Ferry Service Crisis Hits Island Farmers and Crofters

NFUS to work with stakeholders to lobby Transport Scotland

Deteriorating and unreliable lifeline ferry services to Scotland’s island communities are increasingly impacting on the farmers and crofters who depend on them.

With most island farmers and crofters reliant on ferries for both receiving inputs and delivering goods, NFU Scotland is now in the process of gathering evidence and case studies across all island communities quantifying how much of an impact poor ferry services have had on those who are farming.

It will build on the response NFU Scotland made to the Scottish Parliament Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee’s ferry inquiry earlier this year, led by the Union’s Crofting, Highlands, and Islands Committee. 

Problems of an aging fleet, lack of investment, unreliability and poor planning have impacted members from Shetland to the West Coast, affecting both mainland and inter-island ferry services.

The Union is calling on Transport Scotland to invest significant resources as a matter of urgency to improve lifeline services to ensure the economic viability of these island businesses and communities. It is also calling on the Scottish Government to improve the fleet or invest in fixed links for the viability of Scotland’s remote island communities and rural businesses.

Plans are also underway for NFUS to work with other impacted sectors early in 2023 to highlight concerns directly with Transport Scotland, the Cabinet Secretary for Islands and Rural Affairs and Cabinet Secretary for Transport to underline fleet resilience and the impacts of the inadequacies in the current service. 

Rural Business Policy Advisor Rhianna Montgomery said: “Many of our members in island communities are being let down on a weekly, if not daily basis by ferry services that are not fit for purpose. As a result, economic growth is suffering.

“For farms and crofts, a reliable, resilient ferry service is required for access to markets and to receive essential deliveries for farm businesses such as feeding, fuel or contractors coming on to the islands. Many of our members have also diversified into agri-tourism and are suffering a double whammy from the decline in the service. 

“Cancelled sailings, vessel breakdowns, lack of tonnage along with the inability to secure a ferry booking are increasingly becoming the norm and are causing negative financial impacts and frustration within the farming and crofting sector. This has a knock-on effect to the wider community and could ultimately result in depopulation of these fragile communities.

“Whilst the issues have been ongoing for many years, they are becoming more frequent and the impacts on individual businesses and island communities have been more pronounced in recent years. Between November 2021 and February 2022 there were 961 cancelled sailings from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay alone. In addition to this, the Ardrossan to Brodick route experienced 414 cancelled sailings between January and May of 2022. How can you plan when services are so unreliable? 

“This deteriorating picture has resulted in farmers, crofters and livestock haulers being unable to secure bookings, even months in advance, to transport livestock on or off the islands. The number of situations in which small livestock trailers are being refused passage are increasing. It is an unsatisfactory situation both from an animal welfare perspective and simply adds additional costs to those hauling stock.

“We believed that the issue of inconsistent ticketing of agricultural vehicles had been addressed by Caledonian MacBrayne in July, but this has now gone backwards with the finger of blame pointed at Transport Scotland because of a delay in reviewing ferry rates for commercial vehicles. And the new CalMac ticketing system that was to be going live in October this year is still not ready. 

“The dossier on how poorly Scotland’s island communities are being served by ferries continues to grow and it is way beyond time for Scottish Government to do something about it.”  


Contact Bob Carruth on 07788 927675

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 109/22

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About The Author

Bob Carruth

A dairy farmer’s son, I joined NFU Scotland in 1999 after 13 years as an agricultural journalist. Following spells as a regional manager and policy lead on milk, livestock and animal health and welfare, I became Communications Director in 2008.

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