Council accused of ‘passing the buck’ over wild camping

Local MSP Kate Forbes, left, visited Morar sands to see for herself problems associated with wild camping. Also pictured are, from left ,Pamela Burns (Road to the Isles Marketing Group), Sine Davis (Chair, Road to the Isles Marketing Group and owner West Highland Hotel Mallaig), Iain MacNiven (Arisaig Community Council), Sandra McLean (Mallaig Community Council) and Dave Newnham (Morar Community Council). NO F32 Morar Sands-2
Local MSP Kate Forbes, left, visited Morar sands to see for herself problems associated with wild camping. Also pictured are, from left ,Pamela Burns (Road to the Isles Marketing Group), Sine Davis (Chair, Road to the Isles Marketing Group and owner West Highland Hotel Mallaig), Iain MacNiven (Arisaig Community Council), Sandra McLean (Mallaig Community Council) and Dave Newnham (Morar Community Council). NO F32 Morar Sands-2

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Highland Council has been accused of trying to pass the buck over responsibility for tackling the environmental damage and traffic congestion being caused by out of control wild camping at a number of iconic Lochaber beauty spots.

Local MSP Kate Forbes was speaking after the Inverness-based authority passed a motion calling for more resources after another weekend of mayhem saw beaches at Arisaig and Morar, as well as Glen Etive, clogged with cars, camper vans and tents.

Councillors on Monday agree the motion – raised by Caol and Mallaig member Ben Thompson – which stated that steps may be taken to reduce public health risks including increase waste collections, better traffic management, restrictions on alcohol consumption, and financial support for beach or countryside wardens, as well as temporary toilet and handwashing facilities.

It concluded the council should commit to use its resources ‘where practicable and affordable’ to support such steps and called on the Scottish Government and its agencies to work with the council.

But Ms Forbes is less than happy at what she sees as an attempt by the council to shift the responsibility onto the Scottish Government.

‘Over the last few years I have been closely involved with a number of communities dealing with congestion, wild camping and environmental damage in Glen Etive, Glenfinnan, Mallaig, Arisaig and Morar,’ she told the Lochaber Times.

‘All of these communities can vouch for that involvement. Unfortunately, in every case Highland Council already had the powers and access to funding and has done very little to resolve the situation.

‘As such, I’m disappointed to see Highland Council appear to pass the buck entirely to the Scottish Government when this needs to be a joint effort.

‘Highland Council has powers for local clearways and waste management. I, and many of these communities, would much rather see Highland Council propose solutions, like Stirling Council and Argyll and Bute Council have done.

‘These issues aren’t new – and there has been progress through the Scottish Government’s Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

‘At a time when communities in Glen Etive and Arisaig have been pleading for years for local interventions, I’d like to see Highland Council stepping up to the mark and doing something about it.’

One of those who signed the motion, Councillor Baxter, said the problem is not wild camping per se, but what he called ‘lazy, selfish and dirty’ camping.

He told the Lochaber Times this week that local police did not have the resources to deal with the problem, particularly when officers were on their own and dealing with rowdy campers.

‘It’s all very well hearing fellow councillors say we need to educate people and provide them with facilities. We shouldn’t need to educate people to use common sense and behave properly.

‘We shouldn’t need to molly-coddle idiots by providing them with all the comforts of the city. Even when we provided extra bins in Glen Etive they were ignored by so many who left their rubbish behind,’ he said.

Councillor Andrew Baxter.

And he a warned that all possible ways of resolving the problems should be considered: ‘However much I am against banning things, no option should be left unexplored if we are going to solve this anti-social behaviour.’

Councillor Denis Rixson (Caol and Mallaig) welcomed the passing of the motion but said words have to be followed by actions.

‘For many years our tourist infrastructure has been under pressure. We don’t provide the necessary facilities in terms of toilets, parking, waste collection and chemical waste disposal. None of these issues are new. We haven’t tackled them properly in the past,’ Councillor Rixson told us.

He added he was in favour of more resources, including extra bins and portable toilets, as well as employing community wardens.

But he added: ‘Highland Council is facing a financial black hole as a result of Covid. On July 22 we asked Scottish Government for emergency help. Fergus Ewing sounded sympathetic but to date we have been given no additional funds towards this particular set of problems.’

Councillor Denis Rixson.

And he cautioned against any moves to implement bans. ‘I am completely opposed to bans, byelaws, clearways and prohibitions. This is a very slippery slope,’ he said.

‘Once you stop ‘dirty’ campers from Glasgow it is but a short step to ‘dirty’ campers from Fort William. Restricting freedoms for some is a threat to the freedoms of us all.

‘Yes, restrictions might give us a quick fix – but they soon lead down a pathway I don’t believe we should follow.

‘Let’s manage the problems – not try and ban the freedoms which many people enjoy and exercise responsibly.

‘We do have to be careful about our reactions. The Highland economy is very dependent on tourism. If we get a reputation for being unwelcoming or hostile then the consequences could be very unfortunate.’

Fellow Caol and Mallaig councillor, Allan Henderson, said there is no single, simple solution to the problem.

‘Currently we have far too many varied views on how to solve this problem and, arguably, opportunities, so the debate just goes round and round until the ‘season’ ends,’ he told us.

Councillor Allan Henderson. NO-F40-Allan-Henderson
Councillor Allan Henderson.

‘Both Glen Etive and the B8008 [between Arisaig and Mallaig] are very restricted areas, with residents amenity and understanding being tested to the limit. There is also the tension between business opportunity and  residential amenity.

‘I don’t honestly believe many want to ban, but we do have to find a way to manage and enforce. This can only be done by constructive dialogue and finding funding sources.’

Councillor Thompson believes one of the main changes needed is more ‘boots on the ground’ in the way of ranger-style/parking enforcement wardens with legal back up from the police.

Councillor Ben Thompson

‘My big concern is that more signs are not going to solve the problem. When it comes to solutions I don’t think cheap options deliver solutions,’ he said.

‘This needs a multi-agency response to tackle it properly. I just hope the government listens to the council and we see urgent action.’