Friday, 14 September 2007

Sea change is needed over Crown Estate

Photo: Pam Rodway, Planting to Plate co-ordinator, explains the scheme to Rob Gibson MSP at the Scottish Crofting Foundation AGM in Dingwall.

Published: 14 September, 2007
John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier

I WAS very glad to take part in the short debate on the Scottish Government's programme for this session.

Speaking last Wednesday, I emphasised one of the key non-legislative moves which is open to the SNP administration – namely, taking control of the day-to-day activities of the Crown Estate Commission in Scotland.

Before the elections in May, the Highland Council launched a report by the Crown Estate Review Working Group which was backed by all Highlands and Islands councils. Now that the new ministers are getting to grips with waves of papers, I think it is time for them to get to grips with the shadowy body that rules our waves. I'm sure that already has cross-party support.

I asked the Government to prioritise the retrieval of the Crown Estate Commission (CEC) powers that could be administered in Scotland just like the Forestry Commission is, i.e. with a separate Scottish set-up. When devolution came along the Crown Estate, unlike the Forestry Commission, retreated into its London redoubt. Yet its actions affect inshore and seashore life day and daily, mainly as a big financial drag for little return to local communities.

The way the Crown Estate manages Scotland's seabed and foreshore creates problems for marine renewable energy development and with "taxation" on projects beyond the twelve-mile limit; even worse, the vast bulk of the CEC levy goes straight to the Treasury. Addressing the issue within the existing devolution set-up would be possible, and an immediate benefit could be had for our harbours such as Scrabster and Wick, but also every small quay and jetty on the coast. Some 80 per cent of Scotland's harbours are managed by the Scottish Government, local authorities and trust ports in the public interest – that's why we must end the Crown Estate taking revenue from us. This would be major bonus to all sea-users.


FOOT-and-mouth disease seeping through the drains at Pirbright in Surrey has dampened a potentially good year for livestock production. On my travels I've heard nothing but praise from farmers, crofters and red-meat processors across the North who welcomed the early lifting of the movement and sales bans. They have congratulated the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and his professionals for their moves to minimise disruption in places so far from the outbreak.

In a statement last week in Holyrood, Richard explained that investigations about any possible traffic in hoofed animals from Surrey to Scotland drew a blank. So the inquiry under Professor Scudamore set to look into the whole outbreak will consider the point I raised, i.e. at the moment Scotland is part of one British epidemiological unit in relation to exotic disease. Could he consider, I asked, in terms of our economic interests and biosecurity, if it would it be practical and beneficial to explore the prospects of Scotland being treated by the EU as an epidemiological unit?

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment replied that regionalisation had been considered over the past few weeks and many risk issues had been highlighted.

It is important for Professor Scudamore to analyse these. However, we must recognise that the reason why Great Britain is identified as one epidemiological unit is because of the cross-border trade and the fact that there are no natural boundaries.

Pam Rodway, Planting to Plate co-ordinator, explains the scheme to Rob Gibson MSP at the Scottish Crofting Foundation AGM in Dingwall.

Since the outbreak was six hundred miles from Caithness, it was very different from the events of 2001 when the cause of the FMD mass pyres stemmed from infected meat found in the north-east of England. So the National Conversation on Scotland's constitutional future needs to tackle such cross-border issues. I'm glad to say that close co-operation between the SNP Government in Edinburgh and the Labour Government in London speeded the end of the emergency.


MAKING the case for local production and consumption of food this Scottish Food Fortnight is in many minds and, I hope, stomachs. What with the proven scientific hazards of additives to children's behaviour and the lax biosecurity standards of imported meat produced in South America and South-East Asia, it was a great pleasure to attend the Scottish Crofting Foundation AGM in Dingwall last Friday which featured the schools project Planting to Plate.

This involved four schools – Kilchoan primary in Ardnamurchan, Sgoil nan Loch from Lewis, Whalsay from Shetland and Farr school on the north coast. They collaborated with local crofters and learned about the history of local food culture, dug out lazy beds and gardens, ate their own produce, had lessons on healthy diets, measured the health of the soil they planted in, recognised the effects on the local environment and learned about the reduction of their carbon footprint and food miles through their efforts.

Along with the crofting delegates the children marvelled at Margaret Bennett's description of life on a Skye croft in the 1950s when nothing was wasted. Later that day their celebration of planting and eating local food came to a climax at Inverness High School, from which the produce of its own school garden was served up; it is now sold at farmers' markets and is included in their own school meals.

I caught up with Pam Rodway, who works for the Soil Association and is a renowned cheese-maker from Moray in her own right. She told me that all concerned had much enjoyed this project and that a review could decide to roll it out to other schools.

Farr school's students have set a benchmark for Caithness and Sutherland primary and secondary schools to dig for health and culinary victory.

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