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Our first paper of the New Year

The February edition of Am Pàipear is available to view on our website.

With our first paper of the New Year we have also introduced a new way to read online, with the option to download a pdf alongside the usual e-paper, both available on the Papers section of our website. You can now access the usual scrolling version of Am Pàipear or download the whole issue to read at your leisure, whether offline or on! We’re grateful for your feedback and hope this makes for a more enjoyable reading experience.

This month, we discuss all the latest news from the islands and beyond, including the historic Islands Growth Deal, the controversial introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas and the ongoing ferry saga.

We have a great Opinion column this month from Hector Stewart of Kallin Shellfish Ltd, giving us the industry perspective on changes to fishing regulations. We also have the latest from our Councillor’s column, this month coming from Councillor Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, as well as inspiring success stories from Caraidean Uibhist and Uist Unearthed.

Thank you for supporting the Uist community newspaper – if there’s anything you’d like to contribute, then we would love to hear your feedback. Email us at: editor@ampaipear.org.uk

Managing Director of Kallin Shellfish Ltd – NAMARA Seafoods

The Scottish Government has begun a consultation on the introduction of new Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in the waters surrounding our islands. The consultation closes on the 20th March and ‘stakeholders’ are invited to submit their views.

In these new HPMAs, no fishing will be allowed to take place and many other activities which could prove beneficial or even vital to our islands economy in the future will be forbidden. I will stick to the fishing perspective as that is what I know and hopefully others will pick up on other aspects.

We are indeed all stakeholders in the marine environment, but we do not all have an equal stake. Those who stand to lose their jobs and have their businesses destroyed have much more to lose.

The belief that closing our waters to fishing will support marine biodiversity is a mistaken one, as the closure of Broadbay in Lewis has proved. Prior to its closure, Broadbay was a prolific scallop fishing area with all the associated benefits to our economy. Thirty years after its closure, Scottish Government’s own scientists have evidenced that the scallops have all but disappeared, with the waters now over populated by predatory starfish.

It is an oversimplification and a lack of understanding of how nature works to suggest that stopping all fishing will give us pristine waters and an abundance of sea life in the water column and on the seabed.

Nobody knows the sea better than those of us who rely on it for our living.

Kallin Shellfish Ltd is a local family-owned company. Our staff of 25 are a mix of local and Eastern European workers. We have a higher rate of female to male staff and all staff are paid equally and well.

We were the first business to bring Eastern European staff to the islands. With a great deal of effort by themselves and ourselves they have integrated well into our community – no small feat when you consider the difficulties of language, travel and housing. The first ones who came are now in positions of greater responsibility and in some cases, we have the second generation in employment with us. These new workers have played a significant role in offsetting our declining population, helping maintain our school rolls and adding greatly to our community.

It is not Brexit that will cause these people to leave our islands but HPMAs, Marine Protected Areas and the plethora of closures that our governments sees fit to impose on our communities.

Although as a company we purchase and process all types of shellfish from our island fishermen, scallops is our bread and butter and it is largely what sustains us as a company. Losing access to waters that we have fished for generations will be the last straw for island processors. We have lost fishing grounds to fish farming and previously imposed MPAs. The Wester Ross and Firth of Lorne closures have displaced fishing effort into ever smaller areas that is likely to cause overfishing. This is now more widely known as Spatial squeeze and more of it is likely to happen in the future with the advent of marine windfarms.

Why are there so many closed areas and proposals to close large areas of sea in our vicinity? Could it be because we are seen as an easy target? Not enough people to make a hue and cry? A population cowed and submissive?

As a company, we have been fighting against these marine closures for all the 22 years of our existence. In that time we have invested heavily in our processing factory and in modern and safe fishing vessels. The constant attempts by the green lobby, now in cahoots with the Scottish Government, is devaluing our business and our fishing vessels. Is this the plan?

We are now required to carry on board a host of monitoring equipment, which relays information straight back to Government. Where we fish, what we fish, how we fish and what we do is already the subject of close scrutiny and in the latest regulatory move, we now are required to carry intrusive on-board cameras. All this equipment and the charges for our airtime transmitting data have to be paid for by the fishermen and we are not allowed to go to sea without it.

We believe that all the information gathered from all this data is being used to determine where our best fishing grounds are so as to stop us from accessing them. Such is the distrust which has built up. We were told that all this monitoring was for our own good as we could use the data to easily prove that we were not breaching closed area regulations, as we were often accused of doing.

Unfortunately, the moderate and sensible people within the government have been shunted aside and silenced in order to gain the support of the radical green lobby and secure a majority in Parliament.
We already have an accelerating population decline in the Southern Isles. The ongoing ferry fiasco and the ever increasing isolation which it has brought about is having a demoralising effect on people. We have already lost staff to mainland employment as a result of it and it is contributing to a reluctance in people to move to the islands.

Having HMPAs is not going to encourage anyone to settle here or start up businesses.

Being able to fish in the Sound of Barra is vital to us and that is why we have been fighting so hard to be able to fish there. It has the best and largest scallops in the UK, despite 50 years of scallop fishing – sustainable or what?! After COVID, it was the product that enabled us to get back going again. It is in great demand, as indeed is all shellfish from our islands. Is this all now to be sacrificed on the altar of going ‘above and beyond’ what the international agreements require of the Scottish Government?

Having a HMPA imposed on us is going to be the cause of business failure, unemployment and even more population decline.

Have things changed very much since our forefathers’ families were forced off the land by conflicting ideas from outside interests? This time it is not the land but our greatest asset, the marine environment. The ideology is the same from those in power: we know what is good for you! Island clearances all over again.

Uist fact-finding mission for Holyrood Committee

The Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Committee for Social Justice and Social Security visited Uist last month to find out more about the difficulties local working parents face in finding suitable childcare provision.

At a well attended meeting at the Cothrom Adult Learning Centre in Ormiclate, parents shared their experiences of balancing the need to earn a living with the requirement to find suitable childcare, highlighting the many barriers they faced in returning to work.

Commenting on the meeting, Cothrom Òg Manager Ceiteag MacDonald said: “It was a positive and very constructive session, with parents representing a wide range of different employment circumstances attending. The Committee members were clearly here to listen and everyone had a chance to air their views.

“Both as a parent and as the Manager here at the nursery, I am very aware of the issues facing those who are trying to juggle work and childcare demands. Costs can be prohibitive, where employers are able to offer flexible working arrangements it can greatly help parents access childcare that works for them. Equally, it can be a clear barrier to parents returning to work, or parents sharing childcare responsibilities, if that flexibility is not available or applications for it are rejected.

“Childcare providers in Uist currently don’t always have capacity to meet the demand, which is very difficult for parents and also it can be an issue if public transport doesn’t meet the needs of someone looking to access employment or childcare, which can often be the case.”

In Scotland, funded early learning and childcare is available for all three and four year olds, but for the majority of children aged two and under, childcare is funded from the parents’ own purse.

Working parents will be eligible for up to a year’s worth of parental leave, and although that option means a loss of earnings, it does offer some protection. But it is once that period of leave concludes, then the real issues start and parents find themselves weighing up the value of working against the difficulties of not only finding childcare but paying for it. People often rely on a network of family support, but for people who have moved into the area this is not always an option.

Another key issue aired by the parents was the difficulty of finding suitable and affordable transport. Not everyone has a car and for those without, public transport is not always available when it is needed. As one contributor said: “If you don’t have a car then island life is utterly limiting.”

The discussions not only highlighted the challenges but set out potential solutions that could allow more parents to return to work, or commit to longer hours.

Examples of this solutions-based thinking included the opportunity to improve transport. Currently school bus provision only extends to journeys to and from school and not all children are eligible; extending provision to allow children travelling between school and nurseries a free seat would allow for easily accessible wraparound care and ensure parents did not have to leave work at 3pm to pick up their child from school and drop him or her off at the childcare provider.

Emma Roddick, MSP for Highlands & Islands and Deputy Convener of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, said: “We came to Uist to learn how child poverty and difficulties in finding employment differ in the islands compared to the mainland. Thank you to the parents, local employers and organisations who took the time to talk to us.

“The personal stories that parents have told us about the challenges of finding childcare that was either close to home or close to work have helped to highlight a particular challenge that we need to consider for people in the highlands and islands. We need to consider how we ensure communities which are a little more spread out than they are in other areas have access to the kind of infrastructure to help them access good jobs and the right kind of childcare.

“The local employers and organisations that spoke to us are playing a key role. Their shared knowledge of what they and parents on Uist need is going to be useful in helping us craft our recommendations for the Scottish Government.”

Committee members also held meetings at An Caladh in Balivanich and Cnoc Soilleir in Daliburgh, talking with employers, education providers and community groups about the wider recruitment and retention issues in Uist, with a view to better understanding what role childcare could play in getting more vacancies filled.

The Committee plan to launch a call for views on this subject in February to allow people who were unable to attend the meetings to share their views online.

The hope is that the Committees will galvanise efforts both locally and nationally with a view to making life easier and more affordable for working parents.

£393m investment to generate 1,300 jobs across three island groups

The long awaited Islands Growth Deal was finally and formally ratified by the UK and Scottish Governments and the three island Authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles at a special ceremony in Orkney on January 20th.

Uist councillor and Comhairle Leader Paul Steele attended the ceremony, along with Lord Offord of Garvel, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland, Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Cllr James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Islands Council and Cllr Emma Macdonald, Leader of Shetland Islands Council.

The Islands Growth Deal delivers a joint UK and Scottish Government commitment of a £100 million investment in the future economic prosperity of the three island groups, and is set to generate an anticipated 1,300 jobs and a further £293 million in match funding over the next ten years.

Of the 16 projects and programmes detailed in the Deal, five are specific to the Western Isles, with a further number benefiting across the island groups.

Four Uist projects are expected to benefit from the investment, including the proposed South Uist Food Hub, a Creative Practice Hub at Taigh Chearsabhagh, the St Kilda Viewpoint visitor centre at Beinn Riabhach on North Uist and the Comhairle’s controversial Spaceport development at Scolpaig Farm.

Cllr Steele described the programme as ‘highly ambitious, but achievable’, and thanked the many community and council members who had supported the project from the start.

Cllr Steele said: “The signing of the Islands Growth Deal is both the culmination of a vision set out by the Islands Councils and the UK and Scottish Governments and the beginning of the implementation of that vision.”

It is a milestone towards achieving our aims of securing 1300 jobs and £393m of investment over 10 years through the Islands Deal, using the resources of our Islands and capitalising on our natural assets and most importantly, our people.”

Ivan McKee MSP, Scottish Government Business Minister said: “This Growth Deal will be a game-changing initiative for our islands – enabling sustainable economic growth and delivering new and internationally significant port infrastructure that will play an important role in achieving net zero targets.

“This £50 million Scottish Government investment will support the transition to renewable energy sources – including equipping the workforce with new skills – and trial emissions reduction initiatives on islands. It will drive innovation in key space, food and drink and creative industries sectors; help develop significant tourism and cultural attractions and expand education provision.

“We are determined that our islands should be attractive places to live and work and are able to maximise their contribution to Scotland’s sustainable economic transformation.”   

UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord said: “This will not just boost local economies and create jobs, but also empower communities to get the most out of the many assets and attributes that make the islands such unique and special places to live.  

“This deal is packed with a broad range of high-impact projects, whether it’s leading the transition to net zero or developing ‘must-visit’ destinations such as the St Kilda trail.”

New study sets out the case for extended services

HITRANS has carried out new Socio-Economic Appraisals on extending the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra ferry service.

On the Sound of Barra run, the Appraisal considered three options for extending the service: increasing the number of sailings within the current 0700 to 1910 window; providing an additional return sailing before the current start time of 0700; and providing one or two later return sailings after the current end time of 1910. The findings of the study suggest a an increase of between 20 and 40% from current service levels.

On the Sound of Harris run,  two options were considered: increasing the number of sailings in the summer timetable from the current four or five, to eight, making use of the longer hours of operation within available daylight hours; and increasing the number of return sailings in the winter timetable. The study suggested a 75% increase in capacity delivered as a result of these service extensions.

The Appraisal stated the strategic case for extending the Sound services was strong, and would improve both economy and the quality of life for residents. That is by more fully meeting household, business and visitor travel needs. That would be though providing sufficient capacity, greater day trip opportunities, ability to travel at short notice, and access to a number of mainland and inter-island transport services.

A range of impacts were quantified; the results reflect not only potential generated demand on the ferry. They also reflect the assumptions that underpin the calculations. For example, how far the generated visitor trips on the Sound of Barra service would lead to new spend in the Outer Hebrides rather than simply distributing existing expenditures more widely across the islands.

 Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chair of HITRANS, said: “Increased capacity and journey flexibility by improving service levels on each Sound crossing would allow passengers from Uist to access sailings from Castlebay to Oban and from Tarbert and Stornoway in the event of service disruption Lochboisdale and Lochmaddy routes.

“Travel within the Western Isles would also improve and would align well with the recommendations of the Strategic Transport Projects Review to improve such connectivity in advance of further work to consider fixed links across the Sounds.

“This way forward would help in the short term, particularly during the Uig closure, but would also have a lasting benefit on the economy of the Western Isles. Implementing these recommendations would enjoy wide support in our communities.  I hope the Minister for Transport continues to listen to the voice of our community and acts on this opportunity.”
 
The Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra Socio Economic Appraisals will be available to download on the HITRANS website (www.hitrans.org.uk) from 6th February.

Uist pays the price

CalMac’s arrangements to manage the closure of Uig Pier are already proving to be less than ideal, with bad weather forcing a number of cancellations in the first week of the new service.

The lack of overnight berthing facilities at Ullapool means that the MV Hebrides has a limited ‘weather window’ in which to make the 10 hour return trip. As many islanders had warned, the requirement has resulted in the boat not sailing in poor weather, for fear of not making it back the same day.

Once deemed the most reliable route in and out of Uist, the Lochmaddy service is now seen in the same light as the Lochboisdale run – very weather dependent.

To mitigate the loss of service during the period of Uig’s closure, the Lochboisdale service is operating what CalMac has called an ‘enhanced summer timetable’, which, for the majority of the period in question, will see just one daily return return trip to Mallaig/Oban.

For many in Uist, a mainland trip will now mean a very early start; the ferry departs Lochboisdale as early as 5.20am, and with a 45 minute check in time and a road trip of over an hour, those leaving from the north end of the island will find themselves heading out on untreated, winter roads at 3.30am.

For those who do make it over as foot passengers, CalMac are providing a shuttle bus between Ullapool and Uig.

Robbie Drummond, Chief Executive of CalMac, said: “The closure of Uig harbour means that we have had to find the best alternative options for our customers, and we have tried to keep disruption to a minimum for them.”

The Uig Pier works have not been the only disruption this year, with a number of Uist ferries taken off the run for emergency repairs in January.

The failing service has also brought additional costs for CalMac. Keeping its ageing fleet in safe operation has led to an increase in the company’s annual maintenance bill, from £20m in 2018, to an estimated £34m in 2023.

Figures released by Scottish Labour last month have revealed that passenger compensation payments have also risen sharply, from £159k in 2018/19, to £261k in 2021/22.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “These spiralling costs expose what a mess the SNP have made of lifeline ferry services in Scotland. Our ferry fleet has been left to rust because of years of failed planning, as well as the ferry fiasco where the Scottish Government have failed to deliver two new ferries.” 

The disruptions have not helped rally public opinion.

At the end of December, the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy & Transport Committee published a summary of views submitted to its inquiry into ‘what constitutes a modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland’.

The report concluded that the overarching sentiment expressed by respondents was that: “Current levels of ferry service provision fall well below what members of the public and ferry stakeholders consider reasonable.”

The Committee’s report also stated: “Members of the public and stakeholder respondents were keen however, to praise the efforts of frontline ferry staff who they said often worked in challenging conditions and with ageing vessels and infrastructure.”

NEW VESSEL UPDATES:
CMAL has confirmed that the contract to build two new ferries for the Uig triangle will be awarded to the Cemre Marin Endustri shipyard in Turkey. A spokesperson for CMAL said: “The two new vessels will be built to the same specification as the existing ferries under construction for Islay. This will speed up the replacement of the major vessel fleet and provide a more standardised vessel type that can be used on a variety of different routes. The overall project costs are likely to be around £115 million.”

CMAL has also confirmed that the proposed new vessel, intended to replace the MV Lord of the Isles, will be designed by naval architects LMG Marin. CMAL is working with Marin to investigate and evaluate the feasibility of designing a lower emission ferry to support Scottish Government climate change commitments.

SUMMER TIMETABLE:
CalMac Summer 2023 timetables finally opened for bookings on 20 January, but those hoping to book ahead faced long delays on the online booking system. One island traveller who faced wait times of over an hour, was greeted with the news that they were had ‘3535 passengers ahead of them in the queue’.The company processed 15,102 bookings in the first 24 hours of opening the timetable, beating the record for any ferry operator!

Unmet needs continue to grow

Audit Scotland has issued a draft of its annual audit on Cùram Is Slàinte nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Integrated Joint Board (IJB). The Report details an underspend of £8.7 million in 2021/22 across health and social care services.

In his report, the Auditor said: “Service underspends continue to arise primarily from vacancies that have not been filled, particularly to higher grade posts in Community Nursing and Allied Health Professionals, and other staff vacancies in Mental Health and Home Care & Reablement.”

At its December meeting, the IJB published an overview of ‘unmet need’, which stated that 84 people had been identified as needing or requesting a social care assessment but had not yet been assessed. A further 103 people had been assessed as requiring social care, but had not received it as there was no provider in place. The IJB says the service delays account for a total of 781 hours of unmet need across the Western Isles.

The Unmet Needs Update report stated: “Regarding the increasing demand for services the Health and Social Care Partnership has been awarded a recurring sum of monies from Scottish Government under the heading of winter pressures (alongside all Partnerships in Scotland). The funding is aimed at improving the current system challenges as evidenced in unmet need alongside other performance indicators. Locally, an investment plan has been developed (as previously approved by the Integrated Joint Board). The plan outlines a key area of service development, notably the expansion of the START service.

“The planned expansion START service will provide geographical cover for the whole of Rural Lewis as well as continuing to provide a service in Stornoway/Broadbay and in doing so reduce the length of hospital stay and number of delayed discharges and unmet care needs.

“The investment is in the order of £477,000.”

Comhairle’s disappointment at LUF Bid rejection

The UK Government has rejected Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s £68m bid for Levelling Up Funds.

The Comhairle had submitted two bids under the LUF scheme: the ‘Eilean Siar Cultural Heritage and Regeneration Project valued at £18m, and the £50m “Eilean Siar Spinal Route and Connecting Infrastructure project.

Comhairle Leader Paul Steele said: “The Comhairle and the people of the Western Isles have been let down by this decision. Our Islands are one of the most peripheral and economically challenged parts of the UK – exactly the type of area that should be benefitting from this funding scheme.

“This will be hugely disappointing for businesses and community organisations across the Outer Hebrides who worked closely with the Comhairle in developing the LUF bid.

“This decision raises significant questions about UK Government’s approach to post-EU structural funds, and I will be writing to the Secretary of State to make that point and to seek engagement around the Government’s approach to island and peripheral communities.

”Although hugely disappointed by the outcome, the Comhairle will engage with the UK Government to see how a subsequent bid to Round 3 can best be developed.”

Alasdair Allan MSP described the Government’s rejection as a ‘slap in the face, saying: “The Western Isles – and the Highlands and Islands in general – gained enormous and lasting benefits from EU Funding. The evidence of that is clear for all to see in the form of causeways, roads and other vital infrastructure.

“Given our location and issues with depopulation, the Western Isles should be top of the list. Instead, we find ourselves overlooked and short-changed.’

UK Shared Prosperity Funds success

The Comhairle has had a more successful outcome to its application to the UK Shared Prosperity Funds, which has awarded a £2.2m to be invested locally over the next three years.

Cllr Donald Crichton, Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee, said projects to be implemented from the fund range from support to low income households, support for young enterprise and support for skills development.

Loch Carnan development gets the go-ahead through new funding deal

Two Western Isles projects are set to benefit from the latest round of allocations form Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant funding.

The abandoned and derelict shed at Loch Carnan will be renovated this year with a £150k investment form the Fund.

The shed has been empty for many years and the site has become a dumping ground for abandoned cars and unwanted rubbish. Under the new plans, the dilapidated building will be demolished and a large commercial unit erected in its place.

The project is being delivered by Storas Uibhist, with work scheduled to start in the spring and to complete this year.

A formal process to allow local businesses to tender for the lease will start in due course.

A further £2m allocation from the same fund has been awarded to the Calanais 2025 project in Lewis.

Cllr Paul Steele, Comhairle Leader, said: “This is great news for the Western Isles – two regeneration projects that have had a lot of community input over the years have succeeded in attracting significant funding which will now accelerate their development.”

New restrictions set to ban fishing and fish farming in designated areas

Scottish Government has set out plans to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

HPMAs will restrict all marine-based human activity, effectively banning all types of commercial fishing and fish farming.

The policy lists a range of other activities that will be prohibited under the new rules, including: non-commercial and recreational fishing; hand gathering and diving; collection by any method of flora, fauna and natural materials, including crustaceans, molluscs, seaweed, fossils, shells, rocks, sediments, seagrass or algae; activities associated with oil and gas exploration and production; activities associated with renewable energy production; and aggregate extraction. Boats will not be permitted to lay anchor, but ferries will be allowed to pass through.

The policy provides reassurance that: “Carefully managed recreational activities may still be allowed at non-damaging levels.”

The proposals will now be subject to public consultation before the location of the new designations are announced in 2026.

Launching the plans at the COP15 Biodiversity Summit in Montreal in December, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet and we are committed to safeguarding them.

“Scotland’s MPA network extends to over a third of our seas, and I am today setting out how we intend to go even further by designating at least 10% of our seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas – a world-leading commitment.”

Fishing bodies have already expressed strong opposition. Elspeth Macdonald, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “HPMAs are an exercise in government greenwashing. There is no justifiable scientific rationale for their introduction or any evidence whatsoever that they will achieve their very vague aims.

“The speed at which the Scottish Government intends to bring in these restrictions – first signalled out of the blue, without any consultation, in the Bute House Agreement – is totally unsuitable relative to the scale of the potential impact on fishing.

“The fishing industry has no objection to meaningful conservation and indeed has been an active and supportive partner in developing the MPA network, but it is vitally important that we understand what we are conserving and why, and how we assess the contribution of restrictions to the objectives in question.”

Kilbride Shellfish Ltd is based at Ludag, and operates as a co-operative to support around 20 local catchers using static pots for crab and prawn. Director Angus Campbell told Am Pàipear that if HPMAs were imposed on Hebridean waters, the impact would be devastating.

Angus is also Chair of the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association, and says the proposals now on the table have caused alarm across the islands: “HPMAs pose the biggest threat to local fishing in a generation. The community engagement exercise that Marine Scotland ran before introducing local MPAs in 2014 ignored the views of the community. We fully expect that the consultation now running for the HPMAs will follow a similar pattern.

“The Western Isles has the largest number of registered shellfish vessels anywhere in Scotland. The HPMA ban on all fishing would have a disproportionate impact on islanders and we hope that some protection can be given to our fishing fleet within the Islands (Scotland) Act.”

Local fish farms would also be impacted by the new restrictions. Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Marine biodiversity is vitally important, and this can be achieved through responsible stewardship of our seas. Simply putting up barriers to companies and preventing responsible management of the sea threatens jobs in fragile coastal communities.

“If we reduce our competitiveness, businesses will simply turn their attention to our Scandinavian competitors.

“There should be a focus on evidence and balance, and the case has simply not been made for HPMAs.

“Sustainable growth of the Scottish salmon sector is crucial for coastal communities, where the local salmon farm is often at the heart of the community and the main employer, as well as for the wider economy and the Scottish Government’s vision for the country.”

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands, set out the case for HPMAs, saying: “Important marine habitats have declined across all of Scotland’s waters due to pressures including bottom-contacting fishing and aquaculture, and 46% of our fish populations are overfished, according to Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020.

“HPMAs will help turn this around and allow Scotland to play its part in achieving the global target to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030.”

“The views of local fishers, other coastal businesses in Uist and community groups such as Clean Coast Outer Hebrides will be crucial to ensure the designations are effective and workable. The next stages including site designation will be progressed in close cooperation with coastal communities, and I encourage everyone to respond to the consultation which is out now.”

Alasadair Allan MSP told Am Pàipear: “It is important to stress that no sites have been selected yet. As the Scottish Government’s Partial Island Communities Impact Assessment Screening Report notes, the vulnerability of island communities where employment is dominated by both fisheries and aquaculture is likely to be a key consideration.

“Fishing continues to play a vital role in economies like Uist. It is important that designations of any kind recognise the importance of the sector to our goals around island economic growth and population retention.”

The waters around the Western Isles are already subject to stringent restrictions under current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other conservation designations. Additional limitations are also expected to be imposed by the proposed Special Area of Conservation in the Sound of Barra, which Comahirle nan Eilean Siar has said would have a devastating impact on the local economies of both Uist and Barra.

Scottish Government has said that the new HPMAs will: “Complement and add value to the existing MPA network…HPMAs may overlap either fully or partially with existing MPAs in order to maximise the conservation benefits associated with stricter management approaches in a particular geographic location. HPMAs may also be located outside the current MPA network.”

Government published statistics state that the Scottish fishing fleet landed 437,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish in 2021, with a gross value of £560m. Almost one third of that value was derived from nephrops and other shellfish. In the Western Isles, the catching sector generates over £12m.

Marine Scotland’s Scottish Fish farm Production Survey lists a total aquaculture value of well over £1billion, with the Western Isles alone valued at over £161 million.|

The Scottish Government Seaweed Review Group reports that seaweed harvesting currently generates £4m turnover in Scotland, with a substantial opportunity for growth.

The public consultation is available on the Scottish Government website at consult.gov.scot and will close on March 20th.

Local charity recognised with best practice award

Caraidean Uibhist has been awarded a national quality standard Volunteer Friendly Award, the first organisation in the Western Isles to achieve the accreditation.

The Award acknowledges best practice in volunteer management and support.

Completing their assessment, the independent external examiners commented ‘the Volunteer Friendly Award submission from Caraidean Uibhist is of an exceptionally high standard’, concluding that the organisation was now in ‘a great position to continue to successfully build the marvellous volunteering at Caraidean Uibhist and its work in tackling loneliness and social isolation which is more important than ever.’

The Volunteer Friendly Award was redeveloped in 2021 by Volunteer Scotland in partnership with local volunteer organisations, including our own Volunteer Centre Western Isles.

Caraidean’s Manager Jo Sinclair said: “We are immensely proud to receive this recognition, which reflects the dedicated and long hours the Caraidean team puts in to provide our service. Without our Volunteers, we would not exist; they are such an integral part of the Caraidean family, from befrienders to volunteer support workers, and to the Board themselves. Without them, we would not be able to continue to flourish.”

Volunteer Centre Western Isles is a partner in TSI Western Isles, and facilitate the Volunteer Friendly Awards locally.

Development Officer Katherine MacNeil is based in Barra, and leads the local awards scheme. Katherine told Am Pàipear: “Many essential services in our communities are enhanced by volunteers. It’s never been more important for groups to be able to show how good they are at involving and managing their volunteers.

“We believe regardless of your group or organisation size or set up you should be rewarded and recognised for the difference your volunteer programme makes.

“A huge well done to Caraidean for their excellent work with volunteers – their award is very well deserved.”

For information on how your group or organisation can find out more or take part in the Awards, please visit https://volunteercentrewi.org/organisations/volunteer-friendly-award or https://volunteerfriendly.co.uk for further info, or contact Katherine MacNeil, barra@volunteercentrewi.org.