Anger over Council decision to pass the buck on shooting issue

Councillors shied away from taking a firm line on shooting at Findhorn Bay.
Councillors shied away from taking a firm line on shooting at Findhorn Bay.

CAMPAIGNERS OPPOSED TO wildfowling on Findhorn Bay were left “angry and incredulous” at Moray Council’s failure to take any decision over the issue.

Members of the economic development and infrastructure services committee were presented with a detailed report on available options following the failure of a compromise deal.

However, on learning that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation – who had scuppered a locally agreed deal by instructing their members to ignore it – had offered to seek an agreement with the committee of the local nature reserve, members deferred any decision on the issue.

That was a move that angered the Friends of Findhorn Bay group who have been campaigning for a total ban. Louis Bezuidenhout, Co-convenor of Friends of Findhorn Bay, said: “It is unacceptable that BASC has a right of veto in this matter.

“BASC effectively terminated an agreement to restrict the shooting that was locally negotiated and is now dictating the process that should be followed. The Council is putting this matter back in the hands of the FBLNR Management Committee, which, by the way it is constituted, leans towards the interests of the shooters.

“In the past the Committee has rejected any proposal that the shooters regard as a threat to their interests, such as a ban on shooting in the ecologically sensitive South East corner.

“Can we trust this body to mediate an agreement that will take the ecological principles of a Nature Reserve and the opinion of the local community into consideration?”

Lisa Mead, who was the lead petitioner calling for a ban on shooting in the nature reserve, added: “We are aghast at the Council’s refusal to take responsibility for this matter and their failure to make a sensible decision for the benefit of the majority of Nature Reserve users.

“A sensible decision would clearly be to ban shooting altogether, or at least to restrict it significantly.

“We do not understand how the unfunded, voluntary and unelected Nature Reserve Management Committee is supposed to broker a deal between all interested parties. The Moray Council has already tried to broker a voluntary compromise – and failed to do that even with the benefit of all its resources and the skills of an experienced mediator.”

‘Not in the interests of stakeholders’

In recommending that the committee defer any decision until further talks take place, committee chairman John Cowe insisted: “It is clear to me that the status quo, where unregulated shooting takes place, or a complete ban on shooting would not be in the interests of all stakeholders and as such it is in everyone’s interests to reach a compromise that all stakeholders can support.

“It is important that we re-energise the process by handing over and empowering those that have the greatest interest, knowledge and long-term stake in the management of the nature reserve to find a solution.”

It was a decision that was backed by SNP group councillors – who continued to call for the introduction of a by-law for Findhorn Bay which could cost the local authority around £20,000 to bring into force.

Forres councillor Aaron McLean said: “It was thought that negotiations between the two sides had reached an agreement but unfortunately that then came apart.

“However, it has become apparent in recent days that there is a willingness for people to get back around the table and work things through.

“As a local councillor I have made it clear that I am willing to be involved in discussions and to help in any way I can to get a solution that is acceptable to as many users of the nature reserve as possible.

“I am very clear that the current situation cannot continue and I hope that we can pick up again from where negotiations were left and get a clear and workable voluntary agreement that could then be converted to a formal by-law.

“Given the timescales involved in getting a by-law it is really important that we can get a self-policing arrangement in place to get the quickest possible improvement in the situation and reduce the tension between users of the nature reserve.”

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