Groups urge Government to turn down Barra SAC


Last week the Scottish Crofting Federation urged the Government to turn down the proposal that the Sound of Barra should become a marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This week they have been joined by the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation (SFF) and the Mallaig and North-West Fishermen’s Association.

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.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF said: “We have noted the strength and depth of feeling expressed by several representative bodies including the Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association on the proposed Special Area of Conservation in the Sound of Barra.

“It seems absolutely clear that a pause for reflection by Scottish Government is needed. Given the weight of criticism of the process used by the Government’s statutory nature adviser SNH and the fears about socio-economic damage to a coastal community, a proper enquiry and clear explanation of the thinking and logic of the proposal is owed to the community, including the fishing interests represented by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. A moratorium should be placed on this proposal until this is seen to be done.”

The Mallaig and North-West Fishermen’s Association released a statement saying: “There is no doubt that if the pSAC becomes a permanent designation, then the wishes of the local communities and indigenous industries will be secondary to the nefarious claims on environmental site necessity, made by SNH. Such designations stifle investment and prevent progress within the surrounding Communities.

“Scotland’s Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, is due to publicise an independent (sic) review of Scottish Natural Heritage’s scientific advice on the Sound of Barra possible Special Area of Conservation .Ignoring calls for a full investigation of SNH and government officials, the Minister’s announcement of a limited review of Scottish Natural Heritage’s scientific procedures therefore came as a disappointment to opponents. 

“Given SNH’s dismal track record as conservation managers in the region, selection and designation cannot simply be a case of counting, plotting, listing or measuring. Selection and designation of a European site must ensure that conservation of the species or habitats will succeed since the high level of legal protection is irreversible. FOI evidence shows that SNH’s case for this site was scripted in collaboration with, rather than at arm’s length from, government since 2004.”

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, while in Tarbert, Isle of Harris this week, said there was “no date at the moment” for announcing if the Sound of Barra will be designated a SAC. He stressed the government wanted to “continue working with local communities”.