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’.

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 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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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

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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Jan 162014

A £500+ reward has been offered for information passed to the Scottish SPCA leading to the conviction of person(s) involved in killing animals in Aberdeen’s ‘Gramps’ – Kincorth and Tullos Hill. Suzanne Kelly reports.

roe-deer-fawn-picA dog walker on Kincorth Hill made a gruesome discovery when their dog found a severed roe deer leg this week.

The witness who took a photo of the severed limb also found small mounds of an unidentified white powdery substance.

They were able to locate a ranger on the hill and reported their finds. The ranger revealed that a skinned cat had been found on Kincorth Hill as well.

Aberdeen Voice found a second hand witness who claims deer were also illegally slaughtered and dismembered on Tullos Hill earlier in January – and who claims the police attended the scene. In this instance Aberdeen Voice was told ‘the police said five deer had been killed’, and ‘there were legs everywhere’.

A Scottish SPCA spokesperson knew nothing about either event. Clarification is being sought as to whether the City’s rangers informed the police about the Kincorth Hill discoveries, and whether the information was passed to the Scottish SPCA or not.

Tullos Hill made national headlines when Aberdeen City Council pushed ahead with a scheme to plant tens of thousands of trees on this former dumping ground – killing some 36 deer in the process. A previous scheme failed, costing the taxpayer at least £43,800 (not counting the fees paid to experts including C J Piper).

Experts wrote in a Forestry Commission report that trees are unlikely to thrive because of factors including the poor soil matrix and potential for being blown over in high winds. Domestic and industrial waste from decades of dumping is clearly visible in the thin soil where the saplings were planted.

Gorse covered a large part of the hill in the past; it was home to the deer and a variety of birds. With the gorse cover, the deer had some security from predators including dogs and hunters.

Despite the stated wishes of several community councils and a petition signed by thousands, the city pushed ahead with the deer cull, insisting the trees would be destroyed by the deer, and that ‘deer had no natural predators’ – a claim made by Peter Leonard of the City’s Housing directorate, and former Housing & Environment leader, Liberal Democrat Aileen Malone.

Clearly the person or persons responsible for this current spate of animal killings constitute predators, whatever pro-culling proponents may claim.

baby deerThmMalone had prevented two people from speaking against the cull (they had new evidence to bring including the cost of the previous failure) at the committee meeting at which the ‘Tree for Every Citizen Scheme’s’ supporters voted to have the deer shot.

The reason for refusing the delegates from speaking was that Malone had only asked for a verbal report on the issue, and not a written one – therefore stopping any potential critics.

Many on both sides of the issue found this move contrary to the spirit of transparency and democracy.

It is not known how the deer were killed, if the meat was taken for use or for sale, and whether or not dogs were involved. Any such attack on wildlife is contrary to Scottish law, and fines and potential imprisonment could follow a successful prosecution. Anyone who can identify those involved is urged to contact the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999; witnesses can remain anonymous.

There are very few deer left in our area following the city’s destruction of over half the herd, estimated before the city’s cull to number 70. There have been indications that illegal dog fighting may also be taking place in Aberdeen city and shire. Anyone with information about dog fighting, the theft of animals, or animal abuse or destruction is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, the Scottish SPCA, and/or Aberdeen Voice.

When the city and the police have responded to questions put to them about these incidents, Aberdeen Voice will publish an update.

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Aug 012013

On Sunday the 21st of July a small group of people, previously brought together by their concerns regarding the culling of roe deer as part of the controversial ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ project, visited Tullos Hill. Fred Wilkinson reports.

The group wanted to take a look at what had changed since the culling of the deer and the planting of the trees. There was considerable upheaval associated with these, as well as the removal of vegetation and the erection of fences.
Armed with half a dozen cameras, from mobile phone additions to expensive professional devices, the group also wished to create a visual record of the beauty of the area and the wildlife in evidence.

As we walked along the top of the hill from the Altens Farm Road entrance, one of the first things we observed was that a vast area which months before had been quite brutally cleared of gorse, and all other vegetation for that matter, was now covered by new growth and crowned by an impressive display of foxgloves.

Various grasses and other common wild native plants contribute to the cover, making the area immeasurably more pleasant than it was the last time we had stood there.

The area in question has not been planted with trees, and therefore the reason for clearing it would seem to have been in order to expose deer to the marksman charged with culling 46 deer, of a population officially reported to have been around 30.

A less pleasing consequence of the clearing of gorse however is the spectacular spread of bracken, crowding out almost any other species of plant over a huge area where once was a much more varied range of wildlife alongside the gorse. This is quite an own goal, and would have been more so if further deer culls were planned. This is because bracken is significantly more efficient than gorse when it comes to hiding deer.

Additionally bracken is recognised as a potential fire hazard, and a plant which is poisonous to mammals, including humans. One wonders why it has been allowed to grow over such a huge area, obscuring previously visible minor footpaths, as well as views across the hill – now visible only to those individuals exceeding or approaching six feet in height.

Julie Thompson took advantage of the cairn to gain height and to take some pictures not only of the spread of the bracken, but also of the superb view over Tullos, Torry and the rest of the city.

We then made our way down the hill to the picnic area, having gathered shots of the many wildflowers including wild pansy, ragwort, tufted vetch, coltsfoot, dame’s violet, at least two varieties of buttercup, bird’s foot trefoil, kidney vetch, white clover, spear thistle, various white umbellifers including cow parsley and hogweed, ox eye daisy, rosebay willowherb, broad leaved willowherb, stinging nettle and groundsel.

We were already appreciating the variety of plant life in what is a mixed habitat. For all the gorse, broom and that invasion of bracken, there is room on the hill for all. Except deer it would seem.

Julie Thompson commented:

Having previously visited shortly after the deer had been slaughtered, it was nice to see that the hill had recovered somewhat from what had appeared to be a scorched earth program. It’s such a shame that so much of the gorse – a fantastic habitat for birds & small mammals – has been superseded by bracken.”

At this point, we discussed the apparent lack of animal life. There is no evidence of deer, but rabbit droppings can be seen occasionally.

There is no shortage of insects and spiders, and it is heartening to see so many bees of at least 4 different varieties.

There is also evidence of snails, ants, grasshoppers, froghoppers, ladybirds, aphids, various flies and wasps including the rather creepy ichneumon wasp, which along with the sightings of moths and butterflies, including ringlets, small tortoiseshells, and small whites, suggested that there were caterpillars and other larvae to prey on.

However, compared to what we had witnessed on previous visits, birds seem scarce.

Julie Thomson observed:

“During the couple of hours that we were there, I only saw three or four small birds (gulls are everywhere, I don’t count them). For an area such as this, that is pretty shocking and just goes to show what damage has been done by removing so much of the gorse.”

On our first picnic two years ago, as well as the noticeable presence of small birds, a kestrel could be seen patrolling the north side of the hill. This predator was a good sign in that it was being sustained by a healthy number of smaller animals.

Lower down the hill, we encountered some different plants. We found poppies, smooth sow thistle, pineappleweed, scentless mayweed, knapweed, sedges, cleavers, dandelion, tormentil, shepherds purse, hawkweed, mouse-ear chickweed, dock, rats tail plantain, ribwort plantain, and red clover.

I was particularly excited to find a double buttercup.

I have no idea how frequently this occurs outwith an environment concerned with the cultivation and the specific aim of producing double-flowered varieties of plant, but this was certainly the first I had ever witnessed in a natural environment, albeit a reclaimed landfill site.

I spot droppings which suggested evidence of a fox, but knowing that the hill is popular with dog walkers, and lacking spectacles stronger than I need for anything other than reading, and also lacking the expertise to determine for certain the origin of said poo, I decided against pulling it apart.

However I am happy to entertain the possibility that there are foxes there, and the abundance of another sort of poo suggests that there is a population of rabbits sufficient to sustain a small number.

By now we can see the recently planted trees, or at least, we see an abundance of upright green cylinders. Each has its own story which contributes to the bigger picture.

The good news is that most of the trees that we saw were alive, although few appeared to be thriving.

Ironically, the area where last year’s mock funeral for the deer took place appeared to have the largest proportion of dead trees.

Then there are the trees we didn’t see, or rather couldn’t see, as they were obscured by weeds inside their tubes.

Whether those trees are alive or dead is anyone’s guess, but what is clear is that their chances of survival are compromised at the very least.

We had agreed that we were there to observe, discuss and record, and not to disturb or interfere with anything.

We therefore refrained from removing weeds to look for the trees, ensuring zero possibility of any action on our part causing damage to trees or their protective tubes.

We examined an area which remained stripped of vegetation other than weed filled tubes and dead trees, the soil exposed to reveal an array of household and industrial waste.

On seeing the half-buried plastic bags and containers, various scraps of metal including what appeared to be an industrial steel cable and a rusted steel rod which would have been used once to reinforce concrete, Torry resident Sheila Anderson commented:

“I am glad I never saw what the hill was like before the planting, I would have been so upset right now”

Unfortunately, unable to evaluate those weed-hidden saplings, which make up a sizeable proportion of the plantation, it is impossible to put an accurate figure on the percentage of trees which have survived so far. However the scale of neglect is abundantly clear.

Alex Mitchell commented:

“It looks like the deer were doing us a favour controlling the weeds.”

We saw many tubes with plumes of weed growth sprouting from them. Often it was as if we were looking at small sturdy trees with green plastic trunks and a lavish crown of weed growth.

I had barely started writing this report when I learned that Councillor Jean Morrison, on behalf of Aberdeen City Council, has collected a commendation in the New Native Woods Awards relating to the tree planting on Tullos Hill.

Difficult as it is to evaluate the general health of the newly planted trees, no-one in our party regarded what we saw as worthy of winning an award, leaving us wondering what criteria were applied, and what observations were carried out and

I have since emailed Councillor Morrison and await answers to a series of questions of questions relating to the above. Some 10 days on, I still await answers.

We were promised a tree for every citizen.

46 deer were killed to facilitate this pledge. Large areas of vegetation, which constituted a habitat for a great many birds, mammals, insects and other animals were removed.

However we evaluate this it is certain that the number of trees which have survived falls embarrassingly short of the number of citizens. It is also certain that deer have played no part in the failure of trees to survive.

Having a fairly good knowledge of native wild plants, it was apparent to me that some of the weeds we saw growing up inside the tubes had reached heights that they would not have achieved naturally. Without the support of the tubes, the effect of wind, and their own weight would have limited their height, making them more likely to offer the neighbouring trees the required space and light to sustain them.

It appears that no management whatsoever of the plantation has been carried out since the trees were put into the ground.

I must make it clear that although I and a great many others were opposed to the Tullos Hill deer cull, no-one has expressed to me any wish for the trees to fail.

That would not bring back the deer, and would result only in taxpayers’ money being used to pay back the grant on account of failed planting, as has happened previously.

Rather, we believe that as the trees have been planted, already at great cost both in terms of finance, damage, and a number of animals which were once considered of sufficient value to grace the pages of council-produced tourist information brochures, that the council has a duty to each citizen for whom they planted a tree, to manage the plantation and ensure the survival of as many trees as possible, and to replace every single casualty.

Suzanne Kelly reacted:

“We paid the consultant some £70K for this; we also had to repay £43,800 for the first tree planting which failed.  The causes of failure were listed as deer, wrong size of tree guards, and importantly failure to keep weeds in check. 

 “The deer were destroyed for this scheme, and it is very disturbing that no one is looking after the trees.   We all saw the condition of the soil on Sunday – it is filled with large stones and industrial and household waste. 

 The soil matrix was of concern to the Forestry Commission, too.  If the trees don’t take in the end, and I don’t believe they will, I want those responsible for forcing this scheme on us to be held accountable.”

Having examined hundreds of trees and weed filled tubes over a wide area, we made our way back along the north part of the hill, finding more plant species to add to our list. Self heal, creeping thistle, sorrel and yellow rattle were visible in the grassy meadow areas, and as we approached the wooded part to the west, we encountered areas of boggy moorland with mosses, browned from the recent dry conditions, and heathers.

Having gathered hundreds of photographs and seen first hand the ‘lie of the land’, we discussed our mixed feelings about our findings.

On the bright side, despite the poor soil which covers much of the hill, particularly that part which was formerly landfill, there is an impressive variety of plant life providing stunning displays of colour and interesting fragrances. Added to that spectacle there is also the impressive view over the city which few locations can equal.

It stands to reason that if the wild areas are left to develop naturally, more species of plants and animals will find a niche in such a diverse habitat.

There is also evidence that the trees, if managed properly, can survive, at least in some areas. Their growth is likely to be slow, and they will not achieve their natural height.

The bracken is of concern. Bracken certainly has its place, but unchecked, it dominates, squeezing out other plants, and also any animal species associated with those displaced plants. If there is any regime of management of the Tullos Hill environment, this needs to be examined and acted on.

With the fine weather we have enjoyed over the past fortnight looking likely to continue, at least intermittently, I recommend to anyone who has not set foot on Tullos Hill to do so and see for themselves that in spite of the less pleasing aspects I have mentioned, this is indeed a beautiful and unique part of our city well worth speaking up for in order to preserve its uniqueness for future generations – for plant and animal as well as human to enjoy.

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Apr 122013

A frequent visitor to Tullos Hill advised Aberdeen Voice that things had got even worse. Suzanne Kelly paid a visit to investigate, and returns with photos – and evidence pointing to littering by… the tree planters.

If you were one of the minority who were determined to wipe out the meadow and gorse habitat of Tullos Hill, ruining its insect, bee, butterfly and mammal populations in the process, no doubt you will be pleased at its condition.

It is almost completely denuded of plant and animal life, save for the protruding tree guards and tens of thousands of sapling trees.

On the other hand, if you loved the hill as it was, and expected to soon be in a vast field of dame’s violets and other wild flowers, and enjoy the older, established trees and wildlife, then this is a very black day.

The photos tell the story. 

Existing trees, haphazardly knocked over or crudely, fatally damaged.

Gorse was eradicated  from all but a few spots.

Hardly any wildflowers or green plant life is left  in evidence.

Dead plant matter everywhere, and of course the thin layer of topsoil reveals, almost everywhere you look, industrial and/or household rubbish going back decades.

The final contempt shown for the existing wildlife comes in the form of litter.  I discovered what were clearly boxes used to hold tree saplings scattered about a few locations.

A tree sapling which had been left in one of the boxes was bound at the root inside of a square of black plastic. Loose squares of plastic were under, inside, and scattered near the boxes.

It would have been considerate of whoever would have been the owner of this tree-planting litter to at the least take away their rubbish.

Plastic rubbish of this kind (as anyone with the slightest interest in the environment can tell you) poses a major hazard to wildlife on land and in the sea.

It seems the many awareness campaigns demonstrating how animals/fish/birds eat plastic and end up dying as a result were not part of the curriculum for our tree planters.

The crude chicken wire enclosure structure still – pretty much illegally – blocks visitors from a huge central swathe of the denuded hill.

Inside, more existing trees are now dead and dying, damaged by those in charge.

This enclosure should of course come down, as it is denying access on public land previously enjoyed historically by visitors, and under the Outdoor Access Code, there is no right for the Council to have closed this off in the first place.

Nearby at St Fitticks, the tree guards which have stood for years continue to stand, throwing doubts on the scapegoating of deer for their failure to grow.

Despite these guards being choked by weeds with no sign of progress over the years, Aberdeen City Council’s Freedom of Information office insists these trees are growing – just slowly.

Who precisely says they are growing should come forward.

My photographic evidence is now several years old, and shows veritably no growth at all for the vast majority of the St Fittick’s plantation,

The shocking ruts in the landscape caused by earthmoving equipment and vehicles, the weeds growing around tree guards, the apparent lack of concern for any of the wildflowers or life that depended on the plants and gorse has – won an award for this scheme.

Ian Tallboys, ranger and proponent of what was largely Aileen Malone’s scheme, implemented by £70,000+ consultant Chris Piper, was proud to accept the award. 

If anyone can claim to be proud of this scheme, there is something wrong with their environmental priorities.

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Sep 212012

Voice’s Old Susannah  takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and further beyond ( including the murky depths of ‘local’ cyberspace ). By Suzanne Kelly.

Across Aberdeen this past week most of us have enjoyed the last warm(ish) days of summer, and the sunny days and early evenings. Others have been glued to their computers waging a curious battle over a protest planned for tomorrow (Saturday 22nd September).

In the quest to win new friends and influence people, the ‘Protest Against Aberdeen City Council’ Facebook pages have entertained a wide variety of opinions, and a wide spectrum of humour (I am using the term ‘humour’ loosely).

Somewhere between 12 and 500 people will appear at 1pm tomorrow in front of the Marischal College  building (which will be deserted, as it’s Saturday), to protest against Aberdeen City Council, Labour, and the death of the granite web.

An interesting report is to go before the Audit Committee soon; it is by an independent reporter who finds that both the councillors and the officers of Aberdeen City Council need to think about how they interact.

Anyone who read about this report in the Press & Journal would have been shedding tears, assuming this bullying was 100% by mean councillors against poor but honest officers.   Indeed. More on that later.

But the real talk of the whole country is around the most fundamental question of all, which is dividing the Scottish nation, setting brother against brother, and causing an affa bother:  is the deep-fried Mars bar a national treasure or not?  Earlier on, the Mars company reportedly disowned the creation;  other sources later claimed the Mars business had embraced the calorific snack.

This crucial question will no doubt be the subject of several independent consultations, a referendum, Holyrood debate, health & safety analysis, a PR campaign by the BiG partnership featuring Morris the Monkey, and more than a few bar room fights.

Some people claim that the original, unadorned Mars bar was good enough as it was, and should be retained.  Others claimed it wasn’t 21st century enough unless it was covered with a web of deep fried flour and grease.  Not since Culloden has such bickering been seen in this part of the world.  Old Susannah hopes resolution is possible.

There have been a few amusing news stories across the UK as well.

  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind

Seems some of those nice people at Scottish Enterprise have been very enterprising indeed.  Old Susannah never realised what a generous employer SE was, but it is kindly allowing staff to take SE credit cards and take out nice big, fat juicy cash advances (in a variety of currencies), and paying the amounts back as and when.

As a taxpayer, I’m so pleased we can help out the less fortunate SE employee with the odd £10K loan or two.  It’s alright though, as the employees always intended to pay the money back.  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind.

It’s almost as if proper financial controls were not working 100% at SE – which is a bit unfortunate in such a tiny organisation; they still operate on a mere £750,000,000 or so per annum (much of which is salary – which Old Susannah finds difficult to reconcile with the cash advances the cash-strapped staff seem to need).

And in England, a woman has been sentenced for hijacking a ferry boat, telling her pursuers ‘I’m Jack Sparrow!’ and sailing away until finally caught.

Readers will find it hard to believe, but she was high on drink and belladonna (deadly nightshade to you and me, which is quite poisonous).  I prefer the odd BrewDog and crisps, myself.  After two days of drink and hallucinogens, she felt ill for some reason or other, and called the paramedics.

When they arrived she was, naturally enough, on a moored ferry boat, as you do.  She ‘didn’t mean to untie the craft, but the ropes kept getting under her feet’.  Fair enough – could have been any of us really.  The ferry boat’s owner told the BBC this incident was a:-

“total one-off bizarre incident which we have never experienced before”.

Old Susannah should hope so, too.

I’m afraid the definitions this week do involve the web; don’t worry – this too shall pass.

Carrot or the Stick: (English saying) to offer an inducement – reward and/or sanction to gain support or agreement.

Any movement needs to recruit new members.  Those nice Scientology people give out free books on  Oxford Street, and tell you how clever you are.  Next thing you know, you’re married to Tom Cruise and waiting for the mothership.  The Moonies used to give out flowers; various missionaries would trade a square meal in exchange for preaching at you.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and Common Good Aberdeen – two forces with the same ultimate goal of saving UTG from development have web presences, hold meetings, and hold the odd demo or two.  New members and the curious are welcome.

Speaking of odd demos, there is a group called ‘Protest against Aberdeen City Council’ holding the demonstration I mentioned before, taking place tomorrow.  They too have a web page and embrace open debate.  And what a debate it has been.

The finest minds in all of Scotland’s past pale into insignificance against the rhetoric, logic, self-restraint and persuasive skills of a small number of the posters on this page.  I’m surprised we’ve not all been convinced the web’s the way to go by this bunch.

The page’s administrator, who apparently lives in the United States, has allowed a wide raft of comments to go unmoderated, which I’m sure doesn’t mean they are encouraging trolls at all.

Usually when you want someone to come around to your way of thinking, you offer them some reason to do so – the proverbial  carrot and the stick.  The Big Partnership, recently rendered silent on the topic of the web, used both the carrot and the stick to get us to join the granite web fanclub.

  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence

The carrots were ‘build the web and 6,500 new jobs appear’, ‘two hundred million pounds will magically flow into the city annually until the year 2023 (not 2022 or 2024 – 2023) AND the added incentive that Morris the Monkey and Jake the Ghost want the web convinced us in the thousands.

The sticks used to try and beat us into submission?

‘No one will come to Aberdeen’, ‘we’ll look silly if we don’t take Ian’s £50 million and do what he says with it’ and ‘people will think Aberdeen is ‘closed for business.’

I always liked this last ‘closed for business’ argument.  It was supposed to make me think of a vibrant and dynamic shopping mall, doing lots of business.  Instead, it made me think of an indiscriminate callgirl who would do anything with anyone if the price was right.

How are the ‘Protest against Aberdeen’s’ members and posters winning hearts and minds?  Reasoned argument?  Supplying facts and figures?  Welcoming newcomers?  Parrying dissent with rapier-like wit and friendly banter?  Absolutely!

Please do go and visit this page yourself – it has all the relevant facts you need to know to make an informed decision to support the web.  These include colourful postings such as the following:-

*  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence;

*  there is a woman being insulted because of her looks;

*  there is a man who says he’s no longer onside with the protest because of the abusive comments made by protest supporters – so he’s attacked as being a ‘plant’;

*  a man who was abused as a child is asked if he was ‘a little sh*t who deserved a clip ‘round the ears’;

*  there is a woman who ‘has it on good authority’ that all the bills the taxpayer has already picked up for the web were really somehow not paid by the city council (who the invoices were made out to), but Sir Ian really picked them up; and

*  a hilarious joke about building a mosque on UTG (alas; Old Susannah is unable to appreciate the witticism or the point being made)

People against the web have in several instances risen to the bait and argued back.  But whatever side of this issue you are on, have a look at the comments made by people like Sandy M, George S and others.  They’ll have won you over with their carrots and sticks before you know it.

Readers of a sensitive disposition may, however, wish to stay well clear.

Cautionary Tale: (compound noun; English) A story intended to impart advice by showing someone else’s error.

This new Information Commissioner is taking no prisoners – well, actually she might be, as the police have been called in to enforce the law.

This kind of development in Aberdeenshire is extremely worrying!  The local authority seems to have accidentally denied it had information and accidentally deleted the information it denied having.  It was almost as if there was something to hide, and as if the law came second to what the local government mandarins wanted.

This story, covered in this past week’s Press & Journal (really) implies that Freedom of Information requests have to be answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Old Susannah is reassured that there won’t be any such issues here in our city.

Even if the Information Commissioner’s office is reportedly auditing the work our FOI office does, it’s not as if information has ever been withheld from me, or anyone else, is it?  (Unless of course you count requests about Mr S Milne, the deer cull, cost of Marischal college…)

Pre-emptive strike: (compound noun; English) a form of defence or deflecting attention  by attacking one’s opponent first.

Well, a report going to the Audit Committee next week seems to imply that councillors had in the recent past not been treating officers courteously and had asked difficult questions.  Naughty!

No real naming and shaming was done.  I hope no councillors asked awkward questions of Pete Leonard for instance.  Mean councillors in the past may have asked him why he kept representing that the deer-culling, tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral, even though he knew for months that phase one failed, and ACC had to repay £43,800 for the dead trees.

He recently tried to deflect this irritating fact by reportedly saying £43,800 referred to something in the 1990s.  Just because the money was paid in March 2011, when he was saying the great scheme was cost neutral to the Housing Committee, is no reason to think he wasn’t accurate or completely open, is it?

A cynic could think this report’s suggestions that councillors should show more deference to officers like Leonard is a pre-emptive strike.  Did the report authors know about all the assorted little machinations of Leonard and his ilk?  I’d love to know.  At least one person must have come out of this untarnished:  the softly-spoken, always calm and rational Gerry Brough, kindly volunteer to the City Gardens Project.

Now that this report has come out, I hope city councillors will be warned by this pre-emptive strike not to ask any tough questions!  Hope that’s settled then.

And there we leave it for now.

Next week:  I will attempt again to escape from the granite web – unless Zoe finally writes back about those CGP radio ads, promising us the web for free.  Will keep you posted.

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Sep 132012

Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly visited Tullos Hill on 29 August and St Fitticks’ on 2 September.  These were sites of tree planting – and deer culls.  Around 40 animals were killed (the record-keeping is so poor and the freedom of information office reports so contradictory that the exact number is hard to tell). Suzanne presents a pictorial record of the current condition of these two sites.

The Housing & Environment Committee  August 2012 took a report from Pete Leonard, Director of Housing Services, and supporter of the tree scheme and deer cull.

As we have come to expect, the report supports the scheme and the manner in which it was carried out.

(click on pictures for description )


While we await the official minutes from this meeting, here are some photos intended as a special Thank You to scheme proponent Aileen Malone, Pete Leonard, countryside expert and ranger Ian Tallboys, mysterious consultant Chris Piper.
The city’s information office claim to have no information on his company or address – despite paying over £44,000 for this stunning result, and despite Piper writing a joint report sealing the Hill’s and the deer’s fate.

Thank you as well to all those councillors who voted in favour of the Tree for Every Citizen Scheme and who voted to stop myself and Andy Findlayson (now elected councillor) from speaking out on the scheme’s flaws when this could have been prevented.

None of this would have been possible without these peoples’ involvement and determination to turn a once beautiful, thriving hill into what you see in these photos.

Yes, parts of the hill were left intact – but much of the biodiversity and beauty is gone.






What if the £120,000+ spent on this unwanted scheme had gone on preventing arson in the gramps instead?

The Minutes of this meeting are not out, but word has it those who favoured the scheme have hailed it as ‘a green success.’ 

It seems the £43,800 we had to repay in March 2011 was ignored as somehow being relevant to the late 1990s. 

The incorrect, legally unsupportable position that the deer had to be destroyed anyway was maintained.

There were also assurances that the shooting took place with proper regard for safety. 

Those responsible for decisions concerning the actual shooting and risk register are in for a surprise before long on that score.

The only good thing that came from the H&E meeting was the repeated reassurance from new Convener Neil Cooney who replaced Aileen Malone that there will be no repetition of any scheme that demands the life of deer to plant arbitrary trees.











Will these trees thrive?  Doubtful.

The soil is poor, the trees will be subject to ‘wind toss’, there is salt spray from theNorth Sea, and weeds are being left totally unchecked. 

Was anything like the scheduled 89,000 trees planted on Tullos and St Fitticks? 

 Definitely not.


If you want to attend an upcoming meeting (date, time TBC) on next steps and lessons learned, please get in touch at .






The scheme may be over, the PR and legal repercussions for its supporters is not.

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Sep 072012

Ben Hukins gives Voice’s Suzanne Kelly the run-down on his background, races, interests and opinions on Aberdeen’s hot topics.

I meet Ben at Café 52.  I’ve been running (it was a Thursday and getting around town on Thursday evenings at rush hour is always problematic) and am somewhat out of breath.

Ben is a local runner with a number of local races and victories under his belt.

He has a girlfriend who is now into running, several cats, a rabbit which has chewed through his mobile phone charger, a father who used to be a professor at Aberdeen University and opinions on the day’s issues.

Unsurprisingly the Olympic Games is our first subject for discussion:

“As a sporting event it was fantastic.  I was actually quite surprised we did so well… my girlfriend and I saw several events including some of the women’s running events.  I felt like getting on the track and running. 

“There was negative press and commercialism…when you have companies like Dow Chemicals involved…  but all the negatives such as transport and security – all of that was forgotten.  As a sporting event it was fabulous.  You couldn’t leave an event without wanting to go run round the track.  We watched the women’s marathon on the street.  Everyone just got a huge buzz out there.

“The running track is going to stay.  There was a huge debate over the stadium with Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham – the West Ham solution was the best. Luckily in the end international bodies intervened.”  

But are kids today being active?

“People in my generation all kind of grew up outdoors playing, playing football.  Even when computer games were starting up, most people still went out to play as well.” 

We get into some early background history.  Ben is a Liverpool fan, although he grew up in Manchester before his family moved to Aberdeen.  His dad got a position in Aberdeen University and he and his mother moved to Aberdeen once Ben finished his A levels (one week after his 18th birthday).

Ben studied electrical engineering, stayed to work in the energy sector and is now the only member of his family still in Aberdeen.  His girlfriend recently took up running.

We then get to Scottish football and the future of Rangers:

“I actually read quite a lot; the actual administration process was interesting; there was so much written about it.” 

We talk about running – Ben is about to be put in the ‘veteran’ age group for running purposes.  He recently ran the Baker Hughes 10K, which is a big charity event.

“It’s great because you get a whole spread of people.  There is a guy from Greenock who goes to every single race in a clown’s costume.  He must have raised quite a lot of money for charity.” 

And if Ben is running competitively?

“I normally take it easy, but I like to get up 4 hours before a race starts.  I just have breakfast and get ready.” 

Ben enjoyed the Stonehaven half marathon in particular and he discusses some other races:

“It’s a great atmosphere and it’s very well organised.  I’m doing the Loch Ness Marathon at the end of September.  In April I went to Rotterdam and I’ve been to France.  I enjoyed the Champagne region.  There are marathons in so many places in the world… I really want to go to America.”

We get around to some of the environmental issues of the region:

“One of the reasons I like Aberdeen is the green space.  In no time at all you can get out of Aberdeen into some great countryside.  You see the current plans and proposals and it’s like greenbelt means nothing. 

“They were going to destroy Loirston.  The leadership of the recent council has given me great cause for concern towards the destruction of the greenspace.  There was just no joined up thinking. “

I can’t offer any argument against these sentiments.  We discuss Tullos Hill:

“There is so much propaganda and misinformation.  Tuesday night, for the first time in a long, long, time, I saw deer.  The council said there were 28 living in the area. They killed 34.  It was clearly a migratory population.”

[note: at the time of publishing, the total looks closer to 44.]

Ben and I note the change in the council and the lack of LibDem representatives in Torry/Ferryhill and Altens post -election. We discuss UTG:

“The ‘For’ (pro granite web) campaign had more money, more press.  P&J is clearly pro development of Union Terrace Gardens, shown in the way they aimed their headlines and articles.” 

Again, no argument from me.

Ben does as much working out in the out of doors as possible:

“I am a member of a gym which I use sporadically – I’m involved in the STV appeal.  They’re trying to cover 10,000 miles on the treadmill.  I’ve been doing running; for a fiver I’ll go and do your section of running for you – I’m up to 14 so far. 

“You don’t have to join a gym.  If you don’t like the gym, don’t do it.  These days there so many sports you can do in Aberdeen at RGU and the sports village and other venues.”   

STV’s charity event hopes to raise £5,000 by having people donate money for miles run on the treadmill at The Warehouse Health Club on Mearns Street which has organised a treadmill relay where they aim to cover 10,000km – the length of the Scottish coastline.  They have already started the run and expect to take around a month to complete the distance.

For full details and to help, visit

We are in touch after the interview as we didn’t get a chance to discuss the amazing, moving Paralympics.  But two recent Scottish running events have had serious issues.  A man collapsed and died in the recent Glasgow run and several people had to be airlifted from Ben Nevis.

Ben had this to say:

I ran the Glasgow event on a number of occasions and it is a very well organised, excellent event. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the death and it is obviously a great shame, however, from my experience of the event I believe that the organisers will have done everything they could to have prevented this unfortunate incident.

“With regards the Ben Nevis event, I really don’t know much.  Unfortunately fell running is a sport with its inherent risks and all competitors are aware of these.  Race organisers do their best to manage all the risks as far as reasonably practical.  Running isn’t a dangerous sport.”

No, running isn’t a dangerous sport.  It is a means of keeping fit that everyone can afford to do, all ages and sexes can enjoy running to their individual abilities and, as the Paralympics have shown, running can change peoples’ lives for the better.  ‘What’s not to like?’ as the saying goes.

All the best to Ben in his upcoming races.  We will be following his progress and will try and catch up with him figuratively, as catching up literally might take some doing.

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Aug 312012

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over the the last week … and once again, what a week it’s been in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Vibrant and dynamic adjectives are being used to describe the Labour, Lib Dems and Independents who voted against the beloved web.

Conspiracy theorists say that these ungrateful refusenicks have brought civilisation to an end, even that they secretly scheme to bring the monolith design for the gardens back.

Such villainy!  It is hard to believe that some LibDems were not swayed by the powerful, intellectual charismatic persuasion powers of Aileen Malone.  But they weren’t.

Old Susannah failed to make it to the 28 August Housing & Environment Committee; alas I missed the debate on the deer.

Pete Leonard’s reports on the tree for every citizen and deer cull say the whole thing is ( a) finished, and ( b) a success.  Result!  Funny how something can look like a ‘cost-neutral’, complete success to someone, and yet seem like a shambolic, environmentally unsound, unwanted, exorbitant, barbaric disaster to the rest of us.

As I wasn’t there, I missed the chance to see former Convener Aileen Malone show up to defend her scheme and those who implemented it for her; I’m sure her speech to the new H&E Committee was as moving as her speech during the Union Terrace Gardens debate.

On that occasion she said how important it was for councillors to listen to the people.

During the deer cull she embodied this tenet by ‘accidentally’ deleting emails protesting the cull, ignoring 3 community councils which implored her to stop the cull, and taking delivery of a 2,500 signature petition against the cull.

Oh, HoMalone listened all right. She just chose not to pay any attention to what she heard.  I say that I missed her defence of the scheme at the H&E Committee – but even though I was not there, she – being a person of honour and principle must have put in an appearance rather than leaving Leonard hung out to dry.

Any shirking would have been cowardly and an admission of ineptitude.

We will be toasting Neil Cooney with several brewdogs; he has said there will be no further culls simply to plant trees.  Perhaps he will be able to resurrect the scheme of keeping Tullos Hill meadow as, er, a meadow, even if Pete Leonard says that is more expensive than trees, tree guards, deer fencing, mechanical diggers, gorse stripping, and pesticide spraying for a few years.

I guess Pete and I went to different accounting lessons.

we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen

The dust is not settling very well on the granite web, which has been toppled.  What a shame.  Rather than us having shiny walkways in the sky to enjoy rain, snow or shine, to walk up and down on, to fall off, it looked for a moment as if all that lovely £50 million was going to be wasted helping people in Africa.

To put things in perspective, we have to deal with an awful lot of garbage here in Aberdeen:  vacant and decaying properties acting as beacons for arsonists; closed shops, litter that never gets cleared, social problems and services slashed by the previous administration.

The relatively simpler problems which pose minor irritations in Africa include famine, infant mortality from disease and hunger; kidnapped children beaten into soldiers, civil wars, a plague of AIDS, illiteracy and so on.

When I learnt the web was not going to be built, I remembered Sir Ian’s words as told to the Press & Journal:

“Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered toAberdeen– should the City Garden Project be rejected” – Press & Journal, 11/02/2012

How wonderful!  I wondered if there was going to be an African granite web, perhaps with some fir tree bosque and underground parking – that would cheer the starving multitude a little.  But like the web, this promise seemed almost too good to be true.

But then something unforeseen happened – something which has never happened before:  Sir Ian changed his mind.

No – Sir Ian is going to leave the money on the table for a year in Aberdeen.  Fine.  It’s his money (if he actually has all this in liquid assets he is a lucky man indeed).  Perhaps it’s time to turn to the dictionary for some assistance with the relevant issues.

Life Expectancy: (compound noun; English) – Statistical figure showing the mean for a group of people or living things to determine the typical time span from birth until death.

Old Susannah wondered which group of people needed £50,000,000 more – Aberdonians to turn their only city centre (common good land) garden into a giant web with an outdoor theatre next to a theatre?  Or Africans for food, shelter, education and healthcare.

Just for the record, the UK’s average life expectancy is about 80.5 years.  If, however,  you are in parts of Africa, this can be slightly lower – say about  56.5 years if you’re born in Niger,  50.6 years in Chad, 46.2 in Rwanda and give or take a few days you get 43.5 years to live if you’re born in Zimbabwe. Figures are not available yet on the life-extending benefits of granite webs.

We live longer in the West; that’s why we need more places to shop and more theatres to entertain us.

A town of Aberdeen’s size and stature can hardly be expected to get by with a Music Hall, an AECC, a HMT, a Lemon Tree and a dozen private music venues (plus concerts now and then at Pittodrie) – no, we need to build an outdoor theatre in front of HMT while we subsidise the operation of the other publicly-owned theatres.  Simples.

On the other hand, if you are likely to be killed in some form of tribal gun battle, die in childbirth, or die as either a starving infant or a child soldier, you don’t really need as many different diversions for your leisure time.

So, in a year Sir Ian may send his £50 million to Africa, if Aberdeen hasn’t begged him to put up the web, repenting of last week’s decision to just fix what we have for less than the £140 million web. Africa will just have to wait and see.  And if a few million people have an extra year of hardships, then so be it.

Petition: (Eng.verb) to entreat, often formally with writing and backing of others, for a desired outcome.

I can’t help but notice how many different petitions have been started since the City cruelly turned down the chance to borrow £92,000,000 to build a bosque and a sensory hippy trail thingy (no, I don’t get it either – ask Paul at Gray’s  School of Art).

There are petitions demanding Labour resign, petitions denouncing Barney Crockett and others, petitions saying the granite web was the marvel of the age.  Even Kevin Stewart, last seen explaining why our vulnerable and disabled had to suffer services cuts, has come out of the woodwork and made a very clever motion in the Scottish Parliament.

I was involved in petitions to save the Tullos deer and save Union Terrace Gardens.  This confused some people who called me a tree-hugger, and were baffled that  I didn’t want 89,000 trees on Tullos Hill if it meant destroying what was already there.

But now I have a new petition.  Do have a look, and if you agree, please feel free to sign and to share.


Dummies are being used to guard parking spaces in Old Meldrum; evidence suggests this scheme probably originated in the higher levels of ACC management.

The dummies are thought to be on secondment at the highest levels of the Housing Directorate.  I am asked to point out that any resemblance between the dummies in Oldmeldrum and any former city councillors is purely coincidental.  And obvious.

Next week:  more definitions.

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