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Highland landowners have been warned they are not living in the 19th century when they could pretty much do as they pleased, after reports of gates on rural paths being locked and boulders left along verges to block access to tourists and visitors.
The comments came from Caol and Mallaig councillor Denis Rixson, a member of Highland Council’s tourism committee, which last week gave the go ahead for the local authority to produce a five-year visitor management plan aimed at addressing the 2021 tourism season and visitor demands in future years.
Committee chairwoman Councillor Maxine Smith said councillors agreed experiences in Highland communities this summer have clearly demonstrated the need for a visitor management plan.
‘We must be able to respond positively on the front-and-welcoming-foot to the increasing numbers of visitors to Highland,’ she said. ‘A clear direction on where we will allocate our resources on visitor management will help alleviate pressures on infrastructure at visitor attractions, beauty spots, rural roads and locations and in our villages and towns. The need to plan this over the longer term is also vital.’
Members agreed that a council officer working group created this summer be continued as a cross-service visitor management group.
Since the ease of lockdown, Highland Council services and partners including Police Scotland, have experienced rapidly increasing visitor demands on roads, parking and transport; amenity and waste; outdoor access and environmental and public health which caused a range of issues.
To try and address some of the issues being experienced during the summer, Highland Council met in July with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, councillors and community bodies in Ward 11 – Caol and Mallaig.
Ward 11 has been a hotspot for pressure from tourist numbers with wild camping, parking and litter problems at popular sites including Traigh beach at Arisaig and beaches at Morar.
A multi-agency environmental health group was also established to co-ordinate enforcement and communications on ‘dirty camping’ issues and to share best practice.
Members agreed last week a short-term plan for 2021 will be presented to a meeting of the tourism committee at the earliest opportunity and that longer term ambitions will be developed as part of a five-year visitor management plan.
Caol and Mallaig member Denis Rixson, a member of the committee, told the Lochaber Times the summer had seen many tensions regarding the influx of tourists – often in motorhomes.
‘I welcome the co-operative spirit shown by Highland communities as they adapt to the stresses and strains in the midst of a pandemic. I urge landowners to play their full part in this,’ he said.
‘Throughout the Highlands, there are landowners, individual and institutional, who are rising to the challenge and looking to find new solutions. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
‘I am hearing stories of gates locked on rural paths and I have seen numerous examples of boulders and other material left to block roadside verges. Some of these are downright dangerous.’
And he cautioned: ‘Landowners have a great deal of residual power in the Highlands. But we are no longer living in the 19th century. We need solutions which work for whole communities – not just some individuals.’
Fellow Caol and Mallaig ward councillor Allan Henderson, also a member of the committee, says problems caused by soaring visitor numbers is something that has to be handled at a local level as a ‘one-size fits all’ approach would simply not work.
‘One thing is certain, with the sale of 14,000 new camper vans per year, cheap tents, Access Code and Covid restrictions, camping and motor homing is here for the foreseeable future creating issues we will have to manage at a local level because it is unlikely broad national guidelines would be adhered to and one size does not fit all. The meeting we had with the tourism minister, while on the surface successful, saw only the council increase spend to improve services.
‘To manage a visitor management plan, cash has to be generated and wardens – managers – employed. Even a modest warden scheme could cost £50K per year which is £1/2 million over 10 years, drained from improvements to infrastructure and infrastructure improvements is the key to managing successfully.
‘So I believe Highland Council needs to give up central control of parking fees to allow areas to invest that money from day one. We are years behind the curve as ideally a visitor management plan would have preceded the boom.
‘Even if it becomes possible to collect fees from roadside camping, solid lines of parked up vehicles are not acceptable for road safety or travel.
‘Clearways – a blanket ban on road parking, but not roadside – is not a feasible answer. Neither is banning as alternatives and displacement will exacerbate the problem.
‘Hence the only way forward is a visitor management plan, with the council and public partners engaged with private land managers.
‘Just as land is managed for its current use, innovative management plans need to be implemented to address the current crisis. Proposals for Rhu, Kinloid road end are all steps in the right direction to protect the fragile beaches.’
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, left, visited Morar sands in August to see for herself problems associated with wild camping. Also pictured are, from left, Pamela Burns, Road to the Isles Marketing Group; Sine Davis, chairman, 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
EXTRA pics: IF F15 DENIS RIXSON LIB DEM