Our seventh year of Gatherings in Glencoe and unlike last year, the sun shone every day. For those who have not been (yet), we take over the Isles of Glencoe Hotel for three days and treat everyone to a Scottish experience that will be remembered for a lifetime. In between the fun and games, we give everyone a chance to meet us and bring everyone up to date on progress with the unique Highland Titles conservation project. Over the years we have had some fantastic guest speakers and of course our very own Stewart talks with passion about progress on the reserves. Even I talk briefly, mainly during the Q&A session.
Once again we sold out of tickets long before the event, but we continue to refuse to move to a larger venue. The Isles of Glencoe is the perfect size for us. Everyone can stay in the same place as the event, and the quality of the rooms and the catering is first class. As usual, Stewart was worried that all his careful planning would fall apart and as always, everything was perfect.
As for next year, well that is already starting to take shape and ticket sales are brisk. We will all be back in Glencoe next May from the 12th to the 14th and I have applied for good weather again. Fingers crossed. “Get your tickets early to avoid disappointment“
I have been alarmed about the declining population of wildcats in Scotland for many years. When I decided I should actually do something positive, I found that the only person who appeared to be actively helping was Steve Piper, the owner of Coffee Films, who had become “radicalised” during the making of a film about wildcats, “Last of the Scottish Wildcats“. He had formed the Scottish charity, The Scottish Wildcat Association, in 2009 and I met up with him a couple of years later, one wet autumn morning in Fort William.
What I found was remarkable. With very little in the way of finance, he had gathered a few volunteers and begun work clearing feral and hybrid wildcats from a 500 square mile peninsula called Ardnamurchan. His strategy was simple. Meet with the local communities to explain the problem and gain their trust and support. He offered the communities free cat care including neutering and then went on to find cats that were living wild, using a combination of local knowledge, camera traps (low light cameras, automatically triggered by movement) and lure sticks (rough stakes, baited with fish oil that the cats then rub up against, leaving identifying hair samples). Once a likely cat territory was located, volunteers set cage traps which had to be checked daily. Cats were then identified and pure wildcats were inoculated against common feline diseases and released. Other cats were neutered in addition before release. Thus the cat territories were not disturbed, ensuring that other cats were unable to enter their territories, but any successful matings could only be between wildcats.
I immediately pledged to support their work and in 2013 I went further and committed Highland Titles to collect donations directly from our supporters. This soon ensured that Highland Titles were a major financial backer of the Scottish Wildcat Association.
But change was coming to the Scottish Wildcat Association. They had reached out to an enthusiastic conservation biologist working as a lecturer at Chester University, who was working on a DNA test which would help distinguish hybrid cats from wildcats. Dr Paul O’Donoghue, a Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology has a distinguished track record both in field work and bench science, working with a range of endangered species including wildcats. His expertise and passion injected a much needed boost to the work as the Scottish Wildcat Association morphed into Wildcat Haven in 2014. Highland Titles approved this development and we increased our funding. Paul created the Lynx UK trust and began work on reintroducing the eurasian lynx. This was heady stuff and confirmed our belief in Paul. Like us, he believed that conservation involved a “JFDI” attitude rather than committee meetings, tea and biscuits, SOPs and discussion papers. Here was somebody we could work with.
My son in law, Douglas Wilson decided to leave Highland Titles to join Paul and help fund his work, creating Wildcat Haven Enterprises a year later. With the funding from this new enterprises and a significant grant from Highland Titles, we hoped that Wildcat Haven could begin work on the “Holy Grail”, an area of the Scottish highlands that included the entire land mass north west of the Great Glen – almost 9,000 square miles. This area, cleared of fertile hybrid cats and feral cats could support a huge population of wildcats.
At this point we need to take a moment to look at the other threats that face the dwindling population of genetically pure Scottish wildcats, besides the main one – hybridisation. Firstly there are Scottish gamekeepers, that regard all cats as “vermin”. One of the brief resurgences in wildcat populations was after WW1, when the gamekeepers were busy with vermin that fired back. To quote “the Herald Magazine”, “The demise of the Scottish wildcat can, like many other native predators, be placed firmly at the door of the Scottish shooting estates whose relentless persecution has driven them to the point where they are now rarer than endangered tigers in India (July 14 2012). The second threat, increasing significantly as the population dwindles, is the pressure from zoos and wildlife parks, hungry for kittens to tempt the paying public through their turnstiles. There are already a large number of hybrids in captivity and some may even be pure wildcats. Using the excuse of “a breeding programme” they are ever eager to identify the last few pure wildcats to add to their displays. Between these two agencies, there arises an ambition to certify the wildcat as extinct in the wild. The zoos could then proceed to produce better quality kittens and the gamekeepers could safely and legally resume their cat killing in the name of vermin control. A third threat has come from the replacement of heath and forest, i.e. wildcat territory, with commercial plantations with very little value to wildcats. However under pressure, some cats have taken refuge even here and if identified as utilising particular forestry resources, logging might be impeded. Thus commercial forestry also has a major incentive to see the wildcat removed from the wild and declared extinct.
In 2007, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) included the Scottish Wildcat on a list of 32 species for priority conservation action in the Cairngorms National Park, which would mean that effort and government money would be focused on its conservation. As their partners in this enterprise, the Cairngorms National Park Authority selected, in addition to SNH, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). and Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). Three organisations less likely to help the recovery of the Scottish wildcat as a free-living wild animal would be difficult to imagine. Between them, these three organisations probably represent the greatest existential threat to the native Scottish wildcat.
This is not to say that the project was not without merit. The project sought to do four things: 1. Raising awareness of wildcats and their conservation 2. Neutering domestic cats 3. Working with estates 4. Researching and monitoring wildcats
Using social media, older media and talks, the public were educated about the awful plight of the wildcat. Using the cat welfare charity, “Cats Protection” and volunteers, a program of neutering and vaccination of domestic and feral cats was carried out within the CNP. A practical protocol for feral cat control activities that minimised the risks of harming wildcats was developed and was adopted by some estates. Finally a camera trap program was run to establish the baseline and trend data on wildcat and feral cat presence on the five participating estates.
A cynical observer might conclude that the expensive publicly funded project simply proved what we always suspected – that there were no wildcats in the Cairngorms. As a bonus, the estates could therefore continue to kill cats with impunity, whilst sheltering behind a “protocol” that their gamekeepers could accept – and quietly ignore. Meanwhile, SNH staff could expand their empires, eat more biscuits whilst holding more meetings, attend more conferences, and write more discussion documents. Everybody wins except the Scottish wildcat.
So when the Cairngorms Wildcat Project concluded in 2012, SNH decided to expand the scope of the project, both in terms of the area covered and also the aims, including, most controversially, the establishment of a captive breeding programme. This would ensure that the zoos that were partners in this new project got something. Captive breeding means kittens and kittens means paying zoo visitors.
The new project, Scottish Wildcat Action, expanded the range of partners to include the Scottish Government, Highland Council and several other biscuit munching organisations. Some of the objects were laudable if honestly implemented, but the biggest problem revolved around the aim to “develop a captive breeding programme”.
With any species seriously threatened in the wild, captive breeding can provide an insurance policy against extinction, no one likes seeing wild animals in cages but it is perhaps preferable to them disappearing from the world entirely.
Scottish wildcats have been held in various captive collections for decades, and unfortunately that’s where problems stem from; they were taken into captivity and bred long before hybridisation was understood. So probably all the Scottish wildcats currently held in captivity anywhere are hybridised to some extent; there may be no pure Scottish wildcats in captivity. So we have no insurance policy against extinction of the pure/true/original form unless pure wildcats can be identified in the wild, captured and successfully bred. The wildcat could then continue as a species in captivity.
In order to create a captive breeding program it would be essential that sufficient pure wildcats are taken from the wild to prevent inbreeding. With the wild population being barely sufficient to achieve this, the reality would be extinction of the wild population so that the Scottish wildcat would exist only in captivity.
Now this state of affairs would benefit several groups. Gamekeepers would be able to return to killing cats with traps, knowing that they could not be prosecuted for illegally killing a wildcat. The commercial foresters, such as the Forestry Commission Scotland would be ably to extract timber without having to consider the welfare of wildcats and the zoos would have a regular supply of cute wildcat kittens to open the purses of the paying public.
And I am not alone in seeing self interest in the groups which constitute Scottish Wildcat Action. Jonny Hughes, CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, writing in the Scotsman, confirms that “Scottish Wildcat Action is … considering reinforcing remaining populations with wildcats bred in a conservation breeding programme being led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland”. This would surely necessitate capturing the best wildcats and condemning them to a life in a cage.
He also indirectly clarifies why Forestry Commission needs the services of a sycophantic and subservient Scottish Wildcat Action, to justify the destruction of prime wildcat territory – the Scottish forest. Jonny writes “It (Scottish Wildcat Action) has also been improving habitat in places like Clashindarroch Forest, where sensitive forestry operations are creating ideal wildcat habitat with mosaics of open ground – often rich in prey such as field voles – in combination with denser plantation woodland.” This is simply doublespeak for “The Forestry Commission has continued logging Clashindarroch Forest despite knowing that it sustains one of the biggest and best populations of Wildcats still remaining. Doubtless it will soon be mooted by Scottish Wildcat Action that these last few wildcats should be rounded up and condemned to cage breeding “for the good of the species”. Then the Gamekeepers could resume their vermin destruction in peace. Everyone happy (except the wildcats) and the SNH biscuit-munchers would be free to resume their empire-building in the knowledge of a job well done. It makes my blood boil!
In 2016 I had a long meeting with Dr Paul O’Donoghue, the Scientific Adviser to Wildcat Haven, and we considered the possibility that SWA would use their government licence to take adult wildcats from their homes in remote glens and cage them in order to beef up their failing captive breeding program. Of the 21 wildcat kittens born at RZSS (Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh zoo) over the previous four years, five had died and fourteen wildcats had been neutered because they were such poor hybrids. Even more frightening was the prospect that they would keep the best wildcat kittens, that are sometimes found and handed in. These need to be kept as wild as possible before being released into a hybrid and feral free area such as Ardnamurchan. However we thought it unlikely that any zoo would voluntarily return a perfect specimen to the wild.
So I committed Highland Titles to creating the best wildcat rehabilitation facility possible – essentially several acres of mixed woodland enclosed with a very high fence plus other associated holding pens and stores. This was constructed during 2017 and launched in spring 2018.
I have always been ambivalent about zoos and our nature reserve will not become a zoo. However there are zoos and zoos. Borth Wild Animal Kingdom, a small underfunded animal park in mid Wales, for example, is very different to Durrell in Jersey. However any zoo is ultimately a business. You view our animals and pay us for the privilege. Highland Titles is different. Our funding is entirely independent of any need to display animals. This enables us to fund a rehabilitation centre and design it 100% for the benefit of the wildcats. If nobody ever sees them then that’s fine by us!
Animals deserve to be in the wild if at all possible and I have been massively impressed by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre (AWCC). The AWCC takes in injured and orphaned animals and provides them with spacious enclosures and quality animal care. Most of the animals that arrive at the AWCC become permanent residents because they are unable to be released. The AWCC then provides a permanent high quality home. The Center maintains over 200 acres of spacious habitats for animals to feel at home and display their natural “wild” behavior. Visitors may see brown bears cooling off in the water, a bull moose strutting, wood bison roaming on pastures and more.
These are the ethics I apply to any animals that come my way. Release them if at all possible. If impossible, provide the best home I can. If we were to receive an injured wildcat that could never be released, then the presence of humans would not be a serious matter. But any wildcat that could be released later, such as kittens, must be protected from human presence. A successful transfer to the wild requires that they fear and dislike humans.
We received lots of media interest and happily showed several journalists around, before settling down to wait and see what would turn up. You can imagine our delight when, at the end of June, we had a call from Wildcat Haven to let us know that two wildcat kittens would be taking up residence. A member of the public had seen some kittens playing dangerously close to a road and alerted Wildcat Haven. They alerted staff and volunteers working nearby and after establishing that they had indeed been abandoned, two kittens were caught, checked for health and moved to our Rehabilitation Facility. Initially they were confined to a small area of the main enclosure and provided with ample food and water. They were monitored using camera traps as our first imperative was not to habituate them to humans. The access road to the facility was closed and signs warned all visitors to the reserve that this area was now off limits. Only one or two people approached the facility on any day – to provide food and to replace memory cards on the camera traps.
And that was the start of our first year of operation in the Highland Titles Scottish wildcat rehabilitation centre, which currently holds three wildcat kittens. We will not know for certain that they are all sufficiently pure to release intact because wildcat identification still relies heavily on pelage scoring – which can only be done on an adult cat. Any cats that turn out to be hybrids will be neutered before release. For now, we can only ensure that they see humans as infrequently as possible, that they are vaccinated against common cat diseases and that they are eating as much “wild” food (such as day old chicks and mice) as possible. We want them to be in the best possible condition next Easter when we release them.
Since writing this two weeks ago, the SWA have been up to more mischief, or more specifically the RZSS which forms such a significant part of the SWA has been making some bizarre claims. They have published a report stating that the Scottish wildcat is ‘functionally extinct’ in the wild.
Dr Helen Senn, RZSS head of conservation and science, is quoted as saying “While it is disappointing to see such high levels of hybridisation in the wild, it is encouraging that the genetic pool within the captive population is much stronger.” This is what MPs call being “economical with the actualite” as an alternative to admitting that they lied.
The truth is that there are insufficient pure wildcats in captivity but there exists a number of isolated populations of such cats in a variety of locations in Scotland. SWA seeks to declare them “functionally extinct” in the wild so these last few highland tigers can be rounded up and condemned to life in a stud farm.
This will create a zoo population of Scottish wildcats which the public will pay to see, leaving the gamekeepers to kill the rest as vermin and the Forestry Commission will be able to log their habitat without any requirement to consider their valuable habitat. Is it any wonder that increasingly experts and the general public are viewing the aim of SWA to destroy the very animal they claim to protect. Meanwhile Wildcat Haven battles on to save the Scottish Wildcat in the wild: where it belongs.
If you wish to support the work of Wildcat Haven, please consider donating here.
At the end of August I blogged about hedgehogs – an iconic species that is in serious decline throughout Britain. This was mainly a comment on the sad situation where a population of hedgehogs in South Uist is being relocated in order to protect their important population of ground nesting birds. It is often the case that introduced species cause problems. The solutions are frequently expensive and draconian. Or impossible. In my other home, in Alderney, we have a population of introduced hedgehogs that do no great harm. This is because the damage to the Alderney ecosystem was done a long time ago by introduced rats. Thus the hedgehogs cause little or no additional harm.
But back to the Highland Titles Nature Reserve at Duror. Despite ten years of work we have not yet seen any sight of a hedgehog at Duror. This is very disappointing and there does not appear to be any reason for it. It undoubtedly reflects the greatly reduced population of many mammals in Britain – and hedgehogs are high on that list. I saw them frequently as a child – all too often flat on the road – and now I have seen only one wild hedgehog in the last 20 years.
So in September we created a massive hedgehog sanctuary, which is simply a low fence which surrounds an acre of old mixed woodland. It has good leaf litter and a small stream running through it. We have purchased a dozen “hedgehog houses”, which are available commercially so that our new residents will have somewhere to bed down and keep snug.
It is not our intention to create a zoo, but instead we plan to offer a forever home to the wonderful hedgehog charities that take in injured and underweight hedgehogs. Our offer is to rehome in our sanctuary any animal that is too badly injured to release and to provide a release site for any animals which are ready to be given their freedom. We have a large area of woodland where they will be free of road hazard and where we can offer some supplemental feeding whilst they become established. It is our hope that the injured hedgehogs will successfully breed and the offspring can then be released either locally or at other suitable release sites.
Last week we received a visit from Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue who brought us four very special new residents! The first of many we hope.
Hessilhead do an amazing job of rescuing hundreds of animals every year (around 500 hedgehogs alone!!) and you can find out more about them, or donate if you are interested in helping them with their work here: http://www.hessilhead.org.uk
From day one, we have been eager to encourage our Highland Titles lairds to camp on their land. From teenage days I have enjoyed wild camping and my thoughts were that if I could persuade anyone to give it a try, they might become hooked on the experience and begin a lifetime of hillwalking. However the option has never been widely taken up. Talking to lairds I discovered that many of the potential campers have reached a time in their lives when they prefer a proper mattress. i sympathise. Sadly I am now in the same place.
One of our local supporters makes a living from renting out gypsy caravans and I started to investigate this option. I was soon persuaded that a better solution was a shepherd’s hut.
These huts on wheels were once a feature of farms that bred sheep. The shepherd needed to be with his flock 24/7 during lambing and a hut with a mattress and a log burning stove (to keep the shepherd – and orphan lambs – warm) was easier to build and more roomy inside.
I soon discovered that the best huts were made by Blackdown Shepherd Huts so I went to investigate and bought two of their kits. Cheaper to buy, easier to transport and we could use a lot of local timber which I could be sure was from sustainable sources.
One hut kit has become our magnificent reception/shop and the second is now available for people who would like to experience waking up in a wood but who don’t want to rough it too much!
The “Laird’s Lodge” has power and light, a log burning stove, a fridge and cooker in the kitchinette, table and chairs, a queen size bed and a private toilet. It is available to lairds and ladies via AirBnB for a night that will be gloriously unforgettable. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/25400524?s=1
Highland Titles staff have been working overtime recently shipping extra orders to Germany in what is often a quiet month. The reason; advertising.
During the 2018 gathering Highland Titles welcomed an independent journalist who spent time with us, met us and learned about the work we are doing. The result was an excellent little film advertising our work, which was published in the prestigious German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine . We were indeed fortunate that the video featured, in addition to myself and some of our happy lairds and ladies, the famous author Andy Wightman MSP, who has advocated wider land ownership for many years.
Of course Andy has no training in Scottish law, so offering advice on Scottish law concerning the sale of Scottish souvenir plots was rash to say the least. However we thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule, as a member of the Scottish Parliament, to contribute to one of our advertising features. His appearance is especially brave as we are aware that he personally faces significant legal troubles concerning previous inaccurate comments that he has made.
Despite it being unclear to what extent he endorses our work, I would like to show our gratitude and my appreciation of his appearing in our film and for his campaign for more diverse Scottish land ownership. So there is a square foot of Glencoe Wood waiting for the future “Laird Wightman” if he would care to let me know where to send it.
It would be hard not to be angry about this failed zoo. The publication yesterday, in the Times, of yet more reports of animal neglect, simply raise our blood pressure, over and above the status that the annual celebration of animal cruelty that is Eid al-Adha. Superstitions have a lot to answer for.
You may recall that this sorry tale began with the escape of a lynx named Lillith. She managed tor evade capture over several days but was finally shot by a local marksman.
Another lynx died at the “Kingdom” shortly afterwards, amply demonstrating the inexperience of the zoo’s owners, the Tweedy’s (no, not from “Chicken Run”) who are a psychotherapist and a street artist. Quite why anyone would trust them to care for wild animals beggars belief.
That they are still operating is a disgrace. That they are almost bankrupt is unsurprising. That animals continue to die is desperately sad. I wish I could do something to help. Something to think about….
Like other business minded conservation groups, we rely to some extent on the help and advice of public relations companies. Our biggest opportunity in the marketplace, apart from the good work that we do, is our exciting and novel way of raising money. Who doesn’t want a bit of land in Scotland? Much more fun than a membership card. Unfortunately, our biggest problem is the cost of advertising what we do. Of the 7.6 billion people on the planet, conservatively 7.5 billion have never heard of us. When people realise what we are selling and how we use the profits from those sales, we do very nicely.
Enter BML Public Relations, our American PR company. Last year they had the original idea of giving everyone in Scotland, Connecticut a free square foot. I liked the idea. The worst that could happen was that we would give away product to 1,694 people and make them very happy. Could be worse. At best, they would all then buy a plot for Uncle Duncan (most of our sales are repeat business), and we would get some free publicity (the sort we prefer).
“The story of a town full of lairds and ladies was an easy pitch to features, lifestyle and seasonal writers from the top 100 designated market areas. By targeting writers at national outlets that covered hyperlocal beats, BMLPR secured an article on APNews.com, which was shared by more than 125 outlets throughout the country, including FOXBusiness.com, ABCNews.go.com, CNBC.com, NYTimes.com, BostonGlobe.com and more.
Ultimately, the stunt delivered 268 media placements and close to 1 billion impressions, along with a holiday sales increase of 34 percent. It’s a great example of taking a typical holiday gift guide pitch to a new level.”
And we are pleased to say that Chicago based PR Daily awarded BML Public Relations and Highland Titles first place in their annual Ragan Awards program, which celebrates the greatest campaigns, initiatives and one-offs in the communication, PR, marketing and media industries.
We are used to accolades for our conservation work but this is the first time that our advertising has been recognised. Full marks to our Marketing Director, Styephen Rossiter, for making this happen.
I have supported the Scottish Wildcat Association charity and Wildcat Haven for many years. They have given us hope that the Scottish Wildcat can be saved as a wild animal.
Then, almost 18 months ago, I announced the launch of a rival organisation that claimed to have the best interests of the Scottish Wildcat at heart. It was launched with huge funding and great razzmatazz. The main problem was that it was hard to see how an organisation that included such disparate interests as driven grouse shooting, the display for profit of wild animals and the felling of the very forests that the wildcat requires for its home and larder could serve the interests of the wildcat. Yes, they talk the talk, but could they walk the walk? Were they going to help the wildcat? Or did they plan to exterminate it in the wild and restrict it to a zoo animal.
The gamekeepers and the zoos have now been exposed as the nasty organisations that we always imagined them to be. Now it is Forestry Commission Scotland and its forest destroying agenda that is in the frame. Friend or foe of the Scottish Wildcat? The jury is out, but it does not look good for them.
It started with the discovery of an unexpected population of Scottish Wildcats in the massive forest of Clashindarroch.
The Clashindarroch Forest was planted only recently, with the first trees being put in the ground before WWII. It covers a range of heights and soil types. Not all of the forest is suitable for tree cover. It is a mosaic including large areas of open ground, often rich in food for Wildcats, such as voles. This is normal for most forests and although there are large plantations within the forest which offer cover, there are also large areas of open ground which support large populations of prey species.
The only threat to the wildcat is the disturbance caused by large scale forestry operations. This disturbance is precisely what Scottish Wildcat Action is recommending. But then including Forestry Commission Scotland in a wildcat organisation is a bit like including an SS Panzer Division in the Allied line of battle. Unlike Scottish Wildcat Action, Wildcat Haven serves no commercial masters worried about profits. Wildcat Haven Is fighting to save this last small population of Aberdeenshire wildcats.
The wildcats have survived since the last ice age in this area despite or perhaps because of the planting. However is is improbable that they will be able to co-exist with large scale mechanised timber harvesting.
Logging is taking place NOW, in the middle of kitten season, disturbing wildcat mothers, which could make them abandon or even eat their young.
The logging will tear the wildcat population apart, and threaten many other rare animals that live in the forest alongside them.
Finally, here’s the letter written by two Wildcat experts to Nicola Sturgeon, The First Minister of Scotland:
Dear Mrs Sturgeon,
We are writing to you as originators of the petition to protect Clashindarroch Forest in Aberdeenshire, which has over 205,000 signatures so far (www.change.org/SaveTheWildcats).
At least 13 high-purity Scottish wildcats live in Clashindarroch, the largest single population recorded anywhere; possibly a third of the national population and certainly critical to it.
As a commercial forest it is subject to rotational felling by Forest Enterprise Scotland, which raises a significant risk of disturbing wildcats and destroying their dens. Two “significant” wind farms are also in planning between FES, Vattenfall and Fred Olsen Renewables.
We are sure that your advisors at Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland have told you that everything is as it should be in Clashindarroch, but we can demonstrate that it isn’t. The current situation is likely to place you as the First Minister in charge when the wildcat went extinct.
As required, FES do appear to be carrying out pre-felling surveys to check for wildcat presence. However, it has been proven that those surveys have failed to identify wildcat territories which were subsequently felled; “reckless” disturbance and destruction in law.
In one case FES were shown evidence of a wildcat on a site already being clear-felled. They briefly ceased operations accepting the cat was present, then continued clear-felling anyway. This virtually guaranteed the destruction of dens and resting places, as well as the disturbance and displacement of that cat; “deliberate” disturbance and destruction in law.
An FES species ecologist commented that “cats can move”, even though the law expressly forbids this happening. He is also the only ecologist we are aware of with the opinion that forcing the movement of highly territorial, legally protected, and critically endangered animals is no big deal.
Further justification for felling has been offered by Scottish Wildcat Action who claim they have peer-reviewed evidence that wildcats benefit from 90 hectares of their territory being clear-felled. This evidence relies on a dataset of domestic tabby cats and eye witness sightings reaching back to the 1800s; random members of the public thinking they might have seen a wildcat somewhere.
They also cite a study of German wildcats living in a hurricane deforested landscape, and two studies of Spanish wildcats living in unforested scrub landscapes. That these cats did not use forest very often (of course they had none to use), is provided as evidence that Scottish wildcats benefit from industrial clear-felling creating a “mosaic” of deforested areas within a forest.
These are gross misrepresentations of science. There is absolutely no evidence that Scottish wildcats benefit in any way from clear-felling, and a considerable body of evidence and legal protections making clear that it is extremely detrimental to their survival.
Then the two wind farms. Deatils are unknown of the Fred Olsen plan but FES themselves call it “significant”, and requiring “significant clear-felling”.
Plans are available for a Vattenfall project to extend the wind farm on the edge of Clashindarroch. It will cut the forest and wildcat population in two and clear fell up to a quarter of it. FES were keen to keep this “under the radar” according to their internal emails, expecting wildcats would be an issue; which we find outstandingly poor behaviour for a public agency, managing a public forest, talking about a legally protected and critically endangered species.
Vattenfall 2 will immediately make numerous wildcats homeless and cause the collapse of the Clashindarroch population. Whatever the size, Fred Olsen’s Longbank project will ensure the collapse is a rapid process.
The loss of this population will mean extinction; there is no evidence to show that there are more than 35 wildcats left. SNH have dropped their own population estimates from 400 to 100 over the same period that they have spent £2m of public and Lottery money allegedly saving the wildcat.
We, and over 205,000 other people, believe the case is clear; the wildcat is not safe so long as Clashindarroch can be commercially exploited. Scotland has many windy hills and many commercial forests, but this is the only one with a resident population of wildcats.
We understand there’s a great deal of process and investigation that has to take place to fully inform MSPs of the situation in Clashindarroch, as well as a Parliamentary close imminent, but Scotland’s rarest animal is at risk right now, purely because failing FES surveys tick a box in a forestry stewardship form.
We feel the only sensible choice is to put a moratorium on all forest exploitation in Clashindarroch Forest until Parliament is next in session and able to deliver a fully informed decision on whether it can be protected.
Please, meet with us and let us show you the evidence for what is at stake, and how the wildcat population is being brushed aside by both Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage in their action planning, procedures, PR activities and internal communications.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue and Steve Piper On behalf of Wildcat Haven
I have posted before about my poor record as a vegan. I am not as singleminded as most vegans and this was brought home to me earlier this year when one of the websites I follow, Go Vegan Scotland, published a post that made little sense to me. It described an English school which had reared a group of four piglets to educate the children about animal husbandry. Once they reached adulthood (5 months) they were returned to the breeder. Allowing children to learn about farm animals and permitting them to consider their death and consumption as pork pies, full English breakfasts and ham sarnies was too much for some vegans who created a great deal of fuss. It is likely that the experiment will not be repeated, much to the detriment of the children and probably the pigs. Conditions in pig farms are often substandard IMHO and having kept and eaten pigs myself I know how fun loving and playful they can be if given space to run around and enjoy themselves – as I expect they did at the school.
Go Vegan Scotland went much further and argued that not giving in to Vegan demands to allow the pigs to move on to an animal sanctuary infringed the human rights of a child of vegan parents at the school. Frankly this sort of silly over-reaction simply makes non-vegans turn away from considering veganism as a sensible movement.
What would have been sensible would have been to lobby for the exercise to go to its logical conclusion, with the children following the pigs to the slaughterhouse and viewing the unpleasant reality of how farm animals make the transition from fun-loving personalities to sausages and mince. I worked on pig duodenum for several years and consider that visiting my local abbatoir and watching the “innards” slither down the chute to reach the men who processed the whiffy bits would do more for veganism than any amount of protesting about ” ‘uman” rights” by well-intentioned hippies.
Which leads us on to the question of animal slaughter in the UK. Frankly I am very concerned about several aspects of the process. The loss of hundreds of small abattoirs has created longer journeys for the animals. The trade-off should be higher standards in those that remain, but an increasing number of slaughterhouses making use of the religious exemptions from the requirement to avoid pain by pre-stunning offset any such gains.
In my ideal world we would all eat lentils, but I know that is not going to happen. Eating meat is in our DNA and most people will not let go of their lust for flesh. My philosophy is simple. If we cannot prevent the raising of animals for consumption they MUST have a good life and a good death. That is all I hope for for myself and those I love. Why not for farm animals too. And let us not forget that most wild animals get neither and precious few humans achieve it either. However we can aspire to make it so for farm animals.
Compassion in Word Farming has the right idea on most things. They were founded in 1967 by a British farmer and they campaign to end factory farming. However I have come to suspect that the biggest problem we now face in the UK is not the absence of a good life, but the reality of a bad death for an increasing percentage of animals.
In 2015 the Independent newspaper reported on secretly filmed footage showing British abattoir workers repeatedly hacking at sheep’s throats, hurling them into solid structures and kicking them in the face.
Other images captured during the filming of the Halal slaughter of 400 sheep over three days showed:
*Sheep being kicked in the face and head, lifted by their ears, fleeces or legs, and hurled into solid structures.
*A worker bouncing up and down on the neck of a sheep that is still conscious.
*Staff laughing over a sheep bleeding to death with spectacles drawn around its eyes in green paint.
*Knives being sharpened in front of sheep, which also saw other animals being shackled and hoisted.
*Sheep falling from a chute on to a slippery floor in the kill area and frequently thrown head-first into a solid upright structure, which is part of the conveyor.
Some of these abuses might also have been captured in non-Halal or Kosher abbatoirs but for the first time, for myself anyway, attention was drawn to the fact that some people were exempted from the laws that stop the rest of us from torturing animals. Slit your dog’s throat and you will be prosecuted. Slit the throats of 400 sheep after mumbling some Arabic words and you get your pay cheque and a pat on the back from the boss.
Best practice requires stunning of the animals before they are killed. When stunning is done correctly, the animal feels no pain and it becomes instantly unconscious. When animals are not pre-stunned or when electricity is used only to immobilize and paralyze animals to hold them still (as in so called pre-stunned Halal slaughter), a painful and slow death by exsanguination is inevitable. A quick search of YouTube will provide enough examples of the horrors of Halal slaughter to stop you sleeping for a month. I dare you to watch this video and still consider that Britain should accept the horror of Halal slaughter. Go on. Agree with me or watch this and never sleep again.
The solution is very simple. exemptions from humane slaughter that currently permit killing farm animals in Britain by methods which may have been acceptable to primitive desert dwelling nomads but which are no longer tolerable in a civilised society must be withdrawn. Nobody has to eat meat and if anyone’s belief system does not permit them to eat humanely killed meat then that is all to the good. The ranks of vegetarians and vegans will be boosted and these people will be healthier and happier for the change. Nobody has to eat meat and nobody should have the right to kill animals with pain and fear just because they believe they should be able to. We banned bull fighting, bear baiting, dog fights, fox hunting and much more besides to the horror and fury of those who believed they had the right torture dumb beasts. Religious slaughter is no different and it must be stopped.
In the interim and for the benefit of slaughter generally, mandatory CCTV may be the way forward. Indeed recently the government has launched a consultation on plans to make CCTV mandatory for slaughterhouses in England. It is proposed that cameras would be placed in all areas of the slaughterhouse where live animals are present. Slaughterhouse vets would have unrestricted access to the footage.
To my mind that only goes part of the way. Half of all slaughterhouses already have CCTV (According to the Food Standards Agency around 49 per cent of red meat slaughterhouses and 70 per cent of white meat slaughterhouses have some form of CCTV), but Animal Aid in a recent series of undercover filmings identified several abattoirs who were lawbreaking and had CCTV installed. The CCTV had not prevented these breaches of the law. I would require all slaughterhouses to stream the CCTV footage to the internet to permit the public to check they were complying with the law. Frankly I have little confidence in the slaughterhouse vets.
I have to admit that I had rather forgotten about the whole defamation thing. Highland Titles is in a particularly good place just now – 2017 was our tenth year of growth with our highest turnover and profit ever. This provides us with an income that we can use to do much much more than we ever imagined when we hung out our shingle in 2006. The lucky 100 who are booked to attend the 2018 gathering will hear about our plans first. Those on our mailing list will hear next. It does keep me busy, but that is certainly a very good thing.
But Mr Wightman was brought to my attention again last week when I received an email from a friend alerting me to a tweet (below). It appears that Mr Wightman will be dusting off his begging bowl again.
What a difference a year makes! Eleven months ago the news of his crowdfunder appeal for a modest £10,000 electrified Twitter. 318 hearts and 592 retweets. Wow. This year the request for an additional extraordinary £120,000 created a massive social media yawn. One heart and a comment from Cathy. Hopefully she will be donating the full £120,000 because nobody else appears to be interested.
The crowdfunder for my defamation case is now live. Thanks to all who have offered support so far. Donate here https://t.co/6d5USWf85N
One possibility is that people realise that trying to defend the indefensible is an expensive and futile ambition. Surely it would be better to apologise and try to set the matter straight?
To spend so much money on lawyers which could be better spent on a million diverse good causes is arguably the behaviour of a man who knows with unwavering confidence even beyond conceit that he’s benefitting everyone around him. He must be saved at all costs no matter what damage he may have caused to the little people. He cannot be seen to have erred.
His statement on his website that the court date “may well be a year or more away”, taken in context with his previous delaying tactics, suggest that his strategy might be to try and make the other side (a small wildlife non-profit) run out of money as their legal fees steadily increase. He states “The estimated duration of the hearing is 8 days”. Quite frankly this is ridiculous. The case is a simple open and shut case which I am advised could be concluded in two or three days. His desire for an 8 day hearing would result in increased costs and massive delay.
If he had wanted to get his day in court, I cannot but wonder why he turned down the offer(s) of free legal help that he received. Rather than represent himself, accept free help or turn to any number of well-intentioned “legal” friends who would surely have been pleased to represent him for a modest fee, Mr Wightman, possibly sensing the truly impossible job of making black look white, turned to one of the more expensive advocates at the Edinburgh bar, Roderick W. Dunlop Q.C.
As I have made very clear under oath to the court (see transcript above), my only connection to Wildcat Haven (and Wildcat Haven Enterprises), is that a company that I represent as a director, Highland Titles Limited, has been funding it since WH was formed in 2015. Before that we funded the Scottish Wildcat Association. Highland Titles have poured well over £100,000 into wildcat conservation and I do not begrudge a penny of it. We plan to donate considerably more as do other organisations.
But nobody gives away money without making checks that hard earned cash will not be misused. We met with the principals of both organisations before funding them and undertook due diligence. We are well aware therefore that Mr Wightman has got many of his facts wrong as indeed he has done for Highland Titles. The court will eventually determine whether these factual inaccuracies amount to defamation and if so what damages are due to Wildcat Haven Enterprises.
This leads me to observe that Mr Wightman, in his latest blog update on his website, has been just a teensy bit mendacious – it is called lying by omission – in his description of the case against him – perhaps unintentionally done. He states:
Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC claims that statements that I made in the two blogs are defamatory. I do not accept that they are.
Yet my personal opinion is that his tweets have been far more defamatory than his blogs and he fails to mention that they are also part of the case against him. Mr Wightman has elsewhere drawn attention to his difficulty in responding to the six pages of his tweets (as well he might).
Pleadings & defences due to close 20 Dec in Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC vs Andy Wightman. This weekend researching & responding to 6 new pages (25% increase) in pursuers pleadings incl many tweets from 2015 with 4 days to go. pic.twitter.com/2ks4fNSyv9