Nov 152011

With thanks to Bex Holmes.

Aberdeen was one of five locations across Scotland where the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) shot a series of short films to show what humanists believe.
The films cover a wide range of important moral issues, including physician-assisted suicide, sectarianism and same-sex marriage and feature more than fifty people – from 10-year-old Mellin Buchanan (Thurso) to 81-year-old Margaret Ferguson (Inverness).

The films can be viewed at the society’s H Factor campaign site where they can also be downloaded and shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Among the contributions in the film on humanism, Alex (Edinburgh) says:

“As far as I am aware, no humanist has ever killed anyone because of their beliefs”.

Among those commenting on physician-assisted suicide Catriona (Aberdeen) says movingly:

“We had to watch my granny die over a period of months, in pain, and wasting away in front of us when she’d told me years ago she’d had a great life and she was ready to go. Why can’t we afford people the same compassion that we show to our animals?”

HSS Convenor Les Mitchell says:

“We’re delighted with the H Factor films.  They show that humanists are deeply committed to making the world a better place.  Humanism is becoming daily more familiar in Scotland.  But, although our ceremonies grow ever more popular, very few people actually know what humanists believe.  In these films they can see for themselves and many of them may realise that, without knowing it, they’ve been humanists all their lives.”

The HSS is also inviting members of the public to win £1,000 by creating a new slogan for the society in an online competition hosted at the H Factor site.

Humanist weddings were made legal in Scotland in June 2005.  In 2010 there were 2092 weddings led by Humanist celebrant, compared to 1776 Catholic weddings, making Humanist weddings the third most popular form of marriage in Scotland [after Registrars and Church of Scotland ].

The Humanist Society Scotland is a charity founded in 1989 and currently has more than 7,000 members.   Christopher Brookmyre is its president and distinguished supporters include Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, Professor James Lovelock and the novelist Iain Banks.

The Society aims to represent those in Scotland who choose to live a moral life without religion. We have a network of trained Celebrants who carry out non-religious ceremonies such as funerals, weddings, baby-namings etc.

For further information please contact:
Tim Maguire, HSS Media Officer
Tel. 0131 556 0128 or 07770 555 224

Aberdeen Group  Main Contact:
Marion Richardson, Secretary
Tel: 01888 562 237

Jul 222011

Last week in the first of this two part investigation, Suzanne Kelly described how The City Council and its officials were dealing with the Tullos Hill roe deer cull and tree-planting issues. Part 1 also covered the decades of arson on ‘The Gramps’, the excellent quality of Tullos Hill as it is, local community councils’ opposition to the cull, and the considerable public anger at the City’s refusal to even consider modifying its plans.

The hill itself is a wildlife haven; the very important gorse providing homes to bees and birds.  There are fields of wildflowers (the spectacular Dame’s Violets for instance), and it is a recreation area.

This is why our City Council – as a LibDem election pledge – want to turn it into some gargantuan 40,000-tree profit-making (ie lumber-producing) forest.

We now look at other important aspects of this issue, challenge the government to comment, and propose some actions.

The Gorse is always Greener

‘Kissing is out of fashion when the gorse is not in bloom’ goes an old saying – based on the fact gorse virtually always has blossoms.  This is an extremely useful plant for bees.  If you’ve not been made aware, bee populations around the world are in serious trouble.

As long as we still want our plants to be pollinated so we keep eating, we are well advised to do all we can to encourage bees.  My research leads me to conclude that gorse is far better for bees and several other species than trees are (particularly trees which will be cut down for profit when the Council chooses).

Don’t take my word for the importance of gorse.  Do take Dr. Ian Rotherham’s word:-

“Gorse is an incredibly valuable habitat for wildlife – supporting a diversity of invertebrates and many birds and mammals. It provides dense cover plus abundant nesting sites, invertebrate food associated with the gorse, and of course the blaze of flowers during much of the year. Butterflies, bees, hoverflies, spiders, badgers, whinchats, stonechats, yellowhammers, chaffinches, linnets, greenfinches, meadow pipits and skylarks for example, all thrive in gorse-rich areas.

“As the biomass of gorse builds up it loses vigour and beings to die back. If there is a fire then the gorse is reduced to ground level and will quickly regenerate for the next 30-40 years or so. Clearly fire risk can be a problem but not for the gorse or the associated wildlife (except at the immediate time of a conflagration).

“Cyclical cutting of gorse, grazing, and cutting of fire-breaks are positive ways to reduce risk and damage but to maintain what is a rich but often unappreciated wildlife habitat. The establishment of a friends group to watch over the area would also help reduce risk. The gorse in bloom is also a wonderful landscape feature. A plantation wood does not provide a biodiversity resource or a landscape feature to match this. Trees are often planted at the expense of the wildlife habitats and landscape features because of the misconception that they are inherently better for wildlife – which they are not – and because money is available as grants to do this.”

(  Dr  Rotherham is a Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change, International Research Coordinator, associated with universities around the world. He is editor of several important academic publications including International Journal of Urban Forestry, Journal of Practical Ecology & Conservation, and International Urban Ecology Review )

I would be interested to hear from any City Council officer, ranger or pro -Tullos Hill tree plantation consultant wishing to comment on Dr Rotherham’s statement. 

In the meantime, Ian Talboys, Countryside Ranger for Aberdeen wrote to me on 6 June:-

“The amount of gorse on the site will be substantially reduced to make way for the tree planting
which again reduces the risk of wilful fires”.

Why should a countryside ranger particularly be keen to change an ecosystem such as  Tullos to a profit-making, lumber-producing forest?  Where is the evidence that replacing gorse with saplings and trees will reduce wilful fire risk?

City  Council ‘austerity’ and ‘budget’ cuts

I spoke to a person connected to the countryside services for the Council.  They advised me that like virtually every branch of our local government, they are now expected to find income streams and do all they can to make money.

It is not enough that our environment is under threat from over-development, pollution and loss of biodiversity – our environmental conservation activities are supposed to make money for the City.  Would our rangers’ time be better served in patrolling the fire-prone areas, educating people and engaging in active conservation, or are we asking them to look for grants such as the tree-planting ones and to make money at all costs?

If I get an answer to this question, I will share it with you.  Again, I invite comment from the City.

I still await a reply as to how this timber business is going to be set up, and for a copy of the business plan.  Should any of this information ever be forthcoming from our elected officials, I will share it with you.  Again, should any City proponents of the scheme like to come forward and (finally) explain how the timber business will work, I invite them to do so.

It has just been announced that despite negotiations with Unions being incomplete, the City has signed an agreement with external consultants to make £120 million worth of budget savings over a five-year period (cost of these consultants has been estimated at between £500k to £600k).  Perhaps they will have their own opinion as to the viability of a timber business venture on an arson hotspot which has already resulted in the City returning £43,800 to the Forestry Commission…

Failed Tree Planting, Failed Open Government, Failed Freedom of Information Requests

In a ten-point complaint I clearly asked for clarification of a £44,000 debt for a failed tree plantation which I had heard of.  The City’s Chief Executive Valerie Watts wrote in early June to deny any money was owed.

Proof that this payment was made was given to me almost immediately  after Watts’ denial – but as of 21 July,Wattshas not explained the failure to disclose the repayment.

The proof is a letter the Forestry Commission sent to the City earlier this year which was copied to Ian Talboys.  The question is whether Watts knew of the letter when she wrote to me or not.  Until she explains her answer, the whole planting programme should be put on hold.  It is not just returning money for the past failure (we had to pay interest) but the implications for this new planting that need to be considered, which could be significant for the cash-strapped council’s taxpayers.

Watts was made aware of this repayment by me, and possibly earlier by others.  What is beyond the pale is that Freedom of information Officers continued for some weeks afterward to advise that no debt was owed.  All of the requests I have seen referenced the £44k figure; mine specifically asked for clarification of the matter.

If the City tries to use the excuse that since the debt was paid in March and the questions arrived in June, then that would be the most disingenuous logic coming from Town Hall in memory.  I am sure it is beyond the Council’s lowest standard to try and make pretence of using such a childish defence.  When we will get the truth is crucial – they must not be allowed to stall this matter until cull season opens.  If anyone trying to prevent the cull could ask their elected officials to have these issues addressed and investigated fully as an urgent matter, it will help.  I have asked the FOI office to explain whether or not it discovered this letter in its search to answer my question.  I have asked it to advise whether or not it made a deliberate decision to not disclose this letter.  I await the outcome of the investigation.

Yet another Freedom of Information anomaly exists regarding Grampian Fire.

Fire power

The previous article covered the problems of arson.  Confusion emerges as to the number of fires.  There was a FOI request response from Grampian Fire which shows a nominal number of deliberate fires.  At the time of writing I await permission to share or reproduce these figures, as they are apparently ‘copyright’.  I have officially applied to print them, but cannot do so until Grampian Fire’s officials approve my written request.

However I came across an internet document which shows a rather different, substantially higher number of fires than the FOI request revealed, entitled  ‘Grampian Fire and Rescue Service Category 2 – Advancing Community and Citizen Well-being’ .  This document states there were over 70 fires for 2006, and claims the figures were going down; it had partial 2008 figures and said only 11 fires started that year.  It is worth mentioning that there have been at least half a dozen fires in the Gramps since May of this year.  In any event, the paper’s numbers are not the same as the recently supplied figures, which are lower.

I will try to discover an explanation for the discrepancy, and will cover whatever explanation Grampian Fire sends in another article. Both email addresses for the FOI officer and the above paper’s writer are at the address ‘’, which leads me to conclude the same organisation might be responsible for distributing contradictory figures.

I add this to the ever growing list of things I am trying to discover, and yet all the while a cull remains the City’s goal, and the clock is ticking.

SNH – Natural Heritage as long as it’s not inconvenient

Scottish Natural History have been taking great pains to gain media coverage recently (BBC and local press), saying in effect that deer are great, but to stop them being killed in road accidents and over-populating, they have to be ‘managed.’  They launched a consultation, which many animal groups felt had a strong bias towards hunting and culling red deer and roe deer equally.  First, what kind of animal are we talking about exactly?

What are roe deer?

Recognition: Small deer, reddish brown in summer, grey in winter. Males have short antlers, erect with no more than three points.

Height: Average height at shoulder 60-75cm (that is less than 3 foot tall). Males slightly larger than females.

Weight: Adults 10-25kg

Lifespan: The maximum age recorded for wild roe is 16 years, but most die before 7 years.

Diet: Their diet is varied and includes buds and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, bramble, rose, ivy, herbs, conifers, ferns, heather and grasses.

By permission, the Mammal Society,

So in short these tiny creatures, of which we seemingly have 30 on Tullos Hill alone jeopardise a 40,00 tree plantation.  (The Council has made absolutely no mention of how they will tackle the weed problem cited by the Forestry Commission as a partial reason for the previous expensive failure – again, I have asked for this information with no reply).

Glasgow has made a strong statement against these types of culls which can be found at:  and the relevant section starts on page 5.”

Here are some relevant extracts:-

“….collaborative deer management is not necessary for Roe deer in urban environments as there is no scientific justification for this.

2.4 There is no mention of the positive role of wild deer on natural habitats. Large herbivores help to create and retain glades and rides within woodlands, which provide habitat for a range of other species.

2.5 This section of the Bill has the potential to perpetuate and reinforce the perception of deer as pest species. Whilst this will promote the interests of a minority who have a vested interest in deer management principally through culling, it goes against the reason for the inclusion of native wild deer on the Scottish Biodiversity List, Le. the appreciation of these animals by the general public who wish to see them left unharmed.

2.6 Glasgow City Council believes that this section in its present form promotes an unbalanced view of the rationale behind deer management, whilst acknowledging that there is scientific justification for the management of red deer in parts of the Highlands.

Deer in Scotland – General Comments.

2.7 GCC object to the blanket statement that ‘Deer therefore need to be managed … ‘ for the following reasons:

• The terms manage/managed/management are not defined but appear to relate to culling deer, which is not the usual definition of management. This needs to be clarified.

• If the above is the case, then deer do not always require to be culled because in some areas an increase in population size could be beneficial.

•Red Deer and Roe Deer are quite different animals not only in size but also in habits etc. Why are they covered by one piece of legislation and why do they both have to be managed?”

The various animal charities I’ve communicated with all remain against this cull and have their own experts who explain the flaws in the entire premise.

Can we have some urban trees please?

A personal observation.  The section of Aberdeen I live in, Torry, has fewer trees on its main streets than any other part of the world I’ve lived in, city or suburb.  The streets are however covered with cars and trucks 24/7, and the exhaust fumes have air quality implications.

A few trees would do a good deal to clean the air.  It would be costly and difficult to plant and protect them.  But it would not be impossible.  We know from the Council’s websites that parts of Aberdeen (Wellington Road in particular) have serious air pollution issues.  We also know trees help reduce vehicular pollution.  In the course of my research I learned that the indigenous fir trees for the Grampian area have been greatly depleted over time – yet there is no plan to replace these native species.

Conclusion:  Stop this destructive, unwanted plan now and cancel any deer cull.  Plant fewer trees.  Plant in other locations

Unanswered questions
  • Regarding the business plan for the proposed forest.  How much will it make?  How disruptive would this plantation be to the area residents and businesses? 
  • Why does the City insist only a ‘minority’ of people are against this cull when elected bodies have objected on behalf of their communities?   If the Community Councils are lining up against this scheme – which started life as a Liberal Democrat election pledge – is it not just time to dump it?
  • Why didn’t the City disclose the £43,800 failure when asked to clarify whether a £44,000 debt existed?  
  • As the failure was due to deer and weeds – what are we doing about the weeds?  What kinds of pesticides will be used?  What are the risks and implications?
  • If the scheme is ‘cost neutral’ – who exactly pays the (low-seeming) estimate of some £2,500 per year for ten years to shoot the deer?
  • Have council employees been discouraged from expressing opinions against the cull? (My sources tell me this is the case).
  • Why take the scheme up at all if it must be done at the lowest cost – which is shooting the deer?  Who is hold a gun to the City’s head and forcing it to change Tullos Hill into something it is not?  What is the reluctance to just stop this scheme now?  Has the City made any effort at all to get sponsors to pay for the non-lethal options?  (Note: BAA and Wood Group have contributed for the phase 1 scheme – neither seem keen to be associated with this deer-culling phase 2.  Concerned people may wish to contact these and other companies to state opposition to phase 2).
  • What are the real arson risks once a forest is established on this windy hill (if indeed it is not too windy for trees to be established in great number)?   Is it possible the situation could be as severe a problem as the forest fires that plague the US and Europe?  What are the correct figures for the arson attacks?
A final summary

Last week a media contact asked me to supply the statement below, which sums up my conclusions and reflects the opinions of the vast majority of the people I have spoken with:-

The public have in no way given up on stopping the deer cull on Tullos Hill. Tullos is an important and beautiful ecosystem as it is, and the deer population has been stable for many years.   

Putting up signs to warn motorists that deer are in the area is sensible; putting 40,000 trees on this arson hotspot is not sensible.  Four Community Councils have told the Council they do not want the trees if it means a cull – these elected councils represent thousands of people. 

The City had to repay £43,800 for a planting on Tullos that failed due to deer browsing AND weeds.  The City initially omitted this when I asked for clarification- and I patiently await sensible answers to this and other questions. The tree planting was a Liberal Democrat election promise – it is amusing that it is this unpopular promise they are so stubborn about keeping. 

Finally, Peter Leonard has written to say that the Community Councils don’t understand the issues and they only know what they got from the media.  I find his remarks unbelievably patronising and insulting, particularly when it was down to the Council to communicate the details of its scheme in the first place. 

The Council kept the deer cull out of the phase 2 public consultation and is now claiming people don’t have the facts.  This is wholly unacceptable, and I am pleased that my sources tell me there is a great deal of unrest, with an official calling the situation ‘a hot potato’. 

Unfortunately the lack of timely, sensible answers looks to many people as if the City is stalling and hopes to get away with a cull.  There will be no cull without repercussions at the ballot box in May.

I am creating a presentation to give to any community council that wants it, particularly aimed at those councils which will have the City’s experts present their side.  Direct action is being considered by some animal rights/concern groups.

If you have any feelings one way or the other, then I urge you to contact your elected representatives (you may also wish to contact Scottish Representatives Roseanna Cunningham and Stewart Stevenson who are backing the proposal). 

Good luck to the roe deer and the wishes of the people of Aberdeen in the face of our government.

 Image Credit: Roe Deer Standing Still © Catalin Pobega |

Jul 152011

In the first of two parts, Suzanne Kelly offers an update into what is and is not happening on the hill.

There may have not been much about the controversial Tullos Hill Roe Deer Cull in the media of late; therefore it’s time for an update.

The relative quiet in the media is not for lack of investigation, protest and anger on the community’s part.

As for the City and its LibDem councillors and officials, they are either spreading incorrect information (denying the past failure and £44k debt which resulted), or not answering questions at all (I eagerly await overdue answers on a number of fronts).

The question is:  are they trying to stall a proper investigation until they start shooting in September?  It looks as if stalling might indeed be their strategy.

There are so many outstanding issues, questions and problems with the Tullos Hill deer cull that this article needs to be split into two parts.  This part will look at the location chosen for the trees, Community Council’s stances and the small matter of arson.

Next week will cover issues including the SNH, the unanswered Freedom of Information requests and formal complaints, the importance of the gorse-covered hill as it exists (an expert writes), and the curious case of the £43,800 Forestry Commission ‘repayment.’  This repayment  Ms Watts either forgot about or didn’t know about when last she wrote to me.

Interestingly, Freedom of Information requests on this point are still being answered that no such debt exists. 

Either the council is being very very accurate (the debt was repaid late this March, but it most definitely existed), or someone was keen to keep the repayment quiet.  If so, they failed just as they failed in their bid to keep the cull quiet).

Before we get into the details, a small ray of hope: unnamed sources confirm that there is unease within the corridors of power over this ridiculous plan, with officials calling the situation ‘a hot potato’ and a ‘can of worms’.  Take heart from that, but please continue reading this article.

If at the end of it you decide you don’t want the cull, then write to your elected officials and Aberdeen City Chief Executive Valerie Watts, making it clear you will vote against anyone in May who has voted for this cull.


Deer have lived in relative security (bar the arsonists and Aileen Malone) on Tullos Hill for many decades; they delight the residents of Torry and Kincorth as well as people visiting from further afield. 

The hill is a wildlife haven as it is with the very important gorse providing homes to bees and birds, fields of wildflowers (the spectacular Dame’s Violets for instance).

It has bronze age cairns set dramatically on its summit (currently un-obscured by trees), and it is a recreation area.  This is why our City Council – as a LibDem election pledge – want to turn it into some gargantuan 40,000-tree profit-making (i.e. lumber-producing) forest.

Of all the Liberal Democrat promises, killing the deer and planting the trees is about the only one in the UK they are adamant about sticking to.

They told the community councils and the public at large what a great thing this forest would be – but as previously demonstrated, they and SNH deliberately sought to keep a cull of the Tullos Hill roe deer secret.  Without a cull, there is no money for planting all these trees (although we could have had experts advising us – for free – how to plant trees without culling deer:  it just would have cost money).  Why then we are insisting on a forest of this size or a forest at all, and why on Tullos Hill?

Location, Location, Location

If we accept without question that trees must be planted because we can get grants for doing so as long as they reach growth targets, then where to put them? 

The easily-accessible Loirston Loch greenbelt area has several young trees on it – all in tree protector sleeves (the same sleeves which the SNH November letter tells us are rejected because they have ‘visual impact’ among other reasons – someone at ACC took this decision to reject tree protectors for us all with no recourse to the public or local councils).  There was a splendidly suitable area for these trees – but we are putting a football / community stadium on this piece of ground now.

This virtually flat land is easily reached by car (Tullos at present has no parking and is mainly reached by several footpaths), is not on a windswept hill, and is not as remote as Tullos – therefore less desirable to arsonists.  It is a largely open field with grasses and some vegetation in very moist, nearly marshy ground.

Loirston was not the only option either.  But this is Aberdeen:   Tullos Hill is apparently the only choice we have, according to our Council.  They are happy to sacrifice greenbelt at Loirston and elsewhere for stadiums, offices and housing – but are adamant that an existing, stable ecosystem must become a forest:  and they will not answer us why.

Fire on the Mountain

For all the City rangers’ and Grampian Fire’s attempts to be ‘down with the kids’, the arson issue remains the burning question:  why put 40,000  young trees on a windswept hill with access issues which is next to settlements and industry when we can’t keep the arsonists out?

Ranger Ian Talboys is at pains to play down the arson issue.   In an email to myself, 6 June 2011 he states:

“As the trees to be planted are mainly broadleaved species which do not readily burn in the way gorse does the risk of fire is reduced.   The conifers in the scheme will be mixed in with the broadleaved species again reducing the risk of large scale fire damage….. The recent statistics have shown a substantial reduction in wilful fire raising on the site, despite the recent incidents.

“It is however encouraging that the Police have charged a number of youths in connection with these fires as a result of intelligence gained from the local community and following the work we have been doing with the local schools over the last 5 years.  In the last couple of years there have been very few fires on Tullos Hill, a total of some 11 fires were reported for 2010 on Kincorth Hill and Tullos Hill combined….”

Mr Talboys also talks about getting rid of the gorse, which:

“reduces the risk of wilful fires”

Gorse is a vital part of the ecosystem, particularly on Tullos Hill which we will look at later.  However it is disappointing that the attitude is to get rid of a natural feature which supports wildlife because it is more flammable (allegedly) than trees – rather than to simply stop the arsonists.

Who are the arsonists, and is Talboys right that the fires are decreasing?  So far this year there have been at least a dozen fires.  Two men aged 27 and 23 are being charged with starting fires on 3 July:  so much for the idea of stopping the schoolchildren starting fires, which is the strategy Talboys promotes.

American studies identify half a dozen types of arsonists; these two would fit into the ‘excitement-motivated’ arson category, often men between 18-30.  Blaming children was the favourite option; it is now discredited.  The Council may wish to do more research on this one.

You may be interested to know that Talboy’s figures are slightly at odds with figures supplied by Grampian Fire.  Then again, media reports would seem to say there have been more fires than either of these sources.  I would love to tell you what Grampian Fire had to say:  but they have qualified that their statistics are subject to copyright and are for personal use and not publication!  I await clarification and will report once they explain themselves.

At least someone in power loves Tullos.  When the fires were blazing in May of this year, Fraser Burr of Grampian Fire (Risk Reduction) told the BBC:

“It would be a shame to see such a beautiful area of the city, enjoyed by hundreds throughout the year, ruined by wilful fire raising”. – (BBC News 22 May 2011)

I spoke to a New York-based former fire department captain; he seriously disputes Talboy’s contention that young or mature trees are relatively safe from fire. California for one example habitually fights forest fires that are vast in area; the size of the trees makes the fire considerably more dangerous than a few burning gorse bushes.  Wind makes the problem far worse.

Fact:  Tullos Hill is extremely windy at times.  People often need to be evacuated from their homes when the fires rage (also seen in Europe) – who will promise this will not happen here with 40,000 trees virtually on top of residential and industrial areas as Tullos is?  My fire-fighter source said ‘there is no magic plant that doesn’t burn’.

He also posed a hypothetical question and asked me why these people are so fixed on planting these trees in this location.  I have asked, but I have no answer.  He then jokingly said ‘who’s getting kickback?’  We both laughed.

Your Community Councils at work

When the truth came out about the secret cull plans, community councils and citizens (in their thousands) condemned the plan and the way the City handled the public ‘phase 2’ consultation.  How did your local community council react?

I am writing this piece on the 13th of July.  The Minute of the Housing & Environment Committee meeting of May 10 is still not available on the Council’s website a mere 2 months after the fact.  It was at this meeting that Andy Finlayson and I had both put in delegations to speak about the deer cull and Tullos Hill, for all the reasons that had emerged since the cull was first brought up.

It was because there was no written report on the deer – only a verbal one which had been requested by Malone – that we were not automatically allowed to speak.  Abuse of process springs to mind.  In the event, the matter of our delegations was put to a vote and only a handful of councillors supported letting the truth be heard.

I have been waiting to check the accuracy of these Minutes; for one thing I admit I got confused as to whether Andy Finlayson was from Nigg or rather from Cove (which I now understand to be the truth).  Finlayson was the other would-be speaker.  Maybe after another two months have passed, the Minutes will be published and I can double-check this point.

But take note:  in another two months it will be the season for the cull:  could our City be deliberately stalling us until it is too late for the deer?

Community Councils are your elected local representatives.  The City has a duty to consult with them on local issues – something sadly lacking on this issue, let alone the massive Loirston AFC football ground which will fragment the greenbelt.  Nigg CC is very busy with this important issue.

The City is not consulting, and it is certainly not listening.  Here are what the Councils are saying – how did yours react?

Kincorth (population 8,300) –  ‘Abhorrence’

Kincorth Community Council resolved at its May 2011 meeting:

“Item 10.1 The City Council has agreed to the killing of the deer on Tullos Hill but have stated it will be done as humanely as possible. The Chair asked the Secretary to write indication our abhorrence at this decision”.

Kincorth spokesperson Graham Bennett, quoted in the Press & Journal, 13 May:

“We are all united.  We deplore the willingness of the City Council to cull the deer.  We all agreed we didn’t want a tree planted for every citizen.  These are defenceless animals.  We would rather do without the trees and have the deer.”

I spoke to a member of Kincorth CC; they are all outraged and want the hill to remain as it is, with the deer continuing to live there.  My contact cites the fact that the ‘phase 2 consultation’ said nothing about the deer cull, yet mentioned rabbit fencing.

This is one of the strongest points of contention – the public and community councils were deliberately kept in the dark about the deer cull.  This is proved clearly in the 25 November letter the SNH sent to the City Council, stating the need to ‘manage’ the public over the cull.

It seems SNH are fully aware that culling these animals in general is an issue – but to kill animals in order to protect non-existent trees is ‘abhorrent’.  (More about the SNH and its recent deer consultation next week).  The word ‘abhorrent’ is also how the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals and Kincorth Community Council describe this LibDem plan.

Torry  (population c 9,400) –  Unanimous condemnation of the cull

Torry Community Council allowed me to speak at its meeting in May on the cull; they had been informed about the trees in some detail – minus the crucial detail of the deer cull.  

The 14 members present voted unanimously to condemn the cull and to write to the City to protest the cull and the lack of consultation.  Talboys specifically communicated with Torry about the trees, without ever mentioning a deer cull.

To put it mildly, the Council and the residents of Torry are Not Happy.

Cove & Altens (population 7,100) –  Chairman gagged by Malone

On 10th May Cove’s Chairman Andy Finlayson attempted to address the Housing & Environment Committee over the cull and all the issues which had arisen (lack of consultation with CCs, no reference made in the public consultation documents, etc.).

Aileen Malone initially referred to him as the ‘gentleman from Cove Community Centre’ as opposed to his status as duly-elected Council member.  On the technicality of there being no written report on the deer – only a verbal one – Cove’s representative was unable to raise the many points which the Council had kept out of the public domain which were relevant to the tree scheme.

“We are totally against it, basically… the community council is unanimous and everyone in the area we speak to is against it…the message is, stuff the trees – we would rather have the deer.” – Andy Finlayson, Chair, Cove & Altens CC, Press & Journal 13 May 2011

Nigg  (population 8,200)  – a history of concern for animal welfare

I think the majority of the Community Council are against it (the cull)” – James Brownhill, Nigg CC – Press & Journal, 13 May 2011

Nigg is committed to preserving its greenbelt land as its actions and its website attest.  It is doing all it can to stop the ridiculous AFC stadium plans which will see a 21,000 seat stadium plunked in the middle of the greenbelt to its permanent injury.  A year ago, the Nigg Community Council April Minutes had this entry:

“Lochinch Visitors Centre Deer-  thanks to activity of Cllr Cooney, Nigg CC, Jenny Gall and Vivienne McCulloch, deer had been saved from culling and will live out their lives in their current (but reduced) enclosure.”

Before the furore broke out over Tullos Hill, Councillor Neil Cooney and others from Nigg were already going to bat against needless slaughter of our indigenous animals when tame deer were earmarked for needless slaughter.

One year later at its 14 April 2011 meeting, Nigg CC resolved:

“Proposed Deer Cull Tullos Hill – Majority against proposal. Lack of deer management policy holding up planting of trees under ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme.”

Nigg’s Council met again on 12 May 2011 after the Housing Committee’s undemocratic debacle over the deer and would-be speakers.  Nigg’s minutes read:

“Proposed Deer Cull Tullos Hill. Decision to cull deer city-wide approved by ACC Councillors. SNH recommended cull to save deer from starvation. Nigg CC still not happy with this decision”.

I disagree with the comment about starvation, and wonder if SNH have actually said the deer at Tullos will starve – they are in no present danger of that as things stand.  But this is a very minor point concerning the minutes.  When it comes to accuracy in Minute taking, Cults has managed to create an interesting document indeed.

Cults:  (population 10,824)  – An important debate with Cllr Aileen Malone

I spoke to Cults Bieldside Milltimber Community Council on 26 May where Aileen Malone and I finally had the debate she had so far resisted (again, she would not let me speak to the Housing committee which she convenes; and she was too busy one Sunday morning in May to spare 20 minutes to debate the issue with me on Northsound).

In my initial request to speak to Cults, I sent them newspaper cuttings that Torry, Kincorth, Nigg and Cove & Altens Community Councils were opposed to the scheme, as well as the Scottish SPCA.  I sent them articles on the SNH letter which shows the City wanted to keep the cull quiet.  In these circumstances I was asking Cults CC to let me address its May meeting and specifically to follow suit.

The community council meeting that ensued was interesting (and heated) on several points.  Mike Shepherd of Friends of Union Terrace Gardens was there to discuss the future of the gardens, and Aileen Malone stated that there would definitely be a public vote on whether to go ahead with any scheme for Union Terrace Gardens.

At my request she repeated this was the truth, and that the only question unresolved was whether residents in the shire as well as the city would get a vote.

I wrote an article on this Cults BM CC meeting.  I wrote it that night and the next day with my own shorthand notes taken on the night (amongst other things, I have been a secretary minuting meetings for some 25 years, and like to think I have some skill and experience in this area).

My notes reflect that Cults BM CC was going to write to Aberdeen City Council to express a position opposed to the Tullos Cull; I asked the secretary on the night if I could have a copy of any letter they sent; the secretary agreed.
See: you’re-shooting-yourself-in-the-foot-cults-cc-tells-malone

This is what came out in the Cults BM CC Minutes for that meeting:

“Tullos Hill Deer Cull (Peter Reiss)

The Community Council had been made aware of resentment in parts of the city towards the plans to cull some of the local roe deer, seemingly triggered by the need to limit damage to new trees to be planted on Tullos Hill. Suzanne Kelly a Torry resident had written to CBMCC to ask if the CC would take a position on this matter.

In discussion the following points were made:

– The tree planting drive is an election commitment of the current LibDem administration

– Funding from EU and other sources requires best practice and best value for money.

– Due to problems with earlier plantings, City will not get any more funding for tree planting unless a robust roe deer management programme is in place,

– Deer have no natural predators in Scotland. Aberdeenshire, Moray and private estates have a deer cull policy in place. Aberdeen City has management programmes for several other wild animals – e.g., rabbits – but not one for deer.

– A management programme that includes an annual deer cull of about 30 animals has been agreed recently by the City’s Environment Committee. This is a city wide programme but will help to reduce damage to new plantings in Tullos  where some 10 to 15 deer will be culled.

– Objectors say that there has been insufficient consultation on this programme. They would prefer fencing or other positive tree protection rather than killing deer. They are extremely unhappy about the Committee’s request to them to raise £225 000 for 10 years deer fencing as there is no council money to pay for that alternative.

The CC resolved that the deer culling policy appears to be a separate issue not just related to the planting of trees.

Post –meeting note: City tree specialists have been invited to speak in the next community council meeting.”

(Cults Bieldside Milltimber Community Council Minute 26 May 2011)

I have added italics to the excerpt above where the minutes have gone back to repeating verbatim the City Council’s double-speak, sweeping statements about deer culls in general.  Readers of previous stories or Council documents will find a familiar ring to the Cults minutes.

General tree planting issues aside, the Tullos Hill deer have survived in the existing ecosystem – an ecosystem enjoyed by the public as well which the neighbouring Community Councils have clearly said they want kept as is.

I have  also italicised the ‘post meeting note’ wherein someone has invited tree specialists to speak at the June meeting (I would have gone to that had I been informed or had I seen these May minutes in time).  So, without any counterpoint some ‘tree experts’ were called in to explain the City’s perspective on killing deer and planting trees.  Again, who was there to explain all of the issues specific to Tullos?

I will look at those minutes when they are issued.   

It now transpires that Peter Leonard, council officer, is deploying council tree experts to speak to the community councils.  This is what Leonard has to say (I have put the particularly objectionable phrases in bold) in a Freedom of Information Request answer:

The Community Councils who have objected have not been in possession of the full picture of the project, some who have no planting areas within their areas will have had no information about the project from the team delivering the project as there was no requirement to consult on a project that was not within their area.

“Officers from Housing and Environment have offered to attend the community councils who have written in opposing the cull (Kincorth & Leggart and Cults Bieldside and Milltimber, Cove and Altens Community Councils) to present the full picture about The Tree for Every Citizen Project including the deer management proposals so they can make an informed decision.

To date any decision they will have made will have been based on the information published in the media which has not given the full and balanced picture. Officers will be prepared to undertake similar presentations to other community councils covering areas where there are sites proposed for tree planting if invited.”

Personally, I find his comments about the community councils’ decision-making process extremely patronising: how does he know where these elected groups got information from and why does he assume it is only from the media? If people are not in full possession of all the facts this is the Council’s fault – they launched the ‘phase 2 consultation’ over six months ago, and it was a very flawed document. I certainly have been asking for information since then, largely without any real answer.

There is currently no plantation of young trees on Tullos requiring a cull.  The whole point is that there do not need to be this number of trees there, and the local community councils representing some 25,000 people said they do not want the trees.

Attention city officials and councillors:

These two reasons alone should be enough to stop your plans.  But if this is not enough for you, then we will examine your past planting failure and your cavalier attitude towards facts as well as other issues next week. 

Do feel free to weigh in – remember, Aberdeen Voice wants articles from all points of view.  Nothing is stopping you from making your point.


May 272011

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly reports from a dramatic meeting ( 26.05.11 ) of  Cults, Bieldside & Milltimber Community Council she was kindly invited to attend as a guest, and took the opportunity to discuss the roe deer cull  in person with Cllr. Aileen Malone, Convener of the Housing and Environment Committee responsible for the decision.

Lib Dem Councillor Aileen Malone avoided debating with me the Tullos Hill Roe Deer cull she supports  on Northsound 2 a fortnight ago.

She ‘had a prior engagement’ and could not spare 20 minutes over the phone on a Sunday morning to give Aberdeen her reasons for wanting the deer shot.

Cllr. Malone successfully silenced me and the Nigg Community Council representative when we wanted to debate the cull issue at the 10 May Housing & Environment Committee meeting.  We weren’t allowed to speak to the Committee because there was no written report on the cull  – just a verbal report.  It didn’t matter to the Committee (except for four members) that new information had come to light, and the Community Councils wanted to be heard.

After the Housing Committee voted to get on with killing the deer to plant ‘a tree for every citizen,’ Malone told the media she hoped that would be an end to the controversy.  With thousands of petitioners, four protesting community councils, and various animal charities against the cull, this was wishful thinking taken to a new level.
See: Tullos Hill Picnic

I was not alone in making complaints about the handling of the deer cull and tree planting issues to Aberdeen City Council.  It is hoped that any cull will be halted until a proper investigation and a democratic, fully informed debate can be held.  The 10 point report I prepared as a basis for my complaint is attached at the end of this article.  ( click here )

It had been circulated to the members of the Housing Committee and to  Cults, Bieldside & Milltimber Community Council, where Ms Malone is an elected City Councillor.   I told them I would like to attend their next meeting as a guest on this issue, and they kindly invited me along.

Having served as a Community Council member myself, I was not surprised to hear they have some of the same issues I remembered from my days on Torry’s Council – litter, tree pruning, and so on.

I was surprised to find Mike Shepherd, Chair of the Friends of  Union Terrace Gardens at this meeting.  He gave a presentation on the state of play of the design competition, and what funding might be used for any scheme.  To his surprise and mine, Councillor Aileen Malone made a promise that was both dramatic and new to Mike and me.

Cllr. Malone categorically stated  and repeated this promise:  after a final design for the gardens is chosen, the people will have a vote on whether to go with the design – or to leave Union Terrace Gardens undeveloped (which could include some improvements and amenities)

She was not sure whether or not this would be only for the people of Aberdeen – perhaps the Shire would be voting as well:  but she was adamant this was the case.  So Friends of Union Terrace Gardens – do not despair just yet.  She also confirmed twice that “not a penny” of City Council money would be used to develop the gardens.  No doubt Mike Shepherd will have more to say on these matters.

Back to the deer...

The Cults, Bieldside & Milltimber Community Council Chairman, Peter Reiss opened the deer debate by saying he attended a recent Civic Forum meeting – and was struck that on the subject of the deer cull, there was virtual agreement across the ages and across the boards against the cull.  “For outsiders looking in, this looks like a no-brainer:  let’s put the trees elsewhere” he said.

Ms Malone tried to use arguments which had already been dismissed in the press – not least in the Aberdeen Voice.  She said that expert advice had been given.  I countered, and explained to the Councillors that someone had briefed the SNH against the non-lethal measures (as shown in a letter of 25 November from SNH to the council), and offers from experts – who had knowledge and experience of ways to plant trees without killing deer – was refused.

I told the Council that the SNH letter proves someone had said tree guards were out because ‘they had visual impact.’  This did not sit well with the Cults Council at all.  I explained that the phase 2 consultation documents made no mention of any deer cull – again, the councillors sided with me.

By now an increasingly desperate Ms Malone explained that the tree  planting was ‘A Liberal Democrat manifesto promise’ – as if that were justification of some sort.

Other council attendees had comments for her position such as:

“Aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot,”

“other forms of deer control should be paramount”,

“think about the reaction you have had here tonight – it looks like a stupid thing to do:  you have not won the argument.”

Amazingly Ms Malone tried two further tactics.  One was to make general sweeping comments that deer culls are necessary, and her earlier, discredited ploy that only a handful of people initially objected to her in writing, and most were animal activists.

I reminded her that the full story had not come out immediately – the phase 2 consultation made no mention of the cull for Tullos Hill, and it had been subsequently proved that I was one of those who had written to her with my address opposing the cull.  She had gone to the Press and Journal at first, saying ‘only about one’ person from Aberdeen had objected to the cull. She later made private apologies – but none through the Press & Journal, leaving readers of it with the wrong impression.

Animal lovers and activists might be interested in two further statements Councillor Malone made at the meeting.

  • Firstly, there has been permission in place to kill the Tullos Hill Roe Deer since March.  The Council still are not answering questions about when the shooters will be sent in – I have asked – and if anyone else cares to ask the Council, it may help.
  • Secondly, Malone alludes to plans to kill the deer at Bridge of Don.

Some Councillors were all in favour of culls of animals – where the animals are in danger of starvation or over population.  They were reminded that 30 deer live on Tullos Hill.  Malone seemed to say that 9 to 12 of these would be shot now, and the shooting would go on.

She had no real answer why the £225,000 for ten years of fencing / protection was demanded up front.  One person present said:

“no one in their right mind would put their hands in their pockets” for protection in the circumstances – i.e. not knowing exactly what they were paying for or for how long.

I reminded those present that there were  plenty of ways to have deer and trees together.  One councillor suggested having less trees planted. I reminded everyone of the Scottish SPCA position on the matter – the Tullos Hill deer would be killed not because it was for their safety/health – but to plant trees . Abhorrent and absurd” were how the Scottish SPCA put it.

At the end of the day the Council decided to draft a letter to the City.  The debate was closed with Peter Reiss saying to Ms Malone “you have not taken the public with you, and people are saying “this is ridiculous”.  It was suggested this might even damage Ms Malone’s political career.

And that is where we leave it for now.

But one thing is certain, the opposition to the cull has not gone away by a very long shot.   If nothing else, the Cults, Bieldside & Milltimber Community Council gave me the democratic forum for debate that I could find nowhere else:  I am extremely grateful to them.

Suzanne Kelly’s 10 point report – Click here. Please consider writing to Aberdeen City Council’s Housing and Environment Committee in support of this formal complaint.

May 112011

By Suzanne Kelly.

·    Housing & Environment Committee refuse to hear Kelly and representative from Nigg Community Council

·    Deer Cull to go ahead

Two Thousand And Four Hundred area residents signed a petition asking for the Tullos Hill Roe Deer cull to be scrapped.  Two Thousand people from around the world likewise signed petitions.
Torry Community Council were kept in the dark about a cull; Nigg Community Council wished to speak on the subject today.  The initial consultation for the public to comment on said nothing about a cull.

In the 21st century in an allegedly democratic society, the above facts should have ensured that the proposed deer cull – designed to allow 40,000 trees to be planted – would have been debated and properly examined.  You might even think that local people would have had a say in the destruction of a generations-old population of perfectly harmless deer.

You might even have thought that those pushing for a cull would stop for a moment and wonder if they were possibly making a mistake.  And if you were really really an optimist, you might think that these same people bent on the destruction of the deer would have allowed people to talk about it – maybe even let Councillors have a vote on the matter.

You would be wrong.

I first got involved after Jeanette Wiseman wrote an article for the Aberdeen Voice.  In writing my follow-up, I was struck by how secretive the deer cull had been kept by those in power, seemingly favouring trees over deer (see ‘Shhh! – Don’t Mention the Pre-planned Deer Cull, Aberdeen Voice).  I was happy to help the animal organisations such as Animal Concern and Aberdeen Animal Action with further publicity and research.  I did my best as a spokesperson.

This Monday a small delegation presented Aileen Malone with a paper petition signed by 2,400 people – mostly people who live within Aberdeen.  Lush – who have been outstanding in their support and energy towards stopping the cull – came along, as did Jeanette, and Fred Wilkinson of the Voice.  We met the Press, presented the signatures, and hoped this would have some impact on Malone.

Yesterday, Tuesday 10th May I might have had a chance to address the Housing & Environment Committee.  Not only had Malone sent me an email saying they would vote on the cull, but the extraordinary lack of consultation with Torry Community Council had – or rather should have – been grounds for speaking.

Anne Begg is on record as saying ‘I see this (demand for money) as an appalling attempt to fudge their responsibility.’

If as has been shown, the Community and the people had been kept in the dark about the cull  – then how could the Committee continue as if nothing wrong had been done?   Surely all of the elected members would want to know how extremely badly the pro-cull Councillors and City officials had acted.

If the Nigg Community Council (which probably should have been consulted, too) had seen fit to send a delegate to this Committee meeting, surely the Councillors would want to know what the people of Nigg wanted to say?  Certainly  not.

First, Malone addressed the Nigg Delegate as being from ‘Nigg Community Centre’.  “Nigg  Community Council” several people shouted.  She corrected herself.  Tut, tut:  Nigg had MISSED THE DEADLINE TO ASK TO SPEAK.  Malone made a move to have his deputation request rejected.  Someone else suggested that my request and the Nigg request should be jointly put to a vote.

( See Suzanne Kelly’s intended  Speech – )

It was on an incredible technicality that Aileen Malone suggested we should not be allowed to speak.  No physical, paper report had been attached to todays Housing & Environment Committee Meeting’s papers.  The previous meeting’s minutes reported that ‘a report would be made’ concerning the deer cull.

Some of the Councillors – Neil Cooney and Yvonne Allan – said that a report should have been attached, and that the deputations should be allowed.  Malone decreed that the report was always going to have been a verbal one, and our requests for deputations were not valid.

A vote was held which went against us speaking.  I wrote down the names of those who were trying to save the deer by allowing the speeches, and can report that they included; Neil Cooney,  Jim Hunter,  Norman Collie, Yvonne Allan, Muriel Jaffrey, and Jackie Dunbar.  The Convener Aileen Malone, Vice Convener, and Councillors  Yuill, Noble, Cormie and Robertson were among those who voted to kill our deer.

They had seemingly deliberately made a mockery of the public’s not stumping up the ransom money – they had one Mr Reilly, ( derisively I thought) announce that a total of 2 donors pledged a total of £51.00 for fencing.  As every Councillor knew – the animal groups were not going to submit to the demand for £225,000 for deer protection.

I hope every anti-cull person out there will contact all of their elected representatives and the Housing & Environment Committee

The word blackmail was used by many individuals and groups to sum up how they felt about the Council’s demand for the money.  Anne Begg is on record as saying ‘I see this (demand for money) as an appalling attempt to fudge their responsibility.’

I waited a few minutes before I left.

Even though I was not surprised by the decision, the concept that the absence of a written report was sufficient to derail any debate was a  bit of a shock.

When I did leave, I was quickly followed by virtually all of the Media present – BBC, STV, P&J, Northsound, Evening Express.

I gave a fairly lengthy, comprehensive account of past and present developments and issues.  And then I raced home to brief the legal team ( yes, legal avenues to save our deer are being actively pursued ) – and to thrash out this swift article.  I will also publish my rough draft speech notes.  Who knows?  Someone on the Committee might actually want to read these.

I have to say that some of the Councillors – Cooney and Allan in particular – did all they could today.  The rest seem to have either been sleepwalking – or voting the LibDem line.  I hope they realise this is a beginning and not an end to the story.

What now?

If the feelings of the thousands of people and dozens of animal organisations can be swept away, our willingness to take action cannot be so easily stopped.  Many groups are planning to ‘take to the hills’ to stop the slaughter.   I hope every anti-cull person out there will contact all of their elected representatives and the Housing & Environment Committee (feel free to copy to me) to demand a full enquiry into the tree initiative be held before the £2,500 (yes that’s a correct figure) is spent on the first round of deer slaughter.

You can certainly send in some Freedom of Information Requests to Aberdeen City Council; the email address is:

why not ask the Council:

– who wrote the phase 2 consultation?

– who decided to leave the deer cull out of the consultation?

– does the city already owe £44K or so for previous failed tree planting?

– who decided not to tell Torry Community Council about the cull?

– who decided to tell SNH that the non-lethal options would not work – and that ‘tree guards have visual impact?’

And tell them we demand warning in advance of any cull.


Aberdeen Voice will do its best to publish updates relevant to this story.  Personally, nothing would make me happier than  having the opportunity  to write that this whole sorry cull has been stopped.

May 112011

Suzanne Kelly presents her speech which she was prevented from delivering at the crucial Housing and Environment Committee meeting yesterday due to an ‘incredible technicality’.

The committee voted down the opportunity to consider input from Ms. Kelly and a representative of Nigg Community Council, thereby ruling out further debate ahead of pressing ahead with the cull, in spite of the receipt of a 2400 strong petition, and 82 letters in opposition to the cull on Monday.

Councillors, thank you for allowing me to address your Committee today.

I am here to echo the sentiments of thousands of Aberdonians as well as national and international people, and ask you to stop any plan for a cull of deer on Tullos Hill.

I would like to propose you adopt one of two positions:

  • Halt the cull, and then plant trees once non-lethal measures can be put in place or …
  • re-launch the extremely flawed phase 2 consultation to the public – this time telling them that the tree planting will involve a deer cull.

There are some of you who insist that:

‘deer must be culled’,
‘we have taken advice from Scottish Natural Heritage’,
‘animal lovers should pay £225,000 for deer protectors’.

Let us examine those positions in a moment.

Firstly, let us consider how extraordinarily un-democratically – how against established good governmental practice the entire issue has been handled.

Irrespective of a Councillor’s personal views on animal culling, I hope we are all in agreement that there are established procedures for consulting with the public and consulting with Community Councils which have been wholly ignored.  If you are upholding the law and the rights of your electorate, you must now stop this cull – at least until a proper consultation is launched.

The phase 2 public consultation for ‘a tree for every citizen’ closed at the end of January.

I read this document on the Council’s website; so did countless other people.  The document tells me that there are rabbits in the area, and have been considered.

Who drafted this consultation and why did they omit the cull which was already being planned?  We know the cull was being planned by the date of the letter from Scottish Natural Heritage, which I will come to presently.  Who exactly decided to keep this cull from the public?  Was it just an accidental oversight?  Why were rabbits mentioned but not deer – the effect this had on me personally was to make me reach the conclusion that animals had been taken into consideration when the scheme was planned.

someone at the council or in the ranger service has decided to bypass normal democratic procedure

I can assure you that had a cull been mentioned, I would have most definitely objected to the plan while the consultation was open.  And so would many other citizens of Aberdeen.  I feel as if we have been robbed of our right to be properly consulted.  In view of this point alone, the cull should not go ahead.

Another gross breach of protocol and established practice was the complete disregard shown to Torry Community Council.  The City should by now have received a letter from Torry Community Council; as reported in the Evening Express, the Council voted unanimously at its April meeting to condemn this cull, and to complain that it was not consulted.

The Torry Community Council also confirmed that at no point was it alerted that a cull was part of the tree-planting scheme.  Who, I would like to know, will take responsibility for this breach of established procedure?  The City Council is already widely criticised for its failure to consult the Nigg Community Council concerning development plans for Loirston Loch.  It is incumbent on this Housing Committee to stop any cull plans until it has addressed this procedural failure.

But now we come to the letter from Scottish Natural Heritage to ranger  _________________.  I contacted the ranger to whom the letter is addressed, and he referred me to Ian Tallboys, head ranger, for clarification.

Reading this letter – someone at the council or in the ranger service has decided to bypass normal democratic procedure.

Someone has told the SNH that fencing is a bad idea.  Someone has even more incredibly told the SNH that tree protectors should not be used on Tullos Hill as they have ‘visual impact.’  ‘Visual Impact.’  On a coastal hill.  Tree protectors are in use far and wide throughout this city in areas that have a great deal more traffic than Tullos Hill.

How can anyone for that matter decide for this Committee, for Torry Community Council, and for the citizens who should have properly been consulted that a subjective observation as to ‘visual impact’ condemn a small herd of deer to death?
Obviously this Committee will now realise that the SNH were led, by a person or persons yet to come forward, to decide that the lethal option was the only solution.
There are many, many non-lethal solutions to this issue of deer eating trees – this Committee acknowledges that the deer do not have to die.

Otherwise it would not have issued its highly controversial demand for money.  The demand for money for fencing and tree protectors itself is a declaration that these are suitable options for deer control.  It is of course a demand that is seen as nothing short of blackmail by myself, by animal charities, and the electorate.

This is one reason the avenue was not pursued:  the City should be responsible for finding money, not citizens.  The City has resources at its disposal – I note your new Robert the Bruce statue in front of the £60 million pound Marischal building, soon to be fitted with brand new furniture.

Are we really to understand that this city, with its vast real estate portfolio – which sells land at less than market value to property developers has no means of finding £225,000?

This city which hopes to borrow nearly £100 million pounds to fill in Union Terrace Gardens?

The suggestion the city has no money and cannot raise money is unacceptable.  This Committee were offered the free services of a deer management expert:  this was turned down.  Some of the non-lethal methods which would work include:  tree guards, fencing, using one of some 3 dozen types of trees which deer do not eat, planting crops nearby which deer will eat, planting the trees elsewhere, planting once the money can be found for these measures, using chemical deterrents on the young trees.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals calls your proposed cull ‘abhorrent and absurd’ – a sentiment echoed by thousands of people.  The cull is not a suitable response:  other deer will move into the area, as per the various animal charities I have consulted – many of which have made this plain to the Committee already.

We seem to be talking about a herd size of 30 animals.  This is not over population.

As an aside, it would be nice to see the Council put up roadside ‘deer crossing’ signs in the area to warn motorists deer do live in Aberdeen.

I just mentioned the herd size.  This was one of a half dozen relevant questions I asked as long ago as 28 February,  Most of my questions were not answered at all.  Some were answered only recently, and some were answered with the phrase that has become a mantra for pro cull councillors:  we have taken advice –  a cull is the only answer.

Well, you have not taken advice.  You briefed SNH as to why you did not want the non-lethal options, and then presented their response to this briefing as being their unbiased professional opinion.  The animal charities all give you non-lethal options, and some of you inexplicably reject them.

Back to these questions of mine.

some person or persons initially said that the tree planting scheme would be completely cost neutral

I asked a number of questions which would have provided material for me to start hunting for an appropriate grant for saving the Tullos Hill Roe Deer.  The timescale was very tight indeed – but the lack of forthcoming answers made it completely impossible for me to try and find any kind of grant or fund.

Again, everything is being slanted towards a wholly unnecessary cull.  The silence of the persons responsible for the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme has blocked this avenue.

As an aside, in some of the documentation I read phrases such as ‘in a few years the trees will begin to pay for themselves.’  Is this tree scheme meant to be a source of income for the City?  Am I wrong and no such plan to make money from the Tullos Hill plan exists?  Where is there any consultation on this matter?

I will be pleased to hear that no plans for commercial wood exploitation exist, and will report back to the media and Torry Community Council.  It is serious enough that the consultation was slanted, that the SNH were briefed to favour a cull, and that Torry Community was excluded from what should have been a simple scheme.  But to have some form of commercial enterprise in mind that would forever change Torry certainly cannot be going on behind the scenes, and thank you for confirming this is not the case in advance.

To sum up the history of this whole irregular affair, some person or persons initially said that the tree planting scheme would be completely cost neutral.  Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of finance would have realised that planting over 200 thousand trees would indeed be expensive.

It would also seem that the responsible person or persons will not be putting up their hand and admitting their mistake – and instead are pulling out all the stops so that £2,500 is spent on the cull rather than the more expensive, humane, ethical non-lethal options which most definitely exist.

Someone or other briefed SNH that the non-lethal options would mysteriously not work on Tullos Hill.

Someone or other created a public consultation that was by omission of the cull misleading.

Someone or other decided to ignore protocol and kept Torry Community Council’s elected members in the dark.

This same person or persons came up with a scheme to ask the public to come up with a quarter of a million pounds before today.

Someone or other sadly forgot to tell the corporate sponsors that a cull was involved.

Someone or other has a good deal to answer for.

What a pity that person or persons did not think to seek funding for fencing themselves as soon as it became apparent there were cost implications they had not previously recognised.

Ladies and gentlemen, whatever your personal feelings are on deer – although Mr Fletcher has made it plain that they are no different to rats or pigeons – you must acknowledge that in these circumstances you must vote against any cull.

If a vote goes ahead in favour of a cull, please rest assured that every aspect of the tree scheme and any cull will be put under a microscope not just by me, but by established animal welfare organisations and legal minds.

The mechanisms for such actions are, I can promise this Committee, most definitely being readied.  The deer are not overpopulated; other deer will move in, and you will have someone killing these animals for some 5 years.

Perhaps you think the animal instantly drops down dead when shot?  This is hardly the usual case.  In many instances, the terrified, shocked animal will try to wander around in agony as it begins to internally drown in its own blood.

Trackers will be needed to follow the blood stains from the wound or from its breathing out of blood droplets  (sometimes very hard to find) and finish the creature off.  There are various types of hits an animal will sustain, this is not by any means the worst case scenario – some animals if not quickly found die an agonising, slow death that takes days.

On behalf of myself, the thousands of Aberdonians who signed the petitions, do not plant a tree for us if you are having a cull to do so.

Apr 052011

Planting trees, creating habitats, using trees to clean the air: no one could be against such a plan, particularly if it would be ‘cost neutral’ and the citizens of Aberdeen would wind up with forests to enjoy down the road. However, in light of new information, Voice’s Suzanne Kelly takes a different view.

What probably started out as a good idea is now a contentious web of extremely poor advance planning, politics, blackmail, vandalism and international outcry at a secret, but long-planned deer cull.

It is time to examine what should have happened, what went wrong, and what should and could be done.

The initial scheme

An Aberdeen City news release of 29 October 2010 explains that 210,000 trees will be planted in several stages, that this programme had funding for the first phase, and was winning awards.  The news release goes on to explain how important trees are – they will such up pollutants and CO2; they will provide habitat for animals (presumably there should be a tree planting near Loirston Loch, but a stadium is to be planted there instead).  This news release, stored on the Council’s website, also explains that funding is being sought for Phase 2.

It is a bit more difficult to find any record on the Council’s website of the deliberate vandalism which destroyed trees planned in Torry and elsewhere.  There is no report on how vandals will be prevented from destroying further plantings.  But within a month or so of this news release appearing, certain people in the Council involved with the tree scheme were already scheming some destruction of their own – and they certainly didn’t want either you or me to find out about it until it was too late for us to do anything about it.  I refer to the plan to keep us in the dark about how Phase 2 of the scheme was being deliberately led:  people behind the scheme were actively steering deliberately towards the cull of the Tullos Hill Roe Deer.

Scottish Natural Heritage:  A view to a cull

On 25 November 2010 (while citizens were being ‘consulted’ on Phase 2’), Scottish Natural Heritage wrote a letter to a member of the arboreal staff at the Council.  (See letter in full below this article).  This letter raises a number of serious questions as to how the scheme was handled.  The letter certainly seems to be replying to a briefing of some sort.  The writer – James Scott of Scottish Natural Heritage’s Wildlife Operations Unit –  is addressing issues which should have been made known in the consultation.

At the time of writing, Mr Scott has been informed that someone in Aberdeen Council has already taken several decisions.

an advantage of using contracted deer shooters is that it might distance the Council from the act

Fencing – It has somehow been decided by someone that fencing would be impossible, as there is a public footpath.  The UK is covered with such paths and suitable gates are used.   Fencing might not have been perfect – but oddly that is part of the blackmail offer the council now proposes.

Deer population –  If the fencing controversy is not confusing enough, the letter admits that the number of deer is unknown.   How many would be culled is apparently to be decided after SNH personnel visit the site under cover of darkness and make counts.  It is not known if such a count has taken place yet, or what the results are.  SNH say that tranquilising deer to move them doesn’t work (50% success) and then inexplicably says this would probably be illegal to do.  If the law says that killing creatures is better than moving them, then it is time to change the law.

Humane options – the SNH suggest ‘frustrating’ deer – remove gorse, implement other measures, yet our officials rejected these proposals.  Again, no recourse to the citizens here.

‘Visual Impact’ of tree protectors they are ruled out – The City told SNH that it would not be using tree protectors on the grounds that they might blow over, creating litter – and because they ‘have visual impact’.  The visual impact of something is a personal, not a scientific, issue.  It is not sufficient grounds to condemn a population of deer to death.

“there is the issue of reducing available habitat for deer and the fact that we would consequently expect a reduction cull. You have also decided not to use tree guards due to the visual impact and the likelyhood of these being blown away, possibly damaging trees they are meant to protect and creating a littering issue.” – James Scott , SNH

The word ‘deer’ does not get so much as a single use – yet it is now clear that a cull was in the cards

Without any regard to consultation, someone at the City has given this and other reasons leading SNH to conclude the deer should be culled.  No one wanted to ask the citizens if we’d rather look at tree protectors (which cost money), or have the trees elsewhere in order to save deer.  But the City and SNH were interested in keeping us in the dark….

Keep them in the dark – SNH actually says that an advantage of using contracted deer shooters is that it might distance the Council from the act:

“it may be preferrable to be seen to be doing it in house and have greater control rather than using contractors, or it may be preferable to utilise the distance between instruction and deed that comes from using contractors” – James Scott , SNH

The Aberdeen citizens should also be managed with care – with a ‘robust communication plan:-

“Having visited the site I am content that appropriate deer management can occur in a safe manner. Communicating this to access takers and the wider public may be more of a task which will require a robust communication plan. I would suggest that a suitable deer management plan will help in this regard and I am more than happy to offer assistance in this” – James Scott , SNH

It seems as if the ‘robust communication plan’ is an indication that some people might not like deer shot to save money.  If a cull were needed for welfare reasons, a reasonable person might not like the idea, but they would understand.  It seems that as no logical reason except cost savings exist for this cull – otherwise there would be no need to keep it out of the consultation or to have a ‘robust communication plan’.

Phase 2 Consultation:  No options given

The Consultation which resides on the Aberdeen City Home page gives the reader no idea whatsoever that any of the above plans and processes were in place.

There is no mention of the vandalism – only of the success of Phase 1.   The word ‘deer’ does not get so much as a single use – yet it is now clear that a cull was in the cards.  The trees are meant to start ‘making money’ in three years’ time – if there is a plan to turn Tullos into a timber yard, we haven’t been told.

A mix of private and public money is paying for this.  Public money is your money and mine – this makes it doubly scandalous that the City chose to deliberately hide mention of the deer cull.  We missed our chance to object to the consultation because of this omission – and as the petitions circulating attest – there are thousands of people who would have liked to have had the choice.

Questions for the Council

It is up to the Council – In particular, Aileen Malone, The Housing and Environment Committee, and whoever else was  involved in the details of the Tree Planting scheme – to supply answers to a few questions arising:-

  • Who made the decision to leave any deer cull out of the public consultation?
  • Who took the decision that non-lethal measures would be discounted and then communicated to SNH?
  • Who precisely decided to plant the trees on Tullos Hill, and why wasn’t the deer population immediately identified as a reason to find another location?
  • Who decided tree guards’ visual impact was preferable to a deer cull?
  • Whose aesthetic judgment decided the tree guards were unattractive?
  • How many trees were vandalised in Phase 1?
  • How much public money was spent in Phase 1, and how much is planned to be spent in Phase 2?
  • Was a consultation with Torry Community Council taken, and if so, were the deer discussed?
  • How  many deer were counted by SNH, and how many are to be culled?

Rays of hope

Thankfully animal activists, citizens of Aberdeen and people around the globe have become involved in campaigns and petition creating to stop this senseless slaughter.  Concerned people should contact their local Community Council members, the Housing and Environment Committee, Committee convener Aileen Malone, and other elected representatives to ask for answers to these questions, and to demand an inquiry into the consultation’s management, and to request a new, honest one.

A civilised government would want to put any cull on indefinite hold until this affair is cleared up.  Deer should not be slaughtered because people in government don’t want to spend money – and given the involved Councillors’  amazing ultimatum: raise funds for fencing, or we shoot animals – is it time for some changes in their number?

– Letter from James Scott ( SNH ) to Richard Nicholson ( ACC ).

– Further reading: Critical Society quarterly e-journal.