The Alladale elk featured in the BBC Natural World programme. Photo: BBC/Mike Birkhead

The Alladale elk featured in the BBC Natural World programme. Photo: BBC/Mike Birkhead

Mountaineering representatives have criticised councillors’ decision to renew a controversial estate’s licence to keep dangerous animals.

Members of the Highland Council’s Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross licensing committee today unanimously agreed to grant Alladale Wilderness Reserve a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. The licence relates to a compound on the estate in which wild boar and elk are kept.

Hillwalkers and climbers have complained that the fencing at the site restricts their access to the countryside, including the 846m (2,772ft) corbett Càrn Bàn. The council’s own access officer Matt Dent recommended refusal of the renewal of the licence on the estate, set up by millionaire Paul Lister.

But the committee agreed with Highland Council’s area environmental health manager Chris Ratter to grant the licence, subject to conditions set out in the act.

The Alladale Estate has given notice that it intends to apply for a zoo licence to keep wolves and wildcats on the site.

David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “It is regrettable that the council has chosen to ignore the recommendation of its own access officer not to renew the licence on the grounds that access to the area will continue to be restricted.

“The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 clearly provides access-takers with the right to cross areas of wild land and this right may be compromised by the actions of the Alladale Estate.

“The local authority is the body responsible for ensuring the requirements of the act are upheld. Scotland’s politicians and others boast about the finest access legislation in the world, but it seems that when it comes to upholding the law, some of our elected representatives are overly keen to support developments which are contrary to the spirit of the act.

“The council’s decision hardly builds public confidence that appropriate decisions will be made concerning the estate’s zoo licence application for which a decision is expected within the next few weeks.”

A spokesperson for the Alladale Estate said: “90 per cent of the land that will comprise the zoo-licensed area will lie within existing enclosures that amounts to 575 acres [233ha] out of a total of Alladale’s 23,000 acres [9,308ha] so there will be very few limitations on access. The zoo licensing will create one further fulltime member of staff, lifting the total to nineteen.

“Four socialised wolf pups will be imported to Scotland from Romania in the summer of 2010 and kept within an existing enclosure under the zoo-licence regulations.

“The European Nature Trust, founded by Paul Lister, is actively raising awareness of the ongoing destruction of some of Europe’s last remaining wilderness in Romania. The young Romanian wolves will become a popular study choice for students sponsored by the Challenger Trust (a UK’s which aims to help young people reach their potential through challenging outdoor education courses) while they stay on the Alladale Reserve.

“Last year, more than 150 students from four local schools within a 25-mile [40km] radius stayed at Alladale to learn more about their local environment and the importance to preserve the Highlands. It is hoped the number of students will double this summer 2010.”

The Alladale Wilderness Reserve, near Ardgay, was first granted a licence to keep 17 wild boar and two European elk in 2007.

Mountaineering representatives have criticised councillors’ decision to renew a controversial estate’s licence to keep dangerous animals.

Members of the Highland Council’s Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross licensing committee today unanimously agreed to grant Alladale Wilderness Reserve a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. The licence relates to a compound on the estate in which wild boar and elk are kept.

Hillwalkers and climbers have complained that the fencing at the site restricts their access to the countryside, including the 846m (2,772ft) corbett Càrn Bàn. The council’s own access officer Matt Dent recommended refusal of the renewal of the licence on the estate, set up by millionaire Paul Lister.

But the committee agreed with Highland Council’s area environmental health manager Chris Ratter to grant the licence, subject to conditions set out in the act.

The Alladale Estate has given notice that it intends to apply for a zoo licence to keep wolves and wildcats on the site.

David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “It is regrettable that the council has chosen to ignore the recommendation of its own access officer not to renew the licence on the grounds that access to the area will continue to be restricted.

“The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 clearly provides access-takers with the right to cross areas of wild land and this right may be compromised by the actions of the Alladale Estate.

“The local authority is the body responsible for ensuring the requirements of the act are upheld. Scotland’s politicians and others boast about the finest access legislation in the world, but it seems that when it comes to upholding the law, some of our elected representatives are overly keen to support developments which are contrary to the spirit of the act.

“The council’s decision hardly builds public confidence that appropriate decisions will be made concerning the estate’s zoo licence application for which a decision is expected within the next few weeks.”

The Alladale Wilderness Reserve, near Ardgay, was first granted a licence to keep 17 wild boar and two European elk in 2007.

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