Jan 072012
 

Aberdeen’s contentious Tullos Hill  deer cull / tree-planting scheme takes a particularly strong blow as a Freedom of Information request shows that the financial picture is not as ‘cost-neutral’ as its (few) supporters would have us think.  Suzanne Kelly examines the newly-released figures for Phase 1 of the planting and questions the logic of proceeding with Phase 2.

Aileen Malone, Aberdeen City Councillor and Convener of the Housing & Environment Committee has been silent on the subject of her pet project and Liberal Democrat election manifesto pledge lately; she’s not answered emails on the subject, nor has she appeared in the media to defend the scheme.
The Liberal Democrat party headquarters likewise have not replied to any emails on the matter of the deer cull to date.

Malone is the de facto figurehead for the plan to cull the roe deer (which have happily lived in the area for decades without the need for a cull) in order to plant a staggering 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill. 

When full details broke as to what this Phase 2 planting entails emerged, individuals, community councils and animal welfare charities expressed dismay and disbelief.

One of the main arguments offered by its proponents is that planting the trees and shooting the deer is ‘cost-neutral’, or in the words of Councillor Neil Fletcher in an email concerning the cull:-

“… this project is at practically no cost to the tax-payer”.

But is the scheme as cost-neutral as its City Council proponents claim?  The answer is most definitely NO.

The attached spread sheet excerpt was obtained in mid-December following months of requests  (note that a line has been added to show a refund the City had to make – this was somehow omitted).  Aileen Malone wrote in early October to advise an officer would get back on the matter shortly.   When no information was forthcoming , a Freedom of Information request was lodged (and answered slightly later than was meant to be the deadline).

The City’s (incomplete) spread sheet

The spread sheet from the city shows incoming money as negative and outgoings as positive figures.

There is an outgoing sum of £3,000 at Line 18 with no explanatory text.  There is likewise a line for £142 – this may relate to an advertising supplement extolling the virtues of the scheme, but this is not certain.  The city also forgot to take off the £43,800 it had to return for the failure of phase 1 on Tullos.  Combining all of the figures together, I get an indication that Aberdeen may be £20,600 in the red at this point – and yet may look to go ahead with a bigger plantation.

See: Tree-for-every-citizen-finances/

Looking at the list of money going in and out of the account, it seems that the scheme was not the simple, cheap, well thought-out plan promised.   When the finances are considered in conjunction with a soil report issued by the Forestry Commission, it is possible to conclude the plan is deeply flawed and expensive.

The the soil report indicates that Tullos Hill’s soil quality  means the trees would be subject to ‘wind throw.’  This means that winds (such as the extremely strong winds frequently experienced this winter) will more than likely topple trees growing on the hill.

The report also points to the possibility that trees simply will not thrive on Tullos for a variety of reasons– but what is the financial impact of failure?

The costly Phase 1 failure- £43,800 in grant money repaid

The City was forced to repay £43,800 of grant money (after months of being chased for payment, it should be noted) to the Forestry Commission.  Presumably this money was generated from the taxpayer in the first place – therefore the taxpayer may well have wound up paying both for the trees to be planted as well as for their failure to thrive.

While the City has chosen largely to put the blame for the failure on some 29 roe deer in Loirston County Park, the failure belongs  in no small part to those who selected the site, who decided to buy smaller tree guards than had been recommended, who ignored the historic wind, weather and soil data, and who did little about weeds.  Perhaps an investigation is called for into the selection of Tullos in the first place, and into any possible negligence on the part of those involved.

Will Aberdeen be taking another grant from the Forestry Commission – which arguably we were led to believe was already arranged?

If so – why?  What are the implications of a failure of 89,000 trees financially speaking?  Unfortunately, according to the Freedom of Information response, thereares as yet no financial plans, budgets or projections available.

Considering the proponents originally gave a deadline of May 2011 for private individuals to stump up £225,000 to save the deer (a figure which exceeds the £200,000 Phase 1 grant!), it is highly worrying that projections for the future phase 2 scheme cannot be supplied as ‘the information is not held’.  Had the scheme’s supporters come clean in these respects months ago, this scheme may not have gone so far down the road as it has been allowed to.

Paying for Experts

Animal charities offered the services of other forestry experts to the City free of charge with a view to finding a way to plant trees without killing the deer – something which is quite possible to do.  Deer will apparently be culled for several years (there are thought to be 29 deer in the area which roam from site to site; these creatures usually live 6-7 years, and in some instances are fed by local people).

The city denigrated the experts, and advised it already has an expert.

The identity of the City’s expert has never been made known.  At one stage it was suggested that they were being paid for their services in connection with ‘A Tree for Every Citizen.’

Looking at the companies listed on the spread sheet involved and the people who serve on these companies, a number of forestry experts seem to be involved as paid consultants. As such, these people might be seen to have a vested interest in a Phase 2 planting going ahead; it would be human nature to protect one’s source of income.

One of the people whose names crops up in a list of company directors has many directorships to their credit – including charcoal and sawmill director/company officer roles.  Some of the twenty or so companies on this person’s list of directorships have been dissolved, including a boomerang company or two.

Further research into the companies and individuals mentioned on the Council’s spread sheet is under way.

Aberdeen officials have issued conflicting statements on the nature of the forest to be created – some say it will bring in revenue which will help pay for the scheme; others say no such plans are in place.  If a sawmill plant, lumber jacking or charcoal works  (and these types of business interests are reflected in the company activities of people involved with the scheme per the spread sheet) are envisaged for Tullos, then the public should be told.

If one or more persons with vested interests in making profit from lumber are refusing the advice / peer review from animal welfare experts with forestry experience, then the entire scheme should be examined in a public, transparent forum and reviewed by a number of recognised experts.

Surely an impartial, scientific professional would normally welcome experienced, free advice even if they chose not to heed it.  The claims of expert advice seem hollow when in one document tree guards are discarded as deer control devices because they have ‘visual impact.’

Can complete impartiality of someone who may stand to gain from the Phase 2 planting going ahead be guaranteed?  How can there be an objection to wider scrutiny?

Sponsors and ‘Educational’ use of children to plant trees:  I wouldn’t count on it

Companies which donated to the first phase of the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme are understandably reluctant to use their budgets for controversial Phase 2.

weed protection of some sort will be required which may impact other wildlife, and yet the wind may make it all in vain.

Two major companies have indicated that they will not sponsor this next phase.  Will any business want to put their brand’s value at risk by association with an unpopular scheme and deer cull?  It is highly unlikely, but some in the council seem to think sponsors will be found.  Again, there seems to be nothing budgeted, just nebulous talk of seeking business sponsors.

Schoolchildren are being relied on to make the plan look more affordable; they will be asked to help plant the trees on Tullos.

It seems doubtful that local parents will willingly give consent; thousands have signed a petition against the scheme, and over three thousand people are on a Facebook group opposing the scheme.  Clearly if the scheme will have to pay for planting all 89,000 trees when it had hoped to use children in part, then the scheme becomes even less financially sound.

The educational benefits of planting saplings should also be delivered alongside the fact a cull is being implemented not for animal welfare reasons (the Scottish SPCA condemns this particular scheme) as it is (allegedly) the cheapest way to protect the trees,  that weed protection of some sort will be required which may impact other wildlife, and yet the wind may make it all in vain.

Other costs; environmental costs

Weeds were largely to blame according to a Forestry report for the Phase 1 failure.

The Aberdeen taxpayer will be paying for several years of ‘weed control’ for Phase 2 – this may mean spraying pesticides which will damage other plants, insects, birds and other wildlife.  Using pesticides in an area near factories, homes and schools will also lead to further citizen protests.   Aberdeen paid £7,125 for Bryan Massie specifically for weed control in Phase 1 (as well as another £22,800). If the weed control was inadequate then, then how much more will we spend annually?

It is important to remember that Tullos already has its own wildlife and is a thriving ecosystem in its own right.   Gorse clearance is also recommended, although many environmentalists state that gorse is a food and habitat haven for much wildlife.  How much money will the taxpayer spend ripping up gorse?

The winners

According to the City’s information, the following companies have made money on the scheme:

CJ Piper & Co                     £42,000

Bryan Massie                     £30,000

Dulnain Bridge                   £77,800

Scottish Woodlands        £11,700

TM Forestry                       £44,400

(unspecified)                     £  3,000

TOTAL:                                                                  £208,900

(Note – while over the months there have been different figures mentioned and unofficially given, it is assumed that the most accurate set of figures is the one supplied by the Freedom of Information request received mid December which is used in this article).

The future:  No tangible financial projections – and no funding application lodged

The Freedom of Information request seems to be admitting that no budget for the future phase is held by the City.

An earlier FOI request shows that despite everything the proponents have said and done, there is as yet no formalised application lodged for a second phase.  This means that for nearly a year the claims of proponents such as Malone that the scheme was going to go ahead and was going to be cost neutral were inaccurate.  It is possible that some of the members of the Housing Committee voted in favour of this plan based on its being cost neutral; if so, the matter should be examined by that Committee and the relevant Audit Committee.

It is safe to assume that not every single grant application gets approved.  We seem to have a situation for  Phase 2 where there was no final, formal application for funds lodged, no approved funding in place, and no budget in place.

When the £43,800 repayment is subtracted from the accounts it certainly looks as if some £22,000 more than was granted was spent on Phase 1, leaving a budget deficit for Phase 2 before it even starts.

In the absence of information to the contrary the evidence speaks for itself.

Conclusion

Parents of school-age children might wish to check with their schools as to any planting plans involving their children.

Voters might want to ask their City Councillors how they stand on the issue now, and if they were in a position to vote on the matter in May 2011, did they then believe the scheme was cost-neutral.  Private sector companies might wish to think twice before entering any sponsorship/funding deals for Phase 2 as well – it does not look like a public relations win any longer.

The whole point of the cull was to make the tree planting possible, yet some council officers and elected officials want to backtrack on that point now. They now claim it is for animal welfare reasons and not the trees. However, the entire unfolding history of the City’s claims are a matter of record.

What may have started out as a great-sounding greenwash election plank has irrevocably turned into an unpopular, controversial, seemingly disorganised non-starter.  It is time to leave Tullos alone for now – or to consider enhancing its status as meadowland.  Anything else just does not add up.

Dec 152011
 

Aberdeen City’s ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme, the proposed deer cull, and the case for meadowland preservation are examined in an extensive report issued by campaigner Suzanne Kelly.

This report examines a controversial plan by Aberdeen City Council to attempt a second plantation of 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill.

The first attempt largely failed due to poor soil, weeds, and other factors, including arson, weather, and deer browsing – according to a Forestry soil report.  This first attempt cost the City £43,800.

The issues of how the City launched its public consultation (which omitted a 2-3 year weed control requirement and a deer cull) and how it has since responded to its Community Councils and citizens forms a large portion of this report.  The report also focuses on the benefits of keeping  the hill as it is – a grassland/meadowland, enjoyed by both people and a wide variety of wildlife.

The report and related documents can be found at  http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/ 

The City has previously stated that this scheme is ‘cost neutral’ – but as emerged last month, there is actually no funding in place, as only a draft application has to date been submitted.  Proponent of the initial scheme, Cllr Aileen Malone, has left recent emails on the subject of the financing unanswered.

Meadows throughout the UK are being lost to development at an alarming rate.  In the same area as Tullos Hill, a football stadium is set to be built in an Special Area of Conservation (SAC), with 2 species of EU protected animals known to be present.  Also nearby, a housing development also spells loss of green space.  With wildlife losing breeding and feeding grounds in this area of the city, campaigners including Kelly and Councillor Neil Cooney are calling for a re-think to the tree scheme.

A Soil Report from the Government indicates that a planting on Tullos Hill will not be successful.

Petitions collected thousands of signatures against the cull, and four Community Councils objected to the scheme and the cull. A Facebook community on this issue has some 3,000 members.  A new petition to preserve or enhance Tullos Hill has over 400 signatories, and can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/tullos-hill-meadowlands-deer-park.html

Animal organisations, including the Scottish SPCA, condemn the proposed deer cull, which was announced in March.  Documents demonstrate that the cull was planned specifically for the tree planting, although the City’s officials are now saying it needs to cull part of the small herd (some 29) in general – the figure of 9 deer and a cull lasting a few years have been suggested.  The deer roam across several sites.

Animal charities point out that many methods of planting trees with non-lethal measures exist, and that other deer would likely move into the area after a cull.  Many experts question the wisdom of putting so many trees on a windswept hill on the North Sea where a previous attempt failed.

Kelly said:

“Many feel the deer cull should have been mentioned in the public consultation.  The consultation mentioned rabbit fencing, so people assumed that if other animal issues existed, they would also have been brought to the public’s attention.  Because the cull and the weed control (which may mean years of spraying toxins) were not included, no one raised timely objections.”

“The handling of this affair from start to finish goes against what the people in the area want.  It goes against principles of transparent, open government,  and it goes against logic.  There is a report that says it is unlikely the trees will grow – why are we throwing good money after bad?  Tullos Hill is a beautiful meadow with abundant wildlife, and its wildflowers attract visitors.  When we are losing this type of habitat to development nearby, why should we try to turn one ecosystem into another?”

There is a mailing list for anyone wishing updates on this situation; contact tullosdeer@yahoo.com

Nov 142011
 

Controversial plans to plant 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill backed by Aberdeen City Council are under fire from the public, community councils, animal charities and experts. A new initiative to preserve this crucial wildlife habitat as meadowland was launched today by Councillor Neil Cooney and campaigner Suzanne Kelly.

The Tullos Hill Roe Deer, approximately 30 in number, have survived on the Hill for over 30 years but will face years of culling if the tree scheme goes ahead.  The deer normally live for 6 to 7 years.

This cull would cost the taxpayer approximately £8,000 over 2010-11, £14,000 over the following 4 years, according to Aberdeen City Council.

The scheme has already seen the City hand back £43,800 of grant money, as the previous planting failed for a number of reasons.

Reports show that the wrong size tree guards were used (120cm size had been recommended; 90cm had been used instead) and that soil issues and weeds were to blame in part for the failure.  The deer were not the only factor in the tree failure, but the council stresses the need to use the ‘most economical’ means to plant the trees. 

Vandalism has hit planting sites as well.

Some members of the Council now claim that  culling is a normal part of land management and is required – this claim had not been made prior to the tree planting scheme as far as any research can demonstrate.  The deer are not starving or suffering, and with 30 deer on the hill and 89,000 saplings proposed, humane methods of having tree and deer are possible, according to experts.

The council omitted mention of the deer cull from its public consultation which closed in January 2011, although this document went into detail about managing rabbits by means of fences.  The council also omitted to say the planting would require 2-3 years of weed killer being sprayed on the hill.

The cost of this spraying, the effects on the existing wildflowers, animals and the public (housing, a school and factories are nearby) has never been fully explained.  Tullos Hill also has soil issues  and there are dozens of small archaeological remains which would be threatened or could even be destroyed by the tree planting.

After the cull plan was discovered and made public, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals branded the move ‘abhorrent and absurd’, although the Society recognises the needs for deer culls for reasons of animal welfare.

However, the idea to kill deer for this scheme was strongly condemned by the Scottish SPCA and other animal welfare organisations including Animal Concern.

A move was made to ask the public for money to avoid the cull by the City’s Housing & Environment Committee.
This move was called ‘blackmail’ by citizens and animal charities.  Dame Anne Begg, MP, wrote at the time of the move saying that to ask the public for £225,000 to avoid the cull was “an appalling attempt to fudge their (the Housing Committee cull proponents’) responsibility.”

Suzanne Kelly, campaigner against the tree planting and the cull said,

“We have a beautiful meadow filled with plants and animals – it is a biodiversity haven.  Nearby meadowlands at Cove are being given over for housing and development, and lands at Loirston which are grass and meadow will be turned into a football stadium. Aberdeen stands to lose a huge portion of its meadows south of the city centre, and yet wants to turn this meadow ecosystem into a forest. 

“Thousands of concerned residents objected to the tree scheme by letter and petition once the cull was made public – and that was before we knew about the returned grant money and the weed killer.  Four community councils are on record as opposing the scheme representing thousands more people.  (Torry Community Council voted unanimously to condemn the cull and the scheme – but their letter somehow never reached the City). 

“Yet the City refuses to listen.  The City has been saying the scheme is ‘cost neutral.’  It now emerges that the application is not even finalised, and £43,800 in grant money had to be paid back for a previous failed planting on Tullos.  This is hardly ‘cost neutral’ – in fact, calling this scheme ‘cost neutral’ seems positively misleading 

“We hope this alternative – a meadowland – will capture the public’s imagination. In fact, the idea has come up again and again from the many people getting in touch – it is really a public initiative.   The hill can be left as it is or perhaps enhanced with more wildflowers and the future of the deer and other animals can be ensured. 

“The deer are most certainly not starving as some in the City would claim.  In fact, some nearby residents tell me the deer are nearly tame.  Meddling in the Hill’s ecology has not worked in the past, and our cash-strapped Council should just end their planting scheme forthwith.”

Councillor Neil Cooney asked crucial questions and presented facts previously omitted at the most recent Aberdeen City Housing & Environment Committee meeting held this month.  Councillor Cooney said :

“Tullos Hill offers some of the finest views over the city. You don’t block out viewpoints by planting trees to hide the view. Nature created Tullos Hill. It is an area rich in wildlife, it is an important archaeological site and there are 4 important cairns there that were designed to be seen from each other and to dominate the landscape.

“It would make a lovely meadowland. Meadows are our most threatened habitats. Tullos Hill already supports fragile wild flower species, the Dames Violets are particularly spectacular when in bloom. Meadows also play a key role in carbon capture. We have a precious natural asset at Tullos Hill, if we destroy in now we can never reclaim it again. We have a duty to the next generation to preserve for them the environmental treasures that we enjoyed.

We can save money, save the deer, preserve the viewpoint, leave the archaeology open to enjoyment, and enhance Tullos Hill. This is far preferable to a dodgy tree planting project stained in blood.”

The value of this meadowlands scheme is supported by Saving our Magnificent Meadows, a campaign backed by Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and by Plantlife, as project host.

Ms Susan Kerry Bedell of Saving Our Magnificent Meadows had this to say:

“Wildflower meadows are the UK’s most threatened habitat. Since the 1930s, we have lost 98% (over three million hectares) of them across England and Wales and intense pressures continue to impact on remaining sites. There has been a similar scale of loss across the Scottish lowlands.

“These beautiful meadows are central to our national heritage. They are rich in wildlife, including many rare and threatened species, landscape character, folklore and archaeology, and they offer a range of ‘services’ to society, such as reducing flood risk. They are seen as vital to the long-term survival of bees, through whose pollination of crops much of our food production depends.

“Unless we act now to build a greater appreciation of remaining sites and promote sympathetic management, these ‘magnificent meadows’ and the rare plants and animals associated with them, will be lost forever”.

The Tullos Hill Meadowlands petition will launch online and by paper copy early the week commencing 14 November 2011.  Suzanne Kelly is confident that the tree planting scheme would be put aside for the more economical, beneficial meadowlands scheme.

“There is pressure on Government budgets right now, and throwing good money after bad – particularly on such an unpopular and destructive scheme – is simply illogical. 

“I await detailed budget information from the City, and a further press release will go into detail about how the City has handled this affair from start to finish.  With an election looming, I would urge those councillors who have supported this scheme to ask themselves if they really are doing the right thing by Tullos Hill and the electorate.”

Petition can be accessed here: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/tullos-hill-meadowlands-deer-park.html 

Further information on Saving Our Magnificent Meadows can be found at:
http://www.plantlife.org.uk/campaigns/saving_our_magnificent_meadows/ 

Further information and updates on Tullos Hill can be obtained by writing to:
tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk

Contact Suzanne Kelly:
Email sgvk27@aol.com
Tel. 07752 356 455

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.

Sep 222011
 

It’s the debate we weren’t supposed to hear, it seems, and there is suspicion that the full facts were held back from publication to Aberdeen residents. Public opposition to a controversial scheme seems to be growing. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Local campaigners, opposed to Aberdeen City Council’s cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer, have placed advertisements in the local press and launched a postcard campaign.

The first advert appeared in Aberdeen’s Evening Express on 7 September, and it appears again in the 21 September issue of Aberdeen Citizen.

Campaigners will also be out in force in Aberdeen city centre this Saturday (24 September).

“The City Council may think they can go ahead with the cull of the roe deer unnoticed,” campaigner Suzanne Kelly said, “but the truth is the opposition is growing daily. People are watching the hill and reporting anything that might indicate a cull.”

A postcard campaign with a strong graphic encourages people to write to Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive, Valerie Watts.

The advertising campaign spells out some of the many reasons why opponents are so fierce in condemning the Council’s plans. These reasons include:

  • The cull was already being planned (as per correspondence in November 2010 between Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Natural Heritage) but was kept out of the Phase 2 public consultation. This consultation mentioned rabbits and therefore gave the impression that these were the only species affected by the massive tree plantation. Current public objections would have been made during the consultation had the public been properly informed that a cull was planned. Many people therefore feel misled by the Council and the scheme’s main proponent, Councillor Aileen Malone.
  • The Scottish SPCA calls the cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ – to kill animals to protect trees that aren’t even planted and which could go elsewhere, is wrong. They will support culling only for animal welfare reasons
  • The City Council recently had to return £43,800 to the Forestry Commission for a failed planting on Tullos Hill. It certainly seems the Council tried to keep that information under wraps. Taxpayers could spend over £100,000 if further planting goes wrong, according to the Forestry Commission
  • Since the cull was made public, several community councils, representing tens of thousands of local residents, condemned it and complained about the lack of proper consultation. Over 2,400 people locally signed petitions, and hundreds of letters of protest were sent to the Council. Still the Council refuses to back down
  • The Council has turned down or ignored offers from experts including Animal Concern to provide other non-lethal solutions, of which there are many
  • There is already an eco-system on Tullos Hill which includes flora and fauna; changing it makes no sense

A hunter in camouflage gear with a gun on Tullos Hill was reported to police by a dog-walker on 5 September, but the police are neither confirming the report nor supplying any further information at present.

Earlier this month, the City Council mentioned the tree planting scheme, but not the deer cull, in a full colour, four page Aberdeen Citizen supplement touting its environmental credentials.  Campaigners against the cull have not yet been able to find out the cost to the public of this supplement.

Anyone opposed to this cull or who wants further information can contact: www.tullosdeer@yahoo.co.uk

“The response the advertisement received when first launched was overwhelming; the email inbox is overflowing with people – 100% of whom oppose the Council’s plans and the handling of the whole affair. I do hope that commonsense will prevail and this scheme will be altered to spare the deer. With a previous planting on the hill already costing the taxpayer £43,800 – the City must come up with a better plan and halt this senseless cull,” said Kelly.

The cull could begin in October this year; it is likely that the killing would continue for several years.

Sep 012011
 

A look at more contradictory information from different arms of the council – with deadly consequences for the Tullos Hill Roe Deer by Suzanne Kelly.

In the first instalment of ‘Truth’, I revealed part of Valerie Watts’ response to my formal complaint.
This contained the shocking story of how we have already paid £43,800 for a previous failed plantation on Tullos Hill – and that Ms Watts failed to clarify the existence of this debt when asked.
In fact, Aberdeen Council (ie the taxpayer) “could be liable for a reclaim of up to £120,333.91” if trees to be planted fail, says a Forestry Commission Scotland letter.

The second part of the story will examine Watt’s response in more depth, revealing yet more contradiction; council use of general statements to justify the specific Tullos Hill situation; and the deliberate snubbing of experts who offered objections to as well as solutions to this completely arbitrary tree-planting.

As detailed in Part One, I launched a formal protest following my researches into the details of the tree scheme and the cull; these can be found in Aberdeen Voice. I found no fewer than 10 main points, which I felt the Council should be called to account on.
See: http://aberdeenvoice.com/2010/12/10-more-reasons-to-call-off-the-deer-cull/

The Council and I have traded emails back and forth. My specific, targeted questions are largely going unanswered. Either that, or I get sweeping, non-specific statements (such as ‘deer culling is perfectly normal’ – which has nothing to do with killing deer to protect trees that could be elsewhere – or not planted at all). This all wound up in my formally complaining, and the initial response from Ms Watts was much in the same vein as what I had heard before. I sent a reply, which I had to chase twice.

The first time I chased my reply was 8 July. The Council now say that they sent a reply to me on 11 July, and this date appears on a letter sent via email (although there is no trace of it in my inbox).

Interestingly, their first letter, also sent by email, was addressed to me at my home, and was posted. The second letter the city says it sent on 11 July did not include my street address, and certainly did not ever reach me in the post. I do wonder why they would change their method of communication.

But there are larger points at stake.

Time is running out, and this article cannot touch on all the new information or recap all of the previous points raised. There are previous stories still available on Aberdeen Voice, and a good deal of information can be found on the internet.

If at the end of reading this and other articles you decide you want the deer spared, then please contact your councillors as soon as you can, as well as the City Council. Your voice can make a difference yet. Details of councillors can be found at:
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Here is a selection of some (certainly not all) of the issues arising from my last letter from Valerie Watts – the one that never arrived either in the –post or by email at the time it was meant to have been sent. Sadly, I am not getting any closer to getting any definitive, meaningful answers, which the following examples will show. It is time for everyone concerned for the deer to consider other forms of action.

Income from trees? Depends who’s talking

Various council officers and rangers have written to me saying that there will be ‘income streams’ from the trees.

In fact, some of the reports say that some income can be relied upon from this giant forest in time. I asked Ms Watts for the financials. She replied:

“There is no business plan to justify the potential future timber crop and subsequent potential income stream.”

Either Ms Watts is right and the rangers and others who mentioned an income from the trees are wrong – or the City is confused. In fact, here is what the public consultation for phase 2 said:-

“… the trees should be well established and require minimal maintenance before they start generating income”

Which leads us to Watts’ comments on the public consultation.

Public Consultation: ‘was robust’

We have already established what a flawed, misleading document this phase 2 consultation exercise was, but Ms Watts insists the consultation was ‘robust’.

Those supporting the tree scheme are adamant that the consultation was never about the method of tree planting, and it was not relevant. This is the excuse they give when asked why shooting the Tullos deer was not in the document.

If it had been mentioned, the scheme would never have passed the public consultation in a million years. But people like me and those I have spoken to cite this passage from the public consultation as the reason we thought the deer were safe:-

“Where necessary some sites will require rabbit fencing to minimize damage from rabbits…”

If you read this document, you would come to the conclusion that animal damage had been considered: why mention fencing to control rabbits and not mention damage from other animals? I concluded –as did dozens of others (and more) that if deer were a problem, they would likewise have been mentioned.

We now know that in November 2010 the Council and Scottish Natural Heritage were already planning to shoot the deer to plant these trees: they just decided not to tell us this.

The Scottish Natural Heritage letter suggests handling the public over the deer. Well, the public has most definitely been misled by this poor excuse for a consultation. It was biased. It withheld information. To date, no one has come forward despite my requests to say they were the author of this document; the author certainly has some questions to answer.

See: shhh-dont-mention-the-pre-planned-deer-cull

The Media can’t see the Trees for the Forest

Perhaps the most pompous claim Ms Watts makes is that the media got the facts wrong, and that the community councils got misinformation from the media, so didn’t understand the scheme.

I find it a bit late in the day to blame the media – does Ms Watts include the P&J, EE, BBC, STV, Northsound, and the Scotsman as well as Aberdeen Voice? Where and when did the City’s Public Relations staff counter any inaccuracies in the media? In fact Ms Aileen Malone, convener of the housing committee and large proponent of this plan spoke to the media on many occasions. Here is what Watts wrote on the matter:-

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

It should be noted that when the media have published inaccuracies in the past the Council swiftly jumps in to make corrections when it suits them. We saw the recent debacle of the City countering its own press office’s release about the frequency and costs of using outside consultants. I also recall a Press & Journal editorial stating that the P&J would apologise when it made errors, but would not apologise for publishing information the City released and subsequently retracted.

Scottish SPCA don’t understand the project – says Watts

The work and the position of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is world-renowned and respected. Except here.

The Scottish SPCA issued a statement specifically about the Tullos cull: they called it ‘abhorrent and absurd to kill deer to protect non-existent trees.’ Ms Watts doesn’t believe the Scottish SPCA are clever enough to have formulated its stance, and writes the following:-

“You quote the Scottish SPCA in your response. We* have been unable to find any evidence from the charities [sic – she must mean charity’s] policies that it has one that is against culling.

“We are in the process of checking this with the organization. We believe that the quote from Mr Mike Flynn is based on inaccurate reporting of the committee decision in the media. If the SSPCA were financially able to and prepared to relocate the deer legally within the project timescales, then the City would be amenable to them doing so.”

However, this amazing about-face needs examining, regarding allowing the deer to be relocated. The Council and the Scottish Natural Heritage made their positions clear previously that moving deer was not a solution.

I wrote to the Scottish SPCA to get their feedback on Watt’s paragraph above, and spoke to Mike Flynn on 26th August. He explained the difficulties in catching and moving deer, and says this idea just does not work. Mike confirmed the Scottish SPCA’s position on culling: it is to be carried out only where there are clear animal welfare issues or public safety issues.

Flynn confirmed that a person from the City did contact the Scottish SPCA to ask for its policy on culling. He was not happy that Watts believes he didn’t understand the issues and had been misinformed by the media. He understands, and is happy to stand by the previously-stated position: it is abhorrent and absurd to cull the Tullos Hill Roe Deer to plant trees. And whatever anyone at ACC may say, Mr Flynn is right.

* (somehow Ms Watts is now a group or is using the royal ‘we’ –she does not spell out who she means when she says ‘we’)

My Opinion and Conclusions Summarised

• The main conclusion I reach from months of research and asking questions is that I will be given different information from every council official, officer and elected member I speak to.

• They are united in one thing: they want the deer shot and the trees planted at all costs.

• The expert they hired after a tender process (note – the cost of this expert should be queried) is not interested in other experts’ opinions: this is no longer detached scientific expertise, but dogma.

• They are not actually as united as they think they are. There is increasing SNP resistance to this plan, which must be encouraged. Ms Malone insists the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme was a Lib Dem election pledge. Ms Watts writes the Lib Dems and SNP jointly pursue this scheme, which “… has the mandate of the people of Aberdeen.” This Mandate is most definitely in the past tense – now that we know what the planting means for our deer and other existing wildlife.

• Most importantly: it is not too late to stop this insane scheme!

Watts next? – my opinion

A radio presenter had invited me and Aileen Malone to speak about the deer situation some months back.

Aileen was far too busy to spare the 20 minutes of a Sunday morning for this phone-in debate. A shame – as she could have rectified all the ‘misunderstandings’ which Watts claims the media are putting about. The show’s researchers were told I was not part of any group. And, I am not.

Still, the presenter seemed keen to draw me into an argument about direct action and getting people to stand in front of guns. I do not want to tell anyone to do anything, particularly anything to do with gun-toting shoot-to-kill mercenaries. However, it is plain that reason, logic, expense and the will of the people are being thrown out the window.

Before I had seen Emily James’ film about average people taking direct action, ‘Just Do It’ (at the Belmont a few weeks ago), I would not have considered taking steps to directly intervene in this tree plan. I am now re-thinking my position. When campaigning and logic have no effect, other (peaceful) means may be needed.

In the meantime, please get in touch with your elected representatives. Details of councillors can be found at:
http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgMemberIndex.aspx?bcr=1

Tell them what you do and do not want to happen regarding Tullos Hill. Stopping this cull is not down to me or any one group – it is down to everyone.

If anyone wants a postcard to send the City, or a poster to put in their window, or to be kept informed of any developments, please write to oldsusannah@aberdeenvoice.com – sooner rather than later.

Jul 152011
 

New Arc’s Keith Marley talks to the Aberdeen Voice about New Arc’s activities and ways the public can get involved.

While some of Aberdeen’s great and good are spending their time and our money getting their portraits painted and throwing parties to celebrate the great occasion, the entire spectrum of people and animal charities are suffering cuts, and it will get worse.
There is no time like now to get involved with a charity of your choice, and The North East Wildlife & Animal Rescue Centre, better known as The New Arc would like your help.

The Northeast of Scotland has an abundance of wildlife and domesticated animals – but very few resources to cope with abused, injured and/or abandoned animals.  Willows in New Pitsligo is one, and the New Arc in Ellon is another.

Keith Marley from New Arc attended the Tullos Hill picnic in June arranged by Fred Wilkinson of Aberdeen Voice.  He entertained many of us with tales of rescued animals of all kinds.  He had once been called to a council flat – only to find it overrun with dogs, rabbits, cats, a parrot and the animal to be taken into care:  a very large pig.  He had to smuggle it out in a blanket to try and avoid embarrassment for its former owners; it was squealing, and kids on the crowded street asked what it was, and he said it was a sick dog.

Unfortunately not many of his stories are amusing.  People who are feeling the economic pinch are abandoning animals – some most cruelly.  A recent news story was that of a cat left in a locked box on the side of the road.  It would have surely been killed or starved to death in its small cage if not for a very eagle-eyed and caring passer-by.   The people who did this are still being sought by the Scottish SPCA.  Just as a reminder – animal cruelty and abandonment are completely illegal (as well as unacceptable to any thinking person)

Animal abandonments are increasing; the cost of driving out to rescue animals has risen with the cost of fuel, and the cost of feeding the hungry mouths at New Arc has risen as well.  Animal charities are in a lose/lose situation at the moment.

Keith would love volunteers to contact The New Arc; he would also love donations.  And ideally, he
would like people to get involved with fundraising:-

“We are asking for volunteers to form a fund raising group – Friends of The New Arc. FONA Ideally
we would like 2 groups, one based in Aberdeen and one covering the rural areas.

“The responsibilities of the fund raising groups will be to raise awareness of the work we do here
and generate fundraising ideas and assist in the coordination, management and implementation of those ideas into reality.

“If you feel this is something you could assist with either by sitting on the committee or by
volunteering your time to assist in carrying out the activities then please contact us by phone on 0796 2253867 or by e-mail at thenewarc1@aol.com

The New Arc will not destroy healthy animals; it seeks to rehome animals where possible or return to the wild as appropriate.  They are, unfortunately unable to take dogs, and at the moment cannot take any more cats.  They have a good number of animals which need homes, so if you can offer a suitable home to one, please do get in touch.

There are many animals which need to stay at the shelter for the rest of their lives – these animals desperately need sponsors.  New Arc also features a lost/found pet section on their website.  The website also offers useful tips as to how to assess and react to an animal in the wild.

There is no government funding – New Arc runs on volunteers and donations:  all monies donated go directly on maintaining the sanctuary and caring for the animals.  Here is a video of New Arc in action:-

Most young wild animals will have a parent or parents somewhere nearby; it is almost always best to leave a young wild animal alone – if you touch it, the odds are the parents will abandon it.  What might seem like an injured or abandoned wild animal to you or me may just be a fledgling.

If you do encounter an injured animal, there is also good guidance on what to do.  The New Arc seem to take calls ‘round the clock; I once needed Keith’s help and despite having a hospital appointment on the same day, he showed up to assess the problem I reported as soon as he could.

Please do visit the website at:  http://www.thenewarc.org/  and if you can help the New Arc, then please get in touch.