Cleaner claims she was fired over bird plan protest

A part time cleaner has been sacked by RSPB Scotland after protesting against its controversial plans for a bird observatory in her village.

Linda Bower was dismissed for “gross misconduct” last week by the charity. Among her “crimes” were placing posters in her garden against the scheme.

Mrs Bower lives in Forsinard in Caithness where local residents are fighting plans for a £9.6m project.

She put “Forsinard Says No” signs in her property.

One of Britain’s best known conservationists, Professor David Bellamy, has also launched a savage attack on RSPB Scotland for causing “carnage” in one of the most remote areas of wilderness.

Veteran botanist Professor Bellamy even accused the bird charity of “insulting” scientists and tourists.

The RSPB is to build a scientific research and visitor centre in the unspoilt wetlands of Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of the country.

But the plans have angered residents in Forsinard who believe the modern building would be a “monstrosity” in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Part of the plan involves building an observation tower – which Professor Bellamy describes as “nothing less than insulting to visiting scientists and tourists alike.”

Residents are not entirely opposed to a visitor centre – but believe it is wrong to build a modern building instead of using an existing structure, such as the disused local hotel.

The row centres on an area of Caithness and Sutherland known as the Flow Country – a large, rolling expanse of peatland and wetland. It is the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe, covering about 1,500 miles.

The area is home to a rich variety of wildlife, and is used as a breeding ground for many different species of birds, including greenshank, dunlin, merlin and golden plover.

The RSPB which runs an existing nature reserve at Forsinard has already been given planning permission by Highland Council to build the new centre comprising an education room, lab space, offices, accommodation for volunteers, students and researchers, as well as the controversial viewing tower.

The project also involves the construction of new trails, viewpoints and information points as well as the restoration of seven square miles of peatlands.

Called the ‘Flow to the Future’, the scheme is being coordinated by the RSPB on behalf of the Peatlands Partnership group of organisations that include Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland.

Mrs Bower, 51, said locals have now launched a Forsinard Says No Facebook page to help win wider support and are considering other options to block the scheme.

But last week her campaigning was too much for RSPB Scotland who dismissed her from her £7.80-an-hour job, which she had held since October 2011.

“I worked four hours a week during winter, cleaning their offices, and ten hours a week during summer when I also cleaned the visitor centre,” said Mrs Bower.

“I was sacked on June 25 for gross misconduct, with immediate effect.

“The disciplinary procedure was done to the letter and began in April when I was ‘invited’ to an interview about my conduct. This meant they wanted to warn me about my letters to the papers and the signs in my garden.

“I got the idea that if I said I’d remove the signs and say sorry about the letters then all would be forgotten, but I couldn’t do that. I made it crystal clear what they were all about and that I was only doing what I had to do to stop the RSPB from building on my doorstep and destroying my neighbourhood.

“I was told that the RSPB didn’t like it, that it was likely to be construed as ‘bringing the RSPB into disrepute’, and that I could be disciplined for gross misconduct, a sackable offence.

“Two more interviews followed, all of which was minuted and I had to sign. The last one, on June 20, was heavy duty and I was made to wait for the verdict until June 25 when the man who interviewed me rang me to tell me I was dismissed with immediate effect, a letter with all the fine details to follow. The letter is epic. You’d think I was a threat to national security.

“It was pretty obvious that they wanted to get rid of me. To be honest I was prepared to lose my job if it meant the things I was losing it for would stop them from doing what they want to do to Forsinard.

“The RSPB would actively prevent anyone else attempting to drive across, dig up and build upon their precious bog yet it’s absolutely fine for them to do what they like when it suits them.”

The RSPB say the centre is projected to attract 10,000 people a year and there are “considerable benefits” to the wider community.

An RSPB spokesperson said:”Our understanding is there is an appeal process in place should the employee wish to pursue it. As such, we are unable to comment on this at the moment.”

But Mrs Bower said she does not plan to appeal because she cannot afford the cost.