Wild arguments

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There is an air of desperation about the relentless lobbying of MSPs by the rewilding/reforestation lobby in final efforts to use the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill as a means to take all deer management into full public control regardless of cost to the taxpayer and the sweeping culls they envisage.

Misinformation based on outdated assumptions about red deer numbers and their impacts on the environment cannot go unchallenged.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) estimated on the basis of a series of counts that there were 275,000 red deer (not 400,000) in the Highland open deer range, when it reported to the rural affairs, climate change and environment committee in 2013. That equates to an average of 8.4 deer per sq km over 3,260,000 hectares. There are 815,000 breeding sheep in the same area, summer population 2,090,000 (Scottish Government data, 2014).

As to environmental impacts, 85.3 per cent of the features on designated sites in the red deer range are in “favourable condition, recovering due to management or unfavourable but with site condition monitoring herbivore targets being met” (SNH 2015).

SNH analysis of the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (Forestry Commission 2014) indicates that 49.6 per cent of native woodland lies in the red deer range, 161,011 hectares. Of that total 36,668 hectares (22.8 per cent) are in unfavourable condition owing to impacts by wild and domestic herbivores. So there is plenty of room for further improvement but this is already better than the government 2020 target of 60 per cent.

The argument against temporary deer fencing to jump start regeneration is spurious. Even if deer populations are reduced to the very low levels advocated, the last handful will always go to a regenerating forest where they find food and shelter in hard weather, and that is when the damage occurs to unprotected woodlands and plantations.

Can we please leave the mythology behind and look at the evidence? It is possible for deer and trees to coexist and for those who care deeply about both to work together to deliver a healthy environment, integrated land management and sustainable employment. So let’s make a start.

Richard Cooke

Chairman, Association of Deer Management Groups, Fort William

Time for school

I was delighted to read Lesley Riddoch’s article (“Let’s get changing school age into play”, Perspective, 25 January).

Among her opening remarks she restated a common observation: that while in most EU countries the school starting age for formal learning is six or seven, in Scotland it is only five. As a teacher at Edinburgh Steiner School, where children don’t sit behind a desk until the age of six or seven, I can attest to the benefits of starting later.

We find that children have longer concentration spans, livelier imagination and stronger social confidence - all the “soft” skills that Lesley Riddoch rightly pointed to in her article.

These benefits derive from a play and activity-based kindergarten between the ages of three and a half and six and a half.

Our experience shows that when children are given the time and space to grow naturally – guided by the wholesome routines of the day, and the rhythms of the seasons –they are more likely to develop an intrinsic love of learning, and a deeper respect for each other.

I suspect the growing swell of grass roots opposition to “hot-housing” identified by Ms Riddoch emerges from a widening acceptance of these truths.

Alistair Pugh

The Edinburgh Steiner School Spylaw Road, Edinburgh

What a bunch

David Cameron said of Jeremy Corbyn: “He met the unions and promised flying pickets; the Argentinians and promised the Falklands; a bunch of migrants and promised entry.”

In spite of hysterics on social media and Alex Salmond’s tiresome “shock-horror” over the Prime Minister’s use of the word “bunch”, I doubt anyone really cares a jot. Perhaps the honourable member for 
Gordon will indicate the correct term from the following: agglomeration, array, assortment, batch, bevy, cluster, collection, flock, multitude or even swarm?

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews, Fife

Sole purpose

In reference to Google, and all the rest of the multinationals who manage to pay tiny tax bills despite massive revenues, can I point out the following.

It used to be a guiding principle of tax legislation, that, if a series of transactions was structured in such a way that the “sole purpose” was the reduction of tax, and was so artificial that it would not have been contemplated for any other reason whatsoever, then the taxing authority could order the taxpayer (or non-payer) to unscramble that series of transactions, and to present their tax return in a manner closer to that which could be understood by Joe Public.

Does that principle still exist, and if so, why is it not being applied to Google, and all the rest?

John Fleming

Dick Place, Edinburgh

Mixing it

Bill Jamieson’s article on tax-raising powers (Perspective, 28 January) is as always a model of lucidity. But whoever wrote the subdeck “Looking at revenue changes opens a whole raft of cans of worms” can say with justification that when he or she mixes a metaphor, it damned well stays mixed.

Robert Cairns

Harrietfield, Perthshire

A basic income

When considering things like the bedroom tax or cuts in disability benefits, you could argue that the main reason to have social groups like nation states is to support and help people who are more vulnerable or less well off (your report on bedroom tax appeal victory, 28 January). 

There’s a direct battle between those who think anyone able to work will work if they can and the best way to achieve that is through support and help versus those who think making it financially difficult to live without working is best.

The best thing about the support idea is that dignity is important to self-esteem. Even if there’s always a small number who get benefits and “milk the system”, better financial support, housing, etc, will potentially mean that their children can live in better comfort and have a safe, comfortable environment to do their homework. They might then have better life chances and escape the poverty trap.

Several countries including Denmark and Switzerland are considering a Basic Income. This effectively means every citizen would receive a basic level of income equal to that required to be just above the poverty line. The key benefits are administrative simplicity, and dignity. Doesn’t everyone shudder at the thought of children living in damp homes unable to eat enough and too hungry or miserable to do their homework?

The idea is supported by Left and Right parties of all shades across Europe.

It’s affordable and, although complex to establish principles, is very easy to implement.

Jonathan Gordon

Brunstane Road, Edinburgh

Trump’s top card

While I haven’t been a fan of Donald Trump I have been fairly impressed by his resistance during the US Republican Party nomination ­hustings to an American media that very seldom shows any difference between its presentation of news and the commercial advertising that funds much of US TV programming.

In pulling out of a Fox News channel debate with Republican rival Ted Cruz, Mr Trump has cited the debate presenter and mediator, Megyn Kelly, as to why he has declined the debate.

In accusing Ms Kelly of bias against him Mr Trump has ­exercised his entitlement to a fair hearing and has done what possibly too many politicians (and others also) fail to do – ie, highlight media bias by refusing to be the intended victim of it.

I don’t think somehow Fox News would be keen to appear on a show organised and presented by Donald Trump in which the topic for debate was “Bias in the media”.

Maybe more’s the pity that Mr Trump’s decline to debate in this instance hadn’t been done by some pro-Independence politicians during the 2014 referendum when they permitted their exposure to media presenters whose only too apparent purpose was to diminish their status and argument.

Ian Johnstone

Forman Drive, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire

Mass delusion

There was something darkly humorous in Tony Blair’s warnings of a Brexit of Mass Destruction in Scotland, as if anyone still takes his word on international affairs ­seriously.

It was New Labour politicians like Mr Blair and Remain campaign director Will Straw taking the Scottish vote for granted – and putting too much faith in the polls – that saw their party all but wiped out north of the Border at the general election, but it seems they’ve learned nothing.

The European Union has done significant damage to Scotland, particularly in fishing communities and our struggling oil industry.

(Norway, incidentally, retains full control over its fisheries and continues to resist its clumsy, one-size-fits-all offshore regulations. So much for following all the rules with no say.)

With the debate just getting started, I suspect Scottish voters are not so in love with Brussels as EU supporters want anxious Unionists to believe.

Jack Montgomery

Scottish spokesman for Leave.EU

Lysander House, Bristol

Free to mock

Brian McGuire is wrong to feel Edinburgh Secular Society is “mocking the beliefs of Christians worldwide” (Letters, 28 January). It would be vindictive and gratuitous to attack the substance of what is for many, deeply felt private faith.

However, those who feel their faith should be the default position for society will continue to be surprised and hurt when told their freedom to believe does not extend to the freedom to impose their beliefs on children in state schools.

Neil Barber

Edinburgh Secular Society, Saughtonhall Drive, Edinburgh

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