Tag: wildlife persecution

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 30, 2017 Nick Kempe 19 comments
Latest version of Welcome to the Moor sign, North Drumochter Estate.   Among the organisations endorsing the sign is the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA)

Increasing numbers of a new version of the “Welcome to the moor” sign are now being erected across Scotland, particularly in the Cairngorms National Park, but so far have received, as far as I am aware, little critical comment.

Earlier version of sign, Dinnet Estate

When is a welcome not a welcome?

I have no problem with people being welcomed to moorland, in fact the more the better, but included in both versions of the Welcome to the Moor sign under the section on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a rather significant qualification “It is recommended to keep to paths and tracks when possible”.  So, people are not really being welcomed to the moor, only to paths and tracks, a small percentage of total moorland.

Now I was involved in drawing up the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) and the only place it says that people should keep to paths and tracks is the section on privacy where it advises people to keep to a path or track –  if there is one – when passing people’s houses.   The whole point of the access legislation is it gives people a right to roam, whether on paths or off-paths.  While no detailed guidance for grouse moor has been developed under the SOAC, detailed guidance was produced for deer stalking – after endless discussion and debate between recreational organisations and landowners – and that is very clear:

“Any requests (to avoid certain areas) should relate to specific days and apply to the minimum necessary area – this is more likely to encourage a positive response than a longer-term and more general message”.

Extract from Stalking and Public Access: Guidance for Land Managers

The furthest official guidance goes on deer stalking is to say that when stalking is actually taking place, “you can help by using paths, following ridges and following the main watercourse if you have to go through a coire” (see left).  Contrast this with  the Welcome to the Moor signs.   They recommend people remain on paths and tracks at ALL times.  The implication is that if you ignore the recommendation, you are being irresponsible.  Even for  people who are fully aware of their  access rights, ignoring such signs creates a feeling on unease – will someone challenge you if you go off path?

 

There is no justification for the “recommendation” on the sign.  Driven grouse moor shooting takes place on only a few days of the year and model signage has been produced to inform walkers that shooting, like deer stalking is in progress.   The Welcome to the Moor sign makes no reference to the use of temporary signs to alert walkers when shooting is taking place because to do so would be to undermine the general message which is the public should stick to the path.   The hypocrisy is these same estates are allowing vehicles, which do far more damage, to be driven willy nilly across grouse moors.

 

It is significant that these signs have not been endorsed by the National Access Forum and the latest version does not include the SOAC logo.  So why is the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which is the statutory access authority and has a duty to protect access rights, lending its name to an initiative that is trying to undermine access rights?

 

The conservation benefits of grouse moors?

Its worse than that though.  The first heading “Moorlands are full of wildlife” is for much of the Cairngorms National Park – and particularly where these signs are being erected – a lie.  A few years ago  I started wondering if I was missing something about grouse moor managers claiming moorland is good for wildlife – I would describe myself as a bad bird watcher – and deliberately went for a number of walks over moorland wildlife watching rather than walking up hills.  Apart from red grouse and meadow pipit I have seen very little.

 

There is a reason for that and its got very little to do with my wildlife obervation skills. There is very little to see.   In the September edition of Scottish Birds, the journal of the Scottish Ornithologists Club,  there was an excellent article about the Lammermuirs which received  national publicity (see here).    Its not just about raptors, since the 1980s waders have declined as much as merlin, while grey partridge and short-eared owl had disappeared completely, the sound of the cuckoo was much rarer, while on the burns common sandpiper and dipper were hard to find.  In addition, the authors found young ring ouzel appeared to have a fatal attraction to traps.    I believe these findings are equally applicable to the Cairngorms.

 

As evidence for this (the exceptions prove the rule) you could do no better than read the Glen Tanar estate blog (see here) – and thanks to Raptor Persecution Scotland for the tip-off.   The descriptions of stoat hunting hare are fantastic.  What a brilliant estate!  Unfortunately your chance of seeing stoats or raptors in much of the National Park is minimal.

 

 

Trap on north Drumochter estate

The reasons for this are twofold.   The first is that any wildlife that is perceived as impacting on Red Grouse numbers is being systematically exterminated on most grouse moors in the National Park by a variety of means including trapping.    That trapping is becoming a very political issue is seen by the claims last week (see here) by the Scottish Gamekeeper Association that visitors have been tampering with traps.   The real question is not this – if its happening I can understand why people are angry enough to do so – but why our National Parks allow ANY trapping of wildlife?  And if you think that is radical, its worth reading this comment from the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog (link above) that the UK is the ONLY country in the EU to still allow Fenn traps (the traps you find in the wire cages that are placed on logs across streams to catch stoat and weasel):

Fenn Trap Dinnet Estate
Lizzybusy

October 27, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Almost all shooting estates, and predominantly grouse shooting estates, use Fenn Traps. These diabolical traps should have been outlawed in the UK in July last year but the UK government was the only EU country to seek a derogation of implementing the ban for two years. These traps have been banned in the rest of the EU, Canada, the USA, and Russia and negotiations on the International TREATY have been taking place since the 1990s. The ban in the UK should have been enacted under the AIHTS (Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards) which outlaws traps which do not kill the ‘target’ animal within a certain time period (depending on the species) and by crushing the skull. Fenn Traps do not meet the criteria.  In October 2015 Defra commissioned animal research into possibly two traps to determine whether these traps met the criteria. The research finished in February 2016 and the report of the results was given to the government just before the ban deadline. Defra claim there are no traps which meet the criteria which have been drawn up before any new traps can be approved for use with stoats (the animals they are allegedly used to ‘control’ In the UK on grouse moors. I have been waiting and repeatedly waiting for a copy of the report since July 2016 which is supposed to be released ‘soon’ ‘shortly’. In the meantime Defra have held Ministerial meetings about this international agreement with all the usual brigade (GWCT, BASC, NFU, NGA, MA, CA etc) but no animal welfare groups (or rather Defra identifies the establishment that carried out the lethal animal research as the animal welfare representative group!). All these groups and MPs with pecuniary interests in the shooting industry have held meetings with Defra and Ministers about the AIHTS for years.  A key meeting with about 20 individuals and pro-shooting groups was held in January 2016 which was attended by Senior Defra officials. Following the meeting, Defra officials worked with some of the lobbyists to draw up an action plan for derogating the Agreement. Despite repeated FOI requests, Defra claims that no minutes of that meeting to discuss compliance or non compliance with an International Treaty were taken by Defra officials and none of them took notes!   The GWCT have confirmed to me that their representative chaired the meeting and one of their group took the minutes of the meeting. They are refusing to release them to me and Defra claims not to have received copies of the minutes of this important legally crucial meeting so they cannot release them!

 

There is a link between the signs telling people to keep to the path and the persecution of wildlife in our National Parks.  Most grouse moor managers just do not want the public to see what is going on.  It won’t be long until landed interests start calling for access bans from grouse moors to preserve the rural way of life.  The best thing anyone who cares about wildlife in our National Parks can do therefore is to leave the path, record the wildlife you see (for example on birdtrack) and record traps and other signs of wildlife persecution.

 

The second reason why you won’t see much wildlife in our National Parks is because of the way heather is promoted above all other plants, partly through moorland drainage but mainly through muirburn.

The destructive impact of muirburn, Glen Gairn

The only reason moorland is a rare habitat globally, as stated in the Welcome to the Moorland sign, is that no other country allows land to be managed in this way and yet we continue to do so, even in National Parks.   On the one hand the Welcome to the Moor sign claims moorland is an important carbon store, in the next its describing muirburn which releases carbon.   The sign claims muirburn is a carefully planned operation when in fact its highly disputed and contentious.  The evidence for this can be seen in the new Muirburn Code which was issued in September:

The boxes in orange indicate the issues which have not yet been agreed – almost all are about how muirburn should be carried out.

In relation to the Cairngorms National Park, one might ask how the CNPA’s endorsement of these signs compatible with what is has said about moorland management during the development of the National Park Partnership Plan:

  • Controlled muirburn reduces the fuel load and can reduce the likelihood of spread of wildfires. Poorly managed muirburn can lead to destruction of rare habitats, carbon emissions, impact on water quality and creation of wildfires. A more selective approach would provide increased habitat biodiversity by leaving areas of scrub around the moorland edge, rather than managing simply in terms of either forest or moorland.  (The Big 9 issues report).
  • In some places however, the intensity of management measures to maintain or increase grouse populations is out of balance with delivering wider public interest priorities
  • During the course of this Plan period we seek to establish, deliver and promote a shared
    understanding of what good moorland management looks like in the Cairngorms National
    Park. There is national guidance and current initiatives such as the revised muirburn code, and
    the Principles of Moorland Management. We will work with moorland managers and all relevant
    interests to agree what practical implementation of these means in a Cairngorms context and to
    deliver greater public benefits alongside other estate management objectives.

There was nothing in the Partnership Plan to say heather moorland was a globally threatened habitat yet the CNPA has endorsed a sign which says just that.  There is nothing in the signs which says the estates concerned have made any commitment to change the way they manage grouse moors so the implication is the CNPA is endorsing the way these estates are managed at present, which involves muirburn, bulldozing of tracks, persecution of wildlife.

 

What needs to happen?

The CNPA by endorsing these signs is in effect endorsing the intensive type of grouse moor management, which it says it wants to move away from, and undermining access rights.  The CNPA keeps trying to say its caught between landowners and conservation and recreation interests and needs to take a middle way.  However, when when push comes to shove it appears to end up supporting landowner interests rather than the rights of the public.

 

What is should do is tell the sponsors of this sign, Scottish Land and Estates, the Scottish Countryside Alliance Education Trust and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust that it will no longer support these signs and that the message about access needs to be changed to make it clear that people are welcome all over grouse moors.  If necessary, it could work with recreation interests and the National Access Forum to apply existing guidance under the SOAC to grouse moors so grouse moor managers are absolutely clear about what is acceptable.

 

Meantime I think the only signs the CNPA should be associated with are on estates like Glen Tanar which do respect the vast majority of wildlife and try to manage the land in the way the CNPA set out in their Partnership Plan.

September 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Like many people, I suspect, I have been waiting for  months for another case of raptor persecution to occur in the Cairngorms National Park.  For under the current grouse moor management regimes that dominate much of the National Park, its not a case of “if” but “when” another raptor will disappear.   While its taken longer than I expected, last week the RSPB announced  a young hen harrier, which had been satellite tagged on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, had disappeared just north of Ballater.  As Raptor Persecution Scotland reported (see here) its almost certain this was on either the Invercauld estate, held by a Trust on behalf of the Farquharson family or Dinnet estate, owned by former Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Member Marcus Humphrey.   Their article documents known cases of raptor persecution in the area.

 

The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued this news release in response to the incident:

Statement: Hen harrier disappearance

1st September 2017

From Grant Moir CEO, Cairngorms National Park Authority

“A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances.

“Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues.

“The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review.”

(see here for link)

However, while such a solution might work in a National Park where the Board was determined to tackle landowners, unfortunately the reality at present from the destruction at Cairngorm to the profileration of hill tracks is that the CNPA does not appear to have the will or resources to use its regulatory powers.   So, even if the CNPA introduced a licensing regime – and was allowed to act independently of its minders at the Scottish Government – this might not change anything.
Another solution is to nationalise the land.  In many National Parks across the world land is in public ownership.  National Parks were set up in Scotland on the assumption that it would be possible to persuade landowners to cooperate.   They have now had 15 years to do so and some still blatantly ignore all the conservation objectives of the National Park.  I think its time therefore for people to start demanding that where there is evidence of repeated raptor persecution (or a repeated failure to meet other conservation objectives) on particular estates in our National Parks the Scottish Government should compulsorily purchase the estate concerned.  Tney could then transfer the land to a new National Parks land-management service, as exists in other countries, to manage.
July 19, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ladder trap for crows 7th July north west of Loch Builg, Meall Gaineaimh, outlier of Ben Avon behind

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

Loch Builg and the eastern flanks of Ben Avon are remote country for those arriving on foot, three hours or so from a public road.  Despite the network of estate tracks I was surprised to see this trap, at the end of the track above Loch Builg ,and on the hillside above upturned turves sprinkled with medicated grit.   Please read Susan Matthew’s fine piece in the recent issue of the Cairngorms Campaigner, the newsletter of the Cairngorms Campaign,  about a walk through a wildlife desert on the flanks of Ben Avon.  The explanation is in the photo.  Every animal that might prey on or affect grouse is destroyed, while heather is the only plant that counts. If the core of the Cairngorms cannot be wild, a sanctuary for wildlife and devoid of human artefacts, where else could be?

July 7, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls,  resident of Ardentinny

Cleared rhododendron Glen Finart                                                                               All photos by the author

This is the third in a sequence of reports (see here) and (here) on the impact of Forestry Commission Scotland practices in the Argyll Forest Park, which forms the south western part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

 

Rhododendron ponticum, an invasive species, was apparently introduced to the area by the Victorians, to provide shelter for game birds. DNA analysis suggests that most if not all invasive bushes originate from the Iberian Peninsula. Rhododendron ponticum seems to be a hybrid species, particularly suited to acidic soils in areas of high humidity.

 

It has been shown to reduce the number of earthworms, birds and plants, but also the regenerative capacity of a site. In fact, where I live, there seems to be no wildlife at all.

Slope from which rhododendron branches from a sequence of cutting campaigns have been cleared and burned, illustrating the lack of regeneration

Eradication of non-native invasive species, Rhododendron ponticum.

Racks of cut rhododendron, left in banks obstructing access, note the regrowth in the background, as it appears that no follow up spraying has taken place.

Wild Park 2020, the National Park’s plan for nature conservation, included measures to eradicate non-native species one of which is:

 

Management to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum, from 50% of the National Forest Estate within the National Park has been put in place and clearance programmes are underway and on schedule for completion

 

Nothing wrong with the objective, its the way its being done which is the problem.   When I asked, I was informed that burning the cuttings was not an option due to the fire hazard to the trees, and chipping would be too expensive. It was asserted racks of branches would soon decay, and in the interim, would harbor wild life. I have seen no evidence of either happening.

This has been described by visitors as a dark impenetrable wet desert.

The racks of recent rhododendron cuttings, overlay two layers from previous campaigns of cuttings, separated by about a decade each. Note the regeneration of rhododendron through the cuttings, making it difficult to spray the regrowth effectively. In another decade, the area will be as bad as ever, but even more impenetrable!

 

Note also the relative sparsity of the surviving trees.  One would have imagined that the rhododendron cuttings could have been burned and stumps exposed to be treated, by spraying with a herbicide.

One can only come to the conclusion that the process is so poorly implemented and ‘quality’ checked, that public money is being wasted year after year, and no consideration at all is given to recreational use of the Forest estate.

The outlook from this area is spectacular.

Before the most recent campaign of cutting I had never explored the area, had no idea how interesting and varied it is, and was inspired to clear paths through obstructions in order to make access possible for neighbors, particularly visiting children.   However, these are just ‘desire lines’ and it is Forestry policy that such informal routes will not be conserved.

 

The linguistics are interesting and bluntly affirm that what the public might ‘desire’ is sacrificial if it inconveniences forestry operations. It treats local residents and visitors with contempt.

 

I no longer accept this order of precedence, not in a National Park and on land held and managed in trust for the public, by a body whose founding objectives included sustaining the rural population and encouraging recreational use if the forest estate.

 

In a country trying to promote active lifestyles, plagued by obesity and heart disease, where children seldom have access to places where they can explore, gain self-confidence and become self-reliant in their own countryside, it makes no sense.

 

It speaks to a lack of coordination of public policy and/or lack of accountability of a public body, both to its original constitutional purpose and the public interest.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority was set up to promote and enable public access, for visitors and local people.  It appears to have  ignored the impact of FCS “conservation practices”, whether these are achieving their objectives and their impact  on the public’s right to enjoy the outdoors.   A new objective should be added to the new draft National Park Partnership Plan, that FCS should to develop new and more effective ways to clear invasive species such as rhododendron and engage with local people and recreational organisations to re-establish access in the Argyll Forest Park.

June 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Recent clearfell at the Rest and Be Thankful. The conservation section of the draft NPPP fails to address the issues that matter such as the landscape and conservation impacts of industrial forestry practices in the National Park Photo Credit Nick Halls

This post looks at the Conservation and Land Management section of the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) which is out for consultation until 3rd July (see here).  It argues that the Outcomes (above) in the draft NPPP are devoid of meaningful content, considers some the reasons for this and outlines some alternative proposals which might go some way to realising the statutory conservation objectives for the National Park.

 

Conservation parkspeak

 

Call me old fashioned but I don’t see why the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park needs a vision for conservation – “An internationally renowned landscape where nature, heritage, land and water are valued, managed and enhanced to provide multiple benefits for people and nature” – when it has a statutory is duty a) “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.   The statutory duty to my mind is much simpler and clearer, the vision just marketing speak.

 

Indeed, the draft National Park Partnership Plan is far more like a marketing brochure than a serious plan.  This makes submission of meaningful comments very difficult.  Feel good phrases such as “iconic wildlife”,  “haven for nature”, “stunning and varied wildlife”, “vital stocks of natural capital”  are peppered throughout the document.  The reality is rather different, but you need to go to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to find this out:

 

  • The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures
  • Three river and 12 loch waterbodies in the Park still fail to achieve “good” status in line with Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives.
  • The Park has 25 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to pressures from Invasive Non-Native Species.

 

In other words progress during the period of the 2012-2017  Plan has not been what one might have expected in a National Park.    Instead of trying to learn from this and set out actions to address the issues, the LLTNPA is trying to bury failures under the table and to conceal its lack of a clear plan with marketing speak.  There is no need to take my word for it, the problems are clearly spelled out in the SEA:

 

The main weakness of the new plan over the extant plan is its lack of specificity combined
with its with its very strategic nature: given limited resources and the framing of the priorities in the
draft plan, it is unclear how intervention will be prioritised. For example, in the extant NPPP [2012-17], waterbody restoration and natural flood management measures are focussed in the Forth and Tay catchments. The new plan does not appear to include any such prioritisation and it is unclear if there will be sufficient resources to deliver the ambitious waterbody restoration measures across all catchments during the plan period. This key weakness is likely to be addressed by using the new NPPP as a discussion document to formalise arrangements and agreements with partner organisations on an individual basis (e.g. using individual partnership agreements as per the extant NPPP). However, it would be preferable if resource availability (and constraint) is articulated clearly in the plan document to help manage expectations;

 

Or, to put it another way, the NPPP outcomes are so “strategic” as to be meaningless, the LLTNPA has failed to consider resource issues and is planning to agree actions in secret with partner bodies once the consultation is over.     It appears that all the failures in accountability which took place with the development of the camping byelaws (developed in 13 secret Board Meetings) will now apply to conservation.

 

Economic interests are being put before conservation

 

This failure in governance – about how plans should be developed – conceals a skewing of the National Park’s conservation objectives towards economic interests (in spite of the duty of the LLTNPA, under the Sandford principle and section 9.6 of the National Park (Scotland) Act to put conservation first).     The best example is the beginning of the conservation section where the LLTNPA outlines the main threats to the “natural environment” the Park faces:

 

  • Impacts on freshwater and marine water bodies from problems such as pollution from surrounding land uses [ e.g algal blooms in Loch Lomond];
  • Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in some upland and woodland areas, leading to reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores [the 27 sites according to the SEA];
  • The spread of invasive non-native species which displace our rich native wildlife; [we are given no indication of how much progress has been made tackling this over last 5 years]
  • The impacts of climate change leading to warmer, wetter weather patterns and a subsequent
    increase in flood events, major landslides and rapid shifts in natural ecosystems.

 

Omitted from this list are the many threats to the landscape of the National Park which is being destroyed by “developments”:  Flamingo Land, the Cononish Goldmine, transport routes and over 40 hydro schemes with all their associated tracks.

Netting above the A83 in Glen Croe has further trashed visual amenity in the glen while not stopping the problem of landslides.   The problem is the A83 takes the wrong route – almost anywhere else in the world this route would have been tunnelled but not in a Scottish National Park.
Scotgold has permission during its trial at Cononish to store 5000 tonnes of spoil in bags – think what 400,000 tonnes would look like.
The Beinn Ghlas hydro track in Glen Falloch – the whole of Glen Falloch, which runs between the two prime wild land areas in the National Park, has been trashed by hydro tracks which planning staff agreed could be retained (originally they were to be removed) without any reference to the LLTNPA Board.

In the world of parkspeak however all these developments will be classed as successes.  The reason?   One of the measures of success is “Planning & Development:  The percentage of the Park and/or number of sites with landscape mitigation schemes”.    The developments in the photos above have all been “mitigated” by the Park as Planning Authority – an “unmitigated bloody disaster” would be a more accurate description of what the LLTNPA is allowing to happen. 

 

Many of these developments also impact on the ecology of the National Park.  For example, despite all the fine words about water catchment planning and flood prevention there is NO consideration of the impact of the 40 plus hydo schemes being developed in the National Park on flooding (send the water through a pipe and it will descend the hill far more quickly than in a river) or the ecology of rivers.

Beinn Ghlas hydro scheme – the LLTNPA appears uninterested in evaluating the impact of channelling water off the hill through pipes

A more specific example is conservation Priority 11 which says the LLTNPA will “Support for land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Whole Farm and Whole Estate Management Plans”.  This is the same LLTNPA which, while claiming  28% of the National Park is now covered by such plans, has recently refused to make them public on the grounds they are commercially sensitive(see here).  If this is not putting commercial before conservation interests, I am not sure what is.

 

The few specific “conservation” objectives are not about conservation at all

 

The photo that appears on the page on Conservation Outcome 2, Landscape conservation

While there are very few specific conservation objectives in the NPPP, those that do exist are clearly driven by other agendas

 

Conservation Priority 4
Supporting projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes particularly along major transport routes and around settlements and also that better meet the different travel mode needs of visitors, communities and businesses. Priorities include:
– Implementing a strategically planned and designed upgrade to the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan;

-Continuing to review landslip management measures on the A83 at The Rest and Be Thankful.

 

Landscape conservation has been reduced to ensuring that people can enjoy the view from the road.  There is no consideration on the impact of those roads (visual, noise etc):

 

It is important that we ensure that key areas of the Park where people experience the inspiring vistas found here are recognised and enhanced. This means that key transport routes,  such as trunk roads and the West Highland railway line, along with the settlements in the Park, continue to provide good lines of sight to the stunning views of the iconic landscapes found here.

 

Biodiversity in the National Park

 

The new NPPP actually represents a considerable step backwards from Wild Park 2020 (see here), the LLTNPA’s biodiversity action plan, which is not even referred to in the NPPP.    The vision set out in Wild Park (P11), which is about restoring upland and lowland habitats, enriching food chains (to increase numbers of top predators) woodland re-structuring etc, is worth reading – a far clearer and coherent vision than in the NPPP.  That should have been the NPPP starting point.

 

Wild Park  contained 90 specific actions, which were due to be reviewed in 2017 – “the Delivery and Monitoring Group will undertake a mid-term review in 2017 of progress overall on the projects and programmes in Wild Park 2020” .  There is no mention in the NPPP about what has happened to that when it should have been central to developing the new plan.   Part of the problem is the LLTNPA has taken very little interest in conservation over the last three years – there are hardly any papers to the Board on conservation issues  as all its focus and the Park’s resources have been devoted to camping management.

 

The weakness in Wild Park was that while it included many excellent projects, these were mostly limited to small geographical areas and many were located on land owned by NGOs (eg a significant proportion of all the projects were located on NTS land at Ben Lomond and the Woodland Trust property in Glen Finglas).   There was nothing on a landscape scale and very few contributions from Forestry Commission Scotland, by far the largest landowner in the National Park.   The draft NPPP claims  (under conservation outcome 1) to want to see conservation on a landscape scale but contains no proposals about how to do this apart from setting up a network of partnerships.   This begs the question of why these partnerships will now work when we know over the last 15 years similar “partnerships” have failed to address the main land management issues which affect landscape scale conservation in the National Park, overgrazing and blanket conifer afforestation.

 

What needs to happen – biodiversity

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to have some ambition.    On a landscape scale this should include a commitment to a significant increase increase in the proportion of forestry in the National Park which is managed in more sustainable ways.   The SEA describes this as “there is an opportunity and interest in increasing the amount of woodland under continuous cover forestry (CCF) systems. This would reduce the amount of clear fell and associated soil erosion and landscape impacts”.  So, instead of failing to mention the Argyll Forest Park, why is the LLTNPA not pressing the FCS to change the way it manages forestry there?      How about aiming to convert 50% of that forest to continuous cover forestry systems over the next 10 years?  

 

And on a species level, there is no mention of beavers in either the NPPP or SEA.   Amazing the lack of join up:

Why is FCS building artificial dams when beavers could do the same job?

Wild Park described one indicator of success in 25 years time would be that “The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.”   The LLTNPA should bring that forward and actively support beaver re-introduction projects now.

 

Second, there needs to be some far more specific plans (which the Park should have consulted on as part of the NPPP to guage public support) which are both geographical and theme based.  Here are some examples:

 

  • So, what exactly is the plan for the Great Trossachs Forest, now Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve, which is mainly owned by NGOs?  (You would have no idea from the NPPP).
  • How is the LLNPA going to reduce overgrazing?
  • What about working to extend the Caledonian pine forest remnants in Glen Falloch (which would also hide some of the landscape scars created by hydro tracks)?
  • What does the LLTNPA intend to do to address the widespread persecution of species such as foxes in the National Park?
  • What can the National Park do to address the collapse of fish stocks in certain lochs or the threats to species such as arctic charr (whose population in Loch Earn is under threat from vendace).

 

I hope that people and organisations responding to the consultation will add to this list and demand that the LLTNPA comes up with a proper plan for the next five years and argue for the resources necessary to deliver such objectives.

 

What needs to happen – landscape

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to start putting landscape before development and state this clearly in the plan.    There should be no more goldmines, large tourist developments (whether Flamingo Land or on the torpedo site at Arrochar) and improvements to transport infrastructure (which are needed) should not be at the expense of the landscape.   Tunnelling the A82 along Loch Lomond – which has been discounted by Transport Scotland as too costly – should be put back on the agenda.

Powerlines at northern end Loch Lomond dominate much of the landscape of what is supposed to be a world class walk, the West Highland Way

Second, I would like to see the LLTNPA have a bit of ambition and make an explicit commitment to restoring  historic damage to landscapes.   What about burying powerlines as is happening in English National Parks (there is one small initiative at present in the LLTNP)?   How about restoring damage to the two wild land areas on either side of Glen Falloch, particularly the old hydro infrastructure south of Ben Lui, the largest area of wild land in the National Park?

Alt nan Caoran Hydro intake south of Ben Lui and Ben Oss – you can just see pipeline above centre of dam

The LLTNPA Board should also commit to a complete review of how it has managed the impact – “mitigated” – the construction of hydro schemes, engaging the people and organisations who have an interest in this.   The big issue here is the hydro construction tracks, which the LLTNPA now allows to remain in place, and which have had a massive deleterious affect on the more open landscapes in the National Park.   The LLTNPA’s starting point in the new NPPP is that there should be a presumption against any new tracks in the uplands and therefore that all hydro construction tracks should be removed in future.  There should be a review of the tracks which have been agreed over the last five years and a plan developed on how these could be removed (the hydro scheme owners, many of whom are based in the city, are not short of  cash and could afford to do this – that would be a demonstration of real partnership working).

 

Finally, as part of any plan to restructure conifer forests in the National Park, the LLTNPA also needs to develop new landscape standards for Forestry which should include matters such as track construction and felling.   There should be a presumption against clearfell.

 

What needs to happen – resources

 

Just like the Cairngorms NPPP, the LLTNPA NPPP makes no mention of resource issues.  Instead, the underlying assumption behind the plan is neo-liberal.  The state should not provide – in this case the National Park cannot expect any further resources – and the priority of government is to enable business to do business, which (according to the theory) will all some  benefits to trickle down to the National Park.

 

This is totally wrong.  We need a proper plan which sets out what needs to be done, how much this will cost and how this will be funded.    The Scottish Government could of course and probably would say “no” but things are changing politically and proper financing of conservation (and well paid rural jobs) are key to the third part of the NPPP which is about rural development.

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).

May 2, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

On 27th April, the same day the above article appeared in the Strathie about felling at Curr Wood, on Speyside, SNH’s latest post on Scotland’s Nature popped into my inbox https://scotlandsnature.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/time-to-celebrate-bugs-in-the-cairngorms-national-park/.   And guess what bug featured?     One so rare that …………….it only occurs at a single location in the National Park, Curr Wood………….shome mistake surely!

 

Cairngorms Nature

One example is the pine hoverfly. Due to intensification of forest management over the decades this is now an endangered species, so rare in fact that it is restricted to a single location in the Cairngorms National Park. It depends on the deadwood cycle – the process of trees (in this case big old granny pines) falling over or succumbing to fungal disease and decaying. The pine hoverfly’s larvae live in wet role holes created by this process – a very specific niche. Natural occurrences of these “rot holes” are nowadays few and far between because most pines in forestry are felled before they get to be old, knarled granny pines. To help save the pine hoverfly from extinction, a range of organisations in the park have been making artificial holes in tree stumps to give the pine hoverfly a home. It is hoped that in the future numbers of the hoverfly will increase to levels that allow it can survive on its own, and with more pine forest in the park being managed less intensively, natural rot holes should become common again.

Thank goodness our public authorities don’t always co-ordinate what they put out to the media.   The cracks between them are most revealing.  And for a broader view of what is going wrong with the approach to tree “management” in the National Park, the same issue of the Strathie contained this very interesting letter from Basil Dunlop which appears to re-inforces previous points made on parkswatch about Loch an Eileen (see here).

Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend 12th – 14th May

The place of nature in the Cairngorms National Park is highly contested and full of contradictions and this is evident in the events being organised for the Big Nature Weekend (see here).   There are some great events on and, due to the current attempts to criminalise people who enjoy the countryside in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, I particularly liked this one at Invercauld:

Description

Camp fire capers – explore around the wonderful Invercauld Estate, collect sticks and other things from nature and learn how to light a small fire without matches. It’s not the easiest thing to do but a great skill to learn and a fab party piece. There will also be marshmallows for everyone to toast! Suitable for kids 3 years + (with a well behaved adult!)

 

Collecting wood for lighting fires is now of course a criminal offence in the LLNPA camping management zones, incurring a fine of £500 and a criminal record.    So what’s being promoted in the Cairngorms National Park Authority is a criminal offence in the LLTNPA!     This just shows how completely out of touch the LLTNPA are.

On May 1st though the CNPA put out a Cairngorms Nature email which highlighted events that were taking place on five estates under the heading  “Behind the Scenes” which just so happens to be the same heading used Natural Retreats on their blog to explain what they are doing at Cairngorm!

Behind the Scenes

Part of the Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend is about offering opportunities that are not normally available to the public.

Landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park, it is a challenging task which is all about balance.  The weekend will offer a number of opportunities to join the people who look after our landscapes on a day to day basis and get an exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ tour of a working estate.

There are events happening in Strathspey, Phoines Estate, Corgarff, Glenmuick and Balmoral.  Please click on the relevant area above to find out more and book a place.

The claim that landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park is highly ideological.  What about the wild land/rewilding view?   This explains that the reason why so much of the National Park is degraded in conservation terms is precisely because there is too much management: muirburn, proliferation of bulldozed tracks.  Indeed one could cite the felling and replanting at Curr Wood.

 

The CNPA would, I guess, respond by saying “its all about balance” – to which the question needs to be asked, balance between what?    Unfortunately while promoting these events at the Big Nature Weekend there appear to be no events being promoted by RSPB, SNH or NTS which might demonstrate some alternative ways of managing the land.

 

Click on Corgarff and you will find the event is on the Allargue Estate, which is described as conservation-minded – this is the estate where all the vehicles were parked that took place in aninfamous mountain hare massacre featured on Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here).    The event is called “A Question of Balance – Wildlife and Land Management”.   It makes you want to cry.

 

What needs to happen

 

The CNPA needs to stop promoting estates which do not adhere to the standards for conservation we should expect in National Parks.  Now maybe the Allargue Estate has made a commitment to stop culling mountain hares.  If so, I would applaud that but if not, the CNPA should not be promoting it.

 

The new Cairngorms Partnership Plan provides an opportunity for the CNPA to  ask all estates within the CNPA that have not already done so to submit an estate management plan and for those who have them, to revise their current  plans.   Such plans should contain transparent statements on what wildlife is killed by estates, either for “sport” or “protection of wildlife”, on practices such as muirburn and how the estate is going to play its part in meeting  the conservation objectives set out in the Partnership Plan.

April 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Most people want to conserve the countryside but is what Ralia Estate means by “conserving the countryside” compatible with a National Park? (see below)

 

On Wednesday evening I went to have another look at the northern section of the access track which had been created for the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and which was due to be restored last year (see here).  Its situated on the east side of the A9 behind the tree shelter belt and opposite the southern turn off to Dalwhinnie.

The north end of the track, which is blighted by a so-far unrestored large turning area

That post resulted in the North East Mountain Trust, who had been concerned about the original planning application, taking the matter up with the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   It transpires that the Estate had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency about the details of how they were going to restore the track, missed the deadline and the CNPA has now extended it until the end of 2017.    There was provision for this under the conditions attached to the planning consent which lasts until February 2018.    Unfortunately there are still no details of this on the CNPA planning portal (see here) where the last available document is dated July 2015.  If you are a member of the public, therefore,  not only does it appear that the estate has failed to restore the track within the deadline but also that the National Park has done nothing about this.   The CNPA is letting itself down and, I believe, making planning enforcement much harder for itself because of this lack of transparency.

 

 

The CNPA did though state to NEMT  that, should the Estate fail to restore the track as per the planning permission it granted by the Park Authority, once the CNPA planning permission lapses the ground would  need to be completely restored, as per the Section 37 Electricity Act consent for the Beauly-Denny.  They said the Scottish Government would be responsible for enforcing this. (I am unclear how this can be reconciled with earlier advice I received from the Scottish Government that  “In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place”).   If it comes to that, four years will have been lost in which this land could have been restored properly to the benefit of both landscape and wildlife.     Funny how delays in our planning system are always portrayed as being the fault of planning authorities when in fact by far the biggest delays and created by developers/landowners.

Tower 125 just beyond the end of the track. There is a patch, just behind the tower, where vegetation is recovering, unlike the scar in the middle distance

Meantime, the Scottish Government is even less transparent – one rule for local government, another for national government – and removes planning applications it approves from the public realm.  There is therefore no convenient means for the public to find out how the restoration of the Beauly Denny is going.  I resorted to a FOI request to the CNPA about what information they held and was – again very helpfully – provided with information about the restoration of land under the 76 towers and approx 28km of track that are within the National Park boundary.

Extract from SSE monitoring report October 2016. The Drumochter track is 25a and the FT reference is short for the Fort Augustus to Tummel section and followed by the number on the tower.

According to SSE most of the restoration for which it is still responsible is going well – or rather is “of an acceptable standard”.  I think the photos show otherwise, as does a report the CNPA’s peatland officer in 2015  (see here) – well done him and the CNPA.     What the papers, which I will come back to in further posts, show is that SSE is just hoping all the destruction which it caused will regenerate naturally, whereas the CNPA and SNH are concerned whether this is going to happen.    The problem is the CNPA appears to have very little power to make SSE do anything – although if it went public with its concerns that I think would make a significant difference.

Photo of ground north of tower 125. Stones have been mixed with soil and insufficient turf retained to resurface the whole. To make matters worse clumps of turf have simply been dumped on along with stones on the surface.

So why has Ralia estate taken over the burden of restoring the land from SSE?

 

 

The amount of work – and therefore cost – in meeting the approved design plans for the track are considerable.   The 4.7 km of track needs to be reduced from its current width of 5-7m to 3m.

So much aggregate has been imported to construct the track that even where turves have been properly stored, re-landscaping will be a real challenge.   The planning permission granted by the CNPA specifies that excess materials will be removed, which would make landscaping considerably easier – a great requirement but will the estate do it?

 

The job will not be made any easier because so much of the temporary construction work was so poor.   If this track is to be halved in width, so will the drainage pipes.

Bizarrely, among all the protuding pipes, there was one example of a culvert which had been properly finished – at both ends too!   Unfortunately, the track here was even wider than normal, 7m rather than 5m, and at least one of the finished culverts will need be ripped out if the track is to be reduced in width to 3m.    If this work was done by SSE, one wonders why?  If by the Estate, that would suggest they are intending to keep the track at its current width, contrary to planning requirements.

The reason why the estate wanted to retain the track though quickly became apparent.  It makes it much easier for the gamekeepers to manage animal traps or, from their viewpoint, “to conserve the countryside”.   This was the first time I had seen a live bird in a Larsen trap in 100s of visits to the hills (not a coincidence, they are usually tucked away like this) and I found it quite distressing but then I see crows as beautiful creatures, one of the most intelligent of all birds, and not pests.   The crow was hopping up and down and beating its wings against the side of the trap – that’s what’s meant to happen, it attracts other crows wishing to defend their territory.    All my instincts were to free it but that, I recalled somewhere, is a criminal offence.

The ostensible purpose of Larsen traps is that the flapping crow (or other corvid) attracts others which are then lured into one of the two traps.    In Scotland only hens’ eggs or bread are allowed as  bait (as here).  The theory and use of these traps from the landowner viewpoint is set out in guidance from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).     The trap in the photos appeared to meet all animal welfare requirements about provision of water, food and a perch for roosting at night.   While Scotland has stricter requirements than England on the use of these traps, under General License under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it seems to me there is question about whether this General License should extend to National Parks.

 

While the GWCT claim there is little evidence of raptors being caught in such traps and that live traps such as this allow protected birds to be released,  that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the level of persecution of raptors on grouse moors.  Why would estates ever report if hen harriers, say, were found in such traps?  Maybe I am unobservant, or always unfortunate in my timing, but while there were large numbers of grouse about (and some song thrush, pied wagtail and wheatear) there was not a sign of a hen harrier.

 

What was clear was that the estate was trapping anything else that might prey on grouse.   The tracks make maintenance of such traps easier for estate staff.

 

A  multi-catch cage trap was located slightly further away from the track – as recommended by GWCT – part of the reason being to avoid the public coming into them while in use and becoming distressed.  What is clear to me is the CNPA, by granting planning permission, for the retention of this track has made it much easier for estate staff to trap and kill anything that is perceived as a threat to red grouse.  The CNPA talks about the need for balance between competing interests, but in terms of species there is no balance.  Everything is about increasing numbers of red grouse.

Ralia estate: Grouse shooting in Inverness-shire

While as the link shows, the numbers of grouse at Ralia have increased dramatically, what is not reported is the numbers of other species that predate on them.

 

The CNPA’s consent to Ralia Estate retaining this section of track appears to have had little impact on their off-road use of vehicles.     Indeed, Ralia estate appears to be creating further tracks without any planning permission.

The track that has been developed along the line of grouse butts on the north side of the Allt Coire nan Cisteachan.    The installation of a water bar means, I believe, that this counts as a constructed track and should have had full planning permission – its purpose, along the line of grouse butts is only too clear and has nothing to do with agriculture (where developments only require “prior notification”).

The track, as you can see far right, runs up in front of the grouse butts

 

New track, running up south side of Allt Coire na Cisteachan and branching off track used by many walkers to access A Bhuidheanach

The constructed nature of the track on the south side of the burn is even more obvious and to an appalling standard (I will report it to the National Park).  Although the newly “constructed” section is short,  its intention is clearly to enable vehicle access up the hillside easier and yet more scars on the Drumochter.

End of the 20m section of track showing erosion created beyond

The issue at Drumochter therefore is not just about restoration of the Beauly Denny or planning permission for hill tracks and what they are then used for – although both have had major and unnecessary impacts on the landscape – its about what off-road use estates should be allowed to make of vehicles in the National Park.   In my  the National Park could contain and control all these issues through the use of byelaws which introduce licenses for hunting.   Such hunting licenses could require estates not to use vehicles off-track or trap any animal without explicit permission.

April 6, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Cairngorms National Park Authority Board is meeting on Friday to discuss and approve its new Partnership Plan, the overarching Plan which guides what it will do over the next five years (see here for the 60 page plan and supporting documents).    The LLTNPA’s announcement about this can be read (here).   Its positive the Board is devoting a whole meeting to consider the plan – it deserves this.  What follows is not a comprehensive evaluation of the Plan  but rather an attempt to highlight some key issues for those who aspire to create  National Parks in Scotland which are worthy of the name.

 

Positive changes in the revised plan

 

It is clear that the CNPA has listened to criticisms of the draft plan and has made far stronger statements/commitments in certain areas.   Among the specific changes which should be welcomed are:

 

  • to eliminate raptor persecution in the National Park (an ongoing issue as recent disappearance of a golden eagle on the North Glenbuchat estate shows (see here)
  • the recognition of the role of moorland management in creating flooding downstream
  • the statement that the Park will  “plan proactively” for beavers
  • the presumption against new bulldozed tracks in the uplands
  • the commitment to join up the path network in the eastern Cairngorms  and to create a new long distance walking route, the Deeside Way

 

There has also been some strengthening of the general statements that underpin what the Partnership Plan should be about, particularly the creation of a section on public interest priorities for landuse in the National Park  This includes the role that National Parks can play in combating climate change, reversing loss of biodiversity and landscape scale conservation as well as how the National Park can promote best practice in terms of recreational visitors and empowering local communities.

 

All this is positive and suggests there are people within the CNPA who have clear aspirations for what the National Park could deliver.

 

Weaknesses in the revised plan

 

While the revised plan is more aspirational than the draft, it still seems to me to fall short of what we should expect from a National Park.   Here are some examples:

 

  • In announcing the Partnership Plan the CNPA cited the inclusion of a target of 5000 hectares of woodland restoration in the next five years as showing its conservation intent.   5000 hectares sound a lot until you consider that the total area of the Cairngorms National Park is 4528 square kilometres or 452,800 hectares – so the target is to increase the amount of land with woodland cover in the National Park by about 1.1% in the next five years.  Nothing in that target that remotely threatens to change the way that “sporting” estates are managed.  Indeed its unclear if grouse moors or stalking estates are going to contribute anything to this target or whether it will be delivered by the NGOs and Forest Enterprise.
  • Connected to this, the Plan states that public interest land-use objectives, such as increasing woodland cover, should be delivered “in conjunction with private objectives”.  In effect this means the objectives of sporting estates.   If these remain untouched, will anything change as a result of the plan?  My reservations are re-inforced by the section on deer management which contains actions like the further development of methodologies for establishing the “right level” deer grazing.   This type of approach that has been taken for years without any meaningful results.   There are no commitments from sporting estates to change what they do.
  • These weaknesses derive from an ongoing commitment by the CNPA to using the voluntary approach, and that alone, to achieve its statutory objectives:   “All sectors must work together to deliver for the Cairngorms”.   There is not, as far as I can see, any fallback position in the Partnersip Plan which sets out what the CNPA will do if this voluntary approach, once again, fails to work.  What is the CNPA going to do if golden eagles are still disappearing in the Cairngorms this time next year?    There is no plan B.  Worse, in my view, if there is no stick there is absolutely no incentive or reason for private sporting estates to change how they manage the land on a voluntary basis.
  • The basic omission in the plan is about how the CNPA will tackle powerful interests in the National Park if they fail to act in the public interest.   Land Reform is one way that the power of landed interests could be tackled but, while there are welcome statements in the Plan about  empowering local communities, there is nothing to say how land reform might help the CNPA meets its statutory objectives.   This is not just about land though – the CNPA rightly recognises low pay is a serious issue for the majority of those working in the National Park, but makes no proposals for how this might be tackled.   Instead it wants to see the contribution tourism makes to the economy in the eastern Cairngorms increase – more low paid jobs?   When one of the statutory objectives of the National Park is sustainable economic development, its a major omission when the Park Plan has nothing to say about whether changing the way land is managed could create more and better jobs.
  • At least though the CNPA is clear – unlike the LLTNPA whose thinking is far more overtly neo-liberal (they even have a commercialisation strategy) – that public investment is key to the future of both conservation and the people living in the National Park.

The Plan reads as if the CNPA has identified most of the key issues, its just not worked out yet how to deliver its aspirations.

 

Omissions from the Partnership Plan

In my view, in addition to any plan to tackle vested interests,  there are two further major omissions from the plan

  1. A lack of a vision for wild land and rewilding.   While near the start of the Plan there is a map showing wild land in the Cairngorms, the Plan says nothing about how this will be protected or enhanced apart from there being a presumption against new tracks.   There is no commitment to restore land that has been trashed by past developments – surely the National Park should be identifying tracks and other developments that impact adversely on wild land landscapes and which we should aspire to have removed?   Nor does the Plan explain  how the Park’s commitment to new hydro schemes fits with wild land.  While re-iterating its opposition to windfarms, on landscape grounds, the CNPA seems to see hydro as unproblematic – there is plenty of evidence that this is just wrong (see here for example).   The lack of vision however goes further than this:  is there nowhere in the National Park where the CNPA would like to see natural processes predominate and where nature should be allowed to take its course; what about the re-introduction of species?   The beaver is mentioned, but there are no firms plans, while of lynx, which would help reduce numbers of roe deer, there is not a mention.   This is an opportunity missed, an opportunity for the National Park to take a lead that would inspire people.
  2. What resources are needed.   While there is much talk of partnership (and indeed even a statement that partnerships are a way of bringing resources together), there is no systematic attempt to describe what resources the various partners can definitely contribute to make the Plan happen (an exception is a list of major capital investment projects both private and public).  Nor is there any attempt to describe the resource gap, things that the Partners would like to do if they had the resources.    What most striking about this is its completely unclear how the Park’s conservation objectives in the Plan will be financed (apart from the Peatland Action project).

 

What next?

 

The Parternship Plan, once amended/approved by the Board needs to be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham.    While there is a lot of good things in the Plan, much of this, particularly the conservation objectives, are likely to unravel because they are totally dependent on the voluntary principle.   If the Minister really wants objectives such as the elimination of raptor persecution to be achieved, she would be wise to ask the CNPA to develop alternative mechanisms to ensure the Partnership Plan is delivered.

April 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The sale of the Tulchan Estate, which straddles the northern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park, was announced last week  (see here).  The estate, or rather Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd which Leon Litchfield, the previous owner, set up as the vehicle to own it soon after he purchased the estate in 1993,  was bought by the Yuri Schefler, a Russian billionaire.   He owns the SPI Group which is registered in Luxemburg (notorious for its loose tax regime).   Companies House still records – from a statement made in 2016 – that no single person or legal entity has “significant control” of the company.   Its therefore unclear if Mr Schefler has bought the shares in Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd personally or through another legal vehicle.   It appears though he has appointed a new director, to replace the Directors who resigned in March, one Natalia Sidorenco (a UK citizen).

 

Ms Sidorenco is also a Director of Tulchan Estate Services Ltd, a new company set up in February 2017, and which appears to have nothing to do with the Litchfield family.   It has nominal capital but  its owners’,  sf Scottish Properties Ltd, correspondence address is Lefebvre Court, Lefebvre Street, St Peter Port, Guernsey, GY1 6EJ.   Another tax haven.   The Herald quoted claims that Yuri Schefler is aiming to invest in the estate, and that might be so, but why set up a service company which is owned by another company which appears based in a tax haven if your long-term intentions are to invest in the area?   It looks like any returns on Mr Schefler’s investments may go elsewhere rather than benefitting local people.  This is yet another sale which raises issues about the need for land reform.

 

Indeed, the creation of companies and trusts to own estates is now being used to circumvent the right to buy provisions in our Land Reform legislation.  This was well put in the Herald article:

 

“But the sale had been hit by a row over the rights of the estate’s tenant farmers, which campaigners had asked to be put on hold.

Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 is meant to ensure tenants are granted the right to buy when farms are put up for sale.

Because the new owners of Tulchan will buy the shares of a company, rather than a property, the farms will not technically have been sold and the tenants will not be able to trigger a right to buy.

But a spokeswoman for Savills said the issue over the tenant farms had been resolved with the sale.”

 

While Tulchan Estate had been put on the market for offers over £25 million the most recent company accounts for January 2016 show Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd had been valued at nothing like this amount.

Part of the reason for this was that a number of loans had been secured on property owned by the Company,  including as recently as last year,  and Companies House records all these were paid off earlier this year.   Then on 10th March 2017 the Directors issued a statement reducing share capital in the company to £14,355,802 shortly  before resigning and being replaced by Ms Siderenco.  Now, I am not an accountant but I am not sure why they would do this unless the offer for the estate was less than the previous share capital of £15,653,208.  Its also possible of course that it was Mr Schefler who paid off the various creditors of the company.

 

Natalia Siderenco has also become a Director of Tulchan Springwater Ltd but that company is dormant and is worth nothing   Her fourth Directorship is I think relevant.  She is a Director of SPI Spirits (UK) Ltd which after paying interest lost £165k in financial year to December 2015 and  whose liabilities exceeded its assets at that time by c£1.85m. Those accounts use Company Act exemptions and don’t report on internal transactions with the wider SPI group owned by Mr Schefler but its another company that appears insolvent.

 

So why is all this relevant to our National Parks?

 

The predominant model of National Parks across the world is that land is state owned.  Indeed in Chile, the state added 11 million acres of land to National Parks in March (see here), albeit spurred to do so in part by a legacy from the campaigner Doug Tompkins.  In Scotland we allow all land to be traded, even that in National Parks, without controls.   Tulchan is just the latest example of this.

 

Proponents of private ownership would argue so what?  Well the reason this matters if we have no idea whether Mr Schefler respects the four statutory objectives of the National Park.   We allow landowners to buy land in our National Parks without even having to make a declaration about their intentions – Mr Schefler says he is going to invest in the estate but, for all the Cairngorms National Park Authority knows, this might bulldozing more tracks onto grouse moors or cutting off access to the river Spey for outdoor recreation apart from fishing which is happening downstream, just outside the National Park.

 

While the CNPA to their credit have tried to get every estate in the National Park to develop estate plans many did not do so: Tulchan was one of those.  So will Mr Schefler, or rather his apparent nominee, Natalia Siderenco, now ensure one is produced and consult with the National Park on this?  The problem is its their choice.    The CNPA has no powers to force the company to produce a plan yet alone to determine whether they are fit people to own land in a National Park.    Owners of Care Homes have to show they are fit to do so, so why not owners of land in our National Parks?  Someone who has abused people or allowed people to be abused would not be allowed to own a care home, and we should apply the same principle to land ownership, so people who allow protected species to be killed should not be allowed to own land in our National Parks.

 

If you want a compelling reason for this, the day after the sale of Tulchan was announced, the RSPB reported the disappearance of  yet another golden eagle on the Glenbuchat estate (two estates on from Tulchan going east).  Its worth reading the history from Raptor Persecution Scotland:

 

Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ on North Glenbuchat Estate in Cairngorms National Park

 

Nothing to do with Mr Schefler of course but the point is we have no idea what he is going to do, whether he might be like the managers of north Glenbuchat or at the other end of the spectrum, like Anders Povslen, the owner of Glen Feshie.   We need to create ways to assess suitability of people to own or lease large areas of land in our National Parks and this should include a financial fitness test to ensure companies such as Natural Retreats don’t siphon money out of the National Park.   Mr Schefler’s companies that relate to Tulcha haven’t done anything yet of course but will need watching.

March 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Trap intended for stoat probably baited with part of a mountain hare just outside southern boundary Cairngorms National Park February 2017

In what I believe is a very positive development Onekind has launched a campaign to protect mountain hares in the Cairngorms National Park (see here).  I think they are right to focus on the National Park – if we cannot protect wildlife in our National Parks then we are unlikely to protect wildlife anywhere except for places in conservation ownership – and Mountain Hares are a good species to start with since they are not fully protected (there is an open and close season) unlike raptors which in theory are (though in practice the laws to protect raptors have made little difference which is why there is also a compelling case to license all hunting in our National Parks).

 

In choosing this campaign, Onekind I suspect, has picked up that the general public feel very strongly our National Parks should be different from other places and part of that means wildlife should be protected there.   This is reflected in Raptor Persecution Scotland/UK’s 7th Birthday blog – congratulations to them, they are doing a fantastic job of exposing how Raptor Persecution is being allowed to continue.   The RPS post listed the ten most popular posts of the last year.  What struck me is that two of their most popular posts had “Cairngorms National Park” in the title and three others covered ground within the National Park:

  1. Natural England issues licence to kill buzzards to protect pheasants (here)
  2. National Trust pulls grouse shooting lease in Peak District National Park (here)
  3. Queen’s Balmoral Estate accused of mountain hare massacre (here)
  4. Faking it (here)
  5. More mountain hares slaughtered in the Angus Glens (here)
  6. More mountain hares massacred in the Cairngorms National Park (here)
  7. The illegal killing of birds of prey in the Cairngorms National Park (here)
  8. Chris Packham has a message for Marks & Spencer (here)
  9. Mass raptor poisoning in Wales: location revealed (here)
  10. Catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers on grouse moors in NE Scotland (here)

 

I have commented previously about National Parks,  the power of the idea.   It  makes sense for animal welfare and conservation organisations to use it and I also welcome the fact that, in raising awareness about what is going on in our National Parks, animal welfare and conservation organisations are increasingly working more closely together.

 

In response to Raptor Persecution Scotland’s post on the Onekind campaign (see here) there were two very interesting comments (and I hope the authors and RPS don’t mind me quoting them).

Solway Ladder Trap used to trap corvids (crows, magpies,jackdaws) on side -out of use – Dalnamein. When uptright crows drop through the ladder – running across middle of trap – and cannot get out due to the shape of the trap’s roof

Protected areas and wildlife

 

Here’s the comment from Alistair Clunas:

 

Many respondents on this blog expect wildlife to be specially protected in our National Parks. This is not the case.

All National Parks in the UK are Category V Protected Landscape/Seascape. A protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape protection and recreation.
http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/students/whatisanationalpark/nationalparksareprotectedareas/iucncategories

This means that protection of ecosystems and wildlife is not, as it should be, a function of the national park. The Scottish Government when it set up the national park system should have created Category II Nation Parks where areas are managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation. At the very least a core area in Cairngorms National Park should have been designated as such.

 

I agree with Alistair that wildlife is not specially protected in our National Parks but the important thing is the public EXPECT wildlife to be protected in our National Parks.    While I believe that having Category ii National Parks would help, as Alistair suggests, I don’t think this is  essential to protect wildlife far better than we are doing at present.  Our current National Parks could do this if they had the will.   The first aim in law of both our National Parks is to “(a) conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and what’s more where there is conflict with the other three aims, “the authority must give greater weight to the aim set out in section 1(a)”.   Note it says  NOT “should” but “must” – conservation must come first.

 

A large part of the problem in my view is that our National Parks have simply not done what they should be doing, they have not put conservation first.  Its not even that they have put their fourth aim ” (d) to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities” first.  Its that they have interpreted this to mean that they should put  landed, business and financial interests first.   The onekind campaign is an opportunity to put a small part of this right.

 

Having said that, I agree with Alistair, that we should be creating  core areas within our National Parks where natural processes and wildlife come first or, as Ron Greer described it, we should create “wildlife refugium”  (see here).   While this idea has been knocked sideways in the Cairngorms, it has never formed part of the thinking in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park – it should do, there are some great areas of wild land where natural processes could be allowed to hold sway.

 

What about other species than mountain hare and raptors?

 

The second comment was from Iain Gibson:

 

It’s time to consider the position regarding the entire principle of controlling predators, which is falsely justified simply by tagging them with the label “vermin” or “pest.” I see no reason why foxes should not be protected. It’s only because of country lore and tradition that we continue to persecute them. Personally I would like to see a society in which all wildlife is protected by law, and guns removed from the equation, but this appears to be unrealistic at present due to the fanaticism of our own version of the gun lobby, which insists farmers can’t cope without the ability to kill so-called “vermin.” It is true however that some do, including a few hill sheep farmers who manage to survive without having to control foxes. Surely our understanding of nature and ecology has reached a sufficiently advanced stage to realise that vermin control is unnecessary except where a serious threat to human health is involved. So long as conservationists continue to make exceptions for Red Foxes and Carrion Crows, ignoring scientific evidence, gamekeepers can accuse us of hypocrisy. I suspect few readers of RPUK are aware that crows have been taking a hammering since the rise of the Countryside Alliance, in effect because ignorant farmers, gamekeepers and wildly right-wing “country sports” supporters are taking out their frustration against enlightened people, aka “townies.”

Stoat trap, Dalnaspidal, within the National Park. There appears to be no difference between the number of traps on the part of this estate that is within the National Park and that outside the National Park.

 

 

 

Iain, I think is spot on.   The level of trapping of “vermin” such as weasels and stoats  in the Cairngorms National Park (see here for Dinnet example) is as much a disgrace as the slaughter of Mountain Hares.   This is not just a Cairngorms issue.   Last year I was talking to a keeper in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park who told me he had lost count of the number of foxes he had killed.    It made me think afterwards about how many foxes I had ever seen in the LLTNP.  In hundred  of visits, I have probably seen less than five foxes, while in Glasgow, where I run the streets most days, I see them 3-4 times a week.

So, both of our National Parks need to address wildlife persecution, not just hares but other species, and what better place to start than in their new five year partnership plans which have to be agreed this year?        Mountain Hares should be just the starting point for a much wider vision of the wildlife potential of our National Parks.

 

February 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

A further insight into the failure of the Cairngorms National Park to protect native wildlife was revealed in the article above which appeared in the Strathy last week.  There may also be a link between the CNPA’s approach to mountain hares and its apparent attempt to silence Councillor Bill Lobban last week (see here).

 

While I welcome the fact that the estates involved in the mountain hare counting project have agreed to stop culling mountain hares – (and if Glenlochy’s claim is true it appears they stopped culling mountain hares while poisoning of buzzards was still happening on their land (see here)) –  there is  another agenda here which is illustrated by some of the quotes from the piece:

  • Glenlochy is claiming that overpopulation of mountain hares can be detrimental while at the same time claiming mountain hares are “notoriously difficult”  to count, which is why this project is needed.   How, one might ask, does any keeper know there is an “overpopulation” of mountain hares if they do not know numbers?
  • What is an “overpopulation” of mountain hares – who sets the criteria for this? – and what is the impact of hare numbers of flora and fauna?   It is generally accepted that without human intervention, mountain hare numbers rise and fall naturally.  If its impact of mountain hares on flora, from so many nibbling mouths, which estates are concerned about, well…………….how does this compare to the impact of the muirburn conducted by these same estates on vegetation?   We know the main alleged impact on fauna which concerns estates is that Mountain Hares carry the tick which can infect Red Grouse with the louping ill  virus and this is what has led to the mountain hares culls.  But how will counting mountain hares tell us anything about the levels of transmission of ticks between one species and another?    There appears very little rationale to the counting project unless its purpose is to kick any action to protect mountain hares in the National Park into the long grass for a three further years.
  • The claim that culling hares is necessary for the “general health of the species itself” seems based in eugenics.  While genetic manipulation and selection by humans has been integral to the development of farm crops and animals, applying such thinking to what should be wild is a different matter.   Why not let nature sort this out?    The claim is complete nonsense anyway.   All the photos that have appeared on Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) show there is indiscriminate culling of mountain hares.  If natural ecosystems were functioning in the Cairngorms no culling would be necessary anyway as there would be eagles and other predators which would live off the mountain hares and control their numbers.   The populations of predators would then fluctuate along with the population of their food source.  The fact that the impact of predators, or rather their absence, appears to have no role in this study tells you its not about tackling the real issue, wildlife persecution.

 

While the CNPA has no direct role in the study, to design a study which is to take place in the National Park without considering how it meets the overriding national conservation objectives of the National Park appears to me just wrong, a mis-use of public resources.   The CNPA too has claimed it cannot take any action to protect mountain hares until this study is completed.  Whatever happened to the precautionary principle, which says you protect nature until you know its safe not to, or the conservation objectives of the National Park?

 

Our public authorities and research institutions are studying all the wrong things in our National Parks.   They should not be funding studies whose main purpose can be to serve the interests of the shooting lobby.  What we need from the CNPA is  a proper assessment of the wildlife deficit in the Cairngorms – just how many stoats, weasels, hen harriers, golden eagle etc are missing from the the eastern Cairngorms and what is the potential for species like the beaver – and then fund research into alternatives to the current model of sporting estate.

 

Species champions, in Highland Council and in the National Park

 

A few years ago Highland Council decided to support its Councillors becoming  species champions:

 

The elected members will be invited to become a species champion. This follows on from the successful initiative that Scottish Environment Link undertook with MSPs. The choice of species will come from a list of over 70. The role of a species champion will be to take an interest in “their” species and act as an advocate for it, highlighting its importance and/ or the issues affecting it in relevant debates or other opportunities that arise.

There are currently at least 27 Species Champions in the Council including such species as harbour porpoise, red kite, strawberry spider.   The three Highland Councillors who sit on the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board are all species champions, Dave Fallows for the Capercaillie, Gregor Rimell for the Northern Damselfy and Bill Lobban……………. for the mountain hare!   Indeed, Councillor Lobban has spoken out for the Mountain Hare (see here) unlike the convenor of his planning committee (see here).     Evidence I think that the attempt to silence Councillor Lobban last week on planning issues was part of an attempt to silence one of the few CNPA Board Members prepared to speak out for wildlife.    .

 

The ability of the three Highland Councillors to become advocates for wildlife on Highland Council is quite a contrast to what they are allowed to do as CNPA Board Members.  When the Cairngorms Nature plan (see here) was being drawn up, it was suggested that Board Members could become species champions – what an opportunity one might have thought for the National Park?    After all according to the plan, the Cairngorms is home to 1/4 of all rare and endangered species in the UK.  The CNPA rejected this proposal.    This failure in leadership has had a huge impact.  Contrast the attitudes of landowners and local communities in the West Highlands to species like the sea eagle, which they know are fantastic for tourism, and to how the Cairngorms National Park treats its wildlife.  A little diversification of the tartan tourism on Deeside which is based on Balmorality to wildlife could do not harm.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • In the forthcoming Partnership Plan the CNPA could show its commitment to wildlife by encouraging all its members to become species champions and allowing Highland Councillors to play this role both within their own Local Authority and the National Park.  The first new species that should be championed is the beaver, with the Board Member advocating for it leading the re-introduction of this species into the National Park
  • The forthcoming Partnership Plan needs to include a commitment to put wildlife in the National Park first and stop any species, including the mountain hare, being persecuted for the benefit of shooting interests.  That entails developing measures to regulate shooting, trapping and the use of dogs to hunt wildlife in the National Park.
November 30, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
hares
Photo credit Raptor Persecution Scotland
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This photo from the LLTNPA which I believe dates back several years still periodically appears in the mainstream media in stories about the camping byelaws. What does it tell us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I  have been pondering further what Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, said about more evidence being needed before the Government can act to protect mountain hares (see here) when I believe action could be taken in our National Parks now. Roseanna Cunningham never explained what sort of evidence the Scottish Governance would need before it could act and why.    I doubt she could, I suspect she is repeating what the civil servants have told her.

 

I think Roseanna Cunningham should therefore ask her civil servants why photos of abandoned tents counts as sufficient “evidence”to justify the introduction of camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park whereas photos of piles of dead mountain hares is not apparently regarded as sufficient evidence to introduce byelaws to control hunting in the Cairngorms National Park?

 

I know that photos of abandoned tents were used by the previous Minister, Aileen McLeod, as the MAIN “evidence” to justify the introduction of camping byelaws as a result of a number of FOI requests.    When Aileen McLeod announced she had given the go ahead for the camping byelaws she referred to the evidence she had personally seen.   I asked the Scottish Government in February to clarify under Freedom of Information what evidence the Minister had actually seen (see here) and received this response  in April.  Basically the Minister had made one visit to the National Park to three places, one of which was a hotel:  “Loch Lubnaig Visitor Site (North Site); Loch Earn, North Shore Horseshoe Layby; and the Mhor84 Hotel.  I think we can safely conclude from this the main “evidence” she had SEEN were the photos of abandoned tents.

 

I also asked in that request a number of other questions about evidence:

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The response was clear the Scottish Government held no evidence other than that provided by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority

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I had provided an extensive critique (see here) to the Scottish Government on the camping byelaw proposals and the so-called evidence the LLTNPA had provided to them appendix-1-overview-of-evidence-base-1  and what the response above shows is that the Scottish Government had done nothing to check the veracity of that evidence.  Contrast that with Mountain Hares, where ever more evidence is needed before action can be taken.

 

It was the same with the review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws (see here) where the Government admitted it had no criteria by which to judge the LLTNPA’s review and held no information at all on this.  The Scottish Government simply accepted what the LLTNPA had said and had taken no account of the critique I had submitted to them.    If the Scottish Government can accept such poor evidence from the LLTNPA, I can’t see any problem with it accepting whatever evidence the CNPA can draw together to justify a suspension of hare culls (the photos in themselves should be sufficient).  After all the CNPA already have a legal duty to conserve and enhance the natural heritage which is supposed to take precedence over its other aims if they clash.

 

I find it interesting that while the Scottish Government, when it talks about the need for more evidence (a reference I believe to SNH research into mountain hares) did not ask SNH to conduct research into the impact of camping on Loch Lomond before taking a decision.   Nowhere in the SNH sitelink database on protected areas in the National Park have I seen camping listed as a threat.   That says it all.   There is one rule for trying to protect nature, another rule for trying to stop people from enjoying nature.

 

Research into the impact of culls on mountain hares has been going on for years, with SNH producing two research reports in 2008, is ongoing, and will probably never reach a definitive conclusion.   SNH however has been concerned enough to agree with Scottish Land and Estates and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust an interim position which calls for a voluntary suspension of culls.  That one would have thought should be enough for the Scottish Government and National Park to act.  However, they apparently need more evidence………………

 

I think what this shows is that “evidence” is a highly political matter and what counts as evidence very much depends on whether you are trying to control what landowners and their employees do or what the general public does.  Unfortunately we live in a system where its much easier for one National Park to remove access rights, which both National Parks were set up to promote, on the basis of flawed and fabricated evidence, than for our other National Park to protect wildlife, which both National Parks were also set up to do, on the basis of sound evidence.

November 24, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Last week Raptor Persecution Scotland reported on the OneKind demonstration against the slaughter of mountain hares outside the Scottish Parliament on the 17th November:

 

“Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham addressed the rally and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.” 

 

Other reports of the demonstration also reported Roseanna Cunningham had spoken of the need for evidence but in the context of legislation rather than broader action.    Whatever Roseanna Cunningham said there are things that could be done NOW to protect mountain hares without any government legislation and without any further evidence:

  • conservation is one of the four statutory purposes of our National Parks but when other of the purposes conflict with it, conservation should be put first.  Now whether the slaughter of hares is classified as coming up the statutory purpose of enjoyment or of sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources (the other three aims) doesn’t matter.  Conservation comes first and the photographic evidence of slaughter should be enough for our National Parks to act.   The Government just needs to tell them to do so and to introduce byelaws to prohibit the killing of mountain hares in the National Park.
  • moreover, the Government has created Special Protection Areas to protect Golden Eagles whose favourite food is mountain hare.   The citation for the Cairngorm golden eagle SPA, which runs beyond the National Park boundary in the Angus Glens at present focusses on the habitats rather than the species on which the eagle depends.   Amazingly the main threat listed for this SPA is disease.   There is nothing on the eagle’s food supply.   I believe if the Scottish Government had the will they could simply ask SNH to include provisions about protecting mountain hares in all our eagle SPAs including those in our National Parks.
  • in addtion, some of the citations for moorland Sites of Special Scientific Interest explicitly refer to mountain hare in their description of the “features” worth protecting (the Morven SSSI is one example).  Roseanna Cunningham could again ask SNH to ensure that culling of mountain hares was listed as an operation requiring consent, which in effect would introduce a licensing system year round (hares are currently protected for only part of the year in the “closed season”).    SNH could then only issue consents for mountain hare culls if landowners were able to provide proof that this was not detrimental to the environment, including the eagle population.  In other words shift the burden of proof away from public authorities onto landowners.

 

All this would make a difference, without the need for any more evidence.  It could also be done relatively quickly.   However, if the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which is currently finalising its partnership plan for submission to Roseanna Cunningham in the New Year, is to do this there needs to be a shift in thinking both at the Scottish Government and in the National Park Board.   The need for this is illustrated by this revelation also featured on the Raptor Persecution Scotland post:

rps
Credit Raptor Persecution Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Eleanor MacKintosh has rightly been criticised for saying this, and it was a very stupid thing to say, I am not sure Eleanor MacKintosh is stupid.   The interesting question is why the convenor of the CNPA planning committee is telling the gamekeepers simply to hide the mountain hares they are shooting?   A legitimate question is whether someone else told her to find a way to prevent the mountain hare massacres hitting the headlines in future and this was her clumsy attempt to do this.

 

Critics should hold onto the fact that this information came out as a result of an FOI request and at least the CNPA is recording things properly.  It would be almost impossible to obtain this type of information from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park because they stopped writing things down long ago.  The position at LLTNPA in terms of basic governance is far worse than the CNPA.

 

So I think campaigners need to pressurise both the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government that the new Cairngorms plan contains measures, including byelaws, that will protect mountain hares in the National Park from next year.  There is no reason why it could not be done and the Scottish Government could also extend protection would widely through using existing conservation legislation.

 

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 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

p1000099-copyI was in Aberdeen on Tuesday night giving a talk to the North East Mountain Trust on “What is the Cairngorm National Park for?”.   I have been a member for years, because of the excellent work they do and their magazine Mountain Views, which I regard as an essential source of information for anyone who cares about the Cairngorms.

 

The latest issue contains the responses the Scottish Government has made to questions in the Scottish Parliament about the continued killing of mountain hares.     Before my talk one of their members told me they had driven over the Lecht that afternoon and seen a group of gamekeepers by the road with rows of dead hares like those that have been featured on raptor persecution Scotland (see here).     If they’d taken a photo I’d have ask to post it here but unless you have a camera with a powerful telephoto lens or are fearless (and possibly foolhardy), its very difficult to record these incidents.   Most massacres of mountain hares in the National Park, just like the illegal killing of raptors, are simply not recorded.

 

In my talk I showed some photos of grouse moor management taken on a recent walk  around the Dinnet Estate including the mountain hare above.  I remarked on the number of traps I had seen and asked the audience if there was anywhere worse in the National Park?p1000140-copy

Trap Glenfenzie

 

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Two traps, one on either side of pool, leaving nothing to chance, Morven burn

 

A chorus of estate names rang out from the back of the room, including Invercauld which borders on the Dinnet Estate. A hillwalker had found a common gull caught in a trap earlier in the year at Geallaig Hill on Invercauld (see here) and unusually, the Gamekeeper in this case has been dismissed, although he has not apparently been charged.

 

At the end of my talk I was asked what we could do to make the Cairngorm National Park more effective in protecting wildlife and our landscapes.   My reply was  to the effect that photos are worth a thousand words and that ideally more people should keep a keen eye on the workings of the National Park and not just respond to consultations but take more active roles through submitting FOI requests and complaining where necessary.   In responding, I was aware that I had not entirely convinced myself or the audience.  While photos and lobbying can effect some changes, these will only go so far.

 

Yesterday, I thought about this again, prompted by accounts I had heard after my talk about how NEMT members were involved in not just enjoying that National Park but in practical conservation work such as maintaining paths and monitoring tree regeneration on Mar Lodge estate.  This reminded me that the recreational community, in a broad sense (not just physical activity but observing the landscape and nature) cares far more about the Cairngorms than most of the people who own it (who are responding for the persecution of wildlife and the trashing of the landscape with tracks and developments).  Yet the recreational community, who are people who basically argued for National Parks in the first place have been sidelined and don’t have a seat at the table in the proposed Partnership Plan.   Instead, what we have is Fergus Ewing MSP accusing the Cairngorms National Park Authority of bias (see here)  for not privileging gamekeepers above all other interests.  As a former member of the Mountain Rescue one might have hoped he would have appreciated the need for the recreational voice to be at the centre of what the National Park does.

 

So, I think the answer to the question of how do we make the Cairngorm (and indeed the Loch Lomond and Trossachs) National Park more effective, is that the recreational organisations need to assert their right to be centrally involved in running our National Parks   The answer to the question “What are our National Parks for?” lies in the question “Who are our National Parks for?”.

October 14, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments
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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 28, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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Glenfenzie ruin in Glen Fenzie just off the A839 on the Dinnet estate.  This used to be a small farm that supported people but is now managed as a grouse moor and the shooting let out.

 

Following my post questioning  the Cairngorms National Park Authority assertion that grouse moors bring much needed employment to the National Park see here, on Sunday I went for a walk round the western half of the Dinnet estate via the summit of Morven.  My main intention was to look at the unlawful hill tracks that have been created there in recent years (subject of a future post), but the number of abandoned houses was striking.  Hardly a sign of grouse moor management bringing prosperity to the area.

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Glen Fenzie farm. The change from conventional to grouse farming has not created any new jobs, precisely the opposite.
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Abandoned estate buildings above Morven Lodge. How many people used to work here?

The CNPA partnership plan says nothing directly about the number of jobs or houses that have been lost as a result of the intensification of grouse moor managment.  In my view it should.  This is a fundamental issue about land reform.    These estates have been clearing not just wildlife (see here for yesterday’s announcement of yet another unlawful hen harrier killing in the National Park) but also people from the countryside

 

This should have implications to the CNPA proposals on housing, one of the Big 9 issues in the Partnership Plan, and where the CNPA is still supporting a couple of large new housing developments of owner occupied housing (see here for housing evidence). The Housing Evidence document (at 43 pages) and Flood Management documents (36 pages) are about twice the length  as any other evidence document (eg Active Cairngorms gets 11 pages and landscape scale conservation 18).  Despite the length, this is the nearest the Housing Evidence document gets to discussing the impact of landed estates on the housing supply in the countryside:

 

Around 14% of households rent from the private sector, which is a fall of around 6% since 2001 (down from 20%). One unusual facet of the National Park’s rented sector is the relatively high proportion of households renting from an employer of a household member. In 2011 these households represented 5% of the private rented market. It is likely that these households largely represent estate workers and seasonal workers in the tourism sector, where accommodation is often included with the job.
There was however a drop in this tenure class from 35% in 2001; the reasons for which are uncertain. In part it may represent a change in the categorisation of tenure definitions, for while the 2001 census records no households as living rent free, the 2011 indicates a level of 4%. Other causes may include changes in the working practices of estates and the sale of estate stock.

 

The CNPA fails to mention that one possible contribution to the decline in private sector rented housing is that estates are continuing to remove people (and jobs) from the land.     The CNPA Plan has promoted no discussion about this or options for the future.  While much estate accommodation is remote – that around Morven Lodge is accessed by unsurfaced hill tracks – judging by the numbers of people who respond to adverts to live on remote islands, if you offered these houses to people to live in, there would be lots of demand.  Alternatively, if renovated and offered as holiday accommodation they would be in high demand which would help support local jobs.  There is no electricity at Morven at present –  there are  gas lights in the Lodge – but with micro hydro everywhere else, why not here?

 

I don’t think however that any vision such as this – and I am sure there are other alternatives – is ever going to happen though while landowners maintain their feudal grip.  The owners of the grouse moors don’t want independent people living or staying in remote areas who might notice and report what is actually going on in terms of wildlife persecution and grouse moor management.   A good reason for the CNPA to promote community buy outs and control of these buildings.   There is a fantastic resource out there of attractive Victorian buildings that the CNPA is letting landowners abandon.  Is this called protecting the cultural heritage?p1000120-copy

The nature of the abandoned estate buildings suggest this was a place that once supported several jobs.

 

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The only building still in use is the former lodge. Its use now appears to be restricted to providing lunch to shooters. There does not appear to be any overnight accommodation. If this is right the only job that is supported is the cook that is brought in for the day and the gamekeepers who live elsewhere.
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The main function of Morven Lodge now is to provide luncheon

 

 

Our failure as a society to make use of existing housing is not just a problem with Landed Estates of course and there are other aspects to this such as second homes which are are covered in the Partnership Plan.   However, from a quick tour of Deeside I spotted over 10 empty dwellings – some of which are probably not even on the CNPA’s database of empty dwellings.   When the CNPA is estimating 4.5 new properties a year are needed on Deeside (from Aberdeenshire’s figures of 90 properties in 20 years)  to meet demand why is it not taking a serious look at how abandoned estate buildings could be brought back in the housing stock?

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Abandoned house Corriemulzie
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The boarded up house opposite the car park and public toilets in Braemar

Below is the extract from the main Partnership Plan of the CNPA’s preferred direction (notice there are no actual targets) on housing.  The CNPA should firm up the vague commitment to help local communities buy land to secure local housing “solutions” with a firm plan to help them buy up and renovate abandoned estate housing before it deteriorates still further.

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TARGETS / PREFERRED DIRECTION
• Making sure that when new housing is built, more of it is accessible to people who live and work in the National Park through influencing scale and tenure of housing;
• Delivering more affordable housing as a proportion of all new development;
• Increasing the level of investment in affordable housing and infrastructure on key sites;
• Ensuring the delivery of key strategic sites; [ie the large sites at An Camus Mor and Kingussie]
• Maintaining high design standards appropriate for a National Park; [what better than renovating traditional buildings?]
• Helping communities make the most of any right to buy land in order to secure local housing solutions; and
• Reducing the proportion of second and holiday homes in the National Park.

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 7, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Raptor Persecution Scotland published yesterday a list of over 60 illegal raptor persecution incidents since the Cairngorms National Park was created  https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/the-illegal-killing-of-birds-of-prey-in-the-cairngorms-national-park/ and are promising a further piece on how the Cairngorms National Park Authority has so far failed to address the issue.  The list is likely to be the tip of iceberg but is well worth reading: I was particularly struck by the number of persecution incidents that have taken place in the vicinity of Grantown on Spey, where the CNPA headquarters is located.   It appears to me to be symbolic of the powerlessness of the CNPA to date.  If they cannot stop raptor persecution in their own backyard what hope for the remoter parts of the National Park where persecution is much less likely to be detected?

 

This history – and I look forward to Raptor Persecution Scotland’s further analysis of why this has been allowed to happen – should be reason enough for anyone who cares about raptors or our wildlife to respond to the CNPA’s consultation on their new Partnership Plan.  Indeed the CNPA has encouraged people to respond to their proposals on grouse moor management which I covered in a previous post http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/08/29/grouse-moor-management-cairngorms-national-park/.

 

Its worth also being aware that there is a short section in the Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/160608CNPPP3mainDoc1.pdf on “Protecting and enhancing species diversity”:

 

” The Cairngorms is home to a vast array of rare and endangered species, with at least 1,200 of regional, national or international significance. While our work on habitat enhancement should secure species diversity in the long-term, there are some species that need targeted action
in the short-term, for example the freshwater pearl mussel, capercaillie, and raptor species.
This means:

• connecting individual species management needs into the wider vision for habitat
enhancement and land management practices;
• joining up habitat management, recreation management and development management
to address pressures on species in a co-ordinated way, specifically implementing
the Capercaillie Framework;
• co-ordinating action to control further spread of invasive non-native species;
• taking a planned approach to potential species restoration.

 

I don’t understand what “connecting individual species management needs” in the first bullet point means.  I think it’s trying to say “the way individual landowners/estates manage species” needs to be connected “into the wider vision for habitat enhancement”.     Whether I have got this right or not,  I believe the emphasis on “management” is wrong.   Generally, what we need in our National Parks is much less management (apart from preventing further spread of non-native invasive species) and many more “wild”.  What this should mean is there should be a presumption in favour of protecting all our native wildlife (foxes, stoats, weasels, hares, crows) within the National Park instead of culling these species in order to maximise game species like pheasants or red grouse.  There could then be specific exceptions made to allow hunting (not vermin control) of certain species such as red and roe deer, red grouse and rabbits.   This should take place under licence which the CNPA could introduce through its byelaw making powers.    A condition of all licences would be they could be withdrawn where there was evidence of persecution of protected wildlife.  This proposal goes far beyond anything being proposed by the CNPA in the Partnership Plan but I am afraid without it wildlife such as raptors will continue to be persecuted while their potential food supply will be artificially reduced (e.g the culling of hares reduces the food available to golden eagles).

 

The draft Plan looks at Issues, Targets and Mechanisms to reach these.   Its positive the draft Plan identifies Raptor Persecution as an issue.   I have previously commented that the Target/Preferred Direction to “Improve raptor population conservation” is feeble and misses the point – raptors need to be protected and if they were numbers would increase significantly.    The only mechanism being proposed  for raptor protection/conservation is the “East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership”.   This only covers part of the National Park, the part of the Park where the absence of raptors is most noticeable.   It will never achieve the National Park’s Targets/preferred direction.

 

Instead or in addition, I would suggest that to protect raptors and other wildlife the CNPA should introduce the following mechanisms:

 

  • license all hunting within the National Park
  • license all hunting dogs within the National Park (e.g terriers are used to kill foxes) and estates should only be able to keep them if they agree to conditions for their use
  • ban all traps (through bye-laws)
  • satellite tagging of all the rarer raptor species to help identify areas where illegal persecution is taking place
  • publicise the whereabouts of raptors to improve their protection and give the public an opportunity to enjoy them rather than keeping their whereabouts secret which plays into the hands of the persecutors

 

I hope these proposals provoke debate and there may be other or better ideas/suggestions but the more people who respond to the Park Plan consultation demanding that the CNPA introduces effective measures to protect wildlife in the National Park the more chance there is of achieving change.

 

 

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?