Following several days of criticism, the Scottish Government has returned the sporting rights on Raasay to the islanders.
In 1995 the Raasay crofters were awarded the lease for Raasay shooting and fishing rights, but when the lease expired in November 2012 it was put out to tender by the Scottish Government. Five offers were considered and the highest offer from South Ayrshire Stalking was accepted.
This resulted in widespread criticism that the decision flew in the face of wider governmental initiatives to support communities, especially given the government’s commitment to furthering land reform and empowering communities.
The criticism prompted a u-turn announced by First Minister Alex Salmond during First Minister’s Questions. The contract awarded to South Ayrshire Stalking had been withdrawn (by mutual consent with the new leaseholder) and the previous lease will be extended by a year to enable the community to be consulted on longer term options for the lease.
Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “It’s regrettable that the original decision to award the sporting rights contract was made without ministerial involvement. Raasay is a fragile island community and Ministers recognise the sporting rights are very important to the islanders. I share the concerns expressed locally about the way in which the contract was awarded and will ensure, as I have indicated previously that, in future, appropriate ministerial consideration is given when such decisions are being made.
“That is why I have taken steps to resolve the situation and I hope the Raasay islanders will be content with this solution. Effectively this will extend the islanders’ existing lease by a year and will allow us to work with crofters and the wider community to find a satisfactory long-term solution.
“I would like to thank Chris Dalton and South Ayrshire Stalking for their understanding and agreement to withdraw from the contract. In my assessment they have behaved very honourably in our dealings with them. I am also encouraged by their offer to work with the crofters for their mutual benefit to make the most of the sporting rights on Raasay if that is of interest to the community – it is for the crofting association to decide whether to pursue this offer further.”
South Ayrshire Stalking will receive £9,000 costs towards expenses already incurred.
The Scottish Government Press release can be found here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2013/02/Raasay-rights28022013