Bird shooters versus bird watchers

MEMBERS of a wildfowling organisation that uses the Crook of Baldoon claim they have been “sold down the river” over a compromise allegedly agreed to limit the amount of land on which they they can shoot.

The wildfowlers are currently allowed to shoot on the whole of the Crook but the RSPB, which bought the Crook in 2010, wants to develop it as a nature reserve with a visitor centre. But as wildfowling has traditionally provided an important income for local businesses outwith the main tourist season, Dumfries and Galloway Council is trying to reach a compromise between the birdwatchers and shooters.

The wildfowlers are convinced they were misled by the council at a Wigtown Area Committee meeting in December. They claim they agreed to a proposal to keep 75 per cent of the Crook open for wildfowling, but councillors say that was never on the table, and that it was agreed, by all parties, that a 25 per cent area at the bottom of the Crook was to be open for shooting with the possibility of a strip of land further north at Barsalloch also becoming available.

However, the wildfowlers say they would never have agreed to that as the land on offer is useless for wildfowling because there is no cover. They also point out that there are statistics to back up the amount of money the sport brings into the local economy, while the pulling power of the RSPB reserve for visitors in unproven.

Secretary of Wigtown Bay Wildfowlers Allan Wykes told The Galloway Gazette: “There is a lot of ill feeling. It is untrue that 25 per cent was on the table. What we agreed to was 75 per cent. The RSPB has come in with jack-boots on and is trying control shooting on land that doesn’t belong to it. People have been coming here for years for the shooting and it can bring up to £1000 a week into the community with hotel and bed and breakfast places benefiting in the winter.”

Mid Galloway Councillor Graham Nicol said 75 per cent was never an option for the Crook of Baldoon and that the council was working hard to find a middle road between the two groups. “From a health and safety point of view, we have to keep the shooters well away from the bird watchers.”

The wildfowlers were also critical of Mid Galloway Councillor Sandra McDowall for getting involved in the debate at the December meeting as she is a member of the RSPB.

Councillor McDowall said: “I declared an interest because I am an RSPB member but I was advised by governance that this was not sufficient to preclude me from the discussion.”

Council minutes of the December meeting note that it was agreed that: “Management Option 3 amended to include the following: recommend to the Planning, Housing and Environment Services Committee that the bottom 25% of the Crook of Baldoon 10m strip, south of the Crook of Baldoon farm buildings, be open for wildfowling; that negotiations took place regarding opening of some of the suitable ‘Creeks’ to allow wildfowling; and that negotiation with the landowner at Barsalloch took place to open this area for wildfowling; and to review the way in which permits are managed and the possibility of increasing the number of permits issued.”

The matter is due to be discussed by the Planning, Housing and Environment Committee on March 13.