Beavers, badgers and buzzards surpassed even Brexit as a bugbear for the Scottish farming industry at NFU Scotland’s annual conference yesterday when growers from across the country vented their frustration over what they see as a lack of wildlife management by Scottish Natural Heritage.
Farmer after farmer stood up at the Glasgow gathering to give accounts of diminishing numbers of waders and hedgehogs on their land, the destruction of trees and waterways and intense predation by sea eagles on hill lambs.
“It’s very different from what you see on Springwatch,” said Aberdeenshire farmer Patrick Sleigh during a debate on pests, predation and policy.
“The story that’s told on the screen isn’t close to reality – but then dead lambs aren’t pretty.”
Perthshire producer Jim McLaren said Tayside beavers were being protected despite successfully expanding their range on a weekly basis; Patrick Sleigh said badgers were out of control in Aberdeenshire; and from the west, David Colthart claimed the impact of sea eagles on hill farming livelihoods was so severe the time had come for the birds to be removed.
While the membership’s demands for more control of wildlife didn’t sit comfortably alongside union president Andrew McCornick’s call for more cognisance to be given to agriculture’s environmental credentials, he argued that farmers were unfairly getting the blame for falling numbers of wildlife.
“We’re losing ground-nesting birds which is an environmental impact and we’re getting the blame for it when in fact it’s the uncontrolled population of badgers that’s to blame,” he said.
“It’s the same with the sea eagles. We’re losing sheep from the hills and the landscape is being damaged.
“It’s causing mental and business stress but we don’t know how to get out of it. It needs to be dealt with.”
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) chief executive Francesca Osowska said she understood some species caused the industry difficulty and insisted SNH was looking at mitigation schemes to help farmers deal with damage to businesses.
She said: “And we’ll keep doing that, but I’m head of a conservation organisation which is about ensuring aims are maintained for iconic species in Scotland.”
However, Forfar farmer Euan Walker Munro, whose land is being damaged by beavers, said: “SNH are working on just one beaver mitigation trial site and they’re months behind schedule…
“It’s important they get on with it because once we have an idea how much mitigation costs, it will be easier for the public to understand if lethal control can be justified.”