Save our seas

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment the

This past week a trawler has been fishing around the south end of the island. It has come remarkably close to the shore – sometimes as near as a quarter of a mile. Back and forth it has gone, day and night, scooping up everything it could find. On Friday evening it was joined by three others.

Once onboard, many (perhaps most) of the fish will have been thrown back into the sea dead, because they were undersized. Illogical European laws, intended to protect fish stocks, allow – the fishermen would say encourage – this waste.

Fish stocks around Fair Isle have been steadily depleting over the years. The sea used to provide a living to many of the families on the island, but now it has little to offer. Seabird populations are suffering too, and though the reasons for this decline are complex and not fully understood, hunger is a very real and serious part of the problem.

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment there is nothing we can do about it.

For more than two decades Fair Isle has been calling for some form of protection for the seas around the island. The marine environment has been, and remains, a crucial part of the island’s sustainability, but it is seriously threatened by over-fishing and also by oil-related shipping in the Fair Isle Channel.
In 1985 the island was awarded a European Diploma by the Council of Europe, and it has since been renewed four times. This award is intended to recognise “protected natural or semi-natural areas of exceptional European interest from the point of view of conservation of biological, geological or landscape diversity that have an appropriate protection status.”

In Fair Isle’s case, the diploma was given “aesthetically because of the beauty of the landscape; culturally because of the existence of a prosperous farming community . . . and scientifically because the island is an important breeding site for seabird populations and a crossroads for certain migratory species”.

Only five areas in the UK have received a European Diploma – the Peak District National Park, Minsmere Nature Reserve, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Purbeck Heritage Coast, and Fair Isle. Each of these areas is subject to significant levels of protection for the natural environment. Fair Isle itself is a “National Scenic Area”, and parts of the island are designated as a “Special Protection Area” because of the importance of the bird life.

When renewing the diploma however, the Council of Europe made several recommendations that it felt were essential in order to maintain or improve the situation here. Most important among these were several measures designed to protect the marine environment. Although the UK is meant to take the directives very seriously indeed, so far it has chosen to ignore them.

Much work has been done locally in order to try and push for greater protection of the seas around the island. The Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative has done their best to keep things moving, but it can be frustrating to witness, time and again, the ineptitude of those whose job it is to make the decisions that affect us.

The Scottish Executive has been talking for some time about creating the UK’s first Marine National Park. Fair Isle, of course, would seem a natural contender. But despite Shetland being on the long-list of areas under consideration, and despite the fact that this is probably the only community in Scotland that is entirely united in its desire to be chosen, the signs do not look good.

Fair Isle is crying out for protection. How long before somebody listens?

Photograph by Dave Wheeler

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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