May 052017

With thanks to Diane Smith.

The Moray Way Association has received £6000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to support the Moray Walking & Outdoor Festival and a project based along the Moray Way, Moray’s 96 mile long distance walking route.
Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the projects will focus on events that uncover the historical, archaeological, architectural, natural and the landscape heritage of Moray.

This year the festival, which runs from 16 June to 25 June 2017, will have a ‘heritage’ theme with more events than ever exploring Moray’s built and natural landscape.

Highlights of the programme will include two events by Moray based historian and writer of The Making of a Scottish Landscape, Dr John Barrett; Ghost Towns – deserted settlements in Strathavon, where you will be able to explore the remains of a lost culture and, A Royal Burgh: the making of Medieval Forres, a walk tracing the origins and development of the town. 

The events are proving to be popular as an extra date has been arrange for the Ghost Towns walk which was sold out in a week.

The programme has a wealth of other historical and natural heritage events organised by local community groups like Speyside Visitor Centre, Cullen, Deskford & Portknockie Heritage Group, Forres Footpaths Trust, the Dava Way, Belles on Bikes Moray and Findhorn Village Heritage, alongside organisations such as Wild Things!, Outfit Moray, Forestry Commission, Moray Council Ranger Service and Ace Adventures.

Over the 10 days there are 50 plus events right across Moray, from Tomintoul to Lossiemouth.

Back again this year is Moray Way Five Day Challenge in which participants walk the 95 miles of the Moray Way over 5 days.

The walk, which includes the Dava Way, Moray Coastal Trail and the Speyside Way, provides participants with a ‘park and ride’ service to make it easier to complete the long distance walk, with options to just walk sections of the route. Also, returning this year is the famous Dava Way Ghost Train Walk, the Secrets of Pluscarden and Secrets of Spynie which participants rated as excellent last year.

For those who are looking for adrenalin rush then Ace Adventures are running their water sports events every day of the festival at special reduced prices. You can see the River Findhorn from a different view with cliff jumping, canyoning and white water rafting. They are also running their growing activity, Disc Golf.

This year the programme has several firsts;

  • Moray Speyside Film Club are hosting a special “Outdoor” themed evening of films,
  • a Wild Swim event will be taking place in Lochindorb with Vivienne Rickman- Poole, artist, wild swimmer and listed in the top 19 San Miguel Rich List ‘alternative rich’ as well as Calum Maclean, of ‘Wild Swimming in Scotland’.
  • A unique and special opportunity with The British Biathlon Rifle Club to spend several hours learning to shoot small-bore rifles in the marvellously unique Olympic discipline of biathlon. 

As well as supporting events in the Moray Walking & Outdoor Festival the funding will also help the development of a long-term plan to increase awareness of the Moray Way. Funding will support a commission artist to work with communities along the Moray Way to gather stories which can then be used to promote the route. This project will expect to start in the summer.

Commenting on the award, Bea Jefferson, Chairperson of the Moray Way Association said:

“We are thrilled to have received support thanks to National Lottery players. Each year interest in the event flourishes and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund ensures that we can keep growing. We look forward to celebrating Moray’s natural and built heritage through the Festival and our Moray Way project.”

About Moray Way Association

The Moray Way Association was founded in 2011 with the aim of creating Moray’s long distance walking route, The Moray Way, a 96 mile circular walking trail. Since 2012 the organisation has also organised the Moray Walking & Outdoor Festival with the purpose of encouraging walking and other outdoor pursuits in Moray.

For further information, images and interviews please contact Diane A Smith at Moray Walking & Outdoor Festival on 07764615517 or

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Nov 262015

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Retiral 1 Mike Fifield SMALLWith a combined service of more than 60 years, two forestry workers from Glen Tanar Estate have branched out into retirement.
Head forester Mike Fifield  and forestry worker Davey Goodfellow have reflected on healthy and happy times working in one of Scotland’s most stunning natural landscapes, in the heart of Royal Deeside.

Mr Fifield (65) can hardly recall being unwell since taking up his job at Glen Tanar 30 years ago and says:

“It’s obviously a very healthy job as I think I’ve only ever had a couple of days off sick. It’s kept me fit and very active and I’d have hated being in an office all these years.”

Meanwhile having spent more than half his working life at Glen Tanar, Mr Goodfellow (68) says he couldn’t have found a better place to work.

He even worked on three years beyond his retirement, helping out as a ghillie on the beats of the famous River Dee. Being a keen angler himself he particularly enjoyed meeting other people that share in interest in fishing.

“I’ve been here for 32 years and I have plenty of happy memories,” says Mr Goodfellow.

“If I had to do it all again I’d have no regrets about coming back to work at Glen Tanar.”

As well as tree planting and felling operations, dealing with storm damage and keeping roads open in the winter when normal forestry duties could not be undertaken due to heavy snowfalls is among the forestry team’s duties.

Conservation has become an increasing role, with almost half of Glen Tanar’s forestry area falling within the National Nature Reserve.

Working with partners including the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, the estate has successfully blended different land to deliver benefits – contributing to the latest thinking in habitat management.

Retiral 2 D Goodfellow SMALL

Davey Goodfellow with Michael Bruce.

Glen Tanar forms a substantial part of the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland’s largest national park. Land uses are balanced through careful management to ensure a long term future for all rare wildlife and plants, and this approach to conservation has won Glen Tanar many awards, including the Green Butterfly Award and certification by the Forestry Stewardship Council.

Among Glen Tanar’s many woodland residents include red deer, roe deer, the occasional capercaillie, grouse, brown hare, and black cock.

Mr Fifield and Mr Goodfellow were bid a fond farewell at a gathering at Glen Tanar Estate when owners Mr and Mrs Bruce presented them with long service certificates from the Scottish Lands and Estates.

Mr Bruce says:

“We greatly appreciate the sterling service that Mike and Davey have given, both giving more than 30 years of their working life to Glen Tanar.

“Their knowledge, skills and experience have been a great asset in the running and management of the estate and we wish them well as they embark on retirement.”

While Mr Goodfellow will continue to live at Glen Tanar, Mr Fifield and his wife Ann are moving to Alloa, near Stirling, to be nearer family – and other people!

Mr Fifield adds: “Our nearest neighbour was a quarter of a mile away and we were completely surrounded by trees so this is going to be a complete change!”

Glen Tanar Estate offers a wealth of activities and attractions from fishing and walking to adventuring on estate safaris. Glen Tanar Estate’s grand ballroom is available to hire for functions, including corporate events, weddings and conferences and the estate has a number of self-catering holiday cottages.

For more information on Glen Tanar Estate, visit or contact 01339 886451.

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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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Dec 062012

Founder and executive director of conservation charity Trees for Life,  Alan Watson Featherstone, has triumphed in the Environment category of the prestigious Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards 2012, announced at a ceremony in Edinburgh on 29 November.

The awards mark outstanding individual contributions to Scottish cultural life which inspire others.

Categories commemorate all that is great about Scotland, including Art, Business, Food, Music, Screen, Sport and Writing as well as the Environment.

The recipient declared:

As the winners of these awards are decided by public vote in the UK, this is an inspiring, national recognition of Trees for Life’s restoration of the Caledonian Forest. I’m very grateful to everyone who voted. It’s an honour that shows how deeply people care about conserving Scotland’s world-class wild landscapes, and about protecting our stunning biodiversity and wildlife.”

The charity has already planted more than a million trees at dozens of locations in the Highlands, creating ten thousand acres of Caledonian Forest, and has pledged to establish a million more trees through planting and natural regeneration within the next five years.

Today, only a fraction of the original forest survives, but Trees for Life is restoring it and its unique wildlife to an inspiring, spectacular wilderness region of a thousand square miles to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

In his acceptance speech, Featherstone acknowledged the support he’s received from current and past staff of Trees for Life, and the thousands of volunteers who have worked on the project since 1989. He dedicated the award to everyone who’s been inspired by, and cares about, the Caledonian Forest, which he described as ‘a Scottish national treasure’.

His wide-ranging, long-term work to change humanity’s impact on nature and the planet has provided inspiration for ecological restoration projects in the Borders, Dartmoor and the endangered Parana pine forest in south-east Brazil.

People can support Trees for Life’s work by purchasing dedicated trees to celebrate births, weddings and special occasions. A tree will also be planted for every recipient of a new Plant a Tree winter gift card this Christmas.

Meanwhile, the charity’s acclaimed volunteer Conservation Weeks offer opportunities to gain practical conservation experience in spectacular surroundings.

Telephone: 0845 458 3505

More on Trees For Life

Trees for Life’s story began at a major environmental conference at Findhorn in October 1986 when Alan, who at that time had no experience of conservation work, no funding and no access to land, made a commitment to delegates to launch a project to restore the Caledonian Forest.

The forest had once covered much of the highlands, with native pinewoods encompassing 1.5m hectares at their maximum extent in a wild landscape of mountains, lochs and rivers. Largely a result of land clearance, wood use and farming, centuries of deforestation had taken a huge toll by the 1980s, with only a tiny percentage of the former forest remaining.

Practical conservation work began in June 1989, when Alan took a team of volunteers to place tree guards around Scots Pine seedlings in Glen Cannich, to protect them from deer. By 1991, Trees for Life had begun to plant a new generation of trees, some of which were the first to grow in the Caledonian Forest for 150 years.

Trees for Life’s vision includes reintroduction of the forest’s wildlife and plants to form a fully-functioning ecosystem. It has developed as an award-winning charity with a dedicated staff team, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters.

In 2008, it bought the 10,000-acre Dundreggan Estate west of Loch Ness, one of the largest areas of land in the UK ever purchased for forest restoration.

The charity’s awards include UK Conservation Project of the Year 1991, the Millennium Marque in 2000 and Top Ten Conservation Holidays worldwide in 2009. In addition, Alan received the prestigious Schumacher Award in 2001 for his ‘inspirational and practical work on conserving and restoring degraded ecosystems‘.

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Oct 262012

With thanks to Richard Bunting

Alan Watson Featherstone, founder and executive director of conservation charity Trees for Life, has been shortlisted in The Environment category of the prestigious Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards 2012.

The awards mark the achievements of individuals who provide inspiration through outstanding contributions to Scottish cultural life. The categories commemorate all that is great about Scotland, and this year cover Art, Business, Food, Music, Screen, Sport and Writing as well as the Environment.

People are invited to vote for their preferred winners by post or via the Awards website with voting closing on November 14 2012.

Details of shortlisted nominees are appearing in The Scotsman Magazine each Saturday during the run-up to the awards ceremony on November 29 in Edinburgh.

“Being nominated for this award is an honour, and it’s a recognition of the importance of Trees for Life’s work to restore Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest,” said Alan.

“Every tree we plant will provide a habitat for some of Scotland’s remarkable biodiversity, and brings new life to the stunning wild landscapes in the Highlands. Our project celebrates people’s ability to create far-reaching positive change, despite major threats to Nature and humanity such as climate change, environmental degradation and habitat loss.”

The Caledonian Forest once covered much of the Highlands. Today only a fraction of the original forest survives, but Trees for Life is restoring the forest and its unique wildlife to an inspiring, spectacular wilderness region of 1,000 square miles to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

Since 1989, the charity has created almost 10,000 acres of new Caledonian Forest at 45 different locations in the Highlands. It has planted more than one million trees, with a million more pledged for the next five years.

Alan’s wide-ranging, long-term work to change humanity’s impact on Nature and the planet has also helped to provide inspiration for ecological restoration projects in the Scottish borders, on Dartmoor in England, and for the endangered Parana pine forest in south east Brazil.

People can support Trees for Life’s work by purchasing dedicated trees to celebrate births, weddings and special occasions, as well as memorials to loved ones. A tree will also be planted for every recipient of a new ‘plant a tree’ winter gift card this Christmas and winter.

Meanwhile, the charity’s acclaimed volunteer Conservation Holiday weeks offer opportunities to gain practical conservation experience in spectacular surroundings 

  By 1991, Trees for Life had begun to plant a new generation of trees

Trees for Life’s story began at a major environmental conference in Findhorn in October 1986 when Alan Watson Featherstone – who at that time had no experience of conservation work, no funding and no access to land – made a commitment to delegates to launch a project to restore the Caledonian Forest.

The forest had once covered much of the Highlands, with native pinewoods encompassing 1.5 million hectares at their maximum extent, in a wild landscape of mountains, lochs and rivers. By the 1980s, centuries of deforestation – largely a result of human activity such as land clearance, wood use and farming – had taken a huge toll, with only a tiny percentage of the former forest remaining.

Practical conservation work began in June 1989, when Alan took a team of volunteers to place tree guards around Scots pine seedlings in Glen Cannich, to protect them from being eaten by deer. By 1991, Trees for Life had begun to plant a new generation of trees, some of the first to grow in the Caledonian Forest for 150 years.

Trees for Life – whose vision also includes the reintroduction of the forest’s wildlife and plants, to form a fully-functioning ecosystem – has since grown into an award-winning charity, with a dedicated staff team, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters. In 2008, it bought the 10,000-acre Dundreggan Estate west of Loch Ness, one of the largest areas of land in the UK ever purchased for forest restoration.

The charity’s awards include 1991 UK Conservation Project of the Year, the Millennium Marque in 2000 and Top 10 Conservation Holidays worldwide in 2009. In addition, Alan received the prestigious Schumacher Award in 2001 for ‘his inspirational and practical work on conserving and restoring degraded ecosystems’.

For more information, see or call 0845 458 3505.

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Jun 222012

Voice’s Old Susannah comments on current events and enlightens us with definitions of some tricky terms with a locally topical taste. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  I’m not sure if this past week was more vibrant than it was dynamic or more dynamic than it was vibrant – but it’s been good on the whole.  Gray’s School of Art degree and fashion shows took place, I went along to the Sunday movie at The Moorings, and there were lots of cocktails.

RGU was interesting; for some reason just as we arrived, I was puzzled as my friends abruptly scarpered in different directions.  I was told later that I’d been standing next to HoMalone, and my friends didn’t want to see what would happen next. Not that I would have confronted her; I would have said “Hello!  My deer!”, or asked her where she got the fluorescent mustard coloured blazer she wore at the vote count.

She was probably searching for the Gray’s designer who made clothing out of fur, or the jeweller using bone, or so I would imagine (NB there were some imaginative uses of fake fur on show – why use dead animals for decorative reasons?).

Before the RGU fashion show, Gray’s Head of School made a speech, concluding that Gray’s and RGU were firmly behind Aberdeen’s bid for the highly coveted ‘City of Culture’ title.  Hooray!

There were several interesting artists and designers on show; I particularly liked jewellery by Sarah Sidwick.  In a written statement Sarah claimed:-

“Body image dissatisfaction is on the rise, with more pressure than ever before put on both women and men to obtain society’s projected ideal beauty…. I believe we should all start taking the growing problem of bodily image dissatisfaction more seriously and question our view on what makes someone ‘beautiful’.

We all have different ideas of what is beautiful I guess.  As long as someone’s not to fat or too thin, or too tall or short, and doesn’t show any sign of ageing – and wears lots of designer gear, it’s safe to say they are beautiful.

For anyone who likes to watch a movie without interruptions or without listening to other people’s mobiles going off every five minute, I’d suggest the Sunday Movie at the Moorings Bar.  The lights are dimmed around 4pm-ish, the doors are locked, and the audience is quiet.  Last week’s movie was called ‘Dazed & Confused’.

Old Susannah found some of the film’s references difficult to follow, and was puzzled that the young people in it seemed to smoke roll-up cigarettes with excessive frequency; I can’t imagine why.

There were a few occasions for cocktails this week, and my first visit to 99 Back Wynd won’t be my last.  There is a ‘Painkiller’ cocktail which is delicious, and they have violet-flavoured alcohol, which I love.

  Saturday 23 June is nearly upon us, and the biggest party Union Terrace Gardens has ever seen will be on

Possibly best of all is that BrewDog is offering cocktails.  Beer cocktails.  BrewDog craft beer  cocktails.    These spirit-lifting cocktails include Pretty in Punk, Saint’s Delight, Hardcore Pornography and Orange Tide.   A girl in BrewDog had selected about 20 bottles of different beers to take away; she told me it was a birthday present for a friend.  I told her my birthday is 9 July.

And I launched an eBook this week.  It’s a very short work entitled ‘Old Susannah’s Handbook of Modern Manners – Part One’.  It is available on kindle via Amazon.  The introduction is available to read for free, but after that it gets a tiny bit sarcastic.  It is yours for about £1.90, and should I sell any copies, then 20% of any profit will be split between four animal welfare/sanctuary groups. No doubt the City of Culture Bid Committee will be interested.

It can be found at

Seeing as the City of Culture is the topic on everyone’s lips (why, I can barely sleep!), I will include a few relevant definitions.  Before that, just a reminder that Saturday 23 June is nearly upon us, and the biggest party Union Terrace Gardens has ever seen will be on.  Hope to see you there.

But amid all this fun, the Freedom of Information people wrote to me this afternoon about some of my deer cull questions.  It seems that despite public observation to the contrary, warning signs were posted at each and every entrance during the weeks the shooting took place.

The signs said ‘forestry operations’ were in effect.  Obviously, forestry operations meant hunters were shooting rifles and a lethal risk existed.  By the way, 23 deer were shot, none were just wounded (so the city says), and all were ‘clean kills’.  However, to shoot 23 deer, 33 rounds of ammunition were fired.

I put my hands up (especially if confronted with a high-powered rifle) – but if 23 animals were shot instantly dead, doesn’t this mean an extra 10 shots were taken?  Did it take more than one shot to kill the poor (hand-fed in some cases) creatures?  Did any bullets miss – therefore meaning there could have been some serious accidents?

Feel free to ask the City yourself about the cull, the correct warning signs as to lethal risk, and the 33 rounds needed to kill 23 deer.

Now onwards with a few definitions

Culture: (noun, Eng) 1.  the collective qualities, traits, idiosyncrasies that give an area, a group or a nation its individuality.

A Ms D Morgan sent a letter to the Press & Journal last week; in it she noted that Aberdeen has closed nearly a dozen of its museums and/or sold collections over the past decade and a bit.  We recently flogged off some of the Thomas Glover House artefacts as well.  And about time.

No one is interested in history, old buildings or old paintings; people want to see sharks in fish tanks, skulls covered with diamonds, and granite webs.  The sooner we can get more vibrant and dynamic the better.  This is how it works.

  • Sell off your old stuff.  Sell old trees for lumber in Hazlehead Park and use the money to plant trees on Tullos Hill (irrespective of the existing ecosystem, peoples’ wishes, or the fact the trees won’t grow).
  • Shoot the deer that lived on the hill and sell their carcasses for game meat.
  • Let your old buildings either rot, get burnt down, or just sell them.  Then you have cash in hand.
  • Close museums; throw any books you find in Marischal College’s basement museum into a skip.
  • Buy some trendy new art, and get lots of consultants in.
  • Build new venues, even if the existing venues have to be subsidised by the taxpayer.
  • Borrow lots and lots of money over what you got by selling the family silverware.
  • Give money to consultants.
  • Borrow more money.
  • Set up some private companies, preferably with the established quangos which you’ve helped to set up.
  • You will need more money.  Cut funds, stop benefits, close schools, pressure libraries.
  • Ask arts practitioners in the area what they want, and ignore those who are politically awkward, not dependent on you for funding, or who want a slice of the new pie.
  • Set up lots of meetings, think-tanks, new groups.
  • Select a random area of the city to be the quarter for arts.  Impose this new geography.  Then sit back and wait for the public’s grateful thanks, and grants to roll in, and tourists in their thousands to appear, hopefully generating the £122,000,000 you promised people your granite web and new ideas would bring in each year.  If you build it, they will come.

I do not think Aberdeen can be rivalled in its ambition.

City of Culture: (noun, mod. English) title bestowed upon a UK/European City by vote. 

The irreverent magazine ‘Private Eye’ has previously pointed out how Liverpool, previous City of Culture, spent a great deal of money on events which sadly people weren’t sophisticated enough to appreciate or support, and wasted a fortune.  But Valerie  Watts, our Chief Executive, came from Derry.  Derry won City of Culture, and she wants another similar victory here!

Only a minority of negative people in Derry think that money was wasted on this award.  £12  million or so was needed for Derry’s ‘Millennium Way’.  If you and I haven’t heard of it, it is because we are uncultured.    Here is some criticism of what I am sure was a brilliant idea:-

But suddenly as I read these old stories, everything fell into place for Old Susannah as she remembered one of the huge white elephants of Liverpool.  Actually, it was not a white elephant

We have seen some of our quangos and LibDem / SNP politicians desperate to build a giant granite web.  I can now reveal the reason we are desperate for the giant web is that a city of culture must have:  A Giant Spider.

City movers and shakers in Liverpool,  (home of the Beatles, Echo  & the Bunnymen, classical performers, painters and sculptors) decided to ignore all that art nonsense and get really cultural – with a giant spider called ‘the princess project’.  The spider’s cost was nearly £2,000,000.  What a bargain!

Why DaVinci, Mozart, Bach, Turner and so on ignored the cultural importance of a giant spider is beyond me; I guess we’re just more enlightened now.  But ‘Liverpool Culture Company (in turn funded by the city, the Arts Council and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) decided to get a giant Japanese spider.  I guess Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan were not available at the time.

Who were the creative geniuses behind this entire ‘city of culture’ invention?  Who wanted a giant spider above classical arts and indeed before serving the needs of the Liverpudlian citizen?

The entire concept of a Department of Culture, Media & Sport was an ancient dream we can thank Tony Blair for.  One of the first Ministers for this crucial cabinet post was the talented David Mellor.  He was famous for having his toes sucked by Antonia de Sancha, as reported widely at the time.

Was it a Shakespearean scholar, Tom Stoppard or another luminary who helped devise this spider scheme and run Liverpool’s year?  Indeed:  it was creator of Brookside Close, Phil Redmond, who was Liverpool Culture Company’s artistic director. To quote Wikipedia, which is quite accurate on this story, Redmond said :-

“At £1.5m I think it’s (the giant spider) actually cheaper than (booking) Macca (Sir Paul McCartney) and it has got us on the front of the South China Morning Post. So it’s good value for money.  However, the project has come in for criticism [whatever for? – Old Susannah asks] in some quarters: the UK mental health charity Anxiety has highlighted the potentially traumatic effect of the production upon those suffering with arachnophobia, and the TaxPayers’ Alliance has called the artwork an “outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money”.

The vast majority of the public response was … that “The Liverpool Princess’ performance was the highlight of the city’s Capital of Culture 2008 celebrations.”

I can well believe that was the highlight, remembering some of the other non-events Private Eye covered.  There were cancelled performances, people giving work to acquaintances, and all sorts of dubious goings-on.

None of that could happen here however.

Patronage: (noun) to support, pay for or otherwise assist an artist, project, sportsman, etc.

In a far distant past, the fine artist was paid by the rich to portray the wealthy patron in a favourable light.  The artists were obliged to do as they were told, but often they left clues behind in their work to say how they really felt about their patron (stone masons would leave small caricatures behind in the back of their work).

Later, the role of patron switched to the State.  If your artwork pleases the government, you get grants.

For instance the man who was paid £9,000 (or so) to paint our Lord Provost told the press:

”I think he ( Provost Stephens) is a really nice man.” 

Well, he would say that wouldn’t he? It’s not like he feels any obligation to the system that commissioned him; or that would mean we have the state controlling what artists do – heaven forbid! – whereas the negative, fault-finding, duo of Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney were denied grants from Creative Scotland, as ‘no one would be interested in a documentary about Donald Trump and the Menie Estate’.

Thankfully, by letting the government dish out money to the artists they like is that we can try to prevent another ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ from getting made.  I wonder how many people with similar projects which were turned down didn’t find the resources to realize their artistic visions.

Thankfully, we will never find out.  Another benefit is we don’t have to think too much about what is good or bad art – the state chooses for us.  Result!

Old Susannah has already been a bit longer-winded than she had intended; apologies.

Next week:  No Creative Scotland commissions for me.

Apr 192012

Old Susannah looks at recycled paper in the shape of old news and defines some tricky terms we will all too soon be bombarded with in the run up to the London Olympics.  By Suzanne Kelly.

What a week it has been in Aberdeen! This was the story everyone was talking about:


“Animals ‘starved to death’ on tree-planting site” were the headline and tagline which greeted readers of the Evening Express online on Monday 16th April. My phones rang, my email filled up, and Facebook was buzzing with questions from those who saw this ground-breaking news story. ‘How did the deer die? When were they found? How old were they?’ were all questions people wanted answered.

It soon transpired that in the text of the printed news story, anyone who took the trouble to read the piece learnt that the deer died… in 2010. Yes, that’s right, the headline referred to deer which died two years ago.

Old Susannah is happy to say that after a wee chat with the EE’s deputy, a correction was made online (I did ask for something in print, but apparently this is not happening).

I told the EE’s deputy editor that this headline was akin to putting up a headline ‘Titanic sinks’ in a newspaper today. He seemed to think I was equating the loss of all those lives with two deer and he didn’t think that was the right thing to do.

But I happily explained to him that I was making an analogy as to printing old news in a paper, without making absolutely clear in the headline that the news is old. I think he got the idea in the end.

But someone came to the Evening Express ‘on Monday’ with ‘a report’ – which led to the story being written. Hmm. Can we think of anyone who would want people to believe deer need to be culled or they will starve? Someone who might perhaps want to get re-elected, stay in their job, get money for the tree scheme – could such a person be behind this? I think we should be told. I’ve asked the Evening Express and the Council who is responsible for this strange, belated tale. Please feel free to ask them, too.

I’ve told the Aberdeen Voice’s editor that I’m working on two similar stories myself.

The first to be called ‘WOOLY MAMMOTH DIED ON TULLOS HILL IN ADVANCE OF CULL’ – it will explain the hill is too small to support many mammoths, and the mammoth is thought to have died having been hunted to extinction by members of the primitive ‘LibDem’ tribe – ten thousand years ago.


 The ConDems are proud to present (no expense spared): The 2012 Olympic Games!

Just when you think you have some kind of entente cordial with these guys, they plant the seed in everyone’s mind that deer are starving and that only by killing them can we prevent the tragedy of them dying.  How and why an ancient letter was not only presented to the EE and then turned into a ‘news’ headline is as much a mystery as the stone cairns on Tullos we will soon obscure with dead and dying tree saplings. Sigh.

Perhaps if I send the Eve Express the old letters I have which prove:

a) The cull was long planned and deliberately kept out of the public consultation and
b) The city was chased for not paying up on time the £43,800 it owed to the Forestry Commission, these letters too might be transformed into brand new news stories.

But I don’t think I’ll bank on it. It’s as if someone were playing silly games.

While we are on the subject of silly games (which I just got us onto of course), it won’t be long now until the London 2012 Olympics start! Result!

People don’t want to think about jobs, pensions, pollution, EU scandals, water companies that don’t fix their infrastructure which leads to drought: people want bread and circuses (another thing the Romans ever did for us). Therefore, the ConDems are proud to present (no expense spared): The 2012 Olympic Games! Result!

Let’s look lovingly at some definitions for the Olympics (even if they aren’t going to create as many jobs and as much wealth as our Granite Web will magically do)…

Logo: (noun) – an emblem or design linked to a movement, company or other entity.

You thought the ACSEF logo was brilliant; it was. Well, the boundaries have been pushed; thinking has taken place outside the box, and the beautiful, elegant 2012 logo was launched. It graces everything from chocolate bar wrappers (which I’m sure the athletes gulp down by the case) to chequebooks. Who will ever forget those precisely-formed, joined up ‘2012’ numbers?

The only thing I can think of that was as pretty and chunky was our own ‘Monolith’ design, which sadly won’t be built. Some people say the ‘2012’ lettering looks like it was done by a 9-year-old with a crayon in the back of a car with bad suspension, but this is just artistic jealousy. Whether or not the artistic talents behind the granite web had any input is unconfirmed.

Mascot: (noun) – a character or animal linked to a movement, company or other entity.

The American Olympic Games gave us a cuddly version of the American eagle wearing an ‘Uncle Sam’s hat’. The Moscow Olympics gave us a bear. How very passé.

The greatest British design teams toiled day and night, and have come up with Wenlock and his friends. What better way to sum up what our collective of nations is all about than a long, thin blob thing with a giant bloodshot eye on the top of it? I don’t know what it is – do you know what it is? Would you have this thing in your house?

Why would you buy one? Again – what the heck is it? I am sorry I started down the path of trying to define Wenlock – and think I’d best forget about his other little friends, too.

Commemorative stamps: (noun) a postal stamp or set of stamps issued to mark an historic event, occasion, person or place of importance.

Elvis had a stamp. The Beatles had a set of stamps. And now for the first time in recorded history – we will get a brand new stamp issued instantly every time a British Athlete wins a Gold Medal.  That’s going to be an awful lot of stamps I can tell you.

I intend to camp out at my post office with a portable tv so I can watch the women’s 25 meter tag shotput heptathalon event, and be the first person in Torry to get the Gold medal stamp. I trust you are all as excited about this development as I am.

The only thing I found more exciting is that it will soon cost £0.60 each time I want to send a first class letter. That is presuming whatever envelope I want to use can fit through that silly little guide thing they now have – kind of like a version of ‘The Wall’ for envelopes instead of people. Perhaps ‘The Wall’ should be an Olympic event?

Poetry Parnassus: (noun – modern English) – an event invented for the 2012 Olympics so that intellectuals will feel part of the whole wonderful Olympic thing, too.

This is the concept (although there aren’t enough poets yet – volunteers should call the Olympic HQ): there will be a helicopter drop of 100,000 poems printed on bookmark size paper onto the happy Olympic fans. Result! This will apparently take half an hour. I can’t decide whether to get down to London for this and then find a post office to wait at for the first Gold Medal Stamp or not.

I’m afraid all this Olympic excitement has overtired me. Otherwise I could have reminded everyone of the story of Native American, Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was perhaps the greatest athlete the modern Olympics ever knew. He won everything. Decathlon, everything – it was a great triumph and he fought a great deal of discrimination to get that far.

But it turned out he had once been paid for playing ball – and so was theoretically a professional. All of his medals were stripped away by our always-honest and rule-abiding Olympic authorities. However, his accomplishments still stand.

Today’s athletes have been known to endorse products, be paid professionals, and to use the occasional ‘enhancer’. But for me, none of them could hold a candle to Thorpe. Must remember to tell you about him sometime.

Next week: Election round up – and news flash! Ancient Pictish/Celtic warrior found dead on Tullos ahead of cull!

Nov 042011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Revelations

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

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

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

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

( Stop Press – Financial information. Click Link )

 Mystery of the Missing Postcards

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Media is to blame’ (Really?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving on:  to a Meadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 042011

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly explores the functions of wild meadows in Britain, looks at some of the existing meadows in Aberdeen and what the authorities have planned for those areas. 

‘We must have a tree for every citizen” is the battle cry of Aileen Malone, a ranger or two (who also think we will make money from the trees), one or two people who are involved with the forestry industry and some political pundits.

They are willing to kill the Tullos Hill Roe deer, discard our bronze age (and later) archaeology, displace birds and insects, remove gorse and wildflowers from Tullos Hill, and spray weed-killer for 2-3 years.

Never mind that they have previously failed.

Forget that Mother Nature has left this windswept, exposed hill as a grassy meadow:  these experts will try a second time with our tax money to impose a new biosystem over the biosystem which exists on Tullos.

They consulted experts, so Valerie Watts, Peter Leonard and Aileen Malone keep insisting, and no other experts’ opinions (however valid, whether freely offered or not) are wanted.  This refusal to entertain other advice or to compromise whatsoever calls into question their claim to scientific superiority.  Additional flaws and omissions from initial submissions leak out constantly, but the tree and cull proponents will not budge.  Not willingly anyway.

But what other options are there for Tullos Hill and for Aberdeen?

There is a new breed of expert and new school of thought, backed by virtually every environmental agency in the UK and by Europe.  This wave of expert opinion says that our meadows and grasslands are absolutely vital.

So before we allow politicians and career-builders decide the fate of Tullos Hill, its flora, fauna and archaeology, let’s just for a moment or two entertain a different vision for Tullos:  a meadow and deer park, enhanced with more wildflowers and plants, and with protection from arsonists increased.

It is not impossible; it certainly would not be as expensive as imposing 89,000 trees.

By the way, the deer cull is not enough.  Weed killers – we don’t know what kind or how toxic – are recommended by one arm of experts for two to three years.  Cost:  unknown.  Toxicity:  unknown.  Effectiveness:  unknown.

Who are these people claiming meadows and grasslands are not only desirable but definitely essential?

Since the 1930s, we have lost 98% (over three million hectares) of wildflower meadows across England and Wales

Plantlife ( ) is the UK’s leading charity working to protect wild plants and their habitats.

They identify and conserve sites of exceptional importance, rescue wild plants from the brink of extinction, and ensure that common plants do not become rare in the wild.

Here is what they have to say on the importance of meadows and grasslands – like Tullos Hill:

“These are arguably the UK’s most threatened habitats. They are rich in wildlife, landscape character, folklore and archaeology, and they offer a range of ‘services’ to society and the environment. Despite this, our wildflower meadows have suffered catastrophic declines over the past century and intense pressures continue to threaten those that remain.

“Since the 1930s, we have lost 98% (over three million hectares) of wildflower meadows across England and Wales. Wildflower meadows now comprise less than 1% of the UK’s total land area.

“Despite some good work being carried out to restore wildflower meadows, the trend continues to be an overall decline in extent and condition of these habitats. The Countryside Survey 2000 showed a decrease of a further 280,000 hectares of wildflower meadows in the UK between 1990 and 1998. The survey also showed a continuing decline in the species diversity of these habitats.

“Once lost, our species-rich meadows and grasslands cannot easily be restored.

Susan Kerry Bedell, Funding Manager for Saving Our Magnificent Meadows, has corresponded with me about the need for protecting our remaining meadow lands.  She has sent me a summary document which can be found at

[ (NB The summary will be put up in the next couple of weeks).  The summary paper stems from a three-year project funded by Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Plantlife.  Some of its key messages are:-

  •  Wildflower-rich grasslands are arguably the UK’s most threatened habitat. They are recognised as precious and important ecosystems, supporting a rich diversity of wild plants and animals, including many rare and declining species.
  • These habitats are increasingly seen as contributing to the overall well-being of our society, and to the ‘services’ that healthy ecosystems provide, such as carbon sequestration (capture), amelioration of flooding and a more efficient cycle of nutrients which improves soil health and productivity.
  • Wildflower-rich grasslands also offer a wide-range of public health benefits and are part of our cultural heritage, helping to provide a ‘sense of place’. They are seen as vital to the long-term survival of bees, through whose pollination of crops much of our food production depends.

Despite their high nature conservation value, our wildflower-rich grasslands are in decline, both in extent and in quality. Many of our meadows in the UK were lost during the last century.

Intense pressure, particularly from changes in farming practices, as well as development and neglect, continue to impact on the remaining areas. Between 1930s and 1980s, 98% (three million hectares) of wildflower-rich grasslands in England and Wales were lost.

Despite conservation legislation, including an EU Habitats Directive (which incorporates six BAP priority grassland types in Annex 1), planning legislation and two decades of agri-environment schemes, wildflower-rich grasslands continue to disappear or decline in condition. 

Once lost, these species-rich meadows cannot easily be recreated.

  • These declines meant that the UK was unable to meet its national and international commitments to halt the loss of grassland habitat and species biodiversity by 2010.

What can you do to help reverse this decline in meadowlands and grasslands?

Forests are wonderful.  And so are Meadows.  We need both, and not just one or the other.

Finally, I am launching a petition to keep Tullos Hill the wildlife-supporting meadow it is, stop the tree planting scheme, and to stop any cull.  If you would like to sign, or get a copy of the petition to collect signatures on, please contact me via Aberdeen Voice ( Link )

Oct 012011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ad also says:

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

And apparently:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So – when is the cull?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evening Express do write:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new maths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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