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Mackerel sanctions “imminent”

SANCTIONS against Iceland and Faroe in response to their unilateral mackerel quotas are at an advanced stage, according to the Scottish government.

Fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead met with European Union fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki on Monday to press for action after Iceland and Faroe walked out of talks with the EU and Norway on setting mackerel quotas.

Mr Lochead said: “The commissioner agreed that the current situation is unacceptable and tough action is needed. She assured me that concrete proposals from the EU are imminent and that an announcement is expected in the coming days.”

This month Faroe gave itself permission to catch 150,000 tonnes of mackerel this year, a 75 per cent increase on last year’s quota and five times their last agreed share in 2009.

Iceland set themselves a quota of 147,000 tonnes, far greater than the relatively small amount they traditionally catch.

Both island groups claim the valuable species are spending more time in their waters and therefore they are entitled to a greater share of the catch, a view disputed by the EU and Norway who say their sustainable approach to the fishery is being threatened.

Lifeboat coffee morning

THE LERWICK Ladies Lifeboat Guild raised more than £3,200 during a coffee morning on board the NorthLink ferry Hjaltland while it was berthed in Lerwick harbour on Saturday, they reported on Tuesday.

Guild president Linda Simpson said there had been a great turn out for the event, with visitors enjoying teas, coffees and homebakes. Stalls with souvenirs, books, cake and candy, lucky dips and tombolas were all busy too, she said.

“As always, we were delighted with the number of people that attended and very much appreciate their help in raising such a generous sum.

“Particular thanks go to Captain Strathearn of MV Hjaltland and Jane Leask of NorthLink Ferries, to whom we are extremely grateful for their help and support. Thanks also go to Bruce Leask, coxswain of the lifeboat, and his crew who were there to assist with all the fetching and carrying, and to all our willing helpers who had a very busy morning.”

The RNLI shop will re-open on Saturdays during May and June, and on Thursdays and Saturdays in July and August.

The annual open day will be held on Lerwick’s Victoria Pier on Saturday 4 June.

Viking decision to be delayed

VIKING Energy opponents Sustainable Shetland have welcomed the delay in a decision on the controversial wind farm until after the Scottish Parliament elections.

The Scottish government confirmed on Monday that no decision on whether to approve the 127 turbine project or to hold a public inquiry would be held before 5 May.

Parliament breaks up on Tuesday to allow the election campaign to commence, though ministers will continue to hold responsibility for their portfolios until the vote.

Energy minister Jim Mather, who would have had the final say on Viking, has announced he will stand down at the election so that even if the Scottish National Party form a new government, he will not be amongst them.

Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox welcomed his absence, saying that he had already been tainted by meeting with the VE developers four years ago.

“We are very glad that Jim Mather will not be involved because he met with Viking Energy in November 2007,” Mr Fox said.

Viking Energy coordinator Allan Wishart said he would have liked a decision to have been made sooner, but appeared confident that the wind farm will be approved.

“It would have been nice to get approval before the election but we have to leave it now and see what happens, though I do believe that all the parties are very supportive of renewables so we shall have to just wait and see what happens,” he said.

Meanwhile a senior banker with Lloyds Banking Group will meet trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust on Thursday to discuss the investment into the wind farm.

Richard Simon-Lewis, the banking group’s senior director overseeing renewable energy projects, will be joined by Hunter Inkster, originally from Shetland, who works for Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets in Aberdeen. 

SCT financial controller Jeff Goddard said the bankers viewed Viking Energy as an attractive investment opportunity.

Mr Goddard said: “We have now met with several banks, including Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets to discuss the financing of the project.  SSE, the other partner in the Viking Energy project has had discussions with the European Investment Bank.

“The clear message we are getting from the banks is that this project can be financed and Lloyds Bank Corporate Markets were keen to meet the trustees and give the view of a potential investor.”

The estimated building costs for Viking Energy are £685 million. Most of the costs would be financed through loans from a mix of commercial banks and specialist infrastructure and renewable funds, he said.

The security for the loans is taken against the project itself and would not therefore put at risk any other trust funds.

The charitable trust might have to raise £62 million to meet its share of the building costs, borrowing £31 million and raising the rest by selling off other investments.

Mr Goddard estimates that the profits returning to the trust might amount to £23 million each year for the lifetime of the wind farm.

Tall Ships gigs sell out in record time

THE TWO headline concerts for this year’s Tall Ships Race visit to Lerwick were sold out in record time after going on sale on Saturday at 12 noon.

The 2,000 tickets for The Levellers concert on Friday 22 July were all gone within 45 minutes, while another 2,000 tickets for Abba tribute act Björn Again the following night went in just 90 minutes.

Tall Ships project manager Fiona Dally said that although queues had formed outside Islesburgh Community Centre, most tickets were sold online via the new Shetland Box Office’s website.

She said she was delighted with the huge response and there seemed to be a demand for concerts of this size in Shetland.

She added that there were plenty of other things on for those who unlucky enough to miss one of the 4,000 tickets.

“There are a lot of people who have not got a ticket for the concerts. There are two alternatives music events that will run concurrently for free. There will be a club marquee and Laurenson’s Quay on both of these nights as well as on Thursday,” she said.

“On Friday and on Saturday there will be performances on Victoria Pier including Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain on the Saturday night.

“So people can still come out and enjoy the atmosphere of the Tall Ships event.”

More than 50 tall ships with more than 2,000 crew will be visiting Lerwick between 21 and 24 July, this summer.

Nicole voted top young politician

Nicole Moaut (front right) at the recent MCA consultation meeting in Lerwick, with the old guard in the background

SHETLAND’S representative in the Scottish Youth Parliament has been voted the country’s top ‘up and coming young politician’, coming top out of a field of six.

Anderson High School student Nicole Mouat, from Scalloway, was presented with her prize at the Scottish variety Awards in Glasgow at the weekend.

The award came shortly after she had received the ‘outstanding achievement’ prize in the Scottish Youth Parliament awards, for the work she did locally for the national ‘Picture the Change’ consultation.

The 18 year old toured the islands meeting young people and collecting more than 4,000 statements as part of the consultation.

She has also raised youth awareness issues in the local media and arranged question and answer sessions for young people with Shetland MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott.

She was one of six pupils up for the award at the weekend, but had received more votes than her rivals.

Afterwards she said she had not even realised she had been nominated for the outstanding achievement award and was speechless when her name was called out.

“This shows that the work I’ve done over the past two years as an MSYP has not been wasted,” she said.

She thanked Shetland Islands Council youth worker Martin Summers and Shetland Youth Voice chair Emily Shaw for their help with the Picture the Change effort and all the Shetland people who voted for her.

Cash for fishing boats

TWO Shetland fishing crews have received almost £25,000 towards improving their vessels as part of a £4.5 million handout to Scotland from the European Fisheries Fund.

The whitefish boat Venturous receives two grants, one of £15,382 to help with the £38,455 cost of upgrading its fish hold and purchasing a new 300mm mesh net and a 130mm cod end, plus £1,349 towards the £3,373 cost of a new satellite phone and weather system.

Yell whitefish boat Guardian Angell receives £7,900 for the £19,750 cost of a new fish handling system.

Lerwick-based international environment group KIMO was also given £56,613 towards the cost of running its Fishing for Litter campaign next year.

Assault witnesses sought

WITNESSES are being sought after a 20 year old man claimed he had been assaulted in Lerwick town centre in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The man approached police officers patrolling Commercial Street at 2.30am to claim that he had been attacked.

The force said they would like to hear from anyone who may have witnessed such an incident.

Police also reported that a vehicle went off the road at 6.50am on Saturday morning on the main A970 close to the Vidlin junction.

The two people in the car received minor injuries but did not need medical treatment, a spokesman said.

Total shocked by £700,000 community bids

FRENCH oil giant Total have turned down funding requests for £700,000 from community groups in Shetland since they started working in the islands last year, the company reported this month.

Total is building a £500 million gas plant adjacent to the Sullom Voe oil terminal, which has brought hundreds of millions into the island community’s coffers since it opened more than 30 years ago.

In February last year Total agreed to pay a throughput levy to Shetland Islands Council after a lengthy series of negotiations, in which the council refused the offer of a single lump sum payment.

Though no figure has ever been disclosed, sources suggest the local authority is set to earn several million pounds every year once gas starts to flow from the Laggan-Tormore fields west of Shetland in 2014.

On top of the levy, Total have agreed to pay for 15 young Shetlanders to take up apprenticeships with the company, and to sponsor the Tall Ships visit in July and the annual environmental awards..

This month community groups throughout Shetland received letters from Total saying that their individual requests for funding had been turned down, months after some had asked for assistance.

Laggan-Tormore project director Robert Faulds said he had been surprised at the number of bids that had come in.

He said that every request had been individually looked at, but the company had decided the throughput levy covered their commitment to the isles.

“As a company we probably don’t spend any more than £30,000 a year on charity nationally, so obviously £700,000 is an enormous amount,” Mr Faulds said.

“We are good neighbours but we are not a philanthropic organisation, we are a business.”

The SIC negotiating team were “very good at their job” and had “squeezed every last drop” out of the company, Mr Faulds said, adding that such a financial deal with a local authority was unique in his experience.

The council had insisted on a levy that would bring a long term income over the lifetime of the gas plant, whose value will grow as energy prices increase in the future.

SIC head of finance Graham Johnston, who led the council negotiating team, would not divulge how much the throughput levy would earn the authority, topping up the £100,000 a year rent the gas plant will bring in.

“It could generate significant sums that will go into the reserve fund, which is the reserve over which the council has the most discretion,” Mr Johnston said.

When informed of the amount of funding requests Total had received, he said it showed the level of enterprise within the community that it should make such an effort to milk “a potential cash cow”.

He added that it would be up to groups to campaign how the Total levy should be spent within the isles, advising that no money would be forthcoming until gas production commences.

Last week Total issued a statement that said: “Since arriving in Shetland we have made it very clear that we wish to be seen as good neighbours and play a meaningful role in the local community. We hope to do this in part through direct involvement in appropriate local initiatives and events.

“For example, we have so far committed to funding a number of OPITO apprenticeships aimed at creating exciting career opportunities for young people on the islands; supporting the Shetland Environmental Awards; and part sponsoring the Tall Ships Race when it comes to Shetland in July. There will doubtless be further examples over the coming months and years.

“However, our principal financial contribution to the local community will be via a ‘throughput levy’ paid to Shetland Islands Council (SIC) on all gas that flows through the new Shetland Gas Plant, currently under construction at Sullom Voe.

“On behalf of Shetland Island residents, this form of community support was the option specifically requested by SIC when plans for the development of our Laggan and Tormore fields was being agreed. The levy will translate into a major investment into Shetland’s future sustainability and infrastructure and the well-being of its citizens.

“We feel sure that Shetlanders will understand that, having committed to a very significant contribution to the Shetland Islands community through the levy, we are not then in a position to offer the level of ad hoc support to community projects as might otherwise have been the case.”

Total hope to start laying pipes to the Shetland gas plant in April and have already started work on building an accommodation block for construction workers that should be completed by the end of the summer.

Last year work started on building a road to the gas plant site, where foundation work has already been carried including the creation of terraces and peat reservoirs.

Meanwhile work is being carried out at various manufacturing plants throughout Europe to build the various sections that will make up the gas plant.

Shetland Charitable Trust is hoping to earn in the region of £23 million a year if the Viking Energy wind farm is approved and starts generating power from 2017.

Faroe links strengthened

ECONOMIC and political links between Shetland and Faroe have been strengthened during a two day visit to the Scandinavian islands this week.

Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness led a four man delegation that held discussions about broadband connections, transport links and energy projects during a hectic series of meetings.

As a result a new air link between Faroe and Sumburgh airport is to be discussed and the Faroese trade minister Bjarni Djurholm will visit Sullom Voe oil terminal in May regarding possible future oil and gas exports.

The main purpose of this week’s visit was to meet Faroya Telecom (FT) about the council’s new connection into the Faroese fibre optic cable that will bring superfast broadband to Lerwick this year.

Speaking from Aberdeen airport on Friday, SIC head of economic development Neil Grant said they had met FT’s senior management to arrange demonstration projects to show people in Shetland just what a fibre connection would offer.

“We want to gauge the appetite for high speed broadband in Shetland,” Mr Grant said.

They also heard about FT’s network of fibre optic connections to all the remote communities in the islands and Faroe’s mobile phone system - 200 phone masts compared to just nine in Shetland.

Mr Cluness said that Exxon and Statoil were currently drilling for oil just inside Faroese waters and that Faroe was interested in exporting that oil via Sullom Voe.

The convener said that there would soon be a meeting with Atlantic Airways and Loganair to discuss flight connections between the island groups, but after Smyril Line lost another £1 million last year any sea links were unlikely to restored in the foreseeable future.

There was a meeting with the civil engineering firm Articon who have won the contract to dredge Scalloway harbour this year. The delegation was shown several major construction projects the company is involved with, including a school and a care centre.

Faroe is also interested in developing renewable energy and there was much discussion about the proposed Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland and the subsea cable that will export electricity if the project goes ahead.

Mr Grant said it had been an extremely successful trip that promised to strengthen the connections between the two island groups. “We achieved what we went up for and a lot more,” he said.

One subject that was kept off the table was the current dispute between Faroe and Europe about mackerel quotas.

Mareel sub-contractors walk off job

SHETLAND building contractors DITT are taking steps to minimise any delays erecting the £12 million Mareel cinema and music venue after roofing contractors walked off the job this week.

Glasgow firm TM Devon, who employed around four men to roof and clad the high tech building, called in the administrators on Wednesday.

DITT finance director Peter Tait said they had not been officially informed about the state of the sub contractor, but were already taking steps to resolve any problems it may cause.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that any delays are minimised and any delays caused specifically by this subcontractor going under are our responsibility,” Mr Tait said.

He said TM Devon had completed 85 to 90 per cent of the work they were contracted to carry out.

Earlier this year DITT announced that transport delays caused by poor winter weather had pushed back the opening date until the autumn of this year.

13 years for sexual abuse


FORMER Shetland resident Chris Readings was jailed for 13 years at the High Court in Edinburgh after being found guilty of sexually abusing a young boy and girl in the islands.

The 44 year old, who left Shetland for Oxfordshire last year, was found guilty of six charges of abuse in various parts of the isles between May 2008 and January last year.

The offences included sodomy, attempted rape, making the 12 year old girl and 13 year old boy give him oral sex and perform sex acts on each other.

In court on Friday defence QC Bill Taylor said that Readings still denied the allegations and produced several character references.

These included a scrap book of photos and newspaper cuttings about his work helping female victims of sexual and other attacks, a reference from a former "line manager" in the ambulance service describing him as a diligent worker and a letter from a senior police Northampton officer praising him for risking his life by stopping at an accident on the M1 and tackling a blazing vehicle before emergency services arrived on the scene.

Readings had been involved in the attempt to set up an independent ambulance service in Shetland in recent years.

Judge Lord Brodie told Readings: "Sexual abuse is cruel, it is selfish, it is damaging and in my view it falls to the courts to impose what is, frankly, a punitive sentence."

The judge also made an order extending his licence conditions for three years and added Readings' name to the sex offenders register.

Northern Constabulary's Det Ch Insp Kenny Anderson said: "This was a serious child abuse case which has involved a number of agencies working together and resulted in inquiries being conducted throughout the United Kingdom.

"I also wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the young victims who, despite suffering what can only be described as prolonged and sustained abuse, have shown immense courage.

"Although Readings was presented with compelling evidence of his guilt, he continued to deny his crimes and chose to put his victims through the further ordeal of having to relive their abuse to give evidence in court."

Sullom Voe contractor hospitalised

OIL company BP are carrying out an investigation after a contractor was injured while decommissioning old plant at Sullom Voe oil terminal in Shetland on Friday morning.

The man was rushed to Gilbert Bain Hospital suffering from burns after a small fire broke out while the man was working with a mobile nitrogen generator purging redundant equipment at the plant.

The incident happened at 6am when a team of contractors employed by Weatherfords were working at the chilldown area of the terminal.

A BP spokeswoman said no one else was injured and the fire was immediately contained and extinguished.

She said that the nitrogen generator was located in “a safe area remote from the main operations of the terminal” and that all the relevant authorities had been informed.

The burns victim was described as being in a stable condition and his condition is not believed to be serious.

Minister open to new ideas

Shipping_minister_visitFUTURE plans for the UK coastguard service are likely to be very different from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s current proposals, UK shipping minister Mike Penning hinted during a flying visit to Shetland on Thursday.

However the minister made it clear that the government would not bend on its plan to stop paying for the four emergency coastguard tugs that protect the UK coast from potential pollution incidents.

The government has received more than 1,000 submissions since the MCA published its controversial plan to close 10 out of its 18 coastguard stations, leaving just two 24 hour operations in Aberdeen and Southampton.

Mr Penning has been touring the country to hear views directly from coastguard staff, many of whom have been highly critical of the proposals saying that they would put lives at risk.

Last week the minister extended the consultation until 5 May to allow time to evaluate the suggestions that were pouring in, including some detailed business plans from individual coastguard stations.

He said that coastguard staff in Belfast had presented a suggestion to reduce the number of stations to 10, but using a different configuration to the MCA executive.

He added that Shetland was about to come forward with a similar proposal, that would see the more English coastguard stations closing while retaining more than just two stations in Scotland.

“We all agree that the coastguard service needs to be modernised, it needs resilience and it needs to have a proper pay structure, which they have been pursuing for six years,” Mr Penning said in Lerwick on Thursday.

“But I am convinced that what we come out with at the end of the consultation will not be what we came into it with.”

Individual coastguard stations in Belfast, Falmouth and Brixham had presented detailed plans for a redesigned national coastguard service, with one on its way from Shetland, he said.

“Some of those are in draft form at the moment and it was obvious to me that I should not only indicate we are not just going through the motions, by announcing a further six weeks consultation.

“If nothing else we are now having a proper debate and discussion about the future of a very, very important service which I am very proud to be the minister responsible for.

“I have been a sponge in every place I have gone, we are not going to just go through the motions we are actually doing what it says on the tin.”

The minister was equally adamant that he did not intend to budge on the decision to scrap the £32 million contract for four coastguard emergency towing vessels (ETVs) protecting the entire UK coastline from maritime disasters, such as the 1993 Braer oil spill off Shetland.

He said that the government could not afford to run an “insurance policy” for offshore oil and gas companies and that the industry needed to come up with its own proposals. “That doesn't mean there won't be any ETVs, it just means I won't be paying for them,” he said.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said that he remained extremely concerned about the threat to the salvage tugs after meeting the minister in Shetland.

“Our coast, especially with the new oil and gas deep-sea drilling to the west, needs this cover if an emergency were to happen. Lord Donaldson's seminal report following the Braer, about keeping our seas safer, should be the starting point for any government. We have much work to do in making the case for retaining the tug cover around Shetland's coast.”

Mr Penning spent the morning visiting Sullom Voe oil terminal before meeting staff at Lerwick’s coastguard coordinating station at lunchtime, where he saw for himself a complex rescue operation involving all three Scottish island groups.

The Buckie registered whitefish boat had grounded on Sule Skerry 60 miles west of Orkney on Thursday morning with three crew on board.

The rescue operation was coordinated by Shetland coastguard who tasked helicopters from Sumburgh and Stornoway to the scene. Stornoway arrived first so they airlifted the three men to Kirkwall, in Orkney.

Meanwhile the Sumburgh coastguard chopper returned to Shetland to take the minister on an aerial tour of the isles before he returned to London.

The 19 metre Reliant was still stuck fast on Sule Skerry, where a Northern Lighthouse Board work crew had raised the alarm. Rescuers hope the high tide at 7pm will refloat the vessel.

Unst roadworks celebrate first birthday

A COMMUNITY in Unst has been assured by theCoutts_Mill_Brig local council that the main road into their village will be re-opened within the next few weeks after a bridge crossing a wide burn, locally known as the Coutts Mill Burn, had to be completely rebuilt at a cost of £60,000.

Islanders this week took a birthday cake out to the bridge to mark the first anniversary of the closure.

The single track road linking Uyeasound with the main A968 was closed on 16 March last year after the Coutts Mill Brig, spanning a three metre wide burn, was deemed unsafe.

Since then local people have had to use the second road into the village, which they say was unsafe for the amount of traffic due to the lack of adequate passing places. As a result there had been one car crash a several near misses over the last 12 months.

It was initially thought the closure would last just a few months to allow repair work to be carried out.

Cheryl Jamieson, who lives in the village, said: “Considering the new £3 million pier in Uyeasound was built in about a year, it's shocking that the council can't build a small bridge in that time.

“What was a small bridge on an unclassified road has been replaced with one twice as wide as it has a footpath on both sides!

“There are no pavements on the road either side of the bridge, indeed there is very little verge, so I can't see the point in having footpaths on the bridge as they lead nowhere.”

Shetland Islands Council’s roads network and design manager David MacNae said the job at hand had been far more complicated than initially expected as the burn it crosses was a wide one by Shetland standards.

Therefore putting down one or two culverts would not have sufficed and a concrete precast spanning 3.4 metre had to be designed and specified.

The bridge was completely rebuilt, including a pavement on each side, which, according to Mr MacNae, was now standard. The pavement also gave the new bridge further strength for heavy loads.

He said: “The bridge was literally falling apart. We have apologised to the community council for the long time it has taken. The surfacing is happening now, and work should be completed within the next few weeks, weather depending.”

In brief for 17 March

Funding fishing communities

SHETLAND might benefit from a new EU/Scottish government funding programme that will make available £1.5 million for the northern and western isles, along with Highland region and Argyll & Bute.

The government is inviting local councils to set up Fisheries Local Action Groups (FLAGS) to consider funding applications for projects that will benefit people in fishing communities. The first applications are expected to be invited by autumn of this year.

A total of £4.5 million has been made available through the European Fisheries Fund, of which £1.5 million will go the highlands and islands, the remainder going to the rest of Scotland.

Fishing minister Richard Lochhead said: “The Scottish government is fully committed to supporting our fishing communities.

“This new funding has the potential to make a real difference, by improving the quality of life for people in what can be fragile coastal communities.”


Whitefish landings

THE VALUE of whitefish landings into Scottish ports has been the highest for the last 10 years, according to provisional statistics released on Thursday.

Whitefish landings in 2010 were worth £152 million, equal to the value of shellfish landings, and higher than income from pelagic species that dropped from £151 million in 2009 to £128 million last year.

Fishing minister Richard Lochhead said: “The overall total of £428 million is a significant figure for the sector and underlines the industry's vital role in Scotland.

"These figures show an industry producing high yields in difficult times, but we must also remember that profitability remains fragile due to fuel prices and other running costs.”

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong added: "The fish landing statistics have to be taken in the context of significantly increased operating costs for the fishing fleet, most notably large increases in the cost of fuel and leasing of fishing days and quota, which means that many boats are operating on the edge of economic viability.”

Carmichael warns Faroese

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael has warned the Faroese government that the decision to increase their mackerel quota by around 75 per cent to 150,000 tonnes for 2011 cannot be without consequences.

The Scottish fishing industry has warned that Monday’s decision risks the sustainability of mackerel stocks in the north east Atlantic and is calling for sanctions against the Faroese and Iceland.

Mr Carmichael said: “The pursuit of short-term profit cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the continuing sustainability of fish stocks, and the strength of feeling that this announcement has generated throughout the UK fishing industry is clear.

“I am certain that this announcement will not be without consequences for the Faroese fleet.”

Battle of the bands

YOUNG BANDS from across Shetland will get the chance to showcase their music during the four day visit of the Tall Ships Race, in July.

To qualify for an afternoon concert on the main stage at Holmsgarth on Friday 22 July, bands will have to compete at a youth talent tournament, to be held in Scalloway hall on Friday, 25 March.

Acts lined up so far are Organised Chaos, who play original material and unusually feature two bass players; punk influenced Casino Feat, a three piece from Lerwick; singer songwriter Keirynn Topp from Scalloway; Mercury Rising, an all girl four piece who attend the Anderson High School; metal band Automatic Chicken who have members from Scalloway and Lerwick; and jazz group Norman and the Folding Deckchairs, led by Norman Wilmore from Bixter.

Shetland Arts music development officer Bryan Peterson said: “This is a great chance for local young bands to share the stage at one of the biggest Shetland events of the decade, and for the young promoters to help programme such a major gig.”

Tickets for the talent tournament are priced £4 and available from Shetland Box Office.

Orchestra fundraiser

LOCAL musicians Donald MacDonald and Sally Prittie will give a fundraising concert for the embryonic Shetland Community Orchestra in Lerwick Town Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 25 March. 

They will be performing a rich variety of cello and piano music, including works by Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Bruch and Kodaly.

Shetland Community Orchestra aims to give local musicians the chance to perform and develop their playing, while letting local audiences hear a diverse and high quality programme of classical music.

Anyone of any age who plays an orchestral instrument to a minimum standard equivalent to Associated Board Grade 4 is welcome to join.  The orchestra hopes to be up and running soon with rehearsals scheduled for autumn this year.

Tickets for the fund raising concert are priced at £10/£8 and are available from Shetland Box Office.

Campaigners ready for minister

Mike_Penning_MPCAMPAIGNERS opposing government plans to close Shetland’s coastguard co-ordinating station are preparing to tackle UK shipping minister Mike Penning when he visits the isles on Thursday.

Mr Penning arrived in Shetland on Wednesday evening after spending the day in Lewis where the Stornoway coastguard station is also under threat.

Escorted by northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael, the government’s deputy chief whip but an opponent of the plans to streamline the coastguard service, the minister will spend the morning at Sullom Voe oil terminal.

After a lunch with senior councillors and council officials, he will meet coastguard officers at the Lerwick station in the afternoon.

The local campaign group Save Our Station has amassed more than 12,589 signatures on their petition opposing the plans, however it has decided not to hand the petition to the minister on Thursday.

Spokesman Mike Smith said: “We have now decided that instead it will have more effect if we send it to the House of Commons transport select committee as proof of public feeling against the cuts.”

Before he leaves Shetland the minister will board the coastguard’s search and rescue helicopter for an aerial tour of the islands.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott will join the party meeting the minister during the day, when he will urge him to drop the closure plans along with the plans to remove the coastguard’s emergency tugs.

“As well as demanding that he listens to the strong case for the retention of the Lerwick and Stornoway stations as full time coastguard stations, I will push him to drop his government’s plans to remove the coastguard tugs,” Mr Scott said.

“The minister should at least understand something about geography after he's visited Shetland. That at least would be a start.”

Earlier this week more than 40 people attended a public meeting in Kirkwall as part of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s consultation on the future of the service.

Mr Carmichael, who attended the meeting, said: “It is over 10 years since Orkney’s coastguard station was closed and I believe that the Orkney experience, which includes a large reduction in the number of coastguard volunteers over that period, is relevant and important.”

Exporters demand better freight service

SEAFOOD exporters from Shetland who lost tens of thousands of pounds due to poor weather delaying shipments this winter are stepping up their campaign for improvements to the islands’ transport service.

Strong winds caused delays and cancellations to NorthLink’s passenger and freight service during February, adding to disruption brought about by the company’s refit schedule.

The industry met the board of ferry operators NorthLink on board the Hrossey in Lerwick harbour on Wednesday, where they presented their concerns about the resilience of the service in bad weather.

David Sandison, of seafood trades body Shetland Aquaculture, said that they had been given a fair hearing by the board and would now be making suggestions to the government about improving the service prior to the new ferry contract being awarded next year.

The industry wants the contract to stipulate a replacement vessel is brought in during the annual refit schedule, when Shetland relies on a single ferry for several weeks; they want ships to be directed to diversionary ports at Rosyth or Scrabster whenever Aberdeen harbour is closed due to strong easterly winds; and they want to re-examine the freight timetable.

A new freight timetable that involves extra visits to Kirkwall harbour on the northbound trip from Aberdeen twice a week will be assessed when the pilot programme ends in May, but it is putting pressure on Shetland exporters, especially during poor weather.

Mr Sandison said: “The things that we are looking for are not in NorthLink’s gift and some of them are contractual matters so we will be approaching the government ourselves.”

The specifications for the new ferry contract must be drawn up by May, which gives the industry just six weeks to lobby the government for changes.

The tendering process is expected to begin in July with the new contract coming into operation in the summer next year.

Hefty response to Blueprint plans

SHETLAND’S schools service has received almost 600 responses to its proposals to close four primary schools in remote rural parts of the isles.

The 35 day consultation on closing Uyeasound, Burravoe, North Roe and Sandness primary schools ended on Sunday night after parents at Uyeasound, on Unst, handed in a 400 signature petition to education officials last Friday.

A decision on whether to close the schools could come as early as mid May.

On Wednesday Shetland Islands Council confirmed that they had received 233 responses to the Uyeasound closure proposal, 187 for North Roe, 85 for Burravoe and 71 for Sandness.

The council is hoping that their Blueprint for Education plan to close the four primaries plus a fifth at Olnafirth, in Voe, and the Scalloway secondary department will cut their £42 million education budget by £6 million.

However communities, some of who are facing their fourth battle to save their school in the past 10 years, say their future is being placed under threat by the proposals.

On Friday the Scottish government backed the council’s decision in December to close the Scalloway secondary department and transfer its 120 pupils to Lerwick’s Anderson High School in August after calling it in over doubts about the consultation process.

The council itself threw out plans to close Skerries secondary department, the smallest in Scotland, on the grounds that it would undermine the tiny island’s fragile economy. Olnafirth primary school goes to consultation next year.

The SIC schools service hope to be able to publish their report on the latest consultation to councillors in April, three weeks prior to the services committee meeting on 5 May so councillors can make a final decision on 18 May.

However the timetable is tight, with HM’s education inspectorate requiring three weeks to produce their own report on the consultation process, which would give the schools service around 10 days to put their own document together.

SIC quality improvement manager Matthew Moss said the council was very pleased with the number of responses they had received.

“It shows how important the communities believe these proposals are and the strength of feeling towards them. We have always said the more responses the better because it gives us more to respond to in our consultation report,” he said.

Vegetable growers’ website

A NEW website has just been launched to support vegetable growers and self-sufficiency enthusiasts in Shetland.

Grow Shetland ( aims to help more people become involved in food production by encouraging them to share land, work and information.

The website features a “landshare” forum, through which those with space to spare – whether a small patch on a croft or a plot within an existing garden – can meet people in need of somewhere to grow.

The idea follows the example set by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage organisation whose website now boasts 60,000 members.

The site’s “workshare” forum can help people who need an extra hand to find someone willing to work for a day, perhaps in exchange for a meal or a few vegetables.

Most popular, however, is the site’s advice forum on growing plants, but there is also a “freecycle” service for swapping or giving away useful items and other helpful resources, including a Shetland-specific sowing calendar, a list of vegetable varieties proven to grow well in our climate and links to some of the other innovative projects already on the go in the islands.

Anyone interested is encouraged to visit and contribute or follow the forums on Twitter - - or Facebook.

The site was developed by Transition Shetland, a network of local people dedicated to building community resilience in the face of a changing climate and rising fuel prices. Their website can be found at

Crofters should check bank accounts

CROFTERS in Shetland should check their bank accounts to see of their subsidies have been paid in without their knowledge, according to local farming adviser Graeme Fraser.

On Tuesday local MSP Tavish Scott tabled parliamentary questions to put pressure on the Scottish government to start paying out on the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS).

His move came after he was approached by several local crofters who are feeling the pinch after the cold start to the winter forced them to bring their sheep and cattle in from pasture earlier than usual this winter.

However the government has insisted that 90 per cent of LFASS payments will have been made by the end of this month, the cash reaching almost 9,000 holdings across the country.

Mr Fraser, who runs the SAC Farm Business Service in Lerwick, said he had been advised that the government was pushing payments out prior to sending out letters to ensure the cash reached producers as quickly as possible.

“People should check their bank accounts. It could be that they have received payments but they haven’t received a letter,” he said.

International expert joins health board

THE LATEST addition to the health board in Shetland is a health economist who lives in the isles but works predominantly in Africa and Asia. 

Catriona Waddington has lived on the isle of Unst since 2008, but has worked in various countries, notably Ethiopia, specialising in how to increase immunisation rates in poor countries.

She works for the HLSP Institute, based in London, who carry out work for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Department for International Development trying to improve health care in poor parts of the world.

On Tuesday Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon announced Dr Waddington had been appointed to the board of NHS Shetland for four years.

Welcoming her appointment, chairman Ian Kinniburgh said: “Dr Waddington brings with her a wealth of relevant experience and knowledge gained at a high level in the health sector and has demonstrated her commitment to health improvement for all, and especially for those in economically disadvantaged countries.

“Living on Unst, Dr Waddington will also bring her perspective on healthcare provision away from mainland Shetland.”

She will replace non executive member Ann Williamson who leaves the board at the end of this month.

The post of medical director is being temporarily filled by Dr Jim Unsworth until a permanent appointment is made.

Mackerel war heats up

SCOTTISH fishing leaders have called for harsh economic sanctions against the Faroe Islands after they almost doubled their mackerel quota for 2011 following the breakdown of multilateral talks last week.

On Monday Faroese fisheries minister Jacob Vestergaard announced that the small island group intended to catch 150,000 tonnes of the most valuable species in north European waters, up from 85,000 tonnes last year.

This is more mackerel than is caught by the entire Scottish fleet, more than three times the amount caught by the eight Shetland pelagic trawlers.

However Mr Vestergaard insisted it was far less than the EU and Norway, who between them will catch 646,000 tonnes this year.

Last week Iceland and Faroe walked away from negotiations with the European Union and Norway for the second year running, claiming they were entitled to increase their catch limit because of the species’ growing abundance in their waters.

Last year the EU and Norway responded by banning all Icelandic and Faroese fishing boats from landing their catches in their ports after a similar unilateral quotas were set after talks broke down.

Mr Vestergaard said: “This is certainly no way to cooperate on finding a fair solution to mackerel management, for which we are all responsible.”

He blamed the other states for the talks’ collapse, saying that all parties must approach the issue on “an equal footing...with a clear recognition of the changes in the distribution of the mackerel stock”.

On Tuesday Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black said it was time to get tough and called for the EU to ban all fish products from Faroe and Iceland, saying that would end the dispute within a week.

Under historic agreements Faroe would be have been allowed to catch 30,000 tonnes of mackerel this year, he said.

“They are setting a quota five times higher than their agreed position. This is reckless and irresponsible behaviour and we can’t let it continue to undermine the market and the fishery itself.

“We could easily catch five times more than our quota. If that happened the fish wouldn’t go into Faroese waters because the core stock has always been in EU waters. The only reason it is more abundant in their waters is because the size of the stock has been increasing.”

Scottish fishing leaders are now seeking a meeting with UK fishing minister Richard Benyon to start applying pressure on Brussels for an EU-wide ban on all Faroe and Icelandic fish.

The EU is the main market for both countries, whose economies are heavily reliant on fisheries exports. Faroe has an agreement with Russia to exchange mackerel for Barents Sea cod, which is exported predominantly to the UK.

Mr Black said: “Politicians have been cautious about being too provocative and breaking any chance of an agreement but the time for kid gloves has gone and we need real sanctions to bring this to a head.”

Scotland expects to catch under 140,000 tonnes of mackerel this year, with a value of about £135 million. The Shetland boats will be allowed to catch just over 40,000 tonnes between them.

Opinion: A voice for the seals

For the past 24 years I have been looking after abandoned, sick and injured seals in Shetland and thus it has become my life’s work.

I have thought long and hard about the latest seal legislation drawn up by the Scottish government, which gives fish farmers, anglers and netsmen a licence to shoot seals.

As I read it I wondered why I felt a great lack of truth about Part 6 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, because to my mind this new law is not designed to protect seals. It is all about protecting the economy, at the seal’s expense.

The plight of the common seal is already well known. Since 1997 their numbers around Shetland have dropped by 50 per cent from 6,000 to 3,000.

The health of the common seals we have been looking after at Hillswick since 1999 has deteriorated alarmingly. More and more of them are being born premature and they require far more intensive and longer care than ever before just to keep them alive.

The latest report from the world’s leading seal rehabilitation and study centre at Pieterburen, in Holland, says that for the second year running they have been “swamped in critically ill seals”.

Their report says: “It is very sad that we have to reach the conclusion that half of all the common seals that were born last summer are critically sick.” The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear for the common seal in European waters.

The grey seal is a much more resilient creature and is managing better. However while pup production has increased in some parts of Scotland and has levelled off in many areas, in Shetland the population has remained low and at a similar figure to those recorded over 30 years ago.

The Seal Mammal Research Unit estimates that the population has stayed between 3,000 and 3,500 grey seals for Shetland for the past six years - hardly the 'out of control' number we are led to believe

So, I ask myself, why on earth would a decision be taken to hand out licences to shoot seals to anyone based on these figures?

Within a month of the Scottish government introducing the new law, 65 licences to shoot 1,298 seals in Scotland have been granted – 984 greys and 314 commons.

In Shetland eight licences to shoot 120 grey seals and 10 common seals have been granted. Applications were received to shoot far more of both species – three times the number granted of grey seals, and four times the number of common seals.

Again I ask myself, on what grounds?

The government states that shooting seals should be a very last resort. They state: “Any licence will only be granted if there is no satisfactory alternative.”

However I understand that none of the salmon farms who were granted licences had been checked beforehand to see if they had tensioned nets, anti predator nets or acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) installed.

A government survey showed that 80 per cent of salmon farms in Scotland do not have anti predator nets, yet Shetland Islands Council insists that to have a licence to farm salmon in Shetland you must have non lethal measures in place to protect your fish. Who is checking up on this?

Given that the industry itself claims that tensioned nets solve their 'seal problems', why is this non lethal method not being used in more areas?

One salmon farm in Shetland, I am told, has been given a licence to shoot 29 grey seals and two common seals (and they presumably applied for higher numbers). How do they know they need to kill this many seals to protect their fish?

Who is policing this? Last year six common seals, two pregnant with nearly full term pups, washed up shot dead at Bridge of Walls, a crime that has never been solved.

It was a crime under the previous legislation because they were killed in the closed season, when common seals are breeding. Under the new law there isn’t even a closed season – but you must have a licence.

This was not an isolated incident. Not a year goes by when concerned members of the public do not ring me about incidents they have witnessed but are too frightened to put their names to. Why should this be? After all, this environment belongs to us all.

These unanswered questions make it hard for me to have faith that the rules behind these licences will be adhered to. Maybe a community seal alert is what is needed here.

I too, even as I write this, feel a sense of trepidation, but I have been silent too long.

This is not an attack on the salmon industry nor on the Scottish government nor on the Sea Mammal Research Unit, who provided the figures for a safe “Permitted Biological Removal” in “Seal Conservation Areas”, including Shetland.

I know that some salmon farmers are genuine friends of the environment, but I also know that some are not.

Surely it would be in everyone’s interest to have a system in place that made sure that every salmon farm had non-lethal, anti-predator measures in place before they are granted a licence to ensure that shooting a seal is indeed a last resort.

Or even better, only grant a licence to kill an individual “rogue” seal rather than give blanket approval to one salmon farm to kill more than 30 seals in one year.

Without doubt what is needed is a system of policing and monitoring so that we can have confidence that fish farms are adhering to their licence, have a high standard of anti predator measures in place and only shoot seals as a last resort.

This could persuade the world that the salmon farming industry as a whole is a genuine friend of the environment and make them less of a soft target for the more radical end of the animal rights movement.

After all we are all in this together. Surely if we want a healthy and prosperous future for the environment and the economy we have to learn to work together and develop a lifestyle that is in tune with nature, so that our great grandchildren can enjoy life on this earth as much as we do.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the seal licences can go to

Anyone with any concerns about the legislation can write to environment minister Roseanna Cunningham at or Roseanna Cunningham MSP, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP.

Jan Bevington, Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary

10,000 sign coastguard petition

AT LEAST one third of Shetland’s population has signed the petition calling for the islands’ coastguard coordinating station to be kept open.

The petition was launched after the government announced their plans to close 10 of the UK’s 18 coastguard stations, along with a consultation to choose whether Lerwick or Stornoway should shut or be turned into a day time only service.

On Monday the campaign group Save Our Station (SOS) said they had received a total of 10,000 signatures with more due in. The group hopes to hand the petitions to shipping minister Mike Penning when he visits Shetland this week.

An SOS spokesman said 7,000 people had signed paper petitions in Shetland’s shops, while a further 3,000 signatures had been retrieved online from Shetland, Orkney and beyond.

He said that more paper petitions were due in from Shetland and Orkney by Tuesday afternoon.

The shipping minister’s plans are still unclear. He has promised to visit the western isles, Orkney and Shetland on Wednesday and Thursday this week, but no itinerary had been issued by Monday evening.

Last week the government announced they were extending the consultation for a further six weeks until 5 May.

The House of Commons transport select committee is also holding its own inquiry into the Maritime & Coastguard Agency’s plans to close the coastguard stations, end the contract for its four emergency towing vessels and remove the offshore fire fighting service.

The SOS spokesman said that European trade unions representing seafarers have written to Mr Penning condemning the proposals.

The group asked anyone with petitions to hand in to call 01595 692976 or email

Dual role for Hazel Sutherland

ONE OF Shetland Islands Council’s most senior directors has been given the additional task of heading the authority’s finances on an interim basis.

The SIC’s executive director of education and social care Hazel Sutherland will take on responsibility for the finance department when its current chief Graham Johnston takes early retirement at the end of this month.

The 44 year old is the council’s most senior qualified accountant having trained in the profession at the SIC and worked her way up through a variety of posts, including general manager of Shetland Charitable Trust.

The announcement comes as SIC chief executive Alistair Buchan heads up a complete overhaul of the council’s senior management team following last year’s highly critical report into the authority by local government watchdog The Accounts Commission.

Last week councillors agreed to a new committee structure and appointed vice convener Josie Simpson as their political leader in the first wave of structural changes being promoted by Mr Buchan as part of the SIC improvement plan.

On Monday Mr Buchan said Ms Sutherland would retain her new dual role at finance as well as education and social care until a new management structure is in place, which he would like to have completed by this summer.

Her appointment comes at a time when the council is implementing a series of budget cuts to control its runaway spending, with further cuts on the cards as local government funding tightens.

Welcoming the appointment, she hinted that a period of public consultation over how the council should save money was imminent.

“I hope that my combined experience of finance and front line service delivery will mean that I can help the council to find ways to become more efficient,” she said.

“I think it’s really important that the public understands the council’s finances and the choices which it has on how and where to spend money. I’m looking forward to having that discussion with the local community.”
Mr Buchan said that Ms Sutherland would be splitting her time between the two departments, and she would be receiving a great deal of support from senior managers in education and social care.

The chief executive himself and finance consultant Brian Lawrie, former director of corporate services with Fife Council, will be helping her with the SIC’s financial strategy to save money.

Mr Buchan said he was almost ready to share proposals for restructuring with the senior management team, after which there would have to be a period of consultation which would dictate the speed at which the changes can be implemented.

Ms Sutherland joined the SIC as secretary to the housing director in 1985, training as an accountant with the authority from 1987 to 1991 before working her way up to become head of corporate policy in 2001.

She joined Shetland Charitable Trust as general manager in 2004 before returning to the SIC as executive director of education and social care in 2007 following the departure of Jacqui Watt to the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.