Mass culling of mountain hares must stop, says Finnie

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to urgently introduce a moratorium on the culling of mountain hares in the Highlands as new figures reveal the number of mountain hares in the eastern Highlands has dropped by more than 99 per cent since 1954.

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Mr Finnie said:

“Scottish Ministers have repeatedly stated that they do not support mass culling of mountain hares, yet it is happening all the same.

“Minister’s calls for ‘voluntary restraint’ are being blatantly ignored and it is therefore time that strong action is taken to protect this iconic, native species.

“We’re told by cull advocates that the main reason for culling hares is to increase red grouse densities. As if shooting hares just so there are more grouse to shoot wasn’t bad enough, there is no clear evidence that mountain hare culls actually increase red grouse densities.

“As is so often the case with blood sports, the real reasons for shooting appears more about tradition than species management.

“If estates are not willing to exercise voluntary restraint, and it is clear that many aren’t, then it is imperative that the Scottish Government takes the decision out of their hands and introduces measures to protect the mountain hare.”

Public may have been misled about Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre replacement

Scotland's Rural College logo

John Finnie has asked the Scottish Government for answers after learning that the planned replacement for the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre will not be the like-for-like replacement implied by the Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) announcement on the project.

The SRUC plans to relocate the veterinary disease surveillance service, which it operates on behalf of the Scottish Government, from its present site in Drummondhill to the new University of the Highlands and Islands campus at Beechwood in the east of the city.

John said:

“Whilst it is entirely correct to state that there will be a new post mortem facility at Beechwood, crucially, the new site will not be a laboratory facility in any shape or form. These plans are far from a like-for-like replacement; rather, it’s a substantial downgrading.

“The present site at Drummondhill has already been put up for sale, and will no doubt deliver considerable receipts – something I think this whole episode has been about.

“I’m reliably informed SRUC management have consistently told staff that they could not enter a staff consultation ‘until the minister had signed off on the changes’, yet this is precisely what appears to be what happened. This indicates continuing disrespect for the staff and for good workplace practices so I am keen to understand the level of Ministerial involvement.

“Ironically, whilst most of the other SAC Consulting Veterinary Services labs require major refurbishment, the Inverness lab is probably the most fit for purpose centre of them all.

“I also understand that ‘commercial serology’ work has already been moved to other centres which require to make overtime payments to staff to have it completed, so we are rapidly coming to the point where all laboratory work will be removed from Inverness; some, I’m told, without Ministerial sign-off.

“When previously involved in trying to retain this important facility, I was keen to stress that disease surveillance, particularly about emerging diseases, was about threats posed not only animal but also public health. Despite that, SRUC started this all off without any reference to the Director of Public Health.

“I have posed a series of questions to the Scottish Government on this matter and I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, will be as keen as me to ensure valuable jobs are retained in the Highlands and that there’s no threat to the overall efficiency of disease surveillance across Scotland.

“It is perhaps time that the SRUC started acting like a public body rather than some tawdry commercial concern that has no regard for its staff or the public they are charged with serving.”

John was a leading voice in the campaign to save the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre, highlighting its importance to farmers and veterinarians across the Highlands and Islands, and pressing the Scottish Government to consider the implications for public health of losing a full-service post-mortem and microbiology laboratory.

John’s Written Parliamentary Questions are below, and can also be seen on the Scottish Parliament website. They are due for answer on or before Tuesday 21 June 2016.

  • S5W-00538 – To ask the Scottish Government what action it takes to ensure that its non-departmental public bodies follow best practice in respect of industrial relations.
  • S5W-00539 – To ask the Scottish Government what differences there are between the facilities at the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre at Drummondhill and those at the new Scotland’s Rural College site at Beechwood.
  • S5W-00540 – To ask the Scottish Government whether ministers have signed off on all changes to the provision of disease surveillance at Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness.
  • S5W-00541 – To ask the Scottish Government whether commercial serology work has been moved from Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness and, if so, what the (a) staffing, (b) cost and (c) efficiency implications were.
  • S5W-00542 – To ask the Scottish Government what liaison regarding the proposed changes to Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness there has been between ministers and the postholders responsible for animal and human disease surveillance.
  • S5W-00543 – To ask the Scottish Government what impact assessment it has made regarding the proposed changes to Scotland’s Rural College in Inverness and whether it will publish this.
  • S5W-00544 – To ask the Scottish Government who will receive the receipts from the sale of the Scotland’s Rural College facility at Drummondhill.

Update on Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre

This week I have written to both the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead MSP, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing & Sport, Shona Robison MSP, to highlight Dr Hugo Van Woerden’s letter to the SRUC regarding the proposed closure of the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre (DSC).

Dr Van Woerden’s letter, which you can read below, expressed it no uncertain terms the concerns on public health regarding the proposed closure of the Inverness DSC. SRUC’s consultation disappointingly focussed solely on the impact of its proposals upon farmers and veterinary surgeons. The Inverness DSC played a vital role in gathering and analysing samples of animal faecal matter to give NHS Highland’s Outbreak Committee a better chance of containing and management of outbreaks of diseases such as E.coli.

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Without the Inverness DSC we will see this vital link broken as the local knowledge of the Inverness staff is lost whilst the collection and analysing of samples will take much longer due to increased journey times from one of the alternative DSCs.

We saw last month when the author of the Kinnaird Report, the report being used to justify these proposals, John Kinnaird described the proposals to close Inverness DSC as “utter lunacy”, it’s clear that the concerns highlighted by NHS Highland have pushed these proposals from utter lunacy to outright dangerous.

John Campaigns to Save Highland Veterinary Disease Laboratory

Scotland's Rural College logoJohn has launched a campaign to retain a vital veterinary disease surveillance service for the Highlands. Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is currently consulting on closing the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre, operated by its SAC Consulting division.

Such a closure would leave Highlands & Islands farmers with only the disease surveillance centre (DSC) in Thurso as cover, which is not equipped to handle post-mortems on large carcasses. This would mean animals would have to be transported to other DSCs, some of which do not have microbiology laboratories, meaning further delays in detecting infectious diseases.

John said:

“It is clear that the removal of this vital service from the Highlands will ultimately cause far more damage than any short term profits that may be accrued through its closure. Without this service a very high proportion of Scotland’s holdings will be serviced by only one centre, a centre which is not equipped to carry out post-mortem on large carcases, such as cattle or horses. This means additional delays to the possible detection of infectious diseases which may be spreading across the Highlands.

“The removal of this service will also impact upon rural vets who often rely on the expertise and skill of those based at the Inverness DSC to fulfil their role as practitioners much more effectively. This loss of expertise will impact far more widely on the Highlands than is being currently stated. We will also see greater difficulties and delays in both animal welfare legal and wildlife crime legal cases.”

Yesterday John met with SAC Consulting’s Managing Director, Mike Wijnberg, and its Head of Veterinary Services, Brian Hosie, at the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre. He cast doubt on whether the plan to close the Centre had been properly considered, but was assured that retaining the service remained an option, confirming the opportunity for campaigners to win a positive outcome.”

After the meeting, John said:

“This appears to be a rushed decision that would benefit from a second look from the new Managing Director. Mr Wijnberg took up post within days of the announcement, and although he assures me that the consultation process was genuine, there appear to be significant gaps in the information he has available.

“SAC were unable to answer questions on staff engagement and, given the close links between disease surveillance service and public health, I was dismayed to hear they hadn’t contacted the Director of Public Health at NHS Highland about the proposals.”

“The assumption that the lab-based service can be replaced by veterinary practices will undertake post-mortems in the field seems speculative at best.”

“Some world-leading work takes place on this site, and this expertise is likely to be lost in the event of closure.

“Mr Wijnberg assures me that ‘the status quo remains an option’ and I intend holding him to that. I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, and I would encourage the public to respond to the consultation and join the Facebook campaign.”

John has established a Facebook group for anyone who would like to take part in the campaign to save the Centre at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveInvernessDSC/