Highlands & Islands

Raasay shooting and fishing rights returned to crofters

Crofters are to retain the lease to manage shooting and fishing rights on Raasay after the decision to award them to an Ayrshire company sparked a row.

The Scottish government had been accused of behaving like an absentee landlord after the rights were awarded to South Ayrshire Stalking.

However, First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs that the contract had now been withdrawn by mutual consent.

He said the crofters' lease would be extended for another year.

The rights have been returned to Raasay Crofters' Association, which has managed them for 18 years.

South Ayrshire Stalking will receive £9,000 in costs towards expenses already incurred.

The original decision was criticised by MSPs, the Free Church of Scotland and Scottish Crofting Federation.

Mr Salmond revealed the latest developments during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood.

He said Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse would be meeting crofters on Friday.

In a statement, Mr Wheelhouse said they would retain the lease until November so the island's community could be consulted on longer-term options.

He said this would effectively extend the existing lease by a year.

He added that the decision to award the contract to South Ayrshire Stalking, after a competitive bidding process, had been made by officials without ministerial involvement.

Mr Wheelhouse said: "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."

He thanked Chris Dalton and South Ayrshire Stalking for their "understanding" in agreeing to withdraw from the contract.

The minister added that the firm had behaved "very honourably" in its dealings with the government.

Mr Dalton said his family business appreciated the importance of sustainability and was supportive of the crofting way of life.

He said: "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.

"Should the islanders require any support or assistance in making the most of their sporting rights we would be happy to discuss with them how we could help."

Anne Gillies, of the Raasay Crofters Association, said she was delighted by the move.

She said: "It is important to us that these sporting rights remain in local control and we look forward to meeting the minister tomorrow to discuss community management of the sporting rights on Raasay."

The Free Church of Scotland, Community Land Scotland, Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy and SNP MSP Dave Thompson have welcomed the government's decision.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said a longer term commitment should be made to the crofters.

The lease was put out to tender after the existing lease expired in November 2012.

Five offers were considered and the highest offer from South Ayrshire Stalking was accepted.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites