Letter raises debate topic ‘National Park for Outer Hebrides’

Reef Beach, Western Isles.
Reef Beach, Western Isles.

Letter - Congratulations are due to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for leading local efforts to establish the long distance walking route, the Hebridean Way (Stornoway Gazette 28 April “Hebridean Way walking offers new way to explore islands”).

At a time when most local authorities in Scotland are making pathetic progress in establishing new walking and cycling routes and failing to remove obstructions to public access, it is good to know the opposite is true in the far west.

Perhaps all that land now in community ownership in the Hebrides is underpinning this progress and should be a lesson for the rest of us.

The outstanding natural beauty of the Outer Hebrides and its significance, for both locals and visitors, is well known.

Surely now is the time to ask once again if these islands deserve recognition within Scotland’s national park system.

As the newly elected members of the Comhairle take their seats next week the opportunity is there to examine the economic and environmental case for Scotland’s third national park to be on their doorstep.

A national park under local control and incorporating the finest scenery, historic and wildlife areas from Barra to Lewis, perhaps with the addition of St Kilda, would be of global significance, fully justifying world heritage status.

It would immediately register on the tick list of all visitors to the UK who were seeking out our best areas of nature and culture.

As a value for money public investment it would be unbeatable, as any economist or tourism operator, from ferry owner to bed and breakfast provider, will confirm.

An Outer Hebrides National Park could also benefit from the experiences of our first two national parks, in the Cairngorms and in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

This should include learning from the mistakes, such as the secretive purchase by Forestry Commission Scotland, using £7.4 million of public funds, of privately owned native woodland in the Cairngorms, when that woodland was under no threat and, in the Loch Lomond Park, the disastrous camping byelaws project.

This publicly funded attack on our statutory rights of access to Scotland’s land and water is delivering nothing more than camping sites in places where nobody wants to camp, the threat of criminal conviction even when that camping is done responsibly, following “leave no trace” principles and a ranger service that has not yet learnt how to deal with litter.

Perhaps Scottish ministers would make more progress if they slashed the budgets of FCS and LLTNP, transferred all the money saved to the Comhairle and asked them to continue their good work in the far west.

Dave Morris

by email