    The truth is there is a long way to go.  Yes, all the campaigns listed have had their successes but none has achieved the type of fundamental change that is needed.  So, Mend our Mountains and Fix the Fells have addressed some footpath erosion but the issue of how we get sufficient funding for path maintenance work across the British Isles remains.  Mark Avery, backed by wonderful organisations like Raptor Persecution UK and a whole network of bird recorders etc, has done a huge amount to raise awareness of raptor persecution but meantime raptors continue to be killed and disappear on grouse moors, particularly in our National Parks, with depressing regularity.  Lots of people, like Get Outside, are doing great work to try and re-connect people with nature, but poverty and the slashing of outdoor education provision as part of austerity, not to mention the camping ban in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, offsets all of this work.   JMT has done fantastic work on raising awareness of the importance of wild land, but this hasn’t prevented the Scottish Government giving the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach windfarm in a Wild Land Area in Sutherland.

 

And parkswatch is no different.  Certain changes in our National Parks over the last 18 months – from alterations to camping permit areas to restoration of hill tracks –  may be partially attributed to critical coverage on the blog.  But on the really big issues, such as land-use, whether intensive grouse moor or forest management, or major developments, such as An Camus Mor, Flamingo Land or the Cononish goldmine expansion, there is everything still to go for.

 

It would be great if next year there was a standout campaign which had achieved fundamental change, whether in Scotland or anywhere else in the British Isles.  For any such change to happen however will require change at the political level and in Scotland at present there is very little sign of this happening.

 

There is a significant contrast between the radicalism of the early days of the Scottish Parliament (the first Land Reform Act, the creation of National Parks, the Nature Conservation Act) and how it and the Scottish Government now operate (with some significant exceptions of course).  Resources that might have assisted the  implementation of that early legislation and promoted progressive change in the countryside – whether access officers, countryside rangers or staff monitoring biodiversity – have been slashed. There is very little challenge to the way the Scottish Government is micro-managing and centralising public authorities with organisations such as our National Parks and SNH  told what they can and cannot do by civil servants – with loss of even more funding the consequence of non-co-operation.   Even the simplest of decisions, such as the re-introduction of beavers, can only be taken after years of bureaucratic obfuscation.  The Scottish Government’s response to public pressure to change – such as over raptor persecution – is yet more bureaucracy, with handpicked working groups which deliberate for years and achieve nothing.  That it has taken over six months for the Scottish Government to announce the membership of the grouse moor review group tells you everything about the current failures of government.

 

I am optimistic though that this can change.  The ideological consensus behind how Scotland and the countryside, including our National Parks, should be managed is breaking down and that provides a great opportunity.    To exploit that opportunity campaigners will need to work together and see everything is connected.  So, on grouse moors for example, the way they are being managed affects not just wildlife but the landscape.  Behind this its the power of landowners which is the fundamental determinant of how land is used, whether for pylons, windfarms or intensive rearing of grouse and its only when campaigns get together and start to address these fundamental issues that we will get real change.

 

Within this context our National Parks should be demonstration sites for how things could be done differently and a measure of success for parkswatch will be when they start fulfilling that role.

October 9, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Digger 6th October 2017 just southwest of col between Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich, West Drumochter Hills. Note the hillwalkers in the foreground.  GR 592766 approx.  The track curls round into Fraoch Choire north east of Beinn Udlamain.

If you see a digger in the hills……………report it!

On Friday, I went for a run up Geal Charn and went just beyond the summit because the views then open up down Loch Ericht.  There was a digger a little way to the south on what used to be a stalkers path into the Fraoch Choire.  Over the last ten years or so new bulldozed tracks have proliferated on both sides of the Drumochter pass and had a massive impact on the scenery.

Track behind north Drumochter Lodge
Tracks leading into west Drumochter hills from Balsporran cottages. The track on the left, up the Allt Choire Fhar leads onto the col in the top photo with the digger.
Screenshot from the very helpful Cairngorms National Park estate boundaries map

Most of land on the north side of the Drumochter pass is part of the North Drumochter or Ralia Estate as it is sometimes known.   As far as I can see from the National Park and Highland Council planning portals only two of the North Drumochter tracks has had planning permission, a  short section south of the telephone mast in the Glen back in 2012 and a section of the Beauly Denny construction track running north from Drumochter Lodge.  The tracks on the open hillside appear not to have been subject to planning at all.

 

The problem has been that under the old planning rules agricultural and forestry tracks did not need planning permission except in National Scenic Areas.  Estates used the presence of a few sheep, as in the first photo above, to claim these were agricultural tracks when they have been primarily used for grouse moor management.       However, after coming under considerable pressure from environmental and recreational NGOs, in December 2014 the Scottish Government introduced the Prior Notification system where landowners are supposed to notify planning authorities of the creation of any new track and any works to existing tracks which effectively extend them (e.g broadening the width of the track).

 

Many estates, however, are not observing the new rules and its a considerable challenge for Planning Authorities to monitor what is going on on the ground.  (Its not possible for planning authorities to take enforcement action against works that are more than three years old).   The LINK hilltrack campaign has had considerable success encouraging hillwalkers to report new tracks but one of the challenges for both LINK and planning authorities is to determine when the track work was done .   The presence of diggers however provide evidence that work is being done.

 

What struck me on Geal Charn, a popular Munro, is just how many hillwalkers must pass track construction works on the hill  and assume that all is legitimate.    If you care about the landscape, report it!.  A good place to start is the Link Hill tracks group (see here).

 

Has the work on this track been granted planning permission or been properly notified?

You can also report direct to the Planning Authority.   Several planning authorities, including the Cairngorms National Park, are now placing all Prior Notifications on their planning portals and its quite easy to check if work has had planning permission if you know the council or National Park boundary.  In this case I went to Cairngorms National Park Authority planning applications and did a map search:

The OS Map is out of date and does not show recent tracks but the track in the top photo follows the line of an old stalkers path into the Fraoch Choire.

When you zoom in one level more than this you get to maps which depict all planning applications in red.   The situation in this case is a bit complicated since the yellow marks line marks the Cairngorms National Park boundary and the digger in the photo may have just been outwith the CNPA boundary (although of course it could have done works on either side of the boundary).  I therefore also checked the HIghland Council planning portal but as far as I can see no full planning application or Prior Notification has been submitted to either Planning Authority:

HIghland Council planning portal snapshot showing line of old footpath into Fraoch Choire. If the track had planning permission or been notified to the Planning Portal there should have been a red line by the line of the footpath.

Now of course its possible that North Drumochter Estate has notified Highland Council of the work and it has not appeared on the their planning portal or that works are of a very minor nature (routine maintenance of existing tracks) and therefore don’t need to be notified.   However, what the planning portals shows is that there is NO obvious explanation for the presence of the digger or that works have been agreed here.   I believe therefore there is every reason to report it.  So, I will!

 

If you find it difficult to access or the Planning Authorities on-line portals don’t let that put you off.  (The IDOX planning portal still does not allow you to see planning applications on maps if you use firefox as your web browser although I reported this glitch to the Scottish Government early this year)    You can email photos to the planning authority and ask if they know about this work (CNPA planning 01479 873535or planning@cairngorms.co.uk) and the LINK Hill tracks campaign (see here again) will always welcome information.

 

Hill tracks and protected areas

Where it can be hard for the planning authority to take enforcement action under planning law is if works are of a minor nature.   This however contributes to a new problem, track creep.   Tracks are gradually widened or extended or ATV tracks receive some maintenance work which over time then add up to a new track.    The photos I have – and unfortunately I did not have time to take a close look which would have been better – suggest this may be happening in this case.

 

There are other mechanisms however by which we could prevent this happening.   In protected nature sites many operations require consent from SNH and much of our National Parks are supposed to be protected in this way.  SNH has a very useful website, called sitelink which enables you to do map based searches of whether a site is protected (and it works with firefox!):

The big hatched block shows the boundary of the Drumochter Hills SSSI, Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area (birds).

It appear that the digger, while it might have been just outwith the CNPA boundary was within the Drumochter Hills SSSI, SAC and SPA boundary.   Within that SSSI all work on vegetation, ditches, tracks and off road use of vehicles requires permission from SNH.   So, I will report the digger to  SNH too, although in an ideal world one would hope that our National Parks at least would automatically pass on this type of information to SNH!  Indeed, I believe one of the primary ways that the CNPA could prevent the further extension of hills tracks – a policy commitment set out in its new National Park Parternship Plan – would be to encourage and work with SNH to make the system of Operations Requiring Consent far more robust than it is at present.

What needs to be done

Besides using its planning powers and working more closely with SNH, it seems to me its time the CNPA (and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority) considered using the other powers it has to bring hill tracks and hill track work under control and protect the landscape.  I have previously advocated use of byelaws, which the National Park can create in order to protected nature conservation interests, to control grouse moor management.  Part of that should include extension of tracks and use of diggers on the hill.

 

It will help build the case for that if people out on the hill report what they see and, ideally, complain.

September 29, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Looking south along the first part of the unrestored Beauly Denny access track.  Its 4-5 metres wide, twice as wide as necessary even if it could be justified.  The Beauly Denny was bad enough but why this too?

At the end of August, after a stravaig over the east Drumochter hills, I looped back to Dalwhinnie through the Drumochter pass, the idea being to combine enjoyment with a look at the effectiveness of the restoration of the land along the Beauly Denny.   Just beyond Dalnaspidal and hidden behind the A9 shelterbelt,  I came across what can only be described as a track motorway on the Dalnacardoch Estate, an unrestored section of the  Beauly Denny construction track which appears to have been retained to facilitate intensive grouse moor management.

The track starts by the second pylon in the photo and is more or less hidden to people walking up A Bhuidheanach Bheag from opposite Dalnaspidal, although linked to the A9 there by an older and much narrower landrover track.  It extends about 3km north past the Sow of Atholl (left of A9) to the summit of the pass and boundary of the Dalnacardoch and North Drumochter Estates.

The start of the unrestored section of Beauly Denny access track heading north.  The first pylon is photo in numbered GMI 157.

Originally, the intention was almost all the Beauly Denny construction tracks were to be removed entirely once the power line had been erected and the land restored to its original condition.  The Scottish Government than agreed for several sections of track to remain permanently.

The pylons are numbered north to south

From the pylon numbers,  it appears that the section of track is 26b. If so, according to the “Monitoring Report for 2016” supplied to me by the Cairngorms National Park Authority under Freedom of Information, this is NOT one of the “temporary tracks to be retained”.

Moreover, unlike the tracks on the North Drumochter estate (see here), no application has been made to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to retain the track and they have confirmed they never approved it.     The first question that needs to be answered is whether the Scottish Government has approved the track  in secret and contrary to the policy position of the Cairngorms National Park Authority which has made its position very clear:

 

“I think we should make it very clear that the retention of sections of track associated with Beauly-Denny line will only happen in exceptional circumstances.”  (Eleanor Mackintosh, CNPA Convenor of Planning, statement to press after approval of retention of short section of construction track in forest at Kinlochlaggan).

 

If the Scottish Government has not approved it, the question is why have Scottish and Southern Energy failed to fully restore the land?

 

The failure of the track to meet approved standards

If the track has been approved, there are further questions as to whether the Scottish Government agreed to the retention of a motorway – a track which is twice as wide as necessary and which fails to meet other basic standards for good track construction as these photos illustrate.

Former laydown areas at the side of the track have not been restored
Track spoil dumped on moorland
Unused construction materials have been left on moorland – the moorland here is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest
The temporary construction bridge illustrates there has been no attempt to narrow the track on either side
There are relatively few protruding culverts but more would appear if the track had been narrowed
The unrestored ground here is  over 10m wide

For a track like this to be approved in a National Park would be a national disgrace but if not, the question is how and why is it being allowed to slip through the net?

 

The purpose of the track

It was quite obvious, jogging along the track, why the estate wished to retain it – and, at the very least they must requested SSE not to restore it.

Crow trap

 

Upturned peat turves serving as dispensers for medicated grit could be seen on both sides of the track
Similarly stoat traps
Two more traps

Unfortunately my camera battery packed up just before the end of the track but this was marked by a line of grouse butts up the hillside.

 

Intensive grouse moor management is now under scrutiny as never before.   How has this track, which impacts both on the landscape (while hidden from the A9 it would be clearly visible from the west Drumochter Hills) and on wildlife been allowed to remain in the National Park?

June 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This entry on the Risk Register made me smile, because its an acknowledgement that CNPA is taking social media like Parkswatch into account, but illustrates concern about the wrong thing. The risk should be whether the CNPA is delivering the objectives for which it was set up. If it delivers these, it will earn a good reputation.

The agenda for the Cairngorms National Park Authority meeting last Friday (see here) was brief: Chief Exec’s Report, Corporate Performance, Risk and Mountain Hares.   While I was not at the meeting and cannot report what was decided, there were some positive signs in the  papers.

 

Mountain Hares

The paper on Mountain Hares appears to have been in response to to One Kind’s current campaign calling for a ban on hare culls in the National Park- the CNPA has received 450 postcards  –  and coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland, the press and Parkswatch (see here) on hare persecution.  While the paper is brief and mostly factual – the CNPA has no idea of how many hares are slaughtered in the National Park – the final paragraphs at the end signal a welcome step in the right direction:

 

13. The cull of any species should be justified on sound environmental or economic reasons that are in the public interest.   In the case of deer, culls are justified on the grounds that they allow the restoration of depleted habitat and in the longer term lead to a healthier environment and consequently a healthier herd.   Hare culls similarly, may be necessary in some locations e.g. to allow woodland regeneration or  to prevent damage to planted trees.  The CNPA have concerns about the public interest justification and scale of culling for the primary purpose of tick control.
The clear message is CNPA staff do not think culls for tick control – hares are alleged to pass on ticks which carry the louping ill virus to grouse – are justified.    The paper contains no proposals to address this although the National Park could, if they wanted to, stop culls through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes.  I hope they will propose they could pilot this as part of the Scottish Government’s Review of Grouse Moor management.
 
14. CNPA accept that culling of hares may be justified and necessary in some circumstances but we do not advocate large-scale culls unless there is clear evidence to demonstrate  extremely high densities which are causing significant problems.
Unfortunately there is no reference to why hare numbers may sometimes reach such high numbers – the answer is in good part because of an absence of predators, particularly golden eagles, in the National Park.
15. The CNPA want to see greater transparency on what level of culling is taking place in
the Cairngorms and the reasons for culling. Mountain hares are an important species
in the Cairngorms and we want to ensure healthy populations across their natural
range.

 

While no actions are proposed in the paper,  the logic in the report suggests that the CNPA will have to take action in the near future, not just on hares but to protect other species.  If the cull of any species needs to be justified on environmental or economic grounds – and remember the Sandford Principle means conservation comes before the CNPA’s other statutory objectives, including sustainable economic development –  then besides hare, the CNPA needs to look at all the other species that are killed in the National Park including corvids, raptors and mustelids.    Moreover, if there needs to be transparency on the number of hares being killed, but if hares, as the CNPA acknowledges, then why not other creatures?     The CNPA could deal with both of these issues by creating byelaws to replace the general license (which allows certain animals to be killed without permission) with specific licenses where culls could be justified on environmental grounds and required landowners to report on species populations as part of this..

 

Raptor tagging

 

Under the Chief Executive’s report there is a very brief paragraph which was given coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland yesterday (see here):

 

Civtech – The CNPA & SNH have launched a Civtech challenge on raptor persecution. Details at   http://ow.ly/BR1V30c4bo5
The idea is is try and find a solution to the problem of satellite tags being destroyed when raptors have been unlawfully killed and data about their final whereabouts therefore being lost.  This initiative was not included in the Government’s recent announcement of a package of measures to address Raptor Persecution and I assume therefore its come from SNH and the CNPA.  If so, that is again welcome.  Our public authorities should be able to act independently of the Scottish Government.
Like Raptor Persecution Scotland I think the initiative is well-intentioned but I don’t think it will cause too much concern to the people who are unlawfully killing raptors.  Even if you could establish the exact position of a raptor before it died, and therefore the landowner who was likely responsible, it would not prove who did it.  To convict someone of a criminal offence, the evidence needs to be beyond reasonable doubt.  An estate has two gamekeepers, how do you prove which one did it?  Its because of this that I think the Scottish Government’s attempt to improve enforcement of the criminal law won’t make much difference.
While its worth trying to improve information about where and when raptors disappear, where new thinking is really required is on what other measures, apart from the criminal law, would deter raptor persecution.    I would suggest that the removal of the right to hunt, which could be done on the balance of probabilities (rather than requiring evidence to be beyond reasonable doubt as in the criminal law) would hit the people who allow this persecution to continue where it hurts.  It would remove both the enjoyment they get from hunting and the income this brings in.  Its likely to be a far more effective deterrent than the criminal law.     Unfortunately, I think it will take a lot more public pressure before that happens.

Resources

One of a number of risks in the CNPA risk register which relate to limited resources

It was good to see the Board Papers highlighting that limited resources, which result from the imposition of austerity,  pose serious constraints on the CNPA’s ability to deliver on their plan let alone undertake new initiatives.  Instead of our National Parks pretending like other public authorities they can make austerity work, we need organisations which are open about the impact of cuts and can articulate what they could do – and what differences this would make to visitors, residents and wildlife – if they had the money.    The CNPA appears to be more open about this than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which continues to present itself as perfect in every respect (but then maybe that’s because it has too much money, as demonstrated by the large resources wasted on trying to implement the camping byelaws).

 

Nature conservation targets

What the figures from the Corporate Performance report tell us is that the CNPA is failing in its nature conservation objectives.  The percentage of designated features has gone up from 79% to 81% but is way below the 90% target for next year.   If this had been due to dates of monitoring visits, I would have expected the report to clearly stated this.  Instead, the accompanying report says that this reflects “the national position”.  How shocking is that?    What it tells you is our National Parks appear to have been making no real difference to nature conservation.
That’s not entirely true of course, there is plenty of evidence to show from raptor persecution, that a significant number of landowners in the Cairngorms won’t co-operate with Nature Conservation so, while CNPA staff may have been trying very very hard, its made relatively little difference.   This is an argument for a different approach, which puts land reform at the heart of the vision for our National Parks and how they should operate.

An insight into the political challenge

 

“An MSP survey carried out in December shows 100% have heard of the Cairngorms National Park and a third say they know a fair amount or know it well. A little under half (43%) are favourable towards the Cairngorms National Park with 51% claiming to be neutral. Both national parks are held in strong regard at the Parliament, stronger than may be expected given the level of awareness compared to other organisations.”
I found this extract from the corporate performance report pretty shocking: only 43% of MSPs are favourable to the Cairngorms National Park (the target was 50%).    Since we know that the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens are in favour of more National Parks, its hard to avoid the conclusion that the majority of SNP MSPs (who avoided the debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks (see here) don’t like the existing ones either.   If that is so, it goes a long way to explaining the lack of resources.
Our MSPs really do need to start seeing our National Parks as a means of doing things differently, particularly the way we manage the land.
June 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Its positive that the Scottish Government response to golden eagle persecution involves consideration of mountain hares – which as my post on Saturday showed are not just killed on grouse moors

Last week the Scottish Government, in response to SNH’s research into the disappearance of satellite tagged eagles (see here) which showed almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, announced some new measures to protect Scotland’s birds of prey (see here).   Many of the eagles which disappeared did so in or around the Cairngorms National Park (with one in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park)  – (see here for excellent map from Raptor Persecution Scotland)  –  and one of the measures announced is specific to the Cairngorms.   While I can understand why RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution Scotland welcomed the measures – after the recent abandonment of a number of prosecutions any action from the Scottish Government is a relief – I think people should be sceptical about the proposals.

 

On the plus side:

 

  • The Scottish Government has pledged to “Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern”.   Since one of the main geographical areas of concern is the Cairngorms National Park,  this review should  include all the measures that could be adopted by National Parks under their existing powers (see here).   This should include a permit system for hunting, use of the planning system (e.g to stop the creation of yet more “persecution tracks” on grouse moors) and cross compliance (so estates where raptors disappear should cease to receive any public subsidies or financial assistance from our National Parks.
  • Also positive was the announcement that the “expert group” that will be set up will not just look at eagle persecution but “managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law” and this will include “the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls”.    The expert group should also be tasked explicitly with looking at the impact of hill tracks and control of other predators, such as crow and stoat.

On the negative side:

 

  • The Scottish Government ruled out “giving the Scottish SPCA more investigative powers, in light of legal advice”.  Its in the public interest this legal advice should be made public.
  • But then, strangely, it has decided to pilot special constables in the Cairngorms National Park in order to “Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime”.  This was not a new announcement, it has previously been included in the Cairngorms National Park Plan which explains why it was warmly welcomed by Grant Moir in his response to the Government (though to be fair to him he did condemn raptor persecution absolutely (see here)). It appears unlikely to achieve anything.  If the SSPCA, which has professional staff, cannot be given powers equivalent to the police, what will volunteers achieve?   What’s  the CNPA going to do when when the lairds ask all their tenants to enrol as special constables – another case of self-policing? And will the CNPA allow Raptor Monitoring Workers and members of RSPB staff enrol as special constables?    Its hard to see how this can work. In any case the proposal misses the point:  the idea that special constables will be able to patrol miles of grouse moor is farcical and  the employment of even 100 special constables is unlikely to lead to the recovery of any “disappeared” satellite tagged golden eagle and even if they do detect more crime, what we know from what’s happened over the last few months is that the landowners aren’t prosecuted anyway (see here).     It would be far more effective for the CNPA to stop funding landowners to employ Rangers, employ Rangers directly and use them to enforce hunting byelaws.
  • The proposal to “Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland” is a farcical.   The Scottish Government might as well have announced how can we continue to exterminate wildlife in Scotland, because that is what Gamekeepers are employed to do.  Now I am not against Gamekeepers as people, they usually work in very difficult circumstances, in precarious employment which depends on their success at increasing grouse numbers.  What we need though is to look at how we create new and different types of job in the countryside which Gamekeepers could move into:  the National Park, which is tasked with promoting sustainable economic development, should be a the forefront of this.

In the category, too early to tell:

  • Whether the expert group is any more than yet another talking shop (the Moorland Forum existed for years) will depend on whether Roseanna Cunningham tasks it with achieving real change.  There is a precedent for her to follow, the National Access Forum, (on which I sat) and which was a talking shop until Lord Sewell tasked us with developing proposals within six months which would result in better access rights and told the landowners if they didn’t agree, the Labour Government would legislate anyway.   Unfortunately, the Scottish Government at present appears to have ruled out primary legislation when I believe the threat of national hunting legislation would concentrate minds as it did with access.
  • “Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity.”  There is already a large amount of research into grouse moors and its unclear what more research the Government believes is needed.  In my view there is a gap and that is looking at the alternatives, in other words the cost of grouse moors, both economically and ecologically, compared to other ways the land could be used.

 

Wildlife persecution and our National Parks

Muirburn on Ardvorlich Estate, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

While wildlife persecution is a far more obviously a problem in the Cairngorms than in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, it goes on in both National Parks.   I have commented on Parkswatch before that its much easier to see a fox in urban Glasgow than it is in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

 

In considering wildlife persecution – and that includes the actions announced by the Scottish Government last week – whatever standards and rules are adopted, they should be higher and better enforced in our National Parks than the rest of Scotland.  What this should mean is that animals that may be lawfully culled elsewhere – such as crows and stoats – should be protected in our National Parks and cease to be treated as vermin.   Protecting wildlife, so all can experience it, should be a fundamental part of what our National Parks are about.  Our National Parks are a long long way from that.

 

It appears that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority don’t even recognise there could be a problem.  In its draft National Park Partnership Plan out for consultation (see here) there are references to “rich”, “varied” and “iconic” wildlife, with scarcely a mention of what this wildlife is and no mention of what is missing due to habitat degradation  (conifer plantations and overgrazed hills) or wildlife persecution.   There is no reference to the fact many upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the National Park are in unfavourable condition and what could be done about it.   There is one reference to  “important populations” of species such as golden eagles and Atlantic Salmon and that is it:   there is no explanation about whether the number of breeding eagles in the National Park are what one would expect and not a single reference to raptor or wildlife persecution.    The conservation purpose of the LLTNPA appears to be limited to keeping campers away from loch shores (which were once far more intensively used) and tackling a few invasive species rather than doing anything positive for wildlife or habitats.

 

While I have been critical of the CNPA, it is miles ahead of the LLTNPA in the priority it gives to conservation in general and wildlife persecution in particular.   The most important thing is it recognises there is a problem “The satellite tagging reviews findings are deeply worrying” and also that it has pledged in its National Park Plan (see here) “to eliminate raptor persecution”.   In the original draft plan the commitment was to improve raptor populations, which was hopelessly vague, and in my view the revised plan is significantly stronger.  The problem is the means that the CNPA is proposing to address raptor persecution – such as special constables and working with landowners in the east of the Park – are not strong enough to work.    It now though has an opportunity:   the Scottish Government announcement in effect gives permission to the CNPA to launch a public consultation on all the legal measures it could adopt to eliminate raptor persecution including byelaws, use of the planning system and cross-compliance.   The CNPA should take the opportunity and get on and do this (while the LLTNPA would be well advised to follow in their footsteps).

January 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The summary report to the CNPA Partnership Plan provides a breakdown of how many responses there were to each question. It does not however show how the various interests responded to each question, where these were yes/no, or the issues raised – in this case grouse moor management (see below)

I was too caught in commenting in the Loch Lomond National Park Authority Board Meeting in December (see here) to attend on the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place the Friday before.   Unfortunately, the way our National Parks operate – which is in the last century – its impossible to find out what happens at Board meetings, often until months later, unless you were there.  While the CNPA is more open than the LLTNPA there is still a serious democratic deficit.

 

The most important item on the agenda was a report on the Big 9 consultation, the major issues the CNPA had identified for consultation on the new Park Partnership Plan  (see here).   This is supposed to guide the work of all the public authorities and agencies that operate in the Cairngorms National Park for 2017-22.   Neither the summary of the responses  (see here)  or the Report  to Board Members (see here) made any recommendations about how the responses should inform the final plan but instead under “next steps” said that between December and February there would be “Discussions with partners and board on key issues/topics”.   I found this strange, that Park staff did not offer a single recommendation to Board Members on how they should respond to the representations made in the consultation.  Perhaps staff were waiting for a steer from the Board, and perhaps Board Members did this at the meeting?   But, if so, the vast majority of respondents to the consultation simply won’t know what that steer is until a minute appears.   This is because most respondents are not directly involved in the delivery of the Plan and therefore are not classed as partners.

 

Even of those who might be classed as partners, its not clear who will be consulted and who not.   Basically what is going to happen is that those with power in the National Park – who are not the same as those with an interest in the National Park whether visitors or residents – will be deciding behind closed doors how our National Park should be managed in the next five years.

 

How should the responses to the consultation be evaluated and weighed?

 

The consultation summary is 128 pages long and contains much interesting information, including many good ideas of what the CNPA could and should be doing.  I even recognised a couple of my own!   So, I am not doubting that the staff concerned have extracted and listed suggestions from the consultation – that they took the first steps in undertaking a professional job.   The problem I believe is the summary report is a compilation, without any proper  analysis which should inform how those responses might be treated.

 

While the responses to the consultation have been classified – the organisations who responded are listed at the end and I found that worth reading just to appreciate how many NGOs there are now representing hunting interests (over eight) – there is no commentary about what interests responded to which questions or how representative the people and organisations who responded might be.    It appears from reading the response summary, for example, that a large number of responses from individuals were about raptor persecution but there is no way of telling whether those people simply responded to the conservation questions and the extent to which this interest accounts for the lower level response rate to other questions.   An overall analysis of who responded to what questions would have helped show how many respondents were concerned with specific issues and how many with the Park as a whole.

 

As significant an issue is how responses should be weighted, the need for which is shown by how the report treats conflicting views such as over grouse moor management:

The above, from the covering Report to the Board could suggest there is a balance between these competing views and imply that the Park Board’s role is to find a way between the two.   The Summary Report, if you you analyse it, shows something rather different:

 

So,what was the number of people who did suggest changes to grouse moor management, both individuals and those represented by organisations and how does this compare to the numbers who thought current grouse moor management did meet conservation objectives?   The second paragraph says the majority of landowners/managers and “representatives from a range of other stakeholder groups” thought current grouse management basically meets conservation objectives.  You will see from the diagram at the top of this post that 11 (out of 14) landowners responded to the grouse moor management question.  So that’s maybe 7 or 8 landowners being weighed against how many members of the conservation organisations?   Ten of thousands at a rough guess.   Who were the representatives from other stakeholder groups who supported the landowner position and how many of them were organisations set up to represent landowner interests such as Scottish Land and Estates, which is classified under business interests, or the Scottish Countryside Alliance and Scottish Gamekeepers Association which are both listed under NGOs?     The failure of the CNPA to be more open about this suggests something else is going on and this is not an even playing field.

 

The CNPA needs to get off the fence

 

Deciding how to weight responses to consultations, let alone deciding how to respond to them, is a complex question but consultations are reduced to paper exercises if they become, as in this case, just a list of points made.     The CNPA needs to decide what weight its going to give to the thousands of people represented by conservation and recreational organisations compared to the landowner with the £ in their pocket and, just as fundamentally, find ways to include these interests as partners.

 

What the report also fails to do is relate responses to the Park’s statutory objectives – so does the CNPA agree with those landowners who claim current grouse moor management  is in accord with its conservation objectives or with those who are saying its not and why?    CNPA staff should have been presenting the evidence for this to allow the Board to take a view but instead says “further detailed consideration will be required”.  In other words this is going to take place behind closed doors and a final plan will appear at the Board Meeting in April just before it goes to the Minister.  The danger is the current approach of the CNPA, which is marked by a reluctance to do anything which might disturb the status quo in terms of landowning interests, will continue.

 

The CNPA also needs to be brave.   What was most interesting to me about the report – and it was one thing highlighted by the report to the Board – that transport connections to the National Park, and more particularly, public transport impact on many of the objectives in the Plan.  The inference is that there needs to be a radical new transport plan which would enable people without cars or who would prefer not to use them to get to the National Park.  This would mean significant public investment, in fact just the sort of investment that would create for a time better paid jobs in the Park.  Proposing this would also however be a challenge to the Government, which for example has plans to upgrade the A9 but not the train line from Perth or Inverness.    I suspect all we will see in the new plan is some minor proposals.

 

I believe that money, or rather lack of it, will account for much of the shortfall between aspiration for the National Park, which may be shared by some Board Members, and what appears in the plan in April.  The consultation paper gave no indication of what resources the CNPA or its partners would commit to delivering the plan and there was still no indication of this in December.   This is entirely the fault of public authorities because under neoliberalism they simply don’t know what their budget will be from one year to the next.   It makes five year plans almost pointless.    So, I would like to suggest a new type of Partnership Plan, one that sets what the Park would ideally like to achieve over 5 years and and resources that it and its partners needed.   This and the Park’s performance targets would then be adjusted each year to reflect what resources were actually available.

January 6, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Insh Marshes absorbs huge volumes of flood water but what does the new Speyside River Catchment Plan propose to do to contain predicted increases in rainfall due to global warming?

The new River Spey catchment management plan was published in  November (see here)  and announced by the Cairngorms National Park Authority in December.  The first plan was in 2003 (see here), the year the CNPA was created, and a review of progress conducted in 2015 was published earlier in 2016 (see here).  Its yet another plan which should affect what happens in our National Park (half the Spey catchment is within the CNPA boundary), but does it?  Conversely, has the National Park made a difference to what’s in the plan?

 

While the introduction to the new Plan claims that “that considerable progress has been made in many areas” since 2003, the Review report indicates otherwise: 

 

The Review Report, besides indicating that progress over the last 12 years has been slow, shows a striking division between where progress has been good and where it has been more limited.  The Review reports significant progress on preventing pollution of the Spey and its tributaries (eg discharges from distilleries, run off of agricultural chemicals) and flood warning systems, both of which are the responsibility of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.  By contrast it shows relatively little progress on issues of sustainable land management and conservation of species associated with river habitats (where the CNPA arguably has lead responsibility).   Indeed,  the conservation related actions where best  progress appears to have been made relate to species protected under European legislation (e.g lamprey), where SNH has been targetting its efforts, rather than landscape scale conservation (which is what the CNPA has identified as one of the 9 Big Issues facing the National Park).

 

While it would be easy to read too much into indicators of progress, which can contain many subjective judgements, there is nothing in the Review Report that indicates the National Park has made much of a difference so far.   It would need further research comparing progress on the Spey with rivers outwith National Park boundaries to establish this more objectively but I think this should be of concern to both the CNPA and the public.

 

Unfortunately, I am not sure the new plan will make any difference.  This is partly because of it has no teeth. The introduction states this clearly:  the plan, which “has been developed by the Spey Catchment Initiative Steering Group (SCISG) in no way overrides, takes precedence over, or prioritises any organisation’s or individual’s remit.”   In other words it does not bind any of the partners to do anything.  Its also due to the belief (contained in the quote from the Review above), that everything can be achieved by “co-operation, collaboration and partnership working”.  Unfortunately, what this has led to is a lowest common denominator approach where the plan only contains objectives that the various partners can agree on, rather than what should happen in a National Park.   There are several good illustrations of this.

 

Moorland and river catchment planning

 

The first is that there are just two mentions of moorland in the entire Plan  despite moorland covering half the  catchment area.  The Plan contains quite a bit on the impact of farming,  both on water quality (agricultural pollution) and flooding (flood plains provide most of best agricultural land) but nothing on moorland.   This contrasts with the original 2003 Plan which at least contained a section on moorland which explains (part of) its importance to river catchment planning:

 

7.5 Moorland Management
The uplands are of crucial importance, forming the headwaters of tributary burns in large parts of the catchment. The uplands therefore require careful management to ensure that the implications for water quality from land-use activities, and any changes in land management, are fully addressed. Grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and deer play an important part in the rural economy of the catchment. Grazing animals also help to shape the landscape and contribute to biological diversity. However, over-grazing and trampling, especially in the more fragile upland areas, is known to exacerbate the problems of erosion, with resultant impact on habitat quality of watercourses. Other moorland management activities, such as muirburn, can also exacerbate the problems of erosion if not carried out properly. The effects of past moorland drainage schemes (moor gripping) can lead to more rapid run-off with resultant increased sediment load in some tributaries. This may have a consequential adverse impact on some salmon spawning tributaries. It may therefore be beneficial in places to assess the extent of this problem and consider blocking off moorland drains to reduce the level and rate of run-off.

 

So, why does the 2016 Plan say NOTHING explicitly about what needs to done on moorland?   A possible explanation is that estates have refused to co-operate and, since the whole Plan depends on co-operation, moorland has been simply left out.   Meantime the role of moorland in promoting flooding downstream has become much better known and was even referred to in the draft CNPA Partnership Plan, though no concrete actions were proposed there.  Its now well established that both muirburn and bulldozed hill tracks promote water run-off, the opposite of what is required, but in the Plan there is not even a suggestion these issues need to be tackled though there is one vague action point “Manage land, particularly in the uplands, in a way that attenuates rates of runoff (thereby reducing the severity of floods and droughts)”.    This is not just a missed opportunity, its scandalous.  The Plan though does contain a section of community planting of trees to try and reduce the impacts of flooding downstream.  This is misguided effort.  The main focus to reduce the flow of water run-off from the hills needs to be upstream and therefore either involve landowners, or, should they not co-operate, involve compulsory measures that change how the land is managed.

 

The Catchment Plan and the draft CNPA Partnership Plan

 

The second, and related issue, is that the Catchment Plan makes no reference to the draft CNPA Partnership Plan although this was published early summer 2016.  This is strange because one of the Big 9 issues the CNPA identified in that Plan was flood management and one of the proposed actions in that paper to reduce flooding was “Reduced speed of water run-off from uplands” – which would imply changes to moorland management.     Ironically the draft Partnership Plan identifies Catchment Plans – such as the new one for the Spey – as one of the key delivery mechanisms for any actions agreed in the new Partnership Plan actions and claims “Catchment Initiatives have been very successful as a delivery mechanism, engaging with stakeholders and communities.”     So how is the Catchment Plan going to deliver the objectives of the Partnership Plan when there is no join up between the two plans?

 

I am coming to the conclusion that the multiplicity of plans in the National Park has simply become a mechanism to ensure no-one in the National Park actually takes responsibility for what happens.  

 

Beavers

 

The Catchment Plan was finalised about the same time as Roseanna Cunningham announced she had approved the re-introduction of beavers to Scotland, so I was interested to see what it had  to say about beavers:

 

Support and manage beaver reintroduction or colonisation should it occur.
Should beavers be reintroduced to the Spey, monitor numbers and their impacts on farmland and woodland

 

Absolutely nothing about the positive role beavers could play in flood prevention or tourism or the fact the Speyside has previously been identified by research undertaken by the National Park (see here) as one of the places most suitable for their re-introduction.  No vision!   Just sit back and see if the re-introduction of beavers occurs.   Now, I am pretty certain this is not what front-line staff working on nature conservation and flood prevention in the National Park would want, and I think the explanation is that staff have been told “don’t put anything about beavers in the plan” because it could upset the farming lobby.    What does this say about the conservation objectives of the National Park?

 

If this was a proper partnership plan, rather than a lowest common denominator one, it would be proposing dates for beaver re-introduction and ways that farmers could be compensated for any losses.

 

River catchment management and outdoor recreation

 

While the Plan touches on outdoor recreation, there is no explicit reference to the struggle that is going on at present between riparian landowners and outdoor recreation interests, whether this is landowners keeping walkers from the Spey (see here) or blocking off launching points for kayaks  downstream of the National Park.    Reading the plan you would simply not know there were major outdoor recreation issues or about the failures of the current mechanism of the Spey Users Group to resolve conflicts.

 

River catchment and hydro schemes

The Catchment Plan mentions how the older hydro schemes (e.g the Spey dam) have affected water flow and fish movements while also explicitly encouraging community hydro schemes, such as that at Kingussie.  It does this without any discussion about where hydro schemes might be appropriate and where not.   Since small hydro schemes are the developments most likely to have an impact on how water flows through the Spey catchment, this omission is surprising.

 

Its also surprising though because the CNPA has produced guidance on landscape sensitivity and this includes a section on small hydro schemes http://cairngorms.co.uk/park-authority/planning/landscape-sensitivity/?small-hydro.    This is an area where the CNPA is far in advance of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which does not give any geographical indications or where hydro is more likely to be acceptable.  Yet having indicated for the whole of the Spey catchment areas where hydro might be more or less acceptable, there is no mention of this in the Spey Catchment Plan.    Another failure to join up different plans and policies.

 

What needs to happen?

 

The Spey Catchment Plan has too many serious omissions for the CNPA to be able to use it as a delivery mechanism for the new Park Partnership Plan.  Either the Catchment Plan needs to be re-written and quickily, which I cannot see happening, or the CNPA in putting forward its Partnership Plan for Ministers needs to include clear plans and actions for the following, based on what I have outlined above:

  • a clear plan for moorland restoration which will reduce the rate of water run-off from the hills (this could include both peatland restoration and reforestation)
  • a clear statement of the role of hill tracks in promoting water run off and a commitment to remove unlawful tracks and restore the ground
  • a commitment to re-introduce beavers to the Spey catchment within the next two years
  • a clear statement that the interests of riparian owners will no longer be treated as taking precedence over recreational interests and a commitment to resolve conflicts between the two
  • a clear statement of where hydro schemes would not be appropriate, either on grounds of landscape sensitivity or ecology or outdoor recreation

 

 

November 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

 

morven-ssssi
The Morven Site of Special Scientific Interest as shown on SNH sitelink. I walked with my partner Louise from Glen Fenzie, bottom left of map up to Mona Gowan (new track on its south ridge not shown on map) along ridge to Morven and then down to Morven Lodge.

Following my post on “How to protect wildlife in our national parks”  I have been thinking about how the Cairngorms National Park could achieve its stated objected of landscape scale conservation on the Dinnet Estate where I walked in September.   I have since used it to illustrate the connection between grouse moors and rural depopulation (see here) and the persecution of wildlife (see here).

 

I had not checked what areas on Dinnet were protected by nature conservation designations before our walk but there is in fact a connection between what is protected and what you see.  Unlike  many SSSIs in the National Park all the features are currently classified as being in favourable condition, with only one of these – the assemblage of upland birds, surprise surprise – classified as declining (see here). However, and this is a major problem as we will see, the site is not regularly monitored and the last survey of the Alpine Heath was back in 2000.

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On grouse moors there are high culls of red deer, because they are believed to impact on grouse numbers, with the consequence that trees can regenerate as here by the A839 in Glen Fenzie

 

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One of the reasons Morven is designated a SSSI is because of its juniper. The reduced grazing pressure is also helping juniper regenerate outwith the SSSI
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The regeneration however does not last for long because of muirburn, which has here destroyed what was a large patch of juniper (the bare branches across the middle of the photo). Juniper is not fire tolerant unlike heather.

 

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The fence, running to the summit of Mona Gowan, marks the boundary of the SSSI. Within SSSIs landowners have to ask permission from SNH for operations requiring consent and for Morven this includes creation of all hill tracks. The bulldozing of this new track just outside the SSSI boundary is not a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

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The creation of the tracks has not however stopped the estate taking vehicles into the SSSI and damaging the moorland.  “Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest except four-wheel drive or similar agricultural vehicles on existing estate roads and tracks” is one of the Operations Requiring Consent on the Morven SSSI. Its not possible to tell from Sitelink if SNH consented to this or not as the details of the consents are not publicly available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground” is another Operation Requiring Consent. Its not clear if the estate got consent either to dig this hole to create this mound for putting out medicated grit for grouse. While adminstration of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are all ORCs, strangely feeding medicated grit to grouse is not.
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Another earthwork created to feed medicated grit to grouse within the SSSI. Morven beyond.
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As we got further into the SSSI, the evidence of land management operations reduced and the wildlife increased.
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Having not seen any mountain hare on Mona Gowan, on the edge of the SSSI, on Morven there were many. “The killing or removal of any wild mammal or bird, including pest control, except bird species covered by the General Licence (Scottish Government Rural Directorate); other species under a specific licence issued by SGRD.” is listed as an ORC. SSSIs could thus be used to protect mountain hares.
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There was also lots of fantastic heath, another feature for which Morven is designated a SSSI
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The Cairngorms National Park Authority is currently dealing with tracks created without planning permission on the Dinnet Estate. This track and large borrow pit, on Roar Hill, is within the SSSI and both track and pit were Operations Requiring Consent. Its unclear if SNH gave consent to these tracks but its quite clear they have had a large impact on the vegetation and should not be allowed on nature conservation grounds. Note also the muirburn. “Burning (and) changes in the pattern or frequency of burning” are also ORC.
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More damage by all terrain vehicles within the SSSI
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Below that however is the success story, the large expanse of juniper which is now classified as being in favourable condition. Walking through it was a wonderful experience.
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While there was some sheep grazing, except for tussock fields of purple moor grass, I cannot think of a time in Scotland when I have walked through grasses as tall as this. Again, a great experience.
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As soon as you leave the SSSI there are traps everywhere. Even if small mammals like stoats are not persecuted within the SSSI, as soon as they move out they are. The SSSI is too small to support species that require large territories like eagles. Its thus failing to fulfil its potential.
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As soon as you leave the Morven SSSI, you are back into intensively managed grouse moors where muirburn stops all regeneration of the land.

 

Nature protection and landscape scale conservation

I have been thinking about how Alison Johnstone MSP’s suggestion that Nature Conservation Orders could be used to protect the mountain hare in the National Park could be applied to the Dinnet Estate and what other mechanisms are available to protect species and enable habitat restoration.

  • The purpose of Nature Conservation Orders is to protect natural features from damage.   They are stronger than the Operations Requiring Consent because they make certain activities that damage natural features illegal.   They can also be applied to land contiguous with an SSSI or European protected site  or any land which Scottish Ministers believe to be of special interest for its natural features.  They could thus, in theory be used to ban certain activities from the entire National Park.
  • The provisions relating to Operations Requiring Consent should  be sufficient to prevent much of the persecution of wildlife that goes on on grouse moors that are designated as SSSIs as the Morven SSSI shows.   The problem is the lack of monitoring (SNH does not have the resources to monitor sites properly) and the will to use existing powers to take enforcement action.   There are plenty of powers to force landowners to restore damage, the problem is they are not used.     I think a first step to improvement would be if SNH published in full those Operations Requiring Consent it had approved for each SSSI and together with this a mechanism for the public to report land-managers who had breached these conditions.   The public would then be clearer if damage such as that documented above (the earthworks, track creation and damage by ATVs) had been agreed with SNH or not.
  • In the case of species protection outside SSSIs, species like mountain hare are already protected.  The problem is that SNH has consented to culls because of claims that mountain hares carry ticks and damage trees.  Again, this is a matter of the will of our public authorities to take on the landowners.
  • What is lacking at present however is any effective means to extend areas which are doing well in conservation terms.   A basic flaw of our conservation system is it was designed to protect what is already there, than what might be there.  To protect land SNH has to undertake a lengthy and bureaucratic process to show that certain habitats or species are present in a particular area.  If they get lost, that area can lose its protected status.   When I was on the Board of SNH there were proposals from the RSPB to create Special Protected Areas to save hen harrier.  To designate an area SNH had to show sufficient hen harrier were present – all that did was  incentivise the landowners to kill off their hen harrier as quickly as possible to avoid their land being designated.  So, in my view we do need an effective means to enable natural processes and species to be restored to areas which do not meet the criteria for SSSIs or European Protected Areas.
  • National Parks are one way that this could be done as they have the power to create byelaws for nature conservation purposes that cover all land, not just SSSIs.  Hence my proposal that the Cairngorms National Park should regulate hunting through byelaws.  The CNPA however could, if it had the will, introduce byelaws to control/stop damaging activities such as muirburn.
  • Another mechanism however could be Nature Conservation Orders.   Their advantage over byelaws is that they could be applied to particular areas of land.   They are a stick which the Cairngorms National Park Authority, if it worked with SNH and the Scottish Government, could use to encourage landowners to work in partnership.   The CNPA keeps talking about the need to work in partnership but I very much doubt that Dinnet Estate, whose failure to co-operate with the National Park on hill tracks I intend to blog about soon, would agree at present to any reduction in the damaging activities it conducts on its land outwith the SSSI.   If the CNPA however was able to say it had decided that the area of juniper should be expanded beyond the SSSI boundaries to achieve landscape scale conservation, would be happy to agree with the estate where to do this but if they failed to co-operate, would ask SNH to issue a Nature Conservation Order……………….well, I think that might just provide an incentive for partnership to work.

 

 

 

The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including shrub, herb, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus and turf.

In respect of borrow pits within Muir of Dinnet and Morven and Mullachdubh SSSIs whilst the method statement refers to borrow pits there is no information to state whether these are subject of the planning application and therefore to be used. Works to borrow pits within the SSSIs may require consent from SNH.
33. In respect of the Muir of Dinnet SSSI and its geomorphologic interest, SNH note that the original track cuts across a number of sub glacial ridge and channel features, with the recent upgrading of the track causing additional damage which cannot be restored and has increased visual intrusion. The proposed mitigation should benefit the geomorphologic interest by visually reducing the interruption to the landforms

November 11, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

After the dire debate in the UK parliament about the public petition to ban driven grouse shooting which took place on 31 October http://markavery.info/2016/11/02/debate-thoughts/, the debate in the Scottish Parliament on 10th November on the Species Champions initiative (on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) offered some hope for those who are concerned about nature conservation in our national parks.    Under this initiative, from Scottish Environment LINK, MSPs agree to become species champions and speak up for them.   They have made some good choices.

 

Mairi Evans, MSP for Angus North and Mearns, whose constitutency covers the South East corner of the Cairngorms National Park has become champion for the Hen Harrier.   Here at last is an MSP for a rural constituency who does not appear to be under the control of local landowners: the estates along Glen Esk, which is her area, provide the location for a long list of unsolved wildlife crimes.  She was brave enough to say that in the north east of Scotland the numbers of hen harrier have reduced from 28 pairs in 1990 to just one.  Her solution to this though is to advocate the SNP Party Line which is there need to be tough new penalties and more resources devoted to preventing wildlife crime.  I have to say I find it hard to see this happening,  given the poor record of the police in prosecuting wildlife crime added to which are the current cuts in police budgets.  I believe that rather than responding to wildlife crime we need to prevent it, which was of course what the petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the UK parliament is all about.    The important thing though is Mairi Evans is prepared to speak up for Hen Harriers and I hope this will lead her into considering what the Cairngorms National Park could do to prevent raptor and other persecution.

 

Alison Johnstone, list MSP for Lothian, had adopted the brown hare but spent almost as much time talking about the mountain hare.     She explained that estates “cull” mountain hare in a belief, for which there is no evidence, that the ticks they carry affect red grouse numbers and called for an end of “the persecution of one species in favour of another”.    That phrase is spot on.  Our National Parks which have a duty to conserve nature, should be leading on this.     Alison Johnstone went one step further and called on the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to issue a Nature Conservation Order putting a moratorium on hare culling for the next three years.

 

Now I appreciate Alison Johnstone was limited by the terms of the debate and could only speak for one species, but any solution to wildlife persecution in our National Parks has to look  beyond any single species.   This is illustrated by the press release the RSPB issued a day after the debate on their latest eagle survey which had this to say about north east Scotland:

 

Less than one third of the traditional ‘home ranges’ in this area were occupied by a pair of eagles and no eagles were recorded at all in over 30% of them, despite the fact that these should be very productive landscapes for these birds. Many of the vacant territories in this area are on ground managed intensively for driven grouse shooting and in recent years, four eagles fitted with satellite tags have been found illegally killed in the central and eastern Highlands (4).

 

So while I support Alison Johnstone’s intention, and also those of the RSPB who want to license grouse shooting estates, I think they are too narrow.  Our National Park should protect all native species from persecution and I am not sure Nature Conservation Orders can do this.

 

The first problem is that that Nature Conservation Orders are designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest and European protected sites.   They may be used on land adjoining these protected areas or on land which Scottish Ministers think are of special interest because of their natural features.    While Scottish Ministers perhaps should be saying the whole of the Cairngorms National Park is important for its natural features, I suspect the civil servants will advise them this would be frought with difficulty.  Part of the reason for this is the lack of designation areas in the eastern half of the National Park (vertical lines Special Protection Area Birds, red crossed hatching SSSIs).export

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The landowners on the grouse moors have made very sure that their land is not designated or if it is the designated area is as small and limited as possible. In the white area in the map is the Ladder Hills SSSI:   hen harrier were one of the reasons why this site was protected in the first place but have now been removed as “a qualifying interest” because they are no longer found there.  The Management Statement for that SSSI notes “mountain hares are shot for sport”.  Not a word about protecting them.   The only mention of mountain hares in the Morven SSSI management statement is to say that they graze on the protected vegetation (though it does say sheep are the main problem).   The trouble with our system of protected sites is they are all about protecting specific species and habitats which have to meet certain criteria and because of this its likely that any Nature Conservation Order would have to meet those criteria too.  A recipe for long wrangling and legal disputes.

 

Related to this they have usually been used to protect habitats not species.  The only example of a Nature Conservation Order that I can find that protects species is one that was issued to prevent wildfowling at Loch of Strathbeg.  This does not mean they shouldn’t be used to protect species of course but I suspect that unless the species is the primary reason for the protected site, it might legally be hard to justify use of a Nature Conservation Order.

 

While I believe therefore that we should make far more use of Nature Conservation Orders – their numbers have dropped so there are now just a handful in the whole of Scotland – I believe a much simpler solution for our National Parks would be for Scottish Ministers to tell the National Park that they should control hunting through the use of byelaws (see here) and use this to protect all native species in our National Parks.   I hope that Mairi Evans, Alison Johnstone and all the other MSPs who spoke so eloquently for our wildlife will start to ask our National Parks to develop mechanisms that ensure no native species is persecuted in favour of another.

October 14, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments
p1000041-copy
Eroding bulldozed track with burnt heather moorland behind on Dinnet Estate September 2016

 

As readers will know, there are now several organisations trying to get the Cairngorms National Parks Authority to address the problems associated with grouse moors: destruction of habitats, destruction of the landscape, destruction of wildlife and destruction of the rural population.    There have been several signs in the last couple of weeks that landowners are fighting back and putting considerable pressure on the CNPA to make sure the new National Park Partnership Plan contains nothing that will upset their interests.
 
The first was at the last CNPA Board Meeting where Grant Moir, the Chief Executive had this to report on moorland management:
 
“We have just received confirmation that we have been successful in obtaining funding through ECAF (Environmental Co-operation Action Fund) for the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership. This will fund project development work to enhance habitat and species diversity”.
In the draft Partnership Plan the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership was identified as the main mechanism to deliver the Park’s ambitions for grouse moors (nothing was identified for moorland estates in the rest of the National Park)  and now we know why, a funding application had already been submitted.     Now there are some good things about the ECAF (see here)  – Hen Harrier is a priority species on moorland even if nothing is said about eagle or mountain hare  – but there is nothing that I can see in the scheme about cross-compliance.    Despite the recent raptor killings on Speyside, the eastern Cairngorms is where wildlife persecution has historically been most intense.  So the landowners who have done most to persecute and destroy our wildlife and habitats are now being paid to restore a bit of it.    The public should be very sceptical.    I suspect this is an attempt by the Scottish Government to try and kick the issue of wildlife persecution in the National Park into the long grass.  In response to any demand for action, they can now say “we have funded the East Cairngorms Moorlands Partnership to address these issues and need to give this time to see if it works.     I hope that the CNPA will help ensure that there is transparent reporting about the objectives that have been agreed and what progress is being made.  These estates need to be held to account and, as I have suggested before, any further incidences of raptor persecution should result in the removal of ALL rural payments to the estate concerned.
The second sign of the landowners fight back appeared on the  CNPA blog on 7th October:

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) met with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) on the 29 September to discuss the National Park Partnership Plan consultation and specific issues around grouse management. The SGA raised concerns about a recent blog on the CNPA website which they felt did not reflect the work being done on grouse moors.

There was a robust exchange of views with Gamekeepers setting out their views on grouse and moorland management and the CNPA setting out the need to debate future management as part of the consultation. The meeting ended with an agreement to meet more regularly with the SGA and Moorland Groups so that further discussion can take place on these issues.

 

I welcomed (see here) the original blog by Will Boyd Wallis for trying to promote debate on how our grouse moors should be managed but criticised it for not being radical enough.  While we already know that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who act on behalf of their employers, the landowners, object to any debate on moorland management what is interesting is that the CNPA has had to give them time to air their much voiced views.  The danger here is that the CNPA tries to convince itself that there is a middle way, in which the current lack of any real action is continued into the next Partnership Plan, and this is then justified as a need to hold the ring between two opposing interests.

 

The third sign of the pressure the CNPA is under was the open attack by Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, but now Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy in his column in the Strathie last week (see here) .  Fergus Ewing states the CNPA meeting with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association was  “following my intervention, subsequently arranged actually to hear the views of local keepers and others”.  In other words he forced the CNPA to meet the representatives of the people who, on behalf of the landowners, have been responsible for killing so much wildlife in the National Park.   He goes on to say  “But in a letter to me the park refused to accept there was anything wrong, and refused to permit the other side of the case to be published on its website. Given that a formal park consultation is ongoing, that does not seem to be balanced or fair. The second principle of natural law is – Audi Alteram Partem – hear both sides of the case! ”   

 

Fergus Ewing does not appear to realise that while there are two sides to the case on moorland management, the CNPA at present is not on either side.  It has been sitting on a fence somewhere in the middle.   If Fergus Ewing wants SGA’s views promoted on the CNPA website he should also, according to the Latin, be calling for Raptor Persecution Scotland, the LINK hill tracks group etc to be given space on the CNPA blog.

 

What the SGA, the landowners and now apparently Fergus Ewing are worried about is that the CNPA might now at last, in the face of overwhelming evidence, jump off the fence and start to stand up for the conservation purpose of the National Park and develop an altnerative plan for the moorlands in the National Park (some of which might be to allow these areas to go wild).   This would end gamekeeping as we know it but could also create more and better paid jobs.

 

Fergus Ewing does not have Ministerial responsibility for National Parks but I would not underestimate the pressure he will be putting on Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, to ensure the new CNPA partnership plan does nothing to address the destruction going on in the moorlands of our National Park.  Both the CNPA and Roseanna Cunningham should stand up to both Fergus Ewing and the landowning interests which have been working on him behind the scenes.

 

Both should take heart from the annoucement yesterday that there is to be a debate in the UK Parliament about banning driven grouse shooting on 31st October.  Many of the people who signed were from Scotland and this is a clear sign that public opinion is now in favour of changing the ways our moorland is managed.

 

 

September 24, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

raptorsRaptor Persecution Scotland picked up  (see here) on a Cairngorms blog piece and article in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald by Peter Argyle, Convener of the the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

 

I believe Peter’s contribution is very welcome and its very refreshing that as Convener of the National Park he seems prepared to engage in public debate, unlike his counterpart, Linda McKay, at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority where everything is sorted out with preferred partners in secrecy and behind closed doors.

 

I thought it interesting that Peter has not referenced any of the powers the CNPA has to address the widespread raptor persecution that takes place in the National Park.   I have argued how these could be used before (see here) but there is now a very interesting precedent just to the North in Moray where the creation of bye-laws and permits for shooting geese at Findhorn has been supported by none less than the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary who was responsible for National Parks until earlier this year:

 

“Following his meeting with Basc, Mr Lochhead argued it was “absolutely clear” the existing regulations weren’t working properly.

And he has now encouraged councillors to impose a permit system with certain by-laws to satisfy parties on either side of the debate.

Mr Lochhead said: “There’s been a backlash in the local community due to some visitors not respecting the local environment, and it’s absolutely clear the status quo is not an option.

“My meeting with Basc was positive and they made it clear they support a permit system with by-laws.

“We need the council to adopt a can-do attitude and calculate the costs of a permit system to inform the debate.

“The shooting season is under way and I don’t think anyone wants to see another season go by without a solution being put in place.”

Basc Scotland’s Donald Muir added: “We explained that a permit system should be put in place at Findhorn Bay, which should eliminate any bad practice taking place.”

(from Press and Journal ((see here))

 

So why doesn’t the CNPA adopt a similar type of can-do attitude as Richard Lochhead is calling on Moray to adopt?

 

 

I also think Peter and the CNPA have got the economic contribution that moorland management makes to the National Park wrong.   It is now very profitable, in part because the financiers are enamoured with grouse shooting (Fred Goodwin when running the Royal Bank of Scotland as his personal fiefdom loved to put on his plus fours and go shooting as told by Ian Fraser in “Shredded: Inside RBS the bank that broke Britain)  and have both invested in estates and pay large amounts for a day’s shooting (£9,943 per day compared to £729 per day of stag shooting according to the Cairngorms Estates survey in £2014).   This has resulted in a shift from deer management to grouse shooting as shown by Andy Wightman and Ruth Tangay in “Research into the Intensification of Grouse Moor Management”.   Unfortunately the CNPA have completely failed to provide a similar overall analysis for the Partnership Plan and I think if they did, it would show that most of the alleged benefits grouse moor management brings to the National Park are myths.

 

Peter Argyle acknowledges that driven grouse shooting has been banned in much of the rest of Europe but does not say why its a problem.  Driven grouse shooting is just like a glorified clay pigeon shoot the difference being the supply of targets is limited.   This might not matter to most people but grouse shooting is about conspicuous consumption and among the shooters part of the “fun” is downing more grouse than the person next door.  The numbers of grouse are extremely important and this is what has driven the intensification of grouse moor management including raptor persecution.  While the CNPA has been trying to talk to estates, the ground rules have been changing beneath their feet and as a result they are always on the back foot.     If the CNPA introduced a permit system and limited the numbers of grouse that could be shot in a day they could stop this completely and “de-intensify” grouse moor management.

 

Peter seems to fear that if grouse shooting was tackled there would be a loss of jobs.   The evidence suggests that while grouse shooting is now extremely profitable, most of the profit is not invested in the National Park but elsewhere.  There is a complete myth that grouse shooting is essential to maintain jobs in remote areas.  The pay of estate staff, often working in very difficult conditions, is lamentable (Andy Wightman found the average salary was £11401 and this would seem to accord with the CNPA’s own findings that wages in the National Park are 26% lower than elsewhere in Scotland).   The obvious question, which is not being asked by the CNPA, is whether alternative land-uses which depended on the natural rather than the highly managed qualities of the National Park could provide more and better paid jobs which kept money in the local area?     Surely this is the sort of question the CNPA should be considering under its mandate to promote sustainable economic development?

 

The CNPA has produced lots of information on economic development but what is conspicuous by its absence in the Partnership Plan is the absence of any analysis of the role of sporting estates.  Part of the reason for this that while previous economic surveys have identified “game management” as one of the most distinctive economic activities in the National Park, it has not been analysed as such but included partly under the tourism sector and partly under food and drink.  So, the dominant land-uses in the National Park simply disappear from the economic analysis as this graphic from the draft plan and the quote below illustrates:

 

cnp-employment

Land Management related industry is of vital importance to the economy of the Cairngorms
National Park and activities to support this sector are a key priority. Land Management in itself,
however, has not been identified as a Priority Sector. This is because it is such a diverse
industry which cross-cuts wider sectors including tourism, forestry, agriculture, renewables etc.  (Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015)

 

The result is the draft Plan, instead of looking at the economics of sporting estates and how this impacts on it priority issues of landscape scale conservation and deer and moorland management, comes up with this non-plan:

 

Deer and moorland management is a significant aspect of the local economy and culture for many people living in the National Park. The fact that estates invest heavily in deer and moorland management is clearly demonstrated in the landowners’ survey carried out in 2013. This currently supports jobs in sometimes remote locations. Investment in moorland management is a personal choice often driven by a range of external social and economic motivations. Changes to any model of land use carries risks and uncertainties about how alternatives are funded, particularly for individual businesses. Therefore the long term viability and continued employment opportunities must be integral to addressing any changes, to maintain viable land management with investment in public interest outcomes. There is a good opportunity in the National Park to explore new approaches to combining the value of sport with a high quality environment, maintaining employment and investment.

 

I welcome Peter Argyle’s call for a frank dialogue but I think that to take that forward requires a much more rigorous analysis to that presented in the draft Partnership Plan.  Peter says in his blog “There is much good work being done on heather moorlands within the Park, be it on peatland restoration, the spread of upland scrub species and more effective control of deer numbers.”   I would agree there is good work and also that some people are trying very very hard – I don’t want to belittle the efforts of those who are trying – but unfortunately the Park Plan does not explicitly put these efforts in context:

 

  • 350ha of peatland restoration underway in the National Park, with a target of 2,000 ha by 2018.   This is tiny in the context of the National Park and the 2m hectares of peatland in Scotland that is in poor condition.
  • 890 hectares of new woodland is tiny within the context that the National Park covers 4528 km2 or 452800 hectares

 

Is this really good enough for a National Park which should be setting an example to the rest of Scotland?

 

What the Partnership Plan needs is some much more ambitious targets if the CNPA is to deliver its statutory aims.   I hope Peter Argyle will take part in further public dialogue and debate about this.

 

 

 

September 18, 2016 Nick Kempe 6 comments

Balmoral was in the news twice over the last week, first for a grouse shoot and second because Prince Charles collided with a deer when driving on the estate (see Mirror). Raptor Persecution Scotland provided some excellent critical commentary on the use of soldiers as beaters on the grouse moor but most of the media repeated the story of Kate Middleton being driven up above “the imposing Creag Bhiorrach” by Loch Muick by the Queen for a royal picnic and to watch the grouse shooting without any consideration of what this tells us about how the royal family views the land.

 

Leaving aside the intensification of grouse production and all that implies for wildlife, some of the stories referred to Prince William driving towards or over to Glen Clova – its not certain which – up the Capel Mounth road.   This suggests part of the royal view of their land is it is perfectly acceptable for landowners to be able to drive up onto the tops of the hills or indeed over to neighbouring estates.  I have commented before on how being in a big Range Rover must feel when passing walkers on hill tracks – a sense of power and privilege – because of course only certain people are allowed to drive here.   As the technology has improved and its become cheaper,  private landowners have extended tracks all over our hills.   Post-war there were various proposals to create public roads through the core of the Cairngorms including the Lairig Ghru which were rejected but what has happened is that now  in many parts of the Cairngorms we have  private road networks instead.   What happens on Balmoral is important  because it gives this the ultimate social respectability, royal endorsement.

 

It also tells us something about landowners perceptions of our landscapes.  I think most people would say that a key part of what is special about the landscape in the Cairngorms National Park is that it is unspoilt and feels wild – even if they are viewing it from the public roadside.  Hill tracks from this perspective are scars on the landscape, something that detracts from the landscape and National Park.   The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family can’t share that view as they use these same tracks as a matter of course, see it as their prerogative even.    I suspect they, and most other private landowners, have very different ideas of  beauty to the rest of the population.

 

A search of the Cairngorms National Park draft Partnership Plan does not come up with a single mention of the word “beauty”.   Indeed, there is almost no consideration of landscape and wild land   (see here).   A Plan that took these issues seriously would have to take on the Royal Family and other powerful landowners and it appears the CNPA is simply not up for this – so better just to avoid mentioning it.  To me it just reinforces for me that we will only effectively protect our landscapes through securing fundamental reforms in land ownership.

 

The draft Park Plan though does cast some light on the second story, Prince Charles’ collision with a deer.   On page 8 of the Moorland Evidence document 160621deermoorlandmanagementfinal1 there is a “crude” map of aspirations by landowners for deer densities in the National Park.  It shows Balmoral, along with a great swathe of land to the west, as having aspirations for the highest deer densities in the National Park.    The planners then will not have been surprised then that Prince Charles collided with a deer on the Balmoral Estate.     The same report shows much of Balmoral is in a woodland expansion area where grants are available for woodland planting.  The Plan offers no firm proposals for how the differences between these objectives should be reconciled – how to stop deer eating all the trees – but again  that would mean the CNPA taking on the Royal Family among others.    How Balmoral is managed is in a real sense a litmus test for how well the CNPA is doing.

 

 

September 12, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have previously touched on elements of the Cairngorms National Park Authority draft Partnership Plan (e.g see here and here) and wanted to take a look at the Plan as a whole as it is supposed to provide the framework for what the National Park will do over the next five years.  It’s therefore the key document for anyone interested in what the National Park intends to do in future (which is not to claim documents are everything).

 

The CNPA consultation, which closes 30th September) focuses on what they have identified as major issues, or the Big 9 as they have branded it.  Before reading the Plan, or the nine evidence reports that accompany it, I would suggest you jot down your own list of issues and compare these to the those the Park has identified.     What doing this highlighted for me was there are major omissions from the draft Park Plan.

 

My Big 9 The CNPA Big 9
The landscape of the Cairngorms Landscape scale conservation
Wild land and natural processes Deer and moorland management
Land ownership and use Flood management
Recreational infrastructure Visitor Infrastructure
Resources to make things happen Active Cairngorms
The CNPA’s powers and use of them Learning and inclusion
Better paid jobs and sustainable land-use

 

Housing
Accessibility of the National Park Community Capacity and empowerment
What improvements the CNPA will deliver in the next 5 years Economic Development

 

Landscape

 

While the Plan makes a reference to the special landscape qualities of the National Park, this paragraph is about the sum total it has to say about landscape:

plan-landscape-quote

Don’t be fooled by the heading in the Park’s Big 9 “landscape scale conservation” as this is about conservation, not landscape.   There is nothing in the Plan about landscape threats to the Park or what the CNPA has been doing about this, except a brief mention that it will maintain its opposition to all wind-farms in the National Park.   Welcome, but is that it?   Its almost as though, having taken a stand against wind-farms, the CNPA feels its stuck its neck out far enough.  There is no reference to the extent of the new hill tracks that scar many of the hills in the National Park, no mention of the impact of the Beauly/Denny power line in the Drumochter, no mention of the destruction at Cairngorm, no consideration of whether attempts to mitigate hydro schemes to date have been successful nor how best to mitigate the dualling of the A9.   Nothing.

The absence of any plans to protect the landscape unfortunately implies the CNPA will allow the attrition of the Cairngorms landscape to continue.   Is this what National Parks are for?

 

Wild land and Natural processes

 

Closely related to landscape issues, is how we protect wild land and allow natural processes to flourish.   While the Plan includes the SNH wild land map there is no analysis of how wild land has been impacted on over the last 5 years.  The sad fact is that the CNPA has allowed the area of remote land to reduce, mainly through a failure to control the creation of hill tracks.  This is what the Plan has to say about hill tracks:

plan-hill-tracks

This view, that hill tracks are required to facilitate access to remoter areas for land management purposes, needs to be challenged.  Deer used to be culled and shot without tracks and tracks have made it much easier for estates to kill wildlife they perceive as vermin.   Tracks are not necessary, they are a political and economic choice but the consultation offers us NO choice.

 

Moreover, while the Park considers conservation from a management perspective I could find not a single mention of restoring natural processes outside the paper on flood management.  Indeed, the current re-wilding debate seems to have passed the Park by.   The de-designation of the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve has allowed the CNPA simply to abandon any commitment that in the core of the National Park nature should come first.  Instead, the Plan asks us to consider how to ameliorate the worst excesses of landed estates in the way they manage the land for grouse and red deer.

 

The management approach though is clearly failing.  The CNPA’s own figures show that 1/3 of the European protected sites are in unfavourable condition, almost entirely down to the way the land is being used or rather abused.  The Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation were supposed to be the jewels of the crown in the National Park, until Brexit at least, and it should be to the CNPA’s shame that they are still in such poor condition.  The Plan will only be able to offer more of the same, and continued failures, until its starts to look at alternatives that put wildness at the core of nature conservation in the National Park.

 

Landownership and use.

 

The draft Plan contains no critical analysis of the impact of current systems of landownership in the Park and proposes no ideas for change.  While one of the Big 9 issues is Community Empowerment, there is no analysis of the potential for community ownership or control of land in the National Park and nothing about how the CNPA might assist communities to take over and run estates.   There is no analysis either of how the different types of landowner (public agency, voluntary sector, progressive private landowners such as Glen Feshie, traditional estates) impact on the ability of the CNPA to meet its statutory objectives.    Without such an analysis, its simply not possible to devise a Plan which will deliver those statutory objectives.

 

Powers of the National Park  

 

The Plan contains no analysis of how the CNPA has used its powers to date and how it might do so in future.  The implication of the many failures of the CNPA to enforce planning decisions effectively is that landowners can do what they want.  There is hardly a reference to Development Planning in the entire document, a major omission when the CNPA does not have full planning powers and needs to work in partnership with local Councils on planning matters.   There is also no consideration of how the CNPA might uses to powers better to meet its statutory objectives, whether bringing in byelaws to control hunting or ensuring that there is cross compliance between the grants the Park and its partners award and statutory objectives.   I suspect for example that all the estates where illegally killed raptors have been found are in receipt of public monies of one type or another.   The CNPA should be able to co-ordinate withdrawal of all public subsidies where landowners are failing to respect the objectives of the National Park.

 

Resources

 

There is no analysis or even estimate of the resources needed to deliver the Park’s statutory objectives or the Park Plan.  Instead, there are references through the Plan to various pots of money that could be drawn on to meet the specific initiatives that are described in the Plan.    There is no analysis of whether this is sufficient or what is really needed.  The Park Plan seems to just accept the current Government narratives about austerity and that the National Park and other agencies should still devote considerable effort to scrabbling about try to find funds from wherever.  This is very important because without proper resourcing, its not possible for the National Park for firm up any clear strategic direction, and the Plan is limited to aspirational directions of travel.

 

What improvement the CNPA will deliver in the next five years

 

The draft Plan refers to some existing targets, contained in other plans, but contains no new ones that I could see.   Where aspirations are expressed, such as that in five years time  sites protected under European legislation will be in better condition than others in Scotland, there are no firm commitments.  On my reading,  I am none the wiser of what changes the CNPA is hoping to deliver.

 

A comparison with the existing Park Plan

 

Having drafted this, I was concerned that I was being too critical, because there are some good things in the draft Plan (which I will cover in future posts).  I therefore did a comparison between the current 2012-17 Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/working-partnership/national-park-partnership-plan/  and the proposed new Plan and found significant changes in approach.   Here are three illustrations of this:

  • The current plan has five pages on the vision, the new Plan has reduced this to 15 words (which were in the last plan):   “An outstanding National Park, enjoyed and valued by everyone, where nature and people thrive together.”     Everything that is visionary, along with the inspirational photos, has been stripped out.   Maybe this is not intentional, maybe the Board and senior staff know the vision so well that they thought there was no need to repeat it again,  but for me the lack of visionary statements reinforces the impression that the CNPA has lost its vision.
  • The current  Plan contains a whole page on landscape qualities of the Park.  Its so good, I have appended it below.  The contrast with the void in the current plan is striking.
  • The current Plan clearly identifies which Partners would be involved in delivering what.   Now  it wasn’t perfect and I regret the omission of recreational organisations and many conservation NGOs from the list of partners BUT the proposed new Plan does not even contain a list of partners.   While some organisations may be signed up to some of the other subsidiary plans referred to in the document (its impossible to tell without wading through all those documents too) its not difficult to identify gaping holes:  Scottish Natural Heritage  for example, does not appear to be included in any of the mechanisms mentioned for moorland and deer management when it has statutory responsibility for Red Deer numbers.  If this really is a Partnership Plan should we not know SNH’s views about deer numbers in the National Park and what it intends to do about them?   You could ask similar questions with all the organisations listed as partners in the current Plan.

 

The muddled approach in the proposed new plan is summed up for me by this statement on the Role of the National Park Authority:

 

The purpose of a National Park Authority is to ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in a coordinated way [a quote from S9 of the National Parks Act] This means leading the vision for the National Park and the partnerships necessary for delivery.

 

So where is the vision?   Who are the partners and what will they do?

 

Addendum – The Cairngorms landscape

 

plan-landscape-qualities

August 30, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
IMG_3647 Hen Harrier Jane Meek
Female hen harrier Atholl 2016 –  Photo Credit Jane Meek

It turns out that my failure to see hen harriers in Glen Bruar (see here), despite the abundance of red grouse, is not because they are not there,  as this photo demonstrates – thanks Jane!  I have also discovered that hen harriers are mentioned in the Environment Impact Assessment for the Glen Bruar hydro-scheme which was produced back in 2012.  Mea culpa, but its not easy to find out if an apparent absence of a species like hen harrier from  moorland  is a sign of persecution or is because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time or is simply because, as in my case, your birdwatching skills are at the amateur end of the spectrum.

 

This has got me thinking about the longstanding policy of RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and others to keep reports of certain raptor species secret.  I try and record my bird sightings on the hills tops on Birdtrack, the BTO’s recording system, but when I have seen and recorded eagles, for example, they disappear into the ether.   I have no way of finding out whether my sighting is exceptional or whether other people may have seen the species there.    By contrast, when I spotted a ptarmigan on the summit path of Ben Vane, in the LLTNP, earlier this year I could search and find the last record was back in 2012.

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Ptarmigan on path just below summit Ben Vane

This secrecy policy made sense when the main threat to our raptors were egg thieves but as Raptor Persecution Scotland and others have demonstrated, the main threat now is the way our grouse moors are managed.   Gamekeepers know better than anyone where raptors are likely to be found or when they move into an area and, for any that wish to persecute raptors, this is much easier to do if you are the only person who knows this.  What’s more, where proof of illegal persecution has been discovered, its often hillwalkers – members of the general public – who come across it.  A recent example was the black headed gull found in an illegal trap on the Invercauld Estate in the Cairngorm National Park.   So, instead of trying to keep knowledge about raptors whereabouts from the public, who generally do them no harm, how about trying to publicise the presence of raptors in order to offer them some protection from irresponsible gamekeepers?

 

Knowing a bird like a hen harrier is likely to be present in a place is worth a lot – much more than simply knowing it might occur.   If I had had Jane’s photo, it would have been worth stopping, 15 minutes or half an hour dedicated to scanning the moor for hen harrier.   If I had been successful it would have made my day.    It could also help protect the bird.   Hen harrier sighted on one of those estates in the eastern Cairngorms with terrible records of raptor persecution, publicise it and get people out there  – knowing that other people could be watching might just make irresponsible gamekeepers keep twice.

 

I would take this further.  I believe the Cairngorms National Park should promote hen harrier, like they do in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.  The best protection the osprey has is that so many people have seen them.  Most estates fear the public repercussions of being found to have persecuted them so much that they don’t even think about it. Conversely, the biggest challenge for the hen harrier is so few people have seen them and estates know that whatever the evidence of persecution, there has never to date been sufficient public outrage to force our  politicians to act.

 

I started my run from House of Bruar and a packed car park.  Five minutes up the Falls path and there was no-one present, despite the magnificent gorge.   Even fewer people take the forest track beyond the gorge through the woods and out onto the moor.  A lost tourist and educational opportunity.

 

So how about a video link next year to three or four hen harrier nests in the Cairngorms National Park?    There would be no need to give the exact location of nests but the Park could also promote walks to places you might see harriers.   In Atholl, for example,  House of Bruar would be a great location for a video link and you could promote a walk to the edge of the woods to a place – and maybe a hide -where people would have a good chance of seeing a harrier if they watched and waited a bit.   Take it further, and give people the challenge of spotting a harrier.

 

Our National Parks should be places where we can try out different ways of doing things.  I am not saying we should publicise the presence of hen harrier across the country yet but keeping hen harriers and other rare raptors secret has not prevented their decline, so why not try the reverse in our National Parks and see what impact it has?

 

 

August 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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Muirburn by Bruar Lodge, Atholl

I have been meaning to give a plug for the post, http://cairngorms.co.uk/guest-blog-time-to-move-with-the-times/, from Will Boyd Wallis, Head of Land Management at the Cairngorms National Park, on grouse moor management.  He was encouraging people to respond to the current consultation on the CNPA’s new Partnership Plan and I think was suggesting, as far as someone in his position can, that its time for change.  This is welcome but I believe if change is going to happen people need to respond to the Park’s consultation and say that the stated objectives in their current form are totally inadequate.

 

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The northern edge of the Bruar plantation forest, looking across Glen Bruar to the new native woodland on Creag Bhagailteach

You only need to spend a day on the hill to see why.   I was out on Saturday and did a loop up Glen Bruar, over Beinn Dearg, then headed north for a couple of kilometres before dropping down to the Allt a Chuil, which runs through a wild, remote and unspoilt glen, and then back round to the northern end of Glen Bruar.   I took the track out over Creag Bhagailteach to Calvine.   Apart from the woodland along the A9 corridor and the summit slopes, almost the entire route was over moorland.

 

In over 20 miles of moorland habitat I saw several hundred red grouse – as soon as you step off track you appreciate they are everywhere –  but very little else:   1 buzzard, 1 carrion crow, a few meadow pipit, 1 dipper and, on the summit slopes of Beinn Dearg, two mountain hare and 7 ptarmigan.  That was it.    Now, I am sure I missed some wildlife as I was jogging and my eyesight is not what it as, but I think this was a pretty accurate reflection of the wildlife “balance” on the Bruar grouse moors.   Grouse and not much else.  A land of plenty mainly for grouse shooters and the hen harrier.  Despite stopping, scanning the moorland and hoping against hope, there were no harriers to be seen.  I am sure Glen Bruar has more than enough red grouse to support a pair but maybe I just missed them.

 

All the slopes along the glen had been subject to muirburn and there was evidence of this to altitudes of c850m.

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Muirburn below the red granite boulder strewn summit slopes of Beinn Dearg

There was other evidence too of intensive grouse moor management from the track high onto Beinn A Chait  (yes there were wildcats here once) to medicated grit.

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Medicated grit by track north end Glen Bruar

I think moorland is a misleading term for this country, its not natural at all, “game reserve” or “grouse farm” would be more accurate.

Commentary on the CNPA’s “Targets/Preferred Direction” for grouse moors in the draft Partnership Plan

CNPA Plan “Continue to improve and enhance the quality of moorland and montane habitats, particularly those in unfavourable condition”.  COMMENTARY our montane and moorland habitats generally are not improving, they are getting worse, because – as Will Boyd Wallis indicated in the CNPA blog – the farming of grouse has been intensified.
CNPA Plan “Manage muirburn to enable habitat enhancement”.  COMMENTARY– the only way we are going to enhance habitats is by stopping muirburn.  I would prefer a complete ban in the National Park but as a compromise how about an altitudinal limit to muirburn and designating some large muirburn free areas (say 50% of land under 600m altititude).
CNPA Plan “Improve the integration of grouse moor  management with wider habitat and species diversity” COMMENTARY I don’t understand what this means, you cannot integrate current grouse moor management with other objectives, you need to change it.  This won’t happen unless moorland managers are brought under control or the ownership of the land is transferred to people who do support diversity.
CNPA Plan “Improve raptor population conservation”.  COMMENTARY  raptors don’t need conservation, its the persecution that needs to stop.  Parkswatch has published several ideas of what the CNPA could do to stop this from using its planning powers (just stop consenting to new hill tracks) to licensing hunting.

CNPA Plan “Expand peatland restoration projects”.  COMMENTARY this sounds good but in Glen Bruar significant areas of peatland have been destroyed by the new hydro scheme consented to by the CNPA!   It would be interesting to know how much peatland has been lost in the National Park because of new hill tracks and other developments consented to under the planning system compared to the amount that has been restored.

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Destruction of moorland along the buried hydro scheme pipeline in Glen Bruar. There has been no attempt to preserve the peat/topsoil and instead boulders/minerals have been left on the surface creating new soils

 

August 5, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

“It is not felling or fire that destroys a pine wood, but overgrazing of the ground beneath and beyond, whether by sheep or by deer.”   Chris Smout

 

On Thursday Rothiemurchus made a Facebook post of a burning granny pine and the following comment:

 

“A sad day on Rothiemurchus today. One of our beautiful 250 year old granny pines, beside the Lily Loch, was burnt down by selfish campers. Not only that, they chopped down two old birch trees to provide fuel for their fire! Luckily we had a team out very early moving cattle who saw the smoke, alerted the fire brigade and went straight to the scene. They arrived to find the campers had scarpered and the tree engulfed in flames. Their quick actions prevented the fire spreading further which would have destroyed surrounding woodland and wildlife in this protected area. These campers have not only broken the law, they have behaved in a shockingly irresponsible way. We would ask people to think very carefully before they do anything which could impact upon an environment which takes hundreds of years to recover. It’s only a tiny proportion of visitors who behave stupidly and we are extremely grateful and thank all those who help care for this special place.”

 

While I personally hate to see trees burned in acts of vandalism, the post – whether deliberately or not – has inflamed public opinion in the social media world with over 650 written comments and 3.5k  likes/reactions.    The largest proportion of these express disgust and a desire for retribution for whoever did this with calls to lock the people up and even “burn them” – this is social media after all.   A few, predictably, are asking for camping bans but it is good to see a larger number try and draw a line between responsible campers and vandals.   Indeed a few question how the estate can be sure it was campers who had done this when the people concerned had “scarpered” and the birch trees cut down with a heavy saw that most campers would never carry.  The estate has responded by affirming it was campers (as though to emphasise that this is the important fact) though to be fair it does say only a small minority of people behave like this.

 

The reaction has been focussed on the burning of the tree rather than the wider significance of this.  I find it interesting that there appears more public concern at present about the damage to one tree  than the systematic destruction going on up the road at Cairngorm or the systematic muirburn that takes place on grouse moors.

 

The Rothiemurchus post did not help put matters in perspective by claiming that the environment takes hundreds of years to recover after fire or similar acts.   This is simply not true.  Indeed it says so in their own Forest Plan:

 

“Visitors may be left with the impression that the pinewood of Rothiemurchus is an untouched wild wood, but this is a myth. In fact the Rothiemurchus woodlands exist today because of their ability to regenerate, having probably been clearfelled twice, and not because they were spared by the axe” (Smout & Lambert, 1999)

 

Moreover, fire is one of the most important ways in which the Caledonian pine woods regenerate.     Chris Smout, made the point succintly in the inaugural Royal Scottish Forestry Society “The History and the Myth of Scots Pine”  (see here) which is essential reading for anyone interested in the pinewoods:

 

“Accidental or deliberate fires also sometimes devastated pinewoods, but again they usually caused no lasting damage as pine readily regenerates after a fire.”

 

The ecology of this that older pines are quite resistant to fire (unlike other trees like birch) while pine seedlings do not germinate or grow well under extensive vegetation.   Burn the vegetation and the pine seedlings have a chance to grow.   The problem is not fire itself – it has been actively used by the RSPB at Abernethy (see here) to promote regeneration and indeed the Rothiemurchus Forest Plan has a section on the use of fire in regeneration – but its overuse.   Burn a bit of moorland once, and trees will regenerate, but burn it over and over again as they do on grouse moors and they have no chance.    I find it ironic that Rothiemurchus is claiming that the burning of one tree is a threat to the environment when elsewhere on the estate, beyond an artificial forest boundary, muirburn is practised and is preventing the expansion of the pine wood:

 

“Thanks to the Rothiemurchus Estate who manage the land, we were able to see the heather in different stages of growth due to recent muirburn management. Muirburn is a way of managing the moorland to create patches of heather at all different stages of growth – essential to maintaining a healthy and abundant grouse population.” (http://getoutadventures.co.uk/blog/)

 

The best way to mitigate the consequences of a large fire in a place like Glenmore is to expand the extent of the forest and in that respect Rothiemurchus has been part of the problem because of its muirburn practices.

 

Unfortunately, people do not seem to appreciate that the likelihood of a large fire in Glenmore is almost inevitable as a result of current conservation initiatives.  If you allow a forest to develop with only very limited human intervention, the ground cover will increase and at some stage, in dry weather, there will be an extensive fire.   This could happen naturally through a lightening strike or could be triggered by humans, whether accidentally or deliberately.   This does not make those conservation initiatives a bad thing, rather the contrary, but as Smout notes, in the past human management of the pine forest (clearing areas of timber and so creating fire breaks and removal of ground vegetation for various purposes) reduced these risks.    Allow nature primacy, as we have seen in the US and Australia, and eventually you will get a huge fire.   Such fires of course are much more common in those countries, in part due to the climate, but to think they will not happen here is to put your head in the sand.   At some point, a whole lot of granny pines are going to burn but we should despair or condemn too much, the woodland will regenerate. Personally I believe this outcome to be preferable to what is happening in much of the rest of Scotland where overgrazing has reduced the likely impact of fires to negligible proportions but has been slowly strangling the pinewoods as the granny pines die one by one.

 

None of this means I condone people setting trees alight or that, because a large fire will happen at some point, I believe it would have been okay if the fire had spread in this case.  If we are going to allow natural processes to dominate certain areas – which is what I would like to see – it would be preferable that disasters should happen naturally, rather than being created by human foolishness.   In the case of fire, this means fires caused by lightening strikes rather than chainsaw wielding vandals.

 

We will not though, I believe, ever get rid of human foolishness/irresponsibility entirely and we should not use that foolishness, as some people have in this case – and as Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority are proposing to do with their camping byelaws – as a reason to remove people’s right to enjoy nature or simply an excuse to get people off the land.   Camping should be part of the right to enjoy nature.  To defend that right we need to increase people’s understanding of ecological processes and expose the hypocrisy of those who are only too happy to condemn certain acts of irresponsible behaviour while turning a blind eye the much greater destruction that is going on elsewhere.

August 5, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I am pleased to see that there is a Hen Harrier day event in the Cairngorm National Park at 1pm on Sunday at Cairngorm  https://www.facebook.com/events/253914288297410/.   I am even more delighted to see that Peter Argyle, convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority is one of the speakers.   In the last few months I have posted a number of articles about the persistent raptor persecution that has been going on in the National Park, the most recent of which was critical of the draft Park Partnership Plan for being too weak.  I have called for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to take a lead on this issue – if we cannot protect raptors in our National Parks what hope for the rest of Scotland? – and I think that just by agreeing to speak Peter Argyle is sending a message to the owners of our grouse moors.    I hope he will go further than this and express  a willingness by the CNPA to use its powers more effectively to protect raptors and other wildlife (licensing hunting, forbidding all traps etc) but would not underestimate the difficulty of him doing this.  The grouse moor owners are extremely powerful.

 

Not all grouse moor owners are bad, however, and its very good to see that Peter is appearing with Thomas MacDonell, Director of Conservation & Forestry, Wildland Ltd which runs  Glen Feshie.  Glen Feshie was the place where the Harrier that was illegally killed last year near Newtonmore was born and satellite tagged – which is why the reason for its death is known.   Glen Feshie still makes an income from grouse shooting – on a “walked up” basis – but not by destroying everything else that moves.    It shows what can be done but is however also the exception, not the rule.     The other speakers are: Allan Bantick – former chair of Scottish Wildlife Trust; Jeep Solid – local poet; Brian Etheridge -former RSPB Raptor Monitoring Officer and Ian Thomson – Head of Investigations at RSBP Scotland.

 

I hope those attending this event will take the time afterwards to take a walk round Coire Cas and ponder the connections between the destruction that is going on their and the destruction of raptors and other wildlife on our grouse moors.   To me, they are part of the same mindset, that the land is there to be used in whatever the person in control of it at the time likes.   So, grouse moor owners bulldoze tracks across the moors (to facilitate the destructive habitat management that includes persecution of hen harriers) while Highlands and Islands Enterprise allows its tenant, Natural Retreats, to bulldoze tracks on the mountain without planning permission.   Both drive all terrain vehicles all over the land without any regard for the damage this causes.   Both ignore the opportunity that wildlife could offer to diversify their businesses, grouse moor owners through killing everything that could possible affect numbers of grouse, Natural Retreats by putting all its focus on trying get people to pay for the ride up the funicular when there is huge for good works around the ski area.  In my view neither really care about the natural environment which our National Park was set to protect.

 

If Natural Retreats are in any way sponsoring or supporting this event I hope those present will make the connections and challenge them about what they are doing at Cairngorm.

July 24, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

A week ago the National Trust for Scotland announced that four hen harrier chicks had fledged on their Mar Lodge estate, in the central Cairngorms.  Raptor Persecution Scotland commented in their blog last week time that the chances of the young harriers surviving were extremely low given the history of raptor persecution in the Cairngorms National Park.    Just a week later the truth of this comment was demonstrated by the announcement that an illegal trap had been discovered on the neighbouring Invercauld Estate along with evidence that a further 8 illegal traps that had been removed before the police were able to start their investigation.    While the trap that was found contained a common gull, it could just as well have caught a hen harrier – proof of Raptor Persecution Scotland’s comment that if the young harriers moved east they were likely done for.

 

It was good to see another quick response from the Cairngorms National Park Authority Chief Executive, Grant Moir, http://cairngorms.co.uk/illegal-trap-use-statement-from-ceo/  unequivocally condemning the use of the trap.   His request for a meeting with the Head Trustee and Sporting Partner at Invercauld however, though I am sure well intentioned,  simply illustrates the weakness of National Parks.   A strong National Park would have summoned the estate and all the trustees to explain themselves or risk losing their right to hunt (which as the blog has pointed out they could control through byelaws).  Instead, the CNPA has not even named the Head Trustee and Sporting Partner.   Do the CNPA  not know who the people are?   Or are they allowing the people ultimately responsible for management of the estate to hide their identity?   The Farquharson family, who control the Invercauld Estate, hide behind a trust structure that protects their assets but why should the National Park perpetuate this?  What about some openness?

 

Moreover, instead of calling on other public authorities to contribute resources for enforcement (resources that are unlikely to materialise under austerity), why does not the CNPA  simply use the powers it already has to license all hunting in the National Park and suspend or remove that license whenever evidence of wildlife crime such as this occurs as  previously suggested on this blog http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/25/stop-raptor-persecution-cairngorms-national-park/?   The deterrent effect of this would I believe be sufficient to solve the problem of wildlife persecution overnight and would NOT require other public authorities to contribute further resources.

 

Unfortunately, the CNPA in trying to work in partnership with landowners appears to have  got far too close to them.   The problem is illustrated by the CNPA’s new Partnership Plan, which is currently out for consultation, and which set the future direction of the National Park over the next five years.  It includes nine issues reports, the second of which is on Deer and Moorland Management 160621DeerMoorlandManagementFINAL1-1 (there is no conservation issues report as such despite the Park’s primary objective being conservation).

 

On page 5 of this report CNPA quotes from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, treating them apparently as an authoritative source:

.

GWCT

No mention here of the impact of raptor persecution on grouse numbers.   It was the very same GWCT which on Friday issued a press release on behalf of the Invercauld estate (see here) first denying the crime and then alleging that if the illegal traps had been set this must have been done by people trying to discredit the grouse shooting industry.  Why is the CNPA giving the GWCT credence by quoting them uncritically?

 

While later in the Deer and Moorland Management Issues Report the CNPA does question some of the statements of the grouse lobby, the report contains is no fundamental questioning of the impact of current grouse moor management on wildlife or whether this is compatible with the conservation objective of the National Park.   It is worth stating loudly and clearly that in the case of conflict – and the CNPA does acknowledge some of the conflict  – the Scottish Parliament intended the conservation objective to override all the other objectives and this is enshrined in law in the National Parks Act.    This should be the basis of the Partnership Plan.

 

Instead of giving a firm lead based on its legal obligations, however, at the end of the Issues Report 2 on Deer and Moorland Management the CNPA asks two 2 questions, the first on deer numbers (which I will cover in another post) and the second on grouse moor management:

questions

 

 

I believe this is the wrong question.   The right question, based on the CNPA’s founding legislation, would be to ask HOW can grouse moor management be made compatible with the National Park’s conservation objectives?  The answer to both that and the Park’s own question is “not by voluntary means”.  The CNPA has been trying to prevent raptor persecution by persuasion for over ten years without any significant success.   It is time to admit defeat and the interests of grouse moor managers are such that the system will never change voluntarily.

 

It is the CNPA’s reliance on voluntary means, which its staff must know by now will not work, which I believe accounts for the Issues Report proposing the following targets/direction of travel for the new Partnership Plan:

targets

 

 

 

The first is totally wrong as well as being so vague as to be meaningless.  What the National Park’s overriding conservation objective should mean is that the economic and cultural interests of shooting estates should not be at the expense of wildlife or habitats.   I would suggest the following should flow from this as a start:

  • All hunting in the CNPA should be licensed.  I appreciate there is now a campaign to license all gamebird hunting nationally but there is nothing to stop the CNPA starting a consultation on new hunting bye-laws now which should be broader than just gamebirds and include hunting of mammals from deer to mountain hares.
  • The use of ALL traps should be banned within the National Park except in limited cases under license. The CNPA should not be prioritising one species over another in terms of conservation objectives (in contrast to grouse moor management priorities grouse over everything from mountain hares to stoats to golden eagles) and there is no general justification for trapping in our National Parks.   I would suggest the only trapping that could be justified in the National Park would be for introduced species such as mink.

 

The second “target”, to “improve raptor population conservation” as phrased does not even mean the CNPA is committed to increase numbers of raptors in the National Park.   To give this bite the CNPA should:

  • Consult with RSPB and the raptor study groups and come up with a (conservative estimate) for the minimum number of nesting pairs of each species of raptor the National Park could be expected to support at present (given current state of habitats without any wildlife persecution). For example, 30 pairs of hen harrier, 20 pairs of golden eagle etc.   The target should then be to reach this number before the end of the Partnership Plan.   This should not be difficult to achieve.  Raptor populations would expand quickly if they were not illegally killed and their primary food sources apart from red grouse, such as mountain hare, ceased to be systematically cleared from the moors.
  • Make a commitment to satellite tag all species of raptors where persecution has had a serious impact on populations.  The National Park used to be involved in a satellite tagging project and its very sad that this now depends on the efforts of others.  According to the reports on the young NTS hen harriers only one of the four is to be tagged.  Tagging appears the best deterrent against persecution because it provides evidence of where birds were last seen alive (and this evidence could play an important role in the CNPA being able to revoke  hunting licenses because of illegal persecution).  Every reason then for our National Parks to fund satellite tagging.
June 7, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Raptor Persecution Scotland published a piece today  about the BBC Countryfile programme at the weekend on the Invermark Estate and the recent history of persecution in the Angus glens.  The list of crimes, most never “solved” or brought to justice is horrific.   In the interests of accuracy though its worth stating the vast majority of incidents that have been recorded took place on other estates and outwith the National Park boundary.    The BBC presenter however did not even ask Invermark how raptor persecution by these other estates affected the wildlife part of its business.

 

By chance earlier this week I came across these photos of estate signs from Invermark taken in 2005.

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Invermark Estate sign 2005.  Two years after the Land Reform Act granted us access rights the estate still had signs up stating “Estate Path.  Access at discretion of estate”.
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Invermark Estate sign 2005. There has never been any significant evidence that walkers or other visitors disturb raptors

In support of Raptor Persecution Scotland’s case, I would suggest the only reason for such signs is that greater visitor numbers increases the likelihood that the public will come across evidence of illegal activities.   Evidence from the past that the Invermark Estate is perhaps not as pro-wildlife as portrayed by the BBC and a very strong reason to preserve access rights.  Note how the estate was anti-camping  (just like the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, which is strongly supported by Scottish Land and Estates).  I suggest a major reason for this is that  campers are out in the field for far longer than walkers and therefore far more likely to come across evidence of raptor persecution.

 

The BBC missed another angle on Invermark.   All the estates within the Cairngorms National Park have been asked to produce estate management statements and Invermark was one of the estates that did so (many did not).   The Invermark Estate Management Statement  makes interesting reading, not for what it says, but what is left out:

  • There is no mention that much of the Invermark Estate is part of the Cairngorms Special Protection Area designated for its golden eagles (the BBC should have asked, if hare numbers had increased on the estate as claimed in Countryfile, whether eagle numbers had too and if not why not)
  • There is no mention of predator or vermin control.  So, which species do the estate regard as vermin and control as such?
  • There is no mention of red deer numbers, what the estate believes as a sustainable number and how these will be controlled (not surprising perhaps because the estate factor, Richard Cooke was long the secretary of the Association of Deer Management Groups which has done such an effective job lobbying politicians in Scotland to prevent any effective controls on deer numbers).
  • There is no mention of how the grouse moors will be managed, such as the extent of burning and medication of grouse
  • Or, one might add, from the two events that Raptor Persecution Scotland’s have listed as taking place on the estate, what it might do to prevent destruction of peregrine’s nests (as happened in 2004) and to protect trees where raptor are or have nested (January 2013 White Tailed Eagle nest tree felled).    Evidence of estate determination to stamp out such practice could include contracts of employment that clearly describe such actions as gross misconduct which would lead to instant dismissal.

 

While the Cairngorms National Park Authority was no doubt well intentioned when it asked the estates within the National Park to produce management statements, by publishing statements such as that from Invermark,  it has in effect endorsed them.   This, I suggest,  undermines the statutory conservation purpose of the National Park because there is complete avoidance of almost all the things that matter from a conservation perspective – and the Invermark Estate Statement is typical in this respect.

 

The solution is for the CNPA  to lead by example and require  management statements from ALL estates within the National Park setting out how they will meet the Park’s conservation objectives and putting in place sanctions for those that fail to do so.  Part of every statement should include what the estate will do to prevent raptor persecution.   Such statements should form part of a much wider plan of action to address raptor persecution and other conservation failures which I have outlined in previous posts http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/25/stop-raptor-persecution-cairngorms-national-park/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 29, 2016 Nick Kempe 16 comments

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has, with Scottish Natural Heritage,  issued a short educational video on dog walking in the National Park https://t.co/ZsYpjNosWL   This is to be welcomed.  The Land Reform Review Group, which reported to the last Scottish Parliament, concluded that access rights were working well but there were a number of areas where further education was needed.   Dog walking was the priority area for further work (camping was not seen as a major issue at all and the Review Group rejected representations from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority that the legislation needed to be amended to remove the right to camp by roads).   The CNPA video should be seen as a positive initiative by a public authority to implement the recommendations of the Land Reform Review Group.

 

SNH also, to its credit, engaged with commercial dog walkers to draw up a new code of practice.  An exemplary way to do things in contrast to the LLTNPA who failed to engage seriously with recreational organisations about how to educate people about reducing the impacts of wild camping.

 

The dog video, which is aimed at visitors, includes information on the impacts of dogs on wildlife.   Good stuff and something that I think Dick Balharry, the great Scottish ecologist who died last year, would have approved of – I remember him saying to me how he thought there should be NO dogs in National Nature Reserves.    This, however,  begs the question about landowners dogs.   Anyone who has walked by estate buildings in the National Park will have experienced the howling of dogs in kennels and earlier this year I came across a very nice keeper (he kept his most dangerous looking dog by his side as we passed!)  running six or seven dogs at Dalnaspidal.    The purpose of these dogs of course is to assist with hunting and what is not said publicly at present is that this includes anything that the estates perceive as vermin or might prey on red grouse.  For estate dogs helps keepers track down ground nesting raptors, mountain hares and stoats all of which are persecuted in the National Park.    I suspect estate dogs are responsible for far more damage to wildlife on grouse moors than visitors dogs but let’s not wait for a three year scientific study before anyone acts on this.

 

So, my question is when will the National Park and SNH be producing a video on good practice for local estates?    Indeed, should they not go further and introduce licensing of dogs on estates and set conditions about what they can be used for?   Or follow Dick Balharry and ban dogs completely from National Nature Reserves or indeed the National Park and make legitimate hunting a bit more challenging?.    I suspect if any of this were to happen the number of dogs in estate kennels would drop dramatically.

May 9, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Raptor Persecution Scotland has published information  today about a goshawk criminally killed on a “sporting”  estate in Donside, in the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park,  in April – the exact location has not been revealed.     The comments rightly raise question about how such crimes are allowed to continue our National Parks and some suggestions about how to prevent them, including removal of gun licences and compulsory purchase of the estates in question.   Parkswatchscotland has previously covered some of the powers available to our National Parks that could lead the way to stamping out raptor persecution http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/25/stop-raptor-persecution-cairngorms-national-park/   These could be used now.   Whoever is appointed as new Minister of Environment needs to give a clear message to the National Park Authorities in Scotland that she or he expects them to start using their existing powers as soon as possible.

 

One thing I failed to cover in that previous post was the role of estate management plans.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority asks all the estates in the National Park to draw up estate management statement .    The Donside estates are smaller than on the west of the National Park but what is interesting is that there appear to be NO estate management plans for the Delnadamph, Edinglassie Candacraig or Glenbuchat estates.

 

There is, however, an ALLARGUE estate management plan. This estate covers the Lecht ski area and where a massacre of mountain hares took place earlier this year.   The plan makes interesting reading.  The estate is part of Wildlife Estates Scotland.   Its primary objective (65%) is grouse moor management and shooting which, in its words, “involves heather burning, predator control, tick and disease control, careful grazing.”     Now, the estate deserves credit for producing a plan – for being honest if you like when its neighbours have failed to state anything about their objectives – and there are  parts of the statement that are commendable.  Its objectives for grouse moor management though really should have set the alarm bells ringing in the National Park HQ at Grantown.

 

In publishing this, the Cairngorms National Park Authority appears to have endorsed the massacre of mountain hares for tick control – after all this was totally within the scope of the management statement – and the reference to “predator control”  could be taken as a nudge and wink that while raptor persecution is illegal estate staff don’t have to worry too much about that.    Its time the CNPA  produced a clear statement and consulted on what predators exactly does it think that estates should be able to control within our National Parks.   Or to put it another way, when does wildlife, which the CNPA has a statutory duty to protect under its conservation objectives, not count as wildlife and sits outside its objectives?

 

I will be writing to the Chief Executive and  Convener of CNPA asking them why public estate management statements are not in place for all estates within the National Park and on by what criteria these are approved.

 

April 2, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

There is an interesting thread on mountain hare persecution and National Parks on Raptor Persecution Scotland https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/sustainable-mountain-hare-culls-wheres-the-evidence/    Its very good that people are beginning to question not just why mountain hare persecution is  happening but also why, of all places, its being allowed in our National Parks.

 

Mike, my climbing partner on Thursday, contributed this comment about why mountain hares are being massacred:

“Interesting to read that Invermark (which is in the CNPA at the head of Glen Esk) no longer culls hares – or does Adam Watson think it never did? I remember massive culls there during my time working as a ghillie in the mid 80’s. There would be a “keepers’ day” when men from local estates would arrive early in the morning, form a line across the hill (the beat to the south of Loch Lee was a favourite starting point) and the day would be spent walking in a line and shooting hundreds of hares. Done in spring, the still white hares stood out against the heather and had little chance. The reason given was that the hares eat the tender heather shoots that the grouse need. Contrast that memory with another of standing with the pony by the Unich burn and watching an eagle take a hare on the slopes east of Muckle Cairn – the eagle landing on the hare in a tumble to wings as it struggled to avoid rolling down the hill.”

Mike put me right on Thursday about my speculative questions about whether hunting culture had changed  http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/27/landowners-defence-massacre-hares/    Mountain Hare massacres have been going on for a long time, even if this has now stopped at Invermark.

 

What the long history suggests is:

 

  • the current claims by landowners that hare “culls” are needed to stop Louping Ill virus spreading from hares to grouse should be taken with a large pinch of salt.  Its not so long ago that the culls used to be justified on the grounds that mountain hares deprived grouse of young heather shoots to eat.
  •  the massacres are mainly being conducted by estate staff, gamekeepers.    Their job, particularly in the Cairngorms where grouse moors are the dominant land-use,  is about and dependent on maximising grouse  numbers for others to shoot.   Hare shoots are a chance for keepers, who often work alone in tough conditions, to have a sociable day out with their peers from neighbouring estates.   Whatever the overt justification, it could be seen in part as a reward for a job well done, the extermination of predators.   Mike incidentally told me on Thursday about the numbers of foxes shot each year on the Dalhousie estates – 100s.    All that has changed is that instead of shooting hares by walking across the moors – which gave the hares some the chance to get away – estates are are now using All Terrain Vehicles to round them up.
March 27, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Douglas McAdam, Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates had an article in the Sunday Herald today http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14386203.A_landowner_s_defence_of_culling_mountain_hares/ defending the killing of hares in which he referred to the Cairngorms at the end.  He was obviously trying to persuade our politicians, who I have heard read the Sunday Herald, and the CNPA that everything is just fine.

 

McAdam’s argument is basically that landowners need to cull hares for the same reasons that red deer need to be culled, to prevent grazing pressure.    Ignoring the obvious provocation,  that landowners aren’t culling red deer nearly enough and haven’t been for as long as I can remember, the argument is completely untenable:

  • It implies mountain hare are doing similar damage to vegetation as red deer.  They don’t.  I have checked  three of the management statements for large Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Cairngorms (the eastern Cairngorms, Beinn a Ghlo and Caenlochan)  – you can see them for yourself at http://gateway.snh.gov.uk/sitelink/searchmap.jsp    They all mention grazing pressure from deer, not one even refers to grazing by mountain hare
  • More importantly, the mountain hare has a number of natural predators in Scotland, ranging from the fox to the eagle, unlike adult red deer.  So, whatever arguments there are for humans to cull red deer simply don’t apply to hares because there are other creatures which could control their numbers or would if estates hadn’t persecuted predators to extinction on grouse moors.   Agreeing with the landowner’s rationale for culling hares is simply to condone this persecution, which is unacceptable anywhere but should be off the radar in our National Parks.

What some of the debate on persecution of mountain hares is perhaps missing is that estates have hunted the creatures of the high tops, mountain hare and ptarmigan, for many years.   McAdam’s article was silent about this and has tried to turn the debate onto a supposed need for culls.   What this hides perhaps is a shift in the way hares are being killed, from hunting for pleasure (where landowners and their guests might have shot a few hares in a day) to mass extermination by estate staff using machines on the utilitarian grounds that this increases grouse numbers .  What this suggests  is that  hunting of hares as such has become less socially acceptable – maybe its difficult now for estates to attract paying guests – whereas there is still high demand for grouse shooting.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Cairngorms National Park answers the argument of the landowners.