Letter: Spare the Highlands from sentimentality

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The Independent Online
Sir: The article about the fate of the Scottish Highlands ('To be moved by mountains', 29 December) by Jim Crumley contains a veritable mountain of wishful thinking. My father was a crofter and often mocked the sentimentalists who enthused about crofting, whether as a means of livelihood or 'way of life'. With large efficient farms unable to pay their way in the real world, how can crofts ever be economically viable?

Traditionally, crofters had a subsistence living from the arable ground in front of their houses, and raised some money to buy goods and pay their rent from the sheep that ran on the hill behind the house. Mr Crumley wishes to get rid of these sheep. I agree with him that this is desirable ecologically, but it would make the crofter even less viable economically.

Crofting can be extremely destructive. Many crofters burn the hill far too often and too high, creating much damage. This contrasts strongly with the controlled burning practised on sporting estates.

Stalking, on the other hand, is economically viable and flourishing - nothing could be more erroneous than Mr Crumley's belief that 'the day of the deer forest is done'. Demand for stalking generally exceeds supply. Very few sporting estates pay their own way, so there is a net influx of funds into sporting properties and their environs, with owners transferring up to pounds 100,000 of their own funds annually to their highland estate.

Mr Crumley tells us that rocks on the Hebridean island of Harris are some of the oldest in the world, implying we should respect their age and not use them for road metal. Locals build their houses from the same rock, is that condemned? This is one of the daftest bits of sentimentality I've ever read.

Sincerely,

SINCLAIR C. DUNNETT

Caledonian Wildlife

Inverness

3 January

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