The idea of creating an association such as WHAM first arose in November 1984 when yachtsmen and fishermen complained that their havens of refuge in bad weather were becoming obstructed by fish-farms and moorings. At the same time there was unease that the Crown Estate was making unreasonable demands for seabed rent. These problems were discussed at the Royal Highland Yacht Club but it became evident that one yacht club was not going to make much progress on its own so, after a public meeting, it was decided to form the group which developed into WHAM. More problems then came up for attention:
- The Crown Estate required mooring association officers to sign a Minute of Agreement which could penalise them personally with no appeal.
- Some fish farm cages were unlit and a danger to vessels.
- Anchorages were being obstructed by derelict fish farms and other hazards.
- The Nature Conservancy Council was aiming to exclude mariners from some anchorages.
Fish-farms and Moorings
Before long Mike Bolton, WHAM Secretary, was asked by RYA (Scotland) to help scrutinising applications to the Crown Estate for seabed leases and to the Department of Transport for navigational consent under the Coast Protection Act. Subsequently, he assumed responsibility for responding to applications for the west coast from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath and all the Hebrides. A hundred or more applications were handled each year
Over the years, the authorities came to accept that the responses were fair and reasonable particularly as, when rejection was recommended, an alternative was often put forward. So some applicants asked WHAM for an opinion before completing the forms. Occasionally, applicants tried to over-ride the authorities’ decision by placing gear illegally where it would block an anchorage. In one blatant case, an operator took over four times their leased area, but was ordered to remove the cages within 31 days after a protest.
The first meeting of WHAM with the Crown Estate was in 1985. It was not understood why west coast boat-owners had to pay higher rent than Clydesiders or why some would pay more than others through differing valuations by District Valuers. Attempts to discuss the problems with Crown Estate officials and the Chief Valuer for Scotland had little success at first but, as WHAM gained more members and proved its arguments, progress began to be made.
Around the end of 1987, Martin Gravestock was appointed as Crown Estate Receiver. He was concerned at the reluctance of boat-owners to pay their rent. Agreeing that complaints about the Minute of Agreement were reasonable, he visited the WHAM Committee in Oban, saying that the Minute could be changed and several compromises were quickly agreed; Mooring Associations' legal rights were recognised and there was a right to appeal.
Five years of amicable relations with the Crown Estate followed. Then officials announced changes which breached the Minute of Agreement that both parties had signed, including imposing a 37% rent increase and reducing the rent review period from 5 years to 3. This upset Mooring Associations and they talked of a refusal to pay further rent. Mr. Gravestock and senior staff visited Oban and the review period was restored to 5 years and the rent increase reduced to 25%, which was below the rate of inflation.
Obstructions in anchorages
In the late nineteen-eighties, several anchorages were obstructed by derelict fish-farms but the Crown Estate official accepted the operators’ assurances that the cages were merely under maintenance and saw no problem. The sites were re-visited and photographed and the results were sent to the Crown Estate; instructions were issued to clear the obstructions. Derelict yachts and fishing boats were dealt with in the same way.
Some boat-owners illegally moor their vessels and fish-keeps in designated anchorages and it has been a continuing WHAM task to persuade the Crown Estate to pursue these owners. WHAM’s first success in clearing a designated anchorage of obstructions was in 1986 when five illegal moorings appeared in the valuable haven of Puilladobhrain. The Crown Estate was notified and informed that WHAM would regard it as a test case of their ability to manage the seabed and to justify the rents which they were charging to mooring owners. The moorings were removed.
Lighting and Marking of Fish-farms
Up to the late 1980s the Department of Transport had always insisted that fish-farmers should mark and light their sometimes huge leased areas, regardless of how small was the gear that occupied them. This meant that, particularly at night, vessels were sometimes unsure about where the gear actually was. It took several years for WHAM and RYA(Scotland), after negotiation with the Northern Lighthouse Board, to persuade them that, as with other obstructions at sea, it is more appropriate to mount daymarks and lights on the obstructions, e.g. fish cages, mussel rafts etc. This was welcomed and supported by most fish farmers as such arrangements were simpler to maintain than expensive lit buoys. Mussel lines and other low-lying gear still needed buoys which were to be placed as close as possible to the obstructions.
The Habitats Directive
Membership of the EU brought proposals to control the conservation of flora and fauna at selected sites throughout the European Community. Several Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) had been established, each with a Project Officer to control it, most of whom were unaware of the need to conserve anchorages for the safety of mariners. WHAM appointed its own representative in each SAC to attend the project officers' meetings and report back upon proposals for restrictions.
More recent developments
Into the new millennium, WHAM has been of great benefit to west coast mariners and many designated anchorages have been preserved for the future. The Crown Estate helped considerably in this when they appointed a Marine Officer, Peter-John Korbel MRIN, an experienced sailor, diver and Yachtmaster Instructor. Robert Adam joined later, looking after moorings in the Northwest.
The Crown Estate transferred much of their marine work to the property consultants Bidwells and WHAM maintains a good relationship with them and with Marine Scotland who deal with licensing. The Crown Estate also established a fund to provide small grants to local communities for marine developments. Following the retiral of P.J. Korbel, the Crown Estate appointed Colin Brown to supervise the Clyde area, with Tony Bennett looking after the west coast south of Mallaig and Rob Adam dealing with the area north of Mallaig. These Marine Officers help to ensure that anchorages are protected and that unlicensed moorings are removed.
In 2018, a bill was published by the Scottish Parliament to transfer Crown Estate Scotland management to the Scottish Government, potentially disrupting the future management of moorings in Scotland. WHAM has made clear that in our view the historical arrangements have worked well and for the future we wish to see a national system in operation rather than local authorities taking control of their areas as few have the necessary marine expertise. This is a matter which we will keep under review.
Another matter of current concern to WHAM members is the proposal to establish a Harbour Order for Oban Bay. Clearly this is an important matter for marine safety with many large ships using the bay, particularly the ferry terminals. However, a proposal by Calmac that they should take the lead in this is not thought appropriate and we will continue to seek a more satisfactory outcome.