Royal Society to hear views on crisis

Taking action to help some of Scotland’s most fragile rural com­munities will be the theme of a meeting in Lerwick later this month.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and Shetland Islands Council want to meet residents to discuss the findings of the RSE’s Inquiry into Scotland’s Hills and Islands.

The report found there was a need to recognise the importance of agriculture to the economy and the environment and to integrate social, economic and environmental measures for rural areas.

The aim of the investigation was also to find ways to help secure a prosperous and environmentally-sustainable future through the promotion of new activities and the future development of those, such as tourism, that are already of major importance.

The meeting, in the Lerwick Hotel on Tuesday 24th February, will be an opportunity for residents, the RSE and the SIC to discuss the findings and actions to be taken from them. The meeting starts at 5.30pm and attendance is free and open to all.

Inquiry chairman Gavin Mc­Crone said there was concern for the future of livestock agriculture in the hills and islands and the effect that its continued decline could have on rural communities and their environment.

Prof McCrone said: “Our report, which follows 18 months of taking detailed evidence, makes recom­mendations for the future of agricultural policy, forestry, the environment, tourism and other activities important in these areas.

“The report is intended to assist those responsible for policy and people in these communities working to achieve a sustainable future for their areas. The event in Lerwick will provide an op­portunity to discuss the inquiry’s findings.

“The purpose of our visit is to have a discussion with a wide range of local interests from Shetland on the issues affecting the future of the land, the economy and the role of government.

“We will provide a summary presentation of the main findings of our report as a basis for discussion and debate. We and we hope that many of those concerned with these issues will be able to attend.”

Inquiry committee member Drew Ratter said: “The RSE makes the scale of the potential crisis in the hills and islands crystal clear. However, as well as diagnosing the problems, the report prescribes remedies which are practicable and affordable.

“The report urges the Scottish government to encourage the Crofters Commission to work with community planning partners to use its powers in combating absenteeism and promoting croft creation to bring new people with new skills and ideas to our fragile areas. I personally stand strongly behind that particular recommendation.”

SIC head of business dev­elopment Douglas Irvine stressed the importance of the committee of inquiry’s work.

He said: “At a time when the main rural staple industry agri­culture is in serious decline throughout the Highlands and Islands it is essential that ways are found to strengthen the area’s competitiveness and improve liv­ing conditions. Any influence that the committee can bring to bear on policy makers and decision takers will be worthwhile.”

The report has been widely welcomed and is presently being scrutinised by the Scottish govern­ment. The inquiry team visited Shetland in 2008 and took evidence from representatives of the local communities.

The RSE would welcome written questions from people unable to attend the meeting and where possible these questions could form part of the discussions. Please submit written questions to by Friday 20th February.

It should be noted that the RSE will be unable to provide individual responses to questions proposed.


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