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Findhorn wildfowlers statement

Today, 10th September 2019, the Economic Development & Infrastructure Services Committee of Moray Council met to discuss the wildfowling situation at Findhorn and whether the anti-wildfowling petition should be dismissed. During the meeting a number of councillors gave their opinions on the matter and what could be done going forward. Whilst the bulk of the comments were considered and helpful, SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers take issue with some of the comments made by Forres councillor Claire Feaver, some of which were imprudent and others blatantly untrue.

Findhorn wildfowlers statement

During her oratory, Cllr Claire Feaver proposed a motion to take the wildfowling issue forward to a full community consultation facilitated and funded by Moray Council. Cllr Feaver repeatedly stated that she had until yesterday, and at great length, spoken with parties involved in the negotiation over wildfowling at Findhorn. This is untrue; Cllr Claire Feaver has never once attempted to contact SACS, local wildfowling club Findhorn Wildfowlers or the other local club Forres Nairn and District Wildfowling Association, and the latter despite being at a recent funeral together with the FNDWA chair. Cllr Feaver emphasised how much time she had committed to this process, but, in response to member queries following this morning's council meeting, we have not heard of her until today and have never spoken with her.

We would like to outline a number of her more injudicious comments:

“One party had a wobble”
- We assume this to be SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers. On the contrary, SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers have been absolutely constant and consistent in their approach to this matter and, far from being an obstacle to progress, were the parties in this negotiation to first suggest a voluntary agreement. Our approach to this matter remains constructive and has not changed.

“First year all wildfowling groups are on board”
– Untrue. All wildfowling groups have been on board since 2016. Where it previously all fell apart was when those opposed to extremes of wildfowling, the Local Nature Reserve (LNR) chair Roy Dennis and BASC Scotland worked secretly behind everyone else’s backs despite a genuine attempt in the foreground to a voluntary agreement, which was in itself suggested by the wildfowlers.

They then launched their ‘voluntary agreement’ to the press without telling any of the wildfowlers, not even the BASC-affiliated FNDWA, of the new scheme. See this link for more detail:

The wildfowlers petition “was not to be counted”
With that language and approach, it is clear that Ms Feaver has no grip on how to conduct an appropriate community engagement exercise. The wildfowlers petition was accepted by Moray Council as representative of our community and that after lengthy consultation with the Council petitions officer.

“The burden is on my shoulders as the only Forres councillor”
- We remain unclear as to the ‘burden’ she bears when Councillor Claire Feaver has made no attempt to engage with the principal Findhorn wildfowling groups.

“There is an inaccuracy with 3.7 – BASC actually did agree the voluntary agreement.”
- This is untrue. In June 2016 BASC refused to support a voluntary agreement put forward. See above link. The next year they went behind wildfowlers backs to develop a set of unworkable restrictions together with the anti-shooters and the LNR chair, despite a new voluntary agreement being proposed by the BASC-affiliated FNDWA and supported by both Findhorn Wildfowlers and SACS. Please see earlier link for detail.

The negotiator’s report “clearly says that the key problem is the residents of Findhorn and Kinloss”
- No it does not. This is the actual text:
“In any community where new residents move in from outside the area, differences of opinion on many traditionally accepted activities will develop. Frequently this has been characterised as the difference between metropolitan values and those of the countryside. The debate around wildfowling was a good example of this.

A traditional sport, practiced for hundreds of years and recognised in law, was regarded by many new to the area as creating an unexpected and unacceptable level of disturbance, while some regarded it as morally unacceptable and believed strongly that it should be banned.

Wildfowlers resented what they saw as an unreasonable attempt to ban their sport, accepted that disturbance could be ameliorated through a permit scheme, but wanted reassurance that the “extreme” behaviour of the small group of protesters, would stop.

Not unexpectedly, there was neither trust nor respect between the various communities.”

As much as we do not agree with the negotiator’s approach to this matter, which did not help foster trust, we find it hard to understand what is untruthful in the above quote or is critical of all Findhorn and Kinloss residents. It is straight-talking and hardly supportive of either side.

“Key problems not highlighted are the disturbance of red-listed species – curlew”
- Utter nonsense. Wildfowling has no negative effect on wader species on the bay, which are locally abundant.

“Suppression of economic growth”
- Wildfowlers create economic opportunity in the off-season. This is indisputable.

“The one group that sort of felt uneasy about things was very close”
- Really? We can only assume this to mean SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers. In those words she has demonstrated her complete lack of grip of the Findhorn wildfowling situation. Fact: leaving BASC aside, as not even the previous BASC CEO could rationalise to us what happened at Findhorn, no wildfowling bodies, including the BASC-affiliated FNDWA, agreed to the options put forward by others.

“But if you look at their website, would say they are now on board”
- Again, this can only refer to SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers and our recent news item:
To be correct, we were never not on board as we, via the first attempt at a voluntary agreement instigated by SACS and our wildfowlers, put up the very vessel to get on board with.

“Would say that we are possibly just about there with all the groups”
Astonishing statement when you have never in recent times or ever spoken with FNDWA, Findhorn Wildfowlers or SACS who, by able representation of their broad community’s interests, represent the majority of those who wildfowl at Findhorn.

“Need to protect biodiversity”
- In that case you need more wildfowlers on board. Some of the oldest conservation bodies in the world were started by wildfowlers. Facts and truth appear to be something Cllr Feaver is keen to sidestep. Unlike certain other activities, such as scaring wild birds off roosts before dawn flights, Findhorn Bay has no biodiversity concerns related to wildfowling.

“We are, for the very first time, close to all parties coming to a beneficial arrangement”
- Perhaps Councillor Feaver can pick up the phone to FNDWA, Findhorn Wildfowlers and SACS and explain that statement and what she has personally done to take matters forward with wildfowlers, the community of interest most affected by this matter, other than the deceitful suggestion in a Moray Council meeting that she has recently and so vigorously engaged with us. She absolutely has not.

“I have passed as much as I can to all parties for agreement before this meeting”
- This is an outright lie. SACS has never once heard from Councillor Feaver. Findhorn Wildfowlers has never heard from her. And Forres, Nairn and District Wildfowling Association has never heard from her. Is there not some sanction for a Councillor who so openly lies to a formal Council committee meeting?

“This is the first year we have had all wildfowling groups agreeing that things have to change”
- Where exactly has Councillor Feaver been in these negotiations? She has not engaged or spoken with any of the local wildfowling groups, which is evidenced by her absurd statements. Since 2016 ALL wildfowling groups have been in agreement that matters had to move forward; hence why wildfowlers suggested a voluntary scheme in the first place.

She would like the LNR committee to “look at how best they can progress the three options that were agreed.
- Rather than lying about it in a committee meeting, if Councillor Feaver had actually made an effort to speak with the wildfowling groups apart from BASC, and especially both local wildfowling groups comprising some of her constituents, then she would be better informed on those three options and why the community consultation exercise could not go forward. There really is no excuse to be so badly informed on a matter she professes to be actively engaged in, other than a blinkered determination to ignore all views except those that concur with her own.

“Wildfowling businesses are on board”
- At this stage in the negotiation, over four years, how can one community representative councillor be so shockingly ill-informed? By ‘wildfowling businesses’ do you mean national representative NGO bodies such as SACS and BASC and community interest groups Findhorn Wildfowlers and FNDWA?

“Community consultation stopped by one party not quite able to get there this summer”
- It’s a bit like ‘he who cannot be named’! SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers – but let’s not mention their names lest the dark clouds gather and evil awaken. To be clear, it was not ‘one party’ that could not approve the consultation options, but ALL wildfowling groups who did not support the Option 3 put forward, which was a bastardisation of another document which in itself had not been agreed.

However, the Council meeting was not all complete nonsense. Sensible comments were made about limited public sector resources, which we fully respect. And SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers welcome Councillor Macrae’s comment that wildfowling is an ancient activity going back at least to the 18th Century in its current form. Wildfowlers welcome this recognition of our long-established heritage and culture.

That said, it is self-evident from this committee meeting that either Councillor Feaver is spectacularly ill-informed and has been abroad since 2016, or she is being wilfully deceitful. Not having spoken with her, despite her claiming to the contrary, we, the wildfowlers, can only speculate.

We, SACS and Findhorn Wildfowlers represent the majority of those who wildfowl at Findhorn. In a survey two weeks ago we established an accurate tally of Findhorn wildfowlers in our community group:

- 63 visiting wildfowlers (over 20 miles away from the Bay), including 4 for whom the survey link did not work, but indicated their position separately

- 24 local wildfowlers (within 20 miles of Findhorn bay), including one not on Facebook

- 10 who haven’t wildfowled at Findhorn, but would like to

Since then another 7 have been in touch who are not on Facebook and were not aware of the survey. All 7 are visitors.

The above numbers do not include the 12 members of SACS local club Ardersier Wildfowlers who also come to the bay at times.

This adds up to our group representing 93 known persons who either recently or currently wildfowl at Findhorn. Plus 10 with an intention to come to the bay. And 12 from Ardersier Wildfowlers who occasionally shoot there. Thus, for our community group to be so disparaged by Cllr Feaver and others whilst they enthusiastically press for a community consultation exercise and joint progress ranks as gross stupidity.

Despite the foregoing, we are hopeful that the more absurd of Councillor Feaver’s comments are individual and not representative of the non-wildfowlers who were involved in the negotiations. The original petition being dismissed is no victory for anyone, certainly not for the bay itself. Whilst we may not be any further forward with Moray Council, those opposed to some of the extremes of wildfowling and the wildfowlers have come a long way together. As much as we are frankly appalled by Councillor Feaver’s comments and untruths of today, and which in no way help the situation forward, despite that we believe there to be genuine desire for compromise and goodwill on all sides.

The voluntary restrictions for 2019-2020 season stand testament to that commitment from wildfowlers. Please adhere to them. They are not meaningless words on paper, but a genuine short-term way forward in mitigating some of the local concerns and keeping responsible and sustainable wildfowling alive for years to come.