HL Deb 07 March 1988 vol 494 cc427-9

2.56 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has given any undertaking with regard to stalking and wildfowling in the Abernethy Forest following its recent purchase of the estate.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we approved the Nature Conservancy Council's offer of grant towards the purchase of Abernethy Forest by the RSPB only after receiving assurances that shooting would be allowed to continue at levels which were compatible with conservation on this important site. We understand that the RSPB will lease back the deerstalking and grouse shooting rights on the open moor to the current owners for 30 years in the first instance. There is no significant wildfowling interest on the site

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that very satisfactory Answer. Since there is considerable concern among neighbouring farmers and estates lest the RSPB's purchase of Abernethy Forest will lead to a proliferation of vermin, can he say what the RSPB regards as vermin and whether it will control such pests as foxes, rabbits, rats, mink, black game and birds of prey?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that the RSPB's interpretation of "vermin" will be in accordance with the requirements of the wildlife and the countryside legislation. But it will depend also on the area, because the area is in two parts. First, there is the SSSI and the national nature reserve where there will have to be control of red deer in order to allow natural regeneration of the forest. On the open hill, where the RSPB will be the owner and therefore responsible for vermin, I am sure that it will take account of the fact that it will be its responsibility as a good neighbour to keep down the foxes, hooded crows, etc.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, since assurances have been given with regard to the wildfowling and stocking interests, may I ask the Minister whether similar protection is being given to the people who earn their living on the estate—foresters and others who have to work in the area—or is it strictly for the birds?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there will be a management agreement for the SSSI between the Nature Conservancy Council and the RSPB which will involve a certain number of forestry workers, as the noble Lord knows. But the mere fact that the RSPB has leased back the shooting rights on the open hill, and quite rightly so, will allow employment to take place.

Lord Morris

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, in accordance with the Answer to the original Question, how the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reconciles that role with its determination to encourage the shooting of grouse?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is no doubt that there is a natural link between conservation and shooting. Indeed, those who do shoot often prove to be the very best conservationists.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is the Minister aware that up to now experience at any rate in Orkney shows that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is not the keenest to keep down hooded crows? Has the Minister received any specific undertaking that the society will keep down such things as hooded crows in this area or is he only hoping for the best?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on the matter of the management of the National Nature Reserve (which will be a matter between the Nature Conservancy Council and the RSPB) we do have a bit more locus than we do with an ordinary landowner. I am sure that we should like landowners to behave in a responsible way, but we should not care to interfere with their rights in perhaps the way that the noble Lord and his party would like to.

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