Crofting in the Western isles seems to be under attack from many angles at the moment, with a series of institutional cutbacks, says Patrick Krause, chief executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation.
The closure of Stornoway abattoir is under threat, a massive blow for crofting in Harris and Lewis. "We are trying to promote provenance of food produce but the closure will see the end of being able to claim meat as being Hebridean from birth to death. It is also thought that the closure will increase the number of home-kills which do not allow the meat on to the open market."
He points out that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar owns the Stornoway Abattoir and has maintained it to a high standard since giving it a substantial refurbishment in 1993. The Comhairle admits that “The service this facility provides is a significant element of the crofting/agricultural sector in the Western Isles”, but, he says, cutbacks will diminish the service this year and complete closure is planned for next year.
Further south, the transport of livestock and feed is being jeopardised. There has been free movement of livestock and animal feed on ferries sailing between Oban and Lochboisdale using transport methods perfected over many years. The port at Lochboisdale serves crofters throughout the Uists from Berneray in the north to Eriskay in the south. But CalMac has just introduced a new route from Lochboisdale to Mallaig only, while Barra will have its own Castlebay to Oban route. The Lochboisdale to Castlebay/Oban route, vital to the transport of livestock and feed for the Uists, is discontinued.
"Alternative routes are fraught with problems – low bridges, unrealistically large detours, ferries too small for livestock lorries and lack of facilities for animals on route. It isn’t going to work," he says.
The difficulties presented by the new timetable can be relieved by, for example, a Lochboisdale-Oban sailing a few times per week and/or special sailings at livestock sale times (as happens at present). Mitigation measures will need to be taken to avoid the diminution of Lochboisdale Auction Mart and to facilitate the continuation of the valuable service CalMac currently provides to crofters in the Uists.
For crofters trying to feed livestock from forage grown on the croft there is the persistent problem of the competition with wild geese. Scottish Natural Heritage have recently published the budgets for wild goose control. It is clear that the crofting areas do not rate highly and that the petition that SCF lodged with the Scottish Parliament is still valid. The amount spent on the adaptive management pilot schemes in the crofting areas is only 7.6% of the amount spent on goose management in the farming areas. The budget also shows continued and increased funding in the farming areas and no spend is shown for any management in the crofting areas after March 2017. "We have therefore asked Parliament to take this petition forward into the next session."
And finally in the far south, the Barra shop – Bùth Bharraigh – which is "a wee gem of community enterprise and a valuable outlet for croft produce", has been given notice of eviction by the Comhairle, who plan to demolish the building. This is madness, he says.