RSPB not prosecuted over Flow Country tree felling

Flow Country Image copyright Andy hay/rspb images
Image caption The Flow Country peat bogs of the far north of Scotland are seen as internationally important

One of Scotland's biggest environmental organisations has escaped prosecution despite felling woodland in the Flow Country without the necessary licences.

RSPB Scotland said the issue was the result of an "administrative error".

The work was carried out at the Dyke and Forsinain commercial forestry plantations in Sutherland.

It was part of a long-running deep peatland restoration project which was removing conifer plantations from the Flow Country.

The vast peat bogs of the far north of Scotland are seen as internationally important.

They store large quantities of carbon and support a wide range of plant and animal species.

Felling at Dyke was halted in March 2015 when it was discovered that licences had lapsed the previous month.

In addition, a licence application for the felling operations at Forsinain had not been completed.

Forestry Commission Scotland referred the matter to the procurator fiscal but it has now been decided no further action should be taken.

RSPB spokesman Dr Pete Mayhew said: "We welcome the decision by the procurator fiscal and look forward to moving ahead with our important peatland restoration work under a forest plan agreed with Forestry Commission Scotland.

"To ensure there is no repetition of this unfortunate incident, we have undertaken a complete and thorough review of our operating procedures and strengthened them significantly so that we can focus on our work restoring the internationally important peatlands of the Flow Country."

The removal of conifer plantations on the deep peatland of the Flow Country has long been seen as a priority by conservationists.

The RSPB says that since the mid-1990s, more than 2,000 hectares of conifers have been felled and the land restored to blanket bog.

Similar work has been carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland and private landowners.

Dr Mayhew added: "RSPB Scotland is proud of its record in removing thousands of inappropriately planted trees over the last two decades and we deeply regret that, in this instance, felling took place without the proper documentation in place."

A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland said: "We take a very serious view of any offence against the felling requirements of the Forestry Act.

"In line with normal practice when there is an unauthorised felling of this scale and significance, a thorough report was produced and submitted to the procurator fiscal.

"It is for the procurator fiscal to decide whether or not to take forward any prosecution and in this case they decided not to do so.

"We have issued formal warning letters to the parties involved and met senior staff from both RSPB and their contractors to ensure their procedures are revised to avoid such incidents in the future."

A Crown Office spokesman said: "Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of this case, including a number of mitigating circumstances, the procurator fiscal decided that there should be no criminal proceedings at this time.

"The Crown reserves the right to proceed in the future."