A land reform expert charged with advising ministers has issued a stinging indictment of a Scottish Government decision to take the lease of sporting rights on the isle of Raasay away from local crofters.
Highland historian Professor Jim Hunter said ministers should try to buy the rights back from the South Ayrshire Stalking partnership.
It bid £2000 a year more than the crofters' offer of £1150 for the rights when the old lease expired, and the bid was accepted by civil servants.
Mr Hunter, a vice-chairman of the Scottish Government's Land Reform Review Group, said the Scottish Government had, in effect, transferred the rights from Raasay crofters to "external and absentee" interests. He added: "This runs counter to the Government's stated commitment to empower communities and to expand community control of assets."
Mr Hunter said what happened on Raasay was all the more dis-appointing because the crofters' 18 years of deer management had boosted the value of the sporting lease "which the Government has now cashed in".
"Ministers in Edinburgh should immediately acknowledge a bad mistake has been made – one that can in no way be defended or excused. But they should do much more than that.
"They should open discussions with the new holders of the sporting lease with a view to buying it back and restoring it to its previous crofter holders."
He said they should also tell Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to press ahead with getting its woods on Raasay into com-munity ownership.
FCS said the community will get first refusal on 711 acres of island woodland, including the sporting rights in the woods.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the stalking bid was accepted by officials without ministerial involvement.
Anne Gillies, secretary of the Raasay Crofters' Association, said what has happened on the sporting rights was "quite simply wrong".