Funding for Western Isles projects

Several organic projects in the Western Isles have been given a cash boost thanks to the latest round of Rural Priorities funding from the Scottish Government.

Among the projects given the green light were four crofts on the west coast of Lewis who are working together to provide a suitable habitat for local wildlife. The crofts are in Ballantrushal and Upper Shader, two neighbouring villages with shared common grazings which lie between the two separate sites of the Ness and Barvas Special Protected Area. The crofters have been awarded £48,824 over five years to provide a link between the two protected sites, which will act as a refuge for corncrake. The project also includes late cutting and sowing of plant species such as bird’s-foot trefoil, red clover and knapweed to provide a habitat for great yellow bumblebees.

A group of West Harris crofters and grazing committees will receive £58,803 over five years to implement a comprehensive programme of grazing and land management. This will support the designated features of Luskentyre Banks and Saltings Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and enhance biodiversity on moorland and salt marsh across the common grazings. Grazing management on the site’s coastal areas will create a range of sward heights across several sizeable areas of machair to allow flowering plants to develop and set seed.

The project will help to ensure that the designated features of this SSSI are maintained in favourable condition, and will support a range of locally and nationally important Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats and species.

Five family-run crofts in the Balemore and Knockline area of North Uist will receive a total of £93,761 over five years to sustain and enhance habitats for local flora and fauna. The collaborative project will contribute to the Western Isles Biodiversity Action Plan, providing habitats for species including corncrake, corn bunting and other ground nesting birds like curlew and lapwing, as well as the great yellow bumblebee.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“The £30.5 million of Rural Priorities funding awarded will allow crofts and farm businesses across the country to take practical steps to help combat climate change, protect biodiversity and enhance our unique rural landscape.

“I am also pleased to confirm that the number of grants awarded to organic farm businesses has doubled with 95 per cent of organic cases approved this year, compared to 46 per cent last year. This shows our increasing support for the organic sector and has given many farms the opportunity to convert to and maintain organic status.

“The funding also clearly demonstrates our commitment to protecting the vulnerable flora and fauna that inhabit Scotland’s rural areas.

“Agri-environment projects have a vital role to play in ensuring that what makes Scotland attractive to both visitors and residents is safeguarded. The funding earmarked in the budget for the next three years is greater than that awarded this year, and I have every confidence, therefore, that we will continue to have sufficient funds to meet demands.

“Rural Priorities has now provided a total of £480 million in EU and Scottish Government funding, sustaining and creating thousands of jobs. The projects approved today will help to support the rural economy and safeguard our natural habitats for generations to come.”

Laura Stewart, head of the Soil Association Scotland, said:

“The high approval rate for organic conversion and maintenance is a huge turnaround from recent years and is fantastic news for the organic sector in Scotland. The Scottish Government has worked closely with the Scottish Organic Forum to improve the application process, including making organic farming a National Target. We are continuing to work together to increase opportunities for organic production in Scotland.”

Deborah Roberts, Development Manager at the Scottish Organic Producers Association, said:

“Organic farmers have found the Rural Priorities experience very troublesome up until this round. The 86 farmers that have successfully secured contracts to stay organic will continue to deliver soil protection, water protection, biodiversity enhancement and climate change actions.

“The Scottish Organic Sector asked for help and it is right that this RPAC round reflects the aspirations of the Organic Action Plan. This will make a big difference to confidence and is great for the sector.”

The number of grants awarded to organic farm businesses has doubled since last year, giving many farms the opportunity to convert to or maintain organic status.

In total, 86 of the 573 agri-environment projects approved were in the organic sector, representing £6.4 million of the £30.5 million awarded.

The much-needed support brings the total amount of Rural Priorities funding to £480 million since the scheme’s launch in 2008.