The controversial Highland estate where millionaire landowner Paul Lister wants to establish a wilderness reserve is at the centre of another row.
Two Highland Council officers are at loggerheads over the renewal of the Alladale estate’s Dangerous Wild Animals licence. The authority’s environmental health manager has recommended renewal of the permit, while its access officer has lodged an objection.
The disagreement reflects the view that the law governing the keeping of dangerous animals such as the estate’s wild boar and elk is in direct conflict with Scotland’s right-to-roam legislation.
The Alladale Wilderness Reserve, near Ardgay, was granted a licence to keep 17 wild boar and two European elk in 2007. That licence has lapsed and Highland Council will consider its renewal on 1 February.
Chris Ratter, area environmental health manager, is recommending the estate have its permit renewed, but access officer Matt Dent has objected because, he says, the enclosure in which the animals are kept denies walkers and mountaineers their access rights. The estate owners deny this.
Mr Ratter’s report to the licensing committee says: “A meeting was arranged at Alladale to attempt to reach a compromise acceptable to all parties. The applicant [Alladale Wilderness Reserve] has stated that they do not intend to vary their original application.”
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act gives the public the right to cross land. Local authorities can exempt areas from the provisions, but Highland Council has not pursued this course. The boar enclosure and the neighbouring area containing the elk are, according to Mr Ratter, ‘within the remit of land to which the public has access’.
The report continues: “The council has a duty to ‘assert, protect and keep open and free from obstruction or encroachment any route, waterway or other means by which access rights may reasonably be exercised’, but ‘is not required to do anything in pursuance of the duty which would be inconsistent with the carrying on of any of the authority’s other functions’.”
The environmental health manager does admit that, because of the size and position of the enclosure, the grant of a licence may conflict with the access expectations of walkers in the area – a contention disputed by the landowners – and that access officer Matt Dent has received a complaint from a hillwalker trying to descend from a mountain.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has also raised concerns about the enclosure, which has 1.5m (5ft) fencing and an electrified ‘snout wire’ to stop the animals escaping. A condition of the dangerous animals licence is that gates are kept locked.
The animal enclosure lies on the route to the 846m (2,772ft) corbett Càrn Bàn at the head of Glen Alladale.
The estate has also given notice of its intention to apply for a zoo licence to keep wolves and wildcats on the land, in addition to the boar and elk already at Alladale.