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In brief for 23 February

Sandy extends sympathy

SIC convener Sandy Cluness said the entire Shetland community extended its sympathy and support to the people of New Zealand following the earthquake which has devastated Christchurch this week.

Mr Cluness said: “We have very close ties with New Zealand, with many folk there of Shetland descent and with strong family connections to the northern isles. All of us were shocked by the tragic events in Christchurch and we extend our heartfelt sympathy and support.”

The convener said the presence of several young Shetland people in Christchurch as part of the International Learning School had been a major source of concern locally.

“We were all relieved to hear that our five young folk are safe and well. Their presence in New Zealand at this terrible time is a sign of the strong and close connections which have always existed between the two island groups, and will continue to do so.”

Save Our Station

THE CAMPAIGN to save the Lerwick coastguard coordinating station is calling on as many people as possible to attend the public meeting being held at lerwick Town Hall at 7.30pm on Monday 28 February.

The meeting will allow local people to hear directly from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency about their proposals, to ask questions and express their views.

A campaign spokesman said: “It is vital the community attend this meeting and leave MCA representatives in no doubt regarding their ideas.

“The MCA propose slashing the number of coastguard stations around the UK, either closing the Lerwick station or dramatically restricting its operating hours. At the same time the number of professional coastguard staff will be reduced by 50 per cent.

“If coastguard search and rescue operations are transferred to Aberdeen, as the MCA propose, a straw poll has indicated a minority of coastguard officers will be able to relocate, there will be a severe shortage of experienced and professional staff at these new centres, and the MCA cannot give any guarantee that the existing service can be maintained.”

Bird survey

FARMERS and crofters in Shetland will be able to have their land surveyed to find out what birds are present, thanks to support from EU Life+ funding.
 
The free, confidential, no strings-attached surveys are organised through an RSPB project called the Volunteer & Farmer Alliance. The conservation charity will begin conducting the annual scheme in April, and are urging those interested in taking part to sign up quickly as spaces can fill up fast.
 
Over 120 farms were surveyed across Scotland in 2010, with an average of 30 species recorded during the surveys. 

The surveys allow trained, local RSPB volunteers to record what priority bird species are using the farms and crofts, helping paint a clearer picture of bird numbers in our countryside.

The surveys can also help land managers applying for agri-environment funding under the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), as they help guide which options will best benefit existing farm wildlife.
 
Katie Berry from RSPB Scotland said the survey was “a useful tool for helping guide SRDP applications, although there is no obligation to take action afterwards. Whatever the reason this is a fantastic opportunity to get a free farmland bird survey, but places do book up quickly so please get in touch early to find out more.”

Crofting legislation

THE SCOTTISH government proposed new planning rules designed to strengthen protection of crofting land on Wednesday.

If passed, the rules will ensure the Crofters Commission is consulted on planning applications which could significantly affect the extent or quality of croft land, and that their views inform planning decisions.

Environment minister,Roseanna Cunningham said: “Effective communication between planners and the commission is vital to the survival of good quality croft land. The commission is also piloting a crofting planning questionnaire with Highland Council to further assist planners with identifying development on croft land.

“With each initiative we further our aim of reversing the decline in this way of life and strengthening its position as the backbone of our remote, rural communities.”

Oil and gas boom

BRITAIN’S oil and gas industry says it can look forward to a jobs and investment boom over the next few years with rising oil prices leading to more exploration and increased work on existing resrves.

Oil and Gas UK’s annual business survey says the next five years could see £40 billion in investment to extract more oil from existing fields, and develop the west of Shetland, which is expected to provide one quarter of UK production by 2020.

Investment of £4.9 billion in 2009 rose to £6 billion last year and is expected to reach £8 billion this year, creating up to 15,000 new jobs.

The decline in North Sea output could be halved to three per cent a year with some fields could still be producing in 2040, the report says.

The industry says the cost of production has risen by 10 per cent and is calling on the government to help ease the cost of production and decommissioning to help them stay competitive.

Tug concerns

THE CHAIRMAN of Pas-de-Calais county council in France has warned of “catastrophic consequences” when the MCA scrap the emergency towing vessels that operate around the country.

Dominique Dupilet said traffic in the Strait of Dover is amongst the densest in the world with a high concentration of pollutions, shipwrecks and accidents between 1960 and 2009 creating a high risk of marine pollution.

M Dupilet has written to UK transport secretary Philip Hammond asking for the decision to stop funding the Anglian Monarch tug to be reconsidered. The tug is jointly funded by the French government and the European Commission.

“Stopping the funding of the Anglian Monarch is like stopping paying an insurance policy under the pretext that there hasn’t been a fire in the house for a year. The return between saving up the cost of the tug boat as an insurance policy and the cost of a disaster is immeasurable,” he said.

BP offloads assets

OIL giant BP has said it will offload assets to focus more on development projects under way in the North Sea.

BP said it wanted to sell some oil and gas fields to focus its energy on the central and northern parts of the North Sea, west of Shetland and the Norwegian coast, where the reserves were of “high value”.
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Trevor Garlick, regional president for BP operations in the North Sea, said: “The North Sea is a significant business for BP and we are currently investing here at the highest level for more than 10 years, with four major new field development projects under way in the UK and two in Norway.”
 
BP said it invested more than £1.5 billion in the North Sea last year and plans another $19 billion during the next five years.

Daylight saving

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael has spoken out against suggestions the UK government could approve changes to daylight saving as part of a tourism strategy.

He said: “I understand why tourism interests in southern England may support a change in the current daylight savings arrangements. However people in the northern isles know well that the situation is far more complex than has been suggested by some of those supporting a shift to ‘double summer time’.
 
“The impact of these plans would be significant in northern Scotland. I know that many people in Orkney and Shetland are concerned over the prospect of winter mornings where the sun did not rise until 10 am.

“The road safety implications of such a move would have to be considered closely before any change could be implemented, as well as the impact on farmers and other workers who start early in the morning.
 
“What ministers have always made clear is that this change could only proceed with the support of people in all areas of the UK. It seems to me that those advocating ‘double summer time’ still have a substantial amount of work to do before people in Scotland are convinced by these proposals.”

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