Apr 032015

deer3picWith thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Robins of Animal Concern said:

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

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

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

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



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Mar 172015

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

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

The petition can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Aug 152014

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

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

baby deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the deer were hiding from the infrared sensors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A picture is worth a thousand words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what Inspector Morse would say.

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 252014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a city warden failed to act on the evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 212014

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


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

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

The emails read in part:

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

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

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

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

Keeping the citizens in the dark:

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

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

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

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


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

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

Deer population decimation:

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

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

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

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Mar 282013

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

What a week it’s been.  Firstly (before the satire sets in), I have been asked to convey thanks to the Formartine councillors who took the logical, courageous, sensible, prudent step of deferring the planning permission Trump had asked for.

Several Aberdeenshire residents asked me to write on their behalf to the councillors in question, asking them not to approve the retrospective permission.  These residents, and plenty more, are very pleased with the outcome, and hope to see the bunds down – and Trump Golf International forced to comply with what was approved.

If the councillors visit the Munro’s now-dark kitchen and look out the window at the bund which blocks the light as well as the view, they cannot fail to vote to take the bund down. 

Thanks to the residents, those who lobbied, and above all, to the person who found out the shire had changed documents on this application, yet still recommended approval.

I had a delicious meal at Norwood Hall this week, enjoying some fun and games courtesy of Team Challenge.

There was a crazy golf game set up.  It cost far less than £200 or so to play, there wasn’t sand and snow blowing at the players, none of the course disintegrated, and coffee and a sandwich didn’t break the bank.  No security guards jumped out in front of me as I prepared to putt; I even got a hole in one.  Thanks Norwood and Team Challenge.

I made a brief visit or two to BrewDog, which continues to be a great place to enjoy the odd half or two, and talk to interesting, friendly people.

Long may it run.

My photo shows some sensational new wall art by BrewDog’s Fisher; he’s organised it so undergrads from Gray’s can hang work up in the bar, too. Expect the first art in a few days.

There is a fundraiser for Willows down in Chichester this Saturday night; I’m very happy to be going.  Patron Paul Rodgers and his wife Cynthia will be there; Paul’s performing, as is…. Deborah Bonham, who has a new album imminent.  (If you didn’t know, she is sister to the late, great, unequalled John Henry Bonham of Led Zeppelin).

There will be an auction of memorabilia afterwards as well. (This sounds like my idea of heaven).  It is hoped that a concert can take place closer to Willows sometime, but this night is for two charities and the performers are based in that part of the world.  Willows own open day is this Sunday; let’s hope the weather improves for their sake and the sake of all animals.

But now it’s time for a few relevant definitions based on this week’s events; this week with an eye on the modern self.

Self-harming: (Modern English compound noun) The act of inflicting deliberate injury on oneself, often involving bloodletting and sharp instruments; an emotional illness.

Perhaps the most bizarre health-related story of this or any other recent week concerns those poor souls who self-harm.  Thankfully, this is the 21st century, and the latest psychological treatments are at hand to help.

Unsted Park School has this unfortunate malaise in hand.  Well, actually, one of its teachers hands out sterilised blades to self-harmers.

According to the BBC, a school spokeswoman said:-

“This was a short-term, local procedure introduced by the head teacher and school principal who genuinely believed it was in the best interests of the pupil.

“However, they accept that the procedure should not have been implemented without further approvals having been obtained from key stakeholders and senior management prior to its introduction.”

This amazing statement has failed to impress school inspection officials, who for some reason find dishing out razor blades to emotionally-disturbed young people ‘deeply worrying.’  You don’t say.

For ‘stakeholders’ read friends and family, who some feel just might want to have a say in whether or not their friend, daughter, son or sibling was given a way to self-harm.

Apparently we are supposed to be happy that this was ‘supervised’ and that the blades were sterilised.  We wouldn’t want anyone getting hurt while self-harming, would we?  And you thought you’d heard everything.

It would be rather nice to know who this teacher was, what approval they had received and from whom for this great scheme, what psychological training they had, and to know what in the heck they were thinking to actually think this was in anyone’s best interest.  Wherever this teacher gets their ideas from needs serious investigation.

Self-justification: (noun) Rationalising one’s own methods and actions.

Looking through a Press & Journal this week, I learnt that the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ Scheme was a great success! Although this gave me déjà vu to see in print, it’s won an award!

Those behind this huge success story told the P&J that the scheme was opposed by some animal rights activists, but it’s an award-winning, tree-celebrating, all-singing, all-shooting success.  I’m so happy to hear it.

Only a pedant would point out that the local community councils wanted to keep the meadowland and the deer they had – a herd which had wandered the hill for over 70 years with no problems or over-population issues.

Only a petty mind would care that Chris Piper, man behind the scheme, made about £70,000 from the City, and over £100,000 was spent to turn our meadow into a defoliated mess.  Trees at St Fitticks are growing, says the City Council, so it must be true.  Of course they are no taller than they were two years ago (well, the tree protector tubes that aren’t actually hollow anyway).

The area is choked with weeds, but if the city and the P&J say it’s a successful scheme, then who am I, thousands of local residents who signed a petition, the Scottish SPCA, Animal Concern Advice Line, and a host of political figures to disagree?

Bulldozing gorse, killing deer, getting rid of the wildlife we had from butterflies and birds to small mammals and deer – these can all be explained away by Tallboys, HoMalone and Piper – they had to kill this wildlife so that they would make a home for wildlife later on.

The trees newly planted on the hill are already surrounded by taller weeds.

The SNH told us to spend time and money ensuring that weeds didn’t hinder the scheme for a second time (it’s already cost us £43,800). For some reason, none of this gets into the Press & Journal.  I wonder why.

More tellingly, there is not a single photo in the P&J showing what the hill looks like now.

If you want to see our own war zone, go and visit it for yourself, or see older photos in Aberdeen Voice.  But as long as a handful of self-enriching, self-aggrandising people behind this scheme are happy, than what’s the wishes of thousands of others and our previous wildlife haven in comparison?

Self-Deluding: (compound noun) State of convincing one’s self that an untruth is actually true.

Mr Trump says offshore wind farms,  which sadly for him  were approved this week, will destroy Scotland.

For some years now, I thought it would be acceptable to have an offshore wind farm.  Even though someone as astute and as big an environmentalist as Donald Trump said it was a horrible idea, I thought there might be some merit in wind over nuclear energy or some other fracking nonsense.

Well, earlier this week I was nearly convinced that Mr Trump was right all along.

Again I look this week to the Press & Journal for my facts:  and what I saw at first terrified me.  The paper showed a picture of St Nicholas House, coming in at around 174 feet high, and next to it, towering over it (!) was a wind turbine which could actually be over 600 feet tall!  I’m not kidding!

My first reaction was of course complete horror:  “Did everyone know that an offshore wind turbine can actually be even taller than St Nicholas House?  Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I wondered.   I’d never have guessed!

The paper’s position seems to be that wind turbines, or windmills as Donald  Trump likes to call them, of this size would of course ruin Scotland not only for tourists – but for golfers as well, and we can’t have that obviously.

Perhaps we should back a call not to put any 600 ft windfarms in town next to St Nicholas House.

It’s an amazing bit of coincidence that the paper and Donald Trump are against windfarms, and keep repeating what a nightmare offshore windfarms would be if near The Donald.  They do say great minds think alike.  Then again, they also say fools seldom differ, particularly if one really rich fool hires the wife of a fool who wants advertising revenue.

Thinking over this great illustration for a nanosecond or two, I became less alarmed.  While I’m sure the P&J meant well, and aren’t  trying to cause any panic, I would like to refer whoever wrote this to an old episode of the inimitable Father Ted. 

Ted and Dougal are in a caravan on holiday (but obviously not in Scotland because there isn’t enough golf and there are windfarms).  Father Ted holds a plastic toy cow, shows it to Dougal, and points out the window to some farm animals in a faraway field.   Dougal seems baffled, looking from the plastic cow in his hand to the cows and bulls in the field.

“This looks big,” Ted says to Dougal, “but those are very, very far away.” Ted explains.

Perhaps a wind farm far off shore would not look as big as one next to St Nicholas House?  A wild theory, but I’ve enough self-confidence to put it out there.  In the meantime, no doubt Trump and the P&J will keep repeating their line that windfarms must go.

Keep repeating it gentlemen; you’ll eventually start to believe it.

Self confidence: (noun) A condition of self-awareness and acceptance; being at ease with one’s self.

In this age, self-confidence is essential to get by.  Self confidence is necessary in business and social situations , but remember, girls must not be very self-confident, or they run the risk of being ‘full of themselves’, a sin men are rarely guilty of.

It must be a hard thing to be a man in today’s world and lack self-confidence.  Take for a moment (or just take full stop) one Mr Donald Trump.

This retiring wallflower billionaire recluse should really think about getting himself some public relations.  He’s rarely mentioned in the press, despite all his good works. His name and winsome photo only appear in the media if he goes somewhere, says something, sneezes, holds a golf club, or gets on or off of an airplane.

He should really stop hiding his light under a bushel.  For instance, he stated to a government inquiry that he considers himself to be an environmentalist.  Try as I might, I can’t find any news stories to back this up.

Perhaps there is some way he can ingratiate himself further still with the Scottish public.  Does he have any Scottish ancestry, I wonder?  Perhaps he could get a coat of arms made up; this would impress us all.

Sad to say, but a lack of self-confidence can come from a lack of personal grooming skills.  Perhaps he should let his hair down a bit more or something.  Perhaps a trip to the dentist might help; on those rare occasions he is seen in the press, the faces he makes suggests wisdom tooth issues or badly fitting dentures.  Good luck to you Donald; we’re all behind you (one way or the other).

I think we’d best leave it there for now.  A very Happy Easter Weekend to those celebrating it.  Whatever you celebrate or don’t celebrate, the National Trust has some great activities for families this weekend (and there is the Willows open day, too).  Let’s hope for some continued warmer weather.

Special Easter Egg Hunt Competition:  Hidden in this satirical column are one or two grammatical errors!  Yes really!  If our sub editor doesn’t spot them, not only will they have their salary withheld, but the first reader to point out the grammatical/spelling errors will win the sub editor’s AV salary for the week!

Tally Ho!

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Jan 112013

With thanks to Richard Bunting 

Conservation charity Trees for Life has begun 2013, the Year of Natural Scotland, with the welcome news that acclaimed wildlife cameraman and filmmaker Gordon Buchanan has agreed to become its new patron.

Through the role, the well-known Scottish broadcaster will raise awareness of Trees for Life’s award-winning restoration of the Caledonian Forest – Scotland’s equivalent of a rainforest – and its unique range of wildlife.

Gordon’s inspiring work – including on Big Cat Diary, the Lost Land series, and the hugely popular Springwatch and Autumnwatch – has seen him become a household name.

His career has taken him across the world, memorably including a year spent with a family of black bears in Minnesota, USA, for the documentary ‘The Bear Family & Me’.

“I am proud to be a patron of Trees for Life, as they are the spearhead of native woodland restoration and conservation in Scotland. Their tireless efforts over the last two decades have created an expanding home for thousands of important species, breathing new life into one of the world’s most magical forest habitats,” said Gordon.

Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Executive Director, said:

“We are delighted that Gordon has agreed to become patron for our charity. His love of the natural world shines through all he does. His high profile, together with his passion for wildlife and Nature, are sure to attract further support for our work, which will be very good news for Scotland’s Caledonian Forest.”

Last May, Gordon planted Trees for Life’s Millionth Tree at a special ceremony at the charity’s Dundreggan Estate to the west of Loch Ness, in Glen Moriston. At the time he described the Caledonian Forest as “a wild place at its most wonderful”.

Gordon – who currently lives in Glasgow – grew up on the Isle of Mull, with a love of the natural world that was inspired by Sir David Attenborough’s work. Trees for Life is restoring the Caledonian Forest to a spectacular wilderness region of 1,000 square miles in the Highlands to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

Only a fraction of the former forest now survives, but the charity has planted more than one million trees at dozens of locations, and has created 10,000 acres of new forest. It has pledged to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration within the next five years.

Trees for Life’s patrons also include author and broadcaster Vanessa Collingridge; leading conservationist Roy Dennis MBE; and writer and broadcaster Muriel Gray.

For more details, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 0845 458 3505.

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Nov 222012

Scientists have announced the sequencing of the entire genetic code – the genome – of a dwarf birch from Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Estate near Loch Ness in Glen Moriston, where the conservation charity is working to conserve a natural population of the species. With thanks to Richard Bunting.

Dwarf birch (Betula nana) is a nationally scarce species in Britain, occurring mainly in small populations on Scottish mountains.
The genome sequencing – a laboratory process identifying the complete DNA sequence of an organism – lays the foundations for genetic research into the birch genus, which includes up to 60 tree species.

This will benefit studies on the conservation of dwarf birch. Project lead scientist Richard Buggs, based at Queen Mary University of London, told Aberdeen Voice:

“Increasing our understanding of tree genomes is essential for our long-term ability to conserve and grow tree species in the UK.”

 Award-winning charity Trees for Life’s executive director Alan Watson Featherstone added:

“This is a tremendous breakthrough. Together with our woodland restoration work at Dundreggan, where we have one of the greatest concentrations of dwarf birch in Scotland, it will do much to benefit the conservation of this important species.”

Dwarf birch forms part of the mountain tree line, where woodland gives way to open moorland. This tree-line contains a unique assemblage of species and should be a miniature, waist-high species-rich woodland; in reality, it has become a ‘forgotten forest’ in the UK, overgrazed and in poor condition.

As part of its Million More Trees campaign, Trees for Life has launched an appeal to restore the ‘wee trees’ that form the natural tree-line, including those growing at their altitudinal limit as well as specially-adapted species such as dwarf birch.

By restoring the ‘wee trees’ of the Caledonian Forest, the charity also hopes to create a woodland link between Glen Affric and Glen Moriston, providing an expanded habitat for many species.

A healthy population of dwarf birch will also benefit the black grouse living along the woodland edge, and ptarmigan and golden plover nesting on the upland moors.

“Dundreggan offers a unique opportunity to restore the complete tree-line community and all its species,” said Alan Watson Featherstone.

The genome sequencing project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, and is being published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

Queen Mary University of London, Trees for Life and Highland Birchwoods are partnering to supervise PhD student James Borrell, who will survey the genetic diversity of dwarf birch populations in Scotland over the next three years.

Trees for Life has demonstrated the benefits of conservation action for this declining tree species.

In 2002 they fenced an area of dwarf birch to protect it from grazing deer, with astonishing results: dwarf birches now grow healthily above the surrounding vegetation and support a unique assemblage of species, including a rare moth that is a conservation priority for Scotland and three different sawflies, two of which were unknown in the UK until they were discovered at Dundreggan.

Such finds have established the Inverness-shire estate’s reputation as a ‘lost world’ for the Highlands.

The charity’s work at Dundreggan is a key part of its restoration of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest to a spectacular wilderness region of 1,000 square miles to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness.

You can support Trees For Life by funding dedicated trees and groves, while the charity’s Conservation Weeks allow people to gain practical conservation experience in beautiful locations. For more details, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 0845 458 3505

For details of Trees for Life’s Return of the Wee Trees Appeal, please visit http://treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.appeal_dwarfbirch.html

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Nov 162012

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

With concerns over the arrival and spread of ash dieback in the UK growing, conservation charity Trees for Life said today that the disease highlights an urgent need to place higher priority on the conservation of the country’s native trees and woodlands.

The charity also warned that other tree diseases and pests must be taken equally seriously.

“The tragedy threatening the UK’s ash trees is a powerful warning that our native trees need help, and underlines the crucial importance of conservation work. Stronger action to protect our trees, including by preventing diseases and pests from entering the UK, is urgently needed,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, executive director of Trees for Life ( pictured ).

“Ash dieback is far from being the only disease posing a risk to our native trees. Dothistroma Needle Blight, for example, is emerging as a potential threat to the Scots Pine – a keystone species of the Caledonian Forest, on which many other species depend – and we have stepped up bio-security measures at our nursery to defend against it.”

Dothistroma Needle Blight, also known as Red Band Needle Blight, has affected Lodgepole and Corsican Pine in Scotland. The Scots Pine, which is the Caledonian Forest’s largest and longest-living tree, was believed to have low susceptibility to the disease. The Scots Pine forms a natural habitat for many species, including the red squirrel, the capercaillie and the pine marten,

However, the Forestry Commission has noted an increase in the distribution and severity of the disease on Scots Pine, particularly in Scotland, although it isn’t yet known whether this will lead to tree mortality or extend significantly into the Caledonian pinewoods.

With increased global trade and tree imports representing a major risk to the UK’s native trees, Trees for Life joined calls for the UK government to hold an emergency summit. This would bring together forestry, plant health and conservation groups to address the threats to native trees and woods. It said that the Government should also place higher priority on conservation work.

Trees for Life has created almost 10,000 acres of new Caledonian Forest since 1989, 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. Amongst these emerging forests, a complex web of life is already renewing itself. Habitat restoration is making a notable impact on the wildlife of the Caledonian Forest, which includes the strawberry spider, wood ants, red squirrels, rare sawflies, ospreys and capercaillies.

The charity’s current ‘Million More Trees’ campaign is a response to environmental problems including deforestation, climate change and biodiversity loss.

For more details, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 0845 458 3505.

Some Background on Ash Dieback

The UK’s 80 million ash trees are under threat from Chalara ash dieback. Last week, survey results confirmed that the fungal disease is present at 115 sites in Scotland,England and Wales, while Forestry Commission Scotland reported that suspected and confirmed cases of ash dieback have been found following a rapid survey of Scotland’s woodlands.

The disease is believed to have arrived from continental Europe on the wind and via imports. There is no known cure for the disease, although some trees have shown resistance.

A ban on ash imports and the movement of trees from areas with confirmed cases of the disease came into force on the 29th of October 2012, a few days after scientists confirmed that the disease had reached the UK’s natural environment, at sites in East Anglia. On the 9th of November, the Government published an action plan to tackle ash dieback.

Chalara dieback is caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus. Chalara has affected a high proportion of ash trees in Northern Europe, and was first confirmed as present in the UK in nursery stock in March.

There is no risk to human or animal health from the disease. Data gathered in Denmark, where up to 90 per cent of ash trees have been affected in some areas, suggests that ash dieback can spread about 20 km (12 miles) every year.

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Jul 062012

Disillusioned and dissatisfied with the speed, quality and transparency (for lack of a better word), Suzanne Kelly sums up her dealings with Aberdeen City’s FOI officers.

In 2007 I made my first Freedom of Information request to Aberdeen City Council.  This concerned travellers’ sites (the city had the brainstorm of telling travellers to go to the Torry  Battery – I pointed out that it was an Ancient Monument which the City was supposed to safeguard).

I received a reasonable answer in a reasonable timeframe.

However, it seems as if FOI request handling is far from straightforward of late.

I have been given information late on several occasions.  I have been refused information which I should have been given (as the Information Commissioner later agreed).  I have been given contradictory information. I have even, in my opinion, had disingenuous interpretations made of straightforward requests.    A few examples will illustrate the types of failings I believe need to be addressed.

1.  How many deer were shot on Tullos Hill?

Initially the first figure of deer shot was 22.  This was later changed to 23.  The figures continue to change.  An email of 22 June 2012 from the FOI Office implies 33 shots were fired.  Yet this same reply came with a copy of a handwritten notebook, in which 35 deer were listed as  killed.

Still another document sent at the same time shows 34 deer were killed.  Even though the last animal was -we are told- killed on 9 May, June FOI requests said 23 deer were killed.

This hardly seems like accurate information management to me.

2.  CJ Piper & Co. –  A mystery to ACC

‘CJ Piper & Co.’ is an entity connected to the tree scheme and the cull.  This company co-wrote a report with ACC on the tree scheme – recommending the destruction of 22 deer this year.  ACC paid CJ Piper & Co. at least £44,000.  However, there is no ‘CJ Piper & Co’ listed with Companies House.  There may be very simple explanations for this.  Whatever the explanation, we are not likely to get details anytime soon.

The FOI officer advised me:

“ACC is unable to provide you with information on ‘C J Piper & Co’, including  whether or not this is a registered company, … as it is not held by ACC. “

Precisely how Aberdeen City can spend public money and make payments to a company without holding its details may be of interest to the Information Commissioner as well as Audit Scotland.   It must have been extremely difficult to write a report with this mysterious firm, but ACC managed it.

There is of course the assumption that Chris Piper (a known forestry expert) is the main force behind this company, but the public should have the right to know this company’s details and whether there are any other directors/shareholders.

Should someone being paid to plant trees be the same person who writes a report recommending deer should be slaughtered in order to plant trees when they stand to gain financially from the contents of the report? The relevant issues will be looked at in the next Aberdeen Voice.

3.  How much has the Tree for Every Citizen and deer cull cost? 

I have received two spreadsheets under FOI legislation on this question.  The  latest spreadsheet was meant to show all the incoming and outgoing money on the deer cull and tree scheme.  But it raised more issues than it answered, including:

  • Thirteen lines of 32 line items are classed as ‘unknown concerning ‘ – this is unacceptable
  • Who are ‘Highland Estate Services’  – did they carry out the cull?  How did they and other contractors win work on this project?
  • What exactly are the ‘interdepartmental charges’ on Line 15 for £3000?
  • Where do the accounts show  the £43,800 returned to the Forestry Commission?  Accounting for this returned grant, it would seem ACC spent £167,512 minimum on the tree scheme and cull to date
  • Where are any entries to reflect all the deer fencing that was put up, or the £480 per week site clearance charges that went on over several months?
  • One of the few income streams coming in would have been the deer carcasses which were sold to a game meat dealer.  Where is an entry in the books showing how much money the City made from destroying this herd of deer?

4.  Correspondence between ACC and the Scottish SPCA – Someone is hugely mistaken

A story in the Evening Express recently claime 2 deer were found dead ‘ahead’ of the cull (the story appeared in 2012; the deer died of unknown causes in…2010).   The ‘news’ item quoted heavily from a letter ACC sent to the Scottish SPCA.

I asked for copies of letters to and from ACC and the Scottish SPCA (which told me there were a handful of letters on the Tullos topic).

However, Aberdeen FOI office says:

“… ACC holds a high volume of correspondence with the SSPCA relating to Tullos Hill. As such, it has proven to be quite difficult in identifying the particular letter to which you refer.  … it [FOI office]  is not aware of ACC supplying a copy of any letter to the Evening Express.”

So, not only do the City’s FOI people contradict the Scottish SPCA over the quantity of correspondence, but the ACC FOI office also cannot find a letter from ACC to the Scottish SPCA, quoted heavily in a news story (a copy of which I sent with my request).

At this point I can be forgiven for asking whether there is an political pressure at work on the FOI team concerning the cull.

5.  Q:  ‘Who or which agency performed site clearing work at Tullos?’

My question could not have been more straightforward; I asked ‘who or which agency’ performed site clearing work at Tullos (work which was worth apparently £480 per week).  The answer I first got smacked of sarcasm:  ‘a private contractor’.   Somehow, I had already managed to deduce that myself.   Sarcasm is fine in creative writing, but I question its place in a FOI response.

I wrote back:

“…the name of the company / companies involved should be specified.  This should please include their Company Registration Number by which they are listed in Companies House – if not listed, then please specify”

The FOI officer replied:

 “ACC is unable to provide you with the name of the private contractor (a sole trader).  ACC considers this information to be excepted under Regulation 11(2) and Regulation 10(5)(f) of the EIRS.  Please refer to the attached exception notices”

Perhaps they should have just said they were refusing to answer the question in the first place.   I am not completely certain that a sole trader should be called ‘CJ Piper AND COMPANY’, either.

Private entity  or not, the person/company was paid with public money, and we should know who is connected with it, how it was appointed, and what other work it has done.

6.  Is the use of a present tense verb reason enough to deny that a debt existed?

Rumour reached me that the failure of the first planting had cost the taxpayer about £44,000.  I asked the FOI office:

“Is it true that Aberdeen City Council owes a sum for previous, failed planting? “

The answer came:

“No money is owed by Aberdeen City Council to any agency or organisation for the previous planting.”

When I obtained a SNH letter proving £43,800 debt for the previous failed planting indeed existed,  the Chief Executive Watts denied the £43,800 had anything to do with my FOI request.  The Chief Executive indicated the £43,800 for the failed tree planting on Tullos Hill had nothing to do with the current scheme.

In the first place, it certainly has every relevance to the phase 2 tree planting.  In the second, my question did not say anything about phase 2 – just a ‘previous failed planting’.

The FOI people also defended their answer, writing  that since the debt had been paid, it no longer existed – and therefore they considered my question was not relevant.  The debt was paid in March; I asked my question in May.

I may be alone, but I see a connection between the £43,800 repaid for the previous failed planting and the £44,000 I asked about for a previous failed planting, irrespective of my  use of past or present tense verb in  my question, it was abundantly clear what information I had wanted.

7.  FOI 10703 The Tree scheme won’t cost us anything

I asked a ‘non-factual’ question, and wondered how the FOI office would cope.   I did get an interesting reply.

I asked,

“ Why is the ‘a tree for every citizen’ project something that must be adhered to so precisely?”

The reply came:

“Elected members made a commitment in their Vibrant Dynamic and Forward Looking statement … to plant a tree for every citizen to support the ongoing development and improvement of the quality and quantity of public open space in the City.  Officers have been challenged to deliver this commitment.  

“Aberdeen has a relatively small area of woodland cover (8.8%) as a percentage of its total area.  ….   Woodland recognised to offer a range of benefits for human well-being, creating a pleasant environment for people to live and work in, as well as being of great biodiversity value. 

“Creating these woodlands … will deliver on all these points, with the additional benefit of being created at no cost to the City Council due to the levels of external funding being obtained to deliver the project.  This demonstrates that the Tree for Every Citizen is not taking resources from other services within the City.”

I have to wonder how this answers ‘why’ we must adhere precisely to a scheme which condemned the existing meadowland ecological system.  is the above answer a factual, quantifiable piece of information – or is it political waffle?  The FOI did not attribute their answer.

8.  Marischal College – on time and under budget?  Where’s the proof?

Back when the idea of gutting Marischal College to create offices (too small for the  Council’s needs) first emerged, people were telling me that the costings for alternative projects had been done very hastily and all alternatives were dropped quickly in favour of the Marischal plan.

My FOI ENQ 7172 uncovered that ACC spent £20K on consultants to look at the Marischal project.  However while I found out that costings on alternatives were done, I can’t see them .

I had asked:

“What were the costings done on the alternatives to Marischal College development?”

FOI Answer:

“ACC are of the opinion that… because the Copyright and Patents Act 1988 forbids Aberdeen City Council from copying the cost analysis on the Marischal Project without the owners consent. … ACC is not obliged under the terms of the FOISA to provide you with the information requested. “

How can ACC have paid consultants to look at costings – and the taxpayer not be allowed to know what the results are because of ‘copyright’ ?  Certainly copyright is meant to stop people profiting from the writings of other people, not to prevent the public finding out how its money could have been spent.

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We are asked to have sympathy for the FOI staff and are told many of the requests they receive are ‘frivolous.’  However, the purpose of this Freedom of Information office  is to fulfil Aberdeen’s legal duties under Freedom of Information Legislation.

I haven’t counted up how many emails I received from the FOI office apologising for lateness in replying to me (all FOIs are meant to be answered within a certain time frame).  Let’s suffice it to say at least 50% of my requests are answered late.

There is also the matter of a judgment from the Information Commissioner against Aberdeen.  A FOI request concerning Stewart Milne group companies of mine went largely unanswered by the Council, which said the law was against the information coming out.  The information Commissioner had a different take, and eventually  five  errors were identified in how ACC FOI staff handled my questions were identified.

If we want FOI responses  to be accurate, swiftly delivered and comprehensive, then this department needs immediate overhauling.  I will be asking Councillors and the Information  Commissioner  to investigate further.

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