Image: Intensive grouse moor management on Millden Estate, Angus.

A report on the damaging environmental and social impacts of the intensification of grouse moor management in Scotland is published today by the League Against Cruel Sports. The authors of the report are Dr Ruth Tingay and myself. The report can be downloaded here (658kb pdf) and a short video here.

The report highlights a land use that where Scotland’s hills are being turned into intensively managed game reserves, where protected species are being persecuted, where electric fencing and roads are being constructed with impunity, and where much of this is eligible for public subsidy.

Image: New grouse butt construction with Firmounth and Scottish Rights of Way sign indicating junction between the ancient Firmounth and Fungle routes (Grid Ref. NO499853) Photo: James Carron

The evidence we have uncovered is a shocking indictment of a land use that is out of control. The methods being deployed to maximise grouse numbers are damaging the environment and are subject to no effective regulation or oversight by the Scottish Government and other public authorities.

The report is published days after a scientific assessment of many of these issues was published by Scottish Natural Heritage. The report was requested in response to concerns of SNH Board members about intensified moorland management practices in some areas, including the spread of hill tracks, increase in muirburn, heavy culling of mountain hares, and using chemicals to dose red grouse to increase numbers of grouse for shooting.

It also comes on the day that the Office for National Statistics published data showing that 33% of jobs in Angus pay below the living wage – the highest percentage of any Scottish local authority. Two of the case studies in the report focus on grouse moors in Angus. This may have something to do with the fact that, as the report reveals, the 2640 full-time equivalent jobs in grouse moor management pay an average of £11,041 which is below the national minimum wage.

 

Heatmap of Confirmed and Probable Raptor Persecution Incidents 2005-2014

The report will be launched at a fringe meeting at the Scottish National Party conference on Thursday 15 October at 6.30pm.

Dick Balharry, one of Scotland’s foremost naturalists died today. Last week, in Glen Feshie, he was awarded the Geddes Environment Medal for a lifetime’s achievement in environmental work by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (pictured above). I am grateful to the Society for its permission to reproduce Dick’s paper together with an introduction by Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the RSGS.

Mike Robinson, RSGS CEO, introduces Dick Balharry’s vision for land use in Scotland.

Our most recent Geddes medal was awarded to the highly respected conservationist Dick Balharry, at a special event in Glenfeshie this past weekend.    A popular awardee, Dick has influenced, inspired, advised and encouraged so many institutions in Scotland and helped establish the country’s first nature reserves at Beinn Eighe and Creag Meagaidh.    Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Dick, who is terminally ill, asked to share the award with his wife Adeline, and used the event to highlight his hopes for the future of environmental land management in Scotland.

His belief was that the current tools used to encourage environmental land management were not sufficient, and that in addition to the basic legislative carrots and sticks, there was a need for a scheme that can give formal recognition to good practice and be respected by all interested parties. For instance, he asked, how is it fair that a land manager who chooses to reduce deer numbers to enhance the habitat and forest cover, has to pay to ‘fence out’ deer from neighbouring estates who continue to artificially prop up high densities of deer, instead of those neighbouring estates being forced to fence high numbers ‘in’?He also stressed the apparent absence of any integrated vision as to what constitutes the “public interest” in Scotland.

His paper is critical of both government and landowners but seeks to provide a middle ground for discussion rather than further polarised debate. As someone who has worked at the forefront of Scottish land management for the past fifty years we thought more people should be given the chance to hear his views, and have reprinted his paper in full below.

DELIVERING CHANGE THROUGH VISION, EMPOWERMENT AND RECOGNITION

by Dick Balharry

Today I would like to promote the concept that an “agreed vision” for land use has the potential to be a powerful motivator for change. The basis of the concept is simply that, with a vision you open up the possibility of recognising and celebrating success. As I will explain the idea is based on adding value to the existing tools of “carrots” and “sticks” to empower change.

If the opportunity allows I would welcome discussion.

Before that I would like to say a little about my formative years, where the ideas I wish to share today have, at least in part, their origin.

Background

As a boy, living in a small village on the outskirts of Dundee, I was fascinated by the natural heritage. I was given total freedom to explore the woods, marshes and fields and these became my natural habitat. Little escorted walks soon became lonesome adventures. My interests took many forms including creating collections, hunting and hand rearing wild animals. Through these activities I gained an insight into the lives of many different animals: including rabbits, kestrels, jackdaws and jays.

I soon realized that the natural world presented more questions than answers, not to mention that my activities also provided me with a healthy diet and a fast pair of legs.

At sixteen years old, on completion of a year at Dundee Engineering Trades College I turned up for work at an engineering plant. Whatever my destiny I knew then that working in a factory was off the agenda, the noise, the smell of hot oil and cigarette smoke were simply alien and a far cry from my interests, I was gone within the hour.

As is often the case with youthful poachers my first job was as a gamekeeper. The job was on an estate near Tighnabruach and involved controlling predators to protect wild pheasants, and patrolling a river against salmon poachers.

In essence, I was charged with sterilizing the environment of predators in order to maximize the number of birds and salmon available for guests.

However, it soon became clear that the keeping of a fox and a raven did not meet with the Landlord’s image of a gamekeeper. An ultimatum was given to the head keeper “either the pets go, or he goes” – so I left with my furry and feathered friends.

From there I became a deerstalker in Glen Lyon under the watchful eye of Archie MacDonald the Head Stalker. Archie mentored me in the soft skills of the hill and it was always a privilege to be in his company. He was a sincere man of carefully  chosen words, immense knowledge and a sensitivity to all that was around him. I have much to thank him for and I remember him fondly.

When the Red Deer Commission advertised for stalkers in 1959 Archie’s teachings gave me an advantage. The combination of the increased salary and opportunity to work across the whole of Scotland pulled me into a new phase of my life, albeit still focused firmly on red deer. While travelling the length and breadth of Scotland culling marauding deer and marking deer calves I often found my attention diverted to the signs, tracks, dens and eyries of other animals – wildcats peregrines, eagles and even martens.

My career in conservation started in 1962, when at the age of 24, I was appointed warden on Beinn Eighe NNR in Wester Ross. I was given responsibility for over 10,000 acres of mountain and Caledonian pinewood. This was the first NNR in the UK and the focus was primarily on research. At that time the public were regarded by The Nature Conservancy as more of an inconvenience than an asset.

In addition to working with scientists, being a Warden was also my first introduction to what I might loosely call “the establishment”. The establishment can be defined in many ways and it is fascinating, even today, to see how networks based on wealth, social status, formal qualifications and public education influence decision making and how they often over-ride logic and evidence to protect their own interests. Being “out of the loop” as one might say it was soon clear that my dream job came with limited ability to influence decisions taken in Edinburgh and London. Tactful advocacy, persuasion, passion and promoting public support became the tools of my trade.

Throughout my life I have seen the establishment work in weird and wonderful ways. For example I was once informed that educative foreign travel was the province of the Officers, in essence those with degrees rather than Wardens with field skills. However despite this rebuff, with determination and family support, I broke the format and in 1969 attended a course on the Administration of National Parks visiting most of the mid-west National Parks in the USA and Canada along with 40 other delegates chosen from around the world for their experience rather than academic prowess. This was a turning point in my life and fueled my desire to drive change and promote the benefits and joys of Scotland’s natural heritage to a wider audience, by whatever means I could.

Since then I have spent my life improving my knowledge and enjoying the opportunity to enthuse others. I have engaged with everyone I could, including shepherds, stalkers, urban audiences, land owners fellow campaigners, hill walkers, top civil servants, leading politicians and royalty. I have made extensive use of the media. Those who know me well, know that my language still gives away my prejudices and frustrations with the establishment.

Reflections

On reflection my career has been a vocation, privileged and fortunate.

It was a career that brought me close to many of Scotland’s iconic species and allowed me to discover the magic of the Highlands and Islands. It introduced me to the knowledge and the culture of the people who live and work there and it allowed me to meet many of the scientists whose names were made by the opportunity to work in the Highlands and Islands.

I am always pleased to hear that my interest in the natural world has helped inspire others and if, through my talks and media presentations, I have contributed to developing the interests of a wider public then that is a worthwhile legacy.

Sometimes I am asked to name a favourite animal, plant, bird or place and I give an answer. However as Patrick Geddes would have said to give an answer is like plucking one petal of the six lobed flower. This is an easy trap to fall into: the simplicity of the individual is always easier to describe than the whole.

Now with the focus of mortality, single and sectorial interests seem less important. Rather it is the whole which captures my imagination: the need for quality jobs in rural areas, the need to break the dependency cycle, the need to see our wildlands as an economic asset, the need to have regard to carbon emissions and the need to think long term.

We depend on our rural environment and it depends on the public being interested. It is this phrase “public interest”, used so freely by many that now strikes me as of paramount importance in the land use debate and is central to our ability to make change.

I have no quarrel with wealth, who owns the land, how they were educated, or their country of origin, so long as they manage the land giving due respect to the interests that we all rely on.

Public Interest and Vision

So what does “public interest” mean? or indeed look like?

The uncertainty and absence of clear thinking around this commonly used phrase is the main problem as I see it. Managing the land with respect for specific interests and specialisms is fairly straight forward and one that defined our approach to nature conservation from the 80’s through to today.

However, integrated land management for a collective “public interest” remains to be addressed. The main challenge being the absence of any understanding as to what the collective “public interest” looks like at a landscape level.

Change requires vision and leadership. Without the vision and the necessary clarity of purpose, the debate on rural land-use has become polarized and permeated by the politics of envy and criticism.

It is not only the vision that is important for change but also how it is presented, the weasel words of “balance” and “sustainability” need to be avoided if we are to progress. It should have been done long ago and I cannot help wonder why not? Is it simply too difficult? Perhaps the structures of government with their respective experts are too divided? Perhaps there are too many interest groups? Perhaps as a society we are too fragmented to allow for a simple vision to emerge?

Whatever the excuse it is my personal belief that the vision can, and indeed must be defined in order to promote integrated delivery and empower those who own the land with responsibility. It is my view that the vision needs to be defined in a way that provides scope for flexibility, allows owners to make choices and provides the opportunity to be respected for the approach they take. Our current system, focused on protecting single interests, was necessary and while it continues to have its place it has its limitations. My objective here is to suggest an additional approach that adds value to the existing system.

I ask you to think for a minute and consider, if it were possible, where is the vision and the leadership necessary to make it happen going to come from? Who is going to lead the charge against the sectorial approach and promote the need for an integrated approach? Who is going to review public policy mechanisms from outside the box and come up with new thinking?

I do not know the answer to these questions, but to future leaders who have the opportunity to respond to the challenge, I would like to make an observation.

Formal recognition and Empowerment

Existing attempts to deliver public policies rely on two simple means of influence, offering monetary incentives (carrots) or punishing through regulation (sticks). In effect a two legged stool.

This is a shooglie stool and it is my belief that a third leg of influence could be added to help promote a more sophisticated approach to influencing human behaviour. I believe this type of approach will empower those who own land to take responsibility and make changes. That third leg is “formal recognition” and I believe it is necessary, for three reasons.

 Firstly it will require an agreed vision

 Secondly it will empower owners to manage with confidence

 Thirdly it will promote transparency

These are the three reasons why I think it is necessary. The reasons why I think it has potential to deliver are simple and both come from familiar observations of human behaviour. We are all aware of the motivational benefits of rewarding people with recognition and we are equally aware that people need to fit in and feel secure, comfortable, safe and protected.

Throughout my career I have seen the insecurity and fear of being different from the norm of a social group working to maintain inertia and stifle change. The establishment, I mentioned at the start, relies heavily on this insecurity to protect its interest in the status quo.

The beauty of “formal recognition” is that, if well designed, it offers security. The key to this security comes from the level at which the recognition is awarded. The concept will only work if the recognition provides an effective shield from the critics in the establishment, interest groups and government.

The detailed basis and process for awarding “formal recognition” is for others to think through, but to me the key elements are, that formal recognition:

 is respected, not necessarily liked, but respected.

 comes from both government and interest groups.

 is based on robust logic and best evidence.

 is an award given to landowners for all their holdings.

 is based on a flexible and intelligent understanding of the integrated land management challenges, rather than being prescriptive.

Whether “formal recognition” as a scheme would have levels of award and how long the award would last for are details to be worked out in the future.

It is the simplicity of the principle and its potential to empower that I would like you to take away today.

So, given the known benefits and the simplicity of the approach why is “formal recognition” missing from the government tool kit?

It strikes me that the problem is that no one has taken responsibility to grasp the nettle and explain what the “public interest” looks like at a landscape level. The consequence is that we live with no clear vision and we have developed a culture that highlights what we don’t want rather than what we need.

If we could describe the vision, then that would open up the possibility for this third leg of formal recognition to be added, alongside the carrots and sticks, as a complementary means of influencing land owners.

In summary if the public interest was expressed at the level of land management units and high profile recognition was given to those who deliver it, then I have no doubt that the associated benefits of security and marketing would help change the behaviour of those who own the land.

In effect you have set out the safe, moral high ground and you have provided security for those who wish to break from what has become the established norm of “traditional sporting estates”.

Remember not everyone wants to lead when it involves sticking his or her head above the parapet.

An example

An example is Glen Feshie; where we are today.

I have had a long history with Glen Feshie that spans from 1964 to 2015 involving 6 different owners. I have seen the result of the carrots and sticks at work here, indeed I spent many years doing my best to deliver a positive outcome with these limited tools.

But did these two tools achieve the desired results? No they did not, as a critical look at the evidence shows.

Consider the facts, the current owner has neither taken full advantage of all the carrots offered by government, nor been cowed by legislative sticks nor indeed been restricted by sectorial interests. He is delivering well beyond what these crude tools ever sought to achieve.

Glen Feshie has remained a “sporting estate”. Yes, a “sporting estate”, and like you I am fully aware of other “sporting estates” in Scotland where large tracts of land are managed solely for the benefit of a few wealthy people with little or no regard for the public interest. However these are the “sporting estates” of the past and the ones to which Glen Feshie sets an example for the future.

So how does Glen Feshie estate differ?

Well it generates income by providing opportunities for paying guests to shoot deer and grouse just like any old fashioned estate. But there the similarity ends. Today, Glen Feshie is being managed towards a vision, a vision of stewardship, inward investment, local employment and public interest. This vision is delivering tree regeneration without fences and allowing for the development of a natural tree line. It is welcoming to all who take responsible access into the glen. It maintains, and landscapes the foot paths along with the few hill tracks that are necessary for management.

The result is an estate that matches and possibly out performs any government owned land that I can think of, especially in terms of attracting private inward investment, delivering conservation benefit and generating income.

I respect that the results we see here today have come from a visionary land owner who was willing to put his head above the parapet and never sought recognition. It is my belief that if we recognise leaders who are willing to change, others will follow.

Red deer and fencing

Finally, and without apology, I would like to speak about the management of red deer and the regeneration of trees without fences.

Those who said it wasn’t possible spoke loudly, and those with a vested interest in managing the land for the benefit of the few, still do.

I suspect that the reality is that those who objected never doubted that trees would grow or that deer numbers could effectively be reduced, but rather they realised it would be a long costly road and one they didn’t relish having to travel themselves or indeed could not afford to travel. Controlling deer numbers at low levels is costly and requires resources including young fit men. However, it also presents the opportunity for marketing an activity that is essential for protecting our wildland and one that requires greater levels of skill from both the stalker and the client.

The sad fact, witnessed throughout Scotland today, is that in many areas fencing deer out of young native woodland has become a way to maintain easier stalking opportunities and to protect established relationships and social networks. In effect many deer fences are built to protect the interests of the few.

In the context of red deer and of Scotland I see this as a major injustice. If people wish to manage land exclusively for the benefit of the few without regard to the wider public interest then they will never have my support. To those who argue that fences are required to make sport shooting economically viable I would simply say that you are inviting society to question the legitimacy of your ownership model – one that places trophy stags higher than the long term interest of the public and the planet.

But if you must fence then it is my view you should, at your own cost, erect high boundary fences to keep your deer in. This is “not natural”, but then what is natural about maintaining deer at artificially high densities for the benefit of a few?

Higher densities help maximize the sporting opportunities for a few but they also increase the numbers of deer that die in winter from lack of food and shelter. Owners tend to distance themselves from this responsibility claiming that deer are wild animals for which they cannot be held entirely responsible. As it stands that is indeed the law. However the decision to have high numbers of red deer on the hill and the decision not to provide native woodland for shelter remain unequivocally the management choice made by owners.

The result is that, on what we have come to call “traditional sporting estates,” most owners receive the benefit of income from shooting red deer without either accepting effective responsibility for their welfare in winter, or having true regard to a wider public interest. “Traditional sporting estates” cannot stand on the moral high ground of estate ownership as they have tried to claim for over the last 200 years. Rather they embody the selfish greed of a Victorian era, outdated and ludicrous.

The moral high ground of the future will be for those who wish to hunt deer in a natural environment, free of fences, where deer have access to the food and shelter they require; where there is a natural tree line and the public are welcomed and give recognition freely for a job well done.

These are the “sporting estates” of the future and I believe we are standing in Scotland’s first.

If a mechanism existed to formally recognise the results that have been delivered here, then I have no doubt that the positive outcomes would be replicated on other large estates in Scotland.

As I mentioned earlier not everyone is a visionary leader willing to challenge and make changes from the front. Most like to remain within the fold of the status quo until the route to the “safe ground” has been mapped out for them. The route I am outlining is a position of transparency and clarity where the public interest is genuinely delivered within a wide range of different approaches to management: a route that provides others with the confidence to break from the establishment.

In the 1980’s all the vegetation in this Glen, including the heather, was shaved bare by the incessant demand of hungry red deer. Today, following a few years of investment by a visionary, the natural processes that began 9000 years ago are giving revival to the land.

I have lived to see an impossible dream come true and that – is very special.

I sincerely thank Anders Povlsen, Thomas & Ali MacDonnell for hosting this day and for working so hard to make it very special and thank all the estate staff, whose efforts we now witness in this beautiful glen. A Natural Living Caledon Forest Treasure with all its associated life dating back to the ice age, approximately 30 tree generations. Here we have an example of how a sporting estate and the public interest can work together.

The challenge I leave behind for those who follow is to clarify the vision, devise a method of formal recognition respected by all sides in the debate, give rewards on delivery of results and seek change through empowerment.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) is the leading educational charity in Scotland providing geographical understanding on contemporary issues which shape our future.

Established in 1884, it has a long and distinguished history of promoting an understanding of the natural environment and human societies, and how they interact. In addition to awarding prestigious medals RSGS seeks to make connections and contribute to scientific and policy debate, so as the years march on it is my hope RSGS along with others will help provide the motivation required to make “a vision”, “formal recognition” and “empowerment” central parts of public policy.

It is an honour to be asked to accept the Patrick Geddes Medal and I am delighted that Glen Feshie was chosen as the venue.

Patrick Geddes, biologist, sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner was born in Ballater 1854. He was well known for innovative thinking and promoting the idea that physical geography, market economies and anthropology are

inseparable interwoven structures, akin to a flower

He was famous for, amongst many things, being critical of thinking that focused on single elements. In 1917 he commented that

Each of the various specialists remains too closely concentrated upon his single specialism, too little awake to those of the others. Each sees clearly and seizes firmly upon one petal of the six-lobed flower of life and tears it apart from the whole.”

I think the concept of formal recognition for land management that delivers on an agreed long term vision chimes well with Patrick Geddes’s approach and I hope my career has contributed in some small way to increasing the value we place on our people and our natural resources.

It is with pleasure that I accept the Patrick Geddes Medal in Glen Feshie.

Thank you.

Dick Balharry MBE

Glen Feshie 18 April 2015

Guest Blog by Dr Helen Armstrong

Wild deer in Scotland belong to no-one – in legal terms they are res nullius. Yet this public resource has traditionally been managed exclusively by the owners of land. How to ensure the public interest in the private management of a public resource remains a challenge and, in this guest blog, Dr Helen Armstrong provides some thoughts on the way forward.

Dr Armstrong is an ecologist who has spent more than 25 years providing advice and carrying out research on the management of deer, sheep and cattle, and their impacts, in the British uplands. She has worked for Forest Research, Scottish Natural Heritage and the James Hutton Institute. In 2012 she set up her own consultancy.

The future of deer management in Scotland

To continue the discussion of deer management started by Duncan Halley in his guest blog (Hjorteviltforvaltning i Norge, 23 Jan 2015), here are some thoughts on how deer management differs between Scotland and Norway, along with some suggestions of how we might start to make deer management in Scotland compatible with the regeneration and expansion of woodland (for a discussion of the advantages of increasing woodland and shrub cover in Scotland see: Armstrong, Holl & Halley, Restoring the Scottish Uplands). I have focussed primarily on deer management in the uplands i.e. the Highlands and Southern Uplands. The increase in roe deer numbers in lowland, and peri-urban, areas is also of concern but presents different challenges.

Differences between Scotland and Norway:

  1. In Scotland, there are far fewer land owners than in Norway. Since the right to shoot deer, in both countries, resides with the land owner on whose land the deer are present at any time, shooting rights are in the hands of far fewer people in Scotland than in Norway. This means that, in Norway, far more people hunt and many of these hunters harvest only a few deer to provide venison for friends and family. Deer hunting in Scotland is primarily carried out for sport; as let stalking or as a recreational activity for the family and friends of the land owner. In areas where trees have been planted, or are being encouraged to regenerate naturally, and where deer fences are not desirable or are too expensive, it is carried out principally to protect young trees from browsing. Venison is produced largely as a by-product of these other activities. This is despite the fact that demand for venison in the UK is growing rapidly, to the point where it is not being met by local sources. In 2012, around 20% of the venison coming onto the market in Scotland was imported, largely from New Zealand and Poland.
  2. In Norway, absentee ownership of productive land (as opposed to holiday cabins) is not allowed, unlike in Scotland where any individual or organization, based anywhere in the world, can buy land. Absentee landowners are often less involved, and less interested, in the approach taken to deer management on their land than are those are who are resident. As a result, persuading landowners in Scotland to adopt an approach to deer management that takes into account wider public interests can be a difficult task.
  3. In Scotland, Highland estates where deer stalking is the main land use tend to be valued on the basis of the number of red deer stags that are shot each year, regardless of the size and quality of the stags. This is despite many recent estate purchases having been by private individuals, or Non-Governmental Organisations, that have nature conservation, not sport shooting, as a primary aim. In Norway, by contrast, land is valued on the basis of its type and quality as well as that of all its potential outputs. Currently, maintaining the capital value of a Scottish stalking estate entails maintaining the annual take of stags at as high a level as possible. Traditional deer managers often believe that, to achieve this, the estate needs to hold large numbers of hinds that will, in turn, produce large numbers of stag calves. As a consequence of the resulting intense competition for food and the lack of shelter from woodland, Scotland’s hill deer are small and stag trophy heads are unimpressive by European standards. On many estates deer are fed in winter to avoid high levels of mortality. As in Norway, the social life of many of the people who own land in Scotland is bound up with the culture of sport shooting. The maintenance of these cultures is not dependent, however, on having artificially high populations of deer. The apparent reluctance on the part of some land owners to take action voluntarily to reduce the damaging impacts of the current high numbers of deer is therefore more likely to be related both to the outdated system of assessing capital values and to entrenched ideas of what constitutes good deer management, than it is to any potentially damaging effect on sporting culture.
  4. In Norway, the impact of deer on the environment is monitored by those who have the right to shoot deer. Numbers of deer are required to be maintained at a level that does not compromise the public good. In Scotland, those with the right to shoot deer have no duty to either monitor the impacts of deer or to limit their impact on the public good. As a result, high deer densities across much of the country are preventing woodland from regenerating naturally, cause large numbers of road traffic accidents (RTAs) every year and promote high tick numbers that, in turn, may be contributing to the increasing incidence of Lyme disease. All of these have a high public cost. There is around 2,250 km of fencing on the National Forest Estate in Scotland (land managed on our behalf by Forestry Commission Scotland; FCS). Between 2010 and 2013 FCS spent around £4 million on deer fencing to allow young trees to escape from browsing. This is a cost not borne by competing timber producers in other European countries such as Norway, where fencing for this purpose is unknown. The Scottish Government has a target to expand woodland cover from the current 17% to 25%. The cost of achieving this would be considerably reduced if deer numbers were brought down to a level where deer fencing was not needed.
  5. Unlike Scotland, Norway has in place a modern system of wildlife management. This requires annual counting of deer numbers over large areas, the collection of information on every deer shot and the assessment of deer impacts on woodland and other habitats. To achieve this requires a national system of oversight to ensure that appropriate methods are developed, that those doing the monitoring are trained and that the information returned is of a high quality. A similar system in Scotland would tell us how many deer there are and what impacts they are having. Data on RTAs and, ideally, also on the impact of deer on tick densities and the incidence of Lyme disease would also help inform deer population targets. A Government Agency (most likely Scottish Natural Heritage) would need to collate and analyse all these data, most of which would be provided by land owners and hunters. They would then advise each Deer Management Group, of which there are currently around 70 in Scotland, as well as individual landowners, on appropriate deer management. This would include the setting of harvest levels. All this costs money, but the Norwegian system is funded from fees paid by hunters and there is no reason why the same approach could not be taken in Scotland.
  6. Scotland currently has much less woodland cover than does Norway (17% v 33%), even though a greater proportion of Scotland is climatically suited to woodland. Much Norwegian woodland is semi-natural, and so contains more forage for deer than do our dense conifer plantations. Roe deer are almost always found living in, or near, woodland so they generally have access to relatively large areas of woodland. As a result, their impact on woodland is closely related to their density and this can be set such that woodland /RTA /tick objectives are met. Regular monitoring would allow any initial assessment of an appropriate density to be adjusted over time. Red deer are also woodland animals by preference but, in Scotland, the lack of woodland has forced many of them to live in the open where, unlike roe deer, they can survive, if not prosper. Red deer almost always seek shelter in woodland in winter, where it is available. Many of our open hill estates have so little woodland that the pressure on the remaining woods from deer (both red and roe) in winter is intense. As a result, densities of deer that are compatible with achieving woodland regeneration and expansion are often low and considerable effort would be needed to keep numbers low enough. The remaining deer would, however, produce more, bigger, and more viable offspring due to reduced competition for food. Individual deer would therefore produce more venison and stags would have bigger antlers that reached their full size at a younger age. As a result, sport shooting may remain financially viable. Numbers of jobs associated with deer management would need to be maintained, or increased, to keep up the high culling effort that would be needed.
  7. In Scotland, a ‘recovery’ phase is needed, where appropriate deer management allows woodland to regenerate and expand. Once we have increased woodland cover, higher numbers of deer could be supported and the sustainable harvest increased accordingly. Significant reductions in deer numbers are needed to give us the step-change in Scotland’s woodland cover that is needed to both meet woodland policy targets and to achieve the long-term health of the Scottish uplands (see Armstrong, Holl & Halley).

Deer Management Groups across the Highlands, with some financial support from SNH, are currently writing deer management plans. The aim of the plans is to present information, where available, on deer populations and impacts, and set population and cull targets in light of both private and public objectives. These plans will be publicly available and the success of DMGs in writing the plans, and making progress towards sustainable deer management, will be assessed in 2016. While many estates and DMGs are fully committed to producing well informed plans, some are less committed.

While the system remains voluntary it is unlikely that all estates, and all DMGs, will put in place modern deer management systems that adequately address public as well as private objectives. Those that do will need to bear the additional costs of taking this approach while those that do not will have fewer private costs but their deer management is likely to have higher public costs. A fairer system would legally oblige those who have the right to shoot deer to put in place a high standard of deer management that takes into account public as well as private objectives.

An Initial step towards this would be to put in place a modern, state-of-the-art system for the monitoring of deer populations and their impacts so that local population sizes, compatible with acceptable impact levels, can be determined. Deer population and harvest targets could then be set. Currently deer management is often tradition-based rather than being based on carefully collected deer population and impact information. This approach needs to change.

There should be a legal requirement for land owners to regularly count the deer on their land (including the number of young per female) and return this information to SNH. Count methods should be specified by SNH and regular checking would be needed to ensure accuracy. There should also be a requirement to return basic data on all deer shot (sex, weight and age class as a minimum). This would provide information on the deer population that could then be used to determine the size of harvest that will be needed to adjust deer numbers to a level that best meets all objectives. It would also allow land owners, and SNH, to track improvements in deer weight and productivity resulting from better management of populations.

Land owners should also be required to collect basic habitat impact information and return it to SNH. All of this is standard practice and legally required in most other European countries. A levy on land owners in return for the right to shoot deer, which in Scotland are currently owned by no-one, would pay for the system. The fee could be set at a rate per ha of land and might be increased if targets were not met, to reflect the consequent costs to society. The fee should not be per head of deer shot, since that might provide a dis-incentive to control populations. A land owner who did not participate, would be obliged to pass the deer management on their land to a person, or group, who would. If they could not find anyone else to run the deer management then, as a last resort, SNH would need to take over deer management on the estate. This might mean either carrying out appropriate deer management themselves or letting the hunting rights to others who will. Deer are a national resource and information relating to deer management should be publicly available.

Two other actions would help to ensure that deer numbers are brought down to sustainable levels:

  1. Extend harvest seasons. There is no welfare reason for not having a year-long season for stags and the hind season could be extended (deer managers can currently apply to SNH for an extension for reasons of habitat /forestry/ agricultural protection). The current seasons were put in place to protect deer when numbers were low; but that is not the current requirement. All hunters should be required to hold an appropriate qualification (as in Norway).
  2. Discourage winter feeding of deer. This is a common practice for hill red deer and results in populations that are artificially higher than the habitat can support. If deer numbers were lower there would be no need for winter feeding.

These three actions would have a major impact on the way that deer are managed as well as on their numbers. They would also provide the information needed to take the next steps of setting target deer densities and harvests at a local level to minimize conflicts and maximize the benefits of the national deer resource to all the people of Scotland.

Helen Armstrong
Broomhill Ecology
1 April 2015

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.

IMAGE: Loch Garry 2010. Source: walkhighlands

I am particularly pleased to publish this article by Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell. In light of the ongoing problems with landslips on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful and further west in Glen Kinglas, Ron and Derek remind us that they were advocating substantial ecological restoration over 30 years ago. They pioneered, from first principles and scientific observations, an approach that would restore the ecology of much of Upland Scotland. But official Scotland and vested interests blocked their plans. 

Ron Greer is, by profession, a freshwater biologist with a 40 years specific interest in Arctic Charr, Ferox Trout and the management of the large glacial ribbon lakes/hydro-electric reservoirs that are their primary habitat. He is co-author of several seminal papers on Scottish Arctic Charr and author of the book ‘Ferox Trout and Arctic Charr’.  He is one of the Scottish representatives in the International Society of Arctic Charr and has been a participant in and co-organiser, of their international conferences over the last 25 years

As a corollary of the above, he has developed a parallel interest in strategic land use/tenure reform, riparian silvicultural management  and Boreal biogeography. He initiated the Loch Garry riparian woodland project in 1974 and was co-founder with Derek Pretswell, and others, of the Loch Garry Tree Group in 1986. He was a member of the Highland Forum team who helped organise the 1987 Land and Community conference at Drumossie and considers the outcomes from it as a work still in progress. He was co-founder and initial Convenor of Scottish Native Woods and worked with Derek in its formative years.

He is widely travelled in  North America, Fennoscandia and Northern Europe, both in relation to study trips pertinent to  freshwater  and land use issues and as a guest lecturer in these subject areas at various universities/colleges, NGO institutes and sporting organisations.

Derek Pretswell is a zoology graduate of Aberdeen and started working on forestry and landuse with Ron in 1982/3 while both of them were fishery biologists with the Department of Agriculture for Scotland.  A founder member of the Loch Garry Tree Group and Perth Bat Group, he served on the management committee of the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes and was a Trustee of Scottish Native Woods for 10 years. In addition, he was a member of the Cairngorm Community Circle and a member of the SNP environmental policy group which, along with Ron and under Roger Mullin’s leadership, formulated the SNP’s main policy document.  

Together with Ron, Derek founded Natural Resources Scotland in 1992 and developed the New Caledonia Project which is a holistic long term project that encapsulates the three tenets of sustainable development to bring about the ‘blossoming’ of our biological, social and economic landscape. Derek now teaches environmental education to schoolchildren from North Lanarkshire at an outdoor centre in Oban and during the summer takes to the lochs with Ron to research Arctic Charr populations.

ERODING THE MOUNTAINS OF INERTIA

Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell

Sitkasaurs and Contortasaurs still stalked the Earth.  There had been no substantive land tenure reform for 900 years.  A tribal confederation of the ‘Negataibh’, more especially the clans of McCannae, MacShouldnae and their even more dangerous comrades, the Clan MacWulnae, managed the landscape on behalf of the Moorland Myth Brigade, The Cellulose Factory Managers, The Starbirders and other sectional vested interest groups with a finger in the subsidy pie and a ticket for the gravy train.  Aye, such was the state of Highland Scotland in the early seventies of the last century.  A region variously described as a ‘wet desert’, a ‘wasteland ripe for development’ or ‘the last great unspoiled wilderness in Europe’.  Would anyone out there recognise this picture today?

Into this world of private and State sectional vested interests, replete with a compartmentalised bureaucratic administration (bunkered in intellectual fall-out shelters), a young freshwater biologist, blissfully unaware of the atavistic nature of most of the above, initiated a pioneering study of Arctic Charr and Brown Trout in Loch Garry, a long established hydro-electric reservoir, lying at 400 metres altitude and a cat’s spit away from Perthshire’s Drumochter Pass (of winter notoriety).  Details of this fisheries study have been published in the relevant peer-reviewed literature but even more important wider strategic issues and conclusions arose from it that not only challenged established shibboleths and perspectives in terms of freshwater ecology in Scotland, but also in a much broader, regional and national environmental sense.  Charr, previously considered a rare fish in Scotland, turned out to be very common here and indeed in many other lochs in the Highlands which begged the question – why?  Was there perhaps something wrong with the received wisdom on the perspective of Scotland’s bio-geographical realities?  A question which kept arising as the follow on from the fisheries study developed.

Image 1 – Loch Garry truncated morraine 1990

A core outcome of the study was that hydro-electric regulation causes profound and negative impacts (largely through destroying littoral zone aquatic plants) on the ecology of the lake concerned.  In similar Scandinavian lakes  classic ‘before and after’ studies revealed  that up to 70% of the aquatic invertebrate that supports higher animals can be lost (with important depressive effects on subsistence and commercial fisheries).  We are without the great detail of these studies, but recent work indicates that the barren stony shores of reservoirs like Ericht, Cluanie and Quaich are every bit the aquatic desert they appear to be.  Further background research however revealed that a massive potential (up to 90%) source of plant material to support the aquatic food-chain could be derived from riparian deciduous woodland.  The main fisheries management problem turned out to be what was happening on the land.  What was happening on the land was derived from its land tenure system and the aims and management of its owners, historically and extant. Why was that land treeless?  The then ‘orthodoxy’ was that it was because of the harsh climate and the poor soil; perhaps scrubby birch and willow?  Challenging that orthodoxy were the basic bioclimatic facts, ecological history and empirical experience in other montane ‘Arctic Charr countries.’  The challenge of re-establishing deciduous riparian woodland was taken up.  In so doing it opened up even bigger challenges in realising a wider strategic potential.

Image 2 – Loch Garry truncated morraine revegetating

The first inklings of the potential were stimulated by both a literature review related to the physical habitat requirements of Arctic Charr and site visits to Norway in 1971, 1973 and 1974. But the biggest single advances in this area, both in respect of the specifics of tree species/origin/provenance selection and the wider national strategic overview we were developing (in parallel to other initiatives we were involved in) were study visits to Iceland in 1981 and Vestlandet in Norway in 1984. In respect of the former we were lucky indeed, before his death not long after, to draw on the extensive knowledge of Hakon Bjarnasson, the father figure of Icelandic forestry who, apart from his silvicultural expertise in a country where the most favourable tree growing conditions were climatically closely akin to Drumochter Pass, had a profound interest and experience of soil conservation and environmental protection issues in challenging boreal and austral conditions.  Proud as he was of his country’s culture and living standards, Hakon was fully open about the shocking devastation that comprised much of the Icelandic environment, perhaps the most eroded country in Northern Europe and had spent much of his professional life trying to redress it.

George Monbiot has described the Scottish and British uplands as ‘sheep-wrecked’ (see for example this article in relation to the A83 Rest and Be Thankful slope failures).  In comparison, Iceland has had a thousand years of ovine-wrecking, (compared to our  mere 300 years), where a land once 40% covered in mixed broadleaved forest (of species also once common in Scotland), had been reduced to looking like a movie set from a desert world in Star Wars.  Though the cessation of headage payments may have helped us a little, nonetheless, Iceland gives a stark warning of what might occur if we don’t change our perception of what the uplands can biologically sustain. Indeed, Hakon, on seeing photographs of erosion gullies in the Grampians, opined that unless restorative, protective forestry took place, that we would, in two or three generations, perhaps 100 years at the most, have no vegetation left on the hills.  He would not be surprised to see the repeated landslips on the A83 (the Rest and Be Thankful) or the A85 at Glen Ogle, and neither very sadly, are we.

IMAGE: Slopes to north of A83, Glen Kinglas, the site of a recent landslip of 100 tonnes of soil. The red circles indicate existing slope failures on this overgrazed terrain. Click on picture for a larger image.

More prosaically, was the comment proffered without sarcastic irony, of another Icelandic forester on being presented with a fairly comprehensive bioclimatic profile of Loch Garry ‘oh you have a very good place to grow trees then’.  Which then begs the question of what else it and much of the Grampians as a whole, might be capable of more than we currently believe.  The advice on tree species and origin provided by the Icelandic foresters has been invaluable over the years as was their introduction to the potential of Nootka Lupin as a soil improvement and erosion control agent.  The future might be more blue, but not necessarily more sad.  Unless of course, we continue to go down (or rather up) the exponential Humpty Dumpty curve of deforested erodability, with the politicians shouting out ‘so far so good’ before we all pay for the splat, as the mountain comes down to the A83 and other roads like it.

Image 3 – Loch Garry truncated morraine. Trees well-established.

It is almost de rigueur these days for those promulgating land tenure and land use reform in Scotland to compare our situation with Norway.  As major promulgators of that comparison since 1984, after a ‘culture  shock’ study trip with Angus McHattie  of the Scottish Crofters Union, participants in several media documentaries on the subject and providing technical support to the later Reforesting Scotland Norway Study Tour, we can hardly decry that comparison.  However please nota bene, we do not consider simply copying Norway as the final destination, but rather that it helps point the way to a ‘better place’ than we are in now.  The geobotanical, phytogeographical and bioclimatic similarities to the Vestlandet of Norway and the vibrant cultural landscape obtained within it, give the lie to accusations of the ‘McCannaes’ that there is no other end point of tenure and use possible for upland Scotland, than the current indulgence of a landed minority in what for many of the rest of us is a quasi feudal, Victorian-Edwardian nightmare-world supported by public subsidy.

In over three decades of establishing and managing grass roots organisations, e.g. Scottish Native Woods, Highland Forum, Loch Garry Tree Group, or developing the New Caledonia project or cooperating with other established organisations and individuals that arose in the euphoria of the environmental movement in 1975-1995, we have seen, shared and experienced, shattered hopes, plagiarism and sheer outright betrayal on the attempted road to a resolution of environmental degradation and conflict.  For example we were in at the grass roots level with the Millennium Forest Project and were part of a small committee to look at locations.  We originally thought committees were platforms for compromise, but our experience makes us believe that they are cul de sacs up which good ideas are lured, then silently strangled.

The agendas of Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will always prevail when individuals are outnumbered by such organisations. Our argument was based on generating a momentum that would carry past 2000 and create a platform of reforestation that everyone could be part of, based on 5 major forest centres; Glen Affric (Trees for Life), Cairngorms, Central Belt and one each in the Southwest and Southeast Borders, with a target of joining them all up creating one contiguous forest linked by forest corridors, allowing communities, local forest groups and  FC plantations and their grannies to take part and have ownership of the process.  Had we gone down this road there would have been no better way to say that we all live in the environment and it is not something that ‘happens over there’ and that we all inclusively contributed towards it.

Image 4 – Loch Garry truncated morraine. Forest ecosystem restored.

We have always been centred round the idea of revitalising the soil/vegetation complex and using this landscape, when functioning as the best it can be biologically, as a platform for social and economic development.  Two things shocked us in the development of this philosophy; the complete underestimation of what is possible due to the lack of perception of where we are bio-climatically, coupled to the habitual mismanagement by generations of landowners and land managers; and the conservatism, generated by the vested interests of the resource holders and policy makers.  This includes NGOs, though there are as always exceptions at all levels.  The mismanagement is not obligate, it is facultative, and the managers choose their endpoint, having inherited their start point, for the bulk of our rural landscapes. We need rurality built into the urban environment and not urbanity into the rural one, as is happening.

Patrick Geddes talked of work people and place, sustainability models talk of environmental, social and economic factors, most of the ‘environmentalist movement’ and politicians use the word sustainable, but how many have read the Brundtland Commission Report or the earlier World Conservation Strategy that coined and defined the phrase and intend to implement the recommendations. In many cases it is a bit like the bank that likes to say yes but doesn’t understand the question. We are driven to solve problems, Loch Garry being a case in point, but our solution is to focus on the problem and this in turn exerts an enormous influence on our thinking.  What was initially perceived as an aquatic problem at Loch Garry was in fact a land problem and likewise the A83 events are not a road problem, but a land one.  Well for forestry’s sake there are too many problems for us!  If we go back to the basics of the soil vegetation complex then we need to make it the best it can be, so plant the trees that originally created the organic layers that are there and held it all in place.

Let’s work towards goals – you know, ideal situations that could make these problems disappear.  At one point in relation to the A83, there was talk of tunnels and a budget of £90 million, well for that money we can buy the land, reforest it, give it to the people to manage and still have money left over to build a better road!

We live in the world’s most beautiful ecological slum but we have the advantage that this slum is not on the northern edge of the Mediterranean it is on the southern edge of the Arctic and it has an amazing northern potential.  Our challenge is to bring about the realisation of that potential and so finally, a recommendation to politicians. If you want ideas that are outside of the box don’t go into the box to look for them!

The story so far…….

Dr Kenneth Brown wrote a guest blog (here) discussing the harassment he faced going about his lawful business at Ledgowan Estate, Achnasheen, Ross-shire. This led to quite a few comments and emails recounting similar such incidents at Ledgowan over the past few year since Andrew Simpson took over ownership of the estate.

This in turn led to the revelation (to me) of the 18 km track that has been crudely bulldozed across the hills under Class 18 Permitted Development Rights whereby developments for agricultural use are exempted from the need for planning consent. Despite recommendations from Scottish Government officials in 2012 that such tracks be subject to normal planning rules, Derek Mackay (Minister for Local Government & Planning) under pressure from farming, landowning and forestry interests, refused.

Since publishing these blogs, more information and insight has come to light and I thank all those who have been in touch.

Agricultural Use

It is now confirmed that the road was built for agricultural activities. A number of hill farmers have been in touch with me. None can see any conceivable use for a road of this length, routing, construction or quality in this particular place. So what is it for? Simpson’s own website implies it is for trout and salmon fishing and wildlife safaris.

A previous application for a windfarm was refused on landscape grounds. A second application for a smaller development of two turbines was submitted and then withdrawn. Andrew Simpson currently has a live application for one 50kw turbine (Ref 12/03182/FUL). How convenient it is that there is already a road built to service it. How convenient also that any opposition to an application for a bigger scheme on landscape grounds is now much weakened by the fact that the road has now inflicted significant damage to the landscape.

Interestingly, SNH concede this fact in their comments in the current application where they point out that “the proposed turbine is located on terrace 2 within the SSSI. We agree that a turbine located here, with no need for additional tracks minimises damage to the main features of the site.” This  remember is a track that has smashed right through Terrace 1 and 2.

Pollution

The unauthorised construction of this track raises questions about pollution. A prominent expert in such matters has highlighted to me the possible issues with drainage, run-off and sediment loading. The road has been hastily constructed in an inexpert manner across numerous watercourses. It is clear that substantial works have been carried out on the loch shore. Have these works ever been approved by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)?

UPDATE 25 OCTOBER 2013

I wrote to SEPA on 14 October 2013 and asked them,

Could you provide me please with any information that SEPA holds in relation to activities on Ledgowan Estate, Achnasheen.In particular I am interested in the road that has been constructed and, for example, whether the estate has a CAR licence under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations 2011 for the water crossings and works by Loch a Chroisg.”

SEPA replied today and told me that they held no information in relation to the track, pointing out that if the watercourse crossings had been “done in accordance with General Binding Rule 6, then SEPA would not need to be involved”. We do not know, of course, whether such rules were followed.

More interestingly, in relation to the works on the shore of Loch a Chroisg, SEPA refused to release the relevant information.

Please note that SEPA is aware of engineering activities in Loch a Chroisg undertaken by Ledgowan Estate in June 2011 which resulted in the alteration of the watercourse. The work was carried out without a licence. SEPA holds information relating to this however the information has been withheld from release at this time under Regulation 10(5)(b) of EIR which states:

’10(5) A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially … (b) the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of any public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature.’

The Public Interest Test was carried out in relation to the information to be withheld under regulation 10(5)(b). To disclose evidence in a case prior to it being considered by the Procurator Fiscal, thus putting it in the public domain means the accused may not receive a fair trial.”

It therefore seems clear than an alleged offence has been committed under Section 44 of the Regulations and that criminal proceedings may follow.

The full reply from SEPA is here.

I have written to SEPA inviting them to investigate whether or not the 2011 Regulations have been followed in the construction of the new track.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER 2013
SEPA has responded:-

SEPA will arrange to visit the site and look into your complaint. Once we have done so, we will get back to you and let you know the outcome of our findings.

 

It appears that the new landowner takes quite a hostile approach to the local community as is evident from this Community Council minute of February 2012 regarding a dispute over pedestrian access along a now disused public road.

The Chairman read out a letter from Helen Christie raising issues about access to Ledgowan Estate, threatening behaviour, construction of hill roads and the access across the bridge. Dave Mackenzie (an employee of Ledgowan Estate) stated he hadn’t stopped anyone and that the estate will abide by the law.”

Highland Council has now issued a Traffic Regulation Order permitting pedestrian and cycle traffic to continue to use this short stretch of the former A890 (council paper and minute).

During 2011, there was considerable disquiet among residents of Achnasheen about the construction of the new track and numerous complaints were made to Highland Council. On 5 August 2011, Dave MacKenzie submitted a Freedom of Information request to Highland Council asking for details of complaints that the Council had received. The Council complied with the request but redacted the personal details of those who had made the complaints. Mr MacKenzie asked for a review of the decision and subsequently appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner who, in her decision, stated that,

Mr MacKenzie is an employee of the owner of the Ledgowan Estate. He has explained that his request was motivated by the harassment and disruption to the progress of work that he was feeling as a result of the Council’s response to complaints, which he considered to be made by individuals or organisations that appeared to be either ill-informed or motivated by malice. He explained that he wanted to know the identities of those making complaints in order to inform them of the reason why work was being carried out.”

Creepy.

As is clear from Mr MacKenzie’s attendance at the Community Council meeting, he had (and continues to have) ample opportunity to “inform” people of “the reason why work was being carried out“. As for the harassment, disruption and malice which he refers to, let’s note one incident that took place just before Christmas 2011.

A number of residents noticed that their oil-fired heating systems stopped working. Upon inspection, an engineer found that holes had been drilled in their oil tanks, with the the contents seeping into the ground all over their gardens. The police investigated these criminal acts but found insufficient evidence to take further action.

In another incident, a person closely connected with the estate was caught digging a badger sett. Again the police were called but insufficient evidence was available and the perpetrators claimed that they had been looking for foxes.

Earlier this year a black-throated diver was found dead having been “shot by a high velocity projectile”.

The above incidents may have nothing to do with the estate. They may (although it appears unlikely) have entirely innocent explanations.

What’s going on?

In the previous Guest Blog, I published a piece by Dr Kenneth Brown about the hostile reception he received when walking on Ledgowan Estate. I now know one of the reasons why this might have happened – the unbelievable vandalism that has been perpetrated by the owner, Andrew Simpson. Zoom in on the map above (or preferably open it in a larger window) and see for yourself the incredible bulldozed track that has been ripped across the face of the hills for over eleven miles.
It is awesome.
There are two other photographs in the previous blog post.
Here is what Eoghain Maclean said in a comment under the piece.
He has taken advantage of his right to construct a track on his land for agricultural reasons. Laughable as it eventually arrives at a hill loch where you can catch arctic charr. I was brought up on the neighbouring estate but I like others would rather walk to a hill loch instead of being transported by an ATV (all terrain vehicle).
I am informed that there was a planning application for a wind farm but it was refused. Another one was submitted but withdrawn. There is a live planning application for one 50kw turbine just behind the Ledgowan Hotel. So has the owner of this estate built an incredible road without planning consent simply so that he (and one presumes others) don’t have to exert themselves to catch some arctic char? What is clear beyond any reasonable doubt is this is NOT an agricultural track.
Why on earth is someone allowed to build such a road for recreational purposes?
A number of environmental bodies are campaigning for such roads to be subject to planning permission. Sarah Boyack MPS and Peter Peacock MSP tried (and failed) to secure this in in 2010 (here is their campaign website). Earlier this summer, Scottish Environment Link re-launched the campaign. There is more info on the Ramblers’ Scotland website including the Scottish Link press release.
Maybe it’s time we asked Mr Simpson what exactly the point of all of this is. He can be contacted here.
UPDATE 2214 10 October
An informant has told me that the track was built under Permitted Development Rights. In other words the track does not need planning permission because it is for “agricultural purposes”. Highland Council found no evidence to the contrary (which is next to impossible to do) and thus had no grounds for refusal. Note that sport fishing is NOT an agricultural purpose. What makes the case even more astonishing is that the track runs through a geomorphological SSSI – the Achnashee Terraces SSSI – map here.
UPDATE 2323 10 October
A bit off topic, but some insight into the attitude of the current owner can be gleaned from his opposition to allow cyclists and walkers to use the old public road. Highland Council over-rode his objection. Committee paper here. Minutes here (Item 20)
UPDATE 1030 11 October Edits to paragraph about the wind-turbine development and link to the current application.
UPDATE 1433 11 October Interesting comment by Colin L in comments. On Mr Simpson’s own website it states that,
The includes 18 kilometres of track so that you can explore the local wildlife and area with a local safari company (cost on request). There is also trout fishing on the estate and salmon fishing may be available by arrangement.”
And on the Sporting Lets website run by CKDFinlayson Hughes (under sport tab),
there is now 18km of track on the estate, providing excellent access for sporting parties, sightseeing or an estate safari.”
As far as I can tell from the legislation (Class 18 exemption) this is not a track for agricultural purposes at all. Will Highland Council now demand reinstatement?

Public access to land has been a source of conflict in Scotland for a long time but matters have improved in recent years following the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which provides a right of responsible access to land. Every so often, however, stories appear that suggest there is still some way to go before Scotland can be anything like a normal country in which its citizens can enjoy the great outdoors in peace and quiet. Today, this account was sent to me by Dr Kenneth Brown from Glenmoriston. It details an encounter with the new owner of Ledgowan Estate in Wester Ross last weekend. The estate was bought in 2011 by a company called Rainheath Ltd. from Yorkshire. Members of the Simpson family are Directors of the company (though Richard Simpson who is named in the piece is not listed as a Director). Andrew Simpson owns 96.09% of the shares in Rainheath and he and Rainheath Ltd. also own the Rossie Ochil shooting estate in Perthshire.

Get off my land!

Dr Kenneth Brown

My wife and I were returning from walking on hills on the Ledgowan Estate to our car that was parked off the main Achnasheen-Lochcarron road (A890). When we arrived at our car, we were accosted by a young man who had parked his vehicle beside ours. We had previously noted the same vehicle parked beside the main road when we were higher up the mountainside and concluded that we were being watched.

He demanded, in an extraordinarily arrogant and ill-mannered way, to know what we were doing, “walking on his hill”. I informed him that we were simply exercising our statutory right of access to the countryside and that that was all he needed to know. However, he persisted in demanding an answer in a most offensive way but I refused to say more than to repeat that all he needed to know was that we were entirely within our legal rights to walk on that property.

He became so persistently offensive that I demanded to know his name and status and he described himself as Richard Simpson, the owner of the Ledgowan Estate. (An online Highland Council planning notice identifies the owner of this estate as Andrew Simpson, so I assume this person is his son or another relative).

He then began to argue that we had been disturbing sheep on the land. In fact, there had been no sheep to be seen anywhere in the landscape for the full duration of our visit. This, however, did not deter him and he claimed that our dog must have frightened them away. Not only was this untrue, but our dog is extremely obedient and is always completely under control. He is used to being out on the hill; during his 13 years he has accompanied me on many Munro climbs and is regularly walked on the hills around our home in Glenmoriston.

Simpson then informed us that deer stalking was in progress and that we could have been in danger from rifle fire. I replied that, in that case, he had a duty to inform members of the public of any potential danger to them and that, if there was any sound reason for restricting public access, notices should have been displayed and proper procedures followed for a temporary restriction of the general right of access to land. In fact there were no notices of any kind to be seen, apart from one that bore the words, ‘Ledgowan Estate, caring for the environment’.
Image © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

We decided that nothing was to be gained by arguing with him and began to unlock our car. Simpson then made the absurd accusation that we had been disturbing the environment by walking on it. (There was some irony in this because the estate owner has recently driven an enormously long and wide hill track across the mountainside, through peat, leaving boulders and other detritus strewn across it on both sides). He suggested to my wife, a retired head teacher who was telling him that he needed to learn better manners, that she needed a new pair of glasses then photographed her, photographed our car and stalked off to his own vehicle and we drove away.

Newly constructed hill track on Ledgowan Estate – photo taken from Achnasheen (click image for larger version)

We have since learned that the owners of this estate have previously behaved in an extremely intimidatory way with members of the public who have accessed their land. They obviously hold the legal rights of the public in contempt and are prepared to override them by employing disgraceful tactics of the kind described above and we believe that some action should be taken to deter them.

UPDATE 6 NOVEMBER 2013

In the comments to this blog, Gerry Loose suggested that a mass walk be undertaken on Ledgowan Estate on St Andrews Day. He has asked me to publish the following.

St Andrew’s Day Mass Walk – Ledgowan Estate

My intention for the St Andrew’s Day Mass Walk in and around the Ledgowan Estate would be twofold:

1: to register concerns about hostility to access

2: to inspect the Estate, with a view to determining how the title-holders to this Estate are managing that part of Scotland of which I regard them to be stewards in the name of the folk of Scotland (as indeed many landowners claim to be).

That there is an absolute right of access enshrined in Scots Law is unarguable. That the Estate Managers and Title Holders have the best interests of the people of Scotland at heart, and that the Managers and Title Holders respect their duties to conform to the Planning Regulations of their local authority may be determined by this Mass Walk.

Unfortunately, time and work commitments and personal constraints mean that I can no longer take part in this Mass Walk.

I urge you all, however to be present on the day, in informal groups, as and when you can arrive, spending as much or as little time as you have and inspect the condition of Ledgowan Estate, touching on the two points above; and then make your findings public.
I’ll be there in spirit and will eagerly await all reports.

I also expect this St Andrew’s Day Inspection of (other) Lands & Estates to become an annual event.

I will be working towards this.

Good luck and happy walking
Gerry Loose

Gerry Loose
www.wildandstolen.wordpress.com
www.gerryloose.com

At the weekend we got back to the hills after a period of enforced confinement due to work and school exams. We decided to camp high on the Lochngar plateau and stravage around the hills on Sunday before returning home. Heading off early on Saturday morning, we were delayed for over an hour in Perth due to being first on the scene at a car accident, assisting the casualties and providing witness statements to the police. As a result, by the time we got to Braemar it was time for lunch. The sun was shining and we decided to have a picnic on the banks of the River Dee.

Despite being one of Scotland’s most scenic and famous rivers there are very few places where tourists can pull off the road and wander down to the river (there’s a long history to this situation). But I know most of them and so we headed down a small track to a fishing hut and parked the car. There was no-one fishing and I parked the car in a way that did not block anybody’s access.

As we sat by the river, our dog Coire, who loves water, decided to go in for a swim. I was tempted myself. So there we were, enjoying our picnic and looking forward to getting on the hill. Suddenly, the peace was interrupted by a loud shout.

Get your dog out of the river!

We turned round. A man was standing some 20 metres away pointing at the river. He looked agitated. We were, for the moment, speechless. Who was he? What gave him the right to shout at us?

Get your dog out of the river. This is a fishing river, People pay to fish here.”

What’s the problem“, I asked as I walked towards him to find out what all the fuss was about. He was dressed in fishing gear but was not, I suspected a fisherman – more likely a ghillie I thought.

You’re trespassing“, he shouted.

He then pointed to our car.

Move your car. This is not a public highway. You’re blocking access.”

Of course, on this point he was right. I am well aware of the fact that pulling off any main road in Scotland generally places you on private land upon which you have no legal right to be. But I was not blocking access. There was no-one fishing at the time. Perhaps there was someone about to arrive in which case I would have been happy to co-operate.

At this point I wondered whether it would be possible to have a civilised conversation with this man who, by this time, had still not introduced himself or explained why he assumed the right to shout at us in such an aggressive manner.

As I pondered what to do he shouted,

If you don’t get out of here I’m going to call the police.”

At which point I concluded that there was little point in engaging him in conversation.

Go ahead – be my guest“, I replied and turned back to finish our picnic. Coire was still happily playing in the river but we were stressed and anxious about the encounter.

He stormed off.

We finished our picnic and left to head to Glen Muick, where more surprises awaited but that’s a blog for another day.

I have spent a good deal of my adult life in the hills around Deeside. I know many of the landowners and the people who work there. I also know that the estates still have a hegemonic role in the area. We were on Invercauld Estate and I presume that the ghillie is employed by the estate. The man in the photograph on the estate’s home page indeed looks very like the gentleman involved.

In conclusion, this is not simply a matter of public access. It is a manifestation of how those in authority continue to project landed hegemony.

I now plan to find out who he is, who employs him and to ask for an apology from them both.

UPDATE 18 JUNE 2013

Invercauld Estate has confirmed that the person involved is an employee of theirs. The factor, Simon Blackett, has apologised for the incident – see comment below together with my reply.

NOTE

An interesting study was conducted in 2003 examining the perceived conflicts amongst user groups on the River Dee. Part of this relates to the use of language. One critic on twitter (an Aberdeenshire landowner) suggested that it was “irresponsible and selfish to let my dog splash in a fishing pool” Pools of water in the River Dee have different meanings to different people – to me and my dog this was a swimming pool not a fishing pool – actually the stretch of water concerned is NOT a fishing pool.

An enjoyable night on the Lochnagar plateau gave ample time to digest the events of Saturday.

Photo: The author working as a stalker’s ghille or pony-man on a large landed estate in eastern Scotland with my Highland garron, Brandy.

Recently I found myself in the garden of a mansion house of a large Scottish landed estate drinking a cup of tea. I was there quite legally having entered through the front gate so to speak. It is fair to say, however, that most of the people there did not know who I was. One lady (who I recognised) caught my eye and smiled as if to begin a conversation. I moved sideways swiftly. Anyhow, I enjoyed 30 minutes or so of eaves-dropping conversations between members of the landed class.

Johnny, how lovely to see you. How is Sarah keeping?

Enjoying this fine weather – how long are you up for?

Til the stalking I think. You know I was saying to Angus this morning it’s difficult to know who’s around and who’s not. My daughter says we should get onto Facebook but I don’t like that sort of thing. Who else is around?”

Well the [names withheld] arrived last week and she said the whole family were going to manage sometime over the summer.”

It is fair to say that these assembled members of the landed class comprise the absentee owners of hunting estates who arrive like swallows for the summer and depart after the end of the red deer stalking season ends on 21 October. Indeed it is the principal reason I understand why the UK Parliament traditionally opens at the beginning of November as the Monarch would be occupied at Balmoral until well into October as would many Members of Parliament. One of the highlights of the “season” is the Northern Meeting Summer Ball in August (“Coloured bow ties, coloured shirts and smoking jackets should not be worn” by men and “tartan sashes and tiaras are encouraged” for the ladies).

Anyhow, as I shuffled round the garden, I noticed a copy of the Scottish Field magazine which reminded me that back in January, I had been asked by its editor to write an article on aspects of what I had just been hearing about.

Specifically, he noted that land reform is going to be on the agenda in 2013  and “do you fancy writing me a Viewpoint column arguing that we don’t need private estates to protect the economic value of game sports? There is a school of thought that private ownership actually limits the economic potential of huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’. If you could explore that, particularly with reference to Scandinavia and Sweden in particular, that would  be great.”

I readily agreed. I am a writer. I need to earn a living.

Two weeks after I submitted the article, I hadn’t heard anything and so I emailed him asking if he had got the piece. He replied that he had but that “it’s going to need a fair bit of work before it’s ready for publication in a magazine where a lot of readers will know a great deal about this subject.” He then promised to come back to me with “some detailed thoughts on how I think we should proceed with a view to publishing in the next issue.”

Nothing arrived. I forgot about it until I was chasing up invoices at the end of March. I asked if he was still interested in the piece or not. No reply. At the end of May we finally made contact. It was clear that he was not happy with the piece and felt that it didn’t meet the brief I had been given. To avoid any further pain, I suggested that, since I had spent some time writing it, I was not inclined to re-write it and that perhaps we should just forget about it. That was agreed. I feel that the piece is worth publishing though so here it is as a blog post.

As a result of my indiscretions I shall probably not be asked to write again for the Scottish Field. Which is probably just as well since, had my article been published, rather more of those who I was mingling with in the garden over a cup of tea might well have recognised me. I don’t think they read my blog.

THE ARTICLE THAT WAS NEVER PUBLISHED

Shortly after New Year, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA) welcomed the fact that newly qualified gamekeepers from Scotland’s colleges had all found jobs on sporting estates. Given the level of youth unemployment more generally, this is certainly welcome news and what was particularly notable about the TV and radio reports was the enthusiasm of the young gamekeepers who clearly saw their chosen profession as challenging and worthwhile.

These young gamekeepers can no doubt look forward to a rewarding life in Scotland’s great outdoors. But the job is not well paid (often little more than the minimum wage) and many gamekeepers do not even have written contracts of employment (as many as a third according to a recent survey – 1.2Mb pdf). Keepers will often live in tied accommodation on sporting estates and the opportunities for career development are very limited.

Such matters were not covered in the media reports which also, rather misleadingly, conflated the economic contribution of field sports in Scotland (around £240 million per year) with the economic contribution of sporting estates (the framework within which much of the hunting economy is currently delivered). The two are very different. Scotland no doubt has a vibrant hunting economy with people coming from all over the UK and abroad to enjoy activities such as angling and deer-stalking. But it is by no means obvious that sporting estates are the best means of exploiting the full potential of what Scotland has to offer. Indeed, such estates may well be part of the problem.

Prior to 1811, there were only around six hunting estates in Scotland but by the end of the century there were around 150 covering over one million hectares of land. Today there are around 340 extending over 2.1 million hectares of the Highlands and Islands. Two-thirds of them are owned by absentee owners and 70% have been owned by the current owners or their family for less than 50 years. Most owners are primarily concerned with the private enjoyment of hunting for their family and friends. (1)

Land use priorities are changing, however, and a report by the SGA last year highlighted how, from their point of view the traditional model of red deer stalking in Sutherland is under threat from “overambitious and ill thought through forestry and conservation projects” with the “notorious crimes” at Glenfeshie and Mar Lodge being singled out as “carnages” which will go down in history as “animal welfare atrocities”.

Other changes are taking place. New owners are appearing on the scene with Scandinavians in particular bringing a very different approach to the management of the traditional Victorian sporting estate. Across much of Europe there are no sporting estates. In Norway, a country five times the size of Scotland and where hunting is a national passion, there are a mere 23 private estates larger than 10,000ha. In Scotland there are 144. Much hunting takes place on common land owned by the state or local kommune.

Norway’s equivalent of the gamekeeper – a jaktguide – is actually very rare. Hunters simply obtain a hunting permit and off they go. Hunting guides in Scandinavia are generally self-employed. Instead of living in tied housing, they will own their own farm and will have skills in other outdoor pursuits. In Scandinavian countries hunting is seen as a recreational activity equivalent to other outdoor pursuits such as hiking and skiing. In Scotland, walkers and climbers are considered very different from hunters with interests that are often in conflict.

At a time when field sports are coming under sustained attack from various directions, it is time to think afresh about how the hunting economy could be developed to bring greater economic and social benefits to rural Scotland. Some evidence submitted to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group suggests that it time to introduce a system of hunting permits so that red deer in particular (which are a public resource) can be managed in a more integrated way with other land uses including outdoor recreation.

New thinking should include better prospects for young people who wish to follow a career as hunting guides and whose opportunities are constrained by the limited and poorly paid jobs available on sporting estates. If the provision of hunting can be made more democratic with greater levels of participation and integration with other land uses then Scotland’s hunting economy might begin to grow and to provide greater opportunities for the many individuals and businesses who complain of how it is currently managed.

Hunting, fishing and shooting have a bright future. The way forward for the hunting economy lies in taking a critical look at how it is delivered. Scotland’s sporting estates have their origins in a very different era to serve very different priorities. In the 21st century, however, they are no longer fit for purpose and are now increasingly an obstacle to a vibrant rural economy.

Doing things differently, will involve local control of hunting, community ownership of land, integrated management of forestry, conservation and recreation, opportunities for self-employed hunting guide businesses and a proper system of permits and licensing to manage wild game according to democratically agreed management plans.

Almost two decades ago in 1995, the highland historian James Hunter, responding to the claim that landowners felt threatened with talk of land reform, opined on the BBC programme Eorpa that,

The more they feel threatened in my view the better. They need to feel threatened and they should feel threatened because there can be no future in Britain in the 21st century for a rural economy dependent on tweedy gentlemen coming from the south to slaughter our wildlife. That is not the way to run the Highlands and Islands.” (2)

I wish Scotland’s newly employed gamekeepers the best of luck in their chosen profession. But I urge them to join me and others in discussing how we can liberate them from poorly-paid employment in the service of Scotland’s privately-owned sporting estates.

NOTES

(1) See Hunting and hegemony in the Highlands of Scotland: a study in the ideology of landscapes and landownership, Norwegian University of Agriculture, 2004.

(2) This quote from Hunter was not in the submitted article to Scottish Field. I felt it might be too inflammatory.