MSPs ‘let down’ crofters as sporting lease lost

Furious crofters on Raasay have hit out after losing the shooting and fishing rights on the island – to a stalking firm in South Ayrshire.

Furious crofters on Raasay have hit out after losing the shooting and fishing rights on the island – to a stalking firm in South Ayrshire.

They have accused the Scottish Government of “badly” 
letting them down by selling 
the sporting lease they “successfully managed and built up” over 18 years.

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The Raasay Crofters Association said the decision has resulted in “the end of an era”.

In a letter sent to environment minister Paul Wheelhouse, its secretary Anne Gillies wrote: “In the early years our tenancy was something of a 
burden in that we struggled to raise enough to pay the rent, but we turned it around into a successful self-funding enterprise.

“Our success brought attention to the sporting lease and gave it a value. You have now sold it to the highest bidder and shown no concern for either our fears or our aspirations for the community. You have let us down.”

The association represents 11 active crofters on the island and has held the lease since 1995, paying an annual fee of £650.

Since then they have built the enterprise into a profitable business, erected and extended deer fences, invested in deer management training for its members, bought equipment and chilling facilities, and hosted stalkers and woodcock shooters.

It has also established a popular wholesale trade in Raasay venison, burgers and sausages.

The lease ended in November last year and the association was told by the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate that the sporting rights were to be put out to tender for the first time.

The association increased its offer to £1,150 a year, but in January was told that its bid had been unsuccessful, being the lowest of five bids.

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Mr Wheelhouse said: “Scottish ministers are governed by principles to ensure that we achieve best value for the assets we 
hold on behalf of the people of Scotland.”

He added: “To ensure community interests are taken into account ... ministers will in future have final sign-off on any decision where this would result in a local community failing to secure a lease when they have, until the time of renewal, been the tenants.”

Chris Dalton, of South Ayrshire Stalking, based near Girvan, which beat five others for the lease, said: “We want to work with the crofters and wider island community and had a meeting with the crofters to that end on Monday.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We appreciate the contribution of the sport lease to the island and have already facilitated a very encouraging meeting between the Raasay Crofters Association and the new sporting leaseholder.

“The leaseholder is willing to work with the crofters, and areas where mutual benefit may be achieved have been identified.”