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Crofters lose shooting rights to outsiders

IT once symbolised the worst of absentee land ownership, courtesy of the government of the day, and now Raasay is once again seeing its assets passed to outsiders by civil servants.

ISLAND LIFE: Raasay's crofters have lost a bid to keep their fishing and deer shooting rights
ISLAND LIFE: Raasay's crofters have lost a bid to keep their fishing and deer shooting rights

Crofters on the island say they have been badly let down by the Scottish Government's decision to lease their shooting and fishing rights.

The islanders had held the rights for 18 years but were outbid by £2000 by a commercial stalking business.

The Raasay Crofters' Association said members didn't make money out of the rights for themselves but supplied the island's shop and community with affordable venison, as well as venison burgers and sausages.

They went on deer management courses, bought equipment and chilling facilities and hosted parties for stalking and shooting woodcock. The crofters said they also provided cheap fishing for a few pounds a day on the island's lochs, which they had planned to develop.

Now the crofters say those benefits to the community have been removed after a decision taken by civil servants but opposed by local SNP MSP Dave Thompson and Environment minister Paul Wheelhouse. He has now instructed officials that, in future, ministers must approve any decision to remove such a lease from a local community.

The Scottish Government says the winning bid for the rights was at least two-and-a-half times more than the crofters' bid, but John Willie Gillies, of the crofters' association, whose forebears can be traced centuries back on Raasay, said: "Even if the top bid was 10 times ours, that is a drop in the ocean to the Scottish Government but the difference it makes to us losing the rights is huge."

The crofters wrote to the Government pointing out how the population of 140 was down from 180 in the past five to 10 years. During this time holiday houses have gradually outnumbered those of residents by 60% to 40%.

They said: "The island's fragility is recognised by public bodies and, among other initiatives, they are investing in a Raasay Development Partnership in an attempt to combat the disadvantages we face. It is bizarre that one government department is putting money into the island while another appears to want to take it away."

The crofters' association was set up in 1995 to avoid the sporting rights being let to an outsider. This was because the islanders recall the old Scottish Office selling many properties to Dr John Green of Sussex between 1961 and 1979. He visited the island only twice but obstructed the islanders at every turn, earning him the nickname "Dr No".

However, Dr Green never got his hands on the estate and the croftland, which, along with the sporting rights, have remained in Government hands since 1922.

In November, the crofters' lease ended and they were informed by the Government that the rights were going out to tender, but ministers were "not obliged to accept the highest offer".

The crofters had been paying £650 a year, but bid £1150. However, the successful bid came from South Ayrshire Stalking, based near Girvan. Chris Dalton, one of the owners of South Ayrshire Stalking, was on Raasay yesterday.

He said: "We are not seeking to make a fast buck and disappear. We want to be a benefit to the community and don't want to be unwelcome here."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that, in addition to the usual strict conditions attached to the lease, the new tenant would be required to meet the crofters' association at least twice a year

Four years ago the deer population on Raasay was estimated to be around 250.

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