Community survey results evidence the strength of community feeling on the issue of deer

Bornish Community Council (BCC) has published the results of a deer impacts survey of all households between Drimsdale and Frobost carried out in October and November last year.

The Community Council said it was prompted to undertake the research by the large number of complaints it had received from community members.

The survey was delivered to 155 households in the BCC area, representing 92% of the local population. 115 surveys were returned, representing a response rate of 81%.

A spokesperson for BCC said that the high response rate indicated the community’s willingness to participate in and influence local issues.

The results showed that 55% of respondents believe that deer management has become worse or much worse in the past 10 years, with 74% of respondents saying they had experienced negative issues with deer in the past five years.

The majority of deer incidents related to damage to gardens, crops and crofts, with eight people reporting vehicle damage.

Fifty-nine of the 115 respondents had formally reported a deer incident, and of those, only 37 were satisfied with the way their issue was handled.

Asked whether they had noted any changes in the number of tick bites over the past ten years, 65% said the incidence had increased. Half of those responding said they had noticed a change in where tick bites occurred, citing ‘vegetable patch, garden, washing line, machair, hayfield and children’s play area’ as new hotspots.

Asked what action Stòras Uibhist and the Deer Management Group should undertake to improve deer management, 59 respondents said ‘reduce the herd’, 37 said ‘remove all deer’ and 23 said to ‘confine’ them. Forty-nine people asked for better management of deer complaints, with 46 respondents asking for wider community consultation on the issue.

The question ‘on balance, do you feel that deer are an asset or are detrimental to our community’ received 95 responses, with only 7% believing them to be an asset, 35% thinking they were both an asset and a detriment, and 47% clear that they were a detriment.

The survey report included a range of comments received from respondents, the vast majority of which were negative, citing the damage deer do to gardens – ‘many people have stopped growing plants and vegetables and reluctance and inability to grow crops or trees and have a garden’ and the cost of deer protection – ‘hundreds of ££s of plants and lawn ruined over the years and have now had to spend ££ on electric fence’.

Comments also highlighted community concerns regarding road safety – ‘constant fear when driving particularly at night and early morning = waiting for accident or fatality’.

The relationship deer have to ticks and Lyme disease was also raised – ‘Stòras should come to terms with the fact that Uist has by far the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the whole of Scotland and that it is spread by deer and can be serious to people’s health, that all deer should be culled. What is more important than people’s health?’.

A small number of positive comments were returned, referencing venison as a local, sustainable food source – ‘deer are very good on a plate’, highlighting that they were not the only problem beast – ‘rabbits and sheep cause more damage’ and recognising that they ‘look lovely’.

Stòras Uibhist cull update

Stòras Uibhist has published an update of herd numbers following the conclusion of its annual deer cull.
The Estate now reports that 163 hinds, 95 stags and 49 calves have been killed, a total of 307 beasts in all, saying that the figure is well ahead of cull targets set out at the last AGM.

Stòras Uibhist had previously set out an optimum herd number of 450, but amended this figure to 600 at its November AGM, saying: “We would like to see the positive impact of our new zero tolerance policy of shooting all beasts to the west of the main road and within village boundaries on the east side of the estate. It may well be that if the deer are staying out of the way and not causing any damage that we can maintain a herd of around 600 without negative impacts.”

An independent helicopter count carried out on the Estate in September last year confirmed that here were 1198 deer on the Estate. This year’s cull still leaves a herd of 891 beasts, almost double the previously agreed commitment to maintain herd numbers at around 450, and almost 300 more than its new target.

The Estate says its cull programme should bring the total deer herd down to just over 600 by 2028.
Stòras Uibhist said: “The estate’s keepers will continue to address problems of stags causing damage west of the main road and sightings/ complaints should continue to be addressed to the estate office on 01878 700101. When calling please have as much information to hand as possible including date and time of the complaint, the exact location and details of the damage caused.”

Community petition sparks Stòras Uibhist EGM

On Monday 13th February a petition signed by more than 200 Stòras Uibhist members was handed in to the Estate’s Daliburgh offices requesting in clear and bold terms that all deer be removed from the South Uist estate.

Stòras Uibhist member Ronald Mackenzie has been instrumental in setting up the petition, and told Am Pàipear what had driven him to action:

“For years, the community has tried and failed to make the Estate understand the strength of negative feeling there is about the deer. We felt that an EGM was the only route left open to us.

“The facts on deer are clear – the links with our outrageously high incidence of Lyme disease, the damage they wreak on crops and gardens – these are the issues our community lives with – this is the reality we face.

“It is heartbreaking to think that after 17 years of community ownership, we are no further on than we were a century ago; a landlord forcing its will on its own people.”

Stòras Uibhist’s Articles of Association state that a general meeting must be called within 28 days should it be requested by at least 10% of the membership, which currently equates to 86 members.
The Articles also state that a ‘quorum for a general meeting shall be the lesser of 40 Ordinary Members or 10% of the Ordinary Members present in person. No business shall be dealt with at any general meeting unless a quorum is present.’

Stòras Uibhist CEO Darren Taylor has confirmed that an Extraordinary General Meeting has been convened for Monday, 20th March with the single issue of focus being the removal of all deer from the South Uist Estate.

Mr Taylor told Am Pàipear: “It is important to be clear that there is only one issue on the agenda for the forthcoming EGM; whether or not to remove all deer form the Estate.

“Storas Uibhist will set out a robust defence of our position and make clear that we believe we can manage our deer herd in a way that adds value for the community and reduces the potential for negative impacts.

“Everyone will be given the opportunity to state their views, but to be clear, the focus will be tightly maintained on that single question.

“The opportunity to vote will be afforded to all members ahead of the EGM; these votes will be added to votes counted at the EGM and a simple majority will decide the way forward.”

Those who facilitated the petition have told Am Pàipear that they do not feel the EGM vote is being handled fairly or legally, as it does not follow the guidelines set out in Stòras Uibhist’s Articles of Association.

Ronnie MacKenzie summed up concerns by saying: “We feel that allowing voting to take place before the EGM is held leaves the process open to the risk of manipulation and directly undermines the rights of each person to vote according to their own inclination or conscience.”

“The Articles of Association clearly set out the rules for how a vote must be carried out. There is no provision in the Articles for voting in advance, only for proxy voting at the EGM itself; moreover, the Articles stipulate that a secret ballot must be held if requested at the meeting by two ordinary members. The voting forms sent out by Stòras include members’ names, rendering a secret ballot impossible to deliver.  Named ballot papers leave it open for Stòras to exert influence on members and staff to vote in a particular way; people have told me that they do not feel able to vote with their conscience because they are afraid of reprisals.”

Information was issued to Stòras Uibhist members by post, setting out the motion and the defence and including details of proxy voting arrangements.

Local news from our community organisations

Chrissie and Ani MND fundraiser
Two Uist women have put their heads together to raise funds for a charity very close to their hearts.

Chrissie Laing from Drimsdale and Ani George from Locheport both have Motor Neurone Disease and are holding fundraising events in aid of MND Scotland, a national charity funding ground-breaking research into the condition.

A Whist Drive is being held in Stoneybridge Hall on 17th March at 8pm, and a Craft Fair and raffle is also planned at Carinish Hall, on April 8th between 11am and 4pm.

Ani will be making another of her famous hand carved chess sets for auction, and there are also some great reffle prizes to win, including a Lady Anne Boat trip for two, a two-person paddle boarding day with Uist Sea Tours, a ball signed by the Scotland National Rugby Team and a voucher for dinner at the Dark Island Hotel.

Raffle tickets for both events are available in shops, cafes and post offices. Both fundraising drives can also be supported through Ani’s facebook page.

Chrissie was officially diagnosed with MND in October 2018 and she says it was actually a relief to finally understand the symptoms she was experiencing. The condition has impacted Chrissie in many ways, not least forcing her to give up a job she loved.

“Any illness diagnosis is a blow but the kind hearts and souls of my friends, township and the wider community, have helped and encouraged me to keep going. Someone asked me just after my official diagnosis ‘how do you cope?’; my answer was that I am the same person today as I was yesterday, the only difference is that I now have a bit more added to my medical records.

“I am hopeful that one day they will find a control on this disease and, even better, a cure.”

Ani was diagnosed in July 2022 and says the news was devastating. In the few months since her diagnosis, Ani says a lot has changed:

“I now need a wheelchair to get around any distance, my balance is not great and I am no longer able to drive or work. Each day I keep my focus as positive as possible and remind myself that I still have life left in me.”

“One thing I have learned is to let go of the fear and worry. I really do not know how MND will affect me or at what pace. This condition will eventually stop me from speaking, swallowing and eventually breathing, so a lot of fear was experienced in the beginning months. I have now come to terms with this and choose to live each day as it comes and focus only on what I can do today.”

“MND affects everyone differently, so it is impossible to know how it will affect me and at what rate. On average life expectancy is 18 months from diagnosis but it can also be a slower progression.”

MND is a progressive, life-shortening illness which affect nerves called motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

In a healthy person, the motor neurons carry signals from the brain directly to the muscles, but if you’re living with MND, these signals are prevented from reaching your muscles.

Around 200 people diagnosed with MND each year in Scotland, and while support is available, there is no cure.

Uibhisteach – gu h-oifigeil!
Congratulations to Liam Crouse, who was awarded British Citizenship at a special ceremony in Balivanich in January.

Liam first came to Uist in 2015 and has been with us ever since, working in a variety of roles whilst completing his post graduate research.

“In January this year, I finally became a British Citizen at a long-awaited ceremony in the Comhairle offices in Balivanich. I was fortunate to have been able to take my oath of allegiance in Gaelic, the first time that the registrar had done so, and to have Alasdair Allan MSP, who was undertaking constituency visits in Uist, as a witness.

“The ceremony was the culmination of many years of effort, navigating successive Tory governments’ ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants, and paying many thousands of pounds in ever-rising fees.

“I’m not sure how many people within Am Pàipear’s readership are aware of the obstacles I faced in securing the right to live and work in the United Kingdom, nor that it has taken well over a decade to do so. It certainly wasn’t easy.

“To give a potted history of my citizenship journey, for those interested, I came to Scotland in 2008 for my undergraduate degree. Back then, there was a post-graduate visa available to foreign students that provided a pathway to citizenship. This was removed in 2012 shortly before I graduated. I eventually managed to return on an ancestry visa, for which I had to become a Canadian citizen to qualify (Liam is American) and after several years of back-and-forth living, including a post-graduate degree.

“I am pleased to become a citizen and continue to live in Uist and would like to thank especially those who accommodated my ‘special’ status, for work purposes or otherwise, and those who supported my applications through the various stages through the years.”

Taigh Sgìre Sholais re opens its doors to the community
Taigh Sgìre Sholais in Sollas is opening its doors once again following a two year period of refurbishment.

The old Dunskellar Primary School closed in 2002 and was taken over by the community shortly afterwards. The venue has been a home for Seachdain Sholais (Sollas Week) for over 20 years, and has hosted all kinds of community events, from fundraising coffee mornings, the annual Burns Supper, weddings, playgroup sessions, thrift shop, art exhibitions, book group, curry nights, dancing classes and public meetings.

Covid put community activities on hold, and the building remained closed through lockdown.

In January 2021, just as things were starting to return to normal, a fire broke out in the back porch of the building forcing an extended closure. Although the fire was thankfully contained, smoke damage was extensive and the building pretty much had to be gutted.

After two years of refurbishment works, the Taigh Sgìre is back in business. Bookings are already starting to build, with the Knit & Natter group back in action, yoga classes planned and birthday parties and a wedding on the cards – not to mention the three-years postponed Community Christmas Dinner which is coming soon!

Sgìre Sholais will have it grand re-opening on Saturday 4th March with tea, cake cutting and music from 1-3pm, followed by a cèilidh in the evening from 7pm.  
All warmly welcomed.

An update from the OH Youth Local Action Group (YLAG)
Young islanders aged between 16 and 30 are being encouraged to join a new youth group centred around community development, local-economic development, and youth empowerment.

The Outer Hebrides Youth Local Action Group (YLAG) is looking for members to encourage youth groups, organisations, community groups and individuals to apply for the YLAG Fund.

The YLAG pot is democratically managed, with YLAG members deciding which projects receive funding and how much support they will recieve.

Members also have the opportunity to collaborate with other YLAGs across Scotland, with residential weekends and a host of other networking opportunities.

YLAG Facilitator Hector Malcom said: “We seek to be as representative of the Outer Hebrides as possible, and so we particularly like to hear from lesser-heard voices, and those with certain backgrounds; musicians, artists, writers, Gaelic speakers, sport, mental health, young carers and entrepreneurs .”

“If you are interested in joining the Outer Hebrides YLAG, or curious about the fund, please contact me at or send us a message on our socials: @outerhebrides_ylag.”

Islands architecture
A touring exhibition of winners and entrants to the 2022 Highlands & Islands Architectural Association Awards will be making its way to Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath on the 28th March. 

The Awards showcase the work of more than 30 architectural projects in the Western Isles and include Andy and Janet Laverty’s ‘Taigh Bainne’ in Eriskay, designed by BARD Ailteir and built by local contractor Paul Anthony MacInnes.

Studio Hebrides are running school workshops in the week before the exhibition and the work of the pupils will be included alongside the professionals work.

Our vibrant island life
Uist Beò’s social media has become the ‘go to’ platform for information about life across Uist. From March 8th the organisation’s new website will add to the offer, with stories and blog posts about living on, working in and experiencing Uist, innovating, creating and investing in Uist, and, not least, moving to Uist!

The Uist Beò platform was developed by CoDeL to reflect the realities of the vibrant and dynamic island life in Uist, for islanders and visitors, and to attract younger people and families to return or settle in these islands.

Army cadet awards
Western Isles Army Cadets held a training camp in Uist at the end of February.

At the conclusion of their camp, the opportunity was taken to present several awards to a number of cadets and their instructors.

The presentation was made at Congreve House, Balivanich, by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Alasdair MacEachen.

Amongst the awards made, was the Cadet Forces Medal, which was presented to SMI Iain Moar, South Uist.

The Western Isles Army Cadets also marked a very successful year with their collection efforts for the Earl Haig Poppy Appeal, raising £2583.

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.”

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.”

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 or for further info, or contact Katherine MacNeil,

Crofters’ declarations

The Crofting Commission has issued its annual crofting census, with a deadline of March 31st for crofters to return their declarations.

The census is a legal duty, requiring crofters to declare their compliance with their duties to be resident on, or within 32 kilometres of, their croft, to not to neglect their croft, and to cultivate and maintain their croft, or to put it to another purposeful use.

The Commission has set itself a target to reduce the number of vacant crofts and is actively pursuing those in breach of their crofting duties.

In 20/21, the Commission reported that 21 cases of breach of duty were being progressed through ‘duties enforcement action’.

At the last census count, there were 6,123 tenanted and 281 owned crofts registered in the Western Isles. Across Scotland, only 1292 of the 16,527 registered crofters were under the age of 40, and only 16 under 21.

Last year’s Census Report highlighted lengthy delays in the delivery of the Commission’s regulatory function.

Turnaround times for Assignations have risen from an average of 8 weeks in 2019/20, to over to just under 13 weeks in 21/22. In the same period, wait times for those applying to decroft house sites had risen from 8 weeks to almost 14 weeks.

The report showed that 25 apportionments were approved from a total of 47 applications, with 235 successful assignations processed.

The Commission was in the spotlight at the start of last year, when Audit Scotland expressed extreme concern, noting that the organisation had fallen well below the standards expected of public bodies in Scotland.

Since that report, a new Board has been established under a new Chair, and further reports from the Auditor have concluded that the Commission was making significant improvements

The Crofting Commission is funded by Scottish Government, with an allocated budget of £3.25m.

Since 2021, the Commission has required all declarations to be returned on line.

Those without internet access are invited to contact the Crofting Commission on 01463 663439 and request that a member of staff completes the survey on their behalf.

Community estate plans on show

Sealladh na Beinne Mòire (SnBM) held its Annual General Meeting in Talla an Iochdair on the evening of 24th November. Around 50 members of the community braved the foul weather to attend the event, with a full contingent of Directors on hand to support CEO Darren Taylor and his team.

Mr Taylor presented an Operational Review of the business, talking through the SnBM accounts and setting out key issues of interest. The audited accounts posted for 2021 showed income totalling £2,840,455 and expenditure of £1,825,493, leaving a pre-tax/depreciation profit of £1,014,962, and net profit of £20,080.

A more detailed overview showed an uplift in income for most areas of the business, with golf, fishing and a combined Grogarry Lodge/sporting function all returning modest profits and Lochboisdale Harbour returning a loss of £107k. South Uist Renewable Energy Ltd reported a sharp fall in income from £2,375,000 in 2020 to £1,993,000 this year as a result of a marked reduction in wind and over 30 days of maintenance-related downtime.

The results of the recent helicopter deer count were presented, confirming 216 stags, 684 hinds and 198 calves, making a total 1,198 beasts. Cull targets for 2022/23 were listed as 255 in all, with 143 culled to date. Members were also presented with cull targets for the next six years, which the Company suggest would bring the total deer herd down to just over 600 by 2028.

The target herd size listed is considerably higher than previously stated and after the meeting, Am Pàipear asked why the figure had changed. The SnBM position was confirmed as: “We had previously settled on an optimal  herd number of around 450 and our cull targets for the coming years are heading that way. We would like to see the positive impact of our new zero tolerance policy of shooting all beasts to the west of the main road and within village boundaries on the east side of the estate. It may well be that if the deer are staying out of the way and not causing any damage that we can maintain a herd of around 600 without negative impacts.”

SnBM reported over £500k of external grant income, supporting two temporary posts and progressing a range of other projects.

Updates were provided on key projects, including the Smart Clachan housing development planned for Lochboisdale, the development of a local food production hub at Grogarry Steadings, and a ‘Strategic Visioning’ study to set out draft plans for Lochboisdale’s regeneration.

Details of £35,000 worth of community donations through 18 separate allocations were also detailed.
All 14 questions submitted by members ahead of the AGM were answered on the night and SnBM has confirmed these will be available to view on the Stòras website.

Questions asked during the meeting covered a broad range of subjects, including deer stocking plans, flooding impacts and the allocation of costs across sporting, gamekeeping and Grogarry Lodge functions.

When asked to set out their long term vision for Uist, the Directors cited the requirement to resolve the core issues Uist faces, including housing and ferry provision. The need to free up unused land to allow young people to croft and build homes was a common theme, as was the requirement to work together.

John Daniel Peteranna encouraged the Board to raise their sights to bigger, more aspirational projects, for example by pursuing the possibility of innovative new energy solutions.

Father Michael MacDonald urged the Board to look again at the radical drainage plans set out in the original business case for the community buyout of the Estate.

Of all discussions on the floor, only one comment elicited applause from the assembled audience when Iain Stephen Morrison stated his disappointment that no coherent vision for Uist had been set out by the Board. Mr Morrison said: “I think I’ve been to every AGM this organisation has held. Back in the beginning, there would be queues stretching out of the door, but tonight the room is half empty.” He continued: “I urge you to open up and bring the people with you. If you don’t, the price will be failure.”

Chair Mary Schmoller responded by reminding all members that the next AGM will be held next summer and that four Director posts would be open for election.

Call for mezzanine deck

A new Report published by the Harris Development Company has detailed £8.5m losses as a result of reduced ferry capacity over the summer months.

Harris Development Company Chair Kenny Macleod said that CalMac’s continued insistence that the mezzanine deck could only be in service on a limited number of sailings had cost the community of the Western Isles dearly.

Mr Macleod set out the details of the losses in a letter to Transport Minister Gilruth on November 11th, and told Am Pàipear that he had yet to receive any reply other that a notification of receipt.

The Report used CalMac’s own figures to show that almost 10,000 fewer vehicles travelled on the Uig triangle route in the period June to September 2022, compared to the same period in 2019.

Mr Macleod said: “Even if we take a three-year pre-Covid average and compare that to the 2022 figures, it shows 9382 fewer vehicles carried (9204 for cars only). These are huge reductions and are causing alarm in our communities. Putting costs onto these makes even more frightening reading.”

Mr Macleod continued: “We used an average contribution to our economy by cars of £1500 (average accommodation cost of £750 and a similar amount spent on food, excursions, craft products, etc). If we allow for around 2000 of the lost traffic to be local vehicles, then the cost would be in the region of £11.55m (7,700 x 1500). If we assume that the cars aren’t going to self-caterings but are instead using other accommodation types and staying for an average of three nights (accommodation £300, food 150, spend 250 = 700) the figure would be £5.39M.”

“Taking an average figure as the reality would be a mix of both, then the loss to the communities of Harris and Uist is just short of £8.5m. That is more than 10 times the cost that CalMac said they would incur for maintaining the service at pre-Covid level.

The Uig triangle report follows an earlier economic impact study by the Lochboisdale Ferry Impact Group, which detailed local business losses of £648,000 over a period of 14 days in May when the Lochboisdale/Mallaig ferry was out of service. The Group delivering the report said the assessment showed that for each day of cancelled sailings, Uist suffers a loss equivalent to almost 2.5x a full year’s average salary on Uist (£46,285 a day).

A spokesperson for CalMac said: “We can’t always deploy the mezzanine decks due to the length of time it takes – it could be that if they were deployed, a sailing may be delayed or it might breach the strict rules governing hours of rest for crew.”

CalMac’s website has the following statement: “As demand increases across our services it has become increasingly difficult to continue to deploy mezzanine decks on an increasing number of sailings, whilst at the same time keeping to the published timetable.  We know that communities want us to provide as much capacity on vessels as possible, by deploying mezzanine decks on as many sailings as possible.  We have listened to their feedback and designed a timetable that allows us to deploy mezzanine decks on as many sailings as we can but allows enough time for the vessel to ensure they can operate to the published timetable.”