Local Engagement

Duror and Kentallen “CONNECT” Issue 2, Autumn 2019

Highland Titles has just celebrated 12 years as part of the local Glencoe, Duror, Kentallen, Ballachulish community.  We moved in a neglected spruce plantation in the autumn of 2007, full of exciting ideas for transforming into a nature reserve.  Is it any wonder that some people had their doubts?  Nothing like this had ever been tried before.

The first few years were difficult but as we began the transformation from sterile plantation to nature reserve, the doubters were increasingly won over.  Our first volunteers joined us in 2008 and good friend Stanley Cameron, with various heavy plant, constructed the main track and car park. We began brashing the spruce in earnest to help with access and set up feeding stations for a variety of wildlife.  We undertook baseline ecological surveys and took advice from various bodies.

Annual gatherings began in 2013, initially set in magnificent Glencoe House, but latterly moved to the Isles Glencoe Hotel to accommodate the massive interest. We have sold out every year for many years now.  We extended the main track to help with increasing visitor numbers and created two magnificent lochans. Stewart Borland joined us and to deal with the growing quantity of equipment kept on site we constructed our award winning Tool Store.  This also provided shelter for our volunteers and staff.

Local school children increasingly visit, either to help plant or as part of their education. Their involvement in our beekeeping project has been particularly satisfying. They have also been able to help nurture tree seedlings in our polytunnel.

We joined the Glencoe Marketing Group six years ago and improved our links to Visit Scotland, who graded us three stars and then four stars. After consulting our lairds, we moved our shepherds hut “Reception” and the Lairds Lodge onto the site.  Such improvements help all visitors, but particularly those with reduced mobility. The recent new surface to the main track finally makes access possible to disabled visitors.

For ten years now, we have distributed a five figure sum to local good causes and charities. But perhaps more important is the money we put directly into the community by employing staff and buying services. And even more valuable than that is the 10,000 visitors a year who come to walk in our woods and visit their plots.  The value of that to local businesses in incalculable.

Recent years have seen the creation of the wildcat rehabilitation centre and most recently, the Forever Home for injured hedgehogs and the Hedgehog hospital.

 

 

 

The Poor Had No Lawyers

Dr Paul O’Donoghue and his wife, Emily

A friend has drawn my attention to a spat concluding today (8-Nov-19) before Lord Clark in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  Andrew Dearg Wightman, a Scottish Green Party Member, an MSP for the Lothian region and an old “fan” of Highland Titles, has been brought to justice over some malicious falsehoods he appears to have carelessly published about a fledgling good cause called Wildcat haven Enterprises.  Mr Wightman did the same sort of thing back in the day about Highland Titles, so I think you could fairly describe him as a serial liar. A shame, because he has done some good things. But when you become a troll, reason and truth fly out of the window.

As I write this I have no idea who will win – or perhaps nobody will.  But I wanted to draw attention to the problem of seeking redress through the courts when a malicious scoundrel sets out to cause reputational damage as appears to be the case here.  There are really only two options.  “Suck it up” or sue. Problem is that taking legal action is eye-wateringly expensive, especially when one must take action against a well-funded man such as Andy Wightman. I certainly did not want to take the high road and make lots of Edinburgh lawyers rich.

With a fighting fund approaching £200,000, Mr Wightman, a well paid MSP, appears to have gone for delay and prevarication, simply in order to increase costs for the Wildcats and perhaps force them to fold.  He hired top solicitors BKF & Co (“One of Scotland’s oldest and most expensive law firms”) and perhaps the best (and most expensive barrister) available – Roddy Dunlop QC.  Dr Paul O’Donoghue, meanwhile has begged and borrowed from relatives, read up the law and has had to represent himself in court without benefit of counsel. I believe he has had to mortgage his house and sell his car. Mr Wightman was probably unaware that he had defamed the most doggedly determined man in Britain.

This is truly David and Goliath. Or Paul and Goliath.  A passionate animal lover, prepared to fight to the death to preserve his reputation versus an egotistical politician with a track record of malicious and reckless smearing. Only one party can win here. I know who should win. I know that Paul’s dreams of saving the wildcat have been set back years, perhaps killed altogether, by a very nasty and spiteful individual.  One of them is likely to lose everything. Knuckle-biting stuff.

 

The Gathering

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

Highland Hedgehogs

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

Here’s to the first of many Highland Hedgehogs 

 

 

 

The Shepherds Hut

The Lairds Lodge

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

Famous Scottish MSP “Advertises” Highland Titles


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.

 

 

Borth Wild Animal Kingdom

By Bernard Landgraf (User:Baerni) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=217822

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….

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fight-to-the-death-at-troubled-borth-wild-animal-kingdom-5ln2c9nzb

http://archive.is/rc4KV

Free Land Stunt

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).

Ragan’s PR Daily described it thus 

“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.

Slaughter

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.

 

 

 

Jarndyce vs Jarndyce – an update

Since my last post on the subject of my peremptory summons to help Mr Wightman with his legal troubles, I have received a copy of the court’s transcript of the event which I now share with everyone.

Wightman Wildcat Haven hearing transcript 2018_03_30_10_31_27

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.

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.

https://twitter.com/AJacksonScot/status/863725455492476930

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).

I note that AW has deleted his blogs. He does not appear to have deleted his tweets. Time will tell whether that was a schoolboy error. Hopefully not a very, very, very long time.