Local News for Thursday 5th May 2016

The polls are open
47 polling stations around the Western Isles are now open for voters in the Scottish Parliamentary Election. The polling places range from community halls to a bowling club and will remain open until 10pm today. Voters will be asked to cast two votes, one for a constituency MSP for na h-Eileanan an Iar, and one to decide who will be the list representatives for the Highlands and Islands. Once polls close tonight, counting begins at Lewis Sports Centre, where an announcement on the constituency result is expected sometime after 1am. Ballot boxes from Barra are being transported by sea and road to Benbecula, from where a chartered plane will bring all the ballot boxes from the Uists and Barra to Stornoway. In the event of bad weather or any other reason for delay, a boat is on stand-by to cross the Sound of Harris, but this would significantly delay the declaration in the islands.

Tune into Duisg on Isles FM tomorrow morning for the results and coverage of the local count, and follow Isles FM on Facebook for overnight updates from the count.

HebCelt heads for ticket record
Tickets for the award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival are selling faster this year than at any time during the event’s 21-year history. With ten weeks still to go, organisers have reached 80 per cent of their sales target and are fast running out of weekend tickets for the four-day festival. The opening show at An Lanntair is sold out and closing show tickets are in hot demand. 65 per cent of tickets have been snapped up by fans living outside the island of Lewis. The 21st HebCelt will be held from 13-16 July in Stornoway. Runrig will close the ‘coming of age’ celebrations on Saturday, 16 July during a nationwide tour in support of their 14th - and last - studio album, The Story. News that the band were making their fourth appearance at the festival led to an unprecedented demand for Early Bird tickets from fans as far afield as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Runrig will be among nearly 50 acts performing over the four days. Others confirmed include the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Astrid, Julie Fowlis, King Creosote and Breabach. Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “This is easily our best ticket performance ever, with big spikes firstly when we announced Runrig and put weekend tickets on sale back in November, and then when we released day tickets at the end of February.”

Study of Minch traffic on whales and dolphins
The impact of marine traffic on whales and dolphins is to be studied by the Mull-based Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. AIS technology will help the study, with scientists and trained volunteers using an AIS transponder to track vessel movements. This will be combined with sightings and underwater acoustic monitoring of cetaceans to gain new insights into how species are affected by ships' movements and noise. Dr Conor Ryan, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Science Officer, said: "The Hebrides may seem like a wilderness, but human impacts on the marine environment are significant. Strengthening scientific understanding is crucial if we are to help industries ensure that their impacts on Scotland's remarkable whales, dolphins and porpoise populations are minimal." HWDT is recruiting paying volunteers for 12 expeditions of one to two weeks, between now and October, with surveys covering areas from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath and St Kilda.