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Irresponsible actions of tourists becoming a national disgrace, says Highland councillor


By Alan Hendry

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Councillor Kirsteen Currie says the behaviour of some visitors has been 'disgusting and dangerous'.
Councillor Kirsteen Currie says the behaviour of some visitors has been 'disgusting and dangerous'.

A Sutherland councillor has warned that the irresponsible behaviour of some tourists in the north is becoming "a national disgrace".

The SNP's Kirsteen Currie set out her concerns in a letter to Scotland's tourism secretary Fergus Ewing amid growing resentment over the actions of some visitors to the Highlands since tourism restarted.

Councillor Currie, who represents North, West and Central Sutherland, spoke of her fears over those who are expected to work in areas that are "littered with human waste and debris".

She said she was keen to reaffirm her commitment to creating a sustainable model for tourism.

In September last year, Councillor Currie launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament to create wild camp zones which would allow communities to control the environment in their areas and protect areas of special interest or historical significance. She said this was the culmination of two years' work in gathering evidence and listening to communities and stakeholders on the North Coast 500 route.

"The situation throughout the Highlands is becoming a national disgrace," Councillor Currie said. "We are a welcoming region and we embrace the opportunities that tourism brings us. However, in recent weeks the human waste and litter has become disgusting, dangerous and a downright disaster.

"Last year I launched my petition to the Scottish Parliament as a way of starting a serious conversation about the future of tourism in remote rural Scotland. I was met with a barrage of abuse from many – to be honest it made me want to give up completely on finding a solution to the problem.

"There were threats of violence and slurs, all because I had asked that we look at the problems associated with irresponsible dirty camping.

"Over the last few weeks I've been inundated with messages from friends, constituents and visitors, all of whom want to see a solution that is sustainable – not just for our rural economy but for our environment too.

"I won't be bullied into silence any more – we need to fix this, and fast.

"I've received a number of concerns from folk who work outdoors across the north as well as families whose children play outdoors. Their health is being put in severe jeopardy and I see no-one with the vast amount of funds available to help us clean up this mess."

She added: "I've written to the Scottish Government to ask that all public sector employees who are working in our beautiful outdoors are kept safe, and I've asked them to reconsider their response to my petition from last year.

"The current legislation is not working. Our land and our communities are paying the price. We need help."

In her letter to Mr Ewing, Councillor Currie speaks of "the serious and potentially life-threatening consequences of irresponsible tourism" and says she is concerned that a number of Scottish Government employees "are being deployed to carry out work in locations throughout the north which are contaminated with human waste, with no extra protection for their own health and safety".

She writes: "I am becoming increasingly concerned that there appears to be no recourse for communities to stop the influx of tourists who choose to abuse and destroy our precious natural environment, both in terms of waste and in terms of the emissions that are produced by the increased number of large or 'performance' vehicles which are encouraged to visit the North Coast 500."

Councillor Ron MacWilliam says the ‘dirty tourist’ phenomenon has become an unwelcome craze.
Councillor Ron MacWilliam says the ‘dirty tourist’ phenomenon has become an unwelcome craze.

Another SNP member of Highland Council, Ron MacWilliam (Ness-side), is calling for tough new by-laws to deal with "the recent surge in excessive littering, outdoor toileting and motorhome chemical waste tipping" in the region.

Councillor MacWilliam said a camping ban could be an option in certain areas.

"We are still in the grips of a pandemic and public hygiene is more important now than it has been at any other point in any of our lives," he said.

"I have always supported the ‘right to roam’ and I know that the overwhelming majority of campers are responsible. We look forward to welcoming them all back for many years to come.

"What we are dealing with is a ‘dirty tourist’ phenomenon that has been known about for a few years but has become an unwelcome craze since the end of the lockdown.

“There isn’t the infrastructure here to support this unsustainable form of tourism, and it has been reckless of those who have promoted motorhoming and camping in the Highlands on this scale without a plan for delivering the necessary infrastructure.”



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