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News and views from the North West

 Updated on the first Thursday of the month

November 2017

Tourist rush for NW businesses
The 2017 season has rushed by with no sign of the upturn in visitors slackening for businesses situated along the North Coast 500 route. When we spoke to Sarah Macleod, manager of the Shore Caravan Site in Achmelvich on the last day of their season, she had just completed adding up the figures for the year. “We’re almost double what we were in 2015. It’s been unbelievable,” she said. Check-in figures are also around 30% up on 2016. More

by Kevin Crowe
“The Map and the Clock: A Laureate’s Choice of the Poetry of Britain and Ireland”, edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, 2017. Faber & Faber. £9.99.

Many people have been introduced to the joys of poetry from popular anthologies. In my youth, it was the updated version of “Palgrave’s Golden Treasury” that got some of us exploring the highways and byways of poetry. For a later generation, it may have been “The Rattle Bag”, edited by Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and one time UK poet laureate Ted Hughes. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In his booklet, “The Highland Estate Factor in the age of the Clearances”, Eric Richards describes the responsibilities and power exercised by factors. Highland factors have gained notoriety for the role they played in the Clearances, but their influence was to be felt long after the Clearances were effectively over. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Public road closed for six weeks
No temporary bridge means a 28-mile detour for motorists
Motorists have been left angry and frustrated by a recent phase of repairs to the B871 between Syre, in Strathnaver, and Kinbrace, with at least one driver narrowly missing costly damage to her car suspension after coming on a dug-up section of carriageway unawares.

Tongue to discuss buyout options for crofters’ land
The question of community land purchase is once more under discussion within some crofting townships on the Sutherland Estate. The possibility of a local buyout was to be aired at a meeting in Tongue on November 1, with a representative of the Community Land Unit in attendance to provide information on avenues of funding.

Historic store to close
The Store, Bettyhill, is set to close its doors for the last time on Saturday, December 2, unless a buyer for the business emerges before then.

 October 2017

Officer bearers quit North West Geopark
Trouble continues to dog the administration of the North West Highlands Geopark, which has been left without a chairman, vice-chairman or secretary, following a series of resignations.

Canada’s first premier under scrutiny
John A Macdonald accused of abuse of First Nation peoples

A famous expatriate Scot with links to Rogart is the latest Empire figure to undergo a questioning of reputation. John A Macdonald, who was born in Glasgow, served as the first prime minister of Canada (1867-1873, 1878-1891). However, his treatment of the First Nations, particularly through education programmes rife with abuse, has led to calls for John A to be stripped of official recognition.

Litir bhon a’Cheathram
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
A’ cumail oirnn sa mhìos seo leis na cuimhneachan a bh’ aig Eòsaph MacAoidh nach maireann. An trup seo, a bhith a’t eagasg ann an Srath Mòr. This month we are continuing with the reminiscences of Joseph Mackay. This time he talks about the period between the wars.

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Quick croft disposal begs questions
‘One of the purposes of the 2010 Crofting Reform Act was to address speculation in land’
A Strathnaver croft tenancy has gone up for sale only four months after being assigned to a new tenant. Selling agents Bell Ingram, of Inverness, are seeking offers in the region of £145,000 for the assignation of 127.7 acres of croft land at 10/11 Syre, which includes an agricultural shed and sheep fank.

Parent demand for Gaelic necessary say councillors
Kirsteen Currie, the SNP council member for north-west and central Sutherland, has spoken out over the sidelining of Gaelic and culture in the administration’s draft plan for the next term.

Well-known Kinlochbervie writer, artist and popular retired schoolteacher Mr Andrew Marshall has died aged 94 following a fall in the local Ceilidh House, where he was a regular attender. He was airlifted from there to Raigmore Hospital but sadly died shortly thereafter from the effects of his fall — a broken hip.

September 2017

SNH U-turn on Ardvar
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has performed a U-turn on the issue of deer management at Ardvar in Assynt. Last month wt.e reported on the organisation’s threat to issue the deer management sub-group with a Section 8 control scheme if they refused to sign a legally-binding agreement to bring down deer numbers. Amid much publicity, this was vehemently opposed by the Assynt Crofters Trust. More

Owen, 12, beats family rival at Lairg!
It was a great day for Saval crofter Ivan Macleod and his 12-year-old grandson Owen Martin, who between them took home most of the prizes in the sheep and cattle competitions at last week’s Lairg Crofters Show. Their photo, and that of the North Country Cheviot with which Owen pipped his granddad for the overall livestock championship, are shown on this page. More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
You should have been here yesterday”, is a sentence which can send shivers down a ranger’s spine as it sometimes accompanies an unsuccessful wildlife-watching activity. I thought I was going to experience such an event this season. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Crisis in Gaelic-medium
Future of Bonar Bridge Gaelic unit in doubt
Special report by ANNE MACDONALD
The new school session has opened in Sutherland with no prospect of Gaelic-medium education returning to the county at either nursery or primary level, despite considerable interest in the language among parents attending toddler groups, which cater for the 0-3 age range.

Melness Olympian takes bronze
Winfried Leolpoldt reports on local success at the Special Olympics
Largely unnoticed, while the 2017 World Athletics Championships were ongoing in London, a young Melness athlete was competing at the Great Britain Special Olympics in Sheffield and secured a bronze medal for the Highland Team.

New minister in KLB and Durness
Rev Andrea Boyes has taken up a new posting to the Church of Scotland parish of Durness and Kinlochbervie. Mrs Boyes takes over from Rev Deon Oelofse, from South Africa, who served the congregation for a year.

August 2017

Creag Riabhach ‘a serious mistake’
I noted the article in the July edition of Am Bratach concerning Anders Holch Povlsen’s challenge of the Scottish Government’s approval of the Creag Riabhach windfarm and the John Muir Trust’s desire to have designated “wild land” given statutory protection. More

Satellites getting closer
A proposed satellite launch facility at the Moine, between Durness and Melness, has taken a forwardsignificant step . More 

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
July once again, and as it is my birthday month I am not short of reminders that I am one more step up the ladder of life. But we should be thankful that we are still on the ladder and able to take part in most croft activity. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

SNH threatens Assynt Crofters Trust over deer grazing at Ardvar
Almost quarter of a century after its historic buyout of the North Assynt Estate, the Assynt Crofters’ Trust has found itself head-to-head with immovable powers of a different kind, writes Anne Macdonald. “We did not throw off the chains of one landowner twenty-four years ago, to have them replaced by another’s”, says trust vice-chairman Ray Mackay.

Trees or sheep?
Environmental activist George Monbiot has hit out at the sheep industry in the Lake District, suggesting that the region’s newly-awarded World Heritage Status exemplifies “everything that has gone wrong with conservation” (The Guardian, July 13).

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The necessity for a military force to bring the Durness rioters to their senses was the prevailing opinion amongst the county authorities at the end of September 1841. The Lord Advocate had suggested to Sheriff Lumsden that he should get the assistance of the parish minister, the Rev Findlate

July 2017

Digging for broadband
News that BT Openreach has agreed to pilot a “fibre-to-the-premises” scheme in Skerray and Altnaharra has been cautiously welcomed. BT claim that residents who connect to the scheme are “set to see their download speeds rocket from less than 0.5 Mbps to up to 330 Mbps”. In reality, the speed is likely to be around 80 Mpbs. More

Postie’s post
by Mark Gilbert
This time next year I could be a millionaire! I thought this when the debate on the morning phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland was about litter and the proposal that a deposit on cans and bottles could be a possible solution to stop people “wanging” them out of their vehicle windows or just dropping them in the streets. The suggestion was for 20p an item and I pick up lots of them.

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Last week when walking down the River Inver I heard a strange melodious whistle. It was difficult to pinpoint from where it came. I could not think what it was. Perhaps it was a meadow pipit or some other bird? I could hardly believe the noise came from a mammal, let alone an otter, but that is exactly what it was. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Povlsen’s appeal against wind farm ‘astonishes’ group secretary
The announcement that the John Muir Trust has launched a targeted campaign to save Scotland’s “wild” land from industrial development has rekindled the debate over the definition and future of such land, writes Anne Macdonald.

NHS Highland plays ‘hard to get’ with mileage allowances
Patients who are obliged to travel more than thirty miles to attend hospital appointments are in danger of missing out on their right to claim travel expenses from NHS Highland.

Why do we not appreciate the landscape of the north-west?
James Fenton urges a second look at woodland policy
I was recently out in the hills in Perthshire, although it could equally well have been Wester Ross or Sutherland, when I mentioned to the group I was with that the government has a policy of covering a quarter of Scotland with trees.

June 2017

No money to burn in Assynt
The wildfire which ripped through Assynt during last month’s dry spell has opened up fresh questions over approaches to muirburn as a management tool in this part of Sutherland. There is a view that the lack of regular and managed muirburn in many areas is creating a situation where fires can spread uncontrollably for miles due to the volume of rank vegetation and absence of natural firebreaks. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
There is no doubt in my mind that Vienna is one the most beautiful cities in Europe. I was visiting the Imperial City last month with work, attending the Associations World Congress — basically an association for associations to discuss industry best practice. As part of my job I attend these events to sell Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as the perfect destination to hold a conference or event. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The attack on the inn at Durine — the most serious incident of the Durness Riots — took place on the evening of September 18 1841. Having driven the sheriff officers and their party from the inn, the “mob” returned and made a second rush into the building. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Hedge fund millionaire seals deal for Tanera Mòr
Tanera Mòr, the largest of the Summer Isles, has finally found a buyer after four years on the market, writes Anne Macdonald. The new owner is Ian Wace, co-founder of the London-based hedge fund Marshall Wace. Mr Wace completed the deal on May 4.

Care hub still on NHS agenda
NHS plans for a new care “hub” at the Kyle of Tongue came under fresh fire recently on the back of positive Care Inspectorate reports for existing residential care facilities at Talmine and Portskerra. Christian Nicolson, NHS Quality Improvement Lead for the north and west, has defended the decision to press ahead with the plans for a single replacement building.

History review
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Julian Glover, Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain, 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, £25.
The renowned engineer, Thomas Telford, had a remarkable impact on the Highlands and Islands, being responsible for the Caledonian Canal, miles of roads, many bridges, and even churches and manses.

May 2017

Do-it-yourself visitor centres
VisitScotland’s commitment to funding tourist information centres in north-west Sutherland is officially winding down. The national tourism body has honoured its expressed wish to continue information provision in both Lochinver and Durness for the 2017 season. However, change is definitely on the way. More

Nature’s call
By Donald Mitchell
The “nature’s call” article for May is a good one to write, as most of the inspiration arises as you are composing it in April, when ideas fly into your mind like hundreds of migrating birds. Spring life is returning once more and the circulation of the seasons is quite literally inspiring. More

by Kevin Crowe
Various writers and editors: “The Tide that Turned in Spring — An anthology of work by young writers in the Highlands”, Moniack Mhor, 2016.
Moniack Mhor is the Highlands’ own creative writing centre, based in Kiltarlity, near Beauly. Opened in 1993, and part funded by Creative Scotland, it provides opportunities for writers to hone their skills, gain confidence and get support from professionals. Its patrons include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Scottish Makar Jackie Kay, the previous Makar Liz Lochhead, novelists Val McDermid and James Robertson and artist and children’s writer Mairi Hedderwick (author of the wonderful Katie Morag stories). More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

End of an era in Lochinver as stand-alone PO closes
Lochinver postmistress Anne MacLeod will close the door of the village’s historic post office for the last time on Friday, May 19, writes Anne Macdonald. It will be almost exactly twenty-three years since she took on the role from her mother, Julia, on May 18 1994.

There’s more to peat than meets the eye says writer Donald Murray
Anne Macdonald talks to the gifted bilingual son of Lewis

Donald S Murray, teacher, poet, playwright, short-story writer, historian, is a hard man to categorise. Born in East Kilbride and brought up in Lewis, he now lives in Shetland after a career teaching English at secondary schools in Lewis, Benbecula and Shetland. He writes in Gaelic and English, and has a literary catalogue of impressive breadth and depth.

Kate Macdonald: an appreciation
It is with great sadness that I am writing about the passing of the lovely Kate Macdonald, who left us on September 25 2016 at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, following a long and courageous battle with debilitating ill health.

April 2017

Golspie hotelier in tune with past
Anne Macdonald talks to Eddie MacRae of the Golspie Inn
Thinking about Sutherland in the nineteenth century, it is almost impossible to escape the long shadow of Dunrobin, which stretched northwards and westwards through the straths and villages of its extensive hinterland. More

Special feature
Kyle Centre reopens after £250,000 work completed
Funding from the Climate Challenge Fund enabled very high levels of insulation, reducing its carbon footprint and running co
After a £250,000 extension and renovation project, the Kyle Centre in Tongue is due to re-open this month. North Coast Connection, which runs the centre as a community wellbeing hub, is delighted that the community will be able to use the building again
. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
Iceland is the place to be. A small island of fire and ice anchored between tectonic plates in the north Atlantic, this country is the one to watch. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

NFU relationship with politicians under fire
Eyebrows have been raised over the recent secondment of the Director of Policy for the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) to the Scottish Government.

Rosehall broadband ‘abominable’

I always look forward to reading Am Bratach and agree with every word of the article “Broadband Woes” in last month’s edition. .

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The first incident of the Durness Riots took place on August 14 1841. After being attacked and prevented from serving the warrants to evict, the sheriff officer, James Campbell, formally declared himself deforced.

March 2017

Unusual burglaries
A series of unusual burglaries took place in the Durness area on and around the night of February 7, involving a hotel, a boat, two vehicles, and at least one unoccupied property. More

Three men in a boat
by Martin Morrison
One fine May morning a few years ago, three executives from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and a dozen or so students found themselves marooned on the desolate southern shores of Loch Druim Suardalain in Glen Canisp in Assynt. How they got there, what they were doing and why, remain a mystery. We’ll probably never know. Let’s just say it’s probably best all round if it stays that way and just gets put down as a bad day at the Facebook page. More

Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Bhruidhinn ri mi cuideigin bho Cheap Breatainn an là roimhe, agus thuirt e gu robh cèilidhean cudromach sa bhaile aige airson math na Gàidhlig. Thuirt e cuideachd gu robh e a’ mìneachadh cèilidhean ceart, chan e cèilidhean mar a tha iad ann an Alba. Thuig mi na bha e ag innse dhomh. Tha cuimhn’ am air daoine, gu mì-fhortanach nach eil againn a-nis, a bha a’ cumail cèilidhean ann an taigh ach chan eil iad cumanta san là an-diugh. Mar as trice ann an Alba ’s e seòrsa de chonsart a th’ ann an cèilidh.
I spoke with someone from Cape Breton the other day and he told me that ceilidhs were important in Cape Breton for maintaining Gaelic. He also said that he meant house ceilidhs and not ceilidhs as they are in Scotland. I understood what he meant. I remember people, sadly no longer with us, who kept ceilidhs in their houses. This is not so common today, and for most people a ceilidh means a concert.

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Broadband woes
Service got slower after fibre optic cables installed

Residents of Melness are becoming increasingly frustrated with the poor level of broadband service available from BT — standards which seem to have got worse, not better, since the installation of fibre optic cables began in the area over two years ago.

Uncertainty rules
Plans for restructuring the management of schools in north-west Sutherland remain shrouded in uncertainty, despite a decision on the Farr group having been postponed for a month to allow further consultation

Stoer-born choir conductor and teacher dies
The death occurred on February 20 of Rodney Mackenzie, a distinguished secondary school teacher and conductor of prize-winning Gaelic choirs.

February 2017

Hub on NHS Highland agenda
No-one attended Kinlochbervie consultation meeting in October

As we went to press, plans to develop a new single health and social care “hub” facility on the north coast of Sutherland were to be put before the board of NHS Highland on Tuesday of this week. The proposals follow a period of consultation as to the future of care home services currently provided at Caladh Sona, Talmine, and the Melvich Community Care Unit.h Community Care Unit.

‘The hills are dead’
Environmental activist George Monbiot aims to better “the terrible legacy of European farm subsidies” with a post-Brexit world in which “rewilding” benefits from the support hitherto given to hill farmers.More

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Another year, and probably a false dawn for those of us looking for a year of peace from mankind-induced tragedy. We can but hope. On the croft front everything has been very quiet, as has been the weather. The named storms seem to have given us a miss, and for that we are truly thankful. Quite satisfying to see on the telly news reporters braving the elements with umbrellas as they attempt a broadcast while we can look outside and say, “well, it’s not raining here.” But I had best not tempt providence.

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Exciting initiative’ going places
Trying to be heard here today is grim’ — Councillor Linda Munro
Speaking ahead of the Highland Council’s education, children and adult services committee meeting on January 26, head of education Jim Steven defended his master plan for the management of schools across the Highlands, claiming that it is the only way to sustain the provision of education in rural areas.

Council defends its snow clearing
Questioned about their reaction to conditions on Friday January 13, a Highland Council spokeswoman confirmed that plough drivers “are advised to keep the blade 5-10mm above road level. This ensures a reasonable life of plough blade rubbers with adequate snow being cleared to allow salt to be effective provided there is enough traffic.”

The road to nowhere
by Martin Morrison
When the plans for the North Coast 500 were first announced, I felt my heart sink for a second. There seemed no specific reason for this. I just felt strangely uneasy, as one might on waking briefly during a generally unpleasant dream. Perhaps it was some ingrained cynicism stirring deep down.

January 2017

Editor appointed
The board of North West Sutherland Council for Community Action, publishers of Am Bratach, is pleased to announce the appointment of Anne Macdonald as editor of the magazine. Mrs Macdonald, a crofter’s daughter from Strathcanaird, will take over from retiring editor, Donald MacLeod, on January 16 after having served ten years as archivist for Skye and Lochalsh, based at Portree. More

Two Mackenzie families in strath
Last month we published a photo of the late Chrissie Mackenzie of Croick, Halladale, linking her family to one “exchanged” for a piper, Ruairidh Mackay, writes Donald MacLeod. The photo and some information about Chrissie were given to me by Sandra Train, but the story about her links to the Gairloch Estate were passed to me directly by Chrissie and her brother Hamish in the 1960s, information I shared many years later with piping historian, Bridget Mackenzie, author of Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland.

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
It was dark, the dogs limbo-danced under the croft gate. The broken landscape was still devoid of colour. The smell of pre-dawn hung in the unnaturally warm air. The Hebridean sheep heard the rattle of the sugar beet pellets in my bucket and had started moving forward long before I could see their black fleeces in the murky gloom. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tourism body ‘committed’ to enhancing visitor experience
l Durness and Lochinver centres are in private hands because HIE sold them off (at a big loss)
l Highland Council reduced its grant to VisitScotland by £150K in the last financial year
l Highland Council Ranger Service: six or seven posts have already been shed though they’re a ‘really good source’ of help and information

VisitScotland has allayed fears to some extent that Durness and Lochinver will lose their visitor centres in the coming financial year. A spokeswoman for the tourism body said: “We wish to continue to have a visitor information presence in both Lochinver and Durness in 2017 and beyond and we are currently awaiting a response from the landlord around ongoing lease negotiations.

Crofting travails
The Crofting Commission has experienced a very, very difficult year. While all organisations go through rough patches, matters usually come to a head and the difficulties are somehow resolved. There is not the case with the commission

Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh, tha min dòchas! Tha agamsa ris a’ cholbh seo a sgrìobhadh ro làimh, agus abair gu bheil e duilich an-dràsta! Cha mhòr nach eil a h-uile rud ann an ceò de mhì-chinnte. A’ tòiseachadh gu h-ionadail tha croitearachd bun-fos-cinn, nas fharsaing chan eil fhios ann a bheil no cuin a tha reifreann ùr gu bhith ann dha Alba, san Rìoghachd uile gu lèir chan eil ann ach ceistean mu dheidhinn Breatainn agus an Aonadh Europa (AE). A good New Year to you all, I hope! Writing this column ahead of time can be difficult. At present pretty much everything is uncertain. Crofting is in disarray, we don’t know when or even if there will be another independence referendum, nationally there are no answers to the relationship between the UK and the EU..

December 2016

‘Clueless’ education bosses bleed support
Support for the education authority in Tongue and Farr probably reached a new low last week when a Highland Council official emailed a document to parents outlining an unwelcome reorganisation of their children’s schooling that could end up in a court of law. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly" — Christmas is fast approaching and for some of us it is a stressful time deciding what to buy people, who to buy for and how much to spend. The truth of the matter is that most of us would be happy with a visit, a card or a phone call but regardless it is the time of year to think of others and appreciate those who mean a lot to us. More

by Kevin Crowe
Scotland’s favourite book
Recently, the BBC held a poll to discover what was Scotland's favourite book. In October, the broadcaster devoted a TV programme to looking at the top ten. Without a doubt, the list demonstrates a diversity of genres and styles, mixing classics with contemporary work. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Crofting is no collective endeavour and never was’
Crofting convenor cleared of misconduct as Upper Coll papers passed to Police Scotland

A crofter from the heights of Assynt has expressed sympathy for the predicament of Colin Kennedy, the convenor of the Crofting Commission, who is facing calls for his resignation from all and sundry, including politicians and crofters’ leaders (Am Bratach, November 3, 2016).

Gaelic weekend report
From the ages of 15 to 80-plus they came from Campbeltown, Aberdeen, Inverness and Balchladich; thirty in all to enjoy some quality teaching at all levels and some fine hospitality at Glencanisp.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In 1845 a special correspondent of The Times reported on the condition of the poor in the Highlands.
Proceeding along the north coast of Sutherland he came across a “nest of cottages or huts” called Sangobeg. The people had resisted the attempt of James Anderson at Rispond to clear them but apparently had no means of fishing. The correspondent claimed that the “condition of the people here is just one remove from absolute starvation”.

November 2016

MP supports wind farm at Altnaharra
Local MP Paul Monaghan has given the thumbs up to Creag Riabhach wind farm on Altnaharra Estate. The long awaited decision by the Scottish Government to go ahead was warmly welcomed by the developers, councillors, community councils and others over a wide area, perhaps reflecting the widespread community benefit envisaged in the planning application which even included free electricity to local residents. More

Postie’s post
by Paul Blackman
Before I got the Skerray posting job I did some holiday cover in Bettyhill. I remember my first day setting off with “John the Post”, notebook in hand, up Strathnaver to Kinbrace, to meet the early morning train with all the newspapers. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The proposal by Captain Jespersen to establish a whaling station at Weaver’s Bay on Loch Laxford became a source of public debate. In November 1949 the Duke of Sutherland again raised concerns about the financial backing.

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tongue and Skerray crofts sale not soon says factor Voy
But Portgower crofts likely go to local trust
The Sutherland Estate has no plans to sell off its Tongue and Skerray crofte to tenants and is unlikely to do so during the lifetime of the present Countess of Sutherland..

Crofter commissioners not at war says embattled convener Kennedy
Colin Kennedy points finger at civil servant as source of internal strife
The turf war engulfing the Crofting Commission since April has been compared to the 2016 US presidential election campaign in its ferocity and bitterness. In the commission’s case, it is mainly levelled at the 56-year-old elected convener of the Inverness-based statutory regulator of crofting. (Download advice from Colin Kennedy and Catriona MacLean of the Crofting Commission