Letters April 12th

Time for a change to muir-burn permit?

The person in your Facebook comment column 29/03/12, worried about what harm can be caused to wildlife by wildfires has good reason to be concerned.

I am normally reluctant to comment on delicate local matters. However, after hearing numerous reports of just how badly some of our wildlife has suffered as a direct result of the recent spate of moorland fires throughout Lewis and Harris, I feel that I must respond and put pen to paper.

Slow worms found burnt to a crisp and red grouse wandering aimlessly through a black charred landscape, devoid of the lush vegetation that once offered them the food and sanctuary that is absolutely necessary for their survival, are only two examples of the detrimental effect muir-burning has on our flora and fauna. There are many more similar instances, alas, too many to mention here.

What concerns me most though is the damage caused to some of the birds that lay their eggs before or during the muir burning season. Many people who perish because of fire are not killed by the flames. Smoke inhalation is the cause of a large percentage of these deaths.

I am not about to suggest the act of moor burning has been responsible for fatalities, avian or otherwise, but in some areas of Lewis and Harris the billowing smoke of the last few weeks will have undoubtedly forced even the most loyal incubating golden eagle, sea eagle or raven from its eggs. The breeding season for these birds this year is over.

I have taken a great interest in the flora and fauna of my new home and have observed many wonderful things during the fourteen years I have lived here. Throughout this period I also studied most of our birds of prey, particularly golden eagles, and continue with this work as a member of the Lewis and Harris Raptor Study Group which was established in 2009.

According to my notes, the earliest date I have recorded of a golden eagle incubating eggs is on the 12th of March. I also remember finding a Raven sitting on a clutch of five eggs on the 4th of March in 2009, indicating that the first egg was possibly laid on the last day of February.

There are robust laws in place protecting these birds from disturbance, particularly both species of eagles, yet it is still permitted to carry out muir burn up until the 15th of April, when some birds have been sitting on their eggs for at least three, perhaps four weeks

Would it not be more sensible to change this deadline from the 15th of April to the end of February? I am not calling for a ban on moor-burning, just suggesting that it would be more beneficial to our early nesting birds, including both species of eagles, if it was completed before they actually begin to breed.

Perhaps the people who still find it necessary to carry out this practice so late in the year are unaware of the harm it does. If this is the case, please do consider the possible consequences of your actions before striking your match this time next year. FRANK STARK, Leurbost

A little knowledge...

I write in response to the letter from Angus Brendan MacNeil MP where he claims that the campaign to retain RET for commercial vehicles is “politically motivated”. Our MP is absolutely correct. Clearly, he’s seen and appreciated the cross party support our campaign has secured across the islands and the country.

Let me set out a few simple facts. The SNP has imposed a 50% increase on commercial vehicles. In pounds and pence, that is an extra, £222.76 on the cost of a return journey for a lorry between Ullapool and Stornoway.

Next April and in April 2014 another increase, at the same rate, will be imposed. That haulage and household tax will be paid by every family and business in the islands. In three years’ time it’ll cost £600 more for that same ferry journey.

Mr MacNeil made reference to the Halcrow Report as being the catalyst for removal of RET from the haulage sector. If, as he suggests, the benefits of RET were not passed on, why should local business and members of the public suffer? Incidentally, which Halcrow Report is he referring to? One of the reports concludes by saying their findings would appear “inconclusive”.

Mr MacNeil is aghast that this has become “political”. This is the standard response should anyone oppose or contradict anything that he or his colleagues say.

I have neither political ambition nor allegiance; I have no motivation other than preservation. I am deeply proud of my birthplace and as a parent I will defend to the end, our childrens’ right to have the opportunities and freedoms our generation have had.

I would love my family to stay within our Islands and gain employment, but I am afraid as time passes this will become increasingly unattainable. We continually see migration of our biggest asset, our children.

Being the eternal optimist I saw the introduction of RET as the catalyst for renewed economic growth within the Isles. It was an opportunity to create long term sustainable employment, where the differentials between the mainland and the isles narrowed.

For the last four we’ve seen growth within the tourism, fish farming and the Harris Tweed industry. Local exports increased. All these developments helped by having cheaper ferry fares. The SNP are playing a devious game in suggesting increases are to be capped at 50%. I am sure it was not Mr MacNeil’s intention to mislead the public and he will offer the required correction.

He referred to his own hard work and that of his colleague, Alasdair Allan MSP, in relation to the ferry fares debacle. Let me remind him that Mr Allan was recently exposed for claiming that he had “secured a concession from Government” to transport hay to our islands at a reduced rate.

Within hours of making that statement it was revealed that we’ve enjoyed that concession for almost 40 years!

This is the difficulty we have as individual businesses in trying to engage with our Parliamentarians and transportation chairman councillor, Donald Manford. Their statements constantly change – they quote inaccurate figures, and make misleading claims.

I wish that Mr MacNeil and Mr Allan would try serving their constituents by fighting the removal of commercial RET islands instead of towing the party line. Should Mr MacNeil contact me I’d be very happy to show him my figures which accurately reflect the reality of the SNP’s ferry policy.

Everyone in the business community is aware of the financial constraints families are facing. Mr MacNeil always refers to his willingness to make a case to Westminster for additional funding for the retention of commercial RET for the Western Isles. Why would he campaign in this manner, if the benefits of RET have not being realised by our community, as he, and others in his Party suggest?

May I respectfully suggest that Mr MacNeil sticks to what he knows best. I am at a loss at this precise moment to determine exactly what that is as, it is quite apparent he knows little about standing up for his constituents and even less about economics. DAVID WOOD, Stornoway

Marking Easter

I always enjoy Rev. Iain D’s contributions, though I think it unfortunate that in his latest piece he described the marking of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as dubious practice (Gazette 5.12.12). So many folk on the Christian pathway would disagree with that.

Iain tells us he is bound to this conclusion because the Bible doesn’t sanction the observance of Easter, and whereas that is true where has common sense flown to, and where moreover the prompting of the Holy Spirit?

The Bible doesn’t tell Iain when to take a bath, or change his socks, but presumably he thinks these are necessary things to do, and does them.

Here on Good Friday in the centre of Inverness we make silent witness to Christ’s death by standing in a large ring around a wooden cross. We do this every year with the participation of several denominations. Most folk stay in the ring for an hour or so, taking turns to stand with the cross. Others stay for a little while with heads bowed, before continuing with whatever occupies their morning. At any one time some thirty or forty people may comprise the ring.

Surely what is done here is a noble and God-honouring thing, a powerful witness to multitudes who pass-by. Additionally many churches in the city arrange sunrise services on Easter Sunday. Surely these too are God-honouring, and I truly fail to see how it can be viewed otherwise. KEITH FERNIE, Inverness

Political playing with RET issue

Angus Macneil’s claim that ferry fares would be even dearer under Labour than they are now could not be more wrong. It appears he is in need of a brief history lesson.

When Calum Macdonald was at the Scottish Office he increased Cal Mac’s subsidy to an unprecedented level in the hope that this would lead to a reduction in fares.

This level of subsidy continued up to the 2007 election. Frustrated by Cal Mac’s failure to pass the subsidy to their customers by way of reduced fares Jack MacConnell announced that the next Labour administration would introduce a Ferry Discount Scheme.

This scheme would cover the whole of Scotland. Far from having dearer fares under Labour, as Angus Macneil claims, we would have had a permanent discount scheme in place since 2007 and we would not be in the mess we are in now.

Angus Macneil is right when he says that people are playing party politics with this issue. The SNP stated playing party politics when they introduced a pilot scheme in the only place where they had a chance of winning a seat.

They continued playing party politics when they extended the scheme beyond the 2011 election in order to win Alasdair Allan a second term of office. It is ironic that this issue has now got them so worried that Mr Macneil is trying to hide the facts behind a lot of bluster and meaningless statistics.

Finally why is our Westminster MP dealing with matters that relate to the Holyrood parliament? Could it be that Alasdair Allan is so busy with his ministerial duties that constituency matters are beneath him? Is this why he failed to come to the protest rally to explain himself? GEORGE MACDONALD, Point

Party politics in council election

Angus Campbell made a ludicrous statement to the press this week (among others?) that denigrates the SNP, and suggests they will control of the council.

That is mathematically impossible.

He knows, but doesn’t say, that there are 63 candidates for 31 seats in the Western Isles and only 14 SNP candidates. Even if all the SNP candidates win they still cannot be a majority (as you know Angus, you would need 16!)

Now when New Labour were the first to put forward political candidates in the Western Isles, why did Angus not complain then or since?

This time there are four official Labour candidates plus at least 16 New Labour activists, including their most recent Holyrood and Westminister candidates standing as Independants - not likely!

His most hilarious comment, however, appears in a local publication, where he is again complaining about SNP involvment (not Labour you will note!)

He also congratulates himself for recognising one of John Swinney’s officials in Edinburgh, and he says: “10 minutes later I was in John Swinney’s office speaking to him.”

Do you honestly think, Angus, that you have any more influence than 14, or even one SNP councillor? You cannot have it both ways.

Is it possible that all these statements coming from him at every opportunity, are because two SNP candidates (Bob Duncan and myself), are standing in Stornoway South against him?

Vote SNP 1 and 2! RAE MACKENZIE, Stornoway