McArthur and Wishart: Minister must meet local sector over livestock transport review

17 Nov 2022

Northern Isles' MSPs, Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart, have called on the Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, to meet local farming representatives in Orkney and Shetland ahead of a government review into livestock transport arrangements on Northern Isles ferry routes, due to get underway early next year.

It follows concerns raised by Mr McArthur last month in response to the announcement of a project by the Scottish Government to investigate and inform possible future changes to animal transport in the isles, including how journey times at sea should be treated.

The year-long project, announced on the public contracts website, comes on the back of similar considerations by the UK Government last year which sparked widespread concern amongst farmers, vets and local politicians from all parties about the potential threat to the future viability of farming in the islands. Those proposals, which were based on no obvious evidence of welfare concerns, were thankfully dropped amidst warnings of an "effective shut down" of the local sector.

Orkney's MSP wrote to Ms Gougeon after news of the latest review emerged in unusual circumstances and has received assurances from the Cabinet Secretary that the "Scottish Government has no immediate plans to amend animal transport legislation concerning ferries". This will do little to allay fears, promoting Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart to seek a meeting with Ms Gougeon along with framing representatives from Orkney and Shetland to discuss the purpose and scope of the review, before it is due to start in February 2023.

Commenting, Mr McArthur said:

"Livestock transport is a crucial and unavoidable feature of farming in the Northern Isles. That is why the local sector has worked hard over many years to put in place some of the most advanced arrangements in the UK, delivering high levels of animal welfare.

"While always willing to look at where improvements might be made, this needs to be based on evidence. So it was no surprise that local vets, farmers and politicians from all parties united in the face of attempts by UK Ministers last year to impose further restrictions without any supporting evidence.

"Even the Scottish Government called into question those moves. It is therefore astonishing that Scottish Ministers are now pressing ahead with their own review. The fact that this only came to light with the tendering of a contract rather than an announcement by the Cabinet Secretary has only served to fuel suspicion and increase anxiety about the Scottish Government’s future direction of travel.

"I welcome Mairi Gougeon’s assurance to me that there are no immediate plans to amend animal transport legislation' or in a way that would unfairly disadvantage Orkney. However, given the levels of concern and the potential implications for livestock farming in the Northern Isles, I believe it is important that the Cabinet Secretary meets with local farming representatives from Orkney and Shetland ahead of the review starting. I hope she will respond positively to this request."

Ms Wishart added:

"Achieving high levels of animal welfare is the main focus when it comes to livestock transport. Our geography means transport is unavoidable and passage has to be as safe and as stress-free as possible for the animals.

"Although we can always look at ways to improve how we do things, the input of the local sector is vital in any proposed change which must also be evidence-based.

"It will be the local sectors most impacted by any uncertainty about change so their voices must be listened to. I hope the Cabinet Secretary will accept our request and meet with the local crofting and farming communities in Shetland and Orkney."

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