Postponing meaningful environmental assessment to the end of the planning process is deeply unhelpful to protecting sensitive species and habitats. This practice flies in the face of responsible forward planning and the first aim of the national park.
We will continue to stand up against damaging and excessive development in the national park.
We thank everyone who has supported us to date.

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Dear Sir,

In your report "Cairngorms homes 'will destroy woodland'", 27 June, you refer to the application to build 58 houses in School Wood, Nethy Bridge, which would destroy 12 acres of this ancient woodland in the Cairngorms National Park. You mention that Nethy Bridge Community Council "supports the application".

The constitution of the NB Community Council states that function of the Council shall be (inter alia) "to ascertain, co-ordinate and express" to the relevant authorities "the views of the community which it represents". This planning application is for the largest number of houses ever proposed in Nethy Bridge, yet the Community Council failed to convene a special public meeting whereby those community views could be ascertained. The Minutes of the May monthly meeting at which the Community Council decided "no objections" to this application, record "Members of the Public: None".

Moreover, during consultations over the National Park Local Plan in 2005, to which this application relates, the Community Council did convene a well-attended public meeting (12 January). That meeting voiced overwhelming opposition to large-scale housing developments in the village. Similarly, at a public meeting with the applicants in the presence of the National Park head of planning (5 April 2012), very considerable concerns were expressed over housing developments in School Wood. Notwithstanding those concerns, a community councillor then expressed "100 per cent support" for the proposal, apparently oblivious to the fact that his remit was to express the community view, not his private opinion.

I submit that the "support" provided by Nethy Bridge Community Council for this application merely reflects the private views of the half-dozen councillors involved. It is not a fair reflection of the views of the community that it is supposed to represent.

Yours sincerely,
Roy Turnbull
Nethy Bridge

There is international concern about the future of capercaillie in Scotland, where this valued species is suffering serious national decline. Most of the UK population is now confined to Strathspey. The Cairngorms are the last main stronghold for capercaillie in Britain. In spite of capercaillie having the highest level of protection under European and UK law, as well as being a key priority for the National Park’s conservation aims, yet the National Park Authority have approved 32 houses in a forest supporting over 1% of the UK population. These houses will cause a direct loss of caper habitat as well as an increase in recreational disturbance to an already-disturbed capercaillie population. The Cairngorms National Park Authority is relying solely on untested and largely unenforceable mitigation measures in an attempt to reduce disturbance to caper, such as screening forest tracks with hessian fencing and requesting the public to keep dogs on leads for 5 months of the year on some well used paths. The National Park Authority has identified alternative housing sites in Boat that could have been promoted for development, yet the only site the National Park Authority have taken forward is this site in capercaillie woodland.

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Woodland under threat . Capercaillie red squirrel and wood ant habitat at Boat of Garten threatened by promotion of housing by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

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Site visit on 21 June - a juniper bush in the path of the development is indicated by an arrow. Doubts have been expressed that proposals to plant juniper at this site would yield useful visual screening.

BSCG’s case at a public meeting on 21 June 2013 was ably presented to the CNPA Board by environmental lawyer Jamie Whittle: The following is from this submission:
3. On behalf of the BSCG, I invite the Committee to refuse planning permission, on the basis of the following 4 points being:
a) Non-compliance with the Local Plan
b) Capercaillie and the European Birds Directive
c) Biodiversity
d) The aims of the National Park
Non-compliance with the Local Plan
4. The first point to note is that this development is a large development, comprising essentially 32 houses which forms roughly 10% of the current number of houses in the Boat of Garten area. A development of this scale is required to be allocated in the local plan, which it is not. Section 25 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 requires that the development plan be followed "unless material considerations indicate otherwise". In my submission, there are no material considerations that outweigh the requirement to accord with the local plan. A development of this size cannot be considered wind fall, as it is far too large.
5. An allocation for housing in this location was dismissed by the Reporter in the local inquiry, and removed from the final local plan by the Park Authority on the basis that it ran contrary to advice given in the Landscape Capacity Study and "the need to adopt the precautionary principle" in respect of protection to capercaillie.
6. Following the adoption of the Local Plan, the Park considered and rejected an application (reference 08/272/CP) for 77 houses on this site, stating amongst other things at paragraph 133 of of the National Park Authority's appraisal of the application that "the site is not allocated in the Local Plan" and this together with consideration of various environmental policies that did not support the proposal led to a "clear recommendation for refusal of the application". Capercaillie and the European Birds Directive
7. The woodland in which the development is proposed to be located supports capercaillie, a species afforded the highest level of legal of protection under European and UK law, in terms of Annex 1 of the European Birds Directive and Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The species is a UK BAP priority species and a key priority species in terms of the National Park's conservation aims.
8. The species is in severe national decline. The national target of in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 2010 was to have 5,000 birds but this target (as the CNPA points out in its appropriate assessment at page 28) has not been met by a substantial margin.
9. Strathspey has about 75% of the UK population and is therefore the stronghold for capercaillie in the UK.
10. Boat Wood supports more than 1% of the UK caper population (there is a lek of 3-5 males out of a total of about 250 displaying males in Scotland), and with more than 1% of UK population it has the capacity to be deemed an SPA in its own right.
11. As the CNPA notes on page 29 of its appropriate assessment, "Conservation of capercaillie requires consideration at the metapopulation scale as well as at the scale of individual sites. Boat of Garten wood is in a central location between Abernethy Forest, Anagach Woods, Cairngorms, Craigmore Wood and Kinveachy Forest SPAs. The area is important both as a habitat used by capercaillie that suppors this meta-population as well as functioning as a vital 'stepping stone' by facilitating movement between SPAs.
12. The Appropriate Assessment notes on page 30 that "Capercaillie are very vulnerable to disturbance". Disturbance of caper at Boat Wood is therefore of not just national but international interest. Capercaillie are already affected by disturbance at Boat Wood. They don't use ground near the village much. Also, the male/female ratio is skewed against hens therefore a little more disturbance could have a disproportionate impact.
13. The proposed mitigation uses untested methods. As far as BSCG is aware, no scientific study has been undertaken on whether capercaillie disturbance is reduced by screening paths. Developing vegetation will take many years. Dog walkers letting their dogs off leads (the Boat ranger noted 87% of dogs seen off leads last year) and ensuring that people do not stray from paths are very difficult to enforce and cannot be implemented with confidence.
14. Against this uncertainty, it is not, in my submission, possible for the CNPA to conclude in its appropriate assessment that the package of measures will mitigate risks in avoiding disturbance to capercaillie in the SPA. Certainty is required under European law, and in the absence of which the precautionary principle must apply.
15. SPAs are not the only mechanism required for the UK to meet its obligations under the EU Birds Directive and are merely one tool. Regardless of any view reached in terms of the neighbouring 2 SPAs, outwith protected areas Member States are obliged under article 4(4) of the Birds Directive to avoid deterioration of habitats to protected species. Biodiversity
16. The area in question is not simply a green field site but a valuable habitat to a range of species.
17. These include Red squirrel, some Juniper (a few bushes only), Wood ants, Fungi - incl a tooth fungi which is a rare SBL species that BSCG has no other record for, Slender Ground Hopper - one of extremely few Scottish records, has been published, Newts - smooth and palmate newt, Crossbills, Crested tits, Slender slug, ostrich plume feather moss, and creeping ladies tresses, a pinewood orchid.
18. Under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act section 1(1): "It is the duty of every pu_blic body and office-holder, in exercising any functions, to further the conservation of biodiversity". The aims of the National Park
19. Unlike a regular planning authority, the National Park is required to consider matters in light of the four aims set out under section 1 of the National Parks {Scotland) Act 2000. Under section 9(6) if "it appears to the authority that there is a conflict between the National Park aim set out in section l(a) [being to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area] and other National Park aims, the authority must give greater weight to the aim set out in section l(a)."
20. The previous application for a planning application for 77 houses on this site was rejected by the National Park Authority on the basis that it created "substantial friction" between the first aim to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage, and the fourth aim of promoting sustainable economic and social development.
21. The Authority noted at paragraph 133 of its appraisal of that application that there were "serious concerns with regard to natural and cultural heritage" and that "in the face of substantial housing allocations being made elsewhere in the area, it offends a number of environmental policies" ... and "results in a clear recommendation for refusal of the application".
22. The Appropriate Assessment states (at page 31) that "this planning application is likely to have a significant effect on capercaillie in the SPAs" which mirrors the commentary of SNH in its letter of 9 May 2013. The Appropriate Assessment goes on to state that "there must be no increase in disturbance to the capercaillie at Boat of Garten as a result of this development" (p.32). Yet as mentioned above the number of proposed mitigation measures are untested and in some cases unenforceable against the general public. There is, therefore, no certainty - as required under European law - that these measures will work.
23. It is no accident that the National Park is home to the greatest example of biodiversity in the UK. The area is also home to some 75% of the capercaillie population in the UK. In the launch of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity on Wednesday by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change he noted that "our species and habitats are under constant threat and we need to act now ... Nature lies at the very heart of what makes Scotland such a special place to live and work and that's why we're committed to halting biodiversity loss ... If we lose our wildlife or key habitats we are poorer in every sense of the word."
24. The protection of natural heritage is paramount for the long term good of the National Park. Setting a precedent that erodes biodiversity and the habitat of a European species is, in my submission, unacceptable for the sustainability of the Park. Whilst it is of course acknowledged how important it is to provide affordable housing to local families in Boat of Garten and in the wider Park, there are ways to accommodate housing needs in alternative locations with far less sensitive environmental characteristics.
25. The proposal before the Committee is therefore not the correct solution, and on behalf of my clients I ask that the Committee rejects this application.

Full submission on behalf of Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group in respect of planning application 2013/0115/DET at Boat of Garten on 21 June 2013. See PDF.

The Scotsman in Moray gamekeeper who set illegal snares fined has reported the conviction at Elgin Sheriff court of a keeper for illegal snaring activity in an area that may support scottish wildcat as well as otters and pine marten. A badger found dead at the scene near Dunphail had not been released from a snare contrary to the wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It has long been known that badgers are often absent from areas of North east Scotland subject to much snaring.. It has also been reported that "The British badger population probably reached its lowest point in the early 1900s following years of a "systematic campaign of snaring, poisoning and shooting of carnivores..." and at a time when the number of gamekeepers had risen to about 23,000" (see Roper TJ. 2010 Badger; Collins New Naturalist).

The Scotsman report reminds readers that today "All legal snares now set in Scotland must carry a tag giving a unique identification number that identifies the operator to the police."

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Pine marten one of the mammal potentially at risk where snares are set at middens near woodland. Photo copyright James Moore.

 

Moray gamekeeper who set illegal snares fined. 

By FRANK URQUHART
Published on 07/05/2013 16:46

A MORAY gamekeeper has been fined a total of £1,500 after being convicted of setting illegal snares in a manner likely to cause animals unnecessary suffering.

Brian Petrie, 66, of Woodhead, Dunphail, near Forres, appeared at Elgin Sheriff Court today when he pled guilty to three charges including setting snares likely to cause unnecessary suffering by partially or wholly suspending animals, and failing to release or remove an animal from a snare, contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

His appearance in court followed a lengthy investigation by the Scottish SPCA.

An SSPCA spokeswoman explained: “Inspectors from the Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit found a badger and several foxes dead in Petrie’s snares which had been set around a number of middens constructed of trees and baited with animal carcasses.”

Mike Flynn, the charity’s Chief Superintendent, said: “Petrie is a gamekeeper with over 50 years experience and he had sat his snaring course one year prior to the offences taking place.

“As he was well aware of the regulations regarding snaring it is our opinion that his intention was to capture, cause serious injury and kill animals.”

Mr Flynn continued: “The snares were set in an area inhabited by sensitive native species such as the Scottish wildcat, pine marten, deer, otter and badger so there was a high risk of this type of animal being caught, maimed and killed and indeed one badger was found dead at the scene.

“This case highlights, yet again, that snaring is cruel, indiscriminate and unnecessary and the only way to stop animals from suffering in snares is an outright ban.”

The leading animal welfare charity launched a renewed call for an outright ban on snares last month after a cat, trapped in an illegal snare, suffered a “prolonged and horrendous” death.The body of the male tabby cat was found trapped by the neck in the snare in the Buckie area of Moray.

At the beginning of April the Scottish Government brought in strict new regulation governing the use of snares in Scotland’s countryside. All legal snares now set in Scotland must carry a tag giving a unique identification number that identifies the operator to the police. And only those accredited to have completed a proper training course will be allowed to.

The following letter by BSCG Vice convener Roy Turnbull published in the Scotsman of 2 May 2013 calls on the Scottish Government to rethink the controversial proposals for development of a new town in a National Scenic Area in Strathspey that continues to damage the reputation of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

All the landscapes here have been described as highly sensitive to new housing development in a landscape capacity study and the proposal was not endorsed by two Planning Reporters who raised multiple concerns.

"Many will welcome the Scottish Government’s recent recognition of the value and fragility of sensitive landscapes, as expressed in its planned ban on wind farms in national parks and national scenic areas (your report, 1 May).

However, this policy sits uneasily with continuing plans for a new town ­development of 1,500 houses, with associated roads and ­infrastructure, at An Camas Mor on Rothiemurchus ­Estate in the Cairngorms ­National Park.

Rothiemurchus has been described as “one of the glories of wild Scotland” by Sir David Attenborough and the proposed development site, within the National Scenic Area, is presently a sensitive undeveloped area, including regenerating Caledonian pine woods.

Valued landscapes can be degraded by many forms of intrusive development. If the Scottish Government now explicitly recognises this danger with respect to wind farms, is it not time for a rethink on this plan for a new town in the Cairngorms National Park?"

There was a supportive response to this letter by Mike Underwood, Bad Planning.

Also Video nasty by Gus Jones of BSCG.

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