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Conservation groups have criticised the Scottish government over a plan to
turn a publicly-owned forest, which is a habitat for critically endangered
Scottish wildcats, into a wind farm.
Concerns were first raised when independent conservation group Wildcat
Haven found 13 critically endangered Scottish wildcats living in the
publicly-owned Clashindarroch Forest, Aberdeenshire. The forest had already
been placed on a list of priority areas for wildcat conservation, but has
now been designated for a wide-ranging logging project and the construction
of a wind farm.
Authorities have said that the wildcats living in the forest would find the
logging beneficial, but stakeholders from Wildcat Haven and other
conservation groups have warned that the disturbance the logging would
represent to the wildcat population could be devastating.
Where do the Scottish government’s conservation authorities stand on the issue?
Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has come under fire in
particular, given its responsibility for defending environmental and
conservation concerns. SNH launched a dedicated wildcat conservation
project, called Scottish Wildcat Action, in 2015 with a budget of £2m.
However, since the establishment of the project, natural wildcat
populations have dropped by 75%, and SNH has come out in support of the
plan to clear-fell parts of Clashindarroch Forest.
Further, the government has also come under criticism for ignoring a public
outcry over the plan to install a wind farm so close to the wildcats’
habitat. Some 250,000 people signed a petition expressing their concern
with the plan and calling on the government to protect the forest, but one
month later, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not acknowledged
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Wildcat Haven, criticised
the failure of the authorities to acknowledge public concerns about the
project, saying: “It blows the mind that the primary governmental group for
wildcat conservation is so keen to defend work which very obviously
threatens the last chance for survival this species has… The law is clearly
worded and it is entirely illegal to deliberately or recklessly disturb
wildcats. Forestry Commission Scotland have done both, SNH have supported
them doing it, and the [government] can’t even be bothered to comment on it.”