ONE of Scotland's largest landowners has called for the government's nature agency to be prosecuted for injecting poison into hundreds of trees at a famous beauty spot.

Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, Laird of Luss Estates, believes Scottish Natural Heritage should face court action after its workers culled around 400 beech trees on Inchtavannach island on Loch Lomond.

Many of the trees were hundreds of years old, but were killed off in a matter of days after SNH began work to remove invasive species such as rhodoendron from the island.

Inchtavannach island, which is heavily forested and home to a solitary tenant, is now littered with rotting trunks and dead branches, while other trees have been left to decay where they stand.

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Dead trees litter the island 

The row over the damage to the island's ecology has rumbled on for five years, and saw SNH issue an apology this year and agree to carry out work to remove fallen boughs and pay reparations.

But Sir Malcolm believes those who head the agency have yet to accept they did anything wrong, and has called for SNH to be prosecuted for felling trees without a licence from Forestry Scotland.

READ MORE: 'It will take generations to repair the damage'

The nobleman has also said he and his staff have never received an explanation of why beech trees, which have been in Scotland for thousands of years, are considered an invasive species.

He said: "The very strong suspicion is in our mind that this was done simply to get around the restrictions which would have been imposed by the forestry commission.

“If you want to fell a significant number of trees you require a felling licence. That’s is the very strong suspicion, but I don’t know if we have ever established that.”

The row dates back to 2013 when SNH entered into an agreement with Luss Estates to carry out work to remove rhododendron and bracken from the island.

The agreement also provided for beech saplings to be cut down and mature beech trees to be felled gradually over a five year period, but the decision was taken by SNH to inject them with poison en masse instead because it was more cost effective.

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Many trees rot where they stood

The island of Inchtavannach is located within Loch Lomond Woods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) – an area designated for its Atlantic oak woodland habitat. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

Sir Malcolm delivered a scathing verdict of his dealings with SNH in the years following the cull, saying that the organisation appeared to answer to no-one.

He said: “A lot of these organisations are staffed by people who regard themselves as being on some sort of a mission, and I suppose one of my major problems with SNH is that fact that they get to make up their own rules.

“They are completely non-accountable, nobody has any idea what their brief is and they do things like they do on Inchtavannach without anybody’s permission, without the consent of the public.

“It is just extraordinary, and they get away with it. I don’t suppose a single person will lose their job over this. It just doesn’t work that way.

“But if you or I had done such a thing we certainly would have been prosecuted, probably fined very heavily and quite possibly gone to jail. And rightly so.”

READ MORE: 'It will take generations to repair the damage'

Simon Miller, Luss Estate manager, said the lack of legal action sets a dangerous precedent.

He said: "I made the point to SNH that, as the protectors of Scotland's natural heritage, perversely they should have wanted themselves to be prosecuted.

"Because in effect they have created a very dangerous precedent, because there are circumstances which will lead to somebody killing or felling hundreds of trees and not being prosecuted because they did not have a felling licence.

"SNH should have encouraged themselves to be prosecuted. Now there is case history which someone could quote which would allow them to say 'in previous cases you have not prosecuted someone for doing this."

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Inchtavannach island

A spokesman for Scottish Forestry said: “Had an application for a felling licence been made and a more considered discussion of the issues taken place, it is likely that, aside from recommending alternative ways of carrying out the work, the trees will still have been felled albeit in a more sensitive, sequential programme.

“In light of these considerations, it was decided that it would not be in the public interest to pass this case to the procurator fiscal in respect of any of the parties involved.

“However, as a result of this case we have taken steps to ensure that the wider forestry and conservation land management sector is aware that felling of trees (by any method) will almost invariably require a felling licence, and that colleagues across the Scottish Government family know to advise their clients and stakeholders of the necessity of speaking to Scottish Forestry colleagues if woodland management operations are being considered.”

READ MORE: 'It will take generations to repair the damage'

David Maclennan, SNH Area Manager for Argyll and the Outer Hebrides, said: “Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) aims to be open and transparent in everything we do, and as a non-departmental public body we are accountable to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament.

“We work in partnership, by cooperation, negotiation and consensus, with all relevant interests in Scotland, including public, private and voluntary organisations and individuals.

“In 2013 we entered into an agreement with the agricultural tenant at Inchtavannach to eradicate rhododendron and remove non-native beech trees to help bring the native Atlantic oak woodland habitat back into favourable condition, an agreement which Luss Estates was party to."

He added: “The agreement was to fell the beech trees over a five year period and we have subsequently apologised for not consulting Luss Estates about the use of glyphosate, a legal and widely available herbicide.

“We referred the matter of whether a felling licence was required to the then Forestry Commission Scotland, and their investigation concluded that it was not in the public interest to pursue this case.

“We remain committed to working in partnership with Luss Estates to protect and enhance the island for future generations.”

Pics: Jamie Simpson/The Herald