Diary of an MSP Alex Fergusson

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There is a Scottish government consultation on Scotland’s Marine Plan which ends on November 14.

Much of the limited publicity surrounding this consultation has been on the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but the plan also includes possible sites for offshore wind farms, two of which are in the Solway.

The first of these, off Luce Bay, was flagged up as a medium-term option in a previous consultation. The second, in the immediate proximity of Robin Rigg wind farm, was actually ruled out following the previous consultation as unsuitable for further offshore wind development.

It has, therefore, come as an understandably unpleasant surprise for those who assumed that was the end of it to realise that a “Robin Rigg 2” is being consulted on again. Most people, myself included, took the Scottish government at its word when this site was ruled out following the first consultation. What makes matters worse is that the Scottish government justifies the inclusion of this previously ruled-out site in its latest plan by referring to a “pre-, during and post-construction monitoring report for the associated Robin Rigg demonstrator project” which EON believes provides “new environmental information and answers certain questions raised” during the previous consultation.

This report has yet to be endorsed by Marine Scotland, and won’t be until after the consultation has ended, so we are being asked to comment on a proposed site for an offshore wind farm that has been resurrected on the back of a report that has still to be verified by Marine Scotland. Furthermore, EON – the operator of Robin Rigg – has not expressed any interest in developing another site in “this or any other area within the region”.

So I cannot be alone in asking why this site has been brought back for consideration, having been ruled out previously. Why is this particular site the only one in Scotland being reconsidered? There are myriad other questions surrounding this proposal, and precious little time left to get them answered.

It is important to make your feelings known. You can do so online by going to www.scotland.gov.uk/consultations/current. If you share my concerns, please do so before November 14 or we could find ourselves with an inner Solway packed with turbines.

Cockling alive, alive-o

After what seems like years of meetings, pleadings, questions, debates and other machinations, I can at last report a huge step forward for the possibility of a long-term sustainable cockle fishery on the Solway. In applauding that step, I must pay tribute to Marine Scotland officials who have recognised the advantages of engaging with local fishermen in trying to work out how a sustainable fishery can best be achieved.

Marine Scotland has commissioned a three-month scientific trial to evaluate the impact of commercial cockling. Agreed areas will be “fished”, with neighbouring areas left untouched as control areas. All this will be monitored by GPS technology, and the resultant catches will be monitored in terms of size and quality.

It is immensely to the credit of a new local co-operative of cockle fishers that they won the tender to deliver this work. Before the members are licensed, they will all undergo four training courses at the beginning of November and, it is hoped, operations will begin in mid-November.

If the co-operative gets this right, it could form the basis of a truly sustainable local fishery for years to come creating potentially in excess of 100 jobs. A number of committed individuals have worked tirelessly to bring this about. I wish all of them great success.

All Roads Lead to Whithorn

On Saturday I had the privilege of being present at one of the most remarkable events I have witnessed since moving to Galloway in 1999. The event – the outdoor screening of a film called “All Roads Lead to Whithorn” – doesn’t sound particularly exciting or unusual in itself.

Yet when you come to understand how this project grew over a couple of years from a conversation between two people about the impact of King James IV on Whithorn to the public screening of this 45-minute film, preceded by a week of various courses aimed at the young people of the royal burgh, you realise what a significant event this was.

It was the brainchild of the Whithorn and District Business Association. Two young film-makers from a company called Urbancroft came to Whithorn to have a look and it would seem a mutual love affair between them and the community developed. The film-makers were captivated by the community, and the community welcomed them with open arms.

The result was a film that highlights the strength of rural communities that so many of us who live here take for granted. As I am often told by visitors, “community” is becoming a rarity. We must rejoice in the fact it is still such a central part of our lives.

The filming marked the end of this remarkable project, but I have no doubt it marks the beginning of the resurgence of Whithorn as a vibrant centre of economic, social and cultural importance. One hour before the event the rain stopped and the skies cleared. They remained that way for the duration. If ever there was a good omen, that was it!

Barnardo’s – making a difference.

In what has become an annual feature in my diary, I was delighted to pop into Barnardo’s shop in Stranraer on “Make a difference day” for an hour of voluntary work. The volunteers who operate this wonderful charity shop don’t need any help, but it was a great pleasure to do my bit. Those who give their time so willingly deserve all the credit going.

By the way, they have got a fantastic line of really lovely Christmas cards at very attractive prices!

Peru and back

As reported last month, Mrs F and I took advantage of the October recess to visit second son and his family in Peru. My abiding memory is not so much of the incredible sights of Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins, but of the welcoming words of our three-year-old grand-daughter who greeted us with the words: “Come and meet my friend – he’s called Daddy.”

It really doesn’t get better than that!