The GWCT are at it again. First they wanted buzzards and sparrowhawks added to the Scottish General Licences to allow the legal killing of these protected species in order to protect non-native gamebirds bred and released in their millions for leisure shooting. Then they went for the legal ‘removal’ of hen harriers from English grouse moors to protect artificially-high stocks of red grouse for leisure shooting. Now their plan to ‘remove’ pine martens from several Scottish forests, under the guise of a ‘research trial’, has been leaked.
Their ‘plan’ is to ‘remove’ 120 pine martens (a highly protected species that is recovering from persecution) from four forests in Strathspey, including inside the Cairngorms National Park, over a six-year period to see whether their ‘removal’ has any affect on the breeding success of Capercaillie. The plan suggests that the martens could be killed but a ‘translocation’ to other areas would be preferable. Conservationists have called the plan ‘deeply flawed’.
The story has been published by environmental journalist Rob Edwards and can be read here, including a copy of the GWCT’s ‘plan’.
We’ve got a bit more to add to this story. A freedom of information request has revealed some interesting facets. It seems that GWCT has been pushing this proposal for some time, in discussion with SNH, Forestry Commission Scotland and Cairngorms National Park Authority. The RSPB has ruled itself out of any involvement. There has been a lot of unease about the GWCT’s proposed methods amongst SNH, FCS and CNPA and also the likely adverse publicity that this ‘trial’ would generate.
GWCT has been told that licences to permit the killing of pine martens are unlikely to be supported, and also licences to permit the live-trapping of pine martens during the lactation period (15 March-31 July) are unlikely to be supported on animal welfare grounds. However, SNH suggested that the martens could be live-trapped BEFORE mid-February to avoid catching them before they become pregnant!
It’s also revealed that the Vincent Wildlife Trust are ‘not receptive’ to hosting translocated pine martens, which basically scuppers the GWCT’s proposal because they had been relying on the VWT’s cooperation.
The original plan was to start live-trapping pine martens in early 2015. However, SNH has put the brakes on and has asked GWCT for an extended development plan before the research proposal can be considered further. SNH has said they probably won’t consider the experimental removal of pine martens before the start of 2016 at the earliest.
Here are the FoI documents:
Information Request #1 includes various versions of GWCT’s proposal, including comments from SNH; RSPB Scotland’s position statement on the trial; the Mammal Society’s position statement on the trial (and that is really worth a read!); and some email correspondence.
Information Request #2 includes a letter from SNH to GWCT outlining what needs to be done before the proposal will be further considered; and a summary of GWCT’s baseline data collected in 2014. There are a few pages of redacted information but these relate to Capercaillie locations so it’s understandable that they should remain undisclosed.
Information Request #3 includes a series of emails (many reproduced in the other information notes) and minutes from a meeting held on 2nd October 2014 between GWCT, SNH, FCS and CNPA. There’s also confirmation that the Vincent Wildlife Trust are ‘unreceptive’ to receiving translocated pine martens.
Pine Marten photograph by Gary Faulkner.