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Community purchase would be best way to protect Cape Wrath

I WOULD like to clarify the current situation with regard to access to Cape Wrath, ("Conflicting reports over Cape Wrath's future", The Herald, December 20).

We are in receipt of a letter from the UK Defence Minister, Mark Francois. This letter clearly states that should the MoD be successful in purchasing the land "This would mean that for reasons of health and safety any access by the local community would be precluded". There is no mention of access being allowed on some occasions, and the use of the word "any" would appear to be unambiguous.

For many years the local community has worked with the MoD to ensure access to Cape Wrath during the tourist season, and we have regular formal meetings as well as informal contacts to attempt to resolve any problems. We would wish to continue to do so.

However, given the MoD's desire to purchase yet more land; the military each year encroaching further into the tourist season; the mixed messages we have been receiving; and the unambiguous nature of the Minister of State's letter, such co-operation is becoming ever more difficult.

The MoD claims to be providing a legally binding agreement that, as a minimum, public access would be at its current level. Hence the importance of the community being able to purchase the land.

Cape Wrath is a crucial part of the economy of Durness. Without access to the lighthouse and the peninsula, there would be a substantial reduction in visitor numbers. At a conservative estimate, this would cost the economy of the village more than £400,000 per year, leading to job losses, business closures and further depopulation. It would also mean the end of the Cape Wrath Challenge – one of the toughest marathons in the UK, and one that attracts athletes from throughout the world.

It would also mean the last stretch of the long-distance walking route from Fort William to Cape Wrath would no longer be accessible and end plans to establish a north coast walking route from Cape Wrath to John O'Groats.

The denial of access to Cape Wrath would have a devastating effect on the whole of North and West Sutherland.

There are also environmental concerns. Some sources have linked the death of pilot whales in the Kyle of Durness in July 2011 to underwater explosions following RAF training exercises. Despite being asked on numerous occasions both in writing and verbally, the MoD has still not provided us with answers to our questions.

In 2008, a serious heathland fire near Cape Wrath, which raged for some time, was caused by a live firing military exercise. According to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) it could take 10 years for the 338 acres of fragile environment to return to its previous state. We have no desire for confrontation with the military and we would wish to continue to work with them to ensure continued public access and to enable our armed forces to have training opportunities. The best way to ensure both these aims and to protect the fragile environment of Cape Wrath is for the community to be able to purchase the land that is for sale.

Kevin Crowe,

Chairman,

Durness Community Council,

17c Balnakeil,

Durness.

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