MICHAEL Fry responds to the many letters from readers in response to his column about kelp dredging (Kelp proposals are bang in line with 21st-century economic ideals, December 4).

THE harvesting of kelp is illegal in Scotland, whether carried out by mechanised dredgers or by individuals with scissors and bucket.

So much is clear from the Scottish Law Commission’s Report on the Law of the Foreshore and Sea Bed (2003). It proposed a new Act of the Scottish Parliament, which has not yet been introduced, resting in part on the pre-existing public rights in respect of the shore and foreshore.

Here they are: bathing, swimming and sunbathing; making sandcastles and playing games; having picnics, lighting fires and cooking food; beachcombing. In addition, “everyone has the right to gather shell fish on the shore and foreshore [and] to fish for sea fish from the shore and foreshore”. Perhaps the most controversial bit is this: “Everyone has the right to shoot wildfowl from the foreshore where the wildfowl are on or over the foreshore or the sea.”

Conspicuous by its absence, however, is any mention of a right to gather kelp. So if the Crown Estate Commissioners, as owners of much of Scotland’s foreshore the most relevant authority up to now, did prosecute anyone for doing just that, then the sheriff would have to admit the commissioners were in the right. Not that they, as notoriously idle and neglectful landlords, would ever have been likely to pursue this course. But the point holds that Ailsa McLennan of Ullapool and all the rest of the kelpers with scissors and bucket have been lucky to get away with their illegal activity. Safer to stick to building sandcastles.

Of the other readers who wrote in to cavil at my column, Finlay McFarlane concluded: “The one area where we can seek to agree … is that kelp can hold the key to regenerating our rural economy. Scotland truly can lead the world with an industry fit for the 21st century”.

Indeed I agree. As I originally mentioned, kelp and other alginates are today re-emerging as a profitable raw material after two centuries of alternatives being produced by polluting industrial processes. In addition to their historic uses for soap and glass, they now have advanced medical applications.

For example, alginates naturally form a gel which can be placed on severe wounds with an anaesthetic and antiseptic effect – it’s biodegradable too!

But to advance to the position where Scotland truly can lead the world in this field, we need investment on an industrial scale. That is what Marine Biopolymers of Ayr are trying to give us. Its SNP-supporting directors must be astonished that their plans are greeted as an evil capitalist plot.

It certainly does not follow, as implied by Shona Marshall’s letter, that their proposed mechanical harvesting of 0.15% of Scottish kelp forests is going to lead to the disappearance of them all.

If a new Scotland will not allow itself to develop its unique, indigenous resources in ways beyond the ken of Britnat, Brexiteer politicians in London, then what on earth is the point of independence? Better, as I said before, to remain on the dependency payroll. Yet that is what the scissors and bucket brigade in effect want.

Perhaps the responsible minister, Roseanna Cunningham, has the key role to play here. In the consultation she has announced, the aim should be to balance the various interests involved, great and small, with no knee-jerk bans on anybody – and then to legislate on those lines, preferably also following the sound guidelines of the Scots Law Commission. It is what we already do with forestry, after all, and it is what we will soon need to do with fisheries.

With independence comes responsibility and with responsibility comes sense – usually at any rate, but perhaps not always in Ullapool.