Sporting rights on Raasay returned

The lease for sporting rights on Raasay has been returned to the island’s crofters for the current season and Ministers will be involved in future decisions.

The move – which was announced by First Minister Alex Salmond at today’s First Minister’s Questions - follows the withdrawal, by mutual consent, of the new leaseholder.

Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse confirmed today (Thursday 28th) that the contract, which had been awarded to South Ayrshire Stalking following a competitive tender, had been withdrawn. The previous lease, which had been held by the island’s crofting community, will be extended by a year to enable the community to be consulted on longer term options for the lease.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “It’s regrettable that the original decision to award the sporting rights contract was made without ministerial involvement.

“Raasay is a fragile island community and Ministers recognise the sporting rights are very important to the islanders. I share the concerns expressed locally about the way in which the contract was awarded and will ensure, as I have indicated previously that, in future, appropriate ministerial consideration is given when such decisions are being made.

“That is why I have taken steps to resolve the situation and I hope the Raasay islanders will be content with this solution. Effectively this will extend the islanders’ existing lease by a year and will allow us to work with crofters and the wider community to find a satisfactory long-term solution.

“I would like to thank Chris Dalton and South Ayrshire Stalking for their understanding and agreement to withdraw from the contract. In my assessment they have behaved very honourably in our dealings with them.

“I am also encouraged by their offer to work with the crofters for their mutual benefit to make the most of the sporting rights on Raasay if that is of interest to the community – it is for the crofting association to decide whether to pursue this offer further.”

Chris Dalton, from South Ayrshire Stalking, said: “As a small family business, we fully appreciate the importance of sustainability and are supportive of the crofting way of life.

“We were not aware we were bidding against the crofters when we tendered for these sporting rights in good faith. However, because of the strength of feeling expressed we feel it is now appropriate to withdraw from the contract.”

The news has been welcomed by local Politicians. Highlands & Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This whole issue turned out to be a shambles for the Government. Last Thursday I challenged the First Minister on the diabolical decision to sell the sporting rights on Raasay to the highest bidder and submitted a number of Parliamentary Questions on this issue. Today, one week later, the Government have seen the error of their ways and arranged for the sporting rights to be returned to the rightful owners for another year at least.

“As I said before It is the hard work of the community that increased the value of these rights, then the Government used this hard work by the Crofters against them. Fishing and shooting are an integral part of land management – something that appears to have been lost on the Government.”

She continued: “I understand that the Government have the South Ayrshire Stalking Group to thank for bailing them out after they withdrew their tender for these shooting rights. What the Government forgot was the detail in the tendering process, which indicated that due consideration should be given to the views and opinions and the perspective of the local people in such arrangements.”

SNP MSP Dave Thompson - who last week wrote to the Scottish Government calling for assistance for the Raasay Community to have the option of a community buyout of the island, if that is what the community want – said: “I am satisfied that this situation has been totally rectified and am pleased that this Scottish Government has listened to what the people of Raasay want.

“The intervention means an extended time frame of the Raasay Crofter’s lease by a year, which will allow time for a longer-term solution and the option of a buyout.

“Raasay is a fantastic but fragile island community and I thank Mr Wheelhouse, who has recognised from my first contact with him on this matter that the sporting rights and land ownership are vitally important to the islanders.

“I understand the concerns expressed about the way in which the contract was awarded, and I therefore welcome Mr Wheelhouse’s assurance that in future all such contracts will be subject to ministerial consideration.”