Harris Forum calls for bye-law requiring Western Isles visitors to confirm their accommodation

The Harris Forum has called for a byelaw to be introduced by the Comhairle which would require all visitors to the islands to provide confirmation “of where they would be staying for each night of their visit”. 

Friday, 4th September 2020, 7:00 am
The Harris Forum says visitors are still very welcome, but it wants to see regulations brought in to protect the unspoilt beauty of the islands.

In a statement, the Forum,  which includes representatives of the local community councils, the community land-owning trusts and other local groups, said that it had concerns over the “unacceptable behaviour” of a number of visitors to Harris.

The Forum said that some visitors had “ignored approved protocols and guidelines and insisted on doing their own thing, resulting in severe access and parking problems in certain areas and also causing totally unacceptable hygiene problems by defecating and urinating in inappropriate areas”.

“All felt that the current situation was unacceptable,” the Harris Forum said in its statement.

And due to the increased popularity of both Harris and the use of tents and camper vans, “more formal procedures need to be in place to protect the environment and the health and well-being of residents”.

Kenneth MacLeod, chair of the Harris Forum, said that they were making the call for all visitors to have to confirm their accommodation arrangements in order to make the system easier for Cal Mac and others to administer.

He said: “It would be better if all visitors gave an address as to where they were staying.

“We would otherwise be relying on those camping and coming in anything other than motor homes to be honest and tell they are camping as otherwise it is difficult to know.

“We are already hearing of some who book into hostels to get on the ferry and are then cancelling their bookings once on the ferry.

“Our main aim is to ensure that people camp in the designated places so that we can try and protect the island and its environment.”

Mr MacLeod added: “I appreciate that many may not be happy with such a rule but, due to the actions of a significant minority who believe they have a right to go anywhere they like and do what they want on our island, we believe such a measure is necessary.”

The Harris Forum also said in its statement that it was keen to move away from focusing on just camper vans, as it had this year seen a large number of visitors coming in cars and vans “without any toilet or other facilities”.

Kenneth MacLeod said: “At a time when there are very few public toilets open this is causing significant concern and increased hygiene problems.

“ We will be working with Comhairle nan Eilean and Outer Hebrides Tourism as well as liaising with other community groups throughout Scotland, who have been facing similar challenging conditions this year.

“We are keen for people to continue to visit Harris and the rest of the Outer Hebrides but we are equally concerned to ensure that the clean, unspoilt beauty of the place that is so attractive, continues to be that and does not suffer from those who are unwilling to follow current advice and guidelines.” 

“It is a sad indictment that unless it is a legal requirement many will not accept recommended directions and instructions on where to park etc. We are finding that, as a very popular visitor destination, Harris is facing similar challenges to other parts of Scotland and so we are hoping that this can be taken forward not just in the Western Isles but across all of Scotland.”

The Forum now plans to hold meetings and discussions with interested parties to ensure that they find “the best way forward, both for residents of Harris and also for the many visitors who come to our beautiful island – so that all can continue to enjoy it in a safe and healthy manner”.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar confirmed this week that it is set to explore all its legal options on the matter and has confirmed that a report on the issue will be discussed in the next round of council meetings to be held later this month.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee, said this week that the authority had “consistently given the message that visitors are welcome”, but said that “some people – and I would stress that it is a minority – have acted in a way that does not respect the islands in the way that we would wish”.

Last week, the Comhairle asked ferry operator Cal Mac to ‘remove or alter’ a notice it had placed on its booking website saying that it would not be checking if travellers to the islands with campervans or caravans had a booking at an official site.

Cal Mac’s notice went online after it had agreed to carry an advisory note on its web pages from the Comhairle requesting that campervanners and those with caravans did not travel without a prior booking on an official camp site, and highlighted that many official sites on the island remained closed resulting in a lack of availability of facilities.

The Comhairle had also issued a press release thanking Cal Mac for agreeing to place the notice on its website.

Cal Mac has subsequently removed the statement that site bookings would not be checked by Cal Mac staff, and Robert Morrison, Cal Mac’s Operations Director, said: “Following discussions between the Comhairle and Cal Mac we are advising motorhome/caravan passengers to ensure that they have booked overnight accommodation in advance of travelling.

“This is in line with our continued engagement with local authorities to keep passengers and islanders as safe as possible.”