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Open letter to First Minister over catalogue of tourism problems in north-west

By Louise Glen

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Motorhomes and tents at Ceannabeinne, Durness.
Motorhomes and tents at Ceannabeinne, Durness.

AN open letter to Nicola Sturgeon has laid out a catalogue of tourism problems that are causing a growing sense of despair in a north-west Sutherland community.

The letter from Durness Community Council pleads with the Scottish Government and Highland Council to rethink the lack of facilities and services in the far north as thousands descend on the area post-lockdown.

Local people are said to be "at the end of their tether".

Since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and UK citizens were encouraged to go on staycations rather than travel abroad, motorists and wild campers have flocked to the North Coast 500 route.

Official camp sites, bed-and-breakfasts and hotels are said to be bursting at the seams, with some holidaymakers setting up camp on roadsides.

In the letter sent to the First Minister, local MP Jamie Stone, MSP Gail Ross, Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson, Durness Community Council chairman Donald Campbell and vice-chairman Scott Macpherson say the lack of police officers and waste facilities and the rise of wild camping with no toilets and a lack of road safety are all putting the health of local residents at risk.

Mr Campbell said: "We love where we live and love welcoming visitors to our small slice of paradise. But give us the protection tools and help to welcome them safely and protect us from those that would damage what we have so long strived to build."

Claiming that the police station in Durness has not been occupied since the start of April, the letter maintains that a large area of Scotland is left "unmanned".

Rubbish left behind in Durness
Rubbish left behind in Durness

Mr Campbell continued: "Last week the police were called to a disturbance in Durness and officers did not attend until the following morning.

"Local residents and businesses now have little faith that calling the police will result in a prompt response from them."

Turning to wild camping, Mr Campbell said: "We have been swamped by so-called wild campers.

"The result has been damage to our area through rubbish, fires and human waste being left in ever increasing amounts throughout our area. The leaving of human waste has left some areas unsafe to visit to allow children to play."

Irresponsible parking has brought concerns about the likelihood of a serious incident. On Tuesday night, tents were reportedly pitched beside a passing-place sign with people crossing to their cars on the other side.

The letter continues: "We demand that a full road assessment be carried out in Durness. This should in particular focus on the road around Smoo Cave, Sango Bay and the village square."

The letter says that bins in the area are overflowing within hours of them being emptied and demands they are emptied more regularly, but also that waste sites be reopened immediately.

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "The bottom line is that police cover is simply inadequate – no-one should be subject to reduced law enforcement simply because of where they live.

"A decent police presence should help deal with wild camping. Leaving filth lying about should be an offence that the police could help deal with."

Gail Ross, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said: "I would like to thank Durness Community Council for copying me in on their letter to the First Minister. I share their concerns and I will be following them up with the Scottish Government and Highland Council.

"Local communities are at the end of their tether. Their concerns are serious and valid and need to be addressed.”

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