HEN HARRIER DAY AT CAIRNGORM 7 AUGUST 2016 - Allan Bantick OBE
It was most unfortunate that the Hen Harrier Highlands event planned for 7th August 2016 had to be cancelled but the weather really was awful. Organiser Andrea Goddard has asked me (and I guess the other speakers) to write down the gist of what I was going to say so that it could be distributed and the day would therefore not be a total loss.
PARTNERSHIP WORKING - COULD IT BENEFIT HEN HARRIERS?
I have long been a supporter of people getting round a table and working in partnership to sort out conservation problems rather than just shouting and expecting things to change. OK, I admit it sometimes takes a bit of shouting to get people to the table in the first place but that is fine as long as the shouting then stops.
Unfortunately, over the past few weeks, partnerships have been getting something of a mixed press with some active partnerships between conservationists and land interest beginning to fray at the seams, one of which has actually failed.
Nevertheless, I remain convinced that working in partnership to achieve conservation aims is the best way to go, where possible. To make that point I am going to describe four Scottish partnerships that have been highly successful, in some cases against all expectations.
SAVING SCOTLAND’S RED SQUIRRELS
“Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a project to stop the decline of Scotland’s core red squirrel populations. Working closely with local communities, the project is seeking to improve conditions for red squirrels across Scotland, and combat the spread of the non-native grey squirrel. Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and includes Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. The partnership is also supported by an extensive network of over 400 landowners covering well over 4,000 square kilometres.”
As a direct result of this brilliant partnership red squirrels are now being seen in a number of places where they have not been seen for decades.
COIGACH ASSYNT LIVING LANDSCAPES (CALL)
Way up in the north west Highlands, CALL is a community-focused partnership involving 14 partners (a mix of conservation bodies, estate owners and communities) which together make up the biggest landscape restoration project ever attempted in Europe. The idea is to coordinate all kinds of actions across the area rather than stick with the fragmented approach that existed before the start of the project.
Results so far include establishing a holistic forestry policy, an overall deer management plan leading to a healthier future for wildlife and the environment, and much improved cooperation between local communities, leading to better tourism and business prospects. People, wildlife and the countryside have all benefited greatly from the partnership.
SCOTTISH BEAVER TRIAL (SBT) and NATIONAL SPECIES REINTRODUCTIONS FORUM (NSRF)
I will deal with these two projects together because one more or less led to the other.
SBT was a partnership, which I was privileged to lead, between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, supported by Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Government (SG) to conduct a time-limited trial reintroduction of beavers at Knapdale in Argyll. The project was always going to be controversial and we were aware that it would not be easy to convince doubters of the need for beavers in the environment. However, my team was not prepared for the level of vitriolic abuse we received during the consultation period and the early stages of the trial.
Partly as a result of this uncomfortable situation, SNH, in consultation with SG, decided a forum would provide an opportunity for all sides to meet face to face and discuss the issues, concerns and opportunities in which they were interested regarding reintroductions in general – and so NSRF was born. The forum membership included some of the same people who had been yelling at my team at public beaver meetings so for a time there was aggression and suspicion around the table. Gradually however things calmed down and, while some tension remained, work was able to begin on building an approach to reintroductions that everybody could sign up to. At first I reckon we all thought privately such a thing could not be done with so many conflicting interests in play – but we got there. We called it the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocation and it has been signed up to by all members of the forum. To make it clear what an achievement this is, here are the members:
SNH chairs the NSRF, and provides secretariat support.
Association of Salmon Fishery Boards, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Beaver-Salmonid Working Group, Buglife (also represents the other invertebrate NGOs), Confederation of Forest Industries, Cairngorms National Park Authority (also speaks for the Trossacks NP), Forestry Commission Scotland, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Highland Wildlife Foundation, National Farmers Union Scotland, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, (also represents the other plant conservation organisations), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Countryside Alliance, Scottish Government, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Plantlife, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Scottish Canals, Scottish Water.
To get this diverse group to agree on something as controversial as reintroductions is an extraordinary feat.
To ensure things had not collapsed since I stepped down from the forum I contacted SNH last week for an update on NSRF and the Code. Here is what they said:
“Yes, the NSRF is still active, it last met in May. The Code is also up and running – indeed it’s already being used for some specific conservation translocations, and we’ve been promoting it through a variety of means. The Chair of the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group, and the Chair of the working group that revised the IUCN conservation translocations guidelines, heaped a lot of praise on it and see it as a standard for how the international guidelines can be applied at the national level.”
In my opinion the examples given above of highly effective partnerships vindicate my view that for conservation issues partnership working should always be attempted as a first step.
But such partnerships require all parties to agree in advance that an issue exists, that solving it is in everybody’s interest and that all parties may need to give ground. In the case of hen harriers, the entrenched attitudes of some shooting estates would prevent them from signing up to any of these requirements, never mind all of them, so a partnership would simply not work.
Therefore, I hereby add my voice to those of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and many others in calling upon the Scottish Government to establish a state regulated licensing scheme for shooting estates so that those estates who continue to misbehave can have their licenses withdrawn.
Allan Bantick OBE August 2016
Environmental roles past and present include:
Chairman of Scottish Wildlife Trust, Member of Scottish Government Biodiversity Committee, Founding Chairman of Scottish Beaver Trial, Founding Member of National Species Reintroductions Forum, Trustee of Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, Founding Member of Scottish Beaver Network, Vice Chairman of Scottish Badgers, Chairman of Boat of Garten Wildlife Group, Member of Scottish Environment Link Wildlife Crime Task Force.
In 2014 Allan received the OBE for “Services to Conservation in Scotland”