Woodland Trust joins objection to Kirsty Young’s plan for Scottish island

First they were hit by claims they planned to cull wallabies on the Scottish island they are buying, triggering uproar.

Now the broadcaster Kirsty Young and her husband, the Soho House founder Nick Jones, have been hit by another hurdle: a formal objection from the Woodland Trust against their plans to chop down scores of trees on Inchconnachan, an idyllic, heavily wooded island on Loch Lomond.

The couple’s quest to restore Inchconnachan, owned until now by the same aristocratic Scottish family for more than 700 years, to its wild, natural beauty is under fire from a host of influential critics.

Local residents, the naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and now the Woodland Trust have raised objections, urging the pair to heavily dilute their plans to strip the island of all its non-native species. A petition opposing a cull begun by one critic, Craig Morrison, had nearly 60,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

More objections may follow. NatureScot, the government conservation agency, is studying the pair’s plans. The island, once home to a now extinct population of capercaillies, is covered by a number of legally binding conservation designations, particularly to preserve its ancient oak forest, which the agency enforces.

In its letter of objection, the Woodland Trust argues that established non-native species such as Norway spruce have legal protection, even in an ancient woodland. It argues the couple’s building plans will also involve the unjustified loss of irreplaceable veteran trees.

Jones and Young bought Inchconnachan, one of a small cluster of islands off Loch Lomond’s western edge, for £1.6m in 2020. Uninhabited for more than 20 years, the island includes a derelict and ramshackle old cottage, rusting wooden and cast iron sheds, crumbling concrete paving and a disused pier. It is also overrun by invasive rhododendron.

It also boasts the world’s most northerly mob of red-necked wallabies, of unknown size. Originally introduced on to the 42-hectare island as a single pair by its then owner Fiona Bryde Gore, the then Lady Arran, in the 1940s, it was estimated the troupe’s population had surged to more than 60 by 2009. If that was accurate, that quickly dwindled. A recent heat map study suggested there were as few as seven still alive.

Jones is a multimillionaire thanks to his global empire of private members clubs, while Young is the former host of Desert Island Discs. Several weeks ago they unveiled plans to build a luxury timbered holiday lodge on Inchconnachan, and install a new boathouse and an interconnecting board walk across the island, in a lengthy planning application submitted to Loch Lomond and Trossach’s national park, the area’s planning authority.

“The island is a beautiful and sensitive place, well protected for its historic woodlands, habitat and natural beauty but it is in a declining poor condition and under growing pressure from an increasing number of visitors, antisocial behaviour and grazing herbivores,” their application said.

“We believe a bold, high-quality, comprehensive, sustainable and committed long-term plan is required to reverse the declining condition of the woodlands and to make this island world class, both in terms of its habitat and visitor experience.”

But their plans to control the marsupials, without specifying how in their application, triggered an immediate response.

Buried in one of the ecologists reports submitted to the national park, there is an explicit reference to culling the wallabies, along with the fallow deer and grey squirrel that roam Inchconnachan. “Wallaby continue to contribute a negative impact on the woodland ground flora and regeneration of this island,” it said.

The other reports are less specific but make clear the deer and wallabies are voracious grazing animals that ignore exotic spruce but burrow into native blaeberry bushes, creating tunnels through the undergrowth.

Deer are culled by being shot but Jones and Young now say they never planned to shoot their wallabies. Last weekend, prompted by Packham’s recommendation to find non-lethal ways of removing them, the couple confirmed they would instead investigate relocating them.

The SSPCA, an animal welfare charity, argues even that is unwise. The SSPCA doubts the pair will find a zoo or safari park willing to rehome them, and believes that would also be inhumane. Culling is rejected out of hand.

Ch Supt Mike Flynn, the SSPCA’s senior officer, urged the couple to hire wallaby experts to properly study their impact on the island. “We could not support efforts to relocate the wallabies unless there was clear evidence they were damaging habitat on the island,” he said on Wednesday.

George Anderson, a spokesperson for the Woodland Trust, added: “The location is covered by a site of special scientific interest, a special protection area and special area of conservation designations – and it is in a national park. If ancient woodland isn’t safe here then something is far wrong. We call on the planning authority to reject this application.”

A spokesperson for Jones declined to comment.

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