Rabbits force Fort William to hop it to new venue

FORT William Shinty Club have been forced to switch today's MacTavish Cup clash to Kingussie after an infestation of rabbits.

The Camanachd Cup holders' An Aird home beneath Ben Nevis is one of the premier venues in the sport. Last year it hosted the televised Camanachd Cup final and in 2007 it will stage the international between Scotland and Ireland.

However, hordes of ravenous rabbits have taken up residence, leaving the surface bereft of grass and the pot-holed park is strewn with droppings.

Showers don't work and the goalmouths have been described as '12 inches of mud' by team manager, Dave Stafford.

It has also been claimed contestants tossing cabers at Highland games events each July have irreparably damaged the pitch's natural drainage.

With the club having to fork out to alter venue for today's Lochcarron match and facing the prospect of having to play home matches 'away', leaders have urged Highland Council chiefs to act urgently.

"There has been meetings but the council say they don't have the money to spend," said Fort William manager, Stafford.

"It is sad because this is a top park in shinty, one of Scotland's oldest sports. It is an international venue but the park is like a sponge bag, rabbits are eating any grass coming through and the tossing of the cabers at the Highland games ruins the park and leaves big divots everywhere."

Fort William took the decision to switch to the Dell in Speyside on Tuesday. Cameras from a new BBC Gaelic sports programme are reported to be covering the clash for highlights purposes, another reason for the decision.

Chairman Richard Gall says other clubs don't want to play at An Aird because of the problems.

"I am pressing the council for answers. There has been a lot of rain recently but other parks are playable. It is at a stage where other teams don't want to come here because they can't shower. We are having to think about playing home games, away from Fort William.

"It is costing us a lot of money for pitch hire and mini-buses for first and second teams. As for the rabbits, there has been an infestation in the area. I don't know what can be done but the pitch is a disgrace in this day and age."

John O'Kane from the council's Education, Culture and Sport Service said yesterday he was unaware of any unusual circumstances surrounding An Aird that had not been raised at recent meetings.

He did confirm, however, that the rabbit issue remains a problem for maintenance staff. "We have regular meetings with all pitch users in the Lochaber area regarding the maintenance procedures for the year.

"There was a concern raised about rabbits and this has been an on-going issue for some time. We are in dialogue with the club but, to my knowledge, there has been no significant alteration in circumstances since we last spoke."