SAC protestors vow to continue battle

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PROTESTORS against the proposed Special Area of Conservation in the Sound of Barra have vowed to continue their fight and were encouraged by the support at yesterday’s Parliamentary Debate.

Angus MacLeod, Chairman of SHAMED (Southern Hebrides Against Marine Environmental Designations) said: “We were pleased that Minister for the Environment Stewart Stevenson acknowledged that the ability of Scottish Natural Heritage to do the work designated for it by the Scottish Government has broken down. We also noted with interest that Mr Stevenson did not dispute that the scientific case put forward by SNH in support of the designation is inaccurate, or that the process by which the designation has been pursued has been abused.”

8 February 2012''Jamie McGrigor, MSP for Highlands and Islands, raises the concerns of Western Isles communities in his Holyrood debate over the procedures and scientific data used by Scottish Natural Heritage for designating special areas of conservation (SAC) in East Mingulay and the Sound of Barra Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

8 February 2012''Jamie McGrigor, MSP for Highlands and Islands, raises the concerns of Western Isles communities in his Holyrood debate over the procedures and scientific data used by Scottish Natural Heritage for designating special areas of conservation (SAC) in East Mingulay and the Sound of Barra Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Mr MacLeod continued: “We were encouraged by the fact that so many MSPs, including our own MSP Alasdair Allan, spoke in support of Jamie McGrigor’s motion opposing the designation, and that they were so well informed and spoke knowledgeably about the issues. This is evidence that the campaign to stop the designation is gaining visibility and momentum. We would like to express our particular thanks to Jamie for his thorough and persuasive presentation of the issues.

“Yesterday’s events in Parliament were an important step in our battle to secure the future of the islands of the Southern Hebrides for ourselves and our children. The fight will continue until the designation process has been stopped.”In line with EU requirements, Sound of Barra is currently being considered as a possible SAC, as it includes a colony of harbour seals and sandbanks and reefs that are home to many marine species. Scottish Natural Heritage has carried out a consultation and their report and advice to Ministers is now being prepared.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson met with Barra representatives before the debate, to discuss their concerns over possible socio-economic impacts on the local community.

Mr Stevenson said:

“Quite understandably the people of Barra are seeking to protect their own economic and environmental interests and, as such, are concerned by what the possible SAC designation may mean. What I can assure them of is that when I make my decision I will ensure that protecting local interests is a very significant consideration.

“If I bring forward an SAC designation my objective is to do so when three conditions are met. Local people will be invited to participate in a management plan that protects local interests – including ensuring that a sustainable scallop fishery can be maintained in the area.

“Furthermore, any such management plan would need to provide a continuing role for local interests in management of the area. And finally, the proposals progressed must conform to EU rules.

“It is vital that local fishing and community interests engage in the process, so that we can work in collaboration and ensure the best outcome is reached – both for the Sound of Barra and for the wider local community.”

The debate was instigated by Jamie McGrigor MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan commented:

“It has long been very clear to me what people’s feelings are in Barra about this proposal. In my capacity as local MSP, while there is still a decision to be made about whether or not the government will designate, I will continue to convey my constituents’ concerns.

“As well as today’s debate in Parliament I also met up with a number of people who have been campaigning on this issue and who had made a long trip from Barra to attend this debate. Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, took the opportunity to meet with us all before the debate and listen to the views expressed.

“In my speech I pointed out that in their dealings with SNH the community in Barra feels that its economic concerns are being ignored. Barra depends heavily on the fishing industry for its future. I believe that the very existence of a pristine environment in the Western Isles is down to the fact that generations of islanders have treated their environment responsibly and this deserves recognition.

“While there was much in tonight’s motion that was overtly party political, and with which I did not agree, I do believe it is right that Parliament hears the unambiguous views of people in Barra. Although the campaign has made some limited progress around issues such as removing the island’s airport from the proposed designation, and receiving certain assurances about fishing grounds, clearly many people in Barra have expressed continuing concerns, which have a right to be heard.”

Pictured are Mr Rory MacNeil of Barra and Angus MacLeod  Chairman of SHAMED and also Christina Beggs and her daughter Louisa.