A NEUTRAL mediator is to be engaged to try and resolve concerns over unrestricted wildfowl shooting at Findhorn Bay.
Moray councillors agreed to seek mediation – at a likely cost of £15,000 – in a bid to end the long-running issue.
However, they stopped short of initiating a process to introduce a byelaw regulating the shooting, as there remain concerns over the potential cost of that process.
The matter has been ongoing since December 2015 when the council received a petition from Friends of Findhorn Bay (FFB) urging them to ban the "killing and maiming of geese and ducks".
However, an alternative petition was received urging a "Fair fight for Findhorn fowlers now" in support of the wildfowlers.
A series of mediations and meetings have since taken place and a voluntary scheme was put in place for the 2017-18 season.
At a recent meeting of the full Moray Council, members agreed to seek the support of Scottish Natural Heritage to commission a mediator.
Support for Findhorn Bay Wildfowlers campaign founder Martin Gauld thinks it will be a waste of time.
He said: "We’ve been there already - we shook hands on the last deal but it didn’t work. The agreement lasted six-and-a-half hours before it was thrown out. I don’t understand why we’re going down the same road again and the money should be spent on something else. The FFB won’t stop until there is a complete ban."
He added: "We will listen to the others and put our points across. But what for? The permit system as it stands is unworkable. It asks for sensitive information but it is voluntary. It was given to the Local Nature Reserve (LNR) to administer but they issued less than 30 permits. I know of double that number who applied but their calls were not answered and they got no calls back."
Mr Gauld revealed said that a survey he carried out last season on 63 wildfowlers revealed they invested £70,000 in the local economy while they were here, adding that some had booked accommodation in advance for the next decade. The Friends group is disappointed with the decision to pursue further mediation.
They said best practice in other Scottish nature reserves was to implement a byelaw to regulate shooting.
Two other mediations in pursuit of a voluntary agreement have failed, the group added.
"In light of the extensive attempts to bring the parties together, we do not believe that further mediation in pursuit of another voluntary arrangement will bring anything other than further failure to resolve this issues."
Lisa Mead, of the FFB, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the council has once again avoided the chance to resolve this issue by refusing yet again to promote a legally binding solution."
She said the council appeared to have focussed its efforts since December 2015 on "placating the relatively small number of very vocal shooters who pursue a totally unnecessary and highly disruptive activity on the bay".
She added that residents were entitled to "peaceful enjoyment of their own homes".
Noise pollution and plastic littering, caused by the wildfowling, is a huge problem, she added.
"We also believe that a huge opportunity to promote eco-tourism is being missed in an area of exceptional natural beauty."
Cllr George Alexander (Forres) said the issue had taken up a disproportionate amount of officers and councillors’ time over the last few years and a byelaw could be a considerable expense to the council.
Fellow Forres councillor Claire Feaver, whose ward includes Findhorn Bay, said residents were being disturbed morning and night by indiscriminate shooting. She said she would welcome a byelaw to introduce a permit system for shooting in the bay.
After the meeting she added: "I have been working with residents to find a solution to this longstanding problem. The current situation in which residents are disturbed by shooting at dawn and dusk for months on end is unacceptable. Not only is it unfair on residents it makes a mockery of the fact that Findhorn Bay is a designated local nature reserve.
"This is not about being anti-wildfowling. I know of at least one local shooter who no longer visits Findhorn because it is in his words "unsafe" and "like the Wild West".
"I hope the mediation will work but, if not, then I will campaign for the introduction of a bye-law to impose restrictions on shooting. It’s about time the right of local residents to enjoy some peace and quiet was respected."