Tavish Scott: People are missing link in island life
Fetlar is a beautiful island in any weather. It is known as the garden of Shetland with well drained nutrient-rich soils that have attracted and provided for its people during 5,500 years or more of occupation. It is home to some of Britain’s rarest and Shetland’s most iconic breeding birds. It is Britain’s leading site for red-neck phalarope, a pair of snowy owls bred successfully for many years and red throated divers raise young on the island’s lochs.
A nature lover’s delight is enhanced by fascinating flora and fauna, bronze age archeology and geologists marvel in the unique Funzie Conglomerate.
Fetlar used to produce all kinds of produce and much was sold to the traders of Shetland’s capital, Lerwick.
Latterly agricultural production was based on the quality of livestock. Cattle and sheep were sold for breeding stock and into the store trade which eventually becomes the cuts of beef and lamb bought in specialist butchers.
Twenty years ago the government’s nature conservation bodies decided to pay crofters to reduce the number of sheep they had. This policy was based on protecting and enhancing nature habitats for breeding birds. Agricultural practices such as draining land were stopped in some areas as wetlands for birds were encouraged.
Policy was driven by designations where tracts of land with high nature conservation benefits and features were rewarded with a title. There is a veritable alphabet soup of NNRs, SPAs and SSSi. The list goes on and new titles are dreamed up under the auspices of the European Union. Fetlar is no different to many areas of Scotland that groan under the weight of nature designations. These have a place as long as there is a balance between people, a community with a future and nature. Fetlar has a population of just 70. The island needs more.
A breakwater has been completed with a berth for fishing boats. The waters surrounding the island are rich in fish but, without a natural harbour, Fetlar has been a community which fished to augment the diet.
So today, crofters worry about the modern day Clearances. This is not about a heartless landlord clearing small agricultural units to make way for the Cheviot sheep and financially sustainable agriculture.
Today’s worry is that a combination of the end to Scottish Natural Heritage payments for looking after land and the latest Common Agricultural Policy approach will spell the death knell for crofting communities such as Fetlar.
Where crofters were paid to reduce their stock numbers they did. Ewes were laid off and cattle too. Cows are good for nature conservation. But they take a lot of looking after where winter fodder has to be produced with fertiliser to boost grass yields in summer time. So the cattle are leaving.
Nature experts wanted to avoid the mono culture of just sheep. Yet that is what is happening. Agriculture policy and nature conservation all seem to forget the important bit - people. That is what this stunning island needs.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west