Forbes calls for urgent action after bank holiday beach mayhem at Arisaig and Morar

Glorious weather drew large numbers of people to the beaches at Arisaig and Morar at the weekend, causing traffic congestion and problem parking. Photograph: Hope Blamire. NO F23 Arisaig cars

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Lochaber MSP Kate Forbes has called on Highland Council and Police Scotland to ‘urgently intervene’ to tackle the sort of scenes witnessed at the weekend, when hundreds of people descended on the beaches at Arisaig and Morar.

Ms Forbes was speaking out after roads round Arisaig and Morar virtually ground to a halt as people desperate to enjoy scorching May bank holiday temperatures parked countless cars and campervans along the roadsides, camped on beaches and lit numerous fires and barbecues.

One of those who witnessed the scenes was Bath-based artist and frequent visitor to the area, Hope Blamire. In a social media post titled ‘The Ugly Truth’, which has now been viewed more than 16,000 times, she said she was struggling with what she had witnessed in Arisaig and Morar.

Artist Hope Blamire , pictured, whose online comments about the situation have been viewed over 16,000 times. NO F23 Hope Blamire
Artist Hope Blamire , pictured, whose online comments about the situation have been viewed over 16,000 times.

‘The 37 caravans and motorhomes parked on the fragile machair at the roadside of Traigh yesterday. The dozens of cars and campervans parked so badly at the ‘grey’ sands of Morar, obstructing traffic and not having a care in the world about anyone other than themselves,’ she commented.

‘The dirty, dirty campers defecating on the beach, in front of people who have looked forward to staying in this picturesque part of the world for two years. They came to walk the silver sands of Morar and they look nothing like what they had known or imagined.

‘There are tents everywhere and our neighbour bumped into a female on the beach at the weekend and totally unashamedly she said: ‘Oh I’m just off down the beach to have a poo’.  It is an absolute disgrace.

‘The lack of disrespect and the ignorance shown by these visitors to not only the beautiful landscape here, but to the people who live here, is abhorrent.

‘There are 32 burnt areas of grassland at the verge of these beautiful beaches. The legislation from the Scottish Government does not prohibit fires and so the ignoramuses think it’s ok to do it. People are taking down local crofters’ fence posts to burn so they can have a fire on the beach.

‘I have spent most of today speaking to Police Scotland and to the Highland Council. They are trying to do what they can to control the situation, but until people stop turning up unplanned like this, and the Scottish Government steps in and listens to the changes needed to the legislation, this picturesque area will be ruined.

‘I understand how badly people want to go on holiday, how badly they want to be somewhere beautiful like this. What I don’t understand is this kind of shocking behaviour.’

Ms Forbes told the Lochaber Times she was ‘deeply concerned’ by the reports coming from Arisaig about the bank holiday weekend and said Police Scotland had assured her they would be – in addition to Highland Council’s ranger’s services – deploying additional resources dedicated to the Morar and Arisaig areas for this particular weekend.

Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes. NO F35 KATE FORBES 02
Lochaber constituency MSP Kate Forbes.

Ms Forbes continued: ‘Whilst I recognise that Highland Council, the Scottish Government and other local groups have been trying to progress matters, particularly with regards to car parking and toilet provision, and this does take time, it is disappointing to see the impact on the local community.’

And she warned that the status quo was simply not sustainable: ‘ I hope that both the council and Police Scotland – who have the powers to take any necessary enforcement action, like they did last summer – will urgently intervene. I will also be raising this with the Scottish Government as a matter of urgency.’

Ms Forbes said there was a longer-term discussion to be had, but unless temporary measures were brought in as a matter of urgency, the situation would only continue to deteriorate. ‘That is simply not tenable for a well-known hotspot with well-documented tourism pressures,’ she told us.

Asked to comment, Police Scotland’s Area Commander for South Highland, Chief Inspector Jen Valentine, said: ‘During the weekend we received a number of reports regarding inconsiderate parking next to the beaches in Morar and Arisaig, and a report of anti-social behaviour at the beach in Morar.

‘Officers carry out routine patrols in these areas and we are working closely with Highland Council. We urge people to be responsible and considerate to the areas they are visiting. Any vehicle should be parked safely and drivers must ensure that a clear route is available at all times and that you are not blocking access.’

Caol and Mallaig councillor Allan Henderson said he could fully understand the pain felt by Ms Blamire and all the locals who have to put up with the ‘irresponsible behaviour of people we would normally welcome as guests to the area’.

And he added: ‘Scotland’s welcomed access laws are being abused by people who have no interest in protecting the environment and expect everything to be in place for them and it is not. While the council emptied bins on Sunday they were filled by Sunday night with more scattered round – absolutely no effort to take it home when it was clear there was a problem.

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

‘The beaches are now treated no better, with campers not even making the effort to walk to the toilet facilities provided by the Road to the Isles Facilities group. Patience seems to be a forgotten virtue in the quest to have the beach day.

‘Unfortunately our first experience of lockdown easing has not been a pleasant one while we continue to be thwarted by landowners who are less than willing to help us address the problems of car parking infrastructure.

‘It is surely better to manage by controlling the areas for parking, rather than the gay abandon that we are witnessing. We can but appeal for people to respect what they cherish.’

Following the furore at the weekend, a Highland Council spokesperson said: ‘The Highland Council’s parking team laid out traffic cones along the B8008 in advance of the council imminently advertising a traffic regulation order which will enable the council to install waiting restrictions (double yellow lines) on sections of the road and to take enforcement action on irresponsible parking.’