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.”

Marsaili MacAulay’s gold medal triumph at National Championships

A young swimmer from Benbecula has taken three medals at the Scottish Disability Sport National Championships in Grangemouth.

Marsaili MacAulay had never taken part in a major competition before, but the twelve year old swimmer didn’t let debut nerves hold her back, telling Am Pàipear: “I was a bit nervous at first, but the adrenaline helped push me on and I think I put in one of my best performances. It was really good to be part of the event and to meet the other competitors in the Highlands & Islands team.”

Marasaili won the Junior Female Class 25m Freestyle Gold Medal, the Junior Female 25m Backstroke Gold Medal and the Junior Female 25m Breastroke Bronze Medal.

Scottish Disability Sport (SDS) is the Scottish governing and co-coordinating body of all sports for people with a physical, sensory or learning disability. SDS supports a wide range of athletes and its members have been hugely successful at past Paralympic Games, taking home 17 medals across 12 sports at the Rio Games.

Marsaili now says she has a taste for competition and is hoping to attend the next Championships in April. With support from SDS, she may well be setting her sights higher still.

Marsaili’s parents Mairi and Donald John are hugely proud of her success, but brothers Alasdair and Ailean are keeping her feet on the ground, as is her Labrador Taffy.

Food and drink award winners

The October issue of Am Pàipear featured two island businesses shortlisted for national awards. In this month’s paper we can follow up with the good news that both companies were able to bring home new awards for the ever-growing Uist Trophy Cabinet.

North Uist Distillery picked up the prestigious title of Scottish Distillery of the Year 2022 at the Scottish Gin Awards, and also scooped a second award for Excellence in Branding. This is the 19th Award for the Distillery, but founder Kate MacDonald described this particular win as a big highlight:

“The whole team are so thrilled to have won Scottish Gin Distillery of the Year. It has been a chance for us to pause, reflect and celebrate the successes of the last three years. A huge thanks to all of the team who have worked so hard to make it all happen; Everyone who has ever bought a bottle of Downpour Gin and the whole community who have backed us in the Hebrides and further afield. To everyone in the industry who has offered help and support along the way – we really appreciate it. It has been a real team and community effort to achieve this.”

At the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards, Salar Smokehouse picked up the award for Best Food: Foodservice for its Salar Flaky Smoked Salmon, winning through from a prestigious seven-strong shortlist. Young Charlie’s Bistro chef Cameron Rae narrowly missed out on the title of Young Ambasador of the Year, but his shortlisting in itself was a considerable achievement.

At the same awards, Bùth Bharraigh picked up the title of Independent Retailer of the Year.

Careers Fair highlights the range of opportunities for young people

Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Outer Hebrides marked November’s Scottish Careers Week 2022 by hosting Careers Events across the Western Isles.

In Uist, 279 Sgoil Lionacleit pupils, members of the public and parents gathered in the Lionacleit Sports Centre on Thursday 10th November to hear what local employers had to say.

Pupils were able to find out about a broad range of local career options, with 27 local employers, support services and learning providers on hand to answer questions and highlight the great range of opportunities available – from health and emergency services, to childcare, education, technology and construction. There was representation from larger organisation including NHS, MOWI and security and defence contractor QinetiQ.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader, Cllr Paul Steele, said: “It is crucial that young people across the Western Isles are made aware of the range of employment, education and training opportunities available to them. It has been fantastic to see the engagement and genuine interest of young people at these events and equally the commitment of the business community to inform and inspire.

“To see three events such as this take place across the Western Isles on three consecutive days demonstrates the fantastic work of DYW Outer Hebrides and partners in narrowing the gap between local employers and every young person in the Western Isles.”

I wonder if anyone responded to the idea of a tunnel across to the mainland? I’m thinking that there wouldn’t be much support for that. As I write, I’m watching the south easterly wind driving the waves furiously towards my house. Imagine going underneath those waves! I don’t think that it would be very safe either to have our islands open to anyone at any time of the day or night. I think it would be better to support the ferry service, although it’s often broken or stranded due to bad weather; at least there are better ferries on the agenda.

On the radio the other day I heard that a number of frigates are going to get built on the Clyde for the Royal Navy. I think they said that it would be in two years time. Also Arnish in Stornoway is getting a contract to transfer food and equipment out to boats at sea to save the boats having to come into port. Of course I can’t understand anything about that kind of work but I do understand the importance of jobs in Scotland and especially in Stornoway.

I don’t know when Lyme disease started out here. When I was young, lots of deer were shot by crofters and they didn’t come into inbye land – I was 30 before I saw my first deer on this land. It wasn’t fear of humans that kept them out on the moor; they stayed there because they had enough green grass out there. The sheep and cows were summered out on the hill until October and the moors were burnt methodically; so with the sheep, lambs, cows, calves and the deer grazing there, the management of the moor was healthy.

I was born in 1940 and when the men got home on leave during the war, the deer were a Godsend. I think that I wrote before how my Uncle Hugh shot a deer when home during the war. I was too young to eat meat but the others did. I believe that the deer had been wounded before, which made its venison poisonous. The other children were all very sick and it was only the skill of old Doctor AJ MacLeod that saved them.

The sheep wouldn’t have so many ticks either in those days as the muirburning killed a lot of them. However burning was not done so methodically as time went on, so the heather had too much chance to grow. Then in 1961, reseeding became popular and the gearraidh areas became greener and the moor became rank through lack of grazing. The deer were attracted to the greener areas and as time went on they then came to the machair and into the gardens.

I think muirburn should be done in different areas ever year with plenty volunteers as this would be helpful. We have trees now so they would have to be very careful not to burn them. Of course I know that when we were children and we worked at peats, we came home with lots of ticks on our bodies but we were never sick. Maybe they are a different breed of tick now.

I believe that the number of deer should be very much reduced but a huge cull would be heartbreaking. I’d like to see hardy sheep grazing on the moors along with the deer but that could only happen if some crofters got Hebrideans and Blackface after muirburn got rid of the tall heather. Of course the government should finance that and those sheep would become “hefted” on the moors which means that they would settle in their areas and stay there. In the late 70s we burnt the ranch, as we called it, on Marrival and when the grass grew the following year we had lovely green grass and the cattle loved it and were able to summer there until 1997, when the fence stopped being stock proof.

On the 11th and 12th November the young ones were very busy in Vallay. This is the time all the cattle get their medicines and checked out before the winter. There’s a lot of planning especially when the days are so short and they are governed by the tide. On Friday 11th the tide was completely out at 4 p.m. so they took medicines over to Vallay and also the vehicles they would need to use the next day. They then gathered the cows and their calves and put them in the field around the old houses. Saturday was the big day; Carianne, Fraser, Alexander, John MacPhee (the Wee Man), Craig, Ryan, Alasdair Don and the scanner, another Ryan. Hector Shepherd took them over in a boat about 7 a.m. giving the team all the daylight hours to complete the job. The cows got scanned to tell us how many are pregnant and medicine for worms, pour on for lice and they also got mineral boluses. Boluses are so helpful; since we started giving them those we don’t get white scour in the calves. I think the day went very well. Two cows, Morag Skye and Sobhrach, with twins from springtime were brought back to Kyles to be looked after. It’s a big job as there are 139 cows. Carianne takes a note of all the eartags and pregnancy information; she is so often with them and knows each one’s name. She’s a real cowgirl!!

Our most exciting piece of news that day was that Big Boy’s son, Little Big Boy, had managed to impregnate all of the heifers that had been put with him! He had been privately sold but on inspection, before he was due to leave, it was seen that his long hair had been caught around the end of his most important tool, which meant that some of it had to be cut off. We couldn’t sell him but wanted to give him a chance to see if he would heal and perform. He was put with heifers and kept in Kyles. Well, he didn’t let us down and we look forward to seeing his calves next spring! Again, how exciting!!

We’re almost at the New Year and this is the last paper of 2022. I hope and pray that God will make 2023 a happier and peaceful year. We must be thankful for all the joy we’ve had whilst remembering those no longer with us.

My choice of readings are Matthew Chapter 1 and Psalm 118.

Seasons Greetings to you all!

By Danny Rafferty

Uisinis Bothy is on the south side of Mol a Deas, which is a boulder beach about two miles south-west of Uisinis Lighthouse. It was first renovated by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) volunteers in 1979 in memory of Donald H Stuart, a staunch contributor to early MBA work parties, and it offers basic accommodation and shelter to walkers and those interested in the outdoors. It is the only MBA-maintained bothy in the Outer Hebrides.

The MBA was founded in 1965 and the first projects were in the Borders of Scotland and the north of England. The MBA works in partnership with estate owners and today maintains over 100 bothies with the majority in rural and upland Scotland. With the agreement of the estate owners the MBA renovates traditional vernacular buildings in remote locations and renders them habitable. In the majority of cases it does not actually own the bothies. This work is done by volunteers, as is everything else in the MBA except for some outsourcing for the purposes of audit and membership affairs. On its fiftieth anniversary in 2015 it received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The MBA is a membership organisation and is financed by subscriptions and the occasional legacy. You do not have to be a member to use bothies and there is no charge. You are, however, expected to follow common-sense rules and respect the building, the environment and your fellow-users. In short, leave the place in as good or better condition than you found it. All bothies have a bothy book and the number of entries helps us to monitor levels of use. Many interesting anecdotes are recorded and some people are inspired to create poetry and pictures. An increasing number of visitors are from abroad.

Uisinis is a small two-roomed building facing east-west about 50 metres above the shore. The first room is a storeroom for tools and some fuel. Part of the floor here is earthen. The living-space has two wide bunkbeds and a single bench which also can also serve as a bed. It has a stove which can burn dry peat, coal or driftwood but not plastic. Water is obtained from a burn 200 metres to the south, but there must have been a closer source when the building was continuously occupied. The bothy can accommodate about six persons in reasonable comfort.

Today the east side of South Uist is uninhabited and seems remote. Its rugged character is very different to the flat fertile lands of the west. However in the past it did have advantages as a place of settlement: it was more sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies; it had all-season access to the Minch at a time when fishing was far more productive; it had a plentiful supply of seaweed for fertiliser and kelp, peat for fuel, and possibly a slightly milder climate. Like Knoydart across the Minch it was a good place for wintering cattle. Testimony to the former sizeable population can be seen in the landscape with the numerous feannagan – lazybeds – in evidence. However sheep husbandry was introduced after the change in estate ownership in 1838 and the catastrophe of the 1846 Potato Famine. The existing population was removed and a lesser number of shepherds and their families mainly from the Bracadale area of Skye introduced to the area.

The building we see today probably dates from the 1860s and was continuously occupied at least until the early 1920s when the famous Scottish naturalist Seton-Gordon happened upon it when he was lost in mist. He was well received by the resident family and this is recorded in his ‘Hebridean Memories’ – still in print.

When the MBA took on the building in 1978, Uisinis was still being used by crofters seasonally for gatherings. In fact there was always guidance for recreational users that priority should be given to them. The crofters would visit the lighthouse staff in the evening. The keepers were able to receive television beamed from Skye before it arrived in Uist and the visitors could then describe the programmes and relate storylines to friends and relatives at home. The lighthouse became automatic in the early 1970s.

There was an MBA work-party at Uisinis in 1998 and the building was transformed by four work-parties between 2011 and 2015. In 2014 the old roof was removed and a new one put in its place. That took a small team of volunteers a full month to execute and was a Herculean task. Stòras Uibhist has always been supportive with transport and assistance.

Not only is Uisinis a beautiful place to visit it also is rich in archaeological remains particularly Iron Age wheelhouses and souterrains. If you intend to visit with a party of four or more, you should inform the estate and myself. During the stag-shooting season which runs from about the beginning of September to the end of October users should inform the estate on 01878700101 of their intended movements.

Given the weather in these islands there are always maintenance issues. If you would like to join me in caring for the bothy, I can be reached by email on My landline is 01878700249 (voicemail). You don’t have to have DIY skills though that of course would be useful, just some enthusiasm and a willingness to help. If you wish to learn more about the Mountain Bothies Association, there is an excellent website.

Danny Rafferty, MBA Maintenance Organiser, Uisinis.

By Simon M. Davies

There can be no doubt that place names are of immense importance, not only for finding and identifying a location, but also for giving indications of its former uses, ownership or cultural associations. This is particularly true of the traditional Gaelic names which often contain a wealth of information in their formulation. However, so much of the accuracy can be inadvertently lost when surveying and recording of information is carried out by non-Gaelic speakers and reliance is placed on phonetic approximations. Blanket corporate policies can further worsen the situation for a few unfortunate localities.

There is a certain loch on the Isle of South Uist, within Howmore township at NF 76 36, whose name made its cartographic debut as ‘Loch Rigarey’ on the ‘Plan of the Island of South Uist’, surveyed 1805 by Wm Bald, a 17-year-old prodigy from Burntisland, Fife. By the time of the O.S. 1st Edition, the loch had been divided into two parts by the building of the road, now the A865, and the two resultant lochs now had individual names. The name ‘chosen’ by O.S. for the main loch had evolved into Loch Rigarry – from the Name Book options of Loch Rigarry (Neil McIntyre’s suggestion), Loch Rigary (from the Admiralty Chart), Loch Rigarey (from Johnston’s map) or Loch Righarruidh (suggested by A. A. Carmichael, with a note to check this spelling, so possibly Loch Righaraidh). The secondary, eastern loch was now called Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh. There was also a school marked adjacent to the township road junction, some 200 metres south of the loch.

In the 1921-30 ‘new’ 1-inch survey, the names remained unchanged, but on a small promontory to the west of the main road, a ‘new’ building group – a small farmstead and outbuildings – are now marked, although the school has not changed its position. During the 20th Century, the angling on South Uist became more important, and the loch began to be referred to as ‘Schoolhouse Loch’ – wrongly identifying the now disused farmstead as a former small schoolhouse. It is likely the name was chosen to avoid any potential Gaelic pronunciation problems. By taking this step, the loch immediately lost its provenance and past, but for this loch, things are about to get worse.

The publication of the new Explorer maps came along, and with that, the desire to reinvigorate the Gaelic names of features on the maps as important cultural features. So, once again, the loch’s name has been changed – and is now proudly (?) sporting the name of Loch an Taigh-Sgoil, marked against the southern portion of the loch. The position of the name “Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh” has also been now moved to the West of the main road, which itself has been straightened, widened and repositioned some 20-50 metres east, and now seems to refer to the northern section of the main loch, not the sectioned-off eastern portion.

So, clarity or madness? Should an English name, given to a loch to avoid potential embarrassment of tourists, be translated into Gaelic and gain ‘official’ recognition in a Crown document, erasing all mention of the original Gaelic roots? Or would it be better to retain the Gaelic name – preferably going with a version of Carmichael’s suggestion Righaraidh (King’s Hut or King’s Shieling) – and give it the subsidiary English alternative of Schoolhouse Loch (even though the schoolhouse was never there!).

Were the original phonetic Gaelic suggestions true to the intended origins? The -garry suffix is most commonly from Gearraidh – a term for the intermediate land twixt Machair (the coastal strip of blown shell-sand cover) and Monadh (the peaty marshland pasture). And what of the now anonymous Eastern loch? Perhaps we should adopt a plan of simplicity and just call it ‘Fred’.

All maps referred to in the text are available on the National Library of Scotland at

O.S. Name Books can be accessed and interrogated online at

Edward Dwelly’s Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary was used for referencing translations as needed.

Simon M. Davies has lived on South Uist since 2004 and has had a keen interest in the archaeological, historical and cultural heritage of the West Highlands and the Isles since childhood. He is currently the Chair of the Uist Community Archaeology Group and an active member of ACFA, a national group of field archaeologists specialising in surveying and recording the archaeological landscapes of both mainland Scotland and the Isles.

Uist’s lifeline air service goes on the market

Loganair, the UK’s largest regional airline is up for sale. The company was set up in 1962 by Willie Logan and has changed hands several times over the decades, operating under various franchise agreements. For the past 25 years, it has been wholly owned by Stephen and Peter Bond, who also owned and operated FlyBMI and Bond Aviation.

Loganair has offered its assurances that the current owners are committed to finding the right future owner for the airline and that they will remain fully committed to the business until a sale is concluded.

The intention to sell was released at the same time as Loganair’s audited accounts, which set out out pre-tax profits of £4.98 million and a turnover of £161 million, following losses in each of the previous two years as a result of Covid-19 sector wide impacts.

The statutory accounts also document that Loganair has secured a new long-term, five-year contract with Royal Mail to undertake its Highlands & Islands air services, delivering to Scottish islands by day and connecting to Royal Mail’s national network each night.  

Asked what the sale would mean for Uist, Loganair Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “Loganair has been proudly serving Highlands and Islands communities for over 60 years, providing crucial connectivity, essential supplies, and lifeline services for a host of vital Island activity. We appreciate the news of a potential change of ownership of the airline could raise some questions about our future, but we’d like to reassure everyone that we remain deeply committed to our island roots. Our plan remains the same; to continue our investment in growing our fleet and routes in order to provide safe and secure travel for all of our Highlands and Islands communities.”

Loganair employs 800 people with 200 staff members based in the Highlands and Islands.   It is the UK’s largest regional airline, operating a fleet of 42 aircraft across over 70 scheduled routes within the UK and to Ireland, Denmark and Norway and last year carried more than 910,000 passengers. 

For more on the Loganair situation, read Cllr Uisdean Robertson’s column.

Guest column by Rona MacKay & Kathleen MacDonald

It was recently announced that Ofgem had rejected plans to upgrade our subsea electricity cable linking us to Skye and the national grid.

I’ve worked for Community Energy Scotland in the Outer Hebrides for 16 years now and during that time the proposed interconnector between Lewis and Ullapool has regularly featured in the news, with barely a mention of the Uist subsea cable. So what has changed and why has it suddenly become important?

My colleague in Lewis, Kathleen MacDonald and I are grateful for the chance to explain the implications of this decision for Uist, as with all its unfamiliar acronyms, for example RIIO-ED2 (setting Revenues using Incentives to deliver Innovation and Outputs), it’s not a topic which is easy to engage in but it’s important we understand it and ensure the Uist community is represented in the final decision.

In December 2021 SSEN (Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks), who run our electricity networks in the North of Scotland, drafted a Business Plan setting out their proposals to replace the existing cable between South Uist (Lochcarnan) and Skye and to add an additional cable between North Uist and Skye. SSEN had engaged with the Comhairle, community generators and others and took account of our needs in their proposal. The plan was very welcome news for Uist and Barra as our current cable was installed 31 years ago and had an estimated lifespan of 20 years. Barra’s electricity supply is dependent on a cable connecting it to Uist so it is also dependent on the South Uist-Skye subsea cable.

In August this year Ofgem, the UK energy regulator who holds the purse strings for the projects in SSEN’s Business Plan, published its Draft Determinations in which it proposes to reject both the upgrade of the cable from South Uist to Skye, and the installation of the second cable from North Uist to Skye. All our larger turbines in Uist and Barra depend on the aging subsea cable from Lochcarnan to Skye to connect them to the national grid and allow them to generate and sell electricity. If the subsea cable to Skye fails, all the larger turbines are turned off until the cable is fixed. Ofgem’s decision is therefore deeply concerning for the Uist and Barra communities, and in particular for our community-owned wind turbines. Community Power Outer Hebrides (CPOH), a collective of the community generators in the Outer Hebrides including Stòras Uibhist and Barra & Vatersay Community Ltd, along with Uist Wind, wrote to Ofgem outlining their concerns about Ofgem’s proposal and the impact it could have on our communities.

In 2020 the Harris to Skye subsea cable that supplies Lewis and Harris failed and was down for a total of ten months. During this time four community generators claimed a combined £2million from their respective insurance companies and over and above that total was a shortfall/outright loss to the community generators of £1.3million. This had a drastic impact on communities with the charitable payments from the turbines out to the wider community being frozen.

Although the cable break to Harris was serious and had far reaching impacts, the Lewis community groups were able to rely on some insurance support to see them through the worst of the cable failure. Since this failure in 2020, no island-based generator has been able to source insurance cover for subsea cable failure, leaving the Uist and Barra generators without any cover should our Uist subsea cable break. The members of Community Power Outer Hebrides estimate that if the Uist cable were to fail now the loss to the projects on Uist and Barra would be in the region of £3million. Ofgem’s decision could cause job losses, project development delays and housing support delays amongst other issues.

Ofgem’s remit is to protect energy consumers, especially vulnerable people, by ensuring they are treated fairly and benefit from a cleaner, greener environment. Ofgem’s decision seems inconsistent with their remit as in the event of a cable failure it could leave Uist and Barra reliant on diesel generation for up to eighteen months while a replacement cable is installed. The cost to SSEN during the Skye-Harris cable break was estimated at £1m in diesel alone and Community Energy Scotland estimates that the use of diesel was releasing carbon dioxide emissions of 240 tonnes per day. Not only does Ofgem’s decision not make sense from an environmental position it is also the least effective solution from an economic perspective with the cost of diesel having increased dramatically, especially in more remote locations such as ours. Community groups in Uist and Barra are currently exploring decarbonisation projects, many of which are centered around Electric Vehicles, Heatpumps and other localised electricity dependent options. In order to progress these types of projects and support Government targets around a Just Transition we need comfort that the grid is resilient – comfort we currently do not have with the existing infrastructure well past its estimated lifespan.

The Third Sector is a significant employer in Uist and our community is heavily dependent on it to provide core services and facilities. With 57% of the Outer Hebrides estimated to be in fuel poverty and the number of householders seeking support and help increasing, we need to help our community groups to be more resilient to deal with the increasing demand for their services. Increasing energy costs for both buildings and transport are having a huge impact on the viability of the Third Sector and local businesses. We need Ofgem to back SSEN’s proposed subsea cable replacement from Skye to South Uist to give us the basic infrastructure we need to invest in sustainable energy projects locally and reduce energy costs locally.

In Uist and Barra we are having to fight to have equivalent access to a basic utility which people take for granted in towns and cities. Energy has been a key component to developing sustainable communities across Scotland, often supporting community land buyouts and other community development. Uist needs to have the basic infrastructure for a reliable electricity connection to be able to develop sustainable energy projects and future-proof our community.