Brexit could scupper plans for the first abattoir on Skye in more than a generation
The micro facility, for which local crofters, farmers and chefs have been campaigning for decades, has finally been granted planning permission for a site in Portree. Once built, it would allow small-batch Isle of Skye-labelled lamb, beef and pork from rare and native breeds reared on the island to be identified on menus and marketed worldwide for the first time. This includes Hebridean lamb, Soay mutton and Highland beef.
Now, however, the UK’s plans to leave the European Union have put in doubt vital EU funding for the £1.5m project.
European funding through the Scottish rural development programme is capped at 40% of the total cost, and campaigners say it will now have to be applied for before Article 50 is triggered next March and European funded grant schemes are closed. As a consequence of this new deadline, they now face the unwelcome pressure of raising the substantial balance - some £750,000 - through private benefactors and charitable trusts before March, as the money must be either promised or in place before the EU application is made.
Donald Murdie, a crofter near Dunvegan Head who tends a flock of Hebridean sheep and is a member of the campaigining Skye and Lochalsh Meat Supply Group, told The Herald: “This micro-abattoir would be good for animal welfare because it would put an end to the 140-mile round trip to the existing abattoir in Dingwall which has been in place since the old Skye abattoir closed in the early 1990s. It could really put Skye on the global gourmet map and make it a foodie destination, because it would mean locally-reared animals can be finished, killed, processed and packaged on the island, meaning it can be labelled as Isle of Skye. It could reverse the current situation where tens of thousands of livestock leave the island every year to be sold for finishing in the Lowlands, England and Wales, thereby losing the unique provenance and traceability.
“This is really important in an age where provenance means so much to consumers worldwide. For them to know their high welfare beef or lamb comes in small quantities from the beautiful island of Skye and its surrounding areas is priceless and could really build our rural economy. We envisage a throughput of
We have had so much goodwill from chefs and potential consumers, and not a single objection to the planning application. All designs and costings have been done.
“But to our dismay, we now find that thanks to the Brexit Catastrophe, as I call it, the abattoir is not a done deal by any means.
“Three-quarters of a million pounds is an awful lot of money to find in an extremely short time-scale. If we don’t manage it we could lose any further chance of EU funding.”
Campaigners hope to raise 7% through local donations, events and a crowdfunding appeal. To kickstart the fundraising effort, chef Scott Davies and his team at the Three Chimneys restaurant, together with chef James Dixon of Skeabost Country House Hotel and Calum Montgomery from Ullinish Country Lodge, have organised a £75-a-head Skye Chefs’ St Andrew’s Day Dinner which will take place on November 30 at Skeabost Country House Hotel. Tickets are already almost sold out.
Ian Blackford, MSP for Skye and Lochaber, said: “It breaks my heart that the top quality product of our crofters and farmers is going to the wider supply chain and that they are not able to benefit from it. The abattoir on Skye would be a great opportunity to address that by allowing them to market their meat locally and internationally and assure consumers it is from Skye and Lochalsh.
“This significant barrier to the Skye and Lochalsh Micro Abattoir project being realised has been put in place as a consequence of Brexit and has delivered an urgency about Article 50 here to our very doorstep. We must do everything we can to ensure we don’t lose out on such funding opportunities.”
Richard Lochhead, the former cabinet secretary for rural affairs, said: “UK ministers have plunged many of our rural communities into the abyss given that so many of our rural projects are now surrounded by uncertainty due to Brexit. All the hard work and effort expended in putting together these often complex funding applications can’t be allowed to come to nothing. It must not allow new time constraints to jeopardise vital projects like these.”
“I’m very optimistic that we will hit our target because we have had so much fantastic support for this project, which we have been working towards for such a long time. We have had amazing letters pledging support and I know there is much work being done behind the scenes to ensure our dream does not slip away. We are not giving up.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Herald (heraldscotland.com)
* A fundraising dinner for the Skye Abattoir takes place on St Andrew's Night. See my Blog entry later this week!