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The Albon Report triggers major questions
over SNH's deer culling policy:
a serious lack of trust in SNH
comes to the fore
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Filed 27 Feb 07
Radio Scotland's Grassroots programme, 24th February
07, devoted its attention to the publication of the Albon Report,
which presents the results of a study between 1997 and 2003 from
the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (Aberdeen). The report
(1) is entitled:
Quantifying the grazing impacts associated with different herbivores
on range lands
It was commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage
(SNH) and the Deer Commission of Scotland and was published at the
expense of the taxpayer in a peer reviewed journal.
The reason why this report has caused such a stuchie
is that landowners, gamekeepers and farmers see it as providing
a strong, scientific argument against the policy of extensive deer
culling adopted by SNH. Those who work on the land claim that tens
of thousands of deer have been culled at the behest of SNH unnecessarily.
It would appear from the Albon Report that SNH has applied on a
wide scale aspects of management that should only pertain to certain
highly localised and restricted areas.
Chief Executive, Scottish Countryside Alliance
Photo ©Kimpton Graphics
The Grassroots radio programme, chaired by Nancy
Nicholson, included Tony Andrews (CEO, Scottish Countryside Alliance),
Davey Thomson (Gamekeeper in the Tomatin area of Inverness-shire),
Michael Wigan (Journalist and Southern Upland Landowner) and Des
Thompson (SNH's Principal advisor on upland habitats). Professor
John Milne (Chairman of the Deer Commission) was stated to be "too
busy" to take part, providing instead an essentially meaningless
statement couched in government speak.
Professor Steve Albon, Head of Science at the
Macaulay Institute, responded to questions from Nancy Nicholson
with commendable scientific integrity.
In 7 of the 11 areas studied, sampled from Wester
Ross, through Caithness and the Angus Glens to south of Loch Tay
and totalling over 8,000 sq Km, deer were not found to be the main
culprits for causing damage to rare plant habitats. Indeed, they
were topped in this regard by both sheep and cattle. In wide areas
the damage caused by deer was considered to be insignificant.
To quote from the Report:
"Summary: Point 4
"Overall the presence of sheep was associated
with the largest increase (7/11 areas) in grazing and trampling
impact of all herbivores. Cattle had the second largest impact
but generally this was restricted to fewer areas and habitats
than sheep. In contrast, impacts associated with wild herbivores
tended to be small and only significant very locally."
The report found that sheep, when relatively intensively
grazed, can cause the most damage to rare plants through a combination
of grazing and trampling. As Davey Thomson, the gamekeeper, pointed
out: this can be particularly obvious if the sheep are given winter
supplementary feeding. That is hardly surprising, as gamekeepers
have been well aware of what has been described from the pattern
in which the heather pasture is grazed and from th dung droppings.
The different types of herbivores have different styles of grazing,
which are readily identifiable.
The report confirms what gamekeepers have known
for many years. That such a report is necessary in these crazy times
reflects just how much we seem to have abandoned common sense and
practical knowledge gained through experience. These skills are
not enough for the bureaucrats in SNH or the European Commission
(EC), who generally lack such knowledge. This approach to management
was recently restated rather sadly in the comment to myself by Scotland's
new Chief Scientific Adviser (2):
"Commonsense was the accumulation of experiences
before the age of 18 years"
Tony Andrews, Davey Thomson and Michael Wigan
were unanimous in their condemnation of SNH's policy of widespread
deer culling. They were also united in their distrust of SNH. And
in that distrust they have many allies (3,
Des Thompson (SNH) put up a poor, somewhat arrogant,
defence for SNH's behaviour, as though he was in denial of what
the report said. He made it clear that SNH's policy would not change,
quoting the inevitable EC habitat directives while completely avoiding
the main issue.
What is impressive about the Albon report is that,
before publication, it was peer reviewed. That is quite an exceptional
occurrence for many of the reports that emanate from SNH and other
government agencies or quangos.
What the report reveals, yet again, is the chaotic
way the Scottish Executive dictate how Scotland's land is to be
managed. Conflicting policies within the Scottish Executive's own
Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (SEERAD) and its agency,
SNH, abound. As if that was not bad enough, diktats are dispatched
with the force of European law from a distant, and some would say
substantially ignorant, bureaucratic powerhouse in Brussels.
Blackfaced sheep farmers are for ever being encouraged
to improve their efficiency in producing lambs of better size and
confirmation. "Produce what the consumer wants" is the
recurring slogan. And "Do it efficiently" is the endless
demand from Ross Finnie the SEERAD Minister. Until 2004, sheep farming
was coupled with a substantial production subsidy. Commonsense could
have predicted that these economic conditions would result in sheep
heading the list of herbivores responsible for the most damage to
rare plant habitats in rangelands.
Now there are no production subsidies for sheep,
and mighty little for cattle. The options Scotland adopted following
Common Agricultural (CAP) Reform made it more profitable to lease
out "naked acres" (unstocked) to lowland farmers to maintain
their Single Farm Payments rather than to bother with sheep, cattle
or anything else on Highland ground. Such is the lack of logic in
the system imposed upon landowners and farmers.
So the problem now is that there may not be enough
sheep (or cattle) on the heather moors to provide a favourable habitat
for the spectrum of wildlife that our bureaucrats would like. Can
anyone really be surprised?
What all this shows is that EC diktats from afar
can be singularly inappropriate. It also shows that our own bureaucrats
are also not much good at land management. Consequently, there is
a profound lack of trust in these organisations on the part of skilled
landowners, farmers and gamekeepers who, over generations, have
become skilled in integrated land management.
Rather than supporting those who know how to manage
land, the Scottish Executive produced a poorly drafted Land Reform
(Scotland) Act, and set up a system whereby they take money way
from farmers to give some of it back, but only to those who are
willing to follow largely ill-conceived programmes thought up by
SNH and its "conservation" allies.
Is it not time that SNH had its wings seriously
clipped? Likewise, the European Commission.
1. Albon, S.D., Brewer,
M.J.,O 'Brien, S., Nolan, A.J. and Cope, D. (2007). Quantifying
the grazing impacts associated with different herbivores on rangelands.
J. Appl. Ecol - in press.
2. Irvine, James (2007).
Scotland's new Chief Scientific Adviser delivers an open lecture
to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. How does she shape up?
See SCIENCE Homepage, filed 21 Feb 07, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
3. Macleod, Kirsty (2006).
Marine National Park.
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 02 Feb 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
4. Armstrong, Mary (2006).
Sheep becoming the scapegoats?
Scottish Farmer, 7th January 2005, p 9
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 20 Jan 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
5. Hogg, Alex (2005). "Enhancing
our environment; holistic management Vs single species priorities."
Part 3: Session 2b. SCA conference "Getting the balance right:
rural Scotland 2005"
12th April, Edinburgh.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 21 Apr 05,
Here to View
6. Irvine, James (2005).
Land Management Contracts analysed: item 7 - linear features. A
mixture of sense and nonsense
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 10 Mar 05,
Click Here to View
7. Robertson, Gordon (2006).
Land management - a mix of stewardship, honesty, reality and accountability.
Paper presented at the 4th annual conference , Scottish Countryside
Alliance "Who should run the countryside? Rural Scotland 2006"
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 17 May 06,
Here to View
8. Irvine, James (2003).
The arrogance of academics pontificating about rural affairs; are
they letting us down? ECRR conference "Scotland's landscape
- a fixed asset?" Battleby, Perthshire 8th May 2003
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 14 May 03,
Here to View
9. Robertson, Liz (2004).
SNH and the Isle of Arran. A case study presented at the PEOPLE
TOO conference, Perth 29th October 2004: "Who governs rural
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 19 Nov 04,
Here to View
10. Mitchell, Ian (2004).
Isles of the North, Published by Birlinn, Edinburgh
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 09 Oct 04,
Here to View