Sporting estates “are a rural perversion”

Journalist Jim Crumley has a wonderful turn of phrase.

Last month he called the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association “the UKip of the natural world” (see here). Yesterday, in his latest article in the Courier he said:

The sporting estate is not a rural business model, it is a rural perversion“.

He was referring to the SGA’s response to the SNP’s proposed land reforms in his article entitled ‘Land reform: predictably, the bleating has begun‘. Here’s an excerpt –

“……….Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to raise your glasses to the Scottish Government’s ‘radical programme of land reform’. And once you’ve done that, I further invite you to arm yourselves with hammer and symbolic nails, the better to nail down the coffin of the stranglehold that has given us the deer forest and the grouse moor. And not to mention the exorcism of the ghost of Queen Victoria that has presided over the monstrous abuse of Scottish land for almost 114 years and not to mention the decades of her life during which she actively promoted it.

Much of mainland Europe gave up such ghosts aeons ago. It is time – it is long, long past time – that Scotland addressed head-on the most entrenched and sustained injustices that ever clung to the fair face of the land, that still cling, a clenched grasp on the land to which we should belong and to which belonging is denied to almost all of us.

The bleating of landowners, factors and gamekeepers have already begun and it will get louder until this new, flowing tide of post-referendum optimism drowns them out and lets in sunlight and brisk winds to illuminate and banish the stourie, cobwebby old gloom of their oppressive regime. Its days are numbered.

In its predictable response to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association’s spokesman said: “There has to be an acknowledgement that some rural business models already deliver in the public interest”.

The sporting estate is not a rural business model, it is a rural perversion; one that puts hundreds of thousands of acres far beyond the reach of the public interest, or for that matter far beyond the well-being of nature; one whose management wraps the land in a time warp that honours Victorian practices of raptor control and of obliterating at every opportunity those of nature’s creatures it deems inconvenient and dumps the carcasses in stink pits marked “vermin”. The reforms should outlaw the very word.

As with the Smith Commission, the land reform legislation will be seen by many Scots as a first step on a new, progressive and optimistic journey rather than a destination in itself. Ending business rates exemptions for sporting estates and using the resultant millions to swell the Land Fund and foster more community ownership ventures may seem a startling initiative to many Scots, but all over mainland Europe they will be wondering why it took us so long.

There should be two essential elements to land reform. One, which these new proposals serve, and which is indeed a rural business model that delivers in the public interest, brings much more land under the essentially benevolent influence of many more communities. The other is to create opportunities for nature that have been denied to it for centuries, and that is a cause that can perhaps best be served by bringing a large area of land into state control to create a showpiece national park devoted to species conservation and reintroduction, native habitat restoration, recreation and expansion.

A national park owned by the nation may sound like shooting for the moon, but again, in mainland Europe and North America, it is simply the norm and always has been. Our peculiarly Scottish (peculiarly in both senses of the word) land use history has left us far, far behind the times, so that our new aspirational frame of mind has to be willing to think big just to achieve these norms that are a facet of life in so many modern, independent nations.

Imagine a Heartland National Park that stretches from the Moor and the Black Wood of Rannoch south to Loch Tay and Glen Dochart and west across the Black Mount, Glencoe and Glen Orchy to the shores of Loch Etive.

It would also link our existing national parks and serve as a role model in matters like prioritising the needs of nature over development and tourism. It would lead by example in teaching new community-owned estates how to be better neighbours with the natural world, so that the growing rural population of people would relearn something of the old skills our ancestors once knew about honouring the company of the growing population of nature, rather than obliterating it with shotguns, traps, and a Victorian apothecary’s arsenal of poisons…………..”

END

All eyes are on the land reform proposals right now, and there’s huge anticipation that maybe, just maybe, they’ll provide a means of finally holding The Untouchables to account.

The Scottish Government has launched a public consultation on the proposed reforms (here). The document includes a foreword by new Environment Minister Aileen McLeod (whose portfolio now includes, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform – she’s going to be busy!).

If you’re interested in an incredibly well-informed view on land reform issues in Scotland, we recommend you subscribe to Andy Wightman’s blog.

There’s also a good article from George Monbiot today – see here.

Below is a photograph of an intensively driven-grouse moor in the Eastern Highlands, by Chris Townsend (for background see here and especially Chris’s blog here).

east-highlands-devastation-chris-townsend

Groups call for an end to the vilification of the hen harrier

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyBirdWatch Ireland and the Irish Raptor Study Group have joined forces to call for an end to the “continuing vilification” of the hen harrier.

These conservation groups say they are deeply concerned over mounting pressures from the farming community to lift a ban on afforestation within the designated Special Protection Area (SPA) network for hen harriers.

They said: “Recent comments by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Tom Hayes, indicated support for further afforestation in these protected areas, which would be an environmental disaster and have a devastating effect on the national hen harrier population, which is already in decline“.

Full story in the Irish Examiner here.

A recent parliamentary question and answer session on this subject can be read here.

Last year, Councillor John Sheahan of Limerick County Council caused public uproar when he called for ‘open season’ on hen harriers if restrictions in Hen Harrier SPAs were not lifted (see here).

The hen harrier is a species of high conservation concern in Ireland (just as it is elsewhere in the UK) and is fully protected under regional, national and international legislation.

Hen harrier photograph by Gordon Langsbury

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