New report highlights inequality for island shoppers

Tagsa Uibhist has published a new report calling for ‘immediate and progressive action by national and regional authorities to address the difficulties of food insecurity in Uist and Barra’.

The Our Right to Food Report sets out the findings of a study Tagsa carried out earlier this year in partnership with Nourish Scotland looking at the affordability and accessibility of basic fruit and vegetable items in Uist and Barra.

The research findings evidence that people living in the Southern Isles are disproportionately more disadvantaged in terms of affording and gaining access to basic fruit and vegetables.
Alex Mackenzie, Tagsa Uibhist’s Local Food Development Manager, explained how the study was carried out:

“Our Community Researchers set out to find a mixture of fruits and vegetables from an example weekly shopping list for a family of five. The list comprised of 17 basic fruit and vegetable items including fresh produce, frozen goods and pantry items, providing the basis for a ‘right to food’ metric in terms of the affordability of a healthy diet.

“Less than half of the shopping list items were easily accessible and furthermore the total basket cost was 28% more expensive than a Tesco Online shop.”

The Report shows that: “Rather than paying £1.10 for a 1kg bag of mixed vegetables (Tesco Online) Islanders were on average paying £2.87 and sometimes paying out £4.67 for frozen mixed vegetables. This same trend was found against other food items with pasta sauce equating to 233% more than a Tesco equivalent; paying £2.83 for a 500g jar of pasta sauce compared with £0.85 for a Tesco product.”

Alex says that the Uist findings were in stark contrast to other rural mainland communities and evidenced worrying trends on the dietary inequalities for island communities.

The Report provides interesting detail on how the Co-Op classifies its island shops by size and revenue – convenience store, supermarket or superstore. Of the four Co-Op shops within the survey area, two are classified as ‘convenience stores’ and as a result, shelf space is prioritised for branded, convenience food such as pizza and ice cream, with less space allocated to fresh, own-branded or value range produce.

“Larger retailers need to recognise that a convenience store classification which gives a heavier weighting to convenience foods and top branded goods is not serving our island communities well.
“All our Island shop staff are trying to ease the burden of the cost of living crisis but in some cases are restricted to centralised ordering and buying systems which don’t make any concessions for Island life.”

In terms of availability of faired better, with autonomy over their ordering requirements and the ability to stock local produce: “Co-op stores need agreement from headquarters to stock local produce and there would be a requirement for the local producer to be operating at a sufficient scale to provide their produce throughout all the Co-op Scottish stores which acts as a deterrent for small scale local producers.”

Our Right to Food follows the publication earlier this year of Tagsa’s Small is Beautiful Report, which set out the opportunities for growing Uist’s sustainable food options.This latest study continues that theme, saying:

“There is huge potential to increase the amount of local food available to the local community and provide horticultural training to encourage people to grow locally.”

The Report concludes with a clear call to action:

“There is a strong call by our community researchers for immediate and progressive action by national and regional authorities to address the difficulties of food insecurity in Uist and Barra. Food supply chains are broken, and our findings show that the health of islanders is compromised by limited access to adequate, nutritious, and affordable food, particularly during the winter months.”

Bank of Scotland claims 50% drop in business

The Bank of Scotland has confirmed it will be closing its Lochmaddy branch on February 26th, 2024.
In a statement issued to confirm its plans, Bank of Scotland said: “With more customers choosing to use digital ways to bank and manage their money, visits at this branch have fallen. As a result, we’ve made the difficult decision to close it.”

The bank says the decision follows ‘an in-depth’ review of operations that shows business at the branch has halved over the last four years.

The bank says the branch, which now only opens from 10am to 2.30 pm on a Tuesday and a Thursday, has seen a 64% drop in personal transactions since 2018. The number of people using the cash machine at the branch has fallen by more than 50% in the same time period. Bank of Scotland say the branch currently has only eight regular customers.

In support if its decision, the bank says Lochmaddy customers are already banking in other ways, citing that 71% of customers using Lochmaddy branch have also used other Bank of Scotland branches, Internet Banking or Telephone Banking and 33% have also used the Post Office.

Although the decision to close has already been taken, Bank of Scotland says it will now carry out a ‘Stage 2 Branch Review’, engaging the community to further understand the impact of closure.
Commenting on the announcement, MSP Alasdair Allan said:

“I am very concerned by the proposed closures of the Bank of Scotland’s branches in Tarbert and Lochmaddy. While many customers are now able to make use of digital and phone banking, there are many services which can only be carried out in-branch, and there can be technical issues with digital banking as well as lengthy and frustrating waits to speak with customer support teams over the phone. 
“After a taxpayer-funded bailout of £30 billion following 2008’s financial crash, surely the Bank of Scotland can do better than this for its customers, particularly a number of elderly or vulnerable users, for whom making the switch to online or over the phone banking could be extremely difficult.”

Cladach Chnoc a Lin resident Catherine Laing told Am Pàipear of her growing resignation at the loss of yet another service: “There was a time when I remembered each new service improvement with a sense of wellbeing. Services are being pared back time and again until we are left to survive on just the crumbs.

“Lochmaddy is a thriving place, with a port office, a busy shop, two hotels and an arts centre. With new houses bringing more people to the village, surely the decision merits a rethink.

“The service provision in Uist is appalling. We used to have daily flights; we used to have drains cleared every year to avoid flooding in winter. The verges are left untended and we cannot walk safely along our single track roads. So a bank closing its door is just another loss among many.”

Fears have also been raised that a pattern is repeating: “It’s the same situation we had with the post offices; first they start with reduced service hours, so customers find it harder to access the service and the powers that be then have the evidence they need to support a branch closure.”

Bank of Scotland listed two viable alternative branches for customers to consider; the first being Balivanich and the second being Portree, which is described as being 47.09 miles away, with the helpful advice that ‘Public transport to Portree requires a short walk to Lochmaddy Ferry Terminal, then a ferry to Uig Skye Ferry Terminal, along with a bus journey and short walk to the branch. Journey times are variable.’ Am Pàipear suggests readers may want to check that the Portree branch is open, the ferries are actually running and the weather is calm before heading out.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has called for a change of heart:
“I have recently been contacted by constituents in North Uist who are concerned that the Lochmaddy branch is going to close. Customers living in Berneray, who do not have private transport, will have to make a 60-mile return trip by bus to access the bank in Benbecula.

 “The Bank of Scotland has listed the Portree branch along with the Benbecula and Stornoway branches, as an alternative for customers. It is crass to suggest that customers should take a ferry to access a bank.

 “I urge the Bank of Scotland to reconsider the decision to close the branches in Lochmaddy and Tarbert to ensure that my constituents continue to have access to the full range of banking services without the requirement to make lengthy travel journeys.”

Donald Cameron, Conservative MSP for Highlands and Islands, has also called for the branch to remain open.

Uist well represented at King’s garden party

The King and Queen’s Royal Garden Party took place at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the start of July. The Princess Royal supported the Royal couple in their duties, hosting 6000 invited guests from communities across Scotland.

Representing Uist at the event were Deputy Lieutenant Angus MacIntyre and his wife Marybell, Sergeant Major Ian Moar from 1st Battalion The Highladers Army Cadet Force and his wife Rosie, Tracy Walker and her daughter Tracy Muir and Eilidh Carr and her Aunt Julie Smith. The Uist contingent had been invited to honour the positive impact they had made in their community.

Hebridean-style heavy rain made for a soggy affair but didn’t dampen spirits: ‘we were wet and cold, but the people-watching was great fun and the sandwiches and scones were delicious!’

Eilidh, who spoke with the King, reported: “Meeting and chatting to the King all happened by both accident and luck, standing in the wrong place at the right time. The King and Queen exited the Palace and came down the stairs to join the crowds. As the crowds gathered, we were looking out for a glimpse of the King and within minutes, he was standing in front of me shaking my hand! It was so unexpected that my first words were ‘I’m from Berneray!’. He spoke of the Berneray potatoes being the best he had ever tasted and asked if we still used seaweed for growing them. He asked if I still lived on the island, I told him I did and I had my own business Coralbox. There was other chat about the causeway opening, Gloria and Berneray in general. We had to have tea and cake to calm down!”

The following day, a National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication was held in St Giles Cathedral. Attending the solemn occasion was Berneray resident Gloria MacKillop, who many years ago hosted the King during his time on Berneray. Gloria was accompanied by Alasdair Humphery, a nephew of Gloria’s late husband, Donald Alex ‘Splash’ MacKillop. Gloria is pictured with Alasdair, flanked by Comhairle Convener Cllr Kenny Macleod, Lewis, and Lord-Lieutenant Iain Macaulay, North Uist/Lewis. 

Dithis air a’chomataidh a toirt sùil air ais

Fiona MacVicar

‘S e latha fa leth a tha ann an Latha nan Geamannan an Uibhist a Tuath le measgachadh de phìobaireachd, dannsa Gàidhealach, spòrs agus cleasan, agus biadh is bèicearachd na thorran! Nuair a ruigeas tu an àite-parcaidh bhreàgha tha a’ coimhead sìos an cnoc, chì thu sealladh de na geamannan agus an sluagh a tha air tighinn a-mach air an son, agus as gach oisean cluinnidh tu fuaim nam pìobairean a’ deisealachadh airson nam farpais.

Fhuair Am Pàipear cothrom bruidhinn ri dithis a tha iomraiteach a thaobh nan geamannan agus anns a’ choimhearsnachd cuideachd. Eadar an dithis aca tha Archie ‘Doods’ MacChorcadail agus Iain ‘Fada’ MacDhòmhnaill air a bhith air comataidh Geamannan Gàidhealach Uibhist a Tuath còrr air trì fichead sa deich bliadhna, agus abair thusa gun robh iad làn sgeulachdan agus fiosrachadh mun dèidhinn.

Tha Doods air a bhith air a’ chomataidh còrr is còig thar fhichead bliadhna agus air a bhith ann an iomadh dreuchd thairis nam bliadhnaichean. Thòisich e an toiseach a’ gabhail pàirt as na co-fharpaisean fhèin agus a’ cuideachadh air na latha, agus tha e air a bhith na cheann-suidhe beagan thursan agus na rùnaire cuideachd. Tha buill na comataidh air atharrachadh cuideachd a-nis, agus ‘s e Doods agus Iain is fhaide a tha air a bhith oirre.

Tha Iain air a bhith air a’ chomataidh dà fhichead sa seachd bliadhna uile gu lèir. Rinn e trì bliadhna na rùnaire, ach an còrr den àm bha e na phàirt chudromach den chomataidh, gu mòr an lùib a bhith a’ stèidheachadh a h-uile sian airson an latha agus os cionn farpaisean na ‘heavies’ air an latha fhèin. Dh’ innis Iain mun obair mhòr a bha aca ri dhèanamh ron àm agus nuair a bhiodh aca ris a h-uile sian a thoirt as a chèile a-rithist.

“Bha thu feumach air ‘s dòcha ceathrar neo còigear cheàrnaich airson àrd-ùrlair nan dannsairean fhèin, cha b’urrainn dhut’ loader’ neò ‘telehandler’ a chleachdadh idir.”

Tha atharrachadh mòr air a bhith anns na geamannan thairis air na bliadhnaichean. Chaidh Doods air a’ chomataidh anns na 90an, is na geamannan air tòiseachadh thall ann an Hosta, an uairsin an Ceann a’ Bhàigh agus ann an Sollas, agus a-nis am Baile Lòin, àite mòr, sgoinneil fàisg air an rathad. Bha Iain a’ cuimhneachadh air cho doirbh sa bha e na stobaichean a chuir dhan talamh ann an Hosta, ach bha iad na b’ òige agus nas làidire an uairsin agus cha do shaoil iad mòran dheth.

B’ àbhaist dhaibh a bhith a’ cruinneachadh mu shia uairean feagar an oidhche ron àm, ach a-nis tha iad a’ tòiseachadh mu mheadhain latha airson deànamh cinnteach gun bheil a h-uile dad deiseal airson an ath latha. Tha aca an uairsin an ath oidhche, nuair a bhios an latha seachad, a h-uile sian a bheir a-nuas a-rithist, agus thuirt Iain, “uaireannan cha bhiodh sgeul air dad!”

‘S e an t-sìde an aon duilgheadas a tha aig a’ chomataidh latha nan geamannan, agus nach eil uiread de dhaoine deònach tighinn a-mach ma tha i fliuch. Tha riaghailtean slàinte agus sàbhailteachd air atharrachadh gu mòr cuideachd seach mar a b’ àbhaist; feumar barrachd bhrataichean airson nam farpaisean, seach na seann bhobhstairean a bhathas cleachte ris, agus feumar lìon timcheall air far a bheil farpais nan òrd. Thuirt Doods:

“‘S e an aon uallach a tha aig a’ chomataidh air an latha, ‘s e an t-sìde. Mur a bheil turadh ann, is i garbh, mosach, cha tig daoine a-mach. Tha e a’ cosg an t-uabhas airgead na geamannan a chuir air doigh; medalan, trophies, pàigheadh judges, insurance, tha tòrr airgid a’ dol a-mach. ‘S e an airgead a nìthear air an geata a tha a’ paigheadh na geamannan, agus a’ toirt dhuinn latha nan geamannan gach bliadhna; chan eil rùm ann call air àirgead gach bliadhna.”

Thuirt e cuideachd:
“Mur a bheil fear de na farpaisean a’ gabhail àite nì sin cuideachd diofar air an t-sluagh. Cha robh farpais dannsa – Gàidhealach ann an uiridh, agus rinn sin cron air na thàinig air an latha. Gu fortanach, tha a h-uile farpais a’ gabhail àite am bliadhna mar bu chòir.”

Bha sluagh na coimhearsnachd beagan ìosal an uiridh, is dùil gun robh daoine fhathast caran gealtach a bhith a’ dol an lùib dhaoine. Tha na ferries a’ dèanamh cron cuideachd. Ged a tha luchd-turais a’ deànamh oidhirp a dhol ann, tha sluagh nan eilean a tha a’ fuireach air tìr mòr cuideachd a’ feuchainn ri bhith dhachaidh air an latha. ‘S e ‘Fair Fortnight’ a b’ àbhaist a bhith air, le na geamannan, an show agus a-nis EDF uile timcheall air an aon àm. Chì thu nis nach eil e cho furasta dhaibh faighinn dhachaigh aig an àm sin den bhliadhna neò fiù ‘s muinntir Uibhist latha dheth fhaighinn far an obair.

‘S e latha math a tha ann do theaghlaichean agus luchd-turais air fad, le daoine a’ tighinn fior astar, ‘s docha nach fhaic daoine a chèile bhon latha sin chun an ath bhliadhna.

Bha Doods a’ gabhail beachd air mar a bha gach sgìre soirbheachail ann a bhith a’ buannachadh a’ chupa:
“Bhiodh tu a’ leughadh na h-ainmean, agus a’ faicinn na ‘cycles’ aig a’ chlann anns gach sgire. Nuair a bha mise òg, bha tòrr chloinne aca ann an Loch nam Madadh agus ‘s e iadsan a bhiodh a’ buannachadh, an uairsin ‘s e Sollas a bhiodh ann, is an uairsin Paibeil, agus ‘s e Cairinis a bha ann an uiridh, agus mar a tha mi a’ cluinntinn ‘s dòcha gur e iadsan a bhios ann a-rithist. Chòrdadh e riumsa nam faigheadh Loch nam Madadh e, ach tha amharas agam nach fhaigh!!”

Bha còig thar fhichead air a’ chomataidh anns na 70an nuair a chaidh Iain orra, ach ‘s e comataidh gu math nas lugha a tha innte a-nis le ‘s dòcha ceithir-deug oirre, agus ceathrar neo còignear a thig gu coinneamhan tron bhliadhna. Tha Iain an dòchas tighinn far a’ chomataidh a dh’ aithghearr, is cothrom a bheir do dh’ feadhainn òga tighinn a-steach.

Ghabh Iain beachd air a’ chòmhstrì a bhiodh eadar gach sgìre gach bliadhna airson cò gheibheadh na puingean as àirde, agus gu dearbh, cò gheibheadh an cupa. Gur bith cò sgìre a bhuannaicheadh, bhiodh partaidh mòr aca an oidhche sin uile còmhla, duine mu seach ag òl às a’ chupa. San latha an-diugh chan eil a leithid de chòmhstrì eatorra ge-tà, ged a bhios corra phartaidh aca fhathast còmhla.

Bha Iain a’ cuimhneachadh gu mòr air farpais an ‘Tug of War’, nuair a bha e fhèin air sgioba a’ Chladaich air a shon:
“Bha fìor cheàrnaich mhòr ga dheànamh an uairsin, ‘s an rop a’ bragadaich ‘s gun e a’ gluasad. ‘S iomadh latha a bha sinn nar n-amadain ga shlaodadh!”

Tha Uibhist a Tuath fortanach gu bheil leithid Doods agus Iain dìcheallach agus deònach mu bhith a’ cumail latha na geamannan a’ dol gach bliadhna.

Nuair a chaidh faighneachd do Doods cò an campa anns an robh esan am bliadhna, Campa Sholais, neo Campa Loch na Madadh, fhreagair e:
“‘S e Campa Loch nam Madadh a bha agamsa riamh, ach bidh mi a’ brosnachadh na h-ighnean agam fhèin cuideachd, so, dòcha beagan den dà chuid!”

Berneray looks to the future as community buy-out moves to
a new stage

As part of the Bays of Harris Estate, the Isle of Berneray stands to benefit from the latest developments in the community buy-out process, which is now ongoing. This process has now taken a significant step forward with the formation of the Bays of Harris Community Estate as a company limited by guarantee.

The newly formed company includes representatives from Berneray, as well as the other main areas of the Estate – the Bays and Northton. It will now take the buyout process forward to the point of purchase, at which point full elections will be held to create a democratic and accountable board which will take the community estate on to its next phase.

The group is now set to meet both with representatives of the Scottish Land Fund, who are expected to fund 95% of the purchase price of the Estate, and also in the coming weeks with the Hitchcock family, the current private landowner.

These developments follow the decisive vote in favour of a community buy-out, which was held in September 2022 and which recorded a vote in favour across the community of 63% on a turnout of 70%. This followed a decade of hard work by a buyout steering group, which had commissioned a feasibility study, two valuations and had met with the current Estate owners on a number of occasions.
Once the purchase has been concluded, the Berneray community, along with the rest of the Estate, will be able to take advantage of the opportunities identified in the feasibility studies. These include an annual income of around £100,000, which can be directed towards the community’s priorities, rather than being reserved for private gain.

“I am delighted at the progress which we have been able to make recently,” says Euan Galloway, Chair of the Bays of Harris Community Estate. “The work that we are carrying out just now opens the door for an exciting new phase of community development, enterprise and renewal, which will be made possible once land ownership is in the hands of the community. I really believe that day is not too far away now!”

The community company is working very hard to ensure full and proper representation for all residents in all areas of the Estate, while recognising there are a number of challenges to achieving this, due to the unusual geography of the Estate.

“In order to bring people along with us on this exciting journey and to maximise our engagement with the community, we have a number of initiatives in the pipeline for the near future,” says Euan Galloway. “These will include giving residents of the Estate area the opportunity to join the company as members. We are also planning a series of public engagement sessions which will be held throughout the Estate in the coming weeks, as well as local newsletters and social media.”

Details of upcoming public engagement sessions will be made available in due course.
Full details on Facebook.

In conversation with two local legends

Siân Swinton

This summer marks the end of an era as two long-standing stalwarts of the South Uist Games and Piping Society committee retire from duty.

Angus MacDonald, Chairman since 1973, and Ruairidh MacDonald (Poker), Treasurer since 1978, have a combined service of more than 100 years on the committee and have seen the games evolve and grow over time.

Am Pàipear sat down with Angus and Poker to talk about the past and hear of their hopes of some fresh young faces to breathe new life into the committee.

Angus recalls that when he joined the committee in 1965, the Flora MacDonald Piping Competition hadn’t yet become the responsibility of the Games Society. The Competition became in danger of grinding to a halt when there was no one able to organise it and the Games Society took it on, growing it into the phenomenally well attended competition it is today.

“It was a senior-only event at the time but we took on a junior event too and that grew to 70 or 80 junior competitors. We had to start getting extra judges in to keep up.”

The piping and dancing competitions at the Games themselves are also incredibly popular, said Angus: “If we’ve got about 28 competing pipers on the day and each piper has about 20 minutes you can see how we’d need so many judges!”

The Games have always been self-funded, with the Committee raising money themselves rather than having to access any public funding.

Poker spoke about the changes on the logistical side of organising the Games over the years as health and safety regulations became stricter: “We used to just organise a Games and run it but then we had to start rummaging around for health and safety plans, applying for entertainment and drinks licences and the emergency services needed to be aware. The only phone around then was in the Factor’s office, so we would have to run all the way there if anything happened!”

The behind-the-scenes organisation of such an event can often be overlooked but it’s no mean feat, as Poker explained: “We couldn’t really set up until the morning, when we knew the weather and wind direction so we could make sure the heavy events wouldn’t put people in danger!”

Getting everything organised in time has always been an important part of the Games as the day it falls on – the first Wednesday of Glasgow Fair – slots into a long list of events in the competing pipers’ calendars.

Rona Lightfoot

“The pipers would compete in Inveraray on the Tuesday, come here for the Wednesday and then up to North Uist for the Friday.”

It’s serious business for the professionals. “Now that EDF is also the week after it makes it a great time to come to the island.”

The other events at the games are equally as important too, says Poker: “If it doesn’t have athletics, heavy events, dancing and piping it isn’t a Highland Games.”

The heavy events have been less subscribed to over recent years.

“There’s one guy from Lewis who comes down and no one can beat him! He runs away with all the prizes!” says Angus.

Classes and training for heavy events, such as the ‘weight over the bar’ and ‘throwing the hammer’ have been set up in the past and hopefully these can continue in the future to bring more people into the events.

Angus talked about the atmosphere and sense of community at the games and how it’s a day people look forward to all year:

“The numbers have never really gone down. For some people it’s the one time to meet friends that they haven’t seen for years!”

When asked about changes to the Committee itself Angus said that when he joined there were around 30 people involved:

“But we would be lucky if there were 15 or 16 people at a general meeting because the pubs closed a lot earlier back then! You’d have folk saying ‘I’ve got to shoot off’ part way through so they could get to the pub on time!”

After a few years, the Committee was whittled down to 11 people to make planning meetings and casting votes that little bit easier.

Both Angus and Poker spoke about how keen they are to see some young people with fresh ideas join the Committee and they are excited to see where the Games can go next.

With Angus also stepping down from the Community Council, where he has been a fixture for many years, it was important to ask: “What are you going to do with all your free time now?”

“Oh don’t worry! I’ve always got plenty to do!”

In the next issue, Am Pàipear will be featuring some of the people behind the North Uist Agricultural Show.

Our right to food

I love food – who doesn’t? It’s a joy to sit down to your favourite meal – better still, to enjoy a lovely meal with family or friends, with all the chat and banter that goes with it.

Food is more than just nourishment, it is what binds us. It’s part of our culture, feeds the soul and keeps us healthy and well. Food is critical to our everyday lives. It should be a basic right for everyone to access good nutritious and more importantly, affordable food. Not a privilege, a right!

In Scotland, we have the high-level ambition of becoming a Good Food Nation by 2025. But what does this mean? Enshrined into law is the Scottish Government’s commitment to making Scotland a nation where people from every walk of life can take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day. The Government has essentially adopted a human rights approach to tackling poverty and food insecurity, founded on the principles of dignity and respect, to ensure people have access to affordable, locally produced and nutritious food.

What’s not to like about this? Yet, for the Right to Food to be realised, food must be adequate, available and accessible to all.

Sadly, it is widely recognised that too many people in Scotland cannot afford the food that they need to keep them healthy and well. Furthermore, the Scottish diet has stayed fixed for years, making little progress towards meeting the Government’s dietary goals, with people living in the most deprived areas still more likely to experience diet related ill health.

We also know that in rural, remote and island communities, living costs are substantially higher, partly because of the greater distance to services and large shopping centres offering lower prices. In order to address the gap between the challenges we face and our shared vision of a Good Food Nation, we need to fully understand what the Right to Food looks like in our island setting and begin to ask how Government policies are helping to progressively realise our ambition.

In October last year, Tagsa Uibhist wanted to do just that when we started our journey to find out conclusively how affordable and accessible basic fruit and vegetable items were on the Western Isles. We recruited 24 Community Researchers from Berneray to Barra, representing eight Outer Hebridean Islands, setting them on the Anneka Rice style challenge of surveying all our local shops over a six-week period. Our Right to Food survey was a community endeavour to explore, compare and make sense of how the availability and price of foods differ, both across the islands and against mainland prices and supplies.

The research confirmed our concerns that an ‘island premium’ exists for people living in Uist and Barra, who need to pay close to 30% more for their basic fruit and veg items as compared to mainland prices. The 17 basic items on the researchers’ shopping lists delivered an average basket cost of £26.64 in Uist and Barra, compared with just £20.80 for a Tesco online shop. Furthermore, our community researchers found less than half of the items they were looking for on a list which constituted just the basic fruit and vegetable items required for a healthy diet – just the basics!

The research findings showed that people living in Uist and Barra are disproportionately more disadvantaged in terms of affording and gaining access to basic fruit and vegetable items. Our findings were also in stark contrast to other rural mainland communities and evidenced worrying trends on the dietary inequalities for island communities – communities which rely heavily on long food supply chains and are challenged by ferry problems, the rising cost of fuel, agricultural inputs, food and living costs.
There is now a strong call by our community researchers for immediate and progressive action by national and regional authorities to address these difficulties in a meaningful way. Action which promotes a truly dignified island food system; one where everyone is food secure, with access to adequate, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and without the need of emergency food aid. A system where the Right to Food is understood as a matter of justice rather than charity; a Good Food Nation in which every community’s health and well-being is paramount and no-one is left behind. Our island communities demand nothing less because, of course, a right to food is a right for all.
Tagsa Uibhist is also attempting to address these challenges by expanding our community garden services at East Camp in Balivanich to grow more staple produce and create a monthly local food market with other local producers. Watch this space: a Payday Food Market is coming soon and we have exciting plans to take our ‘one stop shop’ Neighbourfood service on the road where you can buy a range of great products from local producers and beyond. Plans are afoot to outfit one of our electric vans to include a refillery service too. Yes, you heard it here first!

We are also supporting growers and crofters wanting to establish community poly tunnels and aim to provide outreach support and vegetable starter kits for anyone keen to grow in their communities.
However, our biggest news is that we plan to launch our Biadh Blasta Uibhist project this Autumn; a meals on wheels service with a difference!

Tagsa Uibhist is aiming to deliver 600 wholesome ready-made meals to our most vulnerable elderly people living on their own in our community. It is our ambition to include as much local produce as possible, so that our clients get a nutritious meal with local ingredients and minimal wastage. We are working in collaboration with Tagsa’s Care department, Macleans Bakery and local producers to deliver this service in October.

We also hope to hold a local Food Festival in the Autumn to celebrate local produce and promote the sharing and cooking of food together in community spaces.

Biadh Blasta Uibhist is about local people working together for the community good and we would welcome any thoughts and ideas about this pilot project because if successful, we would like to expand the service across our community.

At Tagsa, we are passionate about keeping our community at the heart of local food development and helping to alleviate the challenges of food insecurity on our gorgeous islands.

Berneray residents call to save the service as budget cuts loom

In its March ‘Budget Strategy and Update’, the Comhairle set out around £1.7m worth of savings that could be returned from service changes and budget cuts. Included in the proposals was the following statement: 

“Review of the need for Library Vans, review of the service provision with a focus on digitalisation of services and the provision of corporate service points in all libraries.  Savings £100k.”

This statement, sitting aside the newly vacant Uist post of mobile librarian, led residents in Berneray to fear the worst. 

In May, a letter was sent to the Comhairle’s Education, Sport & Children’s Services Committee, setting out the importance of the mobile library service and pleading for its continuation. 

Signed by 35 community members, the letter has launched a local drive to save the mobile library.

Berneray resident Kirsty O’Conner spearheaded the campaign:

“We so value the mobile library here that we felt we must try and do something to save it. It has been a life line for many of us. If you don’t have a car or are housebound it brings a world of books to your door. 

“It’s not just the books, social isolation, a problem exacerbated by Covid, meant Donald Ewen was sometimes the only person some people would see.

“We understand the difficult decisions the Councillors face. Budget cuts are not easy to manage but this service really must be seen as essential.

“We have had a positive response from some members of the Committee, and from our North Uist Councillor, Mustapha Hocine.”

The future if the service is now dependent on the findings of a Member Officer Working Group (MOWG) review, which is chaired by Cllr Hocine and will report its conclusions to the Committee when it meets later this month.

The mobile library narrowly escaped being scrapped in December 2018, when officers proposed cutting the service but were rebuffed by elected members,  who voted 16-12 in favour of retaining it. The Council’s decision prompted investment in two new vans, one of which was allocated to us here in Uist.

Fifteen months later,  Covid all but shut down island life and the value of Uist’s mobile library service became even more apparent. 

A spokesperson for CNES said:

“A Member Officer  Working Group has been established to review library and information services. A report will go to committee in June and once the MOWG has decided on the future direction of libraries a full report will come to council. 

“The Chief Librarian post and mobile services delivery are part of that review.  

“The library van post has been advertised for 18.5 hours at the moment but will be reviewed as part of the deliberations of the MOWG. The review is important to inform the future direction of the service. 

“The appointment of a new Chief Education and Children’s Services Officer provides an opportunity to review the service. A decision will be made by the MOWG and the appropriate committee before any changes are made.”

The new Chief Officer for Education and Children’s Services is Donald Macleod from Lewis, who will replace Uist based Uilleam Macdonald following his retirement as Director of Education, Skills & Children’s Services.

New Deer Management Plan sets out 30% herd reduction target

The North Uist Estate Trust and the Newton Estate Shooting Syndicate have issued a joint update on future deer management plans in North Uist.

The two estates are working together to produce a new North Uist Deer Management Plan based on the results of a helicopter count of the herd carried out in March this year with assistance from NatureScot.

The March count concluded that the current herd stood at 1145 beasts, substantially higher than the 2002 population figure of 800.

A spokesperson for the North Uist Estates said: “The Estates, having reviewed the 2023 count, along with previous years and the trend displayed, have decided on increasing numbers culled to reduce the population by just over 30% to the 2002 figure of 800.

“This target will aim to be achieved by 2028. To establish the progress towards the target figure, a foot count will be undertaken in March 2025 after two years of the increased level of shooting; required numbers to achieve the target figure will be adjusted either up or down at that stage. Whether the target set for 2028 has been met will be confirmed/or not by a helicopter count March 2028.”

In 2015, an all-Uist Deer Management Group was established with the stated intention of formulating a Uist-wide single deer management plan; eight years and many meetings later, that shared plan is still to be agreed.

During this time, the issue of deer continued to be hotly debated, culminating in the Stòras Uibhist EGM and community vote in March this year.

The Estates spokesperson said the community view of deer in North Uist mirrored feelings in South Uist:

“Having attended a fair number of meetings where the deer population has been a topic of discussion, I think it is reasonable to think that we too on North Uist have a similar spread of opinions and strongly held views regarding the resident deer population. There are some people who consider current numbers as being too high and feel they suffer overly much from damage to grazing and crops. Others see deer as a resource offering sustainable economic activity, a source of healthy natural lean meat and jobs, both directly and indirectly, including benefits to tourism with visitors able to see the UK’s largest deer in its natural habitat. Environmentalists see the island deer population as one of the last remaining populations of genetically pure red deer.”

Given the strength of feeling, the North Uist Estates say they were reluctant to delay further:

“The result of the EGM vote on deer eradication on South Uist was still unknown at the time and with progress largely stalled, it was proposed that we should work towards getting a working plan agreed for North Uist. It was felt a document we could commit to now was preferable to waiting further for the wider plan. It is the intent of the North Uist Estates to continue to contribute and to sign up to the wider area plan if, and when, it is agreed.”

The Estates expect to have the North Uist Deer Management Plan in place for the coming season.
The Estates have asked that issues with marauding deer should be reported to the North Uist Whatsapp group on 07940 177 491, adding that information on time, type, number and location should be included in any message to allow the Estates to respond appropriately in a timely manner.

Decisive vote against full herd eradication

The case for and against the total eradication of deer from South Uist Estate was discussed at length at an Extraordinary General Meeting of Stòras Uibhist on Monday, 20th March.

The debate around deer has simmered on for many years, heating up in recent months and weeks as the meeting approached, so that by the time the community gathered in Southend Hall, feelings were already running high.

The community vote had attracted national media coverage and caught the attention of deer lobby groups, who campaigned to have the motion rejected.

Arrangements for the meeting had been agreed in advance by both parties, and MSP Alasdair Allan took the role of neutral arbiter to facilitate the single motion debate brought forward by the petitioners:

“We propose that SnBM removes all deer from the estate area and concentrates on finding other viable alternatives and employment opportunities for land presently occupied by deer.”

The petitioners were led by Ronnie MacKenzie and Thomas Fisher, with additional contributions from other members.

The case for the motion focused on the role deer play in Uist’s alarmingly high rate of Lyme disease, one of the highest across the UK by quite some margin.

The petitioners reminded members of the recently published results from Glasgow and Liverpool University studies, which made clear that while the deer don’t cause the disease, they do play a crucial role in the life cycle of the tick and the Borrellia infection that causes Lyme.

Mr MacKenzie and Mr Fisher spoke of the devastating impact that ticks and Lyme disease had brought to their communities and of the heartbreak and costs associated with the damage the deer and the disease cause.

The impacts on stock were also set out, detailing the considerable health and financial burden of other tick-borne diseases such as Louping Ill and Strawberry Foot Rot.

The recurring threat of road traffic collisions involving deer, the damage that deer cause to gardens and crofts and the high cost of deer and tick mitigation measures was also raised.

The view from those who brought forward the motion was that these health and financial impacts did not justify maintaining what they detailed as a loss-making part of the Stòras business.

The petitioners made an emotional plea to the meeting to put the health and wellbeing of the community ahead of the requirements of the sporting estate.

The case against the petition was led by Stòras CEO, Darren Taylor.

Mr Taylor said Stòras Uibhist accepted that deer numbers had become too high and that a continued and significant cull was required, but made clear that the Board did not believe eradication of the herd was the right way forward.

He said that Stòras Uibhist recognised the role that deer play in the spread of Lyme disease but said the Board did not believe that the science was definitive in suggesting that removing the deer would eradicate the disease.

He cited the substantial numbers of deer culled since the helicopter count last year and said the figures evidenced how seriously the organisation took the requirement to reduce the herd size.

Mr Taylor said the continued commitment to culling 225 beasts each year would see the total herd reduced to about 400 by 2027/28, preserving four game keeping posts dependent on the deer.

He accepted that parts of the business returned a loss but said he believed that the gamekeeping business could grow to profitability if given a chance.

The arguments were passionately and politely set out by both sides and all who wanted to speak were given the opportunity to do so.

When everyone had finally had their say, Alasdair Allan drew the debate to an end and those members who had not already done so were invited to cast their vote.

All votes were counted on the night by members of the Comhairle’s official vote teller team, and once the final count had been accepted by both parties, all voting papers were shredded to ensure anonymity.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, who had led the tellers, presented the result: 140 members had voted for the petition, 379 had voted against, with three spoiled ballots.

Well over 100 voting slips were sent to Stòras Uibhist in the days running up to the meeting, with others submitted as members arrived at the hall; in all, 456 of the 522 total votes (87.5%) were cast before the debate took place, making clear that for most members, the decision had already been made.

Sixty percent of Stòras Uibhist’s 870 members cast their vote.

With feelings still running high, what next for the community and its estate? As one member of the audience summed up: “This battleground has been set because of a lack of trust; in the aftermath of this meeting, how can that trust be rebuilt?”

Following the meeting, the petitioners submitted a formal request asking Stòras Uibhist to follow up on their commitments by: “Fully acknowledging the high incidence of Lyme Disease in Uist and the link between deer and Lyme and other tick-borne diseases; actively engaging to develop and deliver strategies to reduce ticks and tick-borne diseases appropriate to the conditions in Uist, with support from the Lyme Disease subgroup; implementing their commitments to cull and to keep deer out of townships…by establishing an independent mechanism within the community to track progress in reducing deer numbers.”