Fishermen's opposition to Scottish mSAC finds support among crofters –

Fishermen’s opposition to Scottish mSAC finds support among crofters Published:  16 January, 2013

Scottish Western Isles protests over Barra fishing grounds being designated as a marine Special Area of Conservation have won backing from a national crofters’ organisation.

The Scottish Crofting Federation says the Scottish Government should turn down proposals to make the Sound of Barra a protected area in the interests of local democracy.

The SCF also wants the Scottish government to ‘radically revise’ the way it enacts European environmental legislation.

SCF director Roddy MacDonald conceded changes were needed to help global efforts on environmental and species protection – but not if that meant ignoring informed local opinion.He said: ‘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 controversial proposal, first put forward in 2000, is being made by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government’s nature conservation agency.

Islanders fear restrictions on fishing and other activities could damage an area classed by government as socio-economically fragile.

The SCF says the Sound of Barra case is ‘the latest in a long list’ of expensive and time-consuming disputes between communities and environmental administrators.

Mr MacDonald said: ‘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.’

Most Barra people oppose the SAC move and have formed Southern Hebrides Against Marine Environmental Designations (SHAMED) to campaign against the designation, which they claim has been a ‘fait accompli’ from the start.

SNH says the SAC is justified to protect sandbanks and reefs and expressed confidence their scientific case for the designation was ‘robust’.

Environment minister Paul Wheelhouse is shortly due to publish an independent review of SNH’s scientific advice supporting the Sound of Barra a possible SAC.