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Nature / Bird watchers could be more responsible in the outdoors, councillor says

Councillor Allison Duncan. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

A SOUTH mainland councillor believes visiting bird watchers could be more responsible in Shetland’s outdoors after claiming some have accidentally damaged crops and fences when out in the countryside.

Concerns were raised on Wednesday by Allison Duncan, who also crofts, as members of Shetland Islands Council’s development committee discussed a draft new outdoor access strategy.

One of the proposals in the strategy says the council will endeavour to raise awareness of the problems irresponsible dog control causes via various media and signs.

Duncan said the issue of dogs being left off their leashes in and around farm land has been “ongoing for years”, with the councillor saying “education is the answer”.

He also said, however, that “bird enthusiasts” visiting from across the country to see a rare bird are sometimes responsible for trampling on arable crops.

“That is a serious concern for me,” Duncan said, with the councillor also claiming that people also occasionally break strands on fences by standing on them to gain leverage.

The strategy recently went out to consultation and one responder – a crofter named J. Johnson – reflected Duncan’s views on dogs.

They said while the majority of people keep their animals on a lead, “there is a significant number who do not”.

“On occasion sheep have been hounded over the cliffs, a cause of great anger within this community and will shortly lead to inevitable confrontation, a consequence of irresponsible behaviour,” they said.

Outdoor access officer Kevin Serginson told Wednesday’s meeting that the council continues to promote responsible access online and through the media, as well as through signage.

The Shetland Outdoor Access Strategy sets out the priorities for the provision and development of access to the countryside in Shetland, covering areas like core paths, the coast, hills and development.

A couple of comments were submitted by members of the public as part of the strategy’s consultation over the impact wind farms could have on walking routes.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper welcomed the strategy but said he feels some walking routes are becoming “overused” – leading to difficulties for crofters resulting from traffic and parking.

“I think we are finding some of these routes, and I dare say whole roads…the crofters are having difficulties with the quantity of folk using it,” the North Mainland councillor said.

Council leader Steven Coutts said he “wholeheartedly agrees that balance needs to be struck” between landowners and the public.

He said feedback from visitors often praised the signs installed in Shetland’s outdoors, as well as the cooperation of landowners.

The development committee recommended to the full Shetland Islands Council to adopt the strategy as supplementary guidance to the local development plan, with members due to discuss the matter next Wednesday.