Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Old Inveraray Castle

Picture credit - James Brown

The present Inveraray Castle (above), seat of the chief of Clan Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, was built 1745-61. It replaced an earlier castle on the same site which I've long been on the look out for a picture of, albeit in the knowledge that none may exist. But a while back I found the picture below:

However, I was a bit dubious about the authenticity of this picture because the castle looks far too close to the town (even allowing for these buildings having been replaced by the current ones). But then I discovered another two pictures which are indubitably of the old Inveraray castle. In the first one (click to enlarge) the castle's on the right between the trees:-

Picture credit - British Library

In the second one, it's on the left:-

Picture credit - National Galleries of Scotland

That last picture is at a big enough resolution to allow a zoom in on the castle:-

All three pictures of old Inveraray Castle are by Paul Sandby, an English artist who, as a young man, spent time in Scotland in the late 1740s working as a draughtsman for military survey work in the wake of the Jacobite Rising. His Inveraray pictures were drawn in 1748 and it's just a guess on my part but Sandby might have been there in connection with building the military road from Dumbarton which reached the the Rest and Be Thankful in 1748 and Inveraray the following year. Paul Sandby's brother Thomas, another artist, was in Scotland during the 1745 Rising as the Duke of Cumberland's secretary. He drew the old Inveraray Castle in 1746 - you can see that here but it's at very low resolution and the zoom in function doesn't seem working with it.

In fact, there was more to the old Inveraray Castle than just that tower you can see in the Sandby drawings. There was another tower ("the New Tower") to the south west of the one visible in the drawings ("the Old Tower"). The New Tower was linked to the Old by a range of buildings which had been demolished by the time of the Sandby drawings. You can see the New Tower between the Old one, by now ruinous, and the new castle in this picture by Sir John Clerk of Eldin dating to around 1770:-

Picture credit RCAHMS

In the two dimensional picture below, the New Tower, to the right of the red line, stands in front of and partly obscures the Old Tower, to the left of the line:-

Picture credit - RCAHMS

According to the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland Inventory for Argyll, Volume 7, the history of the old castle is as follows: The Old Tower was built in the 1450s by Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy (who also built the very similar tower at the nucleus of his own Kilchurn Castle) during the minority of his nephew, Archibald Campbell of Lochawe, 2nd Lord Campbell who was created 1st Earl of Argyll in 1457: hitherto this family's stronghold had been Innis Chonnel Castle on an island in Loch Awe but it was soon moved to their new castle at Inveraray. At first, it was a tower of simple rectangular plan topped with battlements and at this stage in its development, Inveraray Castle would have looked not unlike a slightly taller and thinner Castle Stalker:-

Castle Stalker - picture credit Hakan Johansson

At the end of the 16th century, the castle was altered by having a short wing added at its south west end to make it into an "L-Plan" tower house. At the same time (probably), the roof of the Old Tower was remodelled so as to dispense with the battlements and provide a roof with projecting eaves, chimneyed gables, dormer windows and corner turrets as can be seen in the various pictures above.

Ground and 1st floor plans of the Old Tower after addition of the wing (bottom right) in the late 16th century - Picture credit RCAHMS

At this point (late c.16th), therefore, the Old Tower of Inveraray Castle looks like a slightly fancier version of Castle of Park in Wigtonshire (which doesn't have the corner turrets):-

Castle of Park - picture credit John of Reading

... but not quite as fancy as Craigievar Castle (which has a stair tower in the re-entrant angle):-

Craigievar Castle - Picture credit Eileen

Very soon after (or maybe even at the same time as) the addition of the wing to the Old Tower, the south west range of buildings was added with the New Tower (possibly a bit lower than the Old) at its far end. The nearest I can think of for a castle with two linked towers like this is (and I'm probably overlooking dozens of more obvious examples!) Dunvegan as it appeared before altered out of all recognition in the 19th century:-

Dunvegan Castle in 1797 by Francis Grose

In the 18th century, the Campbell chiefs - since 1701 promoted from Earl to Duke of Argyll - began to think about bringing their seat up to date again. In the 1720s, plans were drawn up for a palace incorporating the Old Tower as a centre piece (see here) but these were shelved. Then, in 1744, a survey of the Old Tower revealed it to be suffering from subsidence due to the unstable nature of the river bank it stood on so the decision was taken to build a new castle altogether slightly further from the river. For a number of the years, the old and new castles stood together, the former in progressively detiorating condition until it was swept away completely in the early 1770s and the site landscaped.

Approximate position of the old castle relative to the new

The puzzle about the old castle appearing in the first Sandby drawing to be too close to the town is easily explained. I knew that Inveraray had been a planned new village laid out by the Dukes of Argyll in the second half of the 18th century but what I didn't know was that the old town was on a different site, much closer to the castle. In the picture below (click it to enlarge), you can see the houses of the old town on the shore below the castle - one of the towers of the old castle is also still standing, although I don't know which:-

From Records of Argyll by Lord Archibald Campbell

The plan below, drawn in the first half of the 18th century, shows the respective positions of the old and new castles and towns:-

Picture Credit RCAHMS

You can read more about the development of the new town in the Conservation Area Appraisal here (start at page 8). I liked this quotation of the 3rd Duke of Argyll in 1743:-

"I intend if possible to remove the Town of Inveraray about half a mile lower down the Loch, but it must be a secret or else the feus [i.e. the houses which were owned as opposed to merely rented] there will stand in my way or be held up at very extravagant prices."

I must say, I imagined Dukes of Argyll to remove towns by the strokes of their pens rather than having to negotiate to buy them out! Development of the new town began in the early 1750s but it was slow to take off and, rather like the castles, the old and new towns co-existed side by side for a while until the 5th Duke, in a manner more typical of 18th century dukes, decreed that the old town (described in 1769 as "composed of the most wreteched hovels that can be imagined") be completely removed by no later than Whitsunday 1777.

Inveraray New Town - the oldest buildings, dating to the 1750s, are on the left. Picture credit - yepyep

I leave you with a portrait of Paul Sandby who drew three of the pictures in this post. I love these oil paintings that are almost as realistic as a photograph - it's like you're actually meeting someone who saw old Inveraray Castle! 

Paul Sandby in 1789 by Sir William Beechey - Picture credit Wikipedia

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Pier at risk - Lismore

I'd been going to begin this post with "If there's a Buildings at Risk Register, there should be a Piers at Risk Register ..." when I thought I'd better check the BAR Register to see if there's any piers in it. There are: inserting search term "pier" revealed eleven piers but not the one I'm proposing for inclusion: Achnacroish Pier on Lismore:-

Picture credit - Barry Turner Photography

The pier is unused and now in such a parlous state that a red warning notice not to approach has replaced the name board which, just like the board at a railway station, informed voyagers by sea which island they were at back in the days when passenger vessels tended to sail on routes with multiple calls like a branch railway unlike today's "there and back" sea routes:-

Picture credit - Ornulf Halvorsen

A plaque on the wall pictured below indicates the pier was originally built in 1880 by A & K Macdonald and J Goodwin & Coy., Contractors with John Strain as the Engineer. A & K Macdonalds seem to have been quite prolific contractors around this time, a quick google revealing that they were also responsible for the wooden berthing head of Stromness Pier in Orkney in 1878/79 and the Achanalt to Attadale section of the Skye Railway (to Stromeferry later extended to Kyle of Lochalsh) in 1868. I couldn't find anything about J Goodwin & Coy. but John Strain was the engineer to the extension of the railway from Dalmally to Oban and Oban's Railway Pier which also (probably not coincidentally) opened in 1880:-

Picture credit Lynne

The boar's head, motto Ne Obliviscaris ("Don't forget") and ducal coronet on the plaque reference the Duke of Argyll who owned a lot of land on Lismore. I wonder if he paid for the pier? That's the sort of thing dukes did in these days (today, they generally don't have two brass farthings to rub together due to having costly stately homes to maintain) except that, in 1880, it would have been the same Duke that Edward Stanford of kelp fame had had to deal with as described here. Stanford noted (here) that, in 1863, His Grace had been accorded a cool reception on Tiree (which he also owned) due to his mean-ness and had refused to build a pier for that island and consented only to laying some moorings instead. Perhaps the Duke had mellowed by 1880 or the Railway Company had some money left in its budget after having completed the pier at Oban ...

No pier just tidal jetties at Achnacroish on the Ordnance Survey 1875 Six Inch Map

Whoever paid for the pier, it would have represented a boon in the 1880s of a similar magnitude to building a bridge to the island today. Tiree, with four times the population of Lismore, didn't finally get its pier until 1911, Coll and Colonsay until the 1960s and Rum, Eigg and Muck until the 21st century! A pier a steamer could get along side avoided the arduous task of loading passengers and - more particularly - cargo on to the steamer via a rowing boat operating from a crude tidal jetty as seen at Loch Harport on Skye in 1890s below:-

Loading sacks of wool on John MacCallum's Hebridean at Loch Harport, Skye

Turning to the vessels that called at Achnacroish Pier, remember that, until the 1970s when the transition to all passengers and cargo going on multi-purpose ro-ro vehicle ferries was complete, coastal shipping up the west coast and to the islands fell into two categories. First there were the cargo steamers sailing from Glasgow about once a week carrying heavy goods and (until the War) a few passengers. Second, there were the mail steamers running daily from the railheads with the mail and passengers and light and perishable goods. In summer (mid-May to mid-September), the mail runs were supplemented by additional routes and frequencies carrying passengers only and catering to the tourist trade: until the 1920s, these were known as "swift steamers".

The picture below is of one of MacBrayne's cargo vessels, the MV Lochshiel loading sheep at Achnacroish pier. She was built in 1929 and sailed from Glasgow delivering cargo to the Firth of Lorne, Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe area until she was sold in 1952:-

The Lochshiel at Achnacroish Pier - picture credit Lismore Website Photo Gallery

Here's a closer up picture of the Lochshiel on the Clyde and you can see more of her at nearby Croggan Pier on Loch Spelve in Mull (another pier at risk) here.

MV Lochshiel (1929-52) on the Clyde. Scan from Duckworth & Langmuir's West Highland Steamers

Turning to the mail steamers, in 1881, the year after Achnacroish Pier was opened, MacBrayne's signed a contract with the Postmaster General to carry the mails between Oban and Fort William with calls at Lismore, Port Appin, Ballachulish and Ardgour (Corran Ferry), one sailing each way six days a week year round, on a steam vessel capable of 13 knots in summer and 12 in winter: you can read the full contract here. In fact, this mail run didn't last long after the railway to Fort William opened in 1894. Instead, swift steamers between Oban and FW called at Lismore daily but, of course, they only sailed in summer. In winter, the island had to make do with only one call a week by the Oban to Tobermory mail steamer.

Amongst the swift steamers which called at Lismore on the Oban-Fort William run before the War, these included the paddle steamer Fusilier built in 1888: I think she was also the mail steamer in the mid 1890s:-

Picture credit - Dalmadan

That picture above can probably be dated to 1926 or 1927 because, prior to 1926, the Fusilier's navigating bridge was aft of her funnel and she was removed to a different route in 1928. From 1927, her place was taken by the larger but older paddle steamer Iona seen approaching Achnacroish Pier below:-

The Iona approaching Achnacroish Pier. Picture credit - Lismore Website Photo Gallery

Here's another one of the Iona (or perhaps the very similar but slightly smaller Chevalier) approaching the pier:-

The Iona (or Chevalier?) approaching Achnacroish Pier - the mountain is Beinn Bheithir, not Ben Cruachan!

 In 1936, the Iona was replaced by the MV Lochfyne, seen at Lismore below:-

The Lochfyne at Achnacroish. Picture credit - Lismore Website Photo Gallery

After the Oban-Fort William mail service ceased in the mid 1890s, the Oban-Tobermory mail steamer which called at Lismore once a week and maintained the island's connection with Oban in winter when the swift steamers weren't operating was, from 1908, the MV Lochinvar. The picture below is taken on board the Lochinvar approaching Achnacroish Pier:-

Approaching Achnacroish Pier on the Lochinvar. Picture credit - Corriebob

Here's a picture of the Lochinvar as she appeared early in her career at an unknown location:-

MV Lochinvar
And here she is at Lismore later in life after she'd acquired a wheelhouse, a traditional funnel and a bigger crane:-

The Lochinvar at Lismore - picture credit Lismore Community Website Photo Gallery

In 1947, a new mail contract provided for a new year-round twice daily sailing between Oban and Lismore by motor launch. This was to be in addition to the Tobermory mail steamer's once weekly call which continued until that run was discontinued in 1964 upon the advent of car ferries to Mull (Craignure). For the purposes of the new daily service to Lismore, MacBrayne's acquired a former hospital launch built in 1941 to bring stretcher cases ashore from ships anchored in the Clyde and renamed her Lochnell. Below is a picture of her leaving Achnacroish Pier:-

The Lochnell leaving Lismore - picture credit William MacDonald

Already in 1934, Achnacroish Pier was described as "soon unusable" by the MP for Argyllshire in a question in the House of Commons to the Under Secretary of State for Scotland about reconditioning dilapidated piers in the county. In the picture below taken in the early 1950s, from on board the Lochinvar, its fragile state is plain to see:-

Picture credit - corriebob

An upgrade to this vital piece of island infrastructure was clearly overdue so the iron pierhead built in 1880 was eventually replaced by a reinforced concrete structure: I don't know the exact date but this entry in the National Records of Scotland including "bound plan and section of work at Achnacroish Pier" suggests the early 1950s, perhaps 1951 or 1952. Anyway, as well as the berth itself, the improvements included a livestock ramp, a new goods shed on the pier and a passengers' waiting room:-

The waiting room at Achnacroish Pier. Picture credit - David Taylor

But if there were improvements to Lismore's transport infrastructure in the early post-War years with the establishment of the daily year round mail boat and refurbishment of the pier, there were also set backs. The summer only Oban to Fort William passenger service (they weren't called "swift steamers" after the 1920s) operated by the Lochfyne was resumed after the War but called at Lismore only four days a week now instead of six as previously. Then, in 1949, Lismore became a request stop and, finally, calls at the island by the Fort William steamer stopped altogether after 1952.

The following year, 1953, the Glasgow cargo steamer also ceased calling at Lismore: within just a couple of years of the pier having been comprehensively upgraded, it had lost a huge chunk of its regular traffic! Henceforth the island's cargo would be unloaded and Oban then put on to the daily mailboat Lochnell. Any big loads she couldn't handle would have to be carried on the weekly call by the larger Lochinvar on the Tobermory mail route.  Below is a picture of an awkward looking piece of agricultural machinery too big for the Lochnell being lifted aboard the Lochinvar:-

The Lochinvar handling an awkward cargo. Picture credit corriebob

After the Tobermory mail service stopped in 1964 (replaced by the car ferry to Craignure), bigger loads for Lismore, and livestock going to market, had to go on extra sailings performed by one of the other mail or cargo steamers in its spare time - the Inner Isles Mail steamer, MV Claymore, is seen at Achnacroish Pier on one such sailing in 1972 below.

The Claymore on a special call at Lismore in 1972 - photo by Jim Aikman Smith in West Highland Steamers

In 1964, the Lochnell was replaced on the Lismore mail run by the converted fishing boat Loch Toscaig which had previously served between Kyle of Lochalsh and Toscaig in Applecross. That's her parked alongside the Lochfyne at Oban below:-

The Loch Toscaig alongside the Lochfyne at Oban - picture credit Ken Ross

And here's the Loch Toscaig leaving Oban for Lismore in 1972:-

Loch Toscaig leaving Oban 1972 - picture credit Rob Beale

The early 70s was the era of the drive to convert the passenger, mail and cargo services to the islands to a single fleet of multi-purpose drive on-drive off car ferries. Though not yet formally merged to form Caledonian MacBrayne, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (the former BR subsidiary responsible for shipping services on the Clyde) and MacBrayne's had both been under the ownership of the Scottish Transport Group since 1969 and were already working together on developing a class of small landing craft type vehicle ferries to serve the smaller islands and secondary routes to some of the larger ones. Although Lismore would, no doubt, have come to benefit from the introduction of one of these so-called "island class" ferries in due course, according to the excellent Ships of Calmac website, it happened earlier than planned when the Loch Toscaig had to be temporarily withdrawn with engine trouble in 1974. She was relieved by one of the new ferries and once it had been discovered that she could unload vehicles onto the beach next to Achnacroish Pier, the Loch Toscaig  was never invited back. Shortly, thereafter a slipway was built and the island class ferry MV Eigg became the regular Lismore ferry.

Achnacroish Pier next to the slipway and car ferry which put it out of business. Picture credit Tom Careyette

The significance of the advent of car ferries operating from the slipway for Achnacroish Pier was that it ceased to have any regular traffic. Now it was just maintained by its owners, Argyll & Bute Council (see here), as a reserve asset in case ever needed to handle a load that for whatever reason couldn't go on a lorry on the Eigg. One example was the materials for the Ionad Naomh Moluag Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre in 2006 which you can read about here and pictured below:-

Materials being unloaded in 2006 - picture credit Ionad Naomh Moluag

But these exceptional loads must have been rare and I'm guessing that the reason why the Council finally abandoned Achnacroish Pier was the replacement of the Eigg about 5 years ago with a larger drive-through ferry: henceforth, there would be no further risk of a load that couldn't manage the awkward reverse down the slipway a voyage on the Eigg entailed.

An awkward load of electricity poles for Lismore reverses onto the Eigg at Oban

Some of these old steamer piers have adjusted to the car ferry era by taking on new roles such as the overnight berth for the ferry (Gigha, Raasay, Lochranza); loading timber (Lochaline, Craighouse); fish farming base (Scalpay) or an occasional overnight berth for fishing boats (Canna) - one (Salen) has even been redeveloped under private ownership as holiday accommodation (as well a berth for fish farming boats). But Achnacroish has sort of fallen between all these cracks, I'd guess because Oban is so close and offers more facilities and also because it's rather exposed to the prevailing south westerlies. I wonder if modern attitudes to recycling and health and safety will soon compel the Council actively to demolish it or if it will be left to crumble away?

Achnacroish Pier from landward - picture credit alifetimeofislands

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Kelp Part 3 - Dredging

Alginates - chemicals extracted from seaweed which have applications in the food, pharmaceuticals, paper and textiles industries, amongst others - have not been made in Scotland since 2009 when the only remaining alginates works, at Girvan, closed and its owners, FMC BioPolymer, moved their production to Norway. The works had been established in the 1940s at Girvan because it was close to the raw material but in fact it hadn't been using Scottish seaweed since 1998. Latterly, it had been cheaper to import dried seaweed from countries - including Norway - where seaweed is harvested mechanically rather than by hand as in Scotland.

Seaweed cutting in Loch Erisort - picture credit The Herald

In the last few years, however, there has been renewed interest in re-starting alginates production in Scotland using seaweed mechanically harvested here. But before saying another word on the subject we need to deal with a very important terminological point: the two separate but rather unhelpfully overlapping meanings of the word "kelp". The first (original, historical) meaning is the mineral rich ash of seaweed of various species when it's burnt. The second (more recent, contemporary) meaning of kelp is a type of seaweed itself - i.e. the living plant before you cut it and put a match to it. Kelp in the first, original sense (ash of burnt weed) was made from kelp in the second sense but also from other seaweeds which are not kelp in the second sense. In the first two episodes of this saga, I reserved the word kelp for the first sense (ash). But in this episode I'm going to use the word in the second sense (a type of actual seaweed) because that's how it's generally understood in contemporary contexts. OK?

Kelp appearing at low tide - picture credit Colin Alston

The two most important species of kelp in Scottish waters are Laminaria hyperborea and Laminaria digitata: these are the types that used to be called "stem" in the alginates industry and are known as "tangle" in common parlance. They look very similar but L. hyperborea is a bit bigger and has a rigid stem whereas L. digitata's is floppy. Most importantly for present purposes, though, both types of kelp form extensive submarine "kelp forests". Growing from the low water line down as far as about 30 metres depth, these have been described in one report as

... of high ecological significance. They are complex three-dimensional structures providing habitat, food and shelter for various species and are characterised by high productivity and a high diversity of associated flora and fauna. They also form important reproduction and nursery grounds for fish.

Kelp forests are to marine biodiversity what the Amazon rain forests are to terrestrial: you can go on a virtual dive in one covering 160 square kilometres (40,000 acres) in the Sound of Barra in this Youtube video by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Laminaria hyperborea in a kelp forest in Loch Laxford - picture credit Scottish Natural Heritage

Laminaria hyperborea is the kelp proposed to be mechanically harvested by Ayr based company Marine Biopolymers Ltd (MBL) in a revival of the Scottish alginates industry. The company's name prompts another terminological point: alginates are a sub-set of a range of chemicals called hydrocolloids (in other words, all alginates are hydrocolloids but not all hyrocolloids are alginates) and hydrocolloids, in turn, are a subset of polymers. Biopolymers are simply naturally occurring polymers as opposed to synthetic ones. In the 21st century alginates industry, use of the word "alginates" tends to be downplayed in favour of hydrocolloids and biopolymers. That's just marketing: you can sell anything these days if you stick "bio-" or "hydro-" in front of it whereas "-ates" sounds a bit Erin Brockovich.

MBL have been on the go since 2009 and in 2014 were in discussions with the community landlord of South Uist Storas Uibhist about siting their alginates production factory beside SU's new harbour at Lochboisdale. One of MBL's directors and shareholders, Angus MacMillan, is also the chairman of SU (although he demitted during the MBL negotiations). Anyhow, MBL eventually opted instead to acquire none other than AIL/Kelco's old alginates factory at Barcaldine (see here) except nothing ultimately came of this either and Barcaldine has since been sold and demolished. It seems MBL's plans were not as far advanced five years ago as they thought because not much was happening with them (publicly, anyway) until 2018 when they began to progress their plans to harvest Laminaria hyperborea mechanically.

MBL's plan is to harvest kelp with a sort of cross between a rake and giant comb towed along the seabed behind a boat as pictured above. They've been doing this in Norway since the mid 1970s. It's commonly known as "kelp dredging" although that's something of a misnomer because kelp grows on rocky surfaces and you can't "dredge" rock, only sand, gravel and mud etc. Anyway, MBL intend by year six to have two harvesting vessels working year round to deliver (on separate transport boats) about 34,000 tonnes of wet kelp a year to a processing plant to be built at Mallaig. I'm not sure if the actual finished product algin ... sorry, biopolymers will be made at Mallaig or whether this will just be a facility where the wet kelp is dried and milled before being sent off for the final product to be made elsewhere. Anyway, they hope to create 32 jobs at the Mallaig plant and 10 on the harvesting and transport boats.

To use a vessel to remove anything from the seabed, you need a licence under Part 4 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 from Marine Scotland (MS). An application for a licence to harvest seaweed does not legally require an Environmental Impact Assessment (for anyone interested in the legal detail, that's because seaweed harvesting is not included in Schedule 1 or 2 of the The Marine Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017) but MBL decided it would be best practice to undertake one anyway. The first step in an EIA is a "scoping report" to enable MS, after consultation with the likes of Scottish Natural Heritage, to decide precisely what environmental issues require to be addressed in the EIA. You can read here MBL's scoping report submitted in July 2018 to MS preparatory to an application for a licence to harvest laminaria hyperborea within the area outlined red on the map below:-

MBL's "area of search"

Meanwhile, a petition against MBL's plans was started by Ailsa McLellan who lives in Ullapool and, according to the BBC, "harvests kelp by hand using a pair of scissors and a bucket" (see here and note that, in the pictures there, that is not kelp she is cutting). The petition caught the attention of Green MSP Mark Ruskell and it was all very timely because there happened to be a bill before the Scottish Parliament concerning the management of the Scottish Crown Estate (SCE) and Ruskell happened to be a member of the lead committee on the bill, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee. The relevance of the Crown Estate is that it owns kelp (and all other seaweeds) growing below the low water mark and thus, as well as obtaining a regulatory licence from Marine Scotland, MBL will also need a commercial licence from SCE and pay them a royalty.

At a meeting of the ECCLR Committee on 18 September 2018 to consider Stage 2 of the Scottish Crown Estate Bill, when Ailsa's petition stood at 14,000 signatures, Mark Ruskell tabled an amendment to the bill to prevent the SCE (or anyone to whom its management might be delegated under the Bill) from permitting harvesting of kelp where that would "inhibit the regrowth of the individual plant." That would block MBL's plans because their harvesting method involves pulling up the entire plant: there is nothing left to regrow.

The usual procedure in the Scottish Parliament is that the lead committee on a bill hears evidence from stakeholders and experts on its principal provisions at Stage 1 and recommends any amendments which are dealt with at Stage 2. But there had been nothing in the original draft of the bill about kelp dredging and hence there had been no evidence on it at Stage 1. That's why six of the nine members of the ECCLR Committee were opposed to the Ruskell amendment - it wasn't because they were particularly in favour of kelp dredging but rather that they didn't have enough information to make an informed decision on the matter, particularly when the status quo was subject to a procedure under legislation passed as recently as 2010. But instead of voting against the Ruskell amendment, the six abstained and thus the amendment was passed by three votes for with none against. Six MSPs apparently inexplicably overlooked that votes in parliamentary committees are carried by a majority of the votes cast, not a majority of the members of the committee! (You can read the verbatim report of the Stage 2 meeting here and you can watch it here - the Ruskell amendment starts at 10:49:10.)

The next stage of a Scottish bill is Stage 3 where the bill as amended in committee at Stage 2 is reported to the full Parliament for approval (or otherwise) of the amendments. New amendments can be lodged at Stage 3 and the Scottish Government tabled one to remove the Ruskell amendment. But at the last minute, the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, bottled it and withdrew the Scotgov's amendment when Parliament met for Stage 3 of the bill on 21 November 2018. Instead she announced that inevitable resort of timid politicians anxious not to upset anyone: a review. In saying to Parliament "I plan to keep the situation under review and do not wish unreasonably to block the future development of forms of harvesting that we might in time establish through a proper assembling of the evidence is sustainable", Cunningham appears to have left the door ajar to kelp dredging in the future but for now the Ruskell amendment prohibiting any method of harvesting which inhibits regrowth of the individual harvested plant stands and MBL's ball is well and truly on the roof. (You can read the verbatim report of Stage 3 here and watch it here - kelp starts at 15:37:40.)

Roseanna Cunningham - picture credit BBC

I want to devote the rest of this post to fact checking some of the claims made against kelp dredging. Take for example Mark Ruskell's speech (here) at Stage 2 of the Crown Estate Bill in support of his amendment:-

If we were to consider forests on land, these days we would not be clear-felling ancient woodland. ... [Once] an area is clear-felled of kelp through dredging, it will take many years for the exposed rock to regrow the kelp; in some cases, due to the changing ecological conditions, it might be impossible for the kelp forests to re-establish themselves in areas that have been stripped. Therefore, in many cases, once the kelp forests are gone from a particular area, they may be gone forever or for a very long time

By the time of his speech (here) at Stage 3 of the Bill in defence of his amendment the threat had escalated to:-

We know that, if kelp is removed in its entirety from the sea bed, it may never grow back. Once it has gone, its benefits may be lost for ever.

The 34,000 tonnes of kelp MBL wants to harvest each year sounds a lot until you realise that the estimated total biomass of the stuff around Scottish shores is 19.7 million tonnes [Footnote (F/N) 1] In other words, MBL's annual take would be less than a fifth of one per cent of the total!

OK, so, at that rate, the kelp would all be gone in 500 years and we have a responsibility not to inflict that on future generations, don't we? Well, the even better news is that kelp grows back in about 5 years - even on bare rock entire plants have been torn off by the giant comb shaped harvesting tool because spores drift in and settle from adjacent undisturbed plants. For this reason, MBL's proposal is to harvest discrete strips of kelp which will be left surrounded by undisturbed plants. These strips will not then be harvested again for at least five years while the kelp re-generates on them. Moreover, the prongs on the harvesting rake are set as to catch only mature plants and leave juvenile ones undisturbed. Thus, talk by Mark Ruskell of "clear felling" kelp forests is grotesquely misleading.

Young kelp which has recolonised an area one year after harvesting - untouched plants on the left.

The fact that kelp regenerates relatively quickly also puts into context the claim made in the petition and emphasised by Mark Ruskell in Parliament (at Stage 2) that, in newly harvested areas of kelp forest, the number of juvenile gadid (cod, pollock, saith etc) fish was 92% lower than in un-harvested areas. That's no doubt true but, if I were an MSP sitting on a Parliamentary committee taking evidence from stakeholders, I would be asking whether it's not the case that this is merely a temporary (c. 5 years) state of affairs in a tiny (less than 1%) proportion of the kelp forest while it grows back? [F/N 2] After all, if we could agree that felling a single tree in the rain forest was sustainable, it would presumably be the case that there would be a 100% reduction in the populations of tree living birds and monkeys etc. within its footprint.

Roseanna Cunningham's speeches to Parliament give the impression she was consenting to the Ruskell amendment as an emergency response to something the Scottish Government had been taken by surprise by. But in fact the SG has known for some time that applications for licences for mechanical harvesting of kelp were in the offing because, in 2016, Marine Scotland (MS), the SG's agency responsible for maritime development and protection, conducted a statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 to:-

assess the potential environmental effects of wild harvesting of seaweeds and seagrasses and in turn inform future regulation.

You can read the SEA here. Interestingly, MS had "technical support" to the SEA from ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd which is the firm which prepared MBL's scoping report.  Anyway, its conclusions include (page 134):-

Although not straightforward, sustainable commercial scale harvesting of certain species is possible and is taking place in other countries, such as Norway and Chile where annual live extractions of
kelp by trawlers reaches 200,000 tonnes (Vasquez, 2008; Vea & Ask, 2011; Smale et al., 2013; Burrows et al., 2014a). The ability to sustainably remove such quantities at these locations has been attributed to the rapid recruitment and growth of kelps, the species associated with the kelp beds, and the implementation of appropriate and functional management of the resource.

Also of significance is a passage on page 125 of the SEA but first we need to do a quick bit of kelp biology. In the photo of a detached laminaria hyperborea plant below, from left to right is the holdfast by which the plant attaches itself to the substrate (it looks like a tree root but it's not a root because it doesn't penetrate the substrate which is rock); then the stipe which is the stalk; and finally the lamina or fronds. The junction between the stipe (stalk) and lamina (fronds) is called the meristem. The plant grows from the meristem - in other words, if you cut the stipe (stalk) below the meristem, it won't regrow and the plant will die but if you cut the lamina (fronds) above the meristem, the plant will survive and the lamina will grow again:-

Picture credit - Wikipedia

Anyway, back to page 125 of the SEA:-

* Cutting heights should generally be as high as possible and well above the point of growth (e.g. the meristem for kelps) and the holdfast left attached. The only case where this may not be feasible is in the case of Laminaria hyperborea where the stipes (which are below the meristem) are targeted for commercial use, and where the most sustainable mechanical methods involve removing the entire mature plant and leaving smaller immature plants to continue to grow.;

* Where possible and relevant, less than one third (i.e. 33%) of an individual plant should
be harvested to allow for regrowth; and

*Avoid the entire removal of any plants apart from the case of L. hyperborea as
explained above
[Emphasis added]

In proposing his amendment to the effect that kelp could not be harvested except by a method which permitted the regrowth of the affected plants, Mark Ruskell said (Stage 2) that it:-

attempts to enshrine a golden rule that has applied to the harvesting of kelp for many years, if not generations.

Apart from the fact that that's contradicted by the Strategic Environmental Assessment, it overlooks the fact that living kelp has never been harvested in Scotland (except within the last 5-10 years by hand at an artisanal scale by businesses like Mara Seaweed and New Wave Foods). During the kelp [sense 1: mineral rich ashes of seaweed] industry which ended in the early 1930s and then the alginates industry which ended (so far as Scottish weed was concerned) in 1998, the kelp [sense 2: a type of seaweed including the laminarias] used was beachcast, that is plants torn from the seabed naturally by storms and washed up on the shore. Non-kelp weeds which are harvested (known as "asco" in the industry) are cut, both by hand and mechanically, so as to leave enough of the plants left to re-grow. But due to the differences between their biologies and the environments asco and kelp respectively grow in, the mechanical harvesting methods used for asco wouldn't work for kelp. That's because asco floats to the surface and, irrespective of where on the plant it's cut, what's left will regrow. It's thus amenable to being mechanically cut by a process known as "hedge cutting" in the industry using a sort of cross between a pedalo and a ride-on lawnmower:-

Asco harvesters at Loch Marvig, Lewis - photo credit John MacLennan

These things work fine in the sheltered sea lochs where asco grows but you can't use them along the exposed rocky coasts preferred by kelp. Plus, kelp doesn't conveniently float to the surface and the plants have to be cut in a certain place (above the meristem) if what's left is to regrow: get it wrong and it will die. Thus, there is no technology for mechanically harvesting living kelp such that the affected plants can regrow: the only way to do it is to remove whole mature plants with the giant comb and leave juvenile plants and new ones seeded from surrounding undisturbed areas to grow.

So there is no "golden rule that has applied to the harvesting of kelp for many years, if not generations" and if Mark Ruskell was attempting thereby to imply that he wasn't trying to legislate some new ban that isn't already enforced another way, then, assuming he wasn't being disingenuous, he seems to have been misinformed. Perhaps he's just muddled about the different meanings of the word "kelp" and thinks it applies to all seaweeds of commercial interest. Roseanna Cunningham certainly betrayed some confusion about this when she told Parliament [Stage 3] that "there are five different ways in which kelp can be harvested commercially—it is not simply hand versus mechanical harvesting." That's a reference to the SEA (page 40) but of the five harvesting methods listed there, only four apply to kelp. The fifth ("hedge cutting") applies only to asco - the different uses of the word kelp really are a trap for the unwary!         

Kelp (laminaria hyperborea) visible at low tide - picture credit Robin Cox

None of this is to say that kelp dredging is totally without environmental impacts, of course, as the SEA makes clear. Concerns include, amongst others, the following:-

1. Although the kelp itself regrows in about 5 years, it's possible its associated biodiversity takes a few years more to re-establish itself. In Norway, it's been suggested this be addressed by extending the fallow period between harvests to 7-10 years [F/N 3] and could this not be applied to Scotland as well?

2. Conflict between kelp dredging and creel fishing for crab and lobster because kelp forests are the habitat for crab and lobster (but not prawns or scallops because they live in muddy seabeds where kelp doesn't grow). There's also potential for conflict with other marine users such as nature tours etc. In this regard, though, MBL's scoping report said that they estimated the annual footprint of their operations to be the equivalent of that of a single large scallop dredger in a month so surely there must be enough room for everybody, no?

3. "Urchin barrens" - areas of kelp forest grazed bare by plagues of sea urchins. Such barrens exist in Norway and the suggestion is that kelp dredging threatens the habitat of urchins' predators leading to an explosion in their population. "Avoid harvesting kelp in areas with high abundance of grazing sea urchins" is the mitigation measure recommended in the SEA (page 127) suggesting that this problem is not insurmountable.

Urchins attacking kelp in California - picture credit Monterrey Bay Aquarium

4. Coastal erosion - kelp forests dampen waves rolling in from the ocean: in Norway, they've been found to reduce wave height by as much as 60% resulting in wave energy loss of up to 80% [F/N 4] So the concern is that removal of kelp could threaten "soft" coastlines (those fronted by beaches as opposed to rocks) such as the west coast of Tiree. It's significant that coastal protection is the only area where the SEA's "risk matrix" (page 120) says the environmental risk from kelp dredging is higher ("medium" as opposed to "low") than mechanical harvesting ("hedge cutting") of asco as currently practiced and assumed by everyone to be eminently sustainable. It's also worth noting that no aspect of kelp dredging is assessed as "high" risk in the matrix and the prescription for the threat to soft coastlines is "Limit/avoid harvesting in wave exposed and erosion prone coastal areas (e.g dunes) where kelps dissipate wave energy". [F/N 5]

Waves on the west coast of Tiree - picture credit David Baker

Generally, it seems to me that, once the tiny percentage of the total biomass of kelp growing round the coast which MBL propose to harvest is understood - and that there's no question of clearfelling entire kelp forests - the threats assume a more rational proportion. They could and should have been dealt with under the marine licensing process which operates under existing, relatively recently (10-15 years) passed legislation rather than a knee-jerk ban passed in contravention of the Scottish Parliament's usual protocols. You do have to wonder what the point of statutory Strategic Environmental Assessments is if, come the thing the SEA is supposed to inform the Scottish Government's response to, the SG instead legislates to ban that thing and announce a further review?

The contra argument to that may be that the Ruskell amendment is merely a temporary stop while the review ascertains whether the licensing process is robust enough to deal with the environmental risks. And that, once it's either been determined that it is and/or any improvements have made (for example making project specific Environmental Impact Assessments compulsory for seaweed harvesting proposals as opposed to merely good practice), then the SG will legislate again to remove the Ruskell amendment so that kelp dredging can proceed subject the necessary monitoring and threat mitigation measures. But are they brave enough to take such a step? Ah hae ma doots!

Wouldn't that be rather courageous, Humphrey?

[1] - Burrows et al. (2018) Wild Seaweed Harvesting as a Diversification Opportunity for Fishermen page 19, Table 4
[2] - the 92% reduction in juvenile fish stocks claim is made in an article (Multi-trophic Consequences of Kelp Harvest by Lorentsen at al (2010)) the full text of which is not available without a subscription but its abstract is here. Note the reference to the reduction being "persistent for at least 1 year following harvest" suggesting that it declines in a relatively short number of years.
[3] - Strategic Environmental Assessment, para 6.4.3, page 80
[4] - Strategic Environmental Assessment, para. 7.2.7, page 101.
[5] - Strategic Environmental Assessment, page 127.