West Highland Anchorages and Moorings Association

A Brief History

The idea of creating an association such as WHAM first arose in November 1984 when yachtsmen and fishermen complained bitterly that their havens of refuge in bad weather were being obstructed by fish-farms and moorings. At the same time there was unease that the Crown Estate Office (Crown Estate) was making unreasonable demands for moorings seabed rent under the Crown Estate Act 1961. A sub-committee of the Royal Highland Yacht Club met to discuss these problems but it soon became evident that a yacht club sub-committee was not going to make much progress on its own so, after a public meeting, it was decided to form the special group which became WHAM. More problems immediately came up for attention:

  • The Crown Estate required mooring association officers to sign a Minute of Agreement which could penalise them personally and told them that there was no appeal.
  • Some fish cages were unlit and a danger to all vessels.
  • Anchorages were being obstructed by derelict fish farms and other hazards.
  • The Nature Conservancy Council was trying to exclude mariners from some anchorages.

Fish-farms and Moorings

Before long Mike Bolton, as WHAM Secretary but in a personal capacity, was asked by RYA (Scotland) to help in the process of scrutinising some of the applications to the Crown Estate for seabed leases and to the Department of Transport (DTp) for navigational consent under the Coast Protection Act. As time went on he gradually assumed responsibility for preparing responses to both authorities for the whole west coast from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath and all of the Hebrides, after consultation for each one with a local RYA nominee. Up to a couple of hundred applications were handled each year. There was no objection to most but some required work over several weeks before a full picture became evident.

Over the years, the authorities gradually came to accept that the responses were fair and reasonable particularly as, when rejection was recommended, an alternative was often put forward. As a result some applicants began to ask for a WHAM opinion before completing the necessary forms. On a few occasions fish-farmers tried to over-ride the authorities' final decision by placing their gear illegally and where it would block an anchorage. One case was quite blatant, the operator took over four times the area leased, but found himself ordered to remove the cages within 31 days after WHAM protested.

It has had to be accepted that some anchorages had already become partly filled by fish farms with long leases before RYA and WHAM were consulted. One example, one of several which led to the formation of WHAM, is Loch Spelve where huge areas are occupied by mussel farms.

Seabed rents

The first meeting of WHAM with the Crown Estate was in 1985. Their consultant started by laying down the Law:

  • Planning of the seabed is the job of the Crown Estate. They decide everything and there is no right of appeal.
  • All mooring owners must pay rent to the Crown. If they do not, their moorings will be lifted and put on the beach. Owners should form associations for the collection of rent and this would reduce the cost.
  • Payment of rent confers no rights and the Crown could resume a lease at any time.

This Big Brother attitude did not go down well and it was not understood why west coast boatowners would have to pay higher rent than Clydesiders and that 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 met 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 boatowners to pay their rent. Agreeing that complaints about the Minute of Agreement were reasonable, he visited the WHAM Committee in Oban, saying that the clauses were not cast in tablets of stone and could be changed and several compromises were quickly agreed. The resulting document was updated in 2000. He also corrected impressions given by the Crown Estate consultant ie Associations' legal rights were recognised and there was a right of appeal.

Five years of amicable relations with the Crown Estate followed until, out of the blue, its officials suddenly announced several changes which were against the Minute of Agreement that both parties had signed, including an un-negotiated rent increase of 37% and a reduction in the rent review period from 5 years to 3. This upset WHAM associations and they talked of an outright refusal to pay further rent. Mr Gravestock and senior staff immediately visited Oban where, after much negotiation, 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 concerned 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 Martin Gravestock, who immediately instructed his official to see that the obstructions were cleared. Derelict yachts and fishing boats were dealt with in the same way. There will always be boatowners who 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 the owners, if they can find them. WHAM's first success in clearing a designated anchorage of obstructions was in 1986 when five illegal moorings appeared in the beautiful 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 eventually 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 all other forms of obstruction at sea, it is far more appropriate wherever possible to mount daymarks and lights actually on the obstructions, e.g. fish cages, mussel rafts etc. This was welcomed and supported by most fish farmers as such arrangements were cheaper and 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 with it 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 quite unaware of the need to conserve anchorages for the safety of mariners. WHAM found and appointed its own representative in each SAC to attend the project officers' meetings and report back upon proposals for restrictions. One officer insisted that anchoring should be restricted in anchorages where there was maerl, a form of coral, on the seabed. The Crown Estate was very helpful here, saying that the seabed belongs to the Crown and that only it can impose restrictions, which it has no intention of doing because of the implications for maritime safety.

The Future

As the new millennium dawned, it became clear that the establishment of WHAM has been of great benefit to west coast mariners and most designated anchorages have been preserved for the future. The Crown Estate helped considerably in this when they appointed a Moorings Officer, Peter-John Korbel MRIN, an experienced sailor, diver and Yachtmaster Instructor. Robert Adam joined later and looks after moorings in the Northwest.

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WHAM, West Highland Anchorages and Moorings Association, is Scottish registered charity number SC044698.