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Tougher restrictions on parking, an increased police presence and a ban on campfires are all needed immediately after community councils in the Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig areas this week said the problem of dirty camping on local beaches might now be ‘out of control’ and starting to drive other visitors away.
So said local MSP Kate Forbes this week after a deluge of further complaints from local residents and community councils.
Ms Forbes, also Scottish Government Finance Secretary, was responding after the Lochaber Times flagged up the latest problems, including the worrying comment from Arisaig Community Council chairman Iain Macniven, who said his community council, along with those from Morar and Mallaig were ‘becoming increasingly concerned that matters are out of control’.
Mr Macniven told us: ‘The local authorities, police and other local bodies have been working tirelessly and well with us to seek to resolve issues but there is a limit to what they can do, given their powers, in the face of unprecedented levels of tourism and instances of bad behaviour.
‘These include lighting fires indiscriminately, defecating, chopping down wood for fires, illegally parking in passing places, people ‘wild camping’ a few feet from their car parked on the roadside, leaving rubbish and so forth.
‘There have been initial discussions with Finance Minister Kate Forbes and it is essential that some government action comes out of that. A significant number of locals depend on tourism for income but even they are feeling the strain, as indeed are the ‘good’ tourists who form by far the majority of visitors to the area.
‘I know of instances of tourists abandoning their stay in the area prematurely because they couldn’t put up with the behaviour of some other tourists. Something more needs to be done.’
Ms Forbes recently visited the area and says she believes the situation now warrants immediate short-term curbs, such as greater restrictions on parking, increased police presence and the banning of campfires on the beach.
‘I have had scores of constituents get in touch with me about this, and there is a very real concern over environmental damage to one of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes and also emergency vehicle access arrangements,’ she told us.
‘Over the longer term, it has been well documented and evidenced that the current roads and general infrastructure are struggling to cope during the peak tourist season.
‘The recent RTIF project has been a most welcome addition, but it is not enough. I am aware that the council, community groups and others have been proactively exploring the possibility of acquiring land locally for the purpose of making further improvements, and it is unfortunate that further progress has not been made.
‘I would encourage local landowners to seriously reflect on what part they could play in helping to mitigate the continued surge in wild camping in this area, and I share the community’s concern that without urgent intervention the situation will only continue to deteriorate.’
Asked if more ranger patrols were possible, a Highland Council spokesperson explained: ‘The Lochaber team consists of three seasonal Access Rangers who have three main areas to patrol: south-east Lochaber, including Glen Etive; west Lochaber, including Morar, and north Lochaber, including the Great Glen and Glen Spean.
‘At present, resources enable us to focus the rangers’ concentration of efforts at weekends. A week-round service is not currently in practice.
‘The council is grateful for two peripheral developments which are supportive to the deployment of the Ranger Service, in that the Glencoe/ Glen Etive community and National Trust for Scotland are concentrating more attention on the south-east.
‘The council’s new Access Ranger service even when fully deployed can never be in all places at all times to manage antisocial visitor behaviour and the council welcomes community support to address any local issues.
‘Traffic Officers regularly patrol the area, members of the public may report contraventions of the waiting and loading restrictions directly by calling 01463 239786. The Parking Services operations room is open seven days a week between 8am and 9pm.’