Sacrificing wildlife for grouse shooting Balmoral estate award "travesty"

tony at tony at
Sun Dec 14 15:12:56 GMT 2014

Balmoral’s nature award dismissed as a PR stunt
Sacrificing wildlife for grouse shooting Balmoral estate award "travesty"
from Sunday Herald, 14 December 2014 

The Duke of Edinburgh accepts a Wildlife Estates Scotland awardThe Queen’s estate at Balmoral in Aberdeenshire has won a nature award from landowners despite the fact that its natural woodland, heaths and bogs have been officially condemned as being in a poor state. 

Environment and land rights campaigners have slammed the award as a “meaningless public relations stunt”. Called Wildlife Estates Scotland, it was set up by Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners.

The award was accepted on behalf of Balmoral by the Duke of Edinburgh last week, resulting in positive publicity. But the condition of the royal estate’s most precious natural asset, the ancient Caledonian pine forest at Ballochbuie below Lochnagar, is classed as “unfavourable” by the government’s conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Another four natural features – bog woodland, blanket bog, dry heaths and wet heathland – are also categorised as “unfavourable” by SNH. Only three features are said to be in a “favourable” state.

Ballochbuie, which covers 1,882 hectares of the slopes of the Dee valley, is one of the largest remaining continuous areas of native Caledonian forest. But SNH says it is suffering because saplings are being eaten by deer, whose numbers have been kept high so they can be more easily shot for sport.

The heathland and blanket bog are being damaged by heather burning, according to SNH. Muirburn is a practice traditionally pursued by land managers to help boost red grouse populations - again so they are plenty to shoot.

Drennan Watson, a veteran environmentalist from the Cairngorms Campaign, argued that many hunting estates like Balmoral were poorly managed. “Key issues in the mismanagement of sporting estates, like control of red deer numbers, have resisted multiple efforts to alter them for decades,” he said. 

“Wildlife Estates Scotland is effectively a mutual admiration society in which you are given awards for obeying the law and avoiding some of the grosser forms of mismanagement. It is actually quite telling as to current state of things that Scottish Land and Estates has to develop a scheme where the qualifications for entry are so basic.”

Land rights campaigner and author, Andy Wightman, highlighted the fact that five of the eight natural features at Ballochbuie were rated as unfavourable. “In these circumstances it is difficult to see how it can be awarded any form of wildlife accreditation,” he told the Sunday Herald. 

“The administrators of the scheme claim that over 85,000 hectares of land within the Cairngorms National Park are accredited but refuse to reveal details of the specific areas following repeated requests. This scheme is little more than a public relations campaign and lacks credibility.” 

Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) accepted that most of Ballochbuie’s natural features were in an unfavourable condition. But it stressed that there were plans to improve the woodland’s management so that it would recover. 

Balmoral’s award application “put emphasis on actions to be taken to address these concerns,” said WES’s project manager, Ross Macleod. “Balmoral confirmed that it had committed to new management plans with Forestry Commission Scotland and SNH in respect of Ballochbuie.”

He also defended the award scheme, pointing out that it was based on a European Union initiative and was launched by the Scottish government. “Applicants are expected to complete a 38-page application form and submit management plans and additional documents to support the case for accreditation,” he said.

“WES accreditation is not a one-off event. Farms and estates are expected to provide annual updates on key issues for accreditation to be successfully renewed.”

The award scheme was advised by an expert panel comprising SNH, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Cairngorms National Park, Macleod added. “They provide valuable feedback on emerging issues that should be considered for inclusion within assessment.”

Balmoral’s factor, Richard Gledson, was delighted to have won the award. “We are also aware that there remains work to be done relating to Ballochbuie,” he said.

“We have been working closely with SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland to agree a management plan to bring Ballochbuie into favourable condition. A long term forest plan is currently out to consultation and should be on the public register in early February.”

Posted by Rob Edwards on 14 December 2014 at 10:23 AM

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