Wild wolves could return to Scotland to control deer numbers

Bringing back packs of wild wolves to Scotland has been suggested as a natural solution for controlling increasing numbers of red deer, which are causing a major over-grazing problem in parts of the Highlands.

Bringing back packs of wild wolves to Scotland has been suggested as a natural solution for controlling increasing numbers of red deer, which are causing a major over-grazing problem in parts of the Highlands.

Current high red deer populations are preventing tree growth and ecosystem restoration in certain areas, with more than a third of all native woodlands in poor condition because of herbivore impacts.

Now a team of scientists has found that reintroducing wolves could help keep deer numbers down but they should be kept inside large fenced enclosures and their numbers managed for the move to be most effective.

The researchers say restricting the freedom of the wolves would allow denser populations of the animals to build up, which would make them more efficient at hunting deer.

It would also limit potential encounters with local residents and farm animals.

Dr Christopher Sandom, lecturer in biology at the 
University of Sussex, has a particular interest in rewilding.

He said: “Reintroducing the wolf has long been suggested as part of the solution to large red deer populations but there will always be concerns about how wolves interact with people in any rewilding project like this.

“This research shows that they could actually have an extremely beneficial impact in terms of making the rewilding process more effective.”

The paper suggests that a reintroduction of grey wolves, also known as timber wolves, could also have major benefits for wildlife tourism and associated jobs in Scotland.

Dr Sandom added: “Fences are a common but unpopular tool in biodiversity conservation and would ideally be avoided. But where there are conflicting interests, compromise is needed.

“Fences particularly constrain animal dispersal but as Britain is an island, this is less of a problem.

“A fenced reserve in Scotland could be a fantastic opportunity to return large predators to Britain, ecologically restore a large part of the Scottish Highlands, and promote tourism.”


Scotland ranked third in the world for female political empowerment

Scotland ranks third in the world for political empowerment for women, according to new analysis.

Research by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) found Scotland follows Iceland and Nicaragua in terms of female political empowerment while the UK is ranked 13th.

Analysts studied the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 which measures political empowerment by the number of women in parliament, in ministerial office and as head of government over time.

The UK ranked 17th in the world but Scotland was not included in the report, so SPICe analysts studied the data to discover where Scotland would be placed.

They found Scotland would be placed at 27th in the world in terms of the number of women in parliament, with a female to male MSP ratio of 0.55. The UK is placed 38th.

The analysis shows Scotland comes in at number seven in its number of women to men at ministerial level, after six countries took joint first place – Bulgaria, Canada, France, Nicaragua, Slovenia and Sweden, while the UK is 23rd.

For the number of years with a female head of state over the past 50 years, Scotland is placed 14th while the UK takes the number eight spot.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: “100 years after some women gained the right to vote, women are still fighting for equal representation in politics.

“But this new analysis shows that Scotland is leading the way on women’s representation – with Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first female First Minister leading a gender-balanced Cabinet.

“However, despite the huge progress made in the last century, we still need to go further to achieve true equality. The SNP will continue to work towards a Scotland where every girl and woman can reach her full potential and we will always use every power at our disposal to reach that goal.”



Celebrities back total ban on fox hunting in Scotland

Celebrities have backed a campaign for a total ban on fox hunting in Scotland.

Comedian Ricky Gervais, television presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, conservationist Bill Oddie and actor Peter Egan are all supporting the bid led by the League Against Cruel Sports, OneKind and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

The charities have organised a march next month in Edinburgh city centre to highlight the issue.

Fox hunting with dogs was banned in Scotland through the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act in 2002, with an exemption for using dogs to flush out foxes for pest control or protecting livestock or ground-nesting birds.

Mounted hunts in Scotland have since offered farmers, landowners and estate managers a pest control service, but a review by Lord Bonomy found there were “grounds to suspect” fox hunting takes place illegally and he recommended having independent monitors to police hunts.

The charities believe the Act is “insufficient” and have been campaigning for it to be improved to close “loopholes” that allow for traditional hunting.

The League Against Cruel Sports has also released video footage it claims shows Scottish hunts “causing panic” among flocks of sheep.

Gervais said: “It is utterly sickening that the primitive, horrific pastime of chasing foxes with packs of hounds is still happening routinely in this country with little or no means of bringing to justice those who inflict such cruelty on wildlife.

“The Scottish Government has an opportunity to make this appalling ‘sport’ go away so it’s high time it stopped dragging its feet and got on with improving the law to ban fox hunting once and for all.”

Packham added: “It is quite staggering that in this day and age we live in a country where people go out with the intention of terrorising wild animals by chasing them to the point of exhaustion and brutally killing them.

“Sadly in Scotland the law has proven not to be sufficient to stop this horrific behaviour.

“I wholeheartedly support the League Against Cruel Sports and OneKind in their campaign calling on the Scottish Government to strengthen the law to make sure fox hunting is really banned in Scotland.

“Fox hunting has no place in modern society and now is the time to put it firmly where it belongs – in the past.”

The Scottish Government has consulted on Lord Bonomy’s recommendations with analysis currently under way on the responses.



Scotland tops UK’s unavoidable death rate list

Politicians have expressed concern at Scotland’s “shamefully high” avoidable death rate after new analysis showed it is the highest in the UK.

Research conducted by the BBC found that Scotland’s avoidable death rate is rising with experts blaming poverty, drinking, smoking and poor diet for the increase.

According to the most recent figures, Scotland’s avoidable death rate was 301 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 compared with 287 in 2014.

Scotland’s rate was greater than other UK countries with the figure for England standing at 218 per 100,000.

In Wales it was 257 per 100,000 and in Northern Ireland it stood at 241 per 100,000 in 2016.

Although Scotland has the highest rate overall as a nation, the worst rates in the UK could be found in the most deprived parts of Belfast where it was as high as 517 per 100,000 people.

Avoidable deaths are defined as those of people under the age of 75 from causes which can be overcome in the presence of “timely and effective healthcare” or “public health interventions”.

Included in the list are deaths from conditions such as heart disease, some cancers, respiratory diseases and type 2 diabetes – where lifestyle and environment may have contributed.

The list includes those that could have been prevented such as HIV/Aids, accidental and self-inflicted injuries, rubella and various infections and drug use disorders.

The Scottish rate of 301 per 100,000 avoidable deaths suggests almost 16,000 men and women died before their time north of the border.

The BBC research, based on data from the Office of National Statistics, the National Records of Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, found the rate was higher for men (376) than for women (232). North Ayrshire had the highest rate (373) and Shetland the lowest (197).

Dr Andrew Fraser, of NHS Health Scotland, said: “We know that people in poorer areas experience more harm from alcohol, tobacco and fast food than those in more affluent areas. Part of the reason for this is that it is easier to access the things that harm our health in those areas.”

Alison Johnstone MSP, the Scottish Greens’ health spokesperson, said: “Tackling such a shamefully high avoidable death rate must go beyond measures taken by the NHS.All parties have a duty to be more forensic in their analysis of what’s happening in more deprived communities.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was committed to tackling poverty, smoking and obesity.



Leader comment: Scotland must not fail its most vulnerable children

Campigners call for an extra £70m to ensure children with additional support needs actually get it.

The idea that every child should attend a mainstream school – regardless of whether they have disabilities, learning difficulties or behavioural problems – is a laudable one.

Scotland should be proud that 95 per cent of children with additional support needs (ASN) attend schools just like everyone else their age.

But such children do, quite obviously, need additional support and that has to be paid for.

If they are not getting they support they need, that is, most importantly, a problem for them. If they end up being taught in a segregated class and having different break times to the other pupils, it rather defeats the purpose of being in a mainstream school. A lonelier education is hard to imagine.

But it can also be a problem for teachers, particularly if they have not been given sufficient training, and for classmates if a child gets upset or becomes disruptive in some way. A coalition of groups involved in children’s services is now sounding the alarm over falling amounts of money being spent on additional support – down 11 per cent in just three years – amid a rise in the numbers of ASN children in mainstream schools of nearly 50 per cent in six years. These groups say that about £70 million is needed to ensure ASN children are given the support they need. One head, Kenny Graham, of Falkland House School, said families with ASN children were facing an “uphill struggle” to get additional support because of the combination of rising numbers and falling budgets.

That is simply not good enough. As Mr Graham quite rightly said: “Mainstreaming should not simply mean entering the gates of a local school.”

The Scottish Government cannot continue with a policy it is not prepared to fund properly.

Doubtless reversing it would result in negative headlines if children ended up being sent back to specialist institutions.

That might even end up costing more money. But it would be better than the current situation appears to be. However, £70m does not seem like a huge amount of money to ensure the current admirable policy can continue.

Austerity has produced many tough choices and councils have been particularly hard hit.

But ensuring our most vulnerable children have a place in society and are looked after properly is surely a priority.


Livingston boxer Martin Taylor signs deal with MTK Scotland

Livingston boxer Martin Taylor says he’s determined to make up for lost time after signing a three-year deal with promoters MTK Scotland.

The super-lightweight goes straight into action as part of the Christmas Cracker card in Paisley on December 16 and he says he’s looking forward to getting back in the ring after a lengthy period on the sidelines.

He commented: “It’s a new start for me and I’m totally buzzing to be fully fit and properly training again. It’s good to be in that routine of getting ready for a fight and having a goal to achieve because it’s been around 18 months since my last fight so it’s been a frustrating time for me.

Read more: Livingston youngster Craig Henderson calls debut “dream come true”

“The three-year contract gives me a bit of security and tells me that MTK are serious about helping me advance in my career because it’s been really stop-start so far with a lack of fights and a couple of injuries.

“I spoke to Sam Kynoch at MTK and he’s wanting me to get a few bouts quickly under my belt before making the jump. We’re not really wanting to tread water for long. It’s time to get going.

“It’s almost like being back at the start, but I’m confident that after a bit of rust I can start making real progress pretty quickly and Sam has said that’s what he wants me to do so we’re on the same page.”

Read more: Dylan Mackin fires Livingston into Scottish Cup fourth round

He added: “It’s going to be a terrific show to start out my MTK career with. There’s going to be some brilliant fights so it’s one I’m looking forward to, even as a fan of the sport, but to be involved and get back out there is going to be pretty special.

“It’s the biggest show I’ve been involved in and it’s what MTK do, they’re the top promoters in Scotland so it’s a huge opportunity for me. It’s really the place to be and there was no chance of me turning it down.”

Taylor will put his unbeaten record (4-0) on the line against Rhys Saunders and admits he’s confident that he can start the latest phase of his career in style.

Read more: Martin Taylor remains unbeaten after comfortable win in Grangemouth

He said: “I’m wanting to get a good run at things and I’m confident that’s what I can do and obviously starting off with a win would be ideal.

“I don’t really know too much about Rhys but I just concentrate on myself.

“I feel really sharp and I’ve been sparring well and training with Willie Downie who’s set me up with great sparring sessions with guys like Charlie Flynn.

“I’m just working on getting fit and being prepared. I’m sure there will be a bit of rust when I get in the ring because it’s just not the same as sparring but I’m confident I can get rid of that quickly and put on a show.”

Martin would like to thank his sponsors Crossfit Bathgate, Bushman Ink, Bathgate Family Chiropractic and RCA Garage for their continue support.



Number of high street bookmakers in Scotland in decline

The number of high street bookmakers in Scotland continues to decline despite the popularity of fixed odd betting terminals (FOBT), industry figures have revealed.

Around 90 betting shops closed in the period from 2011-2016, mainly as a result of independent operators exiting the off-course market as the ‘big four’ firms consolidated their grip.

But the continuing growth of online gambling, fuelled by smartphone usage, has helped offset a drop in over the counter betting. Strong online trading has helped gambling companies post growing profits, with Ladbrokes Coral Group reporting a seven per cent rise in first-half operating profit last year.

Now the industry is nervously awaiting the outcome of a UK Government consultation on the use of controversial FOBTs, which offer computerised casino games such as roulette and blackjack. The machines are widely played in betting shops and have become an increasingly important source of revenue for the industry.

Campaigners want to see the maximum unit stake on such games to be reduced from £100 to £2 in a bid to reduce problem gambling. One report suggested that for every betting shop in the Glasgow, a total of £156,000 disappears from players using FOBTs.

Dumbarton Road, in the Partick area of the city, is believed to have the highest concentration of high street bookmakers in the country – with seven shops on a stretch less than a mile long.

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan has urged the UK government to “get on” with proposals to reduce the maximum unit stake.

“I urge the UK Government now to get on with announcing their proposals on reducing the maximum unit stake on FOBTs and other measures to address gambling related harm,” he said.

But Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) said its members made a “valuable contribution” to the Scottish economy, supporting almost 5,000 jobs north of the Border.

The industry body claims the recent political focus on FOBT accounts for just 13 per cent of gambling spend.

“Betting shops are continuing to close across Scotland, with the loss of jobs, taxes, rent and rates,” said Donald Morrison, spokesman for the ABB.

“Smaller independents have been hit particularly hard but even larger operators are finding market conditions difficult as more and more people switch to other gambling platforms. Nevertheless, our members continue to make a valuable contribution to the Scottish economy, supporting almost 5,000 jobs and contributing more than £115 million in taxes and business rates, and many more millions in terms of salary costs and rents – money that is re-invested back into local economies.

“However, given the shift in the market it is likely that, even without further regulation, shop closures will continue in the coming years, and if there is a significant cut in stakes on FOBTs, this will accelerate the decline of betting shops with half the retail estate forced to close and the loss of up to 2,500 jobs in Scotland.

“The focus on FOBTs is entirely disproportionate, given that they account for just 13 per cent of all gambling spend. Gaming machines were introduced to betting shops almost 20 years ago and are popular with customers, the vast majority of whom play responsibly. Levels of problem gambling have remained statistically stable over this period, but we are nevertheless determined to do more to identify and support those at risk.

“In the past year, ABB has funded counselling support for gamblers in Glasgow, worked with schools and youth groups across the west of Scotland to educate young people about the risks associated with problem gambling and organised a community responsible gambling campaign in Inverness.

“A draconian cut in stakes will cause huge economic harm but will do nothing to reduce problem gambling. Customers will simply switch from the safe, controlled environment of the local betting shop, where there are trained staff and industry leading tools to monitor player behaviour, to other forms of gambling that offer fewer safeguards.”


17 pictures of the snow in Scotland

17 white pictures of Scotland after this week’s ‘snow bomb’

When it comes to snow, Scotland knows how to do it

Snow scottish borders

GettyAndrew Milligan/PA Images

The new year has brought with it a variation of weather conditions across the UK.

On Wednesday 17th January, the Met Office said parts of northern England and southern Scotland could expect snow, predicting 3 to 8cm in some places. “Over higher ground, as much as 20cm” was predicted. Drivers in the area have been encouraged to proceed with “extreme caution”, and avoid driving where possible. All schools in the Scottish Border are closed today (Thursday 18th), according to the BBC.

Here are a selection of pictures of where the snow hit the hardest. Despite its inconvenience for some, it isn’t half beautiful…


snow in holyroodhouse scotland

Snow on the grounds of the royal residence of the Palace of Holyroodhouse

GettyDavid Cheskin/PA Images


Keeping the snow theme going while this weather lasts, a cold snowy scene over the fields heading towards Gorebridge, Midlothian. Lovely to look at but not so good if you need to travel in it, stay safe! Lewis ☃️😀



snow in Stirling Scotland

The snowfall on the hills outside of Stirling

The Scottish Borders

Snow scottish borders

A snow covered farm near Lauder

GettyAndrew Milligan/PA Images


children sledge snow in scotland

Children play with their sledge in Leadhills

the snow in scotland january

A man clears snow from his front door in Leadhills

snow in scotland

A man walks through the snow in Leadhills, Scotland


The Highlands


Dumfries and Galloway

Snow in Scotland

Snow covered houses in Scotland’s highest village of Wanlockhead


Strumthing sounded good at Dumfriesshire’s Ukulele Festival of Scotland

A multinational musical marathon was held in Dumfries over the weekend.

The third Ukulele Festival of Scotland featured 11 concerts and 31 workshops with more than 40 international performers.

Paul L Martin, one of the judges on BBC One’s All Together Now, was the compere for the bumper festival which was boosted by a revival in popularity of the instrument across the globe.

Stuart and Linda Butterworth, from Rockcliffe near Dalbeattie, who teach and perform Ukulele, centred the festival at the Easterbrook Hall , the Crichton Church and the Holiday Inn.

It attracted performers and supporters from across the world as well as home-grown talent and this year needed a camping and motorhome area to accommodate them.

Support throughout was given by the Purple Army – a group of around 55 volunteers who give up their weekend to ensure visitors and locals had the best experience.

Linda said: “We had people coming into the town from all over the world and as far away as Australia to watch and take part and the artists came from the USA, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada as well as the UK and homegrown talent too.

“There is a huge revival in the ukulele and that has shown in the sheer volume of people at the festival. It is the only festival of its kind in Scotland and is perfect for anyone to come along who wants to learn how to play, brush up their skills, or just sit back and enjoy the music.

“The ukulele is very easy to learn and very social. People often think of the George Formby-style music but the ukulele can be used to perform classical music to pop, folk to Scottish, and even musical theatre, all demonstrated at the weekend.”

The event also featured a mass jam at Caerlaverock Castle, yoga with Astrid and a trip to the Solway Riviera with the Mersey Belles for a Big Beach Busk.

Dumfries and Galloway’s Zoe Bestel was a huge hit at the festival again, along with Dukes which is made up of Dumfries and Galloway performers aged from 8 to 80-plus; and its Dumfries and Galloway Strummers and Singers Group.

Also popular was Canadian duo James Hill and Anne Janelle; Ukus In Fabula, from Italy; American Jim D’Villes; Opera-Lele and Tricity Vogue.

New this year were Stuart Fuchs, a multi-instrumentalist and musical healer on his first visit to the UK; Fred Sokolow, a renowned performer and educator from the US; Digga Digga Duo, from Brazil; The Naked Waiters acoustic band from Utah and The Morning Glories trio of Dutch ladies who sang beautiful harmonies.


Scotland: Gary Caldwell applies for national team head coach role

Gary Caldwell has applied for the Scotland job.

Gary Caldwell has applied to become Scotland manager and has spoken with Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan.

The former Scotland defender, who has managed Wigan and Chesterfield, says he can succeed in the role.

“If I didn’t believe I could make an impact then I wouldn’t put myself forward,” he told BBC Scotland.

“I don’t think that having vast experience is going to give you that much of a difference.”

Caldwell was speaking before a scheduled SFA board meeting on Thursday at which the vacancy will be discussed.

“International football in the past used to be that somebody had a career [in management] and it was one of their later jobs,” he said.

“Nowadays, it’s a job for younger people. A new, fresher approach is going to give you more benefit.”

Gary Caldwell hopes to follow Gordon Strachan as the next Scotland manager

Scotland have remained without a head coach since Gordon Strachan left the role “by mutual consent” in October.

Caldwell, who has also spoken to SFA vice-chairman Rod Petrie, is hopeful that his credentials will be assessed by the governing body.

“I have spoken to Stewart Regan,” he continued. “I’ve spoken to Rod Petrie and other people. Hopefully my name will come up at the meeting.

“I only want the job because I feel I can make a difference. A club job is different. You want a job because you want to work.

“The international job, I feel that I can make a difference. Not just as the manager.

“I want to contribute in whatever way I can to get to get this country to a major finals.”

Gary Caldwell celebrates scoring the winner against France in 2006

Caldwell earned 55 caps for Scotland and scored the winner in a 1-0 European Championship qualifying victory over France at Hampden.

He insists his experience of playing for the national side stands him in good stead to succeed Strachan.

“The pinnacle of my career was playing for my country,” he explained. “I understand the psychology of international players. I understand international football, the tactics, the approach that you have to have to games both offensively and defensively.

“With my experience at international level, I can work with these players and bring something different that’s going to help us get to major finals.

“I have a lot to offer. A young person with different ideas to take the country forward. We need to have a new approach.”

Caldwell replaced current Scotland performance director Malky Mackay as manager at Wigan Athletic near the end of the 2014-15 season with the club eight points adrift from safety in the English Championship.

He was unable to prevent relegation but won the League One title in his first full season in charge to gain promotion.

Caldwell led Wigan to the League One title in his first full season in charge

The former Celtic and Hibernian centre-half was subsequently sacked in October 2016 after just two wins from 14 league games.

His next job was with Chesterfield, where he lasted eight months. Caldwell believes those experiences are a positive.

“In club football, there is a real short-term approach where nobody is getting the time,” he added.

“Better managers than me have been sacked when they probably shouldn’t have been. It’s a positive that I have that experience behind me at 35 years old.

“I also believe that I’m more qualified to be Scotland manager than I am to manage those teams. I have more experience dealing with international players.

“We have to go into the fine details because the margins at that level are becoming smaller and smaller.

“If we get everything right in terms of the preparation then I believe that we’ve got a group of players that can qualify.”