Crofters urge rejection of Sound of Barra marine designation

The Scottish Crofting Federation is urging the Scottish Government to turn down the proposal that the Sound of Barra should become a marine Special Area of Conservation.

The SCF is also asking the Government to radically revise the way it enacts European environmental legislation, arguing that the Sound of Barra case is only the latest in a long list of disputes between communities and environmental administrators which waste time and resources on both sides of the argument.

The Sound of Barra proposal, first put forward in 2000, is being made by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government’s nature conservation agency, and has been opposed by many people on Barra who have raised a petition and formed a pressure group against it. The islanders are concerned by the range of restrictions the designation may impose on an area which is already classed by the Government as socio-economically fragile and they claim that the decision is a ‘fait accompli’ arranged by different agencies of government over the last decade. (1)

SCF director Roddy MacDonald said: “The SCF agrees with the Scottish Government that there need to be changes made to many current human activities in Scotland, including our agriculture and fishing industries, if the country is to contribute properly to global efforts on environmental and species protection.

“However, the campaign by Barra people against the proposed mSAC has highlighted a long-standing complaint in crofting communities that there is a democratic deficit in the way that environmental legislation is applied in Scotland. If the proposed mSAC for the Sound of Barra was laid aside once and for all, it would respect the strongly-held feelings of many of the population of Barra and help to end the animosity against the Government that the proposal has raised.

“However, the Barra conflict is only the latest instance of Scottish governmental approaches to applying environmental conservation commitments under international law leaving communities feeling that their opinions are ignored and they are effectively having designations imposed on them. This is prolonging unnecessary antagonism between the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland.

“The ensuing disputes, of which there have now been many, lead to situations where people trying to maintain their livelihoods in some of the most socially and economically fragile – but biodiversity rich – areas of Scotland spend precious time and resources campaigning against their own Government.”

Mr MacDonald argued that the waste of time and resources also holds true for Government, as each time one of these disputes arise a much larger investment in Government human and financial resources is required in order to try to resolve it. Audit Scotland’s review of SNH’s finances show that the agency has had its budget reduced by ten percent over the last year and is due to have further cuts of five per cent imposed over the next three years. (2)

Mr MacDonald concluded: “Given the financial restrictions currently being imposed on SNH and on Government generally, the Government should think again about how nature conservation is carried out in Scotland because the present process is often failing fragile communities and the country as a whole, while wasting finite financial and human resources in the process.”