Apr 032015

deer3picWith thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

A petition to examine issues surrounding Aberdeen’s Tullos Hill has gained sufficient public support for the city’s Petitions Committee to address the issues.

Campaigners were told today that they had exceeded the threshold of 250 signatures, and the city’s Petitions Committee will meet with the petitioners on 21 April.

Text of their petition can be found here http://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/mgEPetitionDisplay.aspx?Id=13 .

In May of 2011, campaigners wanted the deer spared and for Tullos Hill to be left as a meadow and the roe deer to be allowed to remain. The hill once had a field of dame’s violets, which a city official, Peter Leonard, dismissed as ‘garden escapees’. Campaigners argued that the flowers and the gorse were important habitat and should not have been removed.

The hill is a former industrial and domestic rubbish dumping ground with serious soil pollution issues. A ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme was put up for public consultation, but it omitted there was a deer cull already planned for the tree planting. When the public found out about the cull, thousands signed petitions and several community councils objected as well.

STV reported that 80% of the city opposed the scheme. The convener of the Housing & Environment Committee, Liberal Democrat Aileen Malone, demanded that the public come up with £225,000 for fencing – or the deer would be shot. Animal welfare charities and organisations were alarmed at this unprecedented demand, and people were urged not to give into the demand.

Free of charge services were offered to show the city how to grow the trees using non-lethal methods – these were dismissed out of hand.    A spokesperson for the Scottish SPCA referred to the culling of the deer for the tree scheme as ‘abhorrent and absurd.’

The public were initially told the tree planting would be at no cost to them. However, a Freedom of Information request revealed that an expert C J Piper, was paid £72,212 for services to the tree-planting scheme. Other expenses include fencing, the cost of having the deer shot, and a previous failed planting on the same hill which saw the taxpayers returning £43,800 to Scottish Natural Heritage.

The campaigners want to know what all of the expenses are both historic and ongoing.

John Robins of Animal Concern said:

“Aberdeen City Council have all but wiped out a perfectly healthy herd of deer which had existed for generations on a piece of rough land which has never been suitable for anything else. Tullos Hill evolved into its own natural habitat and should have been valued and protected for what it was and not destroyed to fit in with the grandiose plans of petty politicians. It is extremely unlikely that any new woodland will survive on Tullos Hill. The Council should stop wasting public money and leave the area to nature – in this instance mother nature definitely knows best.”

Kelly, who has written several articles for Aberdeen Voice and a report, continued:

“People feel they were misled on several aspects of the scheme.  People do not know how much money is involved,  how safe or otherwise the soil on the hill is, and why more deer must be shot. 

“There may be very few deer left in the entire city according to a recent SNH count. We want to know how much tax money has gone on this scheme, we want no further culling, and we want the city to seek assurances from the SNH that we won’t see another £43,800 bill coming our way: the trees are covered by weeds in many places, no matter how many awards have been dished out.”



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Mar 172015

At the end of March a petition asking for answers about Tullos Hill will close. Anyone interested in finding out how their tax money is being used, anyone interested in saving the city’s remaining roe deer population, and anyone who wants to ensure further money isn’t wasted is urged to sign now. Suzanne Kelly updates Aberdeen Voice on the petition that the ‘Save The Tullos Hill Deer’ group created at the end of 2014.

roe-deer-fawn-picTime is running out for a petition which could force the city to release information on its costly Tree For Every Citizen scheme and which may help save the city’s remaining roe deer from further culling.

The petition can be found here.

Anyone resident in Aberdeen who is on the electoral role can sign. Signatories have to register with Aberdeen City via the link on the petition page.

Many people have reported problems with the city’s electronic system – anyone who wants help in registering can email sgvk27@aol.com.

Aberdeen residents may recall the Liberal Democrats’ election pledge two elections back: A Tree For Every Citizen. Who could object to such a scheme, especially as it was not going to cost the Aberdeen taxpayer any money?

Aberdeen Voice investigations have since proved this innocent-sounding scheme was costly in terms of money and in the much-loved Tullos Hill roe deer population, which had existed in the meadowlands of Tullos for decades before the scheme was rolled out. No one was told that the majority of the trees were destined for meadowland on Tullos Hill (itself an industrial and domestic waste dumping area which had evolved into fields supporting insects, plants, birds and small animals).

No one was told that a previous scheme had seen Aberdeen’s taxpayers penalised £43,800 for the failure of the previous attempt to grow trees on the hill, either. Another fact which was not included in the public consultation was the city and Scottish Natural Heritage had already decided that to implement the scheme, they were going to kill most of the existing roe deer.

These deer had not previously been seen as a problem; they were simply small animals living 6-7 years, greatly enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Further background on the Tree For Every Citizen Scheme can be found by using Aberdeen Voice’s line search facility.

The scheme went ahead, and the trees planted are in many (if not all) areas on Tullos overshadowed by weeds which will likely kill them. Some three dozen roe deer were slaughtered – while people were allowed to roam on the hill — as a hired hunter shot them. The city’s risk matrix didn’t think that the residents using the hill for walking, bicycling or riding motorbikes were in any danger of running into a stray bullet.

The petition took months for the city to approve its wording. It had an initial deadline which was extended when it emerged that people who lived outwith the city or who were not on the electoral roll had been allowed to sign.  The city has allowed extra time for people to come forward to sign.

The petition asks for assurances that no further deer will be shot until at a minimum the actual population is known – there may be as few as 19 animals left in the city’s remaining, shrinking green belt pockets according to Scottish Natural Heritage Figures. Deer were killed to plant trees which may never thrive.

The city will be asked to disclose exactly how much money has been spent on the scheme to date; Aberdeen Voice has figures showing that the main consultant, Chris Piper, has received in excess of £50,000 for his services to date. Tens of thousands of pounds seem to have been spent on fencing. How much money the city spent on cleaning toxic chemicals from the soil and removing debris is unknown.

The petition also wants the city to ask for a guarantee from Scottish Natural Heritage / The Forestry Commission that the taxpayer will not be expected to hand over another £48,000 should this current tree-planting scheme fail – which some believe it is destined to do.

Anyone who wants answers or who wants to protect the remaining deer is urged to sign before the end of March.

STOP PRESS: Some new information has come to light in relation to the Tree For Every Citizen Scheme. Aberdeen Voice will report soon.

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Oct 242014

By Suzanne Kelly. 

roe-deer-fawn-picAs Aberdeen continues its controversial and unpopular deer culling activities, it continues to spend tens of thousands of pounds on the cull and planting trees.

The trees planted on Tullos Hill recently were done at the expense of 34 or 35 animals which had previously lived on the hill: SNH guidelines (not law, guidelines) are being obeyed: the city and SNH intend only 3 deer should be allowed on the hill. How this can lead to a healthy herd is not understood.

As to the trees, consultants, fencing contractors and others have received tens of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer – and the indications are the plantation may well fail just as two previous attempts have.

The most recent attempt cost Aberdeen £43,800 payable for the failure alone.

A Facebook page Save The Tullos Hill Deer has been monitoring the situation, and a group meets to monitor events as well.  Although thousands signed a petition handed to the City Council at the time of the cull, this was written off by the paid consultant, C J Piper, in a report as being a ‘vociferous minority’.  This ‘minority’ included several community councils as well.

A minimum of 250 signatures from Aberdeen residents will bring the matter forward for city consideration. Campaigners advise:

“Please consider registering, and signing this petition: the more signatures from people in Aberdeen the better. We are asking the council to come clean on how much was spent so far on killing deer and …the tree scheme, to do a proper count, and to stop killing deer until we have accurate figures. 1. follow the link; 2. register; 3. sign; 4. please share. Thank you very much indeed.”

Further details of the history of this situation can be found by using the Aberdeen Voice Search feature.

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Aug 262014

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally Ho! There is much ado in the Granite City; Friday is the Public Meeting concerning the future of the former St Nicholas House site.

Of course the beautiful, iconic, vibrant, dynamic creative glass-box office and retail development is a foregone conclusion; it will go ahead. It may take a chunk or two out of property that is part of the Lord Provost’s House, but at least we’ll have new places to shop.

As I say, whatever speakers say in their 10 minutes of allotted time, nothing will change; the plans are unchangeable.

Then again, it was a meant to be set in stone that the land at Loirston Loch was to be kept pristine green and serene as a wildlife habitat. It’s now being surrounded by more urban sprawl.

Old Susannah was allowed 10 minutes to come in and speak about the plans for the former St Nicholas site, but as the plans are made, somehow I don’t think I’ll speak after all.

You could be forgiven for thinking that planning in Aberdeen is a ratchet which can only be torqued in favour of developers’ wishes and construction projects, and never towards conservation, clean air and green space. But there you go.

On the other hand, it may be worth showing up to this meeting, for surely some people will be speaking of the crucial need for a civic square. Sir Ian Wood will doubtless remind us of his passion for a civic square. Aberdeen City Gardens Trust and ACSEF affiliate Tom Smith will surely be leading the charge to demand we take this opportunity to  make the public gathering space that he desperately wanted the ACGT to manage.

Stewart Milne will renew his impassioned, selfless case for a city square or granite web as well, which clearly had nothing to do with his then need for parking spaces for Triple Kirks (also now to be a glass box office complex). Perhaps this is an unfair comparison for me to make; after all Union Terrace Gardens is bigger than the area now under consideration.

I’m sure it is a complete coincidence that UTG is common good land worth a small packet and that ACSEF, Wood and the ACGT were so keen to get their hands on it. I guess we need a civic square (whatever that is) an outdoor theatre (great in winter no doubt) and so on – but only if they’re to be built on top of open, green spaces owned by the people.

It’s not as if I think the city’s officers don’t listen to the public or formulate plans and carry them out no matter what. But considering the deer cull and tree planting at Tullos, I could be forgiven for thinking so.

On a less contentious note, I saw the amazing, singular Jeremy Paxman in his Edinburgh Festival premier. For some reason he was acting nice; guess it was all part of the show for clearly he must be scathing and sarcastic all the time. The tickets had sold out quickly for some reason or other.

At one point he explained why he wasn’t always nice and kind to elected officials. Apparently, there are some elected officials who are dishonest, inept, bumbling, self-serving and dishonest. I’d never have thought it. At least we’re safe from that kind of thing in the Deen.

Clearly we don’t always appreciate the saintly self-sacrificing nature of our elected officials, experts and public figures.  Perhaps a few timely definitions may help engender more respect from us for our betters.

But first:  a competition.  A bottle of BrewDog to the first correct answer pulled from the hat on Friday:-

Q1. Garden Talk: Match the person to the quote

  1. wanted  “to create a hub, a focal point for future generations, which will draw together the retail and cultural aspects of the city.”
  2. asked “that it be noted that every week the councillors of the Monitoring group have asked for the ‘no action’ option to be part of the public display and this has been passed on to the Management Board by Mr Brough. The Councillors stated that they were very disappointed that this [voting to keep the gardens as they were and improve them] was still not an option.”
  3. “This [Granite Web] ingenious and inspiring design for Aberdeen’s key public space gives the city a new social landscape but one rooted in its extraordinarily rich heritage and natural assets.”
  4. “Right enough, there have been more people in the gardens recently but they seem to go in to have their photograph taken and wave placards, rather than to play draughts or spot trains as they did many years ago.”
  5. “there would NOT be a ‘no action’ option [to vote to leave the gardens alone ]at this stage because the feedback was part of a tendering process to select the best of six designs [allowing the public to reject the scheme would, of course, saved the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds and a divisive referendum.  no one outside of private company ACTG has seen all of the votes or been allowed to count the votes against the scheme cast]”

a) Morris the Monkey – fictional character used by BiG Partnership to promote building in UTG (presumably either no one else wanted the job, or a fictional character was all they could afford to explain the benefits of a £140 million pound granite spaghetti junction).

b) Sir Ian Wood the Monkey (Scottish Enterprise, Wood Group, Wood Family Trust).

c) Sir Duncan Rice the Monkey – chair of this, that and the other and the design committee.

d) Gerry Brough the Monkey – long-gone ACC employee gently persuading us to have a granite web (and nothing but a granite web) known for his gentle temper and soft words.  Missed by no one.

e) Councillor West.

Q2. How many times over the years has First Minister Alex Salmond visited the Menie Estate residents to hear concerns living under Donald Trump’s stewardship of the estate?

a) 10
b) 20
c) 0
d) 0 – but he will accept an invitation to visit and will come to see Anthony Baxter’s and Richard Phinney’s new film ‘A Dangerous Game’ on 5 September in Aberdeen

Q3. Mixed bag:  match the number to the fact

  1. 5,847
  2. 7
  3. 1,378
  4. £50,000,000
  5. £50,000,000
  6. more than 16,000
  7. £15,000,000 approximately
  8. 65,000

a)  Approximate amount of money sitting in The Wood Family Trust to be used for charitable works (eventually).

b)  Number of people signing David Milne’s petition asking for an investigation held into propriety and handling of planning permission granted to Donald Trump at the Menie Estate.

c)   Number of people who voted for the granite web during the UTG design consultation.

d)  Amount of money shielded by tax from certain oil giant’s empire’s offshore payroll scheme.

e)  Sum of money pledged by Sir Ian Wood to create Granite Web.

f)   Number of people in Scotland reliant on food banks according to one charity.

g)  Number of people who voted for the winter garden design during the UTG design consultation.

h)   Number of people who turned down David Milne’s petition on Trump

Q4. How much oil do we have left?

a)  24bn barrels of oil could be recovered – First Minister Alex Salmond.

b)  12 – 24 billion barrels of oil potential  – Sir Ian Wood, report of February 2014.

c)  ‘Sir Ian claimed there are about 15bn to 16.5bn barrels of recoverable oil left, and that the figure from the White Paper is 45% to 60% too high’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28867487

d)  “hard-pushed” to extract 15bn barrels – Melfort Campbell.

e)  no one really knows for certain – everyone else.

And now time for one brief but poignant definition

Suffering (English gerund) the state of being in pain, discomfort, hardship

Never let it be said that Old Susannah turns a blind eye to the hardships faced by some of our older people, and the forces that conspire to break up families.  With today’s economic problems, some men are having to slave long, hard hours and travel extensively to keep their families together.  I am of course thinking about our depute Lord Provost John Reynolds, his wife and family. And so are you.

It all started innocently enough; some spoilsports were questioning the necessity of some of the wee trips the depute was going to make. Well, quite rightly Mrs depute Lord Provost wrote a letter to the Press & Journal. Standing by her man, she explained:

“I am his wife of  nearly 45 years [you can feel the pain], I have supported his work as a councillor and kept quiet when things have been said that upsets us as a family.

“Your piece has changed all that and I will not sit back and let you make it appear he is going off on ‘cooncil jaunts’. ..During his years as Lord Provost, 70 hours weeks became the norm… John was asked to take on the role of promoting Aberdeen and its oil-related industries abroad because he is passionate about the city and everything it has to offer.”

Alas! One of his upcoming trips to the US to go to a conference was booked on the assumption the conference was yearly, not biannual. But it’s going ahead anyway, so we can demonstrate ‘we’re open for business’ according to Jenny Laing, Council Leader. Reynolds said

“because it was approved there was still business to be done in Louisiana, doors that can be opened for Aberdeen businesses particularly, but also bringing Louisiana companies with their technology over to Aberdeen.”

One killjoy, Cllr Yuill said:

“we should remove this visit on the basis that the committee agreed to it based on inaccurate information.” 

I’m sure any private sector business wouldn’t mind finding out its employees were jetting out to non-existent events without any disciplinary action being taken. And if a person booking travel at taxpayer expense doesn’t have time to check out whether the conference actually exists that they’re booking someone to travel to, that’s pretty understandable as well.

It’s not as if the council has never taken decisions based on inaccurate information before, is it?

In my part of the world, the private sector has to watch costs. Bring in business? Private companies  send out literature and presentations are made in teleconferences. Touting for business on spec? The internet is cheaper and just that little bit more environmentally friendly. It’s just that little bit easier to spend taxpayer money isn’t it?

We are assuredly open for business. Perhaps the depute Lord Provost will find our next Donald Trump on one of his jaunts, or another businessman determined to take the small boats off the tiny harbour in Cove. I can’t wait.

But while Reynolds is looking for business in America, it’s just a shame that his family life has had to suffer. The drinks receptions, the public events, the hospitality – all very wearing after a bit don’t you know.

Perhaps we should not have forced him into being a councillor, being a depute / Lord Provost. So if you’re a nurse working double shifts, an oil rig worker, in the police, fire department or in teaching, just think how comparatively lucky you have it. Perhaps if things get rougher, you’ll see a few of our hard-done by councillors on your next visit to the food bank.

Next week: A new version of who’s who in the city and shire – what councillors are in what quangos and groups; what businessmen have cosy links to what politicians, and more.

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Aug 222014

By Suzanne Kelly.

salmon box2Salmon fishing and salmon farms are under increasing pressure to supply Scottish salmon to the world.  This is not without a price to wildlife.
The salmon in farms are prone to disease, are painfully attacked by flesh-eating sea lice, and live their lives in insufferably small, crowded pens as compared to the space and freedom the species would normally enjoy.

Pollution from salmon farms and escapee salmon are causing environmental disruption. Salmon nets seem to be growing in scale and quantity year on year.

Salmon netting is on the increase; anglers report that very few animals are making their way to the rivers.

Against this backdrop, to protect the financial interests of the businesses engaged in salmon production, the government allows seal shooting when it knows that seal numbers are in decline, that non-lethal methods of protecting salmon in nets exist, and that seals that have been shot or found dead contain little salmon in their digestive tracts.  Is this a case of finance overriding ethics and environment?

Suzanne Kelly went out with George Pullar and his crew to empty USAN’s salmon nets and get Pullar’s perspective on his operations, seal culling and fish stocks. Following publication of the resulting article, Kelly talked to Sea Shepherd, Animal Concern Advice Line, Gardenstown landowner Marc Ellington, animal activists, and hunt saboteurs.

Their tales are quite at odds with many of Usan’s claims.

Some of the arguments offered by various proponents of salmon netting – and seal shooting in North East Scotland are:

“There are plenty of fish in the sea”

“Plenty of salmon for anglers and netters alike”  

“Seals attack nets and will be shot if they persist”

“Capping the number of seals that can be shot is ‘pointless’”

“The seal population has gone up 1000% in the last ten years”

“Netting is Scottish heritage”

  Unfortunately all of these arguments are either misleading or simply not true.


Scotland is exporting more and more salmon; international demand is up (barring the current Russian ban on western food imports linked to the crisis in the Ukraine). The demand is being met by both salmon farms and by increased netting activities. Netting salmon is a ‘heritable right’ which can be bought or sold.

When Usan acquired rights to operate in the Ythan estuary, this marked an increase in its operations. Usan currently has 15 vast nets in the coast south of Montrose which are emptied twice a day. Leaders funnel the salmon, other fish and jellyfish into the inescapable net traps.

Local Heroes and Villains:

June 2012 – seals are being shot in the small northerly coastal towns of Crovie and Gardenstown. Marc Ellington is the landowner; he has expressly forbidden any shooting from his land. It is understood that people involved in shooting seals also did so on RSPB owned land, and from property owned by the crown estate. (from emails between myself and John Robins  July 2012 re. Gardenstown seal shootings)

According to those in the area 16 seals were shot, 14 were pregnant. An area expert advised that NONE had traces of salmon in their digestive tracts.  My source also advised:

“The shooting seems to have taken place by these people from Montrose who have the salmon rights, but was done on land owned by the RSPB – who are said to be livid.” (IBID)”

Then a seal was shot in front of tourists in Gardenstown, a small, peaceful coastal village. They cancelled their holiday rental and promptly left. The police seemed rather uninterested in pursuing the matter. The Laird of Gardenstown and Crovie, Marc Ellington, and others tried without success to get the police to enforce the ban on shooting in the area.

Again, Ellington owns the land, and has forbidden any shooting there. Firing  a gun while on a boat is clearly dangerous (how many boats are safely stationary to allow someone to aim a gun?) and illegal. No seals should have been shot in these areas – and yet according to witnesses, seal carcasses washed ashore.

These seals had been shot.

Gardenstown and Crovie residents contacted Sea Shepherd, who arrived on the scene to stop any further seals from being shot. Despite George Pullar’s claims as to how his people behave, video footage taken at the time clearly shows Usan operatives threatening Sea Shepherd personnel. With no permission to shoot in the area – why did Usan have rifles there in the first place?

I visited the area with Marc Ellington; the locals I spoke with wanted to ensure no seals were shot; they wanted tourists to come and enjoy the area’s wildlife, rent holiday homes and patronise the local shops.

The idea of men with rifles killing seals will put tourists off and will hurt these communities’ incomes. Most people I spoke with in the area were very pleased to have Sea Shepherd present; one person has been keeping a log of when Usan personnel are operating in the area and what they’ve been doing.

The heritage argument:

Salmon netting in Scotland has been going for centuries; Pullar is right to claim it is a heritage activity. But that activity has dramatically changed over time.

Pretending that the man who stood on the shore with his nets and sold his catch to his neighbours is the same as the crew with 15 huge nets emptied twice a day, selling fish internationally is disingenuous.

Bullfighting of course is also a ‘heritage activity’ – it is also arguably a cruel, unnecessary unequal competition which has no place in a compassionate, enlightened world. Arguably bullfighting is to beef production what traditional small-scale netting is to Usan.

Salmon Numbers Game:

For 2012, the Scottish Government reported:

“The total reported rod catch (retained and released) of wild salmon for 2012 is 86,013. It is the tenth highest rod catch on record and is 95 per cent of the previous five-year average.  The proportion of the rod catch accounted for by catch and release is the highest recorded. In 2012, 91% of rod caught spring salmon was released, as was 74% of the annual rod catch.”  

The above paragraph gives no indication of how long the records cover making this the tenth highest rod catch, making the statement somewhat weak.

The government does however say that 91% of the rod caught spring salmon was released. However, not many fish are making it to the rivers these days. Increased netting just happens to coincide with the dramatic drop. If Marine Scotland and the Scottish government are concerned and are investigating, they are keeping quiet about it.

In 2013 the picture was already changing. As per records and the Salmon and Trout Association:

“The number of salmon killed in nets in 2013 was 50% higher than in 2012 according to the official Scottish Government figures (published in April 2014). The 2013 summer drought caused very low flows in most rivers and thus salmon were simply unable to access their rivers of origin, forcing them to run the gauntlet of coastal nets for weeks on end. There are no quotas set for wild salmon and consequently there is no mechanism to limit catches – whatever the strength or weakness of local populations.

“The 2013 net catch of 24,311 salmon compares with 16,230 in 2012 and 19,818 in 2011. In contrast the rod catch dropped to 66,387 in 2013 (the lowest figure since 2003) from 86,013 in 2012. 80% of the 2013 rod catch were released by anglers back into the water.”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of the Salmon and Trout Association (Scotland) (S&TA(S)), commented:

“The figures for 2013 expose the absurdity of recent statements by Scottish Ministers that salmon netting in Scotland is declining.

“In the last three years dormant netting stations have re-opened and netting effort has increased substantially. The quantum leap in the netting catch in 2013 shows once again that salmon conservation is simply absent from Scottish Government’s agenda. On the contrary it is permitting much greater levels of indiscriminate killing by nets of an iconic species that is already under considerable pressure.”

When I was with Pullar, at least 50 salmon, ranging greatly in sizes were taken and packed into over 4 large plastic crates. He was quite clear that seals which ‘persistently’ go after ‘his’ fish will be shot. He tells me there are plenty of fish.

But the world’s demand for Wild Scottish Salmon is eating into the finite supply more voraciously than any indigenous wildlife ever could.

Salmon nets

one of the type of nets used by USAN; there are bars to discourage seals from entering, but it is a vast net nonetheless

Plenty of fish? Further afield, the anglers tell a different story. Angling has a long history too; and is an essential contributor to rural Scottish economies in the Speyside area for instance.

Anglers catch fish, and return them to the rivers. However,  the numbers of salmon anglers see have dramatically, measurably crashed for the anglers, if not for the Pullars.

One keen angler has spoken of his concern for the fish and the rural economy. He advises that several anglers he knows have spent up to 3 weeks seeking salmon in the rivers and coming up completely empty-handed.  He expressed concern for the local businesses which are dependent on anglers spending time on the rivers and being successful in their pursuit of their hobby.


Not just a Scottish Issue:

The Salmon and Trout Association are very worried about stocks; they have called the current runs of salmon ‘the worst in living memory’. In a recent article on their website, they wrote:

“The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) Annual Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales in 2013 estimates that only 19 of the principal 64 salmon rivers in England and Wales reached their conservation targets; compared to 42 in 2011. This is the equal lowest number since conservation targets were introduced in 1993. Overall, the number of salmon estimated to be returning to England and Wales in the last two years was amongst the lowest on record.

The report does not expect a significant improvement in stock levels. Since the 1970s there has been a 40% decline in the number of salmon returning to our rivers each year, despite the much-publicised return of salmon to previously polluted rivers such as the Tyne and Mersey.”  

Further details of their recommendations can be found here.

No Limits:

There  is absolutely no limit to the number of salmon the netters can take, despite evidence that stocks are going down, and the pleas of those involved in conservation and angling.

My contact advises that the big fish Pullar has taken are an important part of the  migration salmon make from sea to river; ‘they know what to do and where to go’. It seems possible that the increased fishing now permitted is going to disrupt important migrations, and I wonder whether the entire population could crash. Because it’s not only Pullar that is killing sea life.

Pollution is doing more to our oceans than Marine Scotland seems to be interested in.  More marine life than ever which is found dead have ingested plastic waste.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that the 50 fish Pullar took when with me are never going to return to the rivers; they are not going to spawn. Pullar says sometimes he hardly gets any salmon. Some people (who would catch a fish and return it to the water) are getting none after weeks of effort.

Seal’s Fate Sealed:

Seals are being shot as  part and parcel of this relatively new fish farming and industrial scale netting sector. Seals are shot apparently to protect the interests of those involved in netting wild salmon, and those who operate salmon farms.  The Scottish government via Marine Scotland hands out licenses for those involved in the salmon industry (farms and netting) to destroy common and grey seals (common seals are increasingly uncommon – more on that shortly). According to an article in the Guardian by Rob Edwards from April of last year, 892 seals were reported to the government as having been shot ; half by those involved in fish farming and the other half by netsmen such as Usan.

No one is certain how many seals are actually being shot. Marine Scotland may dole out quotas for seal hunting to the industry’s players, but it seems no official verification or record keeping is done. Animal welfare groups point out that seal carcasses have been found deliberately hidden after shooting in locations such as Elephant Rock (which I passed with the Pullars).

However, experts have found that many seals that were killed (of the carcasses found) had absolutely no salmon in their systems.

An upsetting anecdote related to me of a marksman going up to a seal on a crowded public beach and shooting it in front of children has not helped the reputation of the salmon industry, nor has a video of the would-be seal shooters caught in the act of trying to intimidate Sea Shepherd operatives in Gardenstown.

Overall, our seal population is shrinking, and Scotland is home to a fair portion of some of the world’s species of seals. These animals are persecuted throughout the Scottish Highlands and Islands; a man from Shetland was fined for clubbing 21 baby seals to death in 2009. The issues are summarised by Marine Concern in an open letter to Alex Salmond.

The persecution of seals has the government’s seal of approval. The website showing the details of the 2013 ‘returns’ states as facts ‘seals are only shot as a last resort’. It is interesting to consider how the government can state this as fact of the  52 licences it granted in 2013 to kill:

“The maximum number of seals involved is 774 grey and 265 common. Table 2 below provides details. This maximum represents less than 0.7% of the grey seal population of 100,000 and slightly over 1% of the minimum common seal population of 20,500.” (IBID)

The reasons for killing seals include “Protection of Health and Welfare” and “Prevention of Serious Damage”.

The government seems to take no account of the other pressures on seal populations from pollutants, plastics, and hunters. On the one hand killing seals is only ‘a last resort’ according to the government, and yet ‘prevention of serious damage’ is a justification for killing. What precisely is in danger of being damaged? Nets? Fish?

he also advises that while he will shoot ‘persistent’ seals

The government is not clear on its website what it means by ‘last resort’.

Would moving the nets, or avoiding seal area to avoid this mysterious damage not be a first means of avoiding destroying a seal?

Despite mounting evidence that seal populations are crashing seals are shot under license – but there does not seem to be requirements about detailed reporting of such culls .

Reporting is up to those involved in the shooting, and details don’t seem to be being collected. By contrast, an Aberdeen city deer cull required those who shot the deer to make and submit written notes of location, time and date of shooting, approximate age and weight of animal destroyed, its sex and condition, etc.

George Pullar was adamant that the salmon in his nets are his; he also advises that while he will shoot ‘persistent’ seals, he is working with experts at ways to keep the salmon from the nets. Methods include sonic deterrents and barrier bars on the cages. Pullar was issued licences to kill over 100 seals; he then told the press he would bow to public pressure and not kill. Except when necessary.

The seals didn’t get the memo that they can’t eat other wildlife – but again experts report that the seals found shot do not have  much if any salmon in their guts. Seals’ nature tends to be to pursue less difficult prey.

I can’t help but think a business with several different related companies which made a five figure sum last year,  might want to improve its public persona by  ceasing any and all seal culling, donating money to wildlife charities, advertising its salmon as being non-lethal to  seals, increase its prices to cover such expenses and voluntarily lower the number of salmon it takes  I wish they would is my conclusion.

Money on all sides:

The Pullars have a heritable right to earn their living from fishing. However, wildlife tourists are already being put off visting areas.  As to angling; many rural communities depend on it.

Ian Gordon, leading salmon consultant and gillie, said:

“It is fundamentally inequitable that Scotland’s coastal netting stations, which employ no more than 50, mainly part-time, individuals, are permitted to kill as many salmon as they are able to, before the fish reach our rivers. Wild salmon are a dwindling resource and the over-riding priority must now be to protect the 2,000 plus jobs of gillies and others on our rivers that depend upon a thriving angling industry to be viable.

“Angling, with the great majority of salmon caught released safely back into the river, is essentially sustainable but, if our rivers do not hold sufficient salmon stocks, anglers will simply vote with their feet – thus jeopardising in-river employment and the economies of local communities. In these circumstances Scotland can simply no longer afford to allow unrestricted coastal netting”

Wildlife tourism is big business here.  According to a 2010 Government paper:

“The report found that wildlife tourism annually brings in a net economic impact of £65 million to Scotland’s economy and creates the equivalent of 2,760 full time jobs.

The report also found that 1.12 million trips were made every year to or within Scotland with the main aim of viewing wildlife.”  http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2010/06/16110712

Summing up:

There seems to be clear evidence that too many wild salmon simply are not making it back to the rivers to spawn. Numbers are down; anglers are seeing the worst results they can remember. At the same time, additional netting rights by the Ythan were acquired by Usan subsidiary (aka the Scottish Wild Salmon Company) in March.

Some 500 seals are  in that estuary; it is a well-known, popular tourist destination.  It is hard to not see a link between these two facts.

What is hard to see is how we have skirted around the issue of Marine Protection areas for over 10 years (I was involved in some meetings meant to establish marine conservation areas years ago – and virtually nothing was accomplished; seals and birds were left out of the protection equation).

What is harder to understand is what Scottish Natural Heritage is actually for, since it doesn’t seem interesting in protecting Scotland’s natural heritage.

You could be forgiven for thinking…..

….. that seals and salmon are only pests and pound signs respectively to those charged with protecting our natural heritage for the future.

The seals are scapegoats for dwindling salmon numbers and are being shot for it. The desire to supply a finite resource to the entire world would certainly seem to be the reason for salmon decline, but we are hardly going to see an SNH censure or curtail in any way the netters; not when there is money to be made and political influence at work.

You won’t find such an admission in any SNH literature, however many euphemisms the SNH boffins use for killing animals that are perceived (wrongly in this case) to be taking salmon.

They may want to be taken seriously as scientists, but I am no longer able to see the SNH as anything but a collective of degree-holding experts for hire who inevitably favour money over the environment and wildlife. They know that shot seals have been examined and found to have no trace of salmon in their systems (seals prefer easier prey). But that does not stop the SNH calling the public’s desire to stop the culling ‘emotive’:

1.1 An overview of species conflicts in Scotland

Across Scotland, there are a number of terrestrial wildlife species that bring people into conflict. Many of the conflicts in Scotland arise from the impact of protected species on people’s livelihood or well-being. Species include many predators and scavengers such as raptors, ravens, seals, piscivorous birds, gulls, badgers and pine martens, or herbivores such as geese and deer.

“Predators may have an ecological or economic impact on prey numbers ..or even an emotional impact on observers (Burnett, 2012; MacPhee, 2012).

“1 In a number of cases, the impact of predation may be perceived rather than actual (Butler et. al., 2011). It is often the case that the true extent of the impact is unknown due to a lack of quantitative ecological or economic data (Harris et. al., 2008) which can be extremely hard to gather without expensive research.

“In some situations in which the impact is perceived to be damaging, people may breach wildlife protection laws, thus bringing them directly into conflict with statutory agencies and conservation organisations (Etheridge et. al., 1997; RSPB, 2011). Conflicts also occur where stakeholders disagree over the management of wildlife that is not necessarily protected.

“For example, stakeholders with sporting interests tend to manage deer populations with the aim of maintaining large populations. …Similarly, conflicts may arise due to growing public concern, on emotional, ethical, welfare or animal rights grounds, about the use of lethal methods of wildlife management (Animal Aid, 2012a; Barr et. al., 2002; Dandy et. al., 2011; Massei et. al., 2010).

“Such management may be carried out for legitimate exploitation (e.g. game species), or for other purposes such as population control (e.g. foxes), the removal of species that transmit diseases (e.g. badgers), or the removal of non-native species such as North American grey squirrels, or species outside their native range, such as hedgehogs in the Western Isles of Scotland (Animal Aid, 2012c; Barr et. al., 2002; Warwick et. al., 2006; Webb and Raffaelli, 2008). 

“One area of potential future conflict arises from the growth of the ecotourism and wildlife watching sectors of Scotland’s tourism industry. Scotland offers good opportunities for watching a variety of wildlife, including birds, marine mammals and deer, with associated local economic benefits (Dickie et. al., 2006; Parsons et. al., 2003; Putman, 2012a). 

“However, wildlife tourism requires visible, predictable and, in some cases, large wildlife populations which may cause conflicts with other sectors.

“For example, marine mammal tourism promotes the conservation of seals but may cause conflict with salmon interests (Butler et. al., 2008), large deer herds or geese flocks may be impressive to visitors but can have negative impacts on conservation interests or local livelihoods (DCS, 2009; Rayment et. al., 1998), and eagles, ospreys and other raptors may attract visitors (Dickie et. al., 2006) but have perceived or real impacts on agricultural and sporting interests.”

– Building an evidence base for managing species conflicts in Scotland – a Commissioned Report (no 611) – SNH

The above requires more comment than can be addressed at the moment. Some of the issues arising include questions such as: Who exactly is commissioning reports from what should be a purely scientific, rational, unbiased agency set up to protect wildlife? Who is deciding that the objections the public has to culling are merely ‘emotional’?  The SNH seems to fund various lobbying groups as well.  The Lowland Deer Management Group seems to be involved in promoting deer culling for instance; it is funded by the SNH and by extension by the taxpayer.

Who is deciding what numbers of wildlife are ‘acceptable’, and what are their affiliations?  Somehow wildlife managed to survive in Scotland before the SNH. An idealist might suppose the valid purpose of the SNH would be to protect our habitats and animals from pollution, urban sprawl, poaching and excessive overfishing. But apparently these are not goals on the SNH agenda.

The SNH has of course famously been behind the drive to limit deer to ridiculously small numbers in Scotland.

A hill in Aberdeen, once a meadow (albeit grown on a refuse dump) supported a herd of some 30 deer, give or take, for over 70 years.  Then the SNH and Forestry Commission moved in with a tree growing scheme:  these unbiased, scientific experts are planting trees on a hill with a poor soil matrix, overlooking the north sea (salt spray will be an issue) and where extremely strong winds are likely to topple any trees that are established.

To do this? The meadow and its deer population were virtully wiped out. The experts now claim that 4 to 6 deer is all the hill can support.  This flies in the face of the quantifiable past. This is also patently ridiculous: how is such a gene pool to be healthy?

How in fact can the deer continue at such a low population? Obviously, it cannot. The fact is money has changed hands in order to implement the tree scheme: money has apparently won the day over living creatures and biodiversity. But then again, the experts will say that the public is unable to understand and objectors will be written off as merely being ‘emotive’. 

John Robins of Animal Concern said:

 “There is an extreme pro-culling mentality within SNH. Whether they call it culling or wildlife management the Scottish Government, through SNH, is responsible for the killing, often largely uncontrolled killing, of hundreds of thousands of animals and birds every year. These animals include all breeds of deer and seals, grey squirrels and over twenty species of birds.

“In the past SNH have culled hedgehogs and they have supported culling of wild wallabies on an island in Loch Lomond. They allow gamekeepers to “manage” native species like stoats, weasels and just about anything which might eat the eggs of non-native pheasants.

“SNH and their political masters need to step back from mass killing and look at other ways of controlling wildlife if, indeed any sort of human interference is needed. Mother nature has done well enough on her own for millions of years.” 

This is not how environmental protection should work. No one in the SNH seems to be doing anything to stop urban sprawl. No one seems able to admit that the new deer guidelines are ridiculous – in fact they want their guidance to become law.  No one seems to care that salmon stocks are plummeting and seal populations are likewise declining.

No one in the SNH seems interested in the numbers of salmon escapees from fish farms, the farm-related pollution, or the welfare of the salmon in these farms. The SNH has, for me at any rate, absolutely no claim to impartiality, conservation, scientific method or integrity.  If there is anyone in the SNH who is concerned about these issues and is working on them, I would like to hear from them.

If this situation isn’t changed immediately, we will see a very different Scotland in a matter of a few decades – and it will not be one teaming with wildlife on or offshore.

Unless someone decides that protecting seals and salmon populations is more important than profit margins, we may wind up with no seals, no salmon and no profit margins.

With so many organisations reporting low salmon stocks and calling for quotas to be set for the netsmen, a prudent organisation would immediately spring to action. The worst that would happen is that the netters would take fewer animals, and therefore charge a higher price, and stocks might recover. But I expect no action from the SNH or Marine Scotland. And this is a great tragedy.

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Aug 152014

In mid-July Suzanne Kelly wrote to all the City councillors and the new Chief Executive. This was following Evening Express revelations that according to a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) count, there may be only nineteen deer left in the entire city, with only three or four left on Tullos Hill. Tullos had a deer population which was stable for decades, until the Liberal Democrats foisted a ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme on the city, and the deer’s days were numbered as the City Council refused even to consider alternatives to shooting.

In response to Kelly’s email, the City Council created a document which it sent to all councillors, but not to Kelly. Kelly has obtained this missive, and in this article seeks to dismiss its points.

baby deer

We may be in danger of losing all of our city deer.

This will be due in no small part to the recent drive to cull dozens of them at a time, on the pretexts that ‘they have no natural predators’ and that for reasons best known to scheme proponents Councillor Aileen Malone and ranger Ian Talboys, we need to ‘plant a tree’ for every citizen.

Having written to all the councillors, a few did respond with sympathetic views, advising that they were against the cull, and that they knew of the 3,000-plus citizens and the community councils which had asked for the tree scheme and the cull to be scrapped. However, many councillors never got back in touch.

Many people have since forwarded an email sent by the City Council’s media division. The media department chose to write to the councillors and the Chief Executive rebutting my email. They left me out of the correspondence.

Perhaps they knew that most of their points could readily be countered. This article is a response to the City Council’s justifications for how it treats its deer population and the low regard in which it clearly holds its voters.

Here is the gist of what the City Council tried to claim, and what I would like to say to the councillors and the City Council by way of rebuttal, a courtesy they decided not to extend to me. There go my hopes for a new Chief Executive who would be open, accountable and transparent in her dealings.

Thanks to the many people who sent me the City Council’s claims which I will deal with point by point.

  • The City Council claims there are errors and inaccuracies in an  Evening Express article of 19th July. The City Council claims the article did not report the real story regarding the roe deer population.

An interesting introduction; but the City Council fails to discount the article in this opening paragraph, or to say specifically what those inaccuracies are. They are going to address these ‘inaccuracies’ with the Evening Express. How very odd then, to remember an  Evening Express article of a few years back. This story advised that ‘two deer were found dead ahead of the planned cull’.

Well, that was true: the deer had died of unknown causes TWO YEARS before the cull. Someone in the City Council contacted the  Evening Express and encouraged this story. The City Council had no interest in correcting that little inaccuracy.

  • The City Council addresses the claim that Tullos Hill is “under threat from deer extinction”, and says this is not true. They say the survey was undertaken by SNH in January 2014 at only four of the city’s new woodland sites, out of 39 woodland sites. The sites looked at were Tullos Hill, Seaton, Danestone and Greenferns.

The SNH want to have only four to six animals on the whole of Tullos Hill, to fit in with their recent guidelines.

Perhaps the deer were hiding from the infrared sensors

These are for guidance and not legally binding, although you would not know that as the City Council repeats the mantra over and over again that deer must be ‘managed’ (ie shot).

The ranger Ian Talboys wrote an email in response to 16 deer limbs being found in a ‘suspected’ poaching incident on Tullos. More on that later. If he ever did express a desire to protect the remaining animals, find the culprits or find a means to discourage wildlife crime, he doesn’t seem to have put it into writing: a Freedom of Information (FOI) request disclosed all relevant correspondence.

Talboys says that he believed the deer must have been shot elsewhere, a rather wild claim some might think, as he thought there were fewer deer than that on Tullos:

“I would be surprised if there were enough deer in the area for anyone to be able to take four in one go so it may be the remains have been taken from somewhere else and dumped on Tullos Hill”

Perhaps it’s just as well that Talboys is not a criminologist. But the bottom line is, how can four to six deer, even if migrating between sites, have a healthy, stable gene pool and survive poaching? At such numbers exactly how will we continue to have deer on the hill?

  • The City Council’s media personnel then go on to offer conjecture, not fact, as to why the count may have been low. The count was aided by the contribution from Ian Burnett of Aberdeen City Council.

Perhaps the deer were hiding from the infrared sensors is one idea they offer. It is interesting how the City Council flits from conjecture to fact when it suits its purposes. What I asked for was a halt to any further culling, until at the very least another count was done to establish the numbers.

The apologists go on to explain in great detail how hard it is for the SNH to get accurate numbers for counting deer: temperature, other animals, weather, all sorts of reasons are given for why counts are inaccurate.

No one in the City Council seemed to have any concerns about inaccurate counting of deer when it put out its ‘Granite City Forest Tree for Every Citizen Programme – Tullos Hill Community Woodland’ document (BRN 165321 Case No 4158709).

It stated categorically that in 2011, 29 deer were counted on the hill. I will put up my hand and admit that at present I can’t find my source for the count of 70 deer in the area. However, if I am inaccurate with numbers, then I have company in the City Council’s paid professionals; only my counting doesn’t form the basis for shooting them.

Fact: the above-referenced report says that in February 2011 there were “seven bucks, ten does, six juveniles and six unclassified animals” (Page 67). The targets set (same page) were the destruction of eight bucks, nine does and seven juveniles in 2012/13 in the first killing, i.e. 24 of the 29 would be killed.

The great scheme was then to destroy four more creatures each season until 2016/17.

one of the complainants coincidentally writes to Aileen Malone with great frequency

No mention seems to appear in this 69-page report, in my opinion a highly biased apology for deer killing, that it’s hard to count the animals, or that there could be a doubt over the number of animals on the hill.

As above, councillors were told there were 29 animals on Tullos in February 2011. The hunter(s) paid to do the shooting that first season killed either 34 or 35 animals: the records are so poorly written that not even the City Council’s FOI request managed to find a figure.

So there you have it: 29 deer counted, of which 24 were going to be destroyed, and 34 or 35 were in fact killed. And now we are told it’s hard to count them.

  • The City Council’s cull apologist goes on to say that The Housing and Environment directorate continues to receive reports of, and complaints about large deer populations and the damage they cause across Aberdeen.

In response to my FOI request I was sent complaints about deer.

Oddly enough, one of the complainants coincidentally writes to Aileen Malone with great frequency, about deer in the Cults area which apparently go into the complainant’s garden. There would also seem to be one other complainer. These people must be amazed that they have moved to a countryside area and found countryside animals on private property.

  • ACC officers monitor the new woodland sites for field signs of the roe deer and evidence of deer browsing on the young and established trees, to establish the likely population of deer in the area and any impact they are having on the sites. The management of these sites ensures that there is a balance between habitats and species through weed control, scrub management, deer management, woodland management operations etc.

The public stated resoundingly that it did not want Tullos to become a woodland site. As it has gone ahead, the City Council has demonstrably left the weeds unchecked while killing the deer. The Forestry Commission clearly stated that the previous failure was related to weeds as well as alleged deer browsing.

The City Council has done nothing to rectify the poor soil matrix on Tullos. The report on the failure of phase 1 states that trees are likely to topple in the wind (wind toss) because of the poor soil matrix. The fact that debris are visible throughout the tree planting area demonstrates this fact. It is probably an insoluble problem, making Tullos an unlikely area for a forest.

  • The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Code of Practice on Deer Management place a duty on anyone with deer on their land to manage them at sustainable level, whereby the population density is not causing significant damage to property, crops, woodlands, protected areas or creating welfare issues for the deer themselves through lack of food or habitat to rest up in, or causing safety issues for people.

It is voluntary code of practice we are talking about, and a contentious one at that. The above-referenced report says about the code:

“although not mandatory, [the code] incorporates the legal framework for deer management… The Code supports the voluntary approach…”  

The City Council really should stop maintaining that it is following the law, it is following a code. It’s funny, there seems no such zeal to follow codes on our air pollution levels, still failing to meet EU permissible levels for particulates for years and years. There is no such zeal when allowing class sizes to exceed government guidelines.

And yet, the deer cull guidelines are presented to councillors as if they are mandatory legal requirements which must be obeyed.

At Tullos the deer posed no threat of property damage. There were no crops, there was no woodland, only a meadow. There were no deer welfare issues, there were no safety issue for people. Any evidence to the contrary has not yet been presented to the public and a chance to scrutinise any that exists would be welcome.

In the absence of any evidence, and having proved that the Code of Practice is not binding law, and did not apply as there were no crops, no starving deer, etc. at Tullos, this is meaningless jargon and a general statement not relevant to the specifics of the low level of deer now left in the city and the small number on Tullos.

But now the City Council plays a trump card: it gets into deer vehicle collisions. The City Council says that in 2013/14

  • “the Aberdeen City Council Cleansing Teams collected 30 roe deer carcasses from the city’s road network that had been hit by vehicles and died at the roadside. …which will have caused damage to vehicles, distress to drivers and their passengers as well as suffering to the deer.”

There does not seem to be a single sign erected in the city to warn of deer crossing. And yet the City Council is aware of all of these crashes without taking any mitigating action – except to advocate deer shooting. I have campaigned for signs to be erected, as are used in many other areas.

The City Council’s response? They claim people don’t pay attention to signs.

As logic goes, this is quite a fail. If the City Council is aware of risks to Health and Safety, and decides not to use fencing, deer deterrents (there are devices which emit noises which repel deer) or to warn motorists of hazards, then that’s rather a damning indictment of how it handles public safety and how little the protection of animals, and thereby our biodiversity, means to them.

The media pros then get around to my statement that the trees are not thriving.

  • “In ACC’s professional opinion the trees are doing well. The site has been inspected by Forestry Commission Scotland as a part of the grant conditions and they are content with the growth of the trees”.

IMG_1495I suppose a layman’s photograph of tiny tree saplings planted amid rubbish, overshadowed by huge quantities of healthy weeds is a professional’s version of doing well.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

For some reason, no documentation from the City Council or Forestry Commission painting a glowing portrait of a thriving plantation was included with the FOI documents sent to me.

Since we wasted £43,800 of taxpayer money trying to plant trees on Tullos before, which were beset by weeds, no doubt the City Council asked the Forestry Commission for a comfort letter, agreeing that the trees are just fine and we’re in no danger of repeating our past failure.

I have noted that Glasgow at one point refused to cull its deer for this voluntary code. With a grandiose sweep of the pen, the person attempting to shoot down my arguments tells the councillors

  • “It is not Aberdeen City Council’s place to comment on Glasgow City Council deer management policies.”

It might not be necessary to comment on Glasgow, but it is rather useful to note that other Scottish authorities are treating the deer-culling guidelines as guidelines, and not legal requirements.

  • Finally, we get to the reports sent in to me about deer poaching. The City Council has gone on in most of its correspondence and reports to explain that deer need to be shot ‘because they have no natural predators’. .

“Given the number of deer legs found it is highly unlikely that they were taken from this site as they would have come from more deer than were known to be in the area at the time. This is the advice provided by Grampian Police Wildlife Crime Officers following their investigations. In respect of the poaching, there is no proof that the deer legs found on Tullos Hill were from deer taken on Tullos Hill or the surrounding area.”

Well, we might not have wolves in the hills, but we certainly have poachers.

An article on the scale of poaching and the money involved was in The Observer on 10th August, page 9. But the City Council has reverted to wild conjecture. Talboys had written in an email that he doubted anyone could find four deer to poach on Tullos: his theory, and the theory being put to councillors here is that the deer were poached elsewhere.

Let’s imagine the scene. Deer poachers hunt, trap and kill four deer. The poachers decide what to do next: they take the deer carcasses, all four of them, put them in their vehicle, drive somewhere close to Tullos and park. They then carry the dead deer to a spot on Tullos hill, all the while risking detection.

Then they cut the deer up, take the meat, and hide the legs and guts in a bush. Or, having cut the deer up already, apparently to ensure the meat doesn’t get contaminated, they then carry the legs and innards in their car to a parking area close to the hill, grab the sixteen legs and the internal organs, walk along the hill and hide the remains in the bushes.

I wonder what Inspector Morse would say.

We will have to wonder what Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Officer has to say as well. There has not been a single press release about deer poaching in our area.

So, dear councillors and readers, if you have made it this far into my comments on the City Council’s attempt to trash my arguments, thanks to those who continue to oppose this senseless slaughter. Thanks to those who have sent me the City Council’s rebuttal when it failed to do so. Would you do me three favours?

The first is to halt any deer culling until we have a better grasp of how many, or how few deer we have.

The second? Protect motorists and deer: let’s just see if putting up signs might help. You might want to ask yourself how thirty deer–related accidents stack up to the drink-related, speed-related fatalities on our roads, and how many hit-and-runs we have.

Thirdly, would someone like to please find out whether ranger Ian Talboys, who is such a staunch supporter of shooting the animals, gets any money or expenses for his role in the deer-culling lobbying entity, the “Lowland Deer Management Group?” This would be rather interesting to know.

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Jul 252014

Aberdeen City’s deer population has been more than decimated by what seems like a heady cocktail of politics, bad science and greed. Aberdeen Voice covers the issues in a series of articles. By Suzanne Kelly.


A recent SNH count suggests that the number of deer on Tullos Hill may be no more than three.

The controversial Tree for Every Citizen scheme, originally a Lib Dem election promise, was promoted in particular  by Aberdeen City Councillor Aileen Malone, paid consultant Chris Piper, and city ranger Ian Talboys.

Nearly three dozen deer were shot on Tullos Hill alone, despite a large public outcry from residents, community councils, elected officials and animal welfare charities.

That wasn’t the end of the persecution of this herd of deer, which had been successfully established on the hill for over 70 years. The SNH issued new controversial guidelines, suggesting that the hill can only support 3 or 4 deer – an idea which is demonstrably untrue, and which would of course virtually destroy a healthy gene pool. The trees planted during the first phase of the scheme failed to grow, admittedly in part due to deer browsing – but unchecked weed growth, the wrong size tree guards and the very poor soil matrix on the hill were cited by experts as reasons for failure. The deer are virtually gone; the weeds outnumber and overshadow the new trees. The establishment of the trees seems very unlikely to experts and observers. But things got worse for the deer. Deer legs were found on both Kincorth and Tullos Hills in January of this year, apparently severed. Information from recent Freedom of Information requests has revealed a catalogue of issues to be addressed, and one of these is the poaching of several deer, and how the officials handled it.

Poaching: On 6th January walkers found deer legs on Tullos Hill. One week later, more animal remains were found on Kincorth Hill. These included a deer leg, and remains of a domestic cat that had been apparently skinned.  In the Kincorth Hill case, the findswere reported to a city warden at the time; the warden saw the animal remains.   There was a small amount of uncertainty at the time whether it was a warden or a ranger involved on Kincorth; it was later confirmed to be a warden. In any event, the warden made no report at all to the city rangers, police or the Scottish SPCA – which should be immediately notified of any potential animal-related crime. This disturbing news of these two finds never appeared at the time in the press, this is hardly surprising, as documents show the City was keen to keep the story of two trapped deer away from the Evening Express.

“We would not want this getting into the Evening Express so we need to act as a matter of urgency.”

The deer carcases were not found on the hills, only the legs. One of the City’s strongest arguments for killing the Tullos deer was that they had ‘no natural predators’.

a city warden failed to act on the evidence

Wildlife experts at the time pointed out that foxes for instance will take young fawns, and dogs also attack deer. The City and the SNH make no mention of illegal poaching, lamping and deliberate attacks on wild deer when they make this argument that there are ‘no natural predators’. A 19 February email from someone in the city’s ranger service confirms a cat pelt was found on Kincorth Hill:

“I have just got some info back from the City Wardens on their aspect of this so can now complete it. They did apparently find a cat pelt on Kincorth Hill, but no indication of how it had been obtained and which was reported to the Police and they had seen a dog with a deer leg but it looks like that was not reported to the police.”

There is also an admission that a city warden failed to act on the evidence. On 3 Feb someone emails:

“I’d hope that the would report this sort of thing to the police. [name redacted] manages this service now and it may be worth having a chat to him. He is very helpful”

Astonishingly, someone in the city’s ranger service makes an unfounded conclusion about the deer:

“The Tullos one is something we heard about from the police who are investigating this as poaching though [name redacted] and I suspect the animals could not have been taken on Tullos Hill as the population that [name redacted] has seen in recent months is less than this. SNH were due to be doing their repeat thermal imaging survey on the Tull0s Hill last night, I haven’t heard the results of how many deer they found.”

No evidence to support the ranger’s conclusion was supplied in the FOI request. If the ranger’s expertise is taken for granted, then person or persons unknown killed four (or more) deer at a different location, dismembered the bodies, and then walked fairly far from any vehicle parking area to deposit the legs on Tullos Hill. Perhaps if the rangers are making these kinds of conclusions without evidence, then there is a case for examining all the evidence they have asked the City and public to take at face value on the viability of the tree scheme and the ‘need’ to destroy the herd. The statement above also reveals that the rangers know the population was extremely low. Originally 22 deer (approximately) were to be killed in the first year of culling: 34 or 35 were taken. More were killed on subsequent years, and the plan is to kill still more. Members of the public are reacting angrily to the decimation of the city’s deer, now possibly only 19 in number according to the SNH. And the rangers want to kill more still.

The SNH deer population recommendations are guidance only, and do not have to be adhered to. It is hoped the City will look into the issues surrounding the depleted deer numbers, call a halt to the further destruction of animals for the foreseeable future at least, and ensure the authorities share all information on similar crimes with the Scottish SPCA, – and all future crimes are fully reported and investigated. Ideally, a proactive ranger service that would monitor the hill in a robust manner 7 days a week with a view to preventing further illegal poaching and all other illegal activities would be welcome.

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Jul 212014

In documents released to Suzanne Kelly under Freedom of Information Legislation, it emerges that two deer were trapped in a fenced off area on Tullos Hill in early June of this year. Emails between city officials seem to show that keeping this story quiet was a main concern. By Suzanne Kelly


Some of the fencing erected c. Oct 2011 we were told we could not afford, and which ruins the view.

Tullos Hill’s deer population may now be as low as three animals, as previously reported – but for those that remain, fencing and ‘sprayed off’ vegetation means real hardship.
Two roe deer were trapped in the narrow gas curtain fenced area in early June it has just emerged. Emails between city employees arranging for the deer to be let out of the area acknowledge that plants are being sprayed, leaving the deer even less food to eat.

The emails read in part:

“I have had a message on our answer machine over the weekend about 2 roe deer trapped within the narrow gas curtain fenced area on Tullos hill…

“I have been on site this afternoon and they are still there. As it looks like the vegetation has been sprayed off there is no real food for them in their [sic] there will soon be a welfare issue for the deer.  Is it possible to arrange for the gates to be opened so they can be gently encouraged out?”

If the ‘gentle encouragement’ didn’t work, one of those in the email chain offered a lethal solution:-

“Alternatively [name blacked out from the email] may be able to remove them with his rifle, though he may consider it too risky due to the risk of ricochet off the fencing.”

Keeping the citizens in the dark:

Two deer were stuck in a fenced area (note at the time of the initial tree for every citizen scheme, the public had been told fencing was too expensive a means to protect trees; the hill since has new fencing for the area the deer were trapped in, and wire fencing in another area) – they were stuck over the weekend without food as no one picks up messages on weekends, apparently.

Happily the deer were not shot in this case, although there have been signs that deer were killed and dismembered this year on Tullos and nearby Kincorth Hills – more on that in a future article.

Aside from either freeing or killing the deer what were the city’s correspondents interested in? Keeping this incident secret:-

“We would not want this getting into the Evening Express so we need to act as a matter of urgency.”


From the start of the plan to plant trees on Tullos, the city has controlled what information it wanted the public to have. A small selection displaying the secrecy involved includes:-

  • the public consultation discussed the methodology of planting trees but deliberately left out the culls that had already been planned. The consultation documents advised there would be rabbit fencing to protect the trees. The truth was that the city and the SNH had already planned to shoot the deer and it seems they didn’t want people to be objecting to this public consultation.  When the news broke that deer would be shot, the consultation had closed, and as flawed as this slanted consultation was, no one was allowed to comment further.
  • then Convener of the Housing & Environment Committee, Lib Dem Aileen Malone, issued an ultimatum to those concerned about the deer: give the city £200,000+ for fencing within a number of months, or the deer would be shot.
  • in response to a freedom of information request, the city initially denied that it had a debt of £43800 to the SNH for the previous failure of trees to grow on Tullos Hill. Then Chief Executive Valerie Watts had been asked at the time in a FOI from Aberdeen Voice whether there  is a debt; she denied it. When confronted with proof of the debt, she claimed that there was no debt at all, because it had just been settled recently; and there was no relation between the failed planting on Tullos and the plan to plant on Tullos again – see the Tullos Hill deer report.

Deer population decimation:

Thirty four or thirty five (precise figure unknown) deer were killed to facilitate planting trees on Tullos. This hill had been a rubbish tip and former gas-explosion risk area; but with other vegetation being ‘sprayed off’ and massive culls, it is now estimated that there are less than 20 deer in the entire city.

How the population can survive at all is a mystery – yet the city continues to stick to the premise that roe deer are a problem and the plans to shoot remaining deer continue. A private person in Cults is also complaining that deer enter his garden and should be shot.

As the population of the city’s roe deer has all but crashed and the city continues its persecution of these animals with the SNH’s blessing, further articles will be coming soon in Aberdeen Voice. We will bring you comments from those involved, from experts who wanted non-lethal means to plant the trees, progress on the trees’ growth (or lack thereof) and more.

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Apr 282014
scottish wild salmon company sign in gardenstown 27 april 2014

Scottish Wild Salmon Company sign in Gardenstown 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

By Suzanne Kelly.

When Scottish Wild Salmon Company (SWSC), a subsidiary of Montrose-based USAN Salmon Fisheries Ltd arrived in Gardenstown, the landowner made it clear there was no permission to shoot seals from his property.  At least one such illegal seal shooting took place last year, yet no one was charged.

Tourists who had witnessed the episode last year abruptly cancelled bookings and left; some locals were concerned; some angered.

This year the SWSC pledged not to use lethal methods to deter seals from going near its salmon nets near the Ythan Estuary. The SWSC arrived in Gardenstown and Crovie this year to net large numbers of salmon (we have asked for figures but no answer has been received yet). They arrived with guns.

Sea Shepherd arrived to monitor the situation this year. Here’s what’s happened since.

A Video Nasty

Sea Shepherd personnel were harassed by SWSC operatives, and a video was released, showing an example of this. The video showed three SWSC operatives cursing at, and intimidating Sea Shepherd and trying to stop them filming which Sea Shepherd had every right to do.

The owner of the area of land in front of the building and yard SWSC operates from has forbidden shooting. Sea Shepherd’s internet posting reads:-

“We have debated long and hard over whether to release this video showing Scottish Wild Salmon Company staff behaving in a threatening and abusive manner to one of our volunteers. Our final decision was made for us when these very same employees arrived at our beach clean last Friday to intimidate our staff, even making sexually explicit comments to one of our female volunteers.

“We hope that the residents of Gardenstown and Crovie will continue to come forward to tell the Scottish Wild Salmon Company that they are bringing disgrace to this otherwise beautiful part of Scotland not only with their seal slaughter but also with their behaviour in public.”

In a concurrent development, invoices were hand delivered to the Sea Shepherd charity demanding thousands of pounds in fees for filming in the harbour area; these invoices were since withdrawn. It is understood that not everyone in the harbour board was happy with these invoices being issued in the first place.


It is proven that Sea Shepherd were threatened by people intent on shooting seals who had rifles; why there is no prosecution forthcoming is unclear.

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

Crovie looking towards location of wild salmon netting 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly

It has also been proven that there is no permission to shoot seals granted by the landowner:  no one can shoot seals in Gardenstown and Crovie lands.

What men are doing walking around the area with shotguns then is something of a worry and certainly reason for the law enforcement agencies to step in. (Aberdeen Voice readers may well want to compare and contrast the way in which men with rifles are walking around these coastal towns, having been proven to engage in threatening behaviour, and the ‘Siege of Heathryfold’).

Aberdeen Voice has been told that the SWSC’s operatives are living in a non-residential building. While that is not a huge violation of law, it is still illegal. However, the more serious accusation has been made to Aberdeen Voice that guns are being stored in the SWSC’s building.

Aberdeen Voice will share this allegation with SWSC and the police, and will report back with any responses.

If the rifles are not being stored in the building in question, then where are they being legally stored? Did the police investigate how the guns are being stored when they investigated the video of Sea Shepherd’s man being threatened by people who had rifles?

A Walk on the Wild Salmon Side

Aberdeen Voice visited Gardenstown and Crovie, and spoke to locals and Sea Shepherd. No SWSC employees were visible, and their premises locked; it was a weekend. SWSC has given their position in an earlier email, the contents of which appear in the comments section of a previous article, and will be welcome to explain some of the issues arising from this article.

Despite proponents saying that shooting seals is essential and no concern to the people of the north east, many locals are very much opposed to the idea of shooting seals. As one explained:

“A presentation was made to the local heritage society [about studies done involving St Andrew’s University about sonic deterrents to seals]; there are ways to stop salmon being eaten by seals. There are sonic devices which keep the seals away, and there are ways to construct salmon nets so that seals can’t get in. Shooting should not be happening.”

Another said:

“I put the blame for this on Marine Scotland.  I tried to get answers from them and find out how and why they issued any permits to kill seals.  I telephoned – but I never got the promised answer back. With salmon farming taking place (which has lots of room for improvement in how the salmon are treated), there should not be any large scale netting of wild salmon. The smaller anglers are against what’s happening as well.”

And another local added:

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

Gardenstown harbour 27 April 2014. Image Credit: Suzanne Kelly.

“I have been documenting seal shooting since the seal was shot from Crovie pier last year. I will keep doing so, and I am opposed to SWSC shooting seals. I think there are two net areas (to the east) of Crovie.”

Finally, one local resident commented:

“…there are studies done on the material found in seal waste; I believe the study showed that salmon is not a large part of the seal’s diet.”  [seals eat a wide variety of sea life; salmon is far from their only food].

During our visit, Aberdeen Voice did not find a single local resident who wants gunman shooting seals in the area.

Non Net Income:  Value of Wildlife Tourism

Some would spread the belief that the salmon industries, wild and farmed, must be allowed to do as they please for the benefit of the rural communities.  The government says otherwise; wildlife tourism is big business. A Scottish Government  2010 report, ‘The True Value of Wildlife Tourism’ advises:

“… wildlife tourism annually brings in a net economic impact of £65 million to Scotland’s economy and creates the equivalent of 2,760 full time jobs.

“The report also found that 1.12 million trips were made every year to or within Scotland with the main aim of viewing wildlife. This form of tourism appealed greatly to UK-based visitors and Scots themselves, accounting for 56 per cent of trips. And it was these UK visitors who generated 75 per cent of the income.” 

Seals under threat

The UK  has common and grey seals; the common seal population is declining. We know that illegal shooting takes place (in areas other than Crovie). Aside from the danger of being shot, seals are suffering from pollution from the oil industry, marine activity and plastic waste in the water; depleted fish stocks further threaten seals, sea birds and other marine life.

Arguably we should be protecting the seal population, cleaning our water, and perhaps even taking less Atlantic salmon. An Irish-based research paper reports a drop of 75% in Atlantic Salmon populations:

“Atlantic salmon stocks in Ireland have declined by 75% in recent years (Anon 2008), and although conservation measures have been put in place, salmon stocks in many Irish rivers are below their conservation limits (Anon 2008).” – A pilot study on seal predation on salmon stocks in selected Irish rivers and estuaries.

The Gardenstown and Crovie communities do not operate solely on the basis of salmon fishing; tourism, leisure pursuits and arts play a part. These activities have demonstrably been hit by the arrival of seal shooters with rifles, witness the tourists who left after they saw the shooting last year.

Sea Shepherd will continue to monitor the activities of SWSC, as will concerned locals.

John Robins of Save Our Seals Fund said:

“Sea Shepherd and the Hunt Saboteurs Association have done a great job in bringing this issue back to public attention. I have no doubt they saved many seals from being shot at Gamrie Bay. We now need the general public to help save seals from being shot all around Scotland by signing our Petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to stop issuing licenses to shoot seals.”

Aberdeen Voice will likewise report on any further developments.

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Mar 142014

Can there be as few as three animals left on Tullos Hill, and if so, is that the end for these animals in our area?  Suzanne Kelly reports on recent developments.

roe-deerA herd of roe deer roamed for several decades in Aberdeen’s ‘Gramps’.

The herd, once estimated at over 70 animals (an estimate made by those who wanted the animals removed for a tree-planting scheme) was halved in a controversial covert cull.

Last month at least four deer were destroyed and their limbs found.

Police Scotland is investigating but the Scottish SPCA was not notified of these developments.

Local residents contacted Aberdeen Voice on two occasions concerning the welfare of the Aberdeen deer this year. In one instance, remains of four or five deer were found on Tullos Hill.

Walkers found police investigating the grisly find of deer limbs indicating someone or something had destroyed 4 animals. Meanwhile on Kincorth Hill, a walker reported finding a deer leg and mounds of a white powder to a city warden, who happened to be on the hill.

The warden related that skinned cat remains had been found. None of this information was relayed to the city or the police, despite the warden promising to do so. The warden apparently said he would inform the city; this appears not to have happened.

[Note – it was originally believed that the information was passed at the time to a ranger, but it was actually passed to a city warden.  Therefore the freedom of information request questions referred to a city ranger.  In any event, the warden should have shared the information with the city – SK]

Following Freedom of Information Requests to the City and Police Scotland, it emerged that the police chose not to pass this information on to the Scottish SPCA. No action appears to be being taken to ensure the welfare of any remaining wildlife, or to investigate the cat remains.

A Police Scotland spokesperson had the following response (questions/details posed by Aberdeen Voice are in bold):

1.  A severed deer’s leg was found on Monday 13 January 2014 by a dog walker on Kincorth Hill during the day. They managed to find a ranger, and reported the leg, and strange mounds of white powder they had also seen. The ranger told this person that a skinned cat was also found recently on the hill. There is a photo of a dog with the found leg.

2.  I have a second hand report that says on Monday 6th January 2014 (approximate date) police attended Tullos Hill where five deer had been killed. My source says that ‘deers’ legs were everywhere’. The police apparently told dog walkers that 5 deer had been killed.


a.    Are these reports accurate?

“No. 2 relates to an incident reported to Police regarding the remains of 4 deer in the Loirston Country Park. This is currently being investigated in order to establish if in fact a crime has occurred or not. This is the only Wildlife incident I am aware of in the area and no other incidents have been reported to Police Scotland.”

b.    How many animals and of what kind have been found dead recently on these hills?

“As far as Police Scotland is aware this is the only incident which has been reported to Police Scotland recently.”

c.    How, if known, were the animals killed?

“Only leg remains were found and so cause of death is unknown.” 

[Note:  If the legs were cleanly severed, then it was human involvement.  If it was torn, that is interesting, as the tree planting proponents insisted the deer had absolutely no ‘natural’ predators and therefore the city had to destroy them. Unless the police are alleging the animals died of illness or old age and the bodies mysteriously disappeared, it should be fairly possible to determine what took the legs off the animals.  SK]

d.    What is being done to ensure animal welfare in these areas? (at present I don’t believe there are any signs that prohibit poaching).

“At the moment I cannot confirm if any poaching has taken place (No.2). We have no other reference to animal welfare issues.”

e.    what agencies were made aware of this? Was the Scottish SPCA informed (it appears not – if not – why?)

“If poaching is reported, Police investigation will take place into the crime. Police Scotland would only contact SSPCA if an animal welfare issue was highlighted.”

[Note:  I would have thought that if someone or something is severing deer’s limbs, this might impact their welfare, and be worth at least a passing mention to the Scottish SPCA – SK]

Aberdeen City Council’s response is as follows (the same questions were asked):-

Concerning several reports received this week about animal remains on both Kincorth

Are these reports accurate?

“No. There has been no report to a Countryside Ranger that a severed deer leg had been found on Kincorth Hill on or around Monday 13 January. A City Warden did see a dog with what appeared to be a deer leg but this was not reported to the Police. 

“No Countryside Ranger was aware of any dead cat or piles of white powder being found. A member of the public did bring a cat pelt to the attention of a City Warden and this was reported to the Police by the City Warden. Any investigations into this are a Police matter. Regarding the 6 January incident on Tullos Hill, this is a Police matter as they attended the scene.”

How many animals and of what kind have been found dead recently on these hills?

“No other dead animals have been found recently on these hills or reported to Aberdeen City Council Countryside Ranger staff.”

How, if known, were the animals killed?

“Aberdeen City Council staff have not seen the reported remains in Question 1 so cannot comment on how they were killed. Information from the Police suggest that it would not be possible to tell how the deer were killed as only lower legs were found. Investigations into this are a Police matter.”

 What is being done to ensure animal welfare in these areas? (at present I don’t believe there are any signs that prohibit poaching).

“The deer population is being professionally managed to ensure that there are no animal welfare issues relating to the deer population. The sites are regularly patrolled by Aberdeen City Council staff. There is no requirement to display signs prohibiting poaching. Poaching is illegal on all land. As with most criminal activity, signs are not generally posted to inform visitors that these acts are prohibited.”

What agencies were made aware of this? Was the Scottish SPCA informed (it appears not – if not – why?)

“This would be a Police matter as the incident was reported to and dealt with by the Police.”

“ACC is unable to provide you with information on What agencies were made aware of this? Was the Scottish SPCA informed (it appears not – if not – why?) as it is not held by the Council. In order to comply with its obligations under the terms of Regulation 10(4)(a) – Information Not Held – of the EIRs, ACC hereby gives notice that this information is not held by it.

“ACC is required by Regulation 10(1)(b) of the EIRs to inform you as to why in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining this exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing this information to you. ACC is satisfied that it does not hold this information and considers that in all circumstances, the public interest in making the information available is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining ‘Information Not Held’.”

[Note:  if anyone can explain to me what the city means when it says ‘making the information available is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining ‘Information Not Held’ – please get in touch, for this makes no sense to me, sorry to say.  SK]

How many animal remains were found on either hill in 2014 to date, in 2013 and 2012?

“One dead roe deer was found on Kincorth Hill in 2013.  Occasional dead birds, mice and voles are seen each year due to natural causes or predation, no records kept of these.”

What is the estimated deer herd size now?

“Tullos Hill has recently been re-surveyed and there were three roe deer located on or adjacent to Tullos Hill on the day of the survey.”

Aberdeen Voice will be reporting further on Tullos Hill’s condition and related animal issues in the near future.

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