Inchtavannach Beech Trees Poisoned by Scottish Natural Heritage
11.10.2018

Heritage quango SNH to be sued for £150,000 over 'Environmental Vandalism' after poisoning island beech trees

Landowner Luss Estates seeks more than £150,000 in damages and public apology as Scottish Natural Heritage is accused of leaving famous Loch Lomond beauty spot ‘looking like a wasteland’. Correspondence released under freedom of information laws suggests poisoning of ancient beech trees was unauthorised and required a felling licence. SNH is accused of blighting historic landscape for a generation and refusing to reach agreement on remedial works.

The quango in charge of environmental conservation in Scotland is to be sued for more than £150,000 in damages after leaving a famous island on Loch Lomond looking like a ‘wasteland’ by deliberately poisoning and killing hundreds of ancient beech trees.

Scottish Natural Heritage is accused of ‘environmental vandalism’ after injecting 300-year-old trees on Inchtavannach, once frequented by the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth who were captivated by its beauty, and then refusing to cover the costs of felling and removing them all five years on.

Freedom of information requests have now uncovered correspondence which the owners of the island say makes clear that the poisoning of the trees by Scottish Natural Heritage was unauthorised and that a felling licence was required. 

The correspondence also suggests that the chemical glyphosate was used to kill the trees. In many parts of the world glyphosate is banned, and in the US it has recently been the subject of a legal case against Monsanto involving a terminally ill cancer patient.

Luss Estates, which owns the island, said SNH had created a canopy of dead trees which were a ‘major eyesore’ in one of the Scotland’s foremost beauty spots and a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and would take generations to restore. It says efforts to reach an agreement with the quango on restoration work have been rebuffed.

Lawyers for the estate this week have given the SNH a deadline of the end of this week to reach a settlement, or they will launch legal action for damages. They are demanding that the quango covers the cost of felling dead trees that are still standing, removing felled timber to the mainland, lost timber value and management and legal costs, totalling £152,340. They are also insisting that SNH makes a public apology.

SNH has previously admitted that it had not appreciated the impact that its work on Inchtavannach would have on the landscape of the island. The island, near Aldochlay on the western shore of Loch Lomond, is also known as Monk’s Isle, since it was once the site of a monastery.

Simon Miller, Luss Estates chief executive, said:

"This amounts to wanton environmental vandalism at one of the most beautiful places in the whole of the UK.

The local community was appalled when it saw what had been done to the ancient beech trees on the island, and the resulting blight on the landscape. It beggars belief that the body that is supposedly responsible for protecting our natural heritage left Inchtavannach looking like a wasteland, and appears to have used the controversial chemical glyphosate in the process.

This is a tragedy that cannot be undone for generations. To make matters worse, after behaving so recklessly and admitting they did not appreciate the impact their work would have, Scottish Natural Heritage has dragged its feet for years when asked to do the bare minimum to start to put matters right.

They have refused to reach an agreement over felling and removing all of the unsightly and dangerous dead trees they have left behind, which have now been there for several years. We also now have correspondence released under freedom of information laws which in our view makes it clear that the poisoning of the trees on Inchtavannach was unauthorised and that a licence was required.

In the circumstances, we have no option but to seek damages so that the dead trees can finally be removed. In addition, given the outrage and distress that their actions have caused, we also think that Scottish Natural Heritage should make a full public apology."

Luss Estates contends that SNH entered into an agreement with the estate and the tenant of the island in 2013 to remove rhododendron, beech saplings and also gradually fell mature beech trees, which SNH at that time considered ‘non-native’, over a five-year period. The island is considered internationally important for its oak woodland.

However, instead SNH decided to ring-bark and poison hundreds of beech trees all at the same time, without consulting the estate. Its lawyers say this was a clear breach of any consent to them carrying out work on the island and the poisoning of the trees was ‘entirely unauthorised’.

The threat of legal action has been made after freedom of information requests uncovered correspondence between officials in Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland in the wake of SNH poisoning the trees in late 2013.

In an email dated July 15th 2015, a conservator at the Forestry Commission Scotland, tells Government officials that his organisation considered that ‘a felling licence for this operation would have been required’, adding: ‘SNH have confirmed that they didn’t think a felling licence is necessary because it was by chemical injection’.

In another, an unnamed official writes: ‘I discussed this with our licence team and although Forestry Act does not specifically mention killing live trees, it is accepted that the aim of the Act is to preserve trees. Therefore, unless an exemption applies, a licence is required to kill standing trees whether through ring barking or stem injection of a chemical.’

Another Forestry Commission memo, dated July 16 2015, suggests that ‘glyphosphate [sic] had been added to the trees via a drilled hole’.

A 2016 report, meanwhile, says that SNH ‘do not have funds available’ to undertake further works on the island, adding: ‘Finances are tight and will be a huge struggle to justify this again against other SG [Scottish Government] priorities.’

The documents also confirm that SNH had no contact with Forestry Commission Scotland before the operation was undertaken and that there was no felling licence in place for the operation.

Inchtavannach Island has a number of relevant designations and recognitions including:

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • Special Area of Conservation
  • National Scenic Area
  • National Park
  • Special Protection Area