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Loch Leven cormorants must not be shot, says Scottish
Letter to Editor
R Hill & Co
Filed 06 Jul 06
I write to you as a reader of land-care.org.uk,
and in particular write with reference to the article you posted
on Tuesday 27th June entitled, ‘SNH statements concerning
Loch Leven discussed. Is SNH a good land manager? Can SNH be trusted
with our heritage?’ (1).
I have avidly followed the events relating to
‘Cormorants and the decline of trout fishing on Loch Leven’
4). I have a particular interest
in this subject, primarily because of the correlation between Jamie
Montgomery's difficulties and a similar situation which my family
has had to endure for more than 20 years.
In your last article you raised a number of very
valid points. In particular you raised the question as to what criteria
Kinross Estate had to meet in order to comply with SNH’s statement
that ‘a series of tests have to be made’ and
‘the tests had not been met’.
Having gone through this entire process and having
been a part of events that resulted in the current legislation and
laws governing the protection of birds, I can shed some light on
what SNH mean. Hopefully, this will assist yourself and your other
readers better understand the current mentality and mindset of the
Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD).
The statement ‘a series of tests have to be made’
relates to ‘no other satisfactory solution’
in accordance with Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Amendment)
Any person wishing to kill a bird in Scotland,
even if it is destroying the local habitat (flora or fauna) or spreading
disease has to prove that there is no other satisfactory solution
or suitable alternative available to them before taking such action.
The protection of the birds is given precedence
whilst all other factors and considerations are deemed to be subservient
to the greater cause.The events and difficulties that the Kinross
Estate has recently had to experience are nothing new and can be
traced back to late 1970s. It was during this period that the bird
lobbies/alleged conservationists (WWT, RSPB and Nature Conservancy
Council) came of age and started to become a dominant force in rural
Scotland. Their first big foray into blanket protection for birds
revolved around Barnacle geese. Back then they wanted local farmers
on the Solway Coast and Isle of Islay to allow Barnacle geese to
graze land undisturbed. They made claims that the 1979 European
Bird Directive enforced requirements upon UK government to provide
such areas and that it had to be adhered to and was not up for negotiation.
This caused huge conflict between all parties
concerned, primarily because of the fact that Barnacle geese were
notorious for ripping out pastures as they foraged for white clover
(trifolium repens) in the undergrowth.
With the advent of the Wildlife and Countryside
Act 1981 (which interpreted the Bird Directive into UK law) it became
clear that farmers were entitled to protect their crops and animal
foodstuffs via shooting to kill. It was portrayed at the time that
in order to do so they would have to apply for a licence from the
then Secretary of State first. More often than not the Department
of Agriculture and Fisheries who issued the licence on behalf of
the Minister would insist on non-lethal scaring first whilst they
monitored the situation to allow them to assess the impact.
Over time it became clearly apparent to all the
extent of the destruction that the Barnacle geese were causing.
However the bird lobbies, with assistance from SNH, had such a hold
over the department that licences were not being issued.
Instead SNH were working on goose management schemes
that used public money to compensate farmers. The scheme was rushed
through without proper assessment or consultation. It quickly became
clear that the sums discussed were not adequate. With the continual
damage being caused to the land, farmers were becoming more and
more vocal about having the right to shoot.
For years farmers trialled the scaring methods
but they were proven to be completely ineffective. We were actually
one of the farms blighted by Barnacle geese and one of the farms
that formed part of the huge government study into the impact of
geese. It was a complete farce, with numerous reports being compiled
by local department officials stating that licences to shoot were
immediately required only to have the farmers' licence applications
refused by HQ (5).
Referring back to our farm, we also had a botanical
SSSI designation which was managed by SNH. They were well aware
of the damage being caused by Barnacle geese. However, they continually
refused to intervene. Year upon year Barnacle geese blighted the
farm and licence applications were refused. At the end of his tether
my father decided to shoot Barnacle geese in 1993 without a licence.
He was prosecuted. However the case collapsed and the Sheriff presiding
over the case ruled that section 4(3)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside
Act 1981, allowed farmers to shoot without a licence if they could
prove that serious damage was occurring. The Sheriff also condemned
the Department for not having a legitimate reason for not issuing
Instead of accepting the ruling, the bird lobbies
assisted by SNH (formerly Nature Conservancy Council) amended the
act and introduced the ‘The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
(Amendment) Regulations 1995’. This act removes the right
of farmers to shoot without a licence, and removed the ability to
rely on Section 4(3)(c) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
as a defence i.e. that you can shoot in order to prevent serious
damage. The amendments they enforced now mean that in addition to
demonstrating and proving that serious agricultural damage is occurring,
or that the birds are destroying the habitat, you also have to show
that there are no other satisfactory solutions or suitable alternatives
Unfortunately we cannot provide yourself or your
readers with examples of what a suitable alternative or other satisfactory
solution actually is. It has not been through want of trying as
we have tried everything. Nothing has ever been acceptable to SNH
or the Scottish Executive, and they refuse to stipulate what it
actually is you have to do to meet with their expectations.
All that we can offer is to refer to Lord Johnston’s
ruling that you published in your article (6).
You will see that Lord Johnston considered there to be no alternative
to killing in light of the fact that scaring techniques had proven
to be ineffective. In his opinion the directives put the habitat
before the birds and the only way to protect the habitat was to
prevent birds causing damage by killing them.
SNH have continually talked about compensation.
However, it has proven to be inadequate and merely funds the damage
being caused rather than addressing the problem.
The Scottish Executive and its predecessors have
been collating evidence of the impact of geese for over thirty years
but no decisions or advice has ever come out of it.
The mindset would appear to be one that does not
want to answer the question. The Executive is only interested in
the blanket protection of the birds rather than the local fauna,
the local flora or other local interests.
On behalf of R Hill & Co
1. Irvine, James (2006). SNH statements
concerning Loch Leven discussed. Is SNH a good land manager? Can
SNH be trusted with our heritage?
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 27 Jun 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
2. Loch Leven Fisheries (2006).
Here to View pdf
3. Irvine, James (2006). Protected
cormorants blamed for the demise of trout fishing on Loch Leven,
under the management of SNH.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 04 Jun 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
4. Irvine, James (2006). Cormorants
and the decline of trout fishing on Loch Leven: SNH responds to
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 10 Jun 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
5. Reports can be viewed
6. Lord Johnston (1999).
Judicial Review of a decision by the Secretary of State to grant
licences to shoot Barnacle geese within SPAs on Islay. Click
Here to View pdf