The socio-ecological NGO, Reforesting Scotland launched a campaign in May 2011 to promote the protection and expansion of hutting in Scotland. The Thousand Huts campaign has achieved a considerable amount in a short space of time. Last week the new Scottish Planning Policy included provision for huts in the planning system for the first time. Last night, BBC Scotland 2014 carried a great wee film by David Millar followed by a studio discussion with the journalist Lesley Riddoch.
by Jess Smith, Scottish author, musician and story-teller from Perthshire’s Travelling People
The Tinker’s Heart is a small arrangement of white quartz stones embedded in the ground at the junction between the road to Strachar (A815) and Hell’s Glen (B839) in Argyllshire.
For years it has stood as a testimony to the survival of Scotland’s Travelling people. A sacred place where couples wed, babies were christened and the dead blessed. In 1872 there is proof of two local people getting married there. There is no written evidence as to how old it is and like the oldest ballads that Burns listened to, it is all oral – no dates nor names. Reasons for the stones being placed there are associated with the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances as well as the eradication of the Culture by removing children from campsites. It is sacred to my people from all over the world and needs to be protected and restored.
Several years ago someone told me of the sorry state of the Heart. A visit had me in tears. Highland cattle were trampling over it, a single strain of wire threaded through three metal poles was all there was to protect it (see picture above). It was dying and I had to save it.
I began by writing to the landowner Ms Kate Howe but she refused to answer. I wrote to her cousin Christina Noble but got the same response. I spent ages looking through the internet and found a very informative piece in Secret Scotland – Gypsy Wedding Place. (1)
I needed help so contacted my local MSP, Mike Russell. He was excellent and he set up a meeting with Ms Howe but was not prepared for her negativity. He’d not come across her attitude before. I presumed by his reactions that this landowner did not hold Travellers with much respect. Here is a rich landowner who owns 7048 acres of Scotland yet is not prepared to part with a few yards of old road.
Every step seemed to be getting harder. I went to visit a couple representing the landowner with Mike but got no joy there. Another meeting, this time at Argyll and Bute council headquarters with Mike Russell, Councillor Louise Glen-Lee, the Council’s tourism officer and a gentlemen from Historic Scotland, resulted in more negativity with Historic Scotland stating they would allocate funding for restoration but only with the landowners approval.
Two years moved fast the little heart was crying for help! Then out of the blue a black cage was erected over the heart (see picture below). I was pleased to see the ‘heart’ caged and safe but it looked more like a prison than the decorative stone wall and cairn I’d long visualised. While it remains in Kate Howe’s ownership it is very vulnerable. it has no legal protection and at the stroke of a pen she could develop the area, its a prime spot and I feel she just might have her sights on such a plan. But even if she didn’t, she will in time die as will I. Who will care for the place then?
No – this has to belong within the public domain. I contacted the Scottish Parliament to lodge a petition. Four months passed and each time I phoned the reply was “not petition material”! However Mike Russell managed to convince them of the history and importance of the site to Scotland’s culture. Just before Easter came the news that the petition will go live!!
That is how things stand today. Our ancient culture, timeline, respect and historical truths are now at this final stage and I am praying to Mother Earth to do what is right. If we are failed then Scotland’s future will be at the mercy of wind farms, shooters of our wild life, greedy strangers, land fracking and nimbys with lots of cash.
My petition “calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to direct Historic Scotland to investigate what action can be taken to ensure the restoration and preservation of the Heart of Quartz stones positioned in a field next to the A815, opposite the junction of the B839, overlooking Loch Fyne, known as the Gypsy Wedding Place, referred to locally as the Tinkers’ Heart.”
The persecution of birds of prey is one of the most malign of wildlife crimes. Yesterday, the ever excellent Raptor Persecution Scotland (RPS) website (which has courageously and doggedly documented and reported on the topic for over 4 years now) carried yet another story of the tragic disappearance of a particularly iconic bird – the first Sea Eagle to fledge in eastern Scotland for over 200 years.
“We’re almost at a loss what to say. What can we say that hasn’t already been said each and every time? What words are there to describe the fury, rage, sadness, sorrow and overwhelming frustration about what is going on, right under our noses, in our own countryside? The Untouchables strike again. It is out of control and the Government seems powerless to stop it.”
The North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire is one of a number of notorious hotspots of wildlife crime with a number of poisoned birds discovered and four eagles having disappeared, presumed dead. The estate is reported to be owned by George Ivar Louis Mountbatten, the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven who bought it in 2008 although the only evidence that Mr Mountbatten owns the estate is to be found in the Autumn 2013 edition of the magazine of Scottish Land and Estates where he and North Glenbuchat Estate are reported as having joined the organisation.
In fact the owner of the estate is a company called North Glen Estate Ltd. registered at PO Box 171, Bristol House, The Centre, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (see whoownsscotland info including small map and larger zoomable map). It acquired the estate in December 2007 for £4,116,132 (Title here and plan here but beware – 42Mb pdf). Quite who is the beneficial owner of this company is unknown as such details are not divulged to the public by the Turks and Caicos authorities. There is, however, a company called North Glen Estates Ltd. (spot the difference in name) which is registered in the UK. According to the 2013 Annual Return, the sole shareholder of this company is Mr James Kelly (Oathlaw House, Oathlaw, FORFAR DD8 3PQ) who is a Director. (but see UPDATE below) The sole other Director is Mrs Laura Sorrentino whose address is 2 Great Trippetts Cottage, Rake Road, Milland, Hampshire, GU30 7JU.
This is another clue that Mr Mountbatten is the beneficial owner of North Glen Estates Ltd. since he is the owner of the Great Trippetts in Hampshire. In the 2012 Annual Accounts of North Glen Estates Ltd., it is revealed that the company has net liabilities of £1,053,733. The viability of this “deficiency of assets” is dependent upon the continuing financial support of North Glen Estates (sic) Ltd.(1) “who own the estate”.
This debt is thus in the form of a loan from an offshore tax haven – an increasingly familiar device that enables funds to be brought into the UK free of tax and (in most cases) be eventually written off or subject to high rates of interest in order to eliminate any profits that might be made by the UK company.
In the Turks and Caicos of course, there is no form of tax – no income tax, company tax, withholding tax, capital gains tax or other tax on income, profits or assets. Exempted companies automatically receive a Governor’s Undertaking guaranteeing exemption from taxation for 20 years. Furthermore, the Turks and Caicos have been under direct rule from the UK since 2009 as a result of government corruption and incompetence. In 2011, the UK Government underwrote a loan of £160 million to Turks and Caicos government. Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said at the time,
“We are in the extraordinary situation that the British taxpayer is underwriting a loan to support a tax haven, which will take away our tax revenues. There is absolutely no sense to this. The condition of these loans must be that they strip these tax-haven practices.”
In light of all of this it is worth remembering that I argued during the course of the Land Registration Bill in 2012 that the Scottish Parliament could take action to improve transparency in the ownership of land by simply refusing to register any title held by company in a tax haven. (2) The Scottish Government rejected the idea. In this particular case, the fact that there is no official record of who the beneficial owner of this land is may lead to problems in any potential prosecution under the law on vicarious liability (where the owner of land can be held liable for any wildlife crime committed by an employee – Section 24 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011)
Meanwhile, HMRC might want to take a look at this company in relation to its offshore funds transfers.
UPDATE 2032hrs 25 APRIL 2014
I use Duedil for obtaining records of UK Companies. It publishes information a few days after Companies House and so I missed an interesting piece of information filed on 17 April and published on Duedil 22 April. The appointment of Mr James Kelly as one of the two Directors of North Glen Estates Ltd. was terminated on 7 January 2014. This leaves the company with one Director – Mrs Laura Sorrentino, occupation – Personal Assistant. Quite a responsibility with over £1 million liabilities being underwritten by a company in an offshore tax haven. I hope she has taken good advice.
(1) Confusingly the accounts refer to owner as North Glen Estates Ltd when in fact it it North Glen Estate Ltd (spotted the difference yet?)
(2) See the blog post linked to and (linked to in the blog), in particular, Fergus Ewing’s comments at cols. 982-985 in Committee where he argues that to restrict titles to companies registered in the EU would deter inward investment.
Forty-one years ago today, the play that revitalised Scottish theatre had its first theatrical performance in public at Aberdeen Arts Centre on 24 April 1973.(1) Above is the BBC’s Play for Today version – a fascinating mix of live performance and documentary that ends with moving sequences on the impact of oil in Aberdeen and interviews with Texan oilmen, roustabouts and young folk made homeless by the price of houses.
Having spoken at two public showings of the film in the past two years, it is remarkable how the key theme of the play – control of natural resources – remains as vital and relevant today as it did when the 7:84 theatre company toured Scotland in the 1970s.
An account of the play and its significance can be found at the National Library of Scotland’s website here and this academic article in International Journal of Scottish Theatre provides much more detailed analysis of the play. On 26 January 2010, the National Library of Scotland hosted a discussion of the play which can be heard here.
Here’s what theatre writer and director Davey Anderson said about the play.
“I saw the Cheviot on my honeymoon. It was October 1973, we’d got married in my home town, Rutherglen, and decided to take a road-movie holiday, hippies that we were …
“First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleaking Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience.
“Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses?
“… That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I has assumed it to be.
“All the mince in the West End, where the actors couldn’t even be arsed acknowledging the presence of the audience was forgotten. Here was theatre that spoke to you about your life, the important things, the daft things, the things that give you joy and the things you can change. The company were startling in their energy, anarchic versatility and joyous commitment.”
Time for a revival?
(1) It was first performed at the What Kind of Scotland Conference in Edinburgh in April 1973. Thanks to Rob Gibson MSP for that clarification – he was at both performances. Another informant tells me of an earlier performance at a conference of the same name but held in Callendar Park College of Education.
Last year, in a series of blogs, I highlighted a number of issues relating to Ledgowan Estate – in particular the controversy over the construction of an ugly bulldozed track.
The story was promoted by an incident over public access which arose during an inspection of the track by Dr Kenneth Brown who was investigating the track as part of a research project by Scottish Environment Link. Its report – Track Changes – was published in October 2013 and called for hilltracks to be subject to full planning control rather than the existing system of Permitted Development Orders. A Parliamentary Briefing can be found here and the full report here (5.3Mb pdf).
Last month, Scottish Land and Estates published a response to this report – The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks – which challenged many of the findings of the Link report and asserted that the Track Changes report “has not been helpful in the debate” and “should have been more closely scrutinised, especially as it makes allegations about specific estates and was written with public funding.”
Scottish Environment Link has refuted these and other allegations made against its report in a further report published today in which it argues that,
“We find Scottish Land and Estates’ statements in their report about scrutiny and LINK’s charitable status strange and inappropriate. The issues raised in the Track Changes report fully comply with LINK’s charitable purposes and funding for the report was received from member contributions and charitable trusts. It is entirely proper that LINK uses its funds for this purpose.
“The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks makes a number of specific criticisms of our report, and we respond to these below. Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) claim that Track Changes contained ‘fundamental misconceptions’, ‘incorrect information’, ‘out of date photographs’ and ‘misleading’ points. These claims are baseless, and are not supported by anything in The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks. It is unfortunate that Scottish Land and Estates have simply sought to discredit Track Changes without engaging with its main arguments, and while ignoring much of the evidence it contains. The basis for our campaign remains unaltered by their response..”
Meanwhile, a wee bit of history. One of the tracks that attracted a deal of criticism over the years was the one up Beinn a Bhuird in the Cairngorms. It has now been restored by the National Trust for Scotland but here’s an article from the January 1968 edition of Scottish Field explaining the background and purpose of its construction in 1966.
Ian McHarg died this day in 2001 (NY Times obituary). He was a Scottish landscape architect who made his name in the University of Pennsylvania where he founded the world famous Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning in1955.
He was born in Clydebank in 1920 and (for those with an interest in the history of mountaineering in Scotland), was one of the Craigallian Fire men.
Arguably his most famous legacy is his 1969 book, Design with Nature. One of his pupils and collaborators in the project was the Scottish landscape architect, Mark Turnbull, who is still practising in Scotland today [EDIT – Mark sadly passed away in May 2016 – obituary here]. His book sat on the shelves of my Dad’s study when I was growing up. He was an architect and, as a student, I thought it would make an interesting contribution to the forestry course I was doing at Aberdeen University. However, so dismal was the outlook of the staff there (there were a few honourable exceptions), that the notion of even reading such a book was regarded as too radical. I read it though and recommend it to anyone with an interest in environmental and spatial planning (McHarg invented the sieve mapping technique now standard in GIS – the European Geosciences Union awards a medal in his honour).
His vision of how to understand ecosystems and undertake regional planning was so advanced that, as this blog notes, he predicted the areas unsuitable for urbanisation on Staten Island (dark shading on right). He was ignored and those areas match almost exactly the evacuation zones (in yellow left) at the time of Hurricane Sandy (see below).
But my favourite story about Ian McHarg relates to his involvement in the scoping work for Scotland’s third new town. McHarg worked in the Scottish Home and Health Department between 1950 and 1954 and in his 1996 autobiography, A Quest for Life, he writes,
One day I was summoned by the chief of the new towns section, an architect named Alex Wylie. East Kilbride and Glenrothes new towns were underway. There was considerable interest in yet another; both the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh thought that a site near Cumbernauld, between these cities, should be investigated. However, it was likely that this new town would be a satellite of Glasgow and administered by her. Would I undertake the study?
I immediately visited Cumbernauld. It had the virtue of proximity to the major highway connecting Edinburgh and Glasgow. As at East Kilbride several years before, the wind howled, the rain drove horizontally, the whole site was awash. Morevoer, the farms were few and scattered. Anthropologists long ago had learned that sparse human settlement bespeaks adverse environments and impoverished resources. I spoke to several farmers whose opinions were united. It was a miserable place, wetter than most, with intractable mud, poor soil, a high water table, few trees, and those wind-pruned.
The ideal site, in classical and Renaissance times, was a southeast-facing slope. That could not be found on the Glasgow-Edinburgh road nor on the south of the Clyde, but north of it were admirable classical sites, south and southeast-facing, at elevations above fog with beautiful views to the Firth of Clyde and, south, across the Clyde, to the Renfrewshire Hills. On the day I went there, the sun was shining; protected from the wind I lay in heather and exulted in the views. There was Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic cone with a ruined castle atop, ancient capital of Scotland, the gleaming Clyde, and , far out beyond the estuary, the Paps of Jura.
There was one problem; the site was steep. Now this had halted neither Rome, Siena, Frascati; nor San Francisco. This constraint must be transformed into an opportunity; we are not building for popes or cardinals. I recalled a project in Zurich, the Neubuhl, by Haeflie and Moser, where housing stepped down a steep slope and the flat roof of the lower house became terrace, balcony, and garden of the upper house. This would be the answer. Hanging gardens, stepped housing, each one having the merits of an attached single-family house, each with as much outdoor and indoor space, and the gardens entirely private. If the block was to be composed of four houses in depth, then the occupants at worst would walk down three flights or up one. In city where the commonest house form was a four-storey walk-up tenement, this was not a serious objection. So house plans developed, simple rectangles, L-shapes and T-shapes with different dimensions. They were all modular and could be fitted in various permutations, but all had uninterrupted views to south and east and all had private entrances and gardens. Open space equalled the building area. On the skyline, out of every view but overlooking the whole, were towers and slabs for older people, single households, and couples without children. The towers provided views of a landscape of gardens.
McHarg goes on to describe the detailed design, “extraordinary economies in construction costs” and the energy efficiency.
I submitted the plans to Alex Wylie, chief architect for new towns, who then arranged for me to present the material to the permanent undersecretary, Mr McGuiness, an Irishman with a Scottish accent. Wylie introduced the idea and gave his endorsment. I was asked to add my remarks. I spoke glowingly of the hanging gardens, the morning-golden windows, the beautiful views, access to workplaces on the Clyde, proximity to Glasgow, the beautiful landscape setting and, above all, of the greater economy of this scheme as compared with conventional bulding. There was a long silence.
“Well.” McGuiness said, “It is certainly revolutionary. There’s no doubt about that, and I am impressed by the arguments about its economy, but we can’t build this in Scotland. Why, they haven’t even built it in England yet.”
“Sir,” I said. “If the Scots have to wait for the bloody English to build something before we can, this is not the country for me. Good day, sir.”
That night, McHarg wrote to Dean Perkins of the University of Pennsylvania, and asked “Do you know of any opportunities which I might pursue in the United States? I find the professional life here is far from gratifying.”
He was immediately offered a position as an assistant professor to set up the Department of Landscape Architecture and the rest is history.
A small ceremony was held before my departure, at which time I was presented with a handsome briefcase. Kind words were said. I decided that this was not the occasion for criticism, thanked my colleagues, wished them well, and left.
The latest news from Ledgowan Estate is that the owner has distributed an access policy to residents of Achnasheen. According to this report (online here and pdf here)in the West Highland Free Press from 27 December 2013,
“The access policy states that all walkers met on Ledgowan will be asked for contact details, adding: ‘If this is not forthcoming or staff consider there is any reason for doubt they will take a photograph of the individuals and or their vehicle.’
The following points are also listed.
No-one is denied access – we abide by the law.
No-one is allowed to walk in the curtilage of our property.
gates will remain locked due to security reasons (citing thefts and keeping poachers out).”
UPDATE 24 JANUARY 2014
A copy of the letter written by Richard Simpson is now available here (507kb pdf). In one comment on this blog, John (24 January) writes that he is unaware, nobody has actually received this letter. I can confirm that at least one person has. The letter contains an alternative account of the incident which began this story (see original blog here). Dr Brown rebuts this account in this report in the West Highland Free Press. Further developments can be read by clickign on the “Ledgowan” category on right.
I have not had time to publish many blogs in the past 2 months or so and hope to get back to a regular weekly or twice-weekly schedule as soon as possible. I would also like to stress that this blog reflects my own personal views on the matters under discussion. A statement to that effect is now in the page header.
In light of the widespread interest, I am publishing this quick update on the Ledgowan story (previous blogs can be seen by selecting “Ledgowan” in the Category menu on the right). This is also an opportunity to wish all the readers and contributors to the blog a very happy christmas and best wishes for the new year.
On 30 November, around 30-40 walkers visited Ledgowan. Here is one account of the day from David “Heavy” Whalley.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
SNH replied to my enquiry about the hill-track crossing the SSSI. Here is the response from Steve North.
Hi Andy – you may already be aware that my colleague Nicola Tallach has recently responded to a query on this track fromCalum Brown who is writing a report on tracks built under ‘permitted development rights’ for Scottish Environment LINK. She advised him:
“As you have identified, the first section of the track from Ledgowan Lodge, crosses Achnasheen Terraces SSSI therefore on the 18 March 2011 I had a site visit with the owner, Steve North (South Highland’s Operations Manager) and John Gordon (one of SNH’s geological advisors). During this visit it was established that the line of the track crossing the SSSI had not caused serious damage to the landforms. Continuation of the track route along the foot of the lower slope above the main terrace was also likely to be compatible with the key features of the site. At this time the only track being discussed was the one which led to the loch edge and the route to this, across the SSSI had already been constructed.
The track which you are no doubt referring to, going up the hill, branches off the original track which was discussed on site however access to this branching off point is across the track which SNH saw on site and agreed was acceptable/ did not cause serious damage to the land form.
Any track work out with the designated site would be a matter for the planners and as such I was in touch with the Highland Council planners on several occasions to inform them of track progress. The track is not within the Wester Ross NSA therefore permitted development rights are in place and the owner claimed the track was for agricultural purposes therefore he did not need planning permission. The Highland Council were not therefore able to do anything to prevent the construction of the track within existing planning regs”.
So, to answer your specific question, because the track was considered to fall within permitted development rights, SNH were not consulted on any planning application for the tracks and made no response to Highland Council (objection or otherwise).
However, the SSSI status of part of the estate did result in us meeting Andrew Simpson on site with our expert geomorphologist to assess the implications of the tracks for the nationally important features. As Nicola says, our conclusion and advice to Mr Simpson was that the track that was being developed within the SSSI had not caused any serious damage to the landforms and continuation along the foot of the steeper slopes (above the main terrace) was also likely to be compatible with the key features of the site. We identified how the kettle holes could be safeguarded and highlighted the benefits of following SNH’s published best practice guidance on track construction in upland areas. We also reminded Mr Simpson of the requirement of the legislation behind the SSSI that land managers contact SNH before they carry out works which may affect the special features of a site.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
Following the reported breach of EU regulations in relation to the lochside track (see this previous blog), I asked SEPA to confirm whether the main hilltrack had been built in accordance with the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations 2011. Here is the reply received from Alastair Duff.
SEPA have visited the Ledgowan Estate and driven the length of the hill track in the company of estate staff.
There are several crossings that are of a size that should have required a Registration from SEPA in order to permit their construction, but these were not applied for. However, upon inspecting these crossings, the works undertaken would almost certainly have been licenced by SEPA.
SEPA has made a few minor recommendations in relation to some of the crossings, but is not taking any further action in relation to the works undertaken in the construction of the hill access track.
Highland Council was asked to release material released under the FoI request made by the estate employee (see previous blog). Here are the various communications (10Mb pdf download)
Finally, Ledgowan estate owner Mr Simpson, has compiled an “incident report” which has been given to a resident of Achnasheen. An account of this is given in the West Highland Free Press today. (see copy of story here).
I and others have, on a number of occasions attempted to contact Mr Simpson during the course of this story. He has never returned any calls to me or to media outlets. It turns out, however, that Andrew Simpson is a subscriber to my www.whoownsscotland.org.uk website. His subscription was due to expire this month and so an automated email was sent to him thanking him for his subscription and inviting him to renew it. As a consequence, he made the only contact he has ever made with me and replied to the email simply,
Image: Track constructed on Ledgowan Estate – a track for which Highland Council observed that “no real evidence has been provided which demonstrates that the tracks are reasonably required for the purposes of agriculture” See previous Ledgowan posts here.
Nine of Scotland’s leading environmental charities are calling on the Scottish Government to put an end to the unregulated system for hill track construction which allows landowners to build tracks without any public oversight. Instead, they want hill track construction brought within the planning system.
Working under the umbrella of Scottish Environment LINK, the organisations today published ‘Track Changes’. This report shows evidence of the huge damage caused to landscapes, wildlife and habitats across Scotland by some of these tracks, carved across the landscape for motor vehicles. The aim is to persuade the Scottish Government to remove ‘permitted development rights’ (PDRs) for building such tracks, thus enabling public scrutiny of all proposed track construction.
Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland and co-convener of the campaign group said:
“We asked Scottish hill walkers to send us photos of tracks which have damaged our countryside. The report gives compelling photographic evidence of the degradation being caused by this planning-free-for-all. In some cases it amounts to nothing short of environmental vandalism.
“Our organisations have been concerned about the unrestrained development of hill tracks over many decades, but the situation has become much more serious in recent years with the increasing use of diggers, bulldozers and other vehicles that can better cope with Scotland’s mountainous terrain. We are seeing tracks going into areas of wild land, gouging large trenches out of landforms which were laid down in the last Ice Age. Tracks are dug deep into peat, destroying fragile and sensitive habitats and disturbing wildlife – and they are proliferating across our hills, seriously scarring the landscape.”
Beryl Leatherland of Scottish Wild Land Group and co-convenor of the campaign group said: “We are not trying to stop the development of all tracks, but the current system is unfair to the public interest. It does not allow for any public consultation or proper consideration of the value of landscapes and wildlife. In our report we show evidence of tracks being bulldozed across some of the country’s most iconic landscapes, even parts of our national parks, without any care for their design or impact.
“It is hard to believe that if you want to build a conservatory on a house in any street in Scotland you have to go through a rigorous planning process and yet a track can be bulldozed through even a designated nature conservation site without any scrutiny at all. We think that regulation is essential and should be welcomed by all concerned.”
In December 2012 the Scottish Government dropped its proposal to bring tracks with purported ‘agricultural or forestry purposes’ into the planning system, but said that it would keep the situation under review. It is hoped that the evidence gathered by the LINK campaign will persuade Ministers to reconsider this decision. The Planning Minister, Derek Mackay MSP, visited the site of one of the tracks highlighted in the report with members of LINK and has been sent a copy of the report.
The debate between aquaculture interests and wild salmon interests continues to generate strong feelings. In this Guest blog, Fiona Cameron reflects on how the interests of Scotland’s wild salmon are being represented. Fiona is a writer and journalist. Her second novel (writing as Nancy McKnight) is due to be published within the next few months; one of its principal themes is the conflict between salmon farmers and fishery owners on the fictitious Hebridean island where the Balvaig Trilogy is set.
THE INTERESTS OF SCOTLAND’S WILD SALMON
Over the past decade, I have worked as a lobbyist and a public relations, marketing and communication consultant for Scottish wild salmon and sea trout interests. During that period, I also spent some time working for a salmon farming company which was, at the time, the most enlightened in Scotland in its attitudes to environmental stewardship – mainly, I suspect, because it was not at that point listed on any stock exchange.
The experience of working for both “sides” has left me decidedly cynical about both, but also deeply convinced that the current system of riparian ownership does not serve the best interests of Scotland’s wild salmon and sea trout. Riparian owners appear to be primarily interested in conserving the value of their landholdings and fishing rights rather than the fish – though I admit there are some honourable exceptions to this.
Unfortunately, those same riparian owners tend to be the people controlling the various charities which exist to promote the conservation of our country’s wild salmonids. I don’t claim that they are consciously using their privileged position in terms of access to politicians and regulators to pursue their own interests but I believe that they simply do not perceive the conflicts of interest which arise. (1)
For instance, the manager of one such charity has used his prominent role to publicly call for the closure of a commercial salmon netting station whose primary impact is on the South Esk, a river where this same gentleman is a major riparian owner. Such an appeal could easily be construed as one owner of a valuable heritable interest using his position to attempt to close down the business of another owner of a valuable heritable interest.
Where the waters get distinctly muddy is with claims that the argument is based solely on grounds of conservation of fish. Have no fish at all have been killed by angling interests on the particular river mentioned above? Is this not a case of “do as I say, not as I do” in relation to the commercial netsman’s right to kill fish? If the argument is a scientific one based solely on conservation, then riparian owners with direct financial interests in the rivers under question are not the people to be doing the lobbying.
We should bear in mind throughout that Scotland’s wild salmon are part of our national heritage, both culturally and legally. In Scots law the fish are res nullius (wild things belonging to no-one) until they are caught. What is owned is the right to fish and there is a clear case for management of salmon and sea trout stocks to be overseen by government, on behalf of the people of Scotland.
In a similar vein, we have the many tirades against salmon farming which are led and supported by riparian owners. This is a more complex scenario because salmon farming undoubtedly has adverse impacts on wild salmonids (particularly on sea trout) if it’s carried out in the wrong locations. However, the monocausal argument which riparian owners have advanced or supported to account for declines in wild salmon and sea trout stocks everywhere from the Solway Firth to the Pentland Firth simply doesn’t hold water.
There are many, many causes for the decline of wild salmonids. The presence of salmon farms in certain locations is simply one of them and it may not be the most significant one. Monocausal rants simply damage the cause of wild salmon conservation since any argument against expansion of what is one of Scotland’s few successful industries in terms of export earnings will only succeed if it sticks rigidly to the facts. Hyperbole won’t cut it with politicians whose interest is in protecting national income. Headlines such as “Fish farms blamed as salmon river shares dive” (Scotsman 15 July 2013) above an article in which the main complainant was a banker who owns a share of fisheries in the River Lochy for which he’d paid a cool half-million are not calculated to promote political action to save wild salmon! In essence, I believe that riparian owners have to face up to their own role in promoting the decline of wild salmonids.
In his excellent book Saving Scotland’s Salmon, Derek Mills points out that in the years of salmon abundance through to the 1970s, anglers had no complaints about the number of fish being taken by coastal nets. But of course,
“Salmon angling was a more relaxed pursuit then and many of the well-known beats were fished mainly by the proprietors and their friends, and sometimes not fished at all if conditions were such that fish were unlikely to be caught.. (for example, when the river was low).”
Mills perceived a change in the angling scene from the early 1980s onwards, as fishery proprietors realised that salmon fishing could earn them big money. Some riparian owners began leasing their fishings to syndicates, while others sold time-share for high sums (vide the poor banker who squandered his half-million on a share of the Lochy).
“There was some concern,” writes Mills, “over the way this would effectively take away the availability of some salmon fishing for a considerable time and reduce public access.”
I’d say there should be equal concern over the way it has increased fishing pressure, as those who have paid high sums for a week’s fishing will want to fish come hell or high water (no pun intended).
We are continually told (mainly by riparian owners and their spokesmen) that salmon angling is not “a rich man’s sport”. A glance at the guide prices in the annual auctions run by such stalwarts of conservation as the Salmon & Trout Association and the Atlantic Salmon Trust is enlightening. Such auctions will also include some offers of fishing at prices less than £200 to show just how egalitarian they are. It’s always the exceptions which prove the rule…..
I fully agree with the spirit of Derek Mills’ book title. Something needs to be done to save Scotland’s salmon (and indeed, sea trout). But are riparian owners (whose vested financial interests can be considerable) fit persons to oversee this?
At this moment when there could be an excellent opportunity to reform land law in Scotland, we have the best chance since pre-Victorian times to reform the laws relating to riparian ownership too.
(1) For example, the Atlantic Salmon Trust membership comprises the following, at least five of whom have proprietorial interests in salmon fisheries. The Trust spent a total of £187,444 on “direct charitable expenditure on promotion of salmon conservation”. Despite the Trust’s emphasis on scientific research, a mere £12,098 was spent on this in 2013. In comparison, the Chief Executive’s salary amounted to £53,216, the travel and subsistence budget for two Directors was £16,732 and the PR budget was £26,711. Source: AST Accounts 31 March 2013.
The Prince of Wales
The Duke of Westminster
Melfort Campbell (Chair)
James HC Hamilton, Marquess of Hamilton
Hon. Sarah Lopes or Astor
Alexandra Pettifer or Legge-Bourke
Oliver Reeve (Oliver Reeve & Partners)
Robert Scott-Dempster (Gillespie McAndrew)
Dr Andrew Walker