By JOHN ROBERTSON
HORSE-RIDING groups in Shetland are up in arms over a threat that their showground at Seafield in Lerwick could be dug up for agricultural allotments. The SIC said yesterday it was only exploring the possibility of using the former hockey pitch and wants to talk to the horse riders to hear their views.
The Equestrian Association of Shetland (EAS) and the Pony Breeders of Shetland Association are getting their protest in early, having launched a Save Seafield campaign on the internet and gathering 75 signatures on the first day of an online petition to be presented at a meeting next Thursday with the SIC and the newly formed Shetland Allotments Association.
Equestrian association chairwoman Abigail Robertson said the former hockey pitch at Seafield had given a huge boost to the more than 200 riders in Shetland during the three summers they have been allowed to use it. In the past competitions were held in places like the Gilbertson Park but the riders were banished from there because of damage to the pitch by hooves.
She said the horse clubs did not see why they should give up Seafield. “We need to fight for it, now that we’ve finally got it. We’ve got nowhere else to go if it’s taken off us.”
The EAS discovered from the council last week that the Seafield pitch had been identified for possible use by town gardeners to grow their own vegetables. Other potential sites are understood to have included the back of the Staney Hill and near the Sound Gospel Hall.
Ms Robertson said if the pitch was to be turned over to allotments the council had spoken about offering to level off another park next to the Seafield pitch for use as an alternative showground. But she said it was already used as grazing by Clickimin Open Riding Club and it provided no proper access, parking or toilets for riding events. It is also under consideration for allotments.
The Shetland Times was unable to confirm this with SIC official Mary Lisk who is promoting the allotments venture. Contacted on Tuesday, she refused to say which sites were under consideration around town, repeating three times: “The council is looking at various council-owned land options throughout Shetland.” She went on to attack one of the pony groups for not taking the “civilised” approach of coming and talking to the council like “mature adults” before “staging a mass campaign”.
The former hockey pitch is available to various sports and recreation groups to book through the Clickimin Centre, according to Ms Robertson. In a rallying call on the EAS website this week she said: “We have been able to organise far more activities because there is a venue to hold them on. Before Seafield we had to beg, borrow or steal a corner of someone’s field and try to avoid rabbit holes or risk the wrath of most of the male population of Shetland and sneak onto a football pitch! Thanks to SIC sports and leisure and the Shetland Recreational Trust, for the past three years we have had a venue which is central, safe and with appropriate facilities.”
As we went to press yesterday Mrs Lisk’s boss, head of environmental and building services Stephen Cooper, confirmed the former hockey pitch is one of the options for potential allotment sites along with the piece land next to it. He said: “The meeting next week with various horsey people is simply to discuss what their needs are; is there room to accommodate allotments in either of these sites? It’s really using them as a sounding board to see what their issues are.
“I can understand they see this as a threat but all we’re doing is simply consulting with them and it’s no more than that at this stage. We don’t want to cause hassle for any other users. This is about trying to accommodate all interested parties.”
Ms Robertson said horse club members were not against allotments, joking that they could even offer assistance with a ready supply of fertiliser. “The horsey folk have absolutely nothing against allotments. We just don’t see why we’ve been picked on to give up our area to make way for them.”
Although horse riders have the use of an indoor school at Girlsta this year, through Shetland Riding Club, it may only be temporary, Ms Robertson said, adding that the fact that the school and Seafield had both been busy this year proved there was a need for a permanent equestrian venue.