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Eco Matters August 2022

Eco Matters                                                August 2022

Grouse Shoots, Wildfires, Land Ownership and more…

Grouse Shooting

            Is this an iconic Scottish activity or just a cliché of Scottish life like swirling mist, bagpipes, whisky and shortbread? Its supporters claim it provides employment in rural areas, its opponents see it as a barbaric bloodsport, with up to a quarter of a million other animals killed in addition to grouse for entertainment (‘Killing time’, Neil Mackay, Herald on Sunday, 14/08/22).

             Hedgehogs, foxes, stoats, birds and badgers are killed in traps because of the need to kill off those who act as predators on the grouse, with some like hedgehogs collateral damage.

            Successful prosecutions of these crimes are rare.  The prevalence of grouse moors renders Scotland more homogenous on wildlife, landscape and biodiversity.  Muirburn (burning heather) which often grows on peatland, poses a risk of releasing huge stores of carbon from the peatland, adding to adverse climate effects, although muirburn does serve a useful function in creating firebreaks.

            Grouse shooting takes 13% of Scotland’s landmass, bringing in at most £32 million to the economy, plus 2,600 seasonal low paid jobs, translating as £30 per hectare and 1 job per 330 hectares .  Only 12% of Scots support grouse shooing.  The Scottish government is threatening to license the sport with conditions.  Campaigners also point out the unsightly tracks carved in hillsides to reach shooting stations, and medicated grit to feed the grouse may affect other wildlife adversely.

            A big problem is the collateral killing of protected birds including goshawks, buzzard and peregrines on grouse moors, with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) claiming it is a particular problem on managed grouse moors.  No-one has been successfully prosecuted for killing a golden eagle in Scotland, and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland is urging robust action from the Scottish government to outlaw ‘killing [other animals] to kill, muirburn and the use of medicated grit.  The Scottish government’s work on regulation has started.

Deer culls

            One-fifth of Scotland’s deer (200,000) are to be culled in the next five years under the auspices of Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) to protect 150 million young trees on their land.  This is in the absence of the natural predators who would have dealt with the deer, who are no longer in Scotland – lynx, wolves and bears.

Housing for Locals

            The last available council house in Plockton was saved from sale on the open market, and will now be let to a teacher at Plockton High School.  Concerns surrounded the fact that half the 80 homes in the centre of the village are holiday homes or lets. And Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association is submitting a pre-planning application for 12 affordable homes on the shinty pitch in Plockton.

            The Scottish government says its schemes like the Croft House Grant have helped ensure affordable housing (1067 families assisted since 2007) and its Rural and Island Housing Funds are also attempting to provide local housing at affordable prices.

           The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) was forced to backtrack on plans to evict two tenants after they highlighted a problem with hairline cracks needing repaired.  Tenants’ organisation Living Rent appealed to NTS to come up with a solution other than the no-fault eviction they planned instead of decanting them and carrying out the repairs.  NTS have now given the tenants time to find other premises or MAY offer them a vacant property, and they will be able to return to their existing property when the repairs are complete.

            The problem arose because their lease is a Short- Assured Tenancy Agreement, allowing the NTS to evict them without a reason. No-fault evictions are illegal for tenancies starting after December 1st, 2017.  The two affected tenants had tried to get the NTS to upgrade their tenancy to a Private Residential Tenancy, which has been the standard form of tenancy in Scotland since 2017.

            But the NTS is not finished.  It recently joined with other organisations in lobbying the Scottish government not to extend tenant protections.

Andy Wightman

            appears to have few regrets about no longer being in parliament.  He is devoting his time to formulating a comprehensive land reform bill.  Dispiritingly, nothing appears to have changed since his work on ‘Who Owns Scotland?’ He says it is now mostly investment companies in London including Auchinairn partnership and the Church of England, and he is critical of the Scottish government’s current focus on increasing the amount of woodland dedicated to carbon offsetting, which benefits large polluting companies instead of actually cutting emissions.

            He says land ownership is still very concentrated, saying 20% of Scotland is forest, with more concentrated land ownership than in the past.  Twenty-five to thirty percent of land is hunting estates, which has remained unchanged.

            His bill proposes changing the atmosphere into a ‘commons’.  In Scotland land ownership is from the centre of the earth to the heavens, but he wants ownership limited to the height of developments (buildings, trees, and so on) and anything above that being commonly owned, regulatable and subject to charging for carbon-offsetting.  Regarding the foreshore, he wants to amend its ownership to be with the council, with the ownership of the seabed to be transferred from the crown to Scottish ministers.

Ireland and Peat Burning

            A controversial proposal by the Irish Green Party is testing the fragile coalition government.  The Greens propose outlawing commercial cutting and selling of peat from September, but the proposal is pitting the ‘urban elites’ against the rural poor (‘A burning issue for Ireland as the sale of peat is outlawed’, Barry Hartigan, Sunday Post, 7/08/22).

            One sixth of Ireland is bogland, which provided fuel for the population for centuries, but every hectare of drained peatland emits two tonnes of carbon per year. Peat, coal and smoky fuels are blamed for air pollution which kills 1300 people yearly.

            The other two coalition parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are opposing the proposal.  There is a real danger the Irish government could fall as the coalition lost its majority last month and depends on independents on a confidence and supply basis.  As the proposal seeks to outlaw commercial provision, those with rights to cut peat for their own homes (turbary rights) will still be able to do so, but those without their own rights would see restricted supplies and probably increased costs.

The Langholm Initiative

            has against the odds secured the largest community buyout ever in south Scotland, following a last-minute dash to top up the crowd funder to the £2.2 million required to buy the Duke of Buccleuch’s land.  The Scottish government provided £1 million through its Scottish Land Fund, an anonymous private donor gave £500,000, and 3000 others made up the difference. Last minute donations included £300,000 from Alex Gerko, founder of XTX Markets, £100,000 from Anne Reece of the Reece Foundation, and £50,000 from the John Muir Trust.

Drugs Poisoning Scotland’s water

            Medicines have been found in unacceptably high levels in Scotland’s water in breach of safety levels, according to the Ferret (‘Revealed: the drugs that are poisoning Scotland’s water’, Sunday National, 31/7/22).  This is due partly to natural waste through sewage, but some through unused medication being flushed away.  Ibuprofen, oestrogen and antibiotics like erythromycin, anti-depressants and anti-epilepsy drugs were also found in high levels.  A June study said contamination levels were a concern in 104 countries worldwide.

            Sewage treatment works are proving inadequate.  Chemicals from the treatment works are found in the waterways, plus chemicals from agricultural and landfill run-off.  Sewage sludge removed during treatment is recycled onto farmland and thence to the waterways again.  And unused medicines should always be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal.

Wildfires

            Many parts of Europe are plagued by wildfires and extreme heat.  Portugal, France, Spain and even England have seen the countryside ignite due to the extreme hot and dry conditions making vegetation a tinderbox.  Spain has claimed that hundreds of excess deaths are due to the heatwave, with thousands of hectares of forestry destroyed.  Firefighters have had to fight on numerous fronts simultaneously.

            In England, the almost unheard-of village of Wennington on the outskirts of London saw a number of houses destroyed by fire before water could even be deployed.  In Spain and Portugal fires have been caused in some instances by lightning, or accident (barbecues) and some even through arson, hard as that is to comprehend.

Flooding

            China on the other hand recently experienced a heatwave in the east and Shanghai, and flash floods in the southwest at Sichuan, with six dead and 12 missing in the floods.

Shetland

            will soon be connected to the main UK energy system thanks to a £660 million project through Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), which has started the first phase of cable-laying off the Caithness coast.  Electricity system operator National Grid ESO wants an integrated system to connect to offshore wind farms, save customer costs, and possibly provide up to 168,000 jobs by 2030 by constructing a mass of new cabling taking energy throughout Scotland and England.

Low-emission Zones

            are now a reality in Scotland’s four biggest cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.  Rules are not yet being enforced, and when they are they will work on an escalating scale (but be capped at about £450 a year in Dundee at least).

            Diesel vehicles will need to be at ‘Euro 6’ emissions standard, that is (mostly) vehicles registered after September 2015.  Petrol cars must meet ‘Euro 4’ emissions standard, (mostly) those registered after January 2006. But an Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland (IPPRS) public meeting in Glasgow revealed people have huge concerns about the lack of availability of viable alternative transport means, particularly for those who have no choice but to work in city centres late at night or in the early hours.  Public transport is perceived as unreliable (although from personal experience Edinburgh is excellent).

            Edinburgh and Aberdeen’s enforcement begins on June 1st, 2024, and Dundee on 30th May, 2024.  While the point is being made about the impact on the poor, shift workers and those in rural areas do not seem to have been considered at all.

Dundee

            has become the preferred site for a new mega factory producing lithium-ion and sodium-ion battery cells for electric vehicles.  It will create 215 on-site jobs with 800 supply chain jobs, and is expected to generate over £200 million annually.  It has received a provisional funding offer from Scottish Enterprise, and aims to be operational by the end of 2025.

Flamingo Land

            The re-submitted development plan for the banks of Loch Lomond attracted over 20,000 objections over one weekend in July.  Local residents have repeatedly submitted alternative plans for the site to owner Scottish Enterprise, who appear only prepared to negotiate with Flamingo Land.  There are fears for the survival of the ancient woodland of Drumkinnon.  The consultation remains open for views.

Sicily’s Exploding Coffins

            The grisly phenomenon of corpses exploding in the heat while being stored prior to burial will become more of a problem in Sicily and other areas where there are high temperatures and low capacity of burial land (‘The strange case of Sicily’s exploding coffins’, David Leask, Herald on Sunday, 10/04/22). It has started early this year. So many bodies are stored in Rotoli cemetery storage facility that workers can no longer access it without wearing gas masks, and the problem is posing a serious health risk.

            According to the Italian water suppliers, 70% of Sicily is at risk of desertification, affecting its iconic lemon industry.  Drought losses for Sicily are estimated at E200 million this year.  Farmers increasingly cannot afford fuel for irrigation pumps and feed to replace grass which has failed to grow, while fresh water is just being flushed into the sea due to inefficiency. 

Julia Pannell                                              18/08/2022 


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