RSPB part time worker sacked over Flow Country protest stance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAN RSPB Scotland worker has been sacked after objecting to the charity’s plans to develop its Forsinard Flows Visitor Centre as part of a £9.6million project. Linda Bower (51), a part-time cleaner at the centre, put a sign up in her garden reading “RSPB not welcome in Forsinard” and also wrote letters to the media to voice her opposition to the proposals.

RSPB began a disciplinary procedure and she was told last Friday that she had been dismissed with immediate effect for “gross misconduct”.

Mrs Bower, who moved with her husband Jeff to Forsinard over two years ago from Surrey, claimed this week she had been made a “sacrificial lamb”.

“I feel I have a right to free speech. I live here. This is something that affects my life. I did not know any other way of objecting,” she said.

The Flow to the Future project involves the erection of a new field centre at the Forsinard reserve and a viewing observatory on the Dubh Lochan Trail, as well as new trails, viewpoints and information points. One of the most important aims of the project is the restoration of seven square miles of peatland.

RSPB Scotland is co-ordinating the initiative on behalf of the Peatlands Partnership which comprises Highland Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Plantlife International and the Environmental Research Institute, Thurso.

The partnership has already been granted £4 million Heritage Lottery funding and has also been given planning consent.

Partnership chairman John Henderson has previously said the project will generate significant benefits for local communities and businesses, as well as help restore some important areas of peatlands.

But the planned developments in such an unspoilt area have attracted widespread condemnation from the Forsinard community who have called the centre a “modern monstrosity adorned with wood and glass”.

Residents including Mrs Bower objected to planning consent being granted and also attempted to stymie Heritage Lottery Funding. A Facebook page has been set up called “Forsinard Says No”.

Their campaign has attracted some heavyweight support, with environmental campaigner and botanist David Bellamy this week reported as being against the developments.

Mrs Bower formerly ran an online search engine optimisation business with her husband before moving north.

She took up the part-time cleaning post in 2011 and worked 10 hours a week from April to October and four hours a week out of season.

Mrs Bower said she had never been given RSPB’s employment handbook, which sets out the conduct expected from its workers.

She said the disciplinary procedure had started a couple of months ago and had been “long and drawn out”.

“My direct line manager never approached me but I had three face-to-face meetings with people higher up,” she said.

“I had a final disciplinary hearing on 20th June and at that time I was told I would be notified of the decision within a week,

“On 25th June, I got a phone call to tell me I was dismissed with immediate effect and a letter would follow.

“The reason that they gave me for my dismissal was gross misconduct. They said I had brought the RSPB into disrepute by having contact with the media and putting signs in my garden.”

Mrs Bower continued: “I knew that I would be the sacrificial lamb. I knew that if anyone was going to suffer, it would be me because I worked for RSPB Scotland.

“I think if I had said to them that I was sorry and would not do it again I would have been given another chance, but I couldn’t do that.”

Mrs Bower said the community was fighting on despite failing to block planning consent and funding.

An RSPB Scotland spokesman said he could not comment on legal grounds.

“My understanding is that there is an appeal process available to Mrs Bower. I have no idea if she is going to try and take advantage of that, but if she were to do so, any public comment made now by RSPB could be prejudicial.

“In fairness to Mrs Bower and to ourselves, we are not able to comment,” he said

10 comments to RSPB part time worker sacked over Flow Country protest stance

  • skydancer

    So the RSPB are advertising for the Hen Harrier peaceful protest which is happening in various parts of England asking people to join it, is this lady not entitled to her own peaceful protest ?
    Another example of the RSPB acting as dictators,if you cross them you are out,so much for charity.

  • Circus maxima

    The magic of the flow country is that there is nothing there. It would probably be better if they spent the full £9.6 million on restoring the bogs that the tax dodgers ruined.

  • John Miles

    I called in last year. The visitor centre is in the station and makes a great attraction to the area. I was the only one there plus 2 staff. The train came while I was there making it special as it is once in a moon! I can’t see mass visiting as it is in the back of nowhere. I would be interested to know the visitor figures put forward for this grant.

    • In the Peatland Partnership/RSPB’s application to the Heritage Lottery Fund the following figures were listed.
      Visits in the last 12 months 3635
      12 months after the project is completed 9100.

      This community has 12 residents and will be completely overrun.

  • nirofo

    This lady was in the right to protest at what amounts to a RSPB folly and a total waste of members funds and donations, she is not alone in her protest and the RSPB know it. The local people of Forsinard, Strath Halladale, Melvich, Strathy and many surrounding areas are totally against it, but then I suppose the RSPB are no strangers to alienating the local people among others. For anyone interested I have photos I took of notices erected by locals in and around Forsinard saying No to RSPB Plans, anyone wanting copies are welcome.

    The RSPB is supposed to be a bird protection society, yet this proposed new folly has very little to do with birds, protected or otherwise in the location it is meant to be erected in. Anyone travelling north to Forsinard with the expectation of visiting a bird reserve is in for a big shock, I suggest a lot of non RSPB produced homework assessing the bird potential of the area before travelling so far north.

  • dunbeath blue

    The RSPB have been offered the now closed Forsinard hotel for there project but this has been turned down so they can spend at least £4 million pounds of lottery heritage money,having visited the area it’s beauty is in it’s remoteness and not so much in it’s bird life.

    I continue to be staggered at the way the RSPB seem to be able to con different organisations into giving them money but this project takes the biscuit.

    In my opinion it will be the thick end of nearly £10 million very poorly spent.

  • nirofo

    It makes you wonder who is pulling the strings at the RSPB, it’s obvious from this latest money to burn folly that someone is determined to overrule the wishes of the local people and environmental common sense regardless, but then it’s well known the RSPB are no strangers to either. This project has nothing to do with birds at all, they’re hell bent on despoiling a unique open flow bog flatland vista by building what amounts to a skyscraper on it, this will be easily visible for miles around. It would have made far more sense if they had purchased the Forsinard Hotel when it was offered to them, this is on the doorstep of the flows not on the them. If they must have an elevated view to see over the expanse of the flow bogs they could have obtained access up the hill road to the top of Meall a’ Bhealaich, which is less than a mile away from the Forsinard visitor centre. This hill is 335 metres high with excellent views overlooking the flows and beyond.

    Editor’s Comment. We have all heard the song ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinartra, the RSPB appear to be no different, do it their way or not at all.

  • D Sneap

    I totally agree. The RSPB seems to be losing its way with novices in charge. I have been a member since 1972 and sometimes wonder if I should resign and put more support into the Wildlife Trusts.

    I visited Forsinard a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but notice how virtually every house in the ‘village’ had an anti RSPB poster on display. They could and should have bought the Pub. It would encourage more visitors than the proposed unsightly building they have planned.

  • If I behaved like this as an employee of an organisation, I would expect action to be taken against me, it does not require a degree in employment law to see that. I posted on Facebook on the Forsinard site and was blocked by them or rather her. Not very nice are you Mrs Bower? This is what I wrote.

    It seems the RSPB are not the only ones that do not like adverse comments on their pages. The comments and questions I put to you have been wiped out. As has the photo of a corrugated shed that was vandalised with graffiti in a fit of blatant hypocrisy.

    If you are so concerned with the look of the place why condone the graffiti of a building that was for many years home to a family?

    It seems to me what the RSPB are doing is informing people of the value of the flows and the birds who used to inhabit them. Judging by your remarks regarding trees and birds it seems that the RSPBs efforts to inform and educate are badly needed in Forsinard.

    These trees were put there purely as a tax break for wealthy toffs in the 70s and 80s, implementing a policy formed on greed and pig ignorance by people who care nothing for Forsinard or come to that Scotland. One comment that stuck with me from that time was this from a noble lord, who woke from a post lunch grunting session. “I thought trees and birds were synonomous.”

    That is the level of ignorance that saw families uprooted and shepherds and gamekeepers made redundant to allow for the trees. Greenshank, dunlin, merlin and golden plover, are birds that do not use trees for their existence. In any case the type of trees planted are simply cash crops of sitka and lodge pole pine, to dense and hostile for any birds to feel at home in never mind the birds of the flows.

    In my opinion the intervention of the RSPB in Forsinard is nothing but a force for good. I am not a member or employed by them. Your hostility and claims about being the voice of the community smacks of nimbyism of the worst kind. Incidentally the proposed site for the centre will sit on grounds already excavated for a house, the viewing platform will have a minimal impact. Your hostility to an increase in traffic and people to the area is breathtaking hypocrisy. What right do you have to decide where people choose to visit and perhaps even stay and increase revenues in the area?

    Scotland and Sutherland have for to long suffered from this selfish mentality that wishes to preserve the landscape in aspic for a priviledged few, excluding others.