The rural economy minister, Fergus Ewing, should get his cabinet colleague, Michael Russell, to “draw in his horns” and stop trying to ban toxic pesticides, according to a leaked email from a leading forester.

Raymond Henderson, head of forestry and partner at the £44 million property firm, Bidwells, mistakenly copied to a critic what were meant to be private comments to a forestry industry colleague. The comments were subsequently shared with Ewing and Russell.

Russell’s immediate response was fierce, telling Henderson that his email was “offensive” and to “step away from the keyboard”. There is no record of any response from Ewing.

Alarm over toxic pesticide sprayed on Scotland’s woodlands

The correspondence occurred on 26 April 2018, and arose from disputes over the use of forestry pesticides on the island of Mull. Henderson emailed a colleague commenting on a bid by some in the local community, backed by Argyll and Bute MSP Russell, to curb pesticides because of the risks they posed.

“We have to hope that Fergus Ewing will get tired of seeing this nonsense and either back the industry up in a statement or get Mike Russell to draw in his horns and issue a statement that he now understands that use of approved chemicals is safe and legitimate,” wrote Henderson.

He added that the chances of Russell making such a statement were “admittedly remote”. Unfortunately he clicked on “reply to all” and inadvertently copied his email to a local anti-pesticide campaigner, Rachel Watt, who then circulated it to Russell, Ewing and others.

Russell responded by telling Henderson his email was offensive. “No one will be “getting me to draw my horns in” (as you put it) and I am sure Fergus Ewing, whom I have known well for years, will be very concerned to hear that a private land agent thinks he has the power to make that happen,” he emailed.

The days in which the land agent can browbeat lesser mortals for daring to question his absolute power are well and truly over. Michael Russell, SNP MSP

“I will not be bullied, hectored or talked down to, and nor I believe will my constituents. The days in which the land agent can browbeat lesser mortals for daring to question his absolute power are well and truly over.”

Russell added: “A final piece of advice, if I may. Step away from the keyboard and restrain yourself if you are considering replying to this. I think you would be wise to take some time to consider if your actions to date do anything to further the interests of your clients, your company or yourself.”

The insect campaign group, Buglife, backed Russell. “It is somewhat incredulous that a private forestry consultant thinks it acceptable to challenge the right of a Scottish Government minister to stand up for his constituents’ views,” said the group’s conservation director, Craig Macadam.

“Michael Russell has quite rightly backed the concerns of people on Mull over the impacts of pesticides used in forestry planting.”

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Ewing
Michael Russell

Henderson did not comment on his remarks about Ewing and Russell. “There has been a lot of correspondence with Ms Watt dating back more than two years,” he told The Ferret.

“In this instance, one email has been taken out of context from the many that have gone before and indeed after. This is a long running disagreement between one person with an embedded view and the accepted industry approach.”

He added: “Despite our best efforts, and having provided all the Forestry Commission research on the subject, it seems to have proved impossible to reconcile Ms Watt’s – and a few other people’s views – with those of the industry on the safe application of the chemical in question.”

Ewing and Russell, who is the Scottish Government’s Brexit minister, both declined to comment directly on the leaked emails.

The leaked emails in full



Photos thanks to Scottish Government. This article was also published in the Sunday National on 9 September 2018.