In committee this week, the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Committee (Scotland) Bill Committee started its consideration stage of this private bill, which seeks to update archaic arrangements for the maintenance of a medieval drainage channel—the “pow” of the title—in Perth and Kinross.
The promoters are the Pow of Inchaffray drainage commissioners, who have traditionally been responsible for maintenance and improvement of the pow, with the costs shared between the relevant landowners, or “heritors”. Recent building in the area means that more heritors need to be included. In addition, the old law governing the pow’s maintenance—the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Act 1846, which itself repealed an act from 1696—is out of date.
As is often the case with private bills, the proceedings read more like a courtroom scene, with the promoters’ solicitors and the objectors setting out their cases and interrogating each other’s arguments. Columbo it isn’t, but it’s an interesting variation from the types of business that we normally report.
On Wednesday, in the chamber, Mairi Gougeon’s members’ business debate on the “Heads Up for Harriers” project and the role of species champions raised the plight of the hen harrier in Scotland, whose numbers have fallen catastrophically in recent years. Ms Gougeon pointed out that, according to research by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, “the national hen harrier population of Scotland should be in the range of 1,467 to 1,790 breeding pairs. Instead, we have fewer than 500. The latest hen harrier survey shows that there are only 460 breeding pairs, which is a fall from 505 in 2010.” She went on to highlight the work of the project—which is led by Scottish Natural Heritage and PAW Scotland—to identify, monitor and protect nests, noting that, although it might not be a panacea, it is “a step in the right direction”. John Scott emphasised the need for good estate management, saying that “the safest place for hen harriers to raise chicks is on well-managed grouse moors where foxes are kept under control and a good supply of voles and grouse chicks exists.”
Flight of fancy
The same debate attracted a number of speakers who were also proud to announce their role as species champions, including David Stewart (great yellow bumblebee), Liam McArthur (Scottish primrose) and Gillian Martin (Yew). Deputy Presiding Officer Christine Graham transported us 66 million years back into the past, “to the time when dinosaurs ruled the world”. In what must have been one of the most apocalyptic speeches ever given in the chamber, she described how an asteroid hit the Yucatán peninsula, wiping out almost all life on earth. Thankfully, one of the few species that survived might have been a relative of the house sparrow, of which Ms Grahame is the species champion. Having such resilient ancestors has left the house sparrow well suited to our present conditions. As Ms Grahame observed, “It is no skin off his beak to survive a Scottish winter.”