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Jackie O'Brien reports
"The islanders are concerned about the impact on their livlihoods"
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Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 08:17 GMT
Machair trouble on Berneray

Berneray Berneray is famed for beaches and fertile fields

Crofters on Prince Charles' favourite Hebridean island have warned their way of life is under threat from a conservation plan.

A 1,500-acre area of Berneray's arable land is scheduled to be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which places strict limitations on what crofters and farmers can do.

There can be little doubt that the proposed designation in its present form will have a serious effect on crofting and farming on the island of Berneray
John Angus MacCuish
Scottish Natural Heritage argues that the low coastal meadows known in the Western Isles as "machair" need protection.

Berneray lies in the Sound of Harris and is home to just 140 people.

Prince's concern

Prince Charles is reported to be concerned about the threat to his favourite island, where he has spent holidays with locals, helping out on daily tasks like digging potatoes.

The crofters first received notification of the SSSI last October and have formed the Berneray Machair Committee to fight the idea.

Prince Charles Prince Charles is worried about the island
Chairman John Angus MacCuish said: "At all meetings of the committee, also attended by a number of crofters, there has been total rejection of the proposal, and in particular with the list of operations likely to damage the features of special interest .

"There can be little doubt that the proposed designation in its present form will have a serious effect on crofting and farming on the island of Berneray."

The crofters say the current condition of the machair is because of their traditional practices, rather than despite them.

Virtual carpet

SNH argues that the machair, consisting of delicate flowers linked up to form a virtual carpet of vegetation over light sandy soil, is delicate and needs protection.

It is important for wild bird populations, says the agency.

North director Jeff Watson said: "The crofters of Berneray have absolutely nothing to fear from the SSSI and have been given assurances to this effect by local SNH staff.

Crofts Crofters fear the designation threatens their traditions
"There are many SSSIs covering machair in the west of Scotland, particularly the Western Isles, and none of these has stopped traditional crofting.

"SSSIs provide a formal framework for consultation to ensure the conservation interests of the site is maintained alongside any future changes in land use.

"The UK Government has an international responsibility to protect special bird sites under the EC Wild Birds Directives, and it is the Government's wish that these areas should first be designated SSSIs.

"I am very concerned if people believe that the SSSI will constrain traditional crofting agriculture. It is my firm intention to reassure people at our meeting that this will not be the case."

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See also:
27 Dec 99 |  Scotland
Wallace pledges new era of land ownership
01 Oct 99 |  Scotland
Crofters receive aid package

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