Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 482

Issue # 482                                           Week ending Saturday 15 December 2018

Poor Signposting in Aberdeen is A Sign of These Times and What’s Pint and Sandwich Crust? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

How on earth can the NHS run properly while still using fax machines? Faxes are not secure, easily lost, often illegible and a total waste of time. Why should anyone use them when the world has moved on? Simple. Lazy people cannot be bothered to take a few seconds to scan a sheet of paper and securely email it, which creates a permanent record. Instead, they feed it straight into a rotten old unreliable fax machine. They have no permanent record that they sent it and often have completely no idea whether it was ever received by the right person - or at all. Faxes have been found in drawers years after they should have been sent.

People who use fax machines are lazy twits and completely irresponsible. No exceptions. OK, I have just realised there may be an exception or two. Some newspapers do still use them but they are hi-tech digital page-creating versions that are nothing like the office or even domestic machines we are used to and which are still clogging up our health service. Oh heck. If the Press and Journal uses them, I may be in bother with Mr Editor. You are not a lazy twit or completely irresponsible, sir. No, no, no. You can just fax on, or off, if you want to, sir. Phew, glad I cleared that up.

I was talking about dozy health workers, from surgeons to office juniors. They’re so stuck in their ways and have a strange mindset to resist change because, presumably, they fear it will mean extra work. So they still unthinkingly use clunky old technology to communicate vital information about my prostate - and yours. Well, if you have ... oh, you know what I mean. The government has now actually had to order NHS staffs to stop using fax technology. Pull the plug. Cancel those phone lines connected to these 30-year-old machines. They’re costing the country a fortune.

Like poor signposting. Having spent part of last week on hugely important business around Aberdeen, what a mess that place is. You can’t find anything. I’m sure it is fine for people who know the city but if you have not driven there for some years, you try and find the signs that point to Union Square parking and you will get yourself in a muddle. I did. Mrs X in the passenger seat was no help, screaming. The satnav had no idea either. Aberdeen City might as well have used a fax to send me directions.

So, you dinosaurs out there. Leave your dark and wrinkly, curled-up, thermal paper-bound past behind, step into the light - use email like the rest of the world. You are meant to be a professional, you complete and utter twit. So anyway, guess what I have done. I have been doing a wee survey. A quick check of the websites of councils and NHS boards around Scotland show that most have got the message that it’s time for change. However, for most of them, it was only in the last year or two that they stopped publishing their fax numbers. Better late than never.

Smaller private companies are the worst. Rough calculation but about 80 per cent of companies in the Northern Isles, Moray, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands and Islands are advertising a fax number. So they may still be connected to a telephone line, vainly waiting for a follow-up fax message to the last one they got in 2010. That is when I last got a transmission, en-facsimile style, poking out of the delivery tray. I have not had a machine for more than 20 years but I have a special fax number that converts an incoming fax message into an email attachment which comes to my inbox. Ingenious, but just use ordinary email. It’s not rocket science. Actually, it is because there was a space fax system, briefly.

I have just rung a builder who had not realised his company was still pushing a fax number. Duh. The last fax he got was “definitely a few years ago”. Yet he’s been paying for a machine, maintenance, flimsy thermal paper and a dedicated phone connection. John really likes me now. I have saved him hundreds of pounds a year by pointing this out. It so happens I need a wee paved area in front of my house. A few hundred quid should do it. Just saying, John Boy.

Organisations formed in the last few years have ditched faxes. Lewis community windfarm Point and Sandwick Trust has no fax number. They’re forward looking, profitable and not held back by a fear of change. I will send boss Donald John Macsween an email to congratulate him. It will be digital, clear, unequivocal, and professional. It’s gone and, look, I have a record in my Sent queue. Oh no, my phone must have changed the words. That would not happen if I had faxed them. I curse this predictive texting software. I’d better phone to apologise because I did not mean to call them Pint and Sandwich Crust.

Winter Weather Batters Scotland As Major Ferry Disruption Hits the West Coast
Strong winds battered the Western Isles, making travel difficult for motorists while a number of ferries were cancelled.  Schools were closed, ferries cancelled and homes suffered power cuts as storms battered the west.  Residents in the Western Isles yesterday faced disruption as high winds disrupted arrangements to travel and events.  All schools across Uist and Barra closed, giving schoolchildren an early start to the weekend.  Major ferry disruption was experienced with over half of the Cal Mac ferry network cancelled by lunchtime.  Passengers were left stranded in locations without alternative travel arrangements due to the weather conditions as a “yellow be aware” warning was placed on the north of Scotland.  A CalMac spokesman said: “During this time of year weather is very unpredictable, we would urge all passengers travelling to check the status of their sailing before setting off on their journey.”Gusts of 78mph were recorded by an unofficial weather station on Barra.  Ferry services to Orkney and Shetland remained largely unaffected, though NorthLink Ferries issued a warning to travellers stating: “Due to forecasted adverse weather conditions arrival into Aberdeen on Saturday may be subject to minor weather-related delays.”  Air travel also faced disruptions with the 10.15am Glasgow to Barra flight’s take off delayed until 12.29pm due to the adverse weather.  Preparations for the Christmas lights switch-on in Stornoway were also hampered, with organisers forced to cancel the parade and Santa Dash due to the weather.  The turning on of the lights in Stornoway did go ahead, while events such as the carol singing and dancing performances switched inside the Town Hall from their initially planned Perceval Square venue.  Early morning commuters between Point and Stornoway were faced with disruption as the Braighe Causeway was closed for a short period of time, as Coastguard volunteers battled against 70mph gusts to provide a safe passage for islanders travelling in both directions.  As high tide approached, the route was shut to high sided vehicles and the coastguard teams escorted vehicles across in a one lane convoy system. Conditions deteriorated to a dangerous point just at the busy morning rush hour forcing complete closure of the road until the tide and waves receded.  The peak of the storm coincided between 8-10am when most traffic levels were at their highest, resulting in “significant delays in and out of Stornoway,” he said.  Strong winds blew down a hydro pole in Gravir in South Lochs, Lewis, knocking out a number of homes in the village. Yesterday, a new pole was being installed.  Bear Scotland is preparing for a busy winter period with over 58,000 tonnes of salt ready to treat roads across the north of Scotland.  A 195 strong workforce will operate the fleets 120 winter vehicles to ensure trunk roads are kept clear this winter.  Last year the roads operator used over 80,000 tonnes of de-icing materials, conducting over 11,000 treatments.

Fancy Being in A Film Being Made in the Western Isles?

An appeal for extras to take part in a short film to be made in the Islands has went out.  Filmakers are looking for extras for the short film which will shoot near Stornoway on Monday, December 17th and Tuesday, December 18th.  Filming will take place at the Pentland Road and in Kinloch.  The film ‘Duck Daze’ is a dark comedy starring Daniela Nardini and Dolina MacLennan about a woman who gets revenge on her childhood abuser with the help of a duck.  Filmakers are looking for men and women to appear as ‘local villagers’. They are especially interested in casting people aged 50 to 70, but all ages are welcome.  Ten pounds expenses will be paid to all extras and a hot lunch and snacks will be provided.

Game-changing' Arts Hub Opens in Inverness
A major new arts hub has opened in Inverness in a bid to provide new studio space for artists along with an economic boost for the city.  The Inverness Creative Academy, which has been hailed as a game-changing venture, has welcomed its first tenants including a photographer, textile designer and a glassmaker.  It follows completion of the first phase of a £5.7 million project to regenerate the B-listed Victorian Midmills building which once housed Inverness Royal Academy and Inverness College.  The work is being carried out by the Wasps Artists’ Studios social enterprise which has pioneered similar hubs and projects across Scotland, including Nairn.  Chief executive Audrey Carlin said the new academy was something to celebrate.  "It provides excellent artists and makers with a new home in the heart of Inverness," she said.  “The Highlands is a region of huge talent and creativity but many people have been held back or forced to leave because there is too little studio space. The opening of the creative academy is an important first step towards reversing this trend and helping to build the strongest and most vibrant possible creative economy.”  The new tenants include glassmaker Catherine Carr, who uprooted from Cumbria to buy a house just yards away from the building.  "Finding studio space has always been a nightmare so when I heard about the old academy buildings in Inverness I was really excited," she said. "I had visited artists in Wasps studios before and knew they were good.  I am really looking forward to being among a group of artists again. Working alone in your own studio can be isolating. Having other artists around gives you people to bounce ideas off."  She felt the academy will act as a magnet for further creative businesses and fits in well with other projects to strengthen the economy by boosting business and tourism.  Multi-media artist and marketing consultant Louis Buick, who returned to Inverness after working as a DJ across Europe, said the academy has answered his prayers.  "It's hard to find quality space to rent so I created a makeshift office in a cupboard at home, but it's not really somewhere you can take people for meetings and my own creative work has had to be done all over the house," said the 26-year-old who runs the Minsu Manor clothing brand.  The first phase of the academy comprises 30 studios and an exhibition space and cost £2.2 million.  Fundraising is under way for the second phase which will include offices for creative companies, a public cafe, performance and events space plus workshop areas. The project is also supported by Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Creative Scotland, Inverness City Heritage Trust and McCarthy and Stone Retirement Lifestyles.

Scottish Government Blocked From Paying Settled Status Fees

The UK Westminster Government will not allow Holyrood ministers to pay £65 settled status fees for European citizens who are working in Scotland's public services, Nicola Sturgeon has said.  The First Minister has already promised her government would pick up the cost for NHS staff and other public-sector workers who have come to live in Scotland from other parts of the European Union.  But she told the Health and Social Care Scotland conference in Glasgow the "UK Westminster Government will not allow third-party payments, thereby forcing EU citizens to pay it upfront".  The Scottish Government will seek to reimburse these people afterwards.  There are around 13,000 citizens from other EU nations currently working in health and social care in Scotland - with this group making up 3.5% of the sector's overall workforce.  In social care alone, some 7.3% of all registered nurses and 5.5% of all staff come from other European nations.  Ms Sturgeon said the "hostile environment" the UK Westminster Government has created for migrants has already resulted in a drop of nurses from Europe applying to work in Scotland.  She challenged politicians in Westminster to ditch the "unacceptable" settled status fee and instead "value the doctors, nurses and carers working day in, day out to provide care in our times of need".  The First Minister said: "It is unacceptable that the UK Westminster Government insists on charging EU citizens, including children, a fee to apply for a status they are already entitled to.  The Scottish Government is committed to paying the fee for EU citizens working in our devolved public services.  However, the UK Westminster Government will not allow third-party payments, thereby forcing EU citizens to pay it up-front. It is of great concern that the more barriers the UK Westminster Government places on enabling people to stay in the UK, the more people could be forced to leave.  In Scotland we are already seeing a drop in applications from nurses from across the EU - and that is hardly surprising given the hostile environment being created by UK Westminster Government policy.  The UK Westminster Government has consistently failed to deliver a suitable migration policy for Scotland."

Highland Villagers Raise Their Beers to the Seven Men
They were the band of West Highland “land-raiders” who decided to defy their Nazi-sympathising landlord in the wake of the Second World War.  The group of war veterans famously staked out 65 acres of arable land each and 10,000 acres of sheep-grazing land on the Knoydart estate to protest against its stewardship by the English aristocrat Lord Brocket.  Now locals in the remote peninsula’s main village are set to honour the efforts of the “Seven Men of Knoydart” by raising a glass of the first ever beer produced in the area. A former chapel in Inverie, the UK’s largest settlement unconnected to the road network, has been converted into a microbrewery and released its first product – The Seven Men. Knoydart boasted a population of around 1,000 until the end of the 18th century, but the impact of the Highland Clearances saw it slump to just 80.  A new law allowed servicemen returning from the Second World War to take land and use it as their own, but efforts to release land in Knoydart were resisted.  Led by a priest, Father Colin Macpherson, Sandy Macphee, Duncan McPhail, Henry MacAskill, Jack MacHardy, Archie MacDonald and William Quinn decided to take matters into their own hands in 1948.  Lord Brocket secured a court order to remove them and eventually won a bitter legal cattle. However, their actions are largely seen as paving the way for an eventual community buyout of the Knoydart estate in 1999 after decades of battles with absentee landlords.  Described as “a malty pale ale”, The Seven Men has gone on sale in the village shop and at events in the community hall – the main social hub for locals. Matthew and Samantha Humphrey, a couple who have spent three years working on the brewery, hope to turn it into a visitor attraction by operating a tap room for tours and tastings.  Matt Humphrey said: “We decided to call our first beer The Seven Men to keep alive the story of the Knoydart land-raiders and their relevance to the latest chapter in Knoydart’s history, when it was brought into community ownership.  We moved here in 2002 when we bought the old St Agatha’s chapel and manse. We thought the chapel would be a brilliant location for a brewery at the time – this is the realisation of a dream.  We bought some second-hand equipment from a microbrewery in Somerset, although it was actually built in Fort William, so it felt like it was coming home. We’ve produced about 400 bottles so far and have just got it into the shop in Inverie.  We can’t sell it ourselves as we don’t have an off-licence yet. That’s the next step, but ultimately we would like to have a tap room so people could do a tour, buy a pint over the bar and take a few bottles away with them.”

Dr Goldberg Shines A Light on the Galloway Hoard

Dr Martin Goldberg of National Museums Scotland will present International connections in the world-famous Galloway Hoard.  Acquired for the nation in 2017 following a public fundraising campaign, the Galloway Hoard is the richest and most varied collection of rare and exotic Viking-age objects ever found in Britain and Ireland.  The internationally significant discovery from 2014 contains silver, gold and jewelled treasure from Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon world, the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires, and beyond.  Some of the artefacts are of types never found before in the UK; some are known only in hoards from outside Scotland; and several seem to be unique survivals.  As well as precious metals and unusual gemstones a range of organic materials have survived, including wood, leather, linen, wool and Scotland’s earliest examples of silk, originating thousands of miles to the east.  Such archaeological treasures rarely survive and in this case they open up fresh perspectives for considering the exceptional range of international connections to which this magnificent collection testifies.  For experts the Galloway Hoard brings together a stunning variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and perhaps further afield.  Dr Martin Goldberg is the Principal Curator of Medieval Archaeology and History at the National Museum of Scotland.  He spent 10 years as a field archaeologist and heritage consultant in both the USA and on projects across Britain.  He has been the project curator for the Glenmorangie Research project since 2008 and has co-authored two books Early Medieval Scotland: Individuals, Communities and Ideas (2012) and Scotland’s Early Silver (2017). He is currently leading the multi- disciplinary research project investigating the hoard.

Anger and Dismay As Bank Up for Auction
The Royal Bank of Scotland is at the centre of a new row over closing its branch at Tongue. It is to put the building up for auction to the highest bidder instead of giving local organisations the first chance to take it over.  Only if no buyer is found in 12 months will it consider giving it for free to a group to benefit the community.  RBS announced in September that the branch was to shut after a review of usage followed public and political opposition to a planned round of nationwide closures.  Tongue was one of 10 branches that were among 62 across Scotland earmarked for closure, but kept open during the review. But only Biggar in South Lanarkshire and Castlebay in Barra, in the Western Isles, will remain open.  Chartered accountants and business advisers Johnston Carmichael carried out the independent study and communicated with representatives of Tongue, Melness and Skerray Community Council.  The council wants to call a public meeting to gauge support for locals taking over the bank building as a "community asset" – for future use such as a badly needed tourist information centre. However, council chairman Michael Simpson said he was told by a representative of the bank that the building would be auctioned off. That has now been confirmed to the Northern Times by RBS.  "To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement," said Mr Simpson.  That building has been a bank in Tongue for more than 100 years and during that time millions of pounds have gone through it.  We wanted three months to consider using it as a community asset. We gave feedback to Johnston Carmichael, but this just makes the decision a box ticking process.  The community council also has its account with the branch. We have not received a letter that the branch is to close or where they will transfer the account to!  RBS do not seem to have any any community responsibility. They seem to just see selling the building as a cost saving exercise and they are going to get on with it without regard to the community that it has left behind."

Humiliated Theresa May Begins EU Tour to Save Brexit Plan After Pulling Commons Vote

A humiliated Theresa May is to embark on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals today to plead for a better Brexit deal after she dramatically pulled a Commons vote fearing a defeat by a “significant margin”.  The Prime Minister will travel to The Hague for talks with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, before travelling onto Berlin for a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Donald Tusk, the European Council President, announced that EU leaders would now discuss Brexit at their summit on Thursday but declared: “We will not renegotiate the deal."  At Westminster, Mrs May declined to say when the deferred meaningful vote would take place, noting only it would happen once she had secured “further assurances” from the EU27 on the main issue of MPs’ grievance: the Irish backstop.  The crunch Commons vote is, therefore, likely to be some time in the New Year, probably January, as sufficient time will be needed to pass necessary legislation ahead of Brexit Day on March 29. Following the PM’s humiliating U-turn on the Brexit vote, sterling plunged to its lowest level since April 2017.  Jeremy Corbyn came under pressure from his own side and the SNP to call a vote of no-confidence in the Conservative Government but the Labour leader insisted he would only do so when he judges it the “most likely to be successful”.  There was also no clarity on whether or not Conservative Brexiteers would call a vote of no-confidence in Mrs May’s leadership of the Tory Party with Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Council, simply saying: "This is not a good day for the Conservative Party or the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom looks foolish on the world stage."  After 48 hours of UK ministers insisting repeatedly the so-called meaningful vote on the PM’s Brexit Plan would go ahead, it was pulled just after 1130am on Monday during a Cabinet conference call. Nicola Sturgeon swiftly branded the move an “act of pathetic cowardice” and later, following a phone conversation with Mrs May, tweeted: “Just off call with PM. Expressed my deep frustration that the interests of a divided Tory Party are taking priority over the interests of country and that delaying the vote is an abdication of responsibility, leading to even greater chaos."  In the Commons chamber, Mrs May said MPs had to ask themselves a “fundamental question,” did they want to deliver Brexit? She said if the answer was yes, then they had to ask themselves how they would compromise “because there will be no enduring and successful Brexit without some compromise on both sides of the debate".  The PM faced a torrent of criticism from both sides of the House and was met with shouts of “resign” after she concluded her Commons statement.  Mr Corbyn said her government had “lost control of events and are in complete disarray,” while Sir Vince Cable for the Liberal Democrats claimed the PM was “hopelessly weakened” and the deadlock could now only be broken by holding a People’s Vote.

Poll: Clear Majority of Scots Say Independence Better Than Brexit
Most Scots think independence would be better for the country than staying  in the UK after Brexit, a major breakthrough poll has found.  The survey, by Panalbase for the radio station LBC and the Sunday Times newspaper, comes as the latest warning for British politicians that rejecting their union with Europe jeopardised their union with Scotland.  Fully 59 % of those polled said they thought Scotland would do better under independence than a no-deal Brexit. That figure fell to 53% when Scots were asked to choose between independence and leaving the EU with a deal. However, the view did not translate in to support for independence right now. Panelbase had Yes trailing No by 47% to 53 %.

Scottish Unemployment Rate Hits Record Low At 3.7%

Unemployment in Scotland has fallen to a record low, according to official figures.  At 3.7%, the jobless rate is below that of the UK, which sits at 4.1%.  The Office for National Statistics said the number of people seeking work fell by 13,000 between August and October - a drop of 11.2% - with Scottish unemployment at a total of 100,000.  ONS data revealed 75% of the working age population, those aged between 16 and 64, had some form of work.   The data also showed a small reduction in the number of people in work.  This fell by 1,000 over the period, with 2,633,000 people aged 16 and over in employment.  Joblessness fell among both males and females, with the number of men out of work down by 8,000 over the period to 58,000, while the number of women without a job decreased 5,000 to 42,000.  Scotland's business minister, Jamie Hepburn, said: "This is our lowest unemployment rate on record.  Although overall employment fell very slightly over the quarter, on employment for women and young people, we continue to outperform the UK with a rate of 71.3% for women, higher than the UK rate of 71.2%, and 58.8% for young people, higher than the UK rate of 55.9%."  He said Scotland had lower rates of unemployment than the UK for both women and young people.  "We remain committed to creating the right economic environment for jobs growth - and our record on unemployment shows this is working," he added.  "However, Brexit remains the biggest threat to Scotland's prosperity and these statistics reinforce the urgent need to ensure the positive work we are doing to strengthen our economy is not undone."

Merkinch Knitters Raise £10k for Charity
A group of women who knit for an Inverness charity shop have raised over £10,000 from the sale of their items which have gone global.  The group, whose members are mainly pensioners, meet for a couple of hours each week at the Merkinch Community Centre to knit and natter.  They donate the handknits – mainly jumpers and cardigans for babies and children – to the Carr Gomm charity shop in the Victorian Market.  The garments have proved popular especially with overseas visitors while sales over the years have raised over £10,000 for the charity which helps children and adults with a range of support needs.  Keen knitter Kay MacKenzie is a member of the group.  “It is amazing what we have done when you think about it,” the 78-year-old said.  “Some lovely garments have been knitted over the years. We all enjoy doing it. We have a great time and a good laugh.”  Between seven and 10 members attend the sessions.  “Carr Gomm supplies us with wool although we use our own, too,” said Mrs MacKenzie who learnt to knit at school.  Ania Couston, manager of the Carr Gomm shop, said the hand-knitted items were very popular.  “I think they are an absolutely amazing bunch of ladies,” she said. “They are remarkably talented.  The Carr Gomm shop has been known for its baby knits for years and years.  We have visitors from Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia who buy them.  Between May and October we sell the biggest amount of baby knits when it is busy with tourists. They are going worldwide.”  Mrs Couston said the money raised was used to help a range of people in the area with various needs.  One young person with autism, for example, had been supplied with various household items to help him live independently while a young student in a wheelchair had been supplied with a laptop computer to help with her studies.  Two elderly people had also been provided with various aids to make day-to-day life easier.  “They are the things the government or the council don’t pay for – the extras to make life easier,” Mrs Couston said.

More Young People Want to Stay in the Highlands and Islands

Efforts in the Highlands and Islands to attract and retain young people may be starting to have a positive effect, according to a new report.  A survey into the attitudes and aspirations that people age 15-30 have about the region, was carried out this summer for development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).  It follows a previous study commissioned by the agency in 2015. The findings show that increasing numbers of young people want to live and work in the Highlands and Islands; with the proportion of committed stayers up to 46%, from 36%.  Almost all areas of the region show an increase in the proportion of young people committed to staying, while fewer school leavers are committed to leaving; down to 42% from 56%.   Over half (54%) of respondents said they anticipate living in the Highlands and Islands in ten years’ time. This was particularly the case among those living in Shetland, the Outer Hebrides and Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross.  More than 3,000 young people took part in the study, sharing their views on living, working and studying in the region.  Almost 70% agreed that people who stay are lucky to be able to work or study locally and most believe that leavers will return to the region when the time is right.  Following HIE’s 2015 study, a broad strategy was implemented to retain and attract young people to the region. Various policy developments in education, employment and infrastructure have taken place. Increased research activity across the University of the Highlands and Islands and other academic institutes active in the region, has helped attract more students. The Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) programme has been implemented through eight regional groups; promoting opportunities and helping people become work ready.  The Inverness and Highland City Region Deal is helping to deliver projects such as HIE’s Northern Innovation Hub and Science Skills Academy. These create education and career opportunities for young people in the region. Similar projects are contained within proposals for growth deals in Argyll and Bute, Moray and the islands.  Carroll Buxton, HIE’s director of regional development, said: “Young people are vital to the future prosperity of the Highlands and Islands.  Creating conditions that make the region attractive to them has always been challenging, and one of our key priorities.  It is therefore very heartening to hear that increasing numbers of young people appear to be feeling more positive about the region as a place to live, study and pursue rewarding careers.

Document Sheds Light on Medieval Voyage From Aberdeen
A rare document about an Aberdeen ship sailing to North America in 16th Century has been found.  A council register describes how the the "William" travelled to Newfoundland in 1596.  It is believed to be one of the earliest documented references to the voyage of a Scottish vessel.  The find was made by Thomas Brochard, an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, who said it was "astonishing".  Aberdeen City Council said it believed that, until now, the earliest documented Scottish ship to sail the Atlantic was a Dundee vessel named the "Gift of God", which had sailed from Portugal in 1600.  Mr Brochard said: "I was trawling through the records when my eyes chanced upon the words 'new fund land' (Newfoundland).  This turned out to be an astonishing discovery.  I'm sure other gems like this are waiting to be discovered in the burgh records which are an incredibly rich resource for historians."

How Glenmorangie is Introducing Oysters Back Into the Dornoch Firth

With the news that the whisky giant Glenmorangie had recently assisted a groundbreaking environmental project which has seen Native European oysters reintroduced to their once native waters of the Highlands after a century’s absence, it would seem that the Scottish spirits industry is beginning to take its green credentials quite seriously. In fact, this is just the latest in a long line of initiatives by spirits companies around the country that are putting the sector at the forefront of environmentalism in the UK’s manufacturing scene.  “This restoration of oyster reefs in the Dornoch Firth is an internationally recognised special area of conservation,” explained Hamish Torrie, director of corporate social responsibility at The Glenmorangie Company. “It will help us realise our long-term vision of a distillery in complete harmony with its natural surroundings.  Glenmorangie’s distillery has stood on the banks of the Dornoch Firth for over 170 years – and we want to ensure that the firth’s pristine habitat will be preserved and enhanced over the next 170 years.” Native oysters flourished in the waters of the Dornoch Firth up to 10,000 years ago, before being decimated in the 19th century due to overfishing.  Last year, 300 oysters from the UK’s only sizeable wild oyster population in Loch Ryan were placed on two sites in the firth as part of the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project. They were watched over by researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, partners in the project, to see if life in that stretch of water was viable for the molluscs. In October this year, they were joined by 20,000 more, with an aim of building an oyster population of four million within the same amount of years. Glenmorangie also recently officially opened its £6 million anaerobic digestion plant, which is expected to purify up to 95 per cent of the waste water that its distillery at Tain releases into local waters, with the remaining 5 per cent of the organic waste naturally cleaned by the oysters.

'Danger to Life' Warning As Scotland Braces Itself for Snow

Forecasters have issued warnings for blizzards, freezing rain and black ice which are expected to cause travel chaos and power cuts.  Today the Met Office upgraded its warnings of snow and ice from yellow to amber.  It comes as heavy snow is expected hit inland Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, northern Stirlingshire and the southern Highlands over Saturday and Sunday.  A spokeswoman for the Met Office said: "At the moment it looks like in the days leading up to Christmas it's likely to be unsettled with Atlantic weather systems affecting the country, bringing rain and strong winds.  There will be quite severe weather tomorrow.  It could have some impact on people's plans this weekend. Freezing rain is not that common in this country, so that could bring quite treacherous driving conditions."

Scottish Wildcats: We Must Try to Save ‘Highland Tiger’

Attempts to save wildcats raise complex and morally tricky questions, writes Jonny Hughes. Of all Scotland’s wild mammals, the wildcat is perhaps the most elusive. I’ve only ever had a good sighting of one once – on the dunes at Coul Links in east Sutherland back in 1994. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the animal I saw was unlikely to have been a pure-bred wildcat, despite displaying all the physical characteristics of the species, including a wonderfully bushy tail. It’s highly likely it was a hybrid between a domestic cat and the ancestors of the European wildcats that colonised Britain 9,000 years ago by crossing the ice which then connected us to the continent. Like many other species, wildcats have suffered a precipitous decline in numbers over several centuries due to a combination of habitat destruction and persecution. By the end of the 19th century, Victorian hunters had exterminated wildcats in England and Wales and only a few were hanging on in northern Scotland. In the 20th century, hunting reduced somewhat but by now the remaining wildcats had begun to breed with domestic cats creating a new race of hybrids.  This history of hybridisation makes the design of a conservation plan for the species a big challenge. Most, possibly all, purportedly ‘wild’ wildcats are to a greater or lesser extent a blend of domestic and wild genes. This raises a question. What are we conserving and why? If most or all are now hybrids, one approach could be to set a ‘percentage pure’ cut-off and try to focus on saving those that pass the test. To do this, however, will involve an awful lot of trapping and genetic testing. Another obvious problem is deciding on the percentage in the first place. Let’s say the cut-off is 75 per cent and a test result comes in for a given cat at 74 per cent – does this mean that individual has no conservation value?  As complex and morally tricky as wildcat conservation is, there is a carefully thought through national plan which, in the long term, could see wildcats thrive again above the Highland fault line. The plan is being led by Scottish Wildcat Action, a partnership of 24 organisations, including my own, the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It aims to save the wildcat by implementing a portfolio of actions underpinned by the best available science.  The partnership team has been working with local people in five priority areas – Strathbogie, Angus glens, northern Strathspey, Morvern and Strathpeffer – to reduce the risks of hybridisation, disease and accidental persecution whilst also gathering extensive data to improve our understanding of the species. It has also been improving habitat in places like Clashindarroch Forest, where sensitive forestry operations are creating ideal wildcat habitat with mosaics of open ground – often rich in prey such as field voles – in combination with denser plantation woodland.  All of these actions will help but they are unlikely to be enough on their own. This is why Scottish Wildcat Action is also considering reinforcing remaining populations with wildcats bred in a conservation breeding programme being led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. In time, if combined with trap-neuter-release schemes for feral cats, reinforcement could reverse the degree of hybridisation and help create self-sustaining breeding populations across large areas of the northern Highlands. We shouldn’t pretend that achieving such a vision will be easy, but we must surely try. The future of the ‘Highland tiger’
is in our hands.