In this article, entitled Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge (Deer management in Norway), Dr. Duncan Halley and Dr. Erling Solberg of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research describe the framework for deer management and wildlife management in Norway.

Dr. Duncan Halley was born and educated in Scotland. He moved to Norway in 1993, where he works on wildlife management, restoration ecology, and Scotland/Norway landscape management comparisons. Dr. Erling Solberg is a leading researcher on deer management in Norway and an active hunter. They are research ecologists at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Norway’s leading applied ecology institute (www.nina.no). Contact: duncan.halley@nina.no 

The Scottish Government’s proposed land reform bill contains a very modest proposal for improving the democratic accountability in relation to the management of this public resource by private interests. To achieve a wildlife management system fit for the 21st century, however, more fundamental reform is needed. The Norwegian experience offers some insight into what might be involved.

Guest Blog by Duncan Halley & Erling Solberg, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

Land Reform legislation in 2015 will include strengthened powers to allow the authorities to regulate deer populations in Scotland. Further action is promised from 2016 if the current voluntary system “has not produced a step change in the delivery of effective deer management”.

It seems likely that action would follow the precedent set in the recent Wild Fisheries Review, where the remit was to:

“develop and promote a modern, evidence-based management system for wild fisheries fit for purpose in the 21st century, and capable of responding to the changing environment”;

and

“manage, conserve and develop our wild fisheries to maximise the sustainable benefit of Scotland’s wild fish resources to the country as a whole and particularly to rural areas”.

Here we present a brief look at what a modern system, functioning not far from Scotland, can look like. South West Norway is on the same latitude as Northern Scotland and is similar in landforms and climate – hilly to mountainous and highly oceanic. The deer resource in the region is mainly red and roe deer, though there are also some moose and reindeer. (1) Here we discuss the system as it applies to red and roe deer.

Landowners in Norway, as in Scotland, do not own the wildlife on their land but do own the hunting rights to game animals such as red and roe deer, and the carcasses that legal hunting produces. These rights can be, and in many cases are, sold.

Modern deer management in Norway is the result of development and refinement over many decades. The core of the system is a partnership of government, landowners, and hunters, each with a defined role. This is backed by professional wildlife management skills, monitoring of harvests and populations to provide high quality data for future management, and binding harvest management plans which regulate and maintain population levels of the national game resource in accordance with democratically accountable national, regional and local goals. This has included in some regions managed reductions in populations to ensure natural forest regeneration (which local and regional authorities are required to plan for, and landowners to achieve, see below).

The system has been effective in managing the resource at sustainable levels, which take into account wider environmental, social and economic interests. It enjoys broad public support.

The government has been keen to encourage a market for wild game meat. Food Safety Authority regulations for sale of meat on the open market by hunting rights owners, hunting teams, and/or individual hunters are simple and the system efficient. This has considerably expanded the market, to the benefit of hunting rights owners, hunters, and consumers.

Image: Hunting in Norway (Erling Solberg)

Who does what?

The Norwegian Environment Agency oversees the regulation of the system. It determines and finances research and monitoring requirements and determines the normal hunting seasons.

The Regional authorities (fylkeskommuner) are responsible for building management competence at local level among Municipalities (kommuner) and landowners, for guidance on population management at a regional level in accordance with wider societal goals such as biodiversity, prevention of overgrazing, and road safety; and for overseeing coordination among hunting rights owners and local councils to attain regional management goals. (2)

Municipalities (kommuner) have the authority and responsibility for managing local harvest levels in accordance with overall regional goals and with directing harvest levels at a local level with regard to minimizing conflicts with e.g. traffic safety, biodiversity, woodland regeneration, agriculture, and public enjoyment of nature. They issue the final harvest permits, can extend the usual hunting season, and must report permit levels and actual harvests to the National Deer Register. They may also report results of local monitoring. Section 9 of the Forest Law of 2005 mandates that Municipalities (kommuner) investigate deer damage to woodland regeneration and incorporate this in harvest management planning.

The owners of hunting rights are responsible for population regulation through a binding harvest plan for the hunting beat (vald), a defined area of land for which a named individual is responsible for relations with the authorities; and for coordination with neighbouring beats. They must also comply with Section 6 of the Forest Law of 2005, which requires satisfactory levels of woodland regeneration following any harvest of wood.

The police and National Nature Inspectorate have a legal right to inspect hunters in the field (to check licences, etc.), which may be delegated to Municipality (kommune) hunting monitors. Municipalities (kommuner) can require that harvested deer are brought to designated points for inspection.

Setting Harvest levels

Data on deer populations is collected centrally and maintained by the National Deer Register (www.hjortevilt.no) on a public internet database. This data, and the population plan submitted by the hunting rights owner, is the basis for determining harvest permit levels for each beat. Deer may not be hunted without a harvest permit.

Permits are issued by the Municipalities (kommuner) to the hunting rights owner, based on the tools available at the National Deer Register website, local consultations, and the population management plan for the beat submitted by the owner.

A population management plan for up to 5 years ahead (may be for a shorter period) is obligatory and can be for one or more (contiguous) beats. It must specify annual harvests (stags and hinds by age group), often in the form of a minimum % of younger animals and a maximum of older ones. The authorities must approve these plans, and in particular must ensure harvest levels are in accordance with local, regional and national population management goals. Approval can be withheld for not being compatible with, or withdrawn for failure to achieve in practice, these goals.

In the absence of an approved plan the Municipality (kommune) sets a harvest quota in accordance with local and regional and national population management goals.

Image: Hunting in Norway. Taking a meal break (Erling Solberg)

Using harvest permits

The owner of the hunting rights may use him/herself, give away, or sell any part or all of the permitted offtake in a free market. Typically, the sale of hunting rights is financially structured by the owner in a way that gives a strong incentive to achieve the required offtake, as the owner remains legally responsible for achieving offtake levels.

Reporting requirements

Each hunting beat must report annually offtake levels broken down by age and sex, within 14 days of the end of the hunting season. These are publically available in the National Deer Register.

The hunter individually must also, when required by the authorities, report the number, age, and sex of harvested deer; report total numbers of deer seen; and provide specified animal parts (typically one side of the lower jaw) for verification of harvest levels, population monitoring, and research purposes.

Training requirements

All hunters resident in Norway must pass a written exam on hunting law and regulation, reporting requirements, species identification, and firearms safety to obtain a hunter’s licence. They must also pass a test of shooting accuracy every year at an approved firing range.

Non-resident hunters may hunt if they can produce equivalent qualifications from their home country.

Image: Grouse shooting and fishing for char and trout (Erling Solberg)

Financing the system

To hunt in Norway a hunter must purchase an annual Hunter’s Fee Card from the central government. This is separate from any fees paid to the owner of hunting rights. Hunters also pay tag fees for each red deer harvested to the Municipality (kommune). There is no tag fee for roe deer. The revenue generated is dedicated to running the management system and to support local game promotional projects.

Norway is of course socially different to Scotland, and has had a different institutional history. Introducing a modern system of deer management would have to take this into account. However, the principle of managing a public resource for the common good through a democratically accountable system, on the basis of solid information on actual populations and on the population levels which will maximize that common good, and where landowners have the right to the offtake determined and the responsibility for achieving it, is fully transferable. A system attaining these goals and enjoying broad public support is achievable, and can be achieved.

A working example can be seen an hour’s flight from Scotland.

NOTES

(1) Moose were native to Scotland. It is probable that reindeer became extinct naturally, as suitable habitat is restricted for climatic reasons.

(2) There is a two tier system of local government in Norway in some ways analogous to the former Scottish Regional/District system. The powers at each level are more extensive than was the case in Scotland. Municipalities have an average population of 11,800 compared to 163,000 per local authority in Scotland.

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.

 

My previous blog on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farming subsidies attracted a bit of interest in The Herald today and a number of people have been in touch to ask what can be done to ensure a fair distribution of EU farming subsidies. This question of course is exercising Richard Lochhead as he finalises the details of the subsidy system that will kick in in 2015 and run until 2020. There are a number of competing interests to be squared and his task is unenviable.

I have blogged in the past about “capping the CAP” here, here and here. Capping involves placing a ceiling or cap on the amount of subsidy given to any one farming business. The European Parliament voted that capping be mandatory but the Council of Minsters took the view that it should be left to Member States to decide for themselves and that means, in the UK, that the devolved administrations have complete discretion as to if and how they apply such a measure.

During negotiations of the CAP, the UK and Scottish Governments were opposed to a cap but back in 2011, Richard Lochhead admitted thatthe public did not like the idea of very big payments going to individual farm businesses and many of the farmers he had spoken to across Scotland had acknowledged that.”

I argued in February 2013 that existing payments were very unevenly distributed. The graph below shows the total for 2011 (the distribution for 2013 is very similar).

If payments were capped at £100,000 per farm business, then this would, in 2011, have enabled the redistribution of £53.9 million paid to 813 farmers.

On the basis of the 2013 data, over two-thirds of the total direct payments went to 21% of the recipients (3962 farm businesses). A total of 642 farm businesses received payments of over £100,000 and capping the basic payments at this level would recover £66.2 million per year for redistribution.

No farm business needs a subsidy of more than £100,000 or, if it does, it does not deserve to be in business. I would, in fact place the cap much lower – at £50,000. The Scottish Government consultation noted (page 13) that,

If we wish we can decide that there should be a bigger reduction on Basic Payments than the 5% which is required by Europe, including a total cap on the size of future Basic Payments. Reducing the potential size of future payments in this way might also help tackle slipper farming where entitlements to high value SFPs have been transferred and are currently being claimed on rough grazing. Imposing higher levels of degressive reduction or even a total cap on the size of future Basic Payments could be one way to limit the future size of payments to slipper farmers who meet any minimum activity requirement. Without a tool such as this, these claimants could continue to claim a relatively large share of future support until payments become fully area-based. (my emphasis)

Consultees were invited to express a preference for one of four options but none included a total cap of less than €500,000.

Most people understand the concept of a cap and, whilst the the £26,000 per year benefits cap is controversial because it relates to some of the poorest members of society, the same cannot be said, generally speaking, of farmers. There are some poor farmers of course. There are many who work long hours for poor rewards. There may well be some who rely on benefits to feed their family. But this need does not extend to Sheik bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Earl of Moray or Viscount Cowdray.(1)

There is no justification for paying any farm business, including (as the previous blog noted) large landowners, much more than twice the cap on benefits received by the poorest in society. Furthermore, the current system of subsidies is contributing to a growing concentration of ownership and occupancy of land when the Scottish Government’s land reform policy is to see more diversity and have many more people owning land. Excessive subsidy (indeed any subsidy) also pushes up the price of land. Subsidies, in general are a bad policy but we are stuck with them.

So.

£50,000 a year. What do you think?

NOTES

(1) See previous blog to download Excel file of 2013 recipients of farm subsidies.

Image: Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wins the 2012 St James’ Palace Stakes, Royal Ascot

It’s hard to imagine the Government devising a new system of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Housing Benefit where the claimant is told they that their entitlement to such payments is just about to quadruple whether they like it or not. Indeed, with the total benefits cap set at £26,000 per year, the trend is in the opposite direction. It has long eluded me why, when the poorest in society suffer cuts and caps, some of the wealthiest (like the individual pictured above) not only appear to suffer no such pain, but are rewarded with largesse.

I met a tenant farmer recently who told me that under the existing system of farming subsidies he receives £18,000 per year. That’s a fairly generous allocation. But under current proposals for the new system (to be introduced in 2015) he will receive £80,000. “I don’t need it”, he told me. He is not particularly wealthy but he doesn’t need the money. So why does it look likely that he will get it?

The existing system of farm subsidies is coming to an end in December 2015 and the Scottish Government is currently finalising the details of the new system that will take its place and run until 2020. The existing (historic) system awarded subsidy (single farm payments – SFP) to farmers on the basis of what they received in 2000-2002. This is rather like paying tax this year on the basis of what you earned 14 years ago.

Some farmers “gamed” the system by increasing their farming activity in those years and thus have done very well out of it over the past decade. Others have bought “entitlements” to subsidy from farmers who, for example, retire from farming, and have “attached” those “entitlements” to poor quality land. They rent this land very cheaply and have thus been paid substantial sums of public money for doing nothing. They are the slipper farmers (so-called because they sit in front of the fire in their slippers being paid for doing nothing). Young farmers who entered farming over the past ten years have typically received no subsidy because the Scottish Executive back in 2003 conveniently omitted to make any allowance for them.

From next year, a new Basic Payments System (BPS) of farming subsidies will be introduced on the basis of a straightforward fixed payment per hectare of land farmed. The current proposal is that this payment should be made over two separate “regions” of land – €20-25 for rough grazing land and €200-€250 for better quality land. This means that the more land you own or rent, the more subsidy you will receive. This explains the pleasant dilemma faced by my farming friend above.

So, will the new system eliminate slipper farmers, support new entrants and direct subsidy where it is most needed? There will be support for new entrants although how much and how soon remains to be seen. But on the first and third points the jury is still out.

Scottish farmers do well out of the CAP – they receive the second highest average payments in the EU (€31,955). But that figure masks a few who do very well and the great majority who receive much less. In the latest data for 2013, the recipient of the largest payment was the King of the slipper farmers, Frank A Smart who was awarded the tidy sum of £3,226,492 for 35,379ha of land that he “farmed”. (1)

That’s right – over three million pounds.

The recipient of the least got £0.22.

Of the £439.8 million handed out in 2013, 45% (£198 million) went to the top 10% of farmers and the top third received over 81% of the total pot. This distribution is thanks to the system of historic payments and the scandal of slipper farming which, according to the farming journalist Andrew Arbuckle, has been responsible for between £50 – £100 million of payments each year – almost 20% of the total amount of subsidy paid to Scottish agriculture. His article is worth a read. So will the new system be any fairer? That depends on a number of factors including how much land is eligible for the BPS and how the new system is phased in. And this is where things get interesting.

Under the old scheme, some owners of very large tracts of land undertook very little farming and so have received relatively small payments. But under the new scheme their estates are all eligible for the basic payment. In 2013, there were 4,480,561 hectares against which subsidy claims were made. However, there are a total of 5,744,610 hectares  of land registered and eligible for subsidy – an additional 1,264,049 hectares. The Scottish Government intends, under EU rules, to restrict the land that can trigger payments by applying an “active farmer” test. It is unclear what this will mean in practice and in any event, it is not likely to be difficult to hire a shepherd and run a few sheep over the hills and qualify for subsidy.

Image: Extract from Scottish Government’s IACS Field Boundary dataset for Highland and Aberdeenshire

Smech Properties Ltd. for example, is a company registered in Guernsey and owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the King of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (pictured above). It owns the Killilan, Inverinate, West Benula and Glomach Estate in Wester Ross which has 21,424 ha of eligible land registered, received £26,406 in 2013 and could be eligible for £439,192 paid straight to a tax haven every year until 2020.

The Duke of Westminster owns 37,303 hectares of eligible land and could be eligible for £764,712 of public assistance for each of the next six years.

Braulen and Glenavon Estate, owned by a company in Grand Cayman (beneficial owner unknown) consists of 26,632 hectares of land potentially eligible for £545,956 of state handouts for doing next to nothing.

The Duke of Roxburgh received £204,374 in 2013 and his 4637 of claimed hectares would be eligible for £950,585 per year over the next six years

Letterewe Estate is owned by a company in the Dutch Antilles and could be eligible for £372,280 every year until 2020.

Even the Queen could claim over half a million pounds over the 25,000 hectares of Balmoral Estate.

In addition, there is a distinct possibility that, instead of the new system being introduced in 2015, it will be phased in over the next six years. And that would mean that Frank Smart (and the rest of Scotland’s slipper farmers) would continue to receive a substantial proportion of his £3,226,492 until 2020 for doing next to nothing.

The existing system of farm subsidies has been extensively abused. The new system must not be. And that is why I and others will be paying close attention to whether Sheik Mohammed is going to be allowed to pretend that he is a farmer and whether Frank Smart continues to get given millions of pounds for doing next to nothing.

NOTES

(1) The matrix files for 2012 and 2013 in Microsoft Excel format

WR1826_SFPS_2012_Natural_Person_Obfuscated_Town_Removed.xlsx

WR1826_SFPS_2013_Natural_Person_Obfuscated_Town_Removed.xlsx

The files provide the following information

Name of the claimant for legal persons only. Natural persons names are redacted. See here for details.

Postcode District where the claimant’s business is registered.

2013 SFPS Payment – the sum in Euros (all sums been converted to £ for this blog)

Ha Paid is hectares over which payment was claimed

Person Type – Natural or Legal

UPDATE 7 May

Figures in the original blog for 2013 payments were expressed in Pounds Sterling when they were in fact Euros (this includes payment made in 2013 to Frank A Smart). All now been corrected. This does not affect the projected sums which were converted already.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-r_J14n100

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.

Hilltrack on Ledgowan Estate

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..”

In the Spring edition of the SLE’s magazine, it argues that voluntary guidelines are adequate and urges its members to follow them.

The debate continues.

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.

On 15 October last year, I was preparing to leave home and travel to the Isle of Skye to visit my parents for the weekend. Shortly before I left, an email arrived from John Clegg & Co. advertising for sale 6,356 acres of land owned by Scottish Ministers in Strathnaver, Sutherland at offers over £1,850,000.

Aware that 2014 is the bicentenary of the infamous Strathnaver Clearances, I was surprised to see that the sales particulars not only included one of the best-preserved Clearance Villages at Rosal but described the land as “one of the last wilderness areas of Scotland”. (1) In further banal witterings, the sales brochure went on to opine that “ruined settlements of Rosal Village in the north of the forest and Truderscaig in the south, provide a fascinating insight into the struggle for ownership of this land”

So, before leaving the house, I wrote a quick blog to express my doubts about the wisdom of this sale and the vacuousness and offensiveness  of the blurb. Within twenty-four hours, I was told that the land would be withdrawn from the market. The Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse had asked Forestry Commission Scotland to halt the sale and a FCS spokesperson said that “We are no reviewing options.” (see Herald report).

Today, Rosal Forest is back on the market (5.9Mb pdf brochure here and 3.7Mb plan here).

Rosal Village in 2013 sale

Rosal Village excluded from 2014 sale

Rosal Clearance village has been removed from the sale and the nonsense about “wilderness” and “fascinating insights” has also now thankfully been omitted. A total of 5,962 acres of land is offered for sale at offers over £1.750,000. The sale forms part of the Forestry Commission’s “re-positioning” programme whereby, “subject to the approval of Ministers” land is sold and the proceeds used to invest in projects that “increase the contribution of the national forest estate to the delivery of Forestry Commission Scotland and wider Government objectives.”

Whilst this development is welcome, wider questions remain about the elite interests that continue to dominate private forestry in Scotland (see e.g.  here and here plus a research report from Feb 2012). For now at least, Scottish Ministers appear to have taken account of the historic significance of one of Scotland’s most important historical sites relating to the “ongoing struggle for ownership of this land.”

UPDATE 1 1512hrs 7 April 2014

Forestry Commission Scotland issued the following Media release today.

7 APRIL 2014 NEWS RELEASE No: 16241

Rosal clearance village secure for future

In recognition of the cultural and historic significance of Rosal clearance village, Forestry Commission Scotland is to continue managing the historically significant site as part of the National Forest Estate.

After consulting local community groups, the Commission will retain the historic village and 100 hectares surrounding it.

Working with local community groups, this will ensure the village is accessible and well interpreted as part of the wider Strathnaver Heritage Trail.

There had been plans previously to sell the whole of Rosal Forest but this was halted after concerns were raised over the future of the historic village.

The Rosal village is the remains of a once thriving Highland township, which was cleared of its inhabitants to make way for sheep back in the early 1800s.

Tim Cockerill, Forestry Commission Scotland’s manager in the North Highland’s said:

“We have fully consulted local groups again and have now taken positive action to ensure Rosal Village is protected as part of Scotland’s National Forest Estate.

“We are now exploring ways with the local community on how we can work closer together over the promotion and management of Rosal village in the future.”

The rest of the woodland area is due to be sold as part of Forestry Commission Scotland’s ‘re-positioning programme’. Under this programme, land delivering relatively low public benefits is sold to fund the purchase of new land which can bring about wider benefits.

In this case, some of the money raised will be invested in the creation of new woodland and recreation facilities at Sibster in Caithness and the recently announced starter-farm for new farmers at Achnamoine near Halkirk.

The sale of the rest of the woodland could also provide buyers with a secure supply of timber in the north of Scotland. This could be especially attractive to companies wishing to develop bio-energy projects in the area.

Lotting of the land for sale is not practical in this case, although it is the Commission’s preferred option as a way of offering more opportunities for woodland purchase to a wider range of people.

Communities can acquire land for sale through the National Forest Land Scheme, but there has been no interest in this case following ongoing discussions with local stakeholders.

Notes to news editors
1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government’s Environment & Forestry Directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland

2. For news, events and recreation information log on to www.facebook.com/enjoyscotlandsforests For Twitter: www.twitter.com/fcscotlandnews

3. Tha FCS ag obair mar bhuidheann-stiùiridh coilltearachd Riaghaltas na h-Alba agus a’ riaghladh nan 660,000 heactairean ann an Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta, a’ dìonadh, a’ cumail smachd air agus a’ leudachadh nan coilltean gus buannachdan a thoirt dha coimhearsnachdan, an eaconamaidh agus, ag obair an aghaidh atharrachadh gnàth-shìde. www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland

4. Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office 0131 314 6508.

(1) For further information on the historic sites in Strathnaver, see Strathnaver Museum page.

UPDATE 2 2100hrs 26 October 2015

Royal Forest was sold in June 2015 to Simon Brooke Mackay (Lord Tanlaw) and Rina Siew Yong, both of Queenstown Road, London, for £1,500,000

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.

Image: Courtesy of To Hatch a Crow

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.

Mass Walk

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

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)

Ledgowan Estate

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,

What an arsehole you are goodby” (sic)

Merry Christmas.

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.

Scottish Environment Link Parliamentary Briefing on Hill tracks

Full Report ‘Track Changes

Campaign website