Sep 212012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah  takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and further beyond ( including the murky depths of ‘local’ cyberspace ). By Suzanne Kelly.

Across Aberdeen this past week most of us have enjoyed the last warm(ish) days of summer, and the sunny days and early evenings. Others have been glued to their computers waging a curious battle over a protest planned for tomorrow (Saturday 22nd September).

In the quest to win new friends and influence people, the ‘Protest Against Aberdeen City Council’ Facebook pages have entertained a wide variety of opinions, and a wide spectrum of humour (I am using the term ‘humour’ loosely).

Somewhere between 12 and 500 people will appear at 1pm tomorrow in front of the Marischal College  building (which will be deserted, as it’s Saturday), to protest against Aberdeen City Council, Labour, and the death of the granite web.

An interesting report is to go before the Audit Committee soon; it is by an independent reporter who finds that both the councillors and the officers of Aberdeen City Council need to think about how they interact.

Anyone who read about this report in the Press & Journal would have been shedding tears, assuming this bullying was 100% by mean councillors against poor but honest officers.   Indeed. More on that later.

But the real talk of the whole country is around the most fundamental question of all, which is dividing the Scottish nation, setting brother against brother, and causing an affa bother:  is the deep-fried Mars bar a national treasure or not?  Earlier on, the Mars company reportedly disowned the creation;  other sources later claimed the Mars business had embraced the calorific snack.

This crucial question will no doubt be the subject of several independent consultations, a referendum, Holyrood debate, health & safety analysis, a PR campaign by the BiG partnership featuring Morris the Monkey, and more than a few bar room fights.

Some people claim that the original, unadorned Mars bar was good enough as it was, and should be retained.  Others claimed it wasn’t 21st century enough unless it was covered with a web of deep fried flour and grease.  Not since Culloden has such bickering been seen in this part of the world.  Old Susannah hopes resolution is possible.

There have been a few amusing news stories across the UK as well.

  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind

Seems some of those nice people at Scottish Enterprise have been very enterprising indeed.  Old Susannah never realised what a generous employer SE was, but it is kindly allowing staff to take SE credit cards and take out nice big, fat juicy cash advances (in a variety of currencies), and paying the amounts back as and when.

As a taxpayer, I’m so pleased we can help out the less fortunate SE employee with the odd £10K loan or two.  It’s alright though, as the employees always intended to pay the money back.  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind.

It’s almost as if proper financial controls were not working 100% at SE – which is a bit unfortunate in such a tiny organisation; they still operate on a mere £750,000,000 or so per annum (much of which is salary – which Old Susannah finds difficult to reconcile with the cash advances the cash-strapped staff seem to need).

And in England, a woman has been sentenced for hijacking a ferry boat, telling her pursuers ‘I’m Jack Sparrow!’ and sailing away until finally caught.

Readers will find it hard to believe, but she was high on drink and belladonna (deadly nightshade to you and me, which is quite poisonous).  I prefer the odd BrewDog and crisps, myself.  After two days of drink and hallucinogens, she felt ill for some reason or other, and called the paramedics.

When they arrived she was, naturally enough, on a moored ferry boat, as you do.  She ‘didn’t mean to untie the craft, but the ropes kept getting under her feet’.  Fair enough – could have been any of us really.  The ferry boat’s owner told the BBC this incident was a:-

“total one-off bizarre incident which we have never experienced before”.

Old Susannah should hope so, too.

I’m afraid the definitions this week do involve the web; don’t worry – this too shall pass.

Carrot or the Stick: (English saying) to offer an inducement – reward and/or sanction to gain support or agreement.

Any movement needs to recruit new members.  Those nice Scientology people give out free books on  Oxford Street, and tell you how clever you are.  Next thing you know, you’re married to Tom Cruise and waiting for the mothership.  The Moonies used to give out flowers; various missionaries would trade a square meal in exchange for preaching at you.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and Common Good Aberdeen – two forces with the same ultimate goal of saving UTG from development have web presences, hold meetings, and hold the odd demo or two.  New members and the curious are welcome.

Speaking of odd demos, there is a group called ‘Protest against Aberdeen City Council’ holding the demonstration I mentioned before, taking place tomorrow.  They too have a web page and embrace open debate.  And what a debate it has been.

The finest minds in all of Scotland’s past pale into insignificance against the rhetoric, logic, self-restraint and persuasive skills of a small number of the posters on this page.  I’m surprised we’ve not all been convinced the web’s the way to go by this bunch.

The page’s administrator, who apparently lives in the United States, has allowed a wide raft of comments to go unmoderated, which I’m sure doesn’t mean they are encouraging trolls at all.

Usually when you want someone to come around to your way of thinking, you offer them some reason to do so – the proverbial  carrot and the stick.  The Big Partnership, recently rendered silent on the topic of the web, used both the carrot and the stick to get us to join the granite web fanclub.

  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence

The carrots were ‘build the web and 6,500 new jobs appear’, ‘two hundred million pounds will magically flow into the city annually until the year 2023 (not 2022 or 2024 – 2023) AND the added incentive that Morris the Monkey and Jake the Ghost want the web convinced us in the thousands.

The sticks used to try and beat us into submission?

‘No one will come to Aberdeen’, ‘we’ll look silly if we don’t take Ian’s £50 million and do what he says with it’ and ‘people will think Aberdeen is ‘closed for business.’

I always liked this last ‘closed for business’ argument.  It was supposed to make me think of a vibrant and dynamic shopping mall, doing lots of business.  Instead, it made me think of an indiscriminate callgirl who would do anything with anyone if the price was right.

How are the ‘Protest against Aberdeen’s’ members and posters winning hearts and minds?  Reasoned argument?  Supplying facts and figures?  Welcoming newcomers?  Parrying dissent with rapier-like wit and friendly banter?  Absolutely!

Please do go and visit this page yourself – it has all the relevant facts you need to know to make an informed decision to support the web.  These include colourful postings such as the following:-

*  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence;

*  there is a woman being insulted because of her looks;

*  there is a man who says he’s no longer onside with the protest because of the abusive comments made by protest supporters – so he’s attacked as being a ‘plant’;

*  a man who was abused as a child is asked if he was ‘a little sh*t who deserved a clip ‘round the ears’;

*  there is a woman who ‘has it on good authority’ that all the bills the taxpayer has already picked up for the web were really somehow not paid by the city council (who the invoices were made out to), but Sir Ian really picked them up; and

*  a hilarious joke about building a mosque on UTG (alas; Old Susannah is unable to appreciate the witticism or the point being made)

People against the web have in several instances risen to the bait and argued back.  But whatever side of this issue you are on, have a look at the comments made by people like Sandy M, George S and others.  They’ll have won you over with their carrots and sticks before you know it.

Readers of a sensitive disposition may, however, wish to stay well clear.  https://www.facebook.com/events/456202784419418/

Cautionary Tale: (compound noun; English) A story intended to impart advice by showing someone else’s error.

This new Information Commissioner is taking no prisoners – well, actually she might be, as the police have been called in to enforce the law.

This kind of development in Aberdeenshire is extremely worrying!  The local authority seems to have accidentally denied it had information and accidentally deleted the information it denied having.  It was almost as if there was something to hide, and as if the law came second to what the local government mandarins wanted.

This story, covered in this past week’s Press & Journal (really) implies that Freedom of Information requests have to be answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Old Susannah is reassured that there won’t be any such issues here in our city.

Even if the Information Commissioner’s office is reportedly auditing the work our FOI office does, it’s not as if information has ever been withheld from me, or anyone else, is it?  (Unless of course you count requests about Mr S Milne, the deer cull, cost of Marischal college…)

Pre-emptive strike: (compound noun; English) a form of defence or deflecting attention  by attacking one’s opponent first.

Well, a report going to the Audit Committee next week seems to imply that councillors had in the recent past not been treating officers courteously and had asked difficult questions.  Naughty!

No real naming and shaming was done.  I hope no councillors asked awkward questions of Pete Leonard for instance.  Mean councillors in the past may have asked him why he kept representing that the deer-culling, tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral, even though he knew for months that phase one failed, and ACC had to repay £43,800 for the dead trees.

He recently tried to deflect this irritating fact by reportedly saying £43,800 referred to something in the 1990s.  Just because the money was paid in March 2011, when he was saying the great scheme was cost neutral to the Housing Committee, is no reason to think he wasn’t accurate or completely open, is it?

A cynic could think this report’s suggestions that councillors should show more deference to officers like Leonard is a pre-emptive strike.  Did the report authors know about all the assorted little machinations of Leonard and his ilk?  I’d love to know.  At least one person must have come out of this untarnished:  the softly-spoken, always calm and rational Gerry Brough, kindly volunteer to the City Gardens Project.

Now that this report has come out, I hope city councillors will be warned by this pre-emptive strike not to ask any tough questions!  Hope that’s settled then.

And there we leave it for now.

Next week:  I will attempt again to escape from the granite web – unless Zoe finally writes back about those CGP radio ads, promising us the web for free.  Will keep you posted.

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Sep 132012
 

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly visited Tullos Hill on 29 August and St Fitticks’ on 2 September.  These were sites of tree planting – and deer culls.  Around 40 animals were killed (the record-keeping is so poor and the freedom of information office reports so contradictory that the exact number is hard to tell). Suzanne presents a pictorial record of the current condition of these two sites.

The Housing & Environment Committee  August 2012 took a report from Pete Leonard, Director of Housing Services, and supporter of the tree scheme and deer cull.

As we have come to expect, the report supports the scheme and the manner in which it was carried out.

(click on pictures for description )

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While we await the official minutes from this meeting, here are some photos intended as a special Thank You to scheme proponent Aileen Malone, Pete Leonard, countryside expert and ranger Ian Tallboys, mysterious consultant Chris Piper.
The city’s information office claim to have no information on his company or address – despite paying over £44,000 for this stunning result, and despite Piper writing a joint report sealing the Hill’s and the deer’s fate.

Thank you as well to all those councillors who voted in favour of the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme and who voted to stop myself and Andy Findlayson (now elected councillor) from speaking out on the scheme’s flaws when this could have been prevented.

None of this would have been possible without these peoples’ involvement and determination to turn a once beautiful, thriving hill into what you see in these photos.

Yes, parts of the hill were left intact – but much of the biodiversity and beauty is gone.

 

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What if the £120,000+ spent on this unwanted scheme had gone on preventing arson in the gramps instead?

The Minutes of this meeting are not out, but word has it those who favoured the scheme have hailed it as ‘a green success.’ 

It seems the £43,800 we had to repay in March 2011 was ignored as somehow being relevant to the late 1990s. 

The incorrect, legally unsupportable position that the deer had to be destroyed anyway was maintained.

There were also assurances that the shooting took place with proper regard for safety. 

Those responsible for decisions concerning the actual shooting and risk register are in for a surprise before long on that score.

The only good thing that came from the H&E meeting was the repeated reassurance from new Convener Neil Cooney who replaced Aileen Malone that there will be no repetition of any scheme that demands the life of deer to plant arbitrary trees.

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Will these trees thrive?  Doubtful.

The soil is poor, the trees will be subject to ‘wind toss’, there is salt spray from theNorth Sea, and weeds are being left totally unchecked. 

Was anything like the scheduled 89,000 trees planted on Tullos and St Fitticks? 

 Definitely not.

 

If you want to attend an upcoming meeting (date, time TBC) on next steps and lessons learned, please get in touch at tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk .

 

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The scheme may be over, the PR and legal repercussions for its supporters is not.

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Apr 062012
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

By now you probably heard of the environmental carnage on Tullos Hill. It seems likely deer have been killed – despite the public’s wishes, the improbability of trees growing, and the bad science behind the cull. Gorse removal seems to have happened until the last week in March – the cost to insect life, birds and mammals is incalculable.

On my first visit the day after the bulldozers (or whatever trucks were used) cleared a vast swathe of the hill; I was shocked at the quantity of wildflowers, particularly foxgloves which had been ripped apart or thrown aside. I saw several caterpillars dead and dying. I saw a heck of a lot of domestic and industrial debris – and even more rock.

There seemed to be new patches of gorse missing on every visit I made, despite laws meant to protect our dwindling bird population.

I certainly heard far fewer birds than ever before in the years I’d visited the hill – no surprise though, as their gorse habitat was gone. Few deer have been seen since the hunting season opened.

Two men with shotguns were seen in the St Fittick’s area on foot on the night of the 31st March, and one of the hill’s keen observers saw a silver Range Rover several times driving to areas where there were deer.

Sadly, with the help of an acquaintance I made on the hill last week, I was shown this skeleton and nearby fresh deer fur of what would have been a young deer. It reminded me how comparatively small these gentle creatures are.

I for one doubt very much this poor thing starved; it was in woodland and could have eaten leaves and plants.

Was it killed by hungry foxes? Not impossible.

The tree scheme supporters will say that ‘deer have no natural predators’ – an environmentalist will tell you that foxes are known to take the young or infirm (the roe deer usually live 6 or 7 years maximum).

I just hope against hope that this fairly fresh skeleton was not from a deer which had been wounded. This happens all the time. Deer are shot, and depending on where they’ve taken the hit, they can run away to slowly, painfully, bleed out and die, trauma and shock making the suffering worse. Deer are by no means always quickly destroyed.

Shooting, we are told, is far more preferable than tranquilising and moving them, because up to 50% might die. (I however imagine it would be far more preferable to be put to sleep than injured and die of pain, shock and blood loss – or while wounded be eaten alive by a fox).

If indeed the law we now has says it is illegal to tranquilise and move the creatures, the law is in need of change.

It begs the question: is this law and the new laws about the number of deer an area can support creations of a pro-hunting mentality?

The answer can only be yes. I remembered that the reason for the cull was it was the cheapest way to protect the trees – at least Aileen Malone, Pete Leonard and Ian Tallboys said so. Cheaper still would have been to stop this scheme or put the trees elsewhere.

The taxpayer is picking up the tab, no one is saying it is ‘cost neutral’ any longer, and the city had to repay £43,800 for the previous failure on Tullos Hill. This state of affairs is unacceptable. There are trees on Tullos remaining from the pathetic first planting. However, the saplings which are there are totally neglected.

Plenty of tree guards are totally intact. I saw an intact tree guard, and carefully rolled it open – the tree inside was choked by weeds. I left it as I found it. No deer was responsible for this and the many similar failures. Just human negligence

I note that the more robust tubes were used at the St Fittick’s site – this undoubtedly because anyone with common sense could tell the salt spray and the powerful winds from the North Sea would stop any trees from growing (could this be why there isn’t already a forest on St Fitticks?).

Virtually all of the tubes at St Fitticks are still standing and are undamaged by deer. Anyone who says differently should show me where there has been any deer browsing at St Fitticks.

Mr Tallboys, the ranger, had put together a presentation which shows a picture of deer standing amid the St Fitticks tubes.

Deer do move in that area. However, there is plenty of evidence for there being vandalism – and for the city and its rangers totally neglecting to protect and care for the trees it did plant.

I looked into many of the St Fitticks tree guards, all of which were undamaged. There are quite a number of tiny oak trees which had never even made it one third of the way up the tube. There were some tubes which were completely, utterly empty of any tree.

The entire site is choked by weeds and rocky soil is again an issue (although not as bad as on Tullos). The deer simply did not, could not damage the St Fitticks trees: the evidence suggests that the killer was neglect and ignorance as well as weeds and weather.

There will probably be deer deaths on the road – about a third of the gorse they would have sheltered in on the hill is gone.

It is not too late to bring this thing to a halt, investigate those involved in forcing this scheme on an unwilling local population, and it’s not too late to undo the damage.

Halt the scheme, save taxpayer money, and continue to support the meadowlands scheme.

The trees did not grow before. They are not going to grow now.

Coming soon – an article on the new tree scheme / deer cull developments

Mar 202012
 

With thanks to John F. Robins, Secretary, Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL).

 

Three Community Councils representing neighbourhoods close to Tullos Hill have issued a last minute appeal asking Aberdeen City Council to call off the deer cull planned for Tullos Hill.
In a strongly worded open letter the Community Councils, which represent over 25,000 Aberdonians, accuse the City Council of using underhand tactics to get backing to plant trees on Tullos Hill as part of their Tree for Every Citizen initiative.

They claim that,

“the public consultation was seriously flawed and made no mention of a deer cull. Community Councils and the general public were given incomplete information, allowing ACC’s intention to cull to remain unchallenged”. 

When the intention to kill the resident roe deer eventually became public knowledge there was an outcry with many Aberdonians telling the City Council that if the Tree for Every Citizen project meant killing the deer they did not want any trees planted for them. The Community Councils say the City Council dismissed local public opinion and have pleaded with the Council to change their mind at the eleventh hour and to,

“Listen to the voices of the people who elected you, cancel the cull and let the Tullos Hill deer live”.

For over a year Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) has been supporting local campaigners in the battle to save the Tullos Hill roe deer. John Robins of ACAL welcomed the intervention of the Community Councils. He states;

“This is a severe embarrassment to Aberdeen City Council.

“They can no longer claim that opposition to the deer cull is coming from outwith Aberdeen. Three Community Councils representing over 25,000 Aberdonians have made it perfectly clear that they want this cull stopped. On Sunday of this week the CEO of the National Trust for Scotland admitted on national television that they had made a mistake by undertaking a mass cull of deer on the Mar Lodge Estate. 

“The very same advisors who were behind that cull are the people advising Aberdeen City Council to kill the deer on Tullos Hill. There is still time for Aberdeen City Council to avoid making that same mistake. All they have to do is respect the wishes of the people who elected them and call off the cull.”

  •  The Open Letter signed by Nigg, Torry and, Kincorth & Leggart Community Councils can be viewed here.
Mar 102012
 

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly learned as we all did this week that the Council plans to push ahead with unsuitable and unpopular plans to turn one of our remaining meadows, Tullos Hill, into some kind of forest.

Just a few little problems:  they want to cull the half-tame deer that have lived in the area for decades, and then there is the small matter that the trees probably won’t make it – again.

With no warning, and while Councillor Cooney was attempting to forward the idea of preserving Tullos Hill as the meadow it is, we learned this week that the cull and tree scheme is on.

Aileen Malone is in the news this week, saying the scheme will work and ‘a lot of hard work’ has gone on the scheme. I’m sure it has. Pity the hard work was against the wishes of the community councils in the area, 3,000 facebook ’cause’ supporters, and nearly 2,500 petition signatories.

It is also a pity that the scheme simply is not going to work. Following my visit to Tullos Hill tonight, I can confirm that the area of gorse just cleared for the trees is far stonier – and far more polluted – than I could have imagined. It is testimony to the resilience of gorse that it managed to grow there at all.

But the gorse is largely gone; the birds that lived in this patch are dislocated; the deer and other mammals have lost a huge amount of shelter.

(Should any deer die on Wellington Road in the next few weeks, I am personally of the opinion that it will be due to the removal of this gorse habitat).

I never saw a finalised funding application, and the draft I received was a work of fiction in places.

The draft seemed to claim that the hill was disused farmland. Part of it indeed was – but the rest was either a tip, or too stony by miles to grow any crops on. I certainly hope the finalised application was accurate.

I have asked for a copy of it, so has Councillor Cooney – who arguably should have had sight of it before it went to the Commission; he is on the Housing Committee, and I know he wanted to see it. How precisely his draft paper in support of the meadow scheme has managed to sink without trace without going before his committee is a matter I hope the relevant Councillors and officers will research with some speed.

Earlier articles are on Aberdeen Voice, and research and backing documents (and an executive summary) can be found at http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/

If you were not previously aware that a soil report says the soil matrix on the hill is poor and not suitable for trees, or that the Council had to repay £43,800 for the previous failure of trees to grow on Tullos (largely due to weeds), you might want to start reading there.

But the subject of this article is the alarming amount of industrial waste that has been uncovered where the gorse has been cleared – and the extremely poor soil quality. The debris was everywhere: tubes, parts of rusted machinery, giant pieces of wire – it is all there where the gorse was, above and below the soil.

I am now more convinced than ever that the trees are not going to stand a chance. We are throwing good money after bad, and are going to sacrifice deer in the process.

Now our city’s tree expert has been in the news this week, saying the city has a responsibility to cull the deer anyway, because Tullos is small. He seems unaware that the deer move fairly freely in the area between Kincorth and other areas.

Of course, with the over-zealous housebuilding programmes coming soon to Loirston and Cove, we are losing more meadowland forever. This is bad news for all the local animal populations.

Why in the circumstances turning this meadow into a non-workable forest experiment is considered a good idea is a complete mystery to me, to animal welfare experts, to forestry experts I have consulted, and the local residents.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SP8qb4j32Qc 

I do apologise – my voice is awful, but I did my best to think on my feet as the light was fading, and as I was shouting into the wind. (Wind is the very thing that will get rid of any trees that begin to grow. Winds of over 90 miles per hour were a fairly frequent occurrence this winter). In a random wander into the cleared area (which should ideally have warning signs on it), I found the soil to be only a few inches deep, and with the heel of my boot I was unable to go more than say 4″ into the soil before hitting rock.

The debris was everywhere: tubes, parts of rusted machinery, giant pieces of wire, broken glass, fibreglass  – it is all there where the gorse was.

More on this story later. If you want to help: tell the City Council you oppose the scheme and are concerned about the soil’s suitability and health and safety. Parents – tell your school your child will NOT be planting any trees. Voters: vote for people other than the ones that pushed this scheme on us (a list of how councillors voted on environmental issues is coming soon).

Mar 092012
 

Referendums, deer culls, employers telling employees how to vote, services cuts, classroom assistants under threat.  Old Susannah cuts to the heart of the matter and ponders upcoming Lord Provost parties.

Tally Ho!  It’s been a boring week in Aberdeen; referendums, deer culls, habitation destruction and other criminal activity notwithstanding.  I will write a column over the weekend once a few conditions have hopefully been met.

First, I need to find something important and local to write about, and second – I must find an outfit to wear for the Lord Provost’s upcoming parties.  I’ll need everything from some evening gowns to designer jeans for the nearly £28,000 worth of partying just approved by the ‘Lord Provost Sub Committee’ – and that’s on top of the £4,000 party to launch his £9,000 portrait. I am sure my invitations will arrive shortly.

At the time of writing it is not clear whether residents of a home for people with paralysis issues are still being told not to drink too much fluid at night and buy rubber mattresses, as their overnight on-site assistants are no longer affordable.  Perhaps Lord Provost Stephen will invite some of them to one of his little get-togethers.

Hopefully my party invitatins from the Lord Provost  won’t arrive as late as the bundles of postal votes which showed up too late to be counted in the aforementioned referendum.  Hard luck, eh?  Kind of reminds me of when I personally handed in 63 individual postcards protesting the deer cull to the city’s Town House – only to get a letter from Valerie Watts saying she’d had a total of less than 40 from all sources.  But it would be wrong to mention that, or the deer cull.

Unfortunately national media are about to cover the cull, with one reporter telling me this tree planting/deer cull is ‘bizarre’.  Clearly only Aileen HoMalone (newly crowned queen of the Lib Dems – not counting Nick Clegg), Pete Leonard and Ian Tallboys can understand the importance of ripping up existing habitat to expose industrial waste and rocks on which to plant trees that can’t possibly thrive.  The rest of us are thick.

Being busy with the important business of buying new outfits for all the upcoming Lord Provost events means there’s no time for a column just yet, but don’t despair  – the link below will take you to a spread sheet you can download to keep as a little gift.  This shows how our favourite councillors have voted over Union Terrace Gardens and culling deer – with plenty of room for you to fill in the results of your favourite votes as well.

This may be a handly little reminder when it comes time to vote of who is dynamic, forward-thinking and so on.

Here is the link:  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

You will also find an additional present with this spread sheet – Old Susannah has made her own portrait of the Lord Provost, complete with wife and glamorous security guard.  I would be happy to sell it for less than £9,000, and rather than holding a £4,000 drinks party to celebrate my artwork, I’d happily go down to BrewDog for a pint instead.

So that’s it for now – more in a few days, if I can find some subject matter.  Cheerio!

Nov 142011
 

Old Susannah pays her respects, but is unable to maintain her silence as she takes a look around what has been happening in our vibrant and dynamic city and beyond.

Things continue to be vibrant and dynamic this week in the Granite City.  On Friday 11 November some 4o-plus people gathered for a minute’s silence to mark those who fell in war.  Robert Martin who works nearby in Golden Square told me he first started coming to Union Terrace Gardens for the traditional minute of silence a few years back.
“What better, more peaceful place is there in the heart of the City to have the minute of silence,” he commented.

A gardener tried to tell the group they should be at the war memorial instead – he could not understand that we were all happier in the Denburn Valley.

For the record, this was not a celebration of nationalism, or glorification of war; it was a gesture of respect for those who lost their lives in war.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop killing each other, and sort out economic and social problems another way?  Maybe that day will still come.

Then there was the enjoyable opening night at Peacock for its winter exhibition.  The 400 or so works are on show until 23 December and  are all for sale.  Alicia Bruce is offering small prints of her iconic photo portraits from the Menie Estate which had such a good reception when she exhibited at Peacock.  There are abstracts, portraits, beautiful drawings, and even one or two offerings of mine.

A quick word about litter.

During the week I asked an older man who’d dropped litter to please pick it up.  He explained (with some interesting vocabulary words which I must look up) that ‘he didn’t know me’, ‘he didn’t have to’ and ‘I could not make him.’  It was a very impressive display indeed.

Days later I was at Sainsbury’s Berryden, and groups of students (probably just over 20 people in total) had stopped by the store to get their lunch.  They had wrappers, bags, papers, serviettes, bottles and so on.  And as I waited for a bus, I saw each and every student put their trash in the trashcan near the bus stop.

I am pretty sure they were from St Machar.  My appreciation to them and the other people who do the right thing.  It’s not difficult, it’s not brain surgery.  It does however make a huge difference.

But whatever you were doing this week, everyone’s thoughts were with one brave man who is fighting a valiant struggle of his own.  Yes, Stewart Milne’s case went to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Press & Journal had no room for this story on the day, due to the breaking news that geothermal energy exists.  This astonishing front page special even had a picture of a volcano to illustrate it.  I had personally expected a story about a cow with a ladder on its neck, but the geothermal story did the trick, and between it and the massive ads for Milne Homes, no room remained for the little matter of our City being called to the Supreme Court.

Then, Friday, the P&J did run with a story on Milne, which leads neatly to a little definition or two.

Negotiate: (verb, Eng) to settle a conflict or disagreement by compromise.

Those of us who read the Press & Journal story will have felt sorry for Stewart Milne.  He claimed the matter could have been settled had Aberdeen City council accepted his offer of negotiation.

According to the P&J, Stewart Milne Group claimed:

“We have offered to go to independent arbitration on several occasions over a long period of time,”

Usually negotiations happen when both sides have a valid argument or case to make.  To refresh everyone’s memory, the City sold land at Westhill to Mr M for far less than it was worth – the City’s clever business plan was not to sell the land on the open market, but sell directly to Milne (I am sure there was a great reason).

He got a great price on the understanding the City would eventually get any sale profit.  In a really clever and not at all dodgy-looking business manoeuvre, the land moved from one arm of the vast Milne empire to the next, at a cost around £500k –apparently more than what the 11 acres cost in the first place.  This was perfectly normal, and could have happened to anyone.  Quite truthfully, Milne then indicated that there was no profit to share.

This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

The City and subsequent courts have disagreed with Mr Milne’s logic (shocking!), and rather than enter ‘negotiation’ over the £1.7 million under dispute, the City decided to see the case all the way through.  Milne could have accepted the last court’s verdict, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  If you’ve only got £60 million, then you’ve got to hold onto every penny these days.

The trial was televised, and although Old Susannah is no legal expert, it didn’t look all that great for Stew.

Now we just have to wait for the outcome – at which point no doubt everyone’s favourite football club owner will immediately give Aberdeen the £1.7 million it is owed, plus court costs.  I think an apology is also due, and hope the City are drafting one to Mr Milne for taking things this far.

This expensive litigation obviously in no way impacts on the role Mr Milne plays in ACSEF, the City and Shire’s invention which is helping us out of economic chaos.  Aside from the bang-up job ACSEF has done so far for our city’s shops, it’s created a brilliant logo for itself, and now has a great big vibrant, dynamic mural at McCombie Court.  This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

In light of Stewart’s logic concerning negotiation, the next time you get mugged or have your wallet snatched, don’t go to the law.  Just find out who’s got your money and negotiate to get some of it back.  Sorted.

Reading this story about how Stew wanted to negotiate, I wonder if I’m not having déjà vu.  This sense comes from the P&J article some time back, when Milne and everyone’s favourite forum, ACSEF, were taking over Peacock Visual Art’s project and turning it into the great City Garden Scheme.

Just before the final, decisive and divisive voting on the project took place, ACSEF / Milne said that Peacock had been offered some kind of 11th hour alternative, but were unwilling to strike a deal.  Of course if you read the full story, you would have eventually discovered Peacock said ‘we were never contacted about any deal.’

I hope in future any Peacock person, Aberdeen City legal rep, etc. will just ‘negotiate’ when Stewart wants something – it will save the taxpayer lots of money to just go along with him from the start.

In fact, when I think of Loirston Loch, the Triple Kirks glass box scheme, Pittodrie and so on, I wonder if we haven’t just started to say yes to him already.

Geography: (noun) study of terrain, locations, types of environments and areas.

If you are out there, Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, perhaps you might consider a geography lesson or two.  Pete insists Tullos Hill is ‘urban’.  The hill is next to all the lovely industrial estates which have helped make Aberdeen the profitable centre of the universe it is, but the hill just isn’t all that ‘urban’.  It’s covered with plants, grasses, wildlife, pre-historic cairns and so on.

Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors

On the word of Mr Leonard, I went to Tullos Hill the other day assuming it had been urbanised.   I looked for fast food, a coffee or a monorail ride, but there was nothing of the kind to be found.

It struck me that Ms Malone (who has lately been very, very quiet) might want to look for a new initiative to push. Perhaps if she abandoned the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme and maybe had ‘a monolith for every citizen’ and/or ‘monorail for every citizen’ scheme, it might increase her popularity.  As I hear it, an improvement in her popularity stakes is currently the only possible direction.

Aside from Tullos, other urban areas in our city are easy to recognise by the well-maintained roads and footpaths, the general cleanliness, the complete lack of any crime, and all the many open local shops.

Corruption: (noun, English) a state of dishonesty, lack of integrity, self-interested behaviour of a person or body in a position of trust.

Edinburgh has faced accusations of council corruption. (“At least it couldn’t happen in Aberdeen!” I can practically hear you say.)

For openers, according to the BBC, the hospitality records are incomplete. ( This contrasts with our city’s up-to-date, perfectly set out, fully inclusive records which seem to indicate some councillors went to absolutely no events whatsoever in 2009 and or 2010).  But that’s the least of Edinburgh’s problems.

Edinburgh’s councillors are in the firing line for ‘possible fraud and serious wrongdoing’ with regard to building works and property.

Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption

It also looks like a city councillor had a holiday paid for by a contractor.  Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors.  In those rare occasions when a councillor is somehow connected to a contractor, then they stay well out of any possible conflict situations.

Some years ago we had our own little trouble with Audit Scotland, you may remember.

They had a few uncertainties after a detailed investigation of our city’s property selling activities.  There were questions as to why so many properties were being sold below value.  Audit Scotland did tell the city to stop selling property at knock-down prices, and otherwise pay attention to details – like who is actually buying your property and what it should sell for.  In the end, Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption.  In the end, they invited our local police to look into the issues.

After a completely thorough, detailed investigation, the police found nothing untoward.  Old Susannah is not sure when the investigation was conducted.  Then again, I’m not sure when exactly Stewart Milne Group started advertising on police cars, either.

Next week hopefully a Milne court and FOI case update; a fond look back at the careers of John Stewart and Neil Fletcher, who are not going to run for re-election in May.

Stop press Christmas Gift Solution:  Tired of the usual old boring gifts – the handbag-sized bottle of vodka, the city council carriage clock or branded pen?  Look no further for your gift requirements:  The City is selling photo prints of its greatest moments.  Rather than taking a picture of St Nicholas House or the ACSEF logo yourself to make a welcome gift for a loved one, just go to the City’s website.

What is the most popular subject on sale?  Why the Lord Provost of course!  There are only about 750 photos of him in action this year but fret not: there are two other years of Lord Provost photos as well.  Make a lovely print on canvas, or can be sent to an artist to create a portrait in oils.  I just might buy a photo of the Lord Provost handing over a gift and turn it into a mug, a mug for some reasons being the first thing that springs to mind.
See: http://aberdeencitycouncil.newsprints.co.uk/

Stop press 2:  there will be a further extension for getting your entries in for the Union Terrace Gardens art competition  – more news soon!

 

Nov 042011
 

Old Susannah takes a look at the events of the past week.

After another event-packed week in Aberdeen, Wednesday’s Press & Journal surprised on two counts.  The cover tells me that the Scottish Government, previously strapped for cash, will give us £70 million to make our city garden project dreams come true.
All we have to do is show that we’re all behind Wood/Milne/Craw/Brough and all.  Should be easy enough.

But, the surprising thing was that the story was illustrated with not one but two photographs taken inside the hallowed temple of design which is the Pier, and they clearly showed the exhibitions.

I was chased by security guards for taking a photo of the lovely stripy poster when I stood on Belmont Street, and several of the protestors were told in no uncertain terms that photographs of the great designs were absolutely forbidden. 

I fully expect that Gerry Brough (or Sasha M maybe) will send the security guards straight over to P&J offices and demand that the photos be deleted.  After all, a rule for one should be a rule for everyone.  Otherwise people will get the wrong impression that rules are not uniformly enforced in our fair city.

The other item which surprised me pleasantly was an account of the recent Housing & Environment Committee meeting:  Neil Cooney brought up some of the many reasons why the deer cull and tree planting on Tullos are not as popular with the public as they might be.

One other teeny omission that Ho Malone and other proponents of the bullets for trees scheme forgot to mention in their reports and consultations is the fact we’ll have to spray weedkiller on Tullos for 2-3 years.  Result!  This is jobs creation at its best, although you might not want junior riding his moped any time soon after the spraying has occurred.

One other minor detail – after all this fuss over the deer and press releases saying that everything is in readiness for the saplings – the city has not actually put in its formal bid for the tree scheme.   This makes people like Pete and Ho look just a little foolish for saying that the scheme is cost-neutral. 

I’m no accountant, but if you’ve not got any funding for a plan that failed before to the tune of £44,000, you might be just a little bit premature to announce that the great plan is ‘cost neutral.’  Neil also has this wild idea that the wildlife we already have on Tullos should be kept, and the hill be designated a meadowland / grassland – possibly deer park.  Watch this space.  (Thank you Neil from a great number of people).

The best events of the week save the Housing Committee meeting were the Pumpkin Procession and the Mooring’s Alternative Design Competition Award night.

At the Pumpkin Procession in UTG, a great selection of pumpkins were on display in the near darkness.

A particularly frightening carving of a witch disturbed the group greatly; this was of a famous witch named Margaret Thatcher.

Over two dozen bright, vibrant, dynamic, forward-looking, connectivity-rich, level-access, city-saving schemes for boring Union Terrace Gardens were on display at the Moorings on the night.  These are still available for viewing on that Facebook thing the kids are using today.
See: Alternative-City-Gardens-Design-Contest

Believe it or not, I was allowed to take photos without security accusing me of any felony offence.

And I got to drink some nice beer called ‘Alhambra’ – named after a rather boring bit of architecture in Spain which has far too much garden space incorporated, and actually no parking or shops.  Shocking.  No one will ever go to the Alhambra just for a visit (unlike our forthcoming glass worm).  The Moorings winner didn’t get £135,000 (which is what I believe you get if you were shortlisted for your monolith or Teletubby habitat), but got a bottle of drink instead.

All things considered, I think the finalists at the Moorings should have been given great wads of money and the official designers should have been told to stay off the drink when working.

The winner’s design had suggested putting AFC’s stadium in UTG, but this leaves the problem of what then to build in Loirston, which has for far too long just been a meadow.

But at this rate there won’t be any definitions, so here goes.

Outburst

(noun) an uncontrolled, sudden verbal attack, usually unsuspected.

Dear oh dear.  The credit crunch is having a devastating effect on so many of us.  I can’t even get to BrewDog as often as I’d like for openers.  But spare a thought for those less fortunate than us who are really feeling the strain at this difficult time.

Do you know someone who’s having to sub an unprofitable football team?  Someone who’s year-end profit wasn’t all that big (although whether or not that’s true outside of the UK is anyone’s guess)?  Someone perhaps who is facing a big legal action over a land purchase deal?  And you thought you had problems!

Some of us are down to our last 60 mill or so.  Such strains could easily make you tear your hair out.  Or be grumpy.  Or even have a wee outburst.  Before you make fun of such a person because they seem like a child who’s thrown his toys out of the playpen, just think : it could be you who’s lost your temper/grip.  The last thing we should do is call attention to such a temporary lapse of reason/class/reserve.

Therefore, if someone sends you a link to a video where such an outburst is captured, best thing you can do is stay clear.  For purposes of illustration, I have just such a link here, wherein a normally lovely bloke has an uncharacteristic outburst and makes something of an exhibition of himself.  So pity such a creature.  They may have come from a broken home.
See:  Stewart_Milne_Outburst_Video_Article

Nanny State

(modern English phrase) a derogatory term to describe an overly interfering government, particularly from the UK’s past.

I am eternally grateful to those wiser heads than ours in government who want to protect everyone from the ills and evils of drink.  There are people who have problems with drink; and drink driving is a threat to everyone – I say without any sense of sarcasm; I’ve lost too many loved ones to drink drivers.  Rather than helping people with drink problems, the best thing to do is make drink more expensive for everyone.

The SNP previously tried to save us all from the great evils of Marks & Spencer’s ‘eat in for a tenner’ scheme (as I previously detailed).  This was a plot by the sinister M&S to give us affordable four-dish meals to eat at home with another person.

It’s clear to  see where this kind of thing could lead – one thing leads to another as you progress from a ‘herb’ salad to a rump steak with onion ‘rings’ on the side while sharing a bottle of red wine before moving on to dessert (I had profiteroles with my meal last week – it was delicious.  OOPS!)

Having been as successful at banning these society-destroying balanced meals as they were at making Scotland independent, the SNP have decided to raise the price of alcohol.

This will immediately result in alcoholics quitting booze cold turkey.  Kids will no longer wish to experiment with alcohol, and the world will be a better place.  Since Scotland doesn’t have much of a vibrant or dynamic alcohol presence in the world’s drinks market, there will be no economic repercussions at all.

Nanny Goats

(noun type of goat; female)

I don’t know where we would be without the ‘new-look’ Scottish Natural Heritage agency to make sure we have a perfect natural world with as few deer, foxes and goats as possible.  For the movers and shakers (or ‘empire builders’ and climbers if you will) of SNH want to destroy the Tullos Hill deer (and other deer), and they are making sure we don’t have too many goats on the remote Isle of Rum.

To ensure that we have a perfect balance of nature, it seems SNH had a nice quantity of the goats shot, as reported in the Sunday papers.

What intelligent method was used to get rid of the corpses?  Were they fed to birds of prey?  No, they were allegedly thrown off cliffs into the sea.  The SNH denies this, but it is their word against the word of observers.  Seeing as how the SNH wrote to Aberdeen City Council encouraging a sneaky approach to the Tullos Hill deer cull, I might not be inclined to believe them all the time. 

It is almost as if someone at SNH wanted to make a name for themselves and was running around getting as much media coverage as possible, and was using draconian, cruel animal slaughter to get press attention.  But remember, the world was a far less balanced, manicured, less managed place in the days before SNH got into the killing, sorry, culling or ‘managing’ game.

We now have targets as to how many animals a patch of land can hold.  This is of course not control-freakery.  If the animals don’t stick to the figures, well then, they become the targets for hunters. 

Of course if such a person existed, they would have quite a job of silencing other experts who clung to old-fashioned ideas about not shooting animals to maintain the new population figures.  This would never happen of course.

However, if you want to ask any questions to reassure yourselves that all is right and proper in the world of animal ‘management’ at the SNH, feel free to write to Jamie Hammond.  He really does have all the answers, and is in no way faddist or revisionist in his proposals for animal management.  Tally Ho!

Next week:  more definitions and an update on our poor stressed out friend.

Nov 042011
 

An Editorial and suggestion for a better plan for Tullos Hill. By Suzanne Kelly.

For nearly a year many people have attempted to get Aberdeen City Council to see sense over its planned cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer.  The City insists the archaeology-rich, bio diverse meadows of Tullos must be turned into an 89,000 tree forest.  They will not budge.

It makes no difference that the area has a history of arson and that there are explosion hazard sites on the hill (there is a dangerous old waste tip and escaping gas areas, protected by warning signs and barbed wire fence).
Aileen Malone (Liberal Democrat Councillor), Valerie Watts (Chief Executive), Pete Leonard (Officer) and Ian Tallboys (ranger) have all been corresponding with me and others.  These emails often contradict other correspondence.

They also often quote an unnamed expert or two, and the writers refuse to so much as listen to any dissenting expert opinions, even if offered free of charge.  This puts to rest any feeble excuse that there is a robust scientific approach to the hill’s future.

For me, there are just too many contradictions, omissions and flawed logic for the plan and its supporters to retain any credibility on this matter.  It is time to examine some of the conflicting information these four people have been offering.  It is also time to examine whether or not everything they say is accurate, and to ask why we have spent council time, money and energy on this plan.

For what we were once told was a ‘cost-neutral.’ sound plan ready to implement turns out to be nothing more than a draft proposal to the Forestry Commission.   But more importantly it is time to secure Tullos Hill’s future and preserve what we already have:  a beautiful, changing meadowland and grassland habitat which supports animals including deer.

Who has said and done what?  To completely detail all of the misinformation and seemingly misleading statements would require a book.  Instead I prepared a chart which highlights some of the contradictions.  It can be accessed here, but is in no way exhaustive of the ever-changing information slowly leaking out concerning this scheme. Click Link

Past articles have highlighted that £43,800 was already wasted on a failed tree planting at Tullos.  Even though I formally asked the City to clarify this had happened, Valerie Watts at first effectively denied any such thing had occurred.  When presented with proof positive (in the form of a letter from the Forestry Commisison demanding the £43,800) Ms Watts said that ‘there was no relation’ between my request to clarify that money was owed – and that since I asked my question in May and the bill was paid in March, there was no need to clarify the position.  The public and I beg to differ.

New Revelations

The Evening Express (itself accused by Valerie Watts alongside the P&J of getting the story wrong over time) revealed that there is actually no budget in place.  All this time Aileen Malone and others have insisted the scheme is cost neutral and that we must shoot the deer as it would be the most cost effective way to grow trees.

Never mind that the scheme will destroy what is already on the hill or that this argument is wholly immoral – which led to the public outcry – there is no money in place.  This one revelation alone calls into question reports issued by the City which claim the scheme had funding.  It does not.

Asking the City to clarify the funding picture has so far been fruitless, but I have since learned that only a draft application for the tree scheme is in place.  All the press releases and sweeping statements about the trees are, just a little bit, premature.  Months ago I asked Ms Watts for the financials.  She eventually wrote back to ask what I meant – which in case you were wondering meant the financials for the tree plan (money in, money out, costs, expenses).

Rather than answering me, she has sent my question (months after first being asked) to her Freedom of Information department.   The Council recently complained that its FOI staff were inundated with work:  perhaps those who hold information should release it without the need to burden this department.

( Stop Press – Financial information. Click Link )

 Mystery of the Missing Postcards

With funds kindly raised largely by Lush (which had a cycle event – their team from Edinburgh gave up personal time and cycled to Aberdeen to highlight the deer’s plight), some dramatic, effective pre-printed postcards were produced.
They were so popular that a re-print was done, and 700 such postcards were made in all.

I have some photos of the backs of pre-printed postcards.  These were signed after a meeting of anti-cull people was held at the end of September.  A few nights later, I obtained more cards from other people, and handed a total of 63 cards protesting the cull to a security guard at the City’s Town House.  The guard told me:

“we got loads of these in this week, and even more came in the week before.”

In a recent letter to me, Ms Watts says that 35 postcards were received.

Ms Watts and the City somehow are not getting items sent through the regular post:  Torry Community Council’s letter protesting the cull never arrived, as Watts confirmed in the same letter which mentions the postcards.  I spoke to the Torry CC Secretary on 2 November, and she said ‘the letter was definitely sent, but the City didn’t receive it.’  This letter was the result of Torry’s CC voting unanimously to protest the cull and complain about how the whole affair was handled.

Perhaps I can understand the City not receiving post through the mail – something the City claimed to have posted to me never arrived, and an email they sent never showed up either (which conveniently for them put the cull protest off by weeks).  However, I most definitely dropped 63 signed postcards from different individuals at the Town House:  there is no logical excuse for the cards ‘disappearing’.

‘The Media is to blame’ (Really?)

The City’s position, according to its Chief Executive Ms Watts is as follows (from two different letters):-

“Aberdeen City Council has no control over how the media report Council meetings.  In this case the media did not accurately report on decisions of the Committee and have continued to publish inaccurate information about the project.  They have published their interpretation of the committee decisions.”

I do not personally believe that the reports I read in print or saw on television misconstrued the Committee’s decisions at the time it decided to press ahead with the cull, having read the committee reports and minutes.

In an even stronger attack on the media, last week Valerie Watts wrote to me the following, which I believe must have been based in part on the Evening Express front page article of 30 September by you, Mr Ewen:

“In terms of media coverage, Aberdeen City Council’s Media Team has on several occasions sought to correct the media’s assumption that our deer management programme would necessarily begin on or around the first day of the season for controlling the numbers of roe deer hinds.

“Both the Evening Express and the Press & Journal have reported that the roe hind seasons begins on 01 October – the season in fact commences on 21 October – and that deer management would begin on or near that date. Both newspapers were informed as to the correct date of the start of the season and were reminded that no date had in fact been set by the Council for the start of our management programme. 

“The newspapers were also informed that their stories had raised false expectations that the start of deer management was imminent.  They have been told that details will only be finalised once funding is in place and when the trees are about to be planted.”

I spoke to an Evening Express reporter on the 2nd of November about this issue; they replied

“I am in contact very often with the City’s media team, and it’s never come up.”

Perhaps the media is misleading me, as Ms Watts would have me believe, or perhaps the media team has not contacted reporters who write about the cull.  In fact, now that I have published a number of articles on the cull, I can confirm the city has never once been in touch to suggest I have any facts wrong.

Moving on:  to a Meadow

This week the Housing & Environment Committee met (2 November); Neil Cooney called the whole dubious scheme into question.  Not only did he bring up the absolute lack of funding, but he also mentioned the soil report.

To say that Tullos is not ideal for tree planting is accurate.  But the City never did publicise this additional fact:  they have been asked to spray weed killer on Tullos for two to three years until the trees are established.  There is no detail on the cost, damage potential for plants and animals, and even potential health risks for people.

Neil Cooney, many concerned residents and I are now working to get the hill preserved (or perhaps even enhanced) as a meadow.   If you have ever seen the Dame’s Violets in bloom you would wonder why anyone would disturb their balance.  The gorse (being unceremoniously ripped out on occasion – and burnt) is essential for many forms of wildlife year round, providing food and shelter.

It is this gorse Ian Tallboys says is of limited value and which he wants ripped out.  At present there are beautiful forms of delicate (probably rather rare) fungi growing – any change in soil PH balance could kill them, not to mention the damage planting would do to the underground network from which these mushrooms grow.

You probably know there are three Bronze Age Cairns on the hill; they are set off in a striking fashion.

A forest will forever obscure them and the amazing views of the city and sea.  You might not know that over a dozen other smaller sites, many bronze age, are in the planting area.  It is unclear whether the appropriate government agencies have been contacted about this aspect of the tree plan.

If you want more information on why a meadow is such a better idea for Tullos, then please read the article on meadows in this issue of Aberdeen Voice. ( Click link )

Also – remember that we are about to build hundreds of homes and a football stadium where we currently have meadows.  This will spell the end for the wildlife that depended on these fields – to also change Tullos is an environmental disaster as far as I am concerned.  Perhaps now that the City’s ranger service is expected to turn a profit (yes, they are told to generate income streams with the very odd finance system at work in our city), they hope to have timber income from the trees – which according to the aforementioned soil report, will never achieve maturity.

How much quicker, efficient and simpler it would be to conduct nature tours of what is an amazing hill.  Environmental tourism is a growing area, and we with our resources should be getting on it.

This article and the accompanying table contain my personal opinions as well as quotations from the City’s documents.  I invite you to draw your own conclusions, to ask the City and Aileen Malone (once so keen to be quoted in press releases) why a meadow is not the best future for this hill.

If you would like to help lobby for a meadow, please get in touch via the Aberdeen Voice for further information.  We can avert an environmental tragedy if we act now.  This plan is still in a very early stage – but we will come up with a plan that will support the existing flora, fauna – and especially the deer.

Oct 012011
 

Three Cheers for Aberdeen City Council!  The Cull is on Hold!  Or so you might think if you glanced at a headline in tonight’s Evening Express. Voice’s Suzanne Kelly writes.

Several people on the anti-cull e-mailing lists have seen these headlines and written to say how happy they are the deer are safe.
‘Thank goodness, we can all forget about the cull and get back to business as usual’.

But what is the truth behind this and other media stories, and what is the truth? Conflicting information is  leaking out of Marischal College like a particularly leaky sieve.

There has been Council and anti-cull advertising.  There have been stories in the Press & Journal and the Evening Express, quoting experts and animal organisations.

The City has unnamed officers making statements, and city rangers apparently say that community councils are now OK with the cull.  It is time to look behind the headlines, read between the lines of the propaganda, and challenge what the city and rangers are saying.

First, let’s look at the last few weeks’ worth of media advertising.

In terms of advertising, you may have seen the anti-cull ads which were paid for by Animal Concern; these ran in the Evening Express and the Aberdeen Citizen. These quarter-page colour ads spelled out the logical reasons for opposing the cull.

Aberdeen City meanwhile took out a four-page, full colour supplement in the Aberdeen Citizen on 7 September. This for the average person would have cost at least a thousand pounds; it would be of interest to find out what the City spends on this and similar advertising in these service-cutting, low budget days.  This pull-out was to tell you how green and ecologically-minded the City is.

A portion of this supplement (approximately a third of a page in size) concerned the deer cull. Or as the City prefers to call it, the ‘City Woodlands.’ The ad says nothing about a deer cull, but calls on schools and small businesses to help plant the trees. The reader is directed to contact Ian Tallboys for further information. Businesses are told that the scheme can help:

“as part of their overall carbon management work. This will reduce the impact of their greenhouse gas emissions.”

The ad also says:

“The tree planting work will start in early 2012, ground and weather conditions permitting.”

And apparently:

 “planning of the second phase of tree for every citizen planting is almost complete, with funding applications in place.”

This is being tied to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the woodland sites are selected:

 “to provide a living, breathing legacy and tribute to her Majesty the Queen”

There is a very good reason I have bored my readers with these details. Firstly – we already have a ‘living, breathing legacy’ on Tullos Hill. We have a diverse ecosystem supporting a vast variety of flora and fauna. We are going to kill our existing living, breathing legacy because some politicians (Cllr Malone for one) decided to do so.

If you read this ad, you would know nothing about the proposed deer cull. You might also conclude that some substantial carbon offsetting benefits had been expected in order that the City felt comfortable telling businesses the scheme would benefit them in this regard. The calculations I have previously reported, the information from animal charities, and common sense tell us that the benefits are negligible.

For one thing, we are apparently having a 21,000 seat, glow-in-the-dark football stadium built fairly close to the south of Tullos Hill with houses, offices and 1400 parking spaces. I challenge anyone to tell me that the Tullos tree scheme will offset this stadium to any meaningful degree.

It seems straightforward:  planting will go ahead, as funding applications are in place and the City’s own advertising says that planting starts in early 2012.  However, up crops some issues with what I must loosely call ‘journalism’ appearing in the Press & Journal and Evening Express.

Going back to the earlier part of his week, P&J articles advised that protestors were going to stand in front of guns.  You will have seen quotes apparently from the British Deer Society and Chris Packham saying deer culls are necessary.  These experts and their support of culls appear alongside direct quotes from my asking that:

“the city must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull.”

If you read these articles quickly or casually, you could easily come to the conclusion that Chris Packham and the British Deer Society support this specific Tullos cull.  At the time of writing, I have made initial contact with Packham’s agent and the Deer Society:  neither were able to confirm they had been contacted on the specific Tullos case.

In fact, both parties were interested to hear what I had to say about the history of this whole scheme.  When they get back to me, I will update everyone.

I had also given the P&J a detailed press release spelling out the major flaws in the public consultation, the opinion of the Scottish SPCA, and so on.  Not a word of this side of the story appears in print.

So – when is the cull?

The police are not saying.  The City is however saying something different to everyone who asks.  Today, 1 October, the Press & Journal have asserted the cull may be delayed by two weeks for financial reasons.,  In the 29 September Press & Journal article:

“a [City Council] spokeswoman said that Saturday was the earliest date in the hunting season that deer management can take place.  However, any such activity would be subject to weather conditions and the availability of staff, she added.”

By the way, the City have said they don’t need to give anyone any notice and can put gunmen on the hill at will.  People who understand arms, guns and hunting tell me bullets can travel very considerable distances (this is not to mention the damage and sheer agony they cause to anything that is shot).  So, we will either be suddenly excluded from the hill for the gunman/men to get killing, or they will shoot with us present.

Neighbouring residents in homes and trailer parks were appalled  and worried when I spoke to them earlier this week.  Two men told me they feed the deer in winter, and the deer are veritably tame.  Another man told me a similar story over the phone; he is distraught that the deer he has watched and fed for decades are to be shot for non-existent trees.  No one I contacted has been warned of shooters coming to the hill at the time of writing.

But I digress.  Now we come to the glaring Evening Express headline of Friday 30 September:

DEER CULL OFF… FOR NOW”

The story on Page 5 has a headline fragment ‘move to protect trees’  which makes it seem as if this is the only way to protect trees.  We all by now know this is not the case.

Unfortunately, whoever the City’s ‘spokeswoman’ was on Thursday has been contradicted by a ‘city council spokesman’.  I guess it is true:  ’24 hours IS a long time in politics.’  The spokesman said:

“It takes time for money to filter through.  The long-term plan for tree-planting and the deer population haven’t changed.’  According to the Reporter, D Ewen, the spokesman added ‘..it could be months before the cull started.”

You might think an accurate headline would  have been ‘Deer Cull could be months away’ – not ‘Deer Cull Off – For Now’

If you are not yet sufficiently confused as to if/when a cull will take place and whether or not the tree scheme has the funding and business community support, someone else at the City has further muddied the waters.

A councillor has been told by yet another anonymous person that no cull will start until after the trees are planted, and that won’t happen for months.  Of all the oddball anonymous City leaks, this one takes some beating.  This calls for a brief diversion as to what we are actually looking at in terms of deer per tree sapling.

First, the Forestry Commission letter – sent by me to both the Press & Journal months ago, says the previous planting which cost the taxpayer £43,800 failed due to deer browing and weeds.  Yes, and weeds.  Somehow, the city and the P&J only mention the deer as being the cause of failure.  Weeding 89,000 trees sounds like quite a job to me – I do hope they have it all planned out.

The Evening Express do write:

“And the council had to hand over £43,831 paid out by Forestry commission Scotland after it failed to protect the trees in Tullos”

But other news reports seem to pin the entire failure of the previous planting on the deer alone.

The press inaccuracies go on and on.  For instance, ‘hundreds’ signed petitions according to the Evening Express.  The figure I supplied and can document is 2,400+, (not counting community councils which represent thousands more).

Speaking of community councils, one of our city rangers has put it about that the community councils are favouring the planting and the cull.  He surely must know this is inaccurate.  I will be seeking an immediate explanation and if necessary a retraction from him and an explanation – that’s if some of the community councils don’t beat me to it.  I have read many of the community council letters of protest to the city:  the community councils are not happy.

The press make little mention of how the deer cull was planned in November but left out of the phase 2 consultation (which in its mention of rabbit management made everyone I’ve spoken with assume rabbits were the only obstacle.  Why on earth mention rabbit fencing when you are planning to shoot deer – if not to get your consultation to sail past the public?).

If the City and the mainstream press wonder why people do not trust them to deliver facts about the cull now, they need look no further than this first initial manipulation.

The new maths

I pointed out the absurdity of the City’s need to cull the deer many times, including the initial plan for 40,000 trees.  This would have had the 29 deer all chomping some 1,379 tree saplings.  But the tree figure suddenly grew (no pun intended) to Ms Watt’s claim of some 89,000 trees.

This makes our tiny deer (which live 6-7 years on average) eating 3,068 trees each.  But the Council plan to kill some 9 deer this season (unless they have changed their collective mind again) – and continue killing for years to come.  Look at the figures again:  20 deer eating 40,000 trees is 2,000 trees per deer.  Those must be hungry deer, but they are as nothing compared to 20 deer eating 89,000 trees:  this calculates to a stag-gering (pun intended) 4,450 trees per deer on Tullos Hill.  Now this is food for thought.

But the press / city leaks don’t’ stop coming.

For some reason, most of the people telling us not to worry about any cull at present are anonymous. When the tree scheme was first announced, politicians and council officials were all very keen to get their names in the news – Aileen Malone said how great everything would be for one example.

If no funding is in place, then the council wasted some serious money on its full colour advertising in the Aberdeen Citizen earlier this month. It was saying how great the tree scheme was. The ad encouraged local schools to help plant trees, and told local businesses to help, implying that the C02 offsetting benefits could help with their C02 targets.

Why would they place this ad and ask for help and sponsorship if they didn’t have funding?

The hunting – or legal hunting – season is not a very long one; this further makes me question assertions that nothing will happen for months.  The initial SNH letter of November 2010 recommends careful ‘handling’ of the public’.  Do you have the feeling we’re being handled – and possibly mis-handled?

Who is telling the truth – the city spokeswoman who said the earliest the killing can start is Saturday 1 October, the City spokesman who indicated there is no funding in place and a cull won’t start soon, the claim that the cull is delayed by two weeks because of lack of funding, or the third anonymous city person who said the killing won’t start until the trees are planted?

I would dearly love to tell you the truth about the financials (have we hired a hunter?  What is the cost of the scheme from start to finish?  Why do some documents say there will be income from trees but other officials deny the same assertion?).  The fact is I asked for this information months ago – only for Valerie Watts to write back asking me to explain what I meant by ‘financials’. (in an email that mysteriously never got to me until I chased it about a month later).  I have looked for the truth and feel as if I have been deliberately misled.

When she finally answers me, I will update the position.

In any event, I would recommend everyone who cares about this issue to start spending as much time walking Tullos Hill as they can – wearing bright clothing obviously.  If you see a hunter, be safe and get away – but please then get in touch with the Aberdeen Voice straight away.

Please read news stories and listen to rumour with care. And please if you have time ask your community council and elected officials exactly what is going on.  I for one would absolutely love to know.