Scotsman letter Roy Turnbul 13March 2020

Situated beside the forest village of Nethy Bridge, School Wood is an outstanding ancient woodland supporting exceptional biodiversity. Following a visit to the wood in 2002 the late Dr Adam Watson, ecologist and authority on the Cairngorms, recognised its high value. He commented in the press, “Nethy Bridge is exceptionally fortunate in having this incredible amenity and educational site beside the village. It would be tragic if this irreplaceable asset were damaged by .. housing development”.

With others, BSCG has been campaigning to save School Wood from development threats since 1993. So far no development has taken place. Appreciation of the value of the site has grown. Reflecting this, in their next Local Development Plan the National Park Authority has removed the area allocated for 15 houses in School Wood “due to significant natural heritage constraints”. BSCG has welcomed this. However the new Plan is not due to be formally adopted until later this year. Unfortunately, the present Plan still includes a housing allocation.

The above letter by Roy Turnbull emphasises that it is now more unacceptable than ever to propose this precious ancient woodland as a building site.

This letter was published in The Scotsman on 13 March 2020.

Dr Adam Watson in 2002 in School Wood NethybridgeAdam Watson in School Wood in 2002.

BSCG is among Highland environmental groups that have written objections to Highland Council Planners over controversial proposals for a golf course on designated land at Coul Links in East Sutherland. If approved this seriously damaging development would set a precedent of allowing development that conflicts with sustainable development. Below is a personal letter of objection from Roy Turnbull that draws attention to two issues that illustrate the far-reaching repercussions raised by the Coul Links proposal.

wet windyquote Coul sn

Dear Sir,

17/04601/FUL - Development of 18 hole golf course, erection of clubhouse etc.

Land 1700M NW of Embo Community Centre School Street, Embo.

 I write to add my strong objection to the above proposed development.

 I have studied the detailed objections you have already received from numerous informed and knowledgeable sources concerning the damaging impacts this proposed development would have upon the exceptional and valued flora and fauna and landscape of this important designated site. Whilst there is little point in my repeating all this information, which I trust you will study and absorb, I would like to draw your particular attention to just two issues:

 1. From the Scottish Wildlife Trust objection, dated 27th October 2017:

 “assessing the impact of the development is not simply a case of totalling up the areas of the various habitats which the footprint of the development will cover. The creation of a golf course, and aspects of its management such as drainage, irrigation, seeding, cutting, fertilising, application of pesticides, water abstraction from boreholes and resultant impacts such as changes to grazing, and disturbance, will fundamentally affect the operation of these natural processes which have created the sand dune features which are a notified feature of the Ramsar site.

The development will freeze this dynamism over time and steadily impoverish the biodiversity to make it a very ordinary place, like most of Scotland’s links golf courses (lawns and scrub). Construction and management will fundamentally affect these processes of seasonal and longer term changes”

 This, it seems to me, gets to the crux of the matter. It is simply not possible to make large scale alterations to the functioning of a complex, dynamic, living system of sand, water, plants, animals and fungi without fundamentally degrading and unravelling the whole system. A similar warning was sounded during consultations over the Menie golf course development near Aberdeen, and the recent announcement by Scottish Natural Heritage that de-designation of the SSSI there is under consideration because of the damage to its special features following development emphasises the validity of such warnings. I submit that the developers should heed the advice contained in both the SNH and SEPA objections: to consider an alternative site on agricultural land.

 2.  Please assess this proposal beyond just the confines of local concerns. There is widespread and increasing global concern about the continuing incremental loss of biodiversity and of natural and semi-natural habitats. For example, a very recent global study by the University of Queensland, Australia ] states,

 “Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection with almost 10 per cent being lost since the early 1990s. Their conservation is a global priority.”

Approving this application would damage Scotland's reputation for looking after its own natural and semi-natural areas, and weaken its voice on the global stage at a time when stopping the loss of such areas is an urgent necessity. As one of the wealthier and better educated countries on Earth, Scotland should be leading by example.

IMG 1584 1600x2400

Dear Sir,

On Monday, April 4, The Scotsman published an article giving the sporting estates' defence of muirburn - the burning of heather during grouse moor management.

On Friday, you published the results of research from Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities, indicating that adopting the latest "sustainable land use practices" would allow the locking away, or sequestration, of huge quantities of greenhouse gases in "farmland and natural wild spaces".

Thus we witness a nineteenth century indulgence confronted by twenty first century reality.

16 3 27 Seaf IMG 8164 1800

Recent muirburn next to woodland in the Cairngorms National Park, Spring 2016.

Grouse moors and deer stalking estates have this in common: they both minimise carbon sequestration.

Burning of grouse moors and over-grazing of stalking estates prevents woodland regeneration and devastates ground vegetation, whilst compacting soils and reducing their carbon retention capacities. These systems are the very opposite of "sustainable land use practices" if that sustainability has any reference to the aspirations of the recent Paris summit on climate change, to which our governments are committed.

The questions arise: How long, in a world divesting its money from fossil fuels and increasingly desperate about global warming, can these anachronistic and damaging land-uses prevail? When will the monetary value of sporting estates begin to plummet? How long will it take before the Scottish Government faces up to this reality and provides scientifically appropriate legislation to govern the demise and transition of Scotland's sporting estates?

Yours sincerely,
Roy Turnbull
Nethy Bridge, Inverness-shire



5065622215 9b4c39105c o 1600x1217

Dick Balharry who attended the very first meeting of BSCG in 1975 deserves warm congratulations for the award of the prestigious Patrick Geddes medal for his outstanding contribution to conservation.

Presenting the award at a ceremony at Glen Feshie the Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society described Dick as “a relentless and passionate advocate for improving and protecting Scotland's natural landscapes" who "has influenced, advised, inspired and encouraged so many people and organisations".

The Sunday Herald (19 April 2015) reports on the award and mentions that Dr Adam Watson who spoke at BSCG’s inaugural meeting recalled vital work in Wester Ross undertaken by Dick on the poisoning of golden eagles that contributed to the banning of some persistent organochlorines pesticides in the 1970’s and 1980’s. BSCG members will also recall Dick’s important contribution to the establishment of Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.

Referring to his speech the paper reports that Dick Balharry criticised landowners for erecting fences to protect native woodlands from marauding deer and commented this damaged the landscape, inhibited public access and deprived deer of shelter. The report is followed by an editorial headed 'Cairngorms talk highlights need for land reform'. This echos Dick’s views and comments "What's now crucial is that ministers introduce measures that oblige landowners to manage their estates for the public, good, rather than private gain."

See the article here:

I first came to the Highlands as an 8 year-old boy on holiday and even then I knew that this was where I wanted to live. My wife Jackie and I moved with our kids to the Highlands many years ago. We uprooted our business and moved that here as well. This region is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we love living here.
It’s pleasing to say that I fulfilled that boyhood ambition when I moved here many years ago with my wife Jackie and our kids, uprooting our business and replanting it here, in the Highlands.

Serving my ward, Aird and Loch Ness, which is in this constituency, along with my work on the Cairngorms National Park Authority, has ensured I am constantly reminded of what is exceptional about where we work and live.

Most days I get to walk to work as the Leader of the Highland Council, crossing the bridge over the lovely River Ness on the way. My kids can walk to school, even when it’s raining. My ward of Aird and Loch Ness, which is the equivalent size of Luxembourg, has many wonderful sights to see as I crisscross it, visiting constituents and communities.
The reason I’m telling you all of this because the environment is very important to me. I think it is to everyone living in the Highlands. In my experience, most of us feel lucky to be living here. So the local environment and our wider responsibilities for the planet must be seen as a priority for us all.
I am grateful to be invited to the hustings organised by the Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group and thank them for this opportunity to focus on the environment. I like the view that we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in the same proportion. So I will be pleased to talk about my campaign policies, the Scottish Government’s progress on the environment, and my own initiatives, but I will be listening at the hustings and hoping to hear from the people how we can do more at all levels of government.
Of course, I will also be keen to discuss the Scottish Environment LINK’s Manifesto for the Westminster General Election.
It is important to say though, that I certainly believe politicians can and must do more on the environment. My Carbon Clever programme for example, which I initiated at Highland Council, focuses on the economy, energy, land use and resources, transport and engagement strategy. It is a growing success and proof that even in these tough times of austerity progressive policies can be delivered.

Follow @Carbon_CLEVER on Twitter for more information. In the meantime I look forward to meeting with all those who will be at the hustings and discussing such a vital campaign issue.
Drew Hendry
That’s why I initiated Carbon Clever


Mature Scots pine burnt during grouse moor management, Dorback, Cairngorms National Park. Note also eroding soil and burnt ground vegetation.

Dear Sir,

You report (24 September) the pledge from the UN New York summit on climate change to stop natural forest destruction and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land by 2030, in order to help sequestrate carbon in woodlands.

What will Scotland's response be to this welcome news?

In much of the world, such destruction and degradation of forests is caused by the desperately poor, seeking fuelwood or land to grow food.

In Scotland, it is caused by what might be called the desperately rich: burning land for grouse shooting, overgrazing it with red deer for deer stalking or, as in the Cairngorms National Park, building housing estates, often for holiday or second homes, in native woodlands. Scotland's uplands with respect to carbon sequestration (not to mention biodiversity, landscape or social justice) are a wasteland compared with what they could be.

Let us hope that this summit finally opens the eyes of the Scottish Government to the deplorable state of much of Scotland's land, in thrall as it is to sport shooting or speculative development interests.

How many of those hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land will be restored in Scotland? When will we stop destroying native woodlands for housing? What will be the Scottish Government's response to the New York Declaration on Forests?

Roy Turnbull
Nethy Bridge

The Scotsman 25 September 2014.