The Machair LIFE+ Steering Group has voted to decide on the outcome of submissions for who should take on the Project Machinery once work on the ground has ceased.
The partners - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Crofting Federation and RSPB Scotland - made their decision following a public meeting in July to discuss how best to hand over the machinery.
Six initial formal expressions were submitted from a broad range of applicants including contractors, individuals, township and community groups.
The second stage of the process was an invitation to tender: a submission detailing their organisational structure, community commitment and operational capacity.
Two completed submissions were received and three independent assessors gave their views on the on the proposed rates to encourage uptake of seaweed and other positive conservation-agricultural management, the geographical spread of work, what community work would be undertaken, any previous working relations with RSPB and the need and use of the proposed shed.
Using a scoring system which looked at these key issues, Ardbhan Croft of North Uist was the highest scorer and was awarded the contract.
Rebecca Cotton, Project Manager for Machair LIFE+ said: “It was a very difficult decision and we have done our utmost to ensure fairness during the whole process.
“I know crofters will be glad that the machinery will not now be going off Island and will continue to be used to benefit the machairs of the Uists.”
Hazel Smith, Education Officer for the Project said: “One positive outcome from this decision is that Ardbhan Croft have committed to taking on another young apprentice and providing teaching hours on the school crofting course.“
The handover of the machinery will need final approval from the EU and will take place once a contract has been set up with Ardbhan Croft and the RSPB.
News has recently arrived from Brussels giving the project a three month extension to continue its work on the ground until March 31st 2014 which will enable it to build a shed and collect seaweed.
Of particular interest to crofters will be the rates that Ardbhan Croft as a contracting business has committed to charging: at £175 per hectare for seaweed collection and spreading for the next three years.
Rebecca Cotton said: “This is a very competitive rate which compares favourably with using inorganic fertiliser.
“We estimate that applying half a tonne of NPK 20/10/10 per hectare, at £450 per tonne, plus labour, will cost @£250 per hectare. At a slightly higher rate of application of 400kg per acre or 800 kg/hectare, the cost is @£350.
“We really hope crofters continue to use seaweed which has so many benefits to wildlife and the quality and quantity of crop.”
The public meeting in July also discussed the two proposed locations for a new shed to house the machinery which have been generously donated by the Council.
The community agreed that the site offered next to the college at Liniclate was the best option and following the granting of planning permission, the shed was put out to tender.
The Machair LIFE Steering Group approved the lowest tender from John Allan MacLellan and subject to they approval of a lease from CnES, building work will commence as soon as possible. The shed will remain in RSPB ownership.