AUGUST sees the start of the red grouse shooting season and the organised culling of our native mountain hare. The landed gentry and sporting estates say this is necessary to prevent disease affecting their cash crop of game species, in particular the red grouse. Their, perhaps exaggerated, fear is that hares will spread ticks, reducing grouse numbers, and thereby the income they generate. I do not believe ticks favour mountain hares in particular; I am sure they are equally partial to sheep, deer, horses and humans.

As a hillwalker (now sadly semi-retired) I have always resented the restrictions which this and deer stalking have placed on my enjoyment of our mountains and wild places.

Your paper (Animal charity pleads for ban of hare culling, The National, July 31) gave prominence to animal welfare charity report by OneKind highlighting the perilous state of the mountain hare population. The species is identified in the EC Habitat Directive as requiring its conservation status to be maintained. The Scottish Government’s proposals for research on the sustainability of grouse moor management, and the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to our biodiversity and economy, are to be welcomed.

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All this has to be done in the wider context of radical land reform. It cannot be right that just 500 people own half of Scotland. This land over centuries has been acquired through might and misappropriation, and subsequently bought and sold by the extremely wealthy for their personal gratification.

It is unacceptable that the interests of this minority should be prioritised before those of the general population. We have a right to roam, but this is sometimes grudgingly permitted and occasionally thwarted, and our mountain landscape is shaped by the insistence upon an artificially high red deer population. These otherwise beautiful animals thrive in such numbers in order to provide trophy prizes. This may enhance the value of these shooting estates, which are exempt from business rates, but it creates a landscape where natural regeneration of the environment is suppressed.

The costs are also to be seen in the all-too-frequent reports of poisoning, snaring and shooting of our raptor species, again undertaken in the vested interests of a minority who wish to shoot an almost flightless little bird. Why should this one species be so ruthlessly guarded that a blind eye is turned to the wildlife crimes perpetrated for its preservation? So many legally protected raptor species are killed and rates of detection and prosecution are abysmal.

I suspect that money talks. For me, one marsh harrier or one peregrine falcon is worth more than a basketful of red grouse.

Last year, the SNP were criticised for their slow progress on land reform and told by their membership to reconsider a much more radical approach.

In recent times there has been pressure to adopt a more left-wing position. I see enormous advantage in bringing these two matters together. There needs to be an altogether different approach to land ownership.

Many countries place restrictions on foreign nationals owning land. There should be a detailed and open register of all land ownership. Large (shooting) estates should pay business rates and be made to obtain a licence. This is essential to gain public confidence.

I am certain that a harder and more determined approach to land reform would pay dividends, especially if it were to tighten wildlife protection measures and a relax the dead-hand grip of vested interests which are suffocating environmental richness and bio-diversity.
JF Davidson
Bonnyrigg, Midlothian

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Problem on Skye is one we also face here in Norway

YESTERDAY’S issue of The National reported that islanders on Skye would support the introduction of a “tourist tax” to help cope with the huge increase in the number of visitors to the island (Skye needs tax to cope with tourists, August 1).

This is putting an intolerable strain on infrastructure, in particular waste management and toilets, but also roads and parking facilities.

Not surprisingly, we are experiencing exactly the same problems in the outer islands of Norway. Last week the country’s leading daily newspaper, Aftenposten, called for the introduction of a tax to assist remote municipalities to cope with a wave of summer tourists who are swamping existing facilities in the Lofoten Islands. A particular problem has been foreign mobile homes which require good roads, ample parking and waste removal facilities, but contribute relatively little.

The newspaper proposes a tax which could be put on hotel bills or which could be collected at a toll station. So far, the government has been unsympathetic, arguing that Norway is expensive enough as it is without an additional tax. But as the case in Skye shows, this is not a problem that is going to go away.

Norway and Scotland are becoming increasingly popular destinations in an otherwise overcrowded world.
Mike Fergus
Oslo, Norway

THE review of The Hebrides by Paul Murton (A splendid isolation, Books, The National, July 31) brings to mind a family connection with the island of North Rona which gives a picture of Scotland between the two World Wars.

My grandfather, John Wilson Dougal, had then a thriving chemical works in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh. His hobby was geology and after a visit to the Outer Hebrides he formed the idea of discovering useful minerals there to help the local economy, though without success. As part of this work, over 30 years he traced a rock he called Flinty Crush through the 100-mile length of the Outer Hebrides until it disappeared at the Butt of Lewis.

His theory that it might reappear in uninhabited North Rona could not be proved without access and as the sheep on the island were not due for attention at that time, a boat could not be made available.

Though his relationships with the Hebrideans were close (he had had a joint wedding ceremony with a Barvas couple many years before that) he had to wait.

When, later, he established that Flinty Crush did not re-surface on North Rona, he nevertheless obtained a Doctorate from Edinburgh University for his work and marked the disappearance of the strata into the sea with a large white cairn, near Ness, which is maintained to this day by locals.

The tale of their voyage to North Rona was told by the writer Alistair Alpin MacGregor in the book Island Memories, published after my grandfather’s death in 1935.

This author was a friend of Dr Dougal, as was the geographer Sir Patrick Geddes, a name shared, probably by coincidence, with Paul Murton’s companion.
Iain WD Forde
Scotlandwell, Kinross-shire

SCOTLAND’S chief inspector of prisons has called for an end to jail sentences lasting less than a year (Call to end to jail terms of under 12 months, The National, July 31).

An excellent idea. These people could, instead, be employed cleaning litter from our streets, and otherwise generally maintaining a pleasant environment for everyone.

With an ever-growing older population, they could also usefully be employed helping in care homes.

Doug Clark Currie, Midlothian JIM Taylor (Letters, The National, July 29) mentions “the real reason why we are to be subjected to minimum pricing of alcohol rather than the more equitable solution of taxation ...”. Under devolution, Westminster controls alcohol taxation. This has forced the Scottish Government to look at other means to meet this problem.

Minimum unit pricing has the support of doctors (through the BMA) and the police as well as the Scottish Government.
David Stevenson
Edinburgh

WAS that the sound of Ian Cathro’s laptop I heard slamming shut? So Kris Boyd was right all along?
Archie Dickson
Glasgow