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Aberdeen Press & Journal Friday September 10th 1999. written by Dawn Thompson


 Countryside Group to lobby on hunting bill. 1,000 plan protest march on SNP conference.

MORE than 1,000 protesters will march through Inverness in a bid to topple a parliamentary bill, which they say, could cost thousands of rural jobs.

The Scottish Countryside alliance will lobby the SNP conference on September 24 against voting for the Watson Bill to ban hunting with dogs.

The event was announced yesterday as Highland Council backed the reinstatement of sporting rates, a move which one councillor, Sandy Park, claimed would lead to a millennium Highland clearance.

The alliance says acceptance " of the bill in Scotland and England would cost 16,000 jobs throughout Britain, with up to 3,000 of those in Scotland and a couple of hundred in the Highlands, and lead to a raft of anti-countryside measures.

The march will be the first in Scotland since the massive event in London last summer, which launched the rural lobby's campaign. .Jim Crawford, northern director of the Kelso-based Scottish Countryside Alliance; said yesterday the march could have a major effect."We're targeting one party this time, in Inverness, and a lot of their members are going to vote to ban hunting with dogs, which will have terrible implications," he said."I think if the SNP now come back and say we'll look after their Scottish rural interests better than we're doing now, I think this bill could fall. It could sway the whole thing."

The protesters claim that since the last general election, rural issues have ignored, and that the Watson Bill is just one in a long line of rural bashing

Proposals, including land reform, the reintroduction of sporting rates, access, the lead shot ban, beef on-the-bone and petrol costs.

Mr Crawford criticised the SNP for associating with animal welfare groups.We object to them because they are against everything we stand for. The SNP should be paying more attention to helping us. We should be looking at putting private members' bill things easier for people living in the country."They are wasting so much time on this issue, which could be put to better use looking at the real problems in the countryside. If Hunting goes, that will be the dam that bursts everything else. Next will be shooting."And he criticised the Highland council's decision to call for a re-introduction of sporting rates:Thatís a horrible thing to stick into the countryside just now."

But council covener David Green said the time was right to review the sporting rate exemption. He said " The land reform debate has moved on since 1995 when sporting rates were abolished and I am aware of a growing lobby of opinion which questions the justification for maintaining the dispensation for sporting estates, when other business people have to pay their way."Mr Park, who moved an unsuccessful amendment to Mr Green's motion, said estate owners would face an extra tax, which would lead to job losses. Around Nairn and Findhorn alone, he said 73 gamekeepers were employed. One estate in Reay was subsidised to the tune of £750,000 every year by the owner, another by £500,000. "How long are they going to continue to do this if they have another tax put on them? " he asked."I think you're heading for a Millenium Highland clearance if this goes through."The Scottish Landowners' Federation said yesterday the Highland Council was jumping the gun."The Scottish Executive has merely announced its intention to study the effect of reintroducing rates on sporting, forestry and agricultural land, an exercise to which the SLF looks forward to contributing objectively.Richard Stirling-Aird, chairman of the federation's planning and development committee, said the levy cost £l million in the Highlands, before it was abolished in 1995.He said £l million paid out now could cost 400 or 500 jobs

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