Call to community to save ‘abandoned’ beach

Tralee beach is visited by thousands every year.

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A public meeting is to gauge support for a community buy-out of popular Tralee Beach.

The meeting to discuss a possible buy-out bid that could see residents become ‘custodians’ of the busy beach will take place at Victory Hall at 7pm on Friday July 20.

Tralee Beach, which attracts thousands of visitors every year, is no stranger to land struggles. When Argyll and Bute council allowed thousands of tons of sand and gravel to be extracted from it in the 1980s as infill for the £1.4m Oban railway pier 32 years ago, it triggered worldwide uproar from environmentalists who put a stop to it.

It made headlines again two years later when the then Highland landlord Hugh MacColl and his Surrey-based sister prohibited people from trespassing on their land by carving ‘a gaping chasm’ across the access road to the beach.

Now there is a  new move from some within the community who want to take over the care of the beach themselves.

Tralee Beach Action Group, fondly known as T-BAG, has reformed three decades on with a view to becoming a community trust to have a say on how the beach and woodlands nearby are developed and to stop any future removal of sand and gravel.

The current landowners, who live out of the area and still have mineral rights for the beach and land owned by crofters, have been told about the potential buy-out bid and have been invited to the public meeting, but so far there has been no response.

Willie Barnett, one of the original T-BAG members who is the new campaign’s interim chairman, said: ‘We feel the beach should not be in the hands of one person because it belongs to the community. We are prepared to battle it out if we have to.

‘There is no place in 21st-century Scotland for feudal landlords and communities should not live under the threat of removal of more sand and gravel that would leave the beach in a very fragile state. The people who live and work in this area are the best people to determine the destiny of the beach for future generations. We will be contacting the Scottish Land Fund, spurred on by the Ulva buy-out and ask for their help.’

The Land Reform Act 2003 gave communities the right to buy land across Scotland.

Mr Barnett continued: ‘We are not going to go away. We are currently putting together a committee of local farmers and crofters, some who have grazing rights going back hundreds of years. This beautiful beach has to all intents and purposes been abandoned, and little or no money has been spent on retaining fences or roads in decades.’

Work has been done by local crofters to clear part of the grass lands from ragwort and whin bushes to create extra grazing grounds, but on the eastern side there are large pits where gravel has been removed.

At the public meeting, Mr Barnett will be outlining how the buy-out could work but only if the community wants to supports it and go ahead.

‘If the community is for it, then we will go ahead. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from people so far,’ he told The Oban Times.

Ideas for managing the beach could include putting in roads so people with disabilities are given access, filling in hazardous pits, fitting new gates to stop cattle from wandering, and turning part of it into a nature reserve. Visitors could also be asked to make a donation to help with its upkeep.

‘This would be a community buy-out. No one can own a beach. We would become the responsible custodians of it.

‘We hope the new trust would attract a full spectrum of the community – from geriatrics like me to the youngest residents. We are in the early stages at the moment and we have to take it step by step,’ said Mr Barnett.

MSP Michael Russell said: ‘I have been contacted by those who are taking this forward. At the end of the day it is the community which decides on whether or not to go ahead within the framework of the community right-to-buy legislation. I am very happy to support the community in their ambitions and to provide every help I can.’