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Eco/Green News September 2022

Eco/ Rural News                              September 2022

Rural Crime Wave

            Scotland appears to be in the grip of a crime wave targeting equipment in remote farms, with reports of a 52% rise in rural crime in the last year, resulting in £2.6 million in losses, according to NFU Mutual.  Electrical equipment, quad bikes, diesel, fertilizers, crops, livestock, tools and chemicals are all in the thieves’ sights.  Organised crime groups from parts of England are using drones to find out where valuables and cctv cameras are located on remote properties. Lothian and Borders has been particularly hit, and some items like the Old Land Rover Defender are sought out for parts.

            Farmers are living in fear of these gangs, who often employ extreme violence.  In response the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) was set up in 2019 to work with Police Scotland, NFU Scotland, local authorities and transport networks, and NFU Mutual has provided money for police for a 4×4 vehicle for remote areas, and police on both sides of the border are coordinating their response to the relatively small number of culprits involved.  Marker fluid on livestock and vehicle trackers are making life more difficult for the thieves, but some fear the problem will get worse, particularly with the inflated price of diesel.

The Great Bernera Mutiny

            A row has erupted since the death of the island laird and his succession by his 22-year-old grandson Cyran de la Lanne, who, unlike his grandfather, has no affinity with the island at all.  The original laird was a good steward of the land, who left his estate in trust for his grandson till he turned 25 and who wanted the islanders to have first refusal after that.  Little Bernera, the uninhabited island off Great Bernera’s northern tip, was left to the National Trust for Scotland, but it declined the bequest so it also defaulted to Cyran de la Lanne.

            However, having no interest in the place the new owner intends to sell, but the district valuer’s assessment of both islands being worth only £70,000 as they are almost all crofting and common grazing areas, was dismissed out of hand by him, claiming he had an independent valuation of £500,000 for the property, but no-one seems to have seen this valuation.

            Patrick de la Lanne, Cyran’s father and the ‘de facto’ executor of the will, claimed there was a possibility of wind turbines being erected on the island, and that Cyran had to be protected against this future loss of income, trying to extract payments of 50% of future income over 20 years. This claim was seen off but they then demanded compensation from crofters who wanted to sell their properties or build on them.  In this he almost succeeded.  A stand-off has since ensued over the will.

            But there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur has suggested maybe it is time for the crofting community to exercise its little known right to buy.  In the original legislation, the possibility of landowners being stripped of their property was a concern, although it did not materialise, and the right has never been used so far.  Some think now may be the time to follow through.

Soil use

            Misuse of soil accounts for one third of harmful emissions according to NatureScot.  Soil should soak up carbon but has become a net source of emissions, including in Scotland.  Carbon that should normally be stored for hundreds of years in soil and sediments is returned to the atmosphere in just a few years.  

           Ecological practices contribute to this.  Peatland is drained and degraded, deer suppress peatland and woodland restoration, and woodlands have become commercially exploited, with grassland fed by synthetic fertilisers.  Fifty-three per cent of Scotland’s 3000m tonne deep carbon store is held in deep peatland.

            Agricultural mono-cultures remove most of the separation provided by trees and hedges, and flood plains are suppressed, urban areas have little greenery and coastal habitats like salt marsh, seagrass and kelp have become widely diminished, and the seabed disturbed.  Previously complex landscapes have become monotone, which is of particular danger when storms hit.  Hedges and trees which would have stopped or slowed floodwater are no longer there. 

            Clive Mitchell, Outcome Manager with NatureScot, favours farmland with trees and hedges, and intercropping, extensive grazing livestock, wooded riverbanks and for flood plains to be used as they were intended, to take water run-off.  More greenery in urban areas would help manage excess water.   Agricultural practices like crop rotation, minimal tillage, cover crops and organic fertilizers would also help sequester carbon, and lessen the effects of climate events.

Drax

            Fuel for the Drax Power Plant in Yorkshire comes from wood pellets from trees in Canada and the US, Brazil and Estonia.  They are dried in the USA into 5 million tonnes of wood pellets and sent via Louisiana to Immingham near Hull, thence to the nearby Drax plant, supplying 6% of Britain’s total energy as ‘biomass’ and is credited as 11% of its ‘renewable energy’, but this is only through replacement tree planting.

            Creating the pellets and shipping them creates 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 yearly, and in 2020 Drax produced 19.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2.  So this makes it the biggest emitter in Britain unless you count against it carbon offsetting through tree-planting. 

            The plant gets £893 million a year and adds £11.60 a year to the average bill.  Drax is looking to use carbon capture technology to store the CO2 emitted, but this would need funding of £31 billion.  It is also seeking to expand its Cruachan hydro power plant in Argyll.

Ruth Watson

            of Keep Scotland the Brand has pointed out that for Scottish seed potato growers the market has been decimated.  Before Brexit 77,000 tonnes of seed potatoes were exported to the EU, but now they are no longer allowed in.  What really angers Ruth, though, is that English farmers are allowed to import seed potatoes from the EU rather than from Scotland.  The UK Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Scottish farmers they should just look for new markets.

Cod stocks

            are also in freefall.  The Our Seas alliance says the west of Scotland have lost 92% of its cod stocks since 1981.  Contrary to the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) nearly 45,000 tonnes has been landed or discarded on the west coast of Scotland since 2004, and the North Sea has lost its sustainability certification for a fourth year.  Thirty-five consecutive years of cod catches are above recommended limits.

            The Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation wants Holyrood to reinstate and expand on the ban on ‘bottom trawling’ within three miles of the coast.  Global Fishing Watch and Oceana data has found that last year ‘bottom fishing’ gear took over 90% of offshore ‘benthic’ marine protection areas which aim to protect species which live on the seabed.   These areas are being damaged with the Scottish government only committed to designating Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) to cover at least 10% of Scotland’s inshore and offshore waters by 2026.

            This also affects undersea carbon storage.  If the seabed is damaged, Blue Carbon undersea sinks, which store 524 megatonnes of organic carbon in the UK’s sea sediment, actually release carbon back into the atmosphere, but it is so far little quantified. 

Salmon Farming

            The community of Papa Westray in Orkney united against plans for Scotland’s largest salmon farm off East Moclett over concerns about pollution and visual impact.  The local residents have problems with pollution, needing to clear salmon farm waste and debris from local beaches year-round.  The local residents in Papa Westray felt their concerns were ignored by Cooke Aquaculture and took their appeal to Orkney Council, but were disappointed when the council approved it on 9th September.   None of the six statutory consultation bodies objected to the plans, although eighty-two valid individual objections were lodged.  They failed to sway the council, which unanimously approved the application.

Drought and leakage

            At the same time as Scotland is seeing some restrictions on taking water for agriculture, and mid and north Fife put on the highest alert for water scarcity and the Tweed catchment likely to follow, Scotland loses almost 460 million litres of water every day through leaks.

            Publicly-owned Scottish Water awarded its bosses £227,000 in bonuses while planning price rises of 12% or more. They defended the bonuses as being significantly lower than water company chiefs elsewhere in the UK (which are private). 

           Reservoirs previously at 99% capacity in March are now at 80%.   The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have the power to suspend business licences for abstracting water, but a hosepipe ban must be authorised by a government minister.

Hydrogen whisky

            A £3 million green distillery project has got the go-ahead for Arbikie Distillery near Montrose, involving a wind turbine and electrolyser which will power its operations from green hydrogen (hydrogen created using renewable electricity from the wind turbine and local water).

            Planning permission has been obtained from Angus Council and the project has £3 million funding from the UK government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) via its Green Distilleries fund.  The wind turbine will appear in November 2022, with the aim that the new system to be operating next year, replacing the oil currently used in the distillery processes.

Are Scotland’s beaches safe?

            Scotland’s monitored swimming spots are of poorer quality than England with just 38% of the 85 locations called ‘excellent’, compared with 71% of those in England, but Scotland does not monitor all its coastline, as remote areas do not need the same level of monitoring for sewage.  Scotland tends to test specific areas of higher population. 

            SEPA said that sometimes water is released into the sea with untreated sewage because it would otherwise flow into the streets.  There will be event monitoring on combined sewer/rain outflows which discharge into designated bathing waters by December 2024.  SEPA also said 99% of Scotland’s bathing waters meet strict environmental standards.

Grouse Licensing

            is being introduced for Scotland following the deaths of 137 birds of prey being illegally killed in the UK in 2020, more than 50% of which were killed in connection with gamebird shooting.  Medicated grit used on grouse moors kills other animals, with heather burning contributing to the destruction of the environment.

            Max Wiszniewski of REVIVE, which calls for grouse moor reforms, says many year hundreds of thousands of foxes, stoats and other animals are killed and land burned to keep grouse numbers high for shooting.

Energy from the Sahara?

            The UK government is mulling over an £18bn plan to harness solar and wind power in the Sahara Desert and then use it to supply Britain by an undersea electricity cable.  Twelve million solar panels and 530 wind turbines in the Moroccan desert.  

            A yet to be built factory in Hunterston Ayrshire would employ 900 workers to build the cabling, with a second possible factory in Teesside.   The firm involved has been granted permission to build a huge solar panel and wind farm on 370- square miles of Morocco’s Guelmim-Oued Noun region. 

            The firm is not getting taxpayers’ money but is asking for public subsidies to guarantee a ‘strike price’ (fixed price) of £48 per megawatt hour, in contrast to the much bigger price per MW at Leicestershire’s Hinkley Point C nuclear plant of £92.50.

Julia Pannell                                                  27/09/22

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