Jun 222012
 

A campaigner against a controversial deer cull has asked the Health & Safety Executive to investigate Aberdeen City Council over its failure to follow its own risk assessment which identified lethal risks to the public and ‘non-target’ species while the shooting took place. With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Twenty-three roe deer were culled by Aberdeen City Council earlier this year on Tullos Hill in the south of the city.

The City says the cull was necessary for its ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme, which started life largely as a Liberal Democrat election pledge. Protestors and a variety of animal welfare charities disagree.

Aberdeen City later claimed that the cull was prompted by new deer management legislation (a claim again contested by opponents).

The question is:  did the City endanger people during the shooting operations?

The City created a risk register concerning the cull, which warned of risks including ‘fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’.  The heavily-redacted risk register was obtained by Aberdeen Voice’s  Suzanne Kelly via a Freedom of Information request.

The risk register noted the ‘possibility of fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’ to ‘members of the public’.  Some of the risks identified were ‘injury from firearm discharge (either via ‘blocked barrel or obstructed view when shooting deer’ and ‘trajectory of bullets beyond target’.

The Risk Register prescribed that ‘Cautionary notices will be placed at all known access points to the sites where deer management is taking place’.

Kelly and other frequent visitors to the hill during the period the cull was taking place saw no such warning signs.  A Freedom of Information Request concerning the use of signs is now overdue.  Kelly explains:

“We only discovered details of the shooting recently, and many protestors and local residents are alarmed that they saw no warning signs when they visited the hill.  Freedom of Information Requests by Animal Concern Advice Line, myself and other cull opponents have resulted in knowledge of what animals were shot and when, but my specific request on the warning signs is now overdue and unanswered.

“People deliberately visited the hill to look out for any evidence a cull was on; none of my contacts encountered signs at any entrances to say there was cull and a lethal risk if they went further.  It certainly seems people may have been on the hill oblivious to the presence of hunters with rifles killing the deer and posing lethal risk. 

“Bullets can travel a considerable distance – a quarter of a mile is not impossible.   The Council must prove that they informed the public as per their own risk register and safeguarded the public’s welfare, but the evidence suggests this was not the case.”

“I wrote an Aberdeen Voice article which asked whether hunters had been firing weapons while people were on the hill without warning signs being up.  Well, someone from the city contacted me to correct a small part of the story (about who was involved in the shooting) – but absolutely no one to date has come forward to say the City posted the required signs. 

“You would think that if the City acted correctly, they would have immediately called me once the story was published to demand a correction and to supply evidence of compliance.  But this is not the case.”

Kelly acknowledges there was one small sign deep within the grounds of the hill concerning ‘forestry operations’ being carried out.   This however cannot have been the appropriate warning the council’s own documents said was required.

As an example of good practice, during a recent deer cull at Bennachie, a very large sign was posted at the entrance point which clearly stated deer were being culled, shooting was going on, and what the dates and even the times were, so people were aware of danger.  This sign at Bennachie clearly warned people not to be in the area during those times.

Would people have willingly gone onto Tullos Hill when marksmen were shooting animals?  Kelly has her doubts.

“If there were warning signs at the entrances to the hill, then I would never taken a further step (I normally use a main signposted entrance as well as other access points).  I would instead have immediately reported far and wide that this controversial cull was in progress, something the City wanted to keep secret, as evidenced by correspondence between it and the SNH. 

“You have to wonder – did the city’s desire for secrecy lead to sacrificing public safety in order to hide its unpopular cull?  Thank goodness there were no injuries from for instance a shot that had missed its target.  But either Aberdeen Council put up signs (which no one saw as far as I know) or it didn’t. 

“If it didn’t, then it is time to investigate why not, find out who is at fault, and examine this unwanted scheme in detail.  I am not alone in wanting to see the project scaled down and any further culls prevented.”

The shooting took place between 12 March and 9 April 2012 with hunting often conducted in the evening hours.

“I would personally have been present on the hill on several occasions when rifles were being used.  I would go very often after work, and while I saw children, families, people on motorbikes and pets, again – I never saw a single warning sign regarding the danger.  It makes me feel extremely angry and a bit ill to think our safety may have been compromised.  I want to get at the truth.”

“I anticipate being asked to address Aberdeen’s new Housing & Environment Committee when it next meets to discuss lessons learnt and to try and prevent next year’s and future planned culls from taking place for the benefit of this ill-advised tree planting scheme.    

On Wednesday, Aberdeen Press & Journal carried an article confirming the number of animals shot, but which quotes Scottish Natural Heritage guidelines, indicating there is no legal requirement for erecting warning signs.

Kelly comments:-

“Whether or not there was a legal requirement for warning signs, the City created a risk register which said there was a lethal risk, and that they would erect signs to warn people.  Not to follow their own procedures will have risked public safety – and the public are not going to take this very well at all. 

“I will continue my research, particularly on the cull details, and the precise legal requirements the Council claim to be sticking to about deer overpopulation.  The City knows the deer migrate and are not trapped on the hill; if there is a law demanding that 23 deer in these circumstances be shot, then it should be questioned. 

“These deer were nearly tame, lived in stable numbers for at least 70 years, and initially were targeted by the city strictly to further its tree-planting scheme, against public wishes.  

“Those responsible for this entire situation should not think the matter is closed by any means.  One last point; it is surprising and disappointing that the Press & Journal seem to have concluded that there was no reason to put up warning signs when gunfire was occurring – it may not have been a legal requirement, but the most basic common sense dictates people should not have been endangered – and looking at the shooting times, it certainly seems this was the case.” 

 

STOP PRESS: Further information has just come to light since writing this article concerning how the cull was handled; many questions have arisen.  The City will be asked to clarify some apparently contradictory details released in Freedom of Information requests.  A critique of a report written jointly by the City and ‘CJ Piper & Co’ in support of the deer cull is forthcoming, as is a further review of the project’s finances to date. Anyone with concerns as to safety issues or comments about the cull and the tree scheme is urged to contact their city councillors.

 

May 112012
 

Suzanne Kelly reports on the serious issues raised by the modus operandi of Aberdeen City Council with regard to the recent deer cull.

It is nearly two weeks since the general public were dismayed to learn that 22 of 29 deer were destroyed to further the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme which was so vigorously promoted by the Liberal Democrats and a handful of City Officials.
As an indicator of how extremely unscientific this entire project is, it seems that only one deer count was done before the shooting started, and it failed to identify the sex of half of the deer it counted.

The shooting secretly started around 18 February (an early start which needed Scottish Natural Heritage approval), and seems to have continued until the end of the official season. 

It is only now that the general public realise that a gunman was on the hill shooting a rifle:  and that the City took a lethal risk to people’s lives to kill the deer.

This article looks at the risks we didn’t know were being taken with our safety, and recommends the entire matter be made the subject of a city council investigation, possibly with impartial, outside agency involvement.

A document entitled ‘Granite City Forest Deer Management – Risk Assessment’ was obtained some time ago under Freedom of Information legislation.

It can be found at http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/

This document alarmingly acknowledged that hazards identified included:

  •  “Injury from firearm discharge (either via blocked barrel or obstructed view) when shooting deer;
  •  “Uncontrolled access to firearm(s) and ammunition; and
  •  “Trajectory of bullets beyond target (ie living roe deer) impacting on non target species” (ie anything from small birds and mammals to people).

This document acknowledges that ‘who might be harmed’ included not only those involved in destroying the deer, but also the general public.

Having identified the hazards listed above, the document goes on to answer ‘who might be harmed’ and ‘what harm might result’, although its treatment of the issues is superficial at best.  The harm that might have occurred included ‘Possibility of fatal injuries from misuse of / damage to firearms’.

The main reason no one believed any culling was going on was the complete absence of any notices to that effect being put up.

For some inexplicable reason – which needs to be scrutinised along with so many features of this whole sorry saga – is the absence from the report of many other possibilities, including the obvious risk of non-fatal injuries of many kinds to the general public and ‘other species’.

The control measures sited as risk mitigation are almost laughable – but the real issue is the ‘who might have been harmed’ aspect:  the shooting was going on while people were still on the hill.  This is wholly unacceptable.

You may wonder why I am only highlighting this Risk Assessment document now – the answers are very simple.  For starters, the police were asked on several occasions if they knew of any shooting for the deer cull taking place, and the answer was always no.  Councillors who had asked to be informed of any shooting seem not to have been kept in the loop, either.

But the main reason no one believed any culling was going on was the complete absence of any notices to that effect being put up.  The very first ‘Contingency arrangements required to reduce risk’ item listed in the Risk Assessment is this:

“Cautionary notices will be placed at all known access points to the sites where deer management is taking place.”

No one I spoke with, nor anyone I know who visited the hill regularly (and many went with the specific aim of watching out for culling activities) ever saw a sign or notice to this effect whatsoever.  I was keen to visit as often as possible after dusk, and made many trips (only seeing a deer close up once in a gorse thicket which has now been bulldozed).

The question must be asked – did City officials decide not to erect any signs to keep this unpopular cull secret?  If the answer is yes, then our lives and safety were recklessly risked for propaganda purposes.

We now have to wait to find out what days shooting took place, who posted the notices, how big they were, and where they were posted.  I can promise you that I never saw any, and I have been using four different entrance points, including the main entrance where the Loirston Park sign is.

The City also relied on the expertise of the shooter – but even the best marksmen make errors.  Think of the high-profile American accidental shooting – allegedly by Cabinet Member Dick Cheney of a Mr Whittington.  In the UK, hunting accidents also happen.  Finding reliable statistics is not quite so easy – internet searches for hunting accidents seem to result in the appearance of pro-hunting lobbyists putting up unrelated (and questionable) statistics about damage done by deer.

The Health and Safety Executive seems to lump hunting, forestry and all agricultural accidents into one category – in which there are hundreds of accidents any year.

 These questions need to be answered, and I will be formally calling on authorities to have a comprehensive investigation.

Whatever the numbers are, the presence of a notice of shooting on the hill would have at least let people make an informed judgement as to whether to be on the hill or not.  But just like the consultation on the trees (which deliberately omitted mention of a cull or the cost of the previous failure – or the sheer scale of trees proposed) – someone, somewhere took the information needed for our decision-making out, and hid it.

A sign would not have been much use at dawn or dusk; how could it have been visible? Any sign should have been put up in several languages (Polish and French visitors frequent the hill and a sign in English might have been of no use to such people at all).  But a sign and the requirement for the shooter to be diligent are hardly sufficient mitigation for potential lethal risk.  The shooter is also meant not to hunt ‘…when public, contractors or other ACC operatives are known to be on site’.

This is almost meaningless:  access was not prohibited, the site is massive, and bullets can travel a long, long way.  How could anyone possibly ascertain no people were in the vicinity?

It is one thing to create a Risk Assessment document.  It is quite another for its robustness and completeness to be agreed and for it to be approved.  Who wrote this document?  Who was involved in agreeing it was fit for purpose?  Whose name ultimately went on a document which acknowledged lethal risk?  Were signs used or not?  These questions need to be answered, and I will be formally calling on authorities to have a comprehensive investigation.

A former ghillie I know tells me how very difficult it is to shoot a deer, and in his experience deer were known to be injured severely if not brought down with the first initial shot.  Some wounded deer can completely evade the hunter, and travel great distances before dying in shock and pain of blood loss and internal injury.

Our man from the Aberdeen City Council with a license has been shooting things for over 20 years, according to the risk assessment document; are we to suppose his eyesight has not deteriorated at all in this time period? Statistically if he shot 22 animals, how likely or otherwise is it that each and every animal died instantly where it stood?

  These deer were nearly tame; people who stay in the nearby caravans advise they had fed the deer by hand

Ironically, the deer shooter referred to in the document is also a point of contact between the Scottish SPCA and the city council:  the Scottish SPCA has been opposed to this cull from the idea’s inception.  It is unclear whether the shooter would have been likely to report any bad shots or injured deer he caused to the Scottish SPCA.

The remains of a deer were pointed out to me in an area which had a great deal of tree and plant life – could this deer have not died of natural causes (starvation seemed unlikely amid the sources of food) – but rather could it have been wounded, run away and died of shock, slowly and painfully?  We will have to wait for a FOI request which asked how many shots were fired, and how many animal carcasses were removed.

These deer were nearly tame; people who stay in the nearby caravans advise they had fed the deer by hand and grown food specifically for them.  This makes it even more galling that the Risk Assessment provides for putting the carcasses of these much-loved animals into the food chain.  But that is exactly what happened.  In an almost sarcastic turn, the risk assessment covers the point that the man preparing the animals for food might be at risk of cutting himself on his sharp knives, or sprain a muscle moving the dead animals.

For the record, the level of fatal injury to you or I was calculated to be at the lowest level.

It is likely that Ranger Ian Tallboys, staunch supporter of the cull (although he seems never to have formally proposed a cull before the tree scheme became a political promise) did the shooting and the preparing of the carcasses for meat.  He is about the longest-serving ranger I am aware of, and part of the ‘control measures’ were to have an ‘experienced and competent operative’ perform the shooting.

Tallboy’s current silence on the matter is matched only by his silence over building the football stadium at Loirston in the Special Areas of Conservation area, and the silence of Aileen Malone post election.  Malone was the main proponent of the scheme, often claiming it was ‘cost neutral’ – a claim now completely debunked.

Another person responsible for the whole scheme is Peter Leonard, city council officer, whose original report to the Housing & Environment Committee was the death knell for the deer.  The contents of his report need some urgent investigation; claims of ‘cost neutral’ planting, advice against tree guards, etc. etc. have been shown to be inaccurate if not misleading.

  Only a proper investigation will get to the bottom of the genesis and management of this unwanted, unprofitable, destructive scheme

There are now the correct size tree guards in place – the City initially bought smaller than recommended guards.

Furthermore, the SNH and the City corresponded saying tree guards were unsuitable as they had ‘visual impact’.

What has changed?

Leonard also seems to have had a hand in the disappearance of  Councillor Cooney’s paper on keeping Tullos as a meadowland; Leonard is on record as saying that the meadow would be more expensive than imposing an 89,000 tree forest and killing the deer:  how exactly he reached this conclusion will be interesting to determine; he should be invited to explain how and when his research reached this conclusion, how he reached conclusions in his original report which now seem incorrect, and whether or not he had a hand in Cooney’s paper disappearing from sight.

The actions of some of our officers and unelected city employees seem to have fallen unfailingly into the plans of the Liberal Democrats.

Only a proper investigation will get to the bottom of the genesis and management of this unwanted, unprofitable, destructive scheme, and find out who did / did not overstep the bound of their job, and whether any political (or other) pressure was used to bring us to where we are now.

If you care about the future of Tullos Hill, all of its (remaining) creatures and meadow; if you care about a small minority of persons dictating to thousands who oppose their plans; if you care that tens of thousands of pounds have been spent which could have been better used elsewhere – then please write to your councillors and ask for an inquiry to be held.

The deer are dead – and you and your families were possibly put at risk.  The issues thrown up must be investigated so that there is never a repeat performance.

Nov 082011
 

Issued on behalf of Nestrans by The BIG Partnership. With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

Nestrans, the statutory regional transport partnership for the North-east of Scotland, has written to the Department of Transport (DfT) as part of the UK Government’s aviation consultation and in response to questions posed by the DfT in its scoping document looking to develop a sustainable framework for UK aviation.

Chair of Nestrans Ian Yuill believes any future air travel policy implemented by the European Union, which is currently considering changes to the landing slot rules, has the potential to make a hugely significant impact, both positive and negative.

“In what was a fairly detailed response, we have highlighted the impact aviation has on our economy and the impact of our economy in the north east on the UK economy as well as the different impacts of aviation for the peripheral regions of the UK compared to the more central areas where surface transport is a viable option.

“While we welcome the proposed introduction of High Speed Rail to central Scotland, it is not, and never will be, viable to extend it to the North east and therefore it is absolutely crucial that existing air links between ourselves and Heathrow are protected. As a region, our economy is dependent on international travel and the logical hub to achieve this is Heathrow.

“Within our submission, we have included many key statistics including the fact the percentage of Scotland’s air traffic through Aberdeen is 13.3% for a population catchment of 8.9% while the proportion of business travellers is 56% compared to 30% for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“The link between Aberdeen Airport and Heathrow is particularly important in several ways, including access to other parts of organisations, particularly headquarters functions, for inward investors; access to markets for indigenous companies and for inward investors seeking to use a region as a base of operations within a world area; access to suppliers of goods and services from around the world and access to knowledge partners and complementary businesses.

“The recent news that BA is set to purchase BMI, and the likely resultant consolidation of services only highlights the need to be able to protect the current BA service of six rotations each weekday between Aberdeen and Heathrow and we are sincerely hoping this is given due and proper consideration by the Government as part of this consultation which will impact future air policy.”

The EU is currently considering the European regulations separately from the UK policy consultation and any UK policy developed will have to suit any amended EU rule. 

Dec 102010
 

With Thanks To Clare Rochford.

Aberdeen City Council are due to meet on 15th December to discuss ceasing or reducing the Fairer Scotland Fund. The purpose of the fund is to tackle individual poverty and multiple deprivation, and should either of these options be exercised, this will have a significant impact on minority groups and communities in the city.

‘All new functions, policies and procedures should go through the EHRIA process’ (see Appendix 1)

In advance of these scheduled discussions, ACC Equalities Team have, in accordance with their duty to ‘carry out our Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments (EHRIAs) early on in our budget setting process so that elected members are aware of any potential negative impacts of budget decisions on the equality groups’, have prepared the necessary documents.

According to Impact Assessment in relation the cessation of the fund: (see Appendix 3)

  • ‘Support to get people into employment would cease. This would affect those furthest from the job market, including specialist support for race, disability, older, younger and gender groups.
  • ‘Financial Inclusion support, including Credit Union support, money advice and income maximisation, would cease affecting those in poverty.
  • ‘Health initiatives would cease, affecting access to mental health and wellbeing services for those in poverty.
  • ‘A range of educational and cultural activities would cease affecting older, younger, gender and associated poverty groups.
  • ‘Youth work in disadvantaged communities would cease affecting younger and youth poverty groups.
  • ‘Neighbourhood improvements and community safety initiatives aimed at improving quality of life in disadvantaged communities would cease thereby affecting people living in poverty.’

These proposals, and their potential fallout also appear to be at odds with the Council’s Single Equality Scheme 2009 – 2012.

‘This Single Equality Scheme and its accompanying action plan builds on a wide range of work carried out by Council services to promote diversity and equality. The Scheme sets out how we will fulfill our legal duties in terms of the Race, Disability and Gender Equality strands and identifies arrangements, which go beyond current challenges of legislative requirements, embracing the strands of age, faith/ religion/ belief and sexual orientation.’(see Appendix 2)

the staffing implications fall hardest on women in employment

Having observed that there appear to be only negative outcomes for groups such as older persons, younger persons, and those financially disadvantaged, there is surely a strong case for councillors to reject the proposals on 15th December.

In a separate impact assessment – this time regarding staffing implications of reducing the council’s workforce, a disproportionate negative effect on female employees is identified (see Appendix 4):

‘Due to the impact of one proposal (given the gender profile of the workforce) which proposes a 50% reduction in Pupil Support Arrangements, the staffing implications fall hardest on women in employment.’

‘The proposal to reduce the number of Pupil Support Assistant’s (PSAs) by 50% will seriously affect this one job title, which is almost exclusively undertaken by women. The option, if accepted, would result in those employed either being redeployed or made redundant.’ In the High Court in London on Monday the Fawcett Society brought a case against the Government’s Budget cuts which will hit women far harder than men, as women account for 65% of all public sector employment and were more likely to be affected by pay freezes and job losses.

Campaigners say ministers are legally obliged to carry out an equality impact assessment before taking policy decisions and, where this reveals a risk of discrimination, to take urgent action.

Taking all of this into account, it would seem that there is a strong case for councillors to take the findings of these Impact Assessments very seriously and reject the proposal to reduce the number of PSAs, as this will not only have a disproportionately negative impact on women, but also the pupils most in need of this kind of support.

We wait and wonder.

(Appendix1) http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/nmsruntime/saveasdialog.asp?lID=21290&sID=14152 (Page 5)

(Appendix2) http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/EqualityDiversity/eqd/eqd_sigle_equality_scheme.asp

(Appendix3) http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/web/files/ehrias/4d_%20Cease%20Fairer%20Scotland%20Fund_24-11-10.pdf

(Appendix4) http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/web/files/ehrias/4c_Staffing%20Implications_25-11-10.pdf