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River board hits back over 'stifling economy' claims

Michael Wigan: 'River rentals underpin all employment on estates in the Kildonan strath.'
Michael Wigan: 'River rentals underpin all employment on estates in the Kildonan strath.'

HELMSDALE and District Salmon Fishery Board has issued a strong rebuttal of claims it is stifling the economy of the village.

Fishery board secretary Michael Wigan, who owns Borrobol Estate, has come out fighting against the allegations by angling writer John Gibb in this month’s edition of Scottish Field magazine.

Mr Gibb, clerk to a fishery board in Lochaber, claims Helmsdale should be economically more prosperous because it boasts one of Scotland’s best salmon rivers but that river board policies are holding it back.

He maintains there is little spin-off for local accommodation providers and other businesses as anglers on private beasts are required to take a fishing and accommodation package, staying in estate lodges.

And he alleges the board is not maximising the river’s full potential.

He maintains angling on it is too exclusive and out of the reach of the average angler.

But Mr Wigan, who has contacted Mr Gibb about his article, insisted this week: “The Helmsdale river board bends every sinew to support the locality.”

Six river owners are involved with the board, whose chairman is Sir John Nutting of Kinbrace.

Mr Wigan said river rentals underpinned all employment on estates in the Kildonan strath, including farming, holiday lets and stalking.


This adds up to over 40 jobs, excluding all the contract work. The strath depends on the river’s good performances and flourishing health,” he said.

Disputing the exclusivity claim, Mr Wigan pointed out that the Helmsdale was the only river in Scotland which had open days where anyone could fish anywhere without charge and which brought substantial trade to the village.

“The festivities last a week and over 200 anglers come to the village in January. Local businesses welcome this,” he said.

Mr Wigan said that the £25 cost of permits for locals was cheaper than anywhere for the quality of fishing. Anglers were permitted to fish through the night in recognition of the traditional interest in sea-trout fishing. This activity was not allowed on the private beats.

Local angling association members were also permitted to fish on private beats early in the season.

He added: “Far from being exclusive, over 1500 anglers fish the private beats each year, stimulating the local economy.”

He revealed the board also supported numerous local charities and initiatives.

Mr Wigan highlighted the group’s conservation work with over 85 per cent of salmon caught returned.

“Primarily the board performs its statutory task of protecting and encouraging salmon and sea-trout. Its trained and qualified team also works under contract to the government undertaking scientific surveys on other rivers,” he said.

He pointed out that over 50 local anglers were registered to help collect fish for the hatchery in autumn. He added: “What the board cannot do, for obvious reasons, is make special cases of supporting individual struggling local businesses.”


Published on Saturday 7 June 2014 by David Mason