Diver­si­fi­ca­tion with­out dam­age

The Oban Times - - Letters -

Sir, ‘Leave only foot­prints, take only mem­o­ries.’ Our wilder places and re­mote com­mu­ni­ties are chang­ing, maybe even un­der threat. There is a huge surge in peo­ple want­ing to en­joy time out of the main­stream, sec­ond-home own­ers, hol­i­day-let own­ers or the greater gen­eral pub­lic search­ing out es­cape, adren­a­line sports in wilder­ness ar­eas.

Tiree is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the pres­sures such com­mu­ni­ties and lo­ca­tions are now fac­ing. For ex­am­ple, a 160 per cent in­crease in vis­i­tors in just 10 years, and year on year this is ac­cel­er­at­ing.

Croft­ing was never meant to be a pri­mary form of em­ploy­ment. It can only of­fer a fi­nite num­ber of jobs. Given Brexit and the prob­a­ble re­forms of CAP, the fu­ture is un­cer­tain as to what per­cent­age a crofter’s in­come will come from the land, but that it will not in­crease is cer­tain. Croft­ing has al­ways meant diver­si­fi­ca­tion of in­come.

But it need not be a de­struc­tive process if a com­pro­mise can be made that is not detri­men­tal to the res­i­dent lo­cal com­mu­nity, the cul­ture or nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that we all wish to work with or hol­i­day in.

We as a fam­ily de­cided to di­ver­sify our croft, to tap into the sea­sonal hol­i­day trade. In gen­eral, vis­i­tors come and go from Easter to early Oc­to­ber, peak­ing ob­vi­ously in the sum­mer months and school hol­i­days. We live in Bale­vullin, bought our croft land a cou­ple or so years ago, croft a lit­tle un­der seven acres – 20 chick­ens and a small flock of He­bridean sheep and the ubiq­ui­tous veg­etable patch. I work an off­shore ro­ta­tion and for now have man­aged to ride out the oil down­turn and as­so­ci­ated re­dun­dan­cies. I’ve pumped my hard­earned cof­fers back into im­prov­ing a run-down, poorly man­aged piece of heaven, the place is now look­ing good, rag­wort has gone and all was well.

I am due to fin­ish work­ing over­seas next spring, so we de­cided rather than place three large mo­bile homes (which we can legally do) or jump on the 28day camp­ing band­wagon, we would do some­thing spe­cial. Spe­cial for the vis­i­tors, spe­cial for our lit­tle piece of heaven.

We ap­plied for plan­ning per­mis­sion. Plan­ning per­mis­sion for a small sea­sonal camp­site, sim­ply an area set aside for cam­per­vans and tents, a max­i­mum of 10 of each. We will still graze the land once the vis­i­tors have gone back to the main­land. We plan to con­struct a small toi­let block in keep­ing with the ex­ist­ing barn (Scot­tish larch clad), two toi­lets, two show­ers, also en­sur­ing pro­vi­sion for wheelchair users. We plan to in­stall so­lar LED light­ing, rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing for util­ity wa­ter. We de­cided on a cen­tral area of the croft, an area un­af­fected by sur­face wa­ter.

I have re­stored the derelict barn, which will con­tinue to be used as an agri­cul­tural shed, planted some goat wil­low and hawthorn for some wind pro­tec­tion and a lit­tle screen­ing, in­stalled nest­ing boxes, es­tab­lished a bee meadow etc. On top of this, we are al­ready mem­bers of the Tiree Camper­van ini­tia­tive, Dark Skies Lobby, RSPB, Rare Breeds Trust and the green tourism org.

Once the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion went on­line we were hit by some ex­pected but a mul­ti­tude of un­ex­pected objections. In gen­eral, the vast ma­jor­ity of our com­mu­nity have re­mained neu­tral. I was ex­pect­ing one or two ‘usual sus­pect’ lo­cal ob­jec­tors and I ac­cept that. But what was or is so shock­ing is the ma­jor­ity of com­plaints are from tran­sient sec­ond-home own­ers and hol­i­day-let land­lords. These are not peo­ple who live on the is­land. Yes, they may have some fam­ily con­nec­tions, but they do not live on Tiree.

It is hypocrisy in the ex­treme to hol­i­day on Tiree, earn rev­enue from hol­i­day rentals and then dic­tate to a lo­cal fam­ily whose chil­dren at­tend Tiree school, who were born in Black­house in Bale­vullin, and who croft in Bale­vullin that they can­not earn a liv­ing on Tiree. All the more hyp­o­crit­i­cal given these are the peo­ple who com­plain about hu­man ex­cre­ment in the dunes (the near­est pub­lic toi­let is seven miles away), campers on the machair, bar­be­cues on the beach, in­creas­ing ve­hi­cle num­bers … while other Tiree-based peo­ple are try­ing to make a sea­sonal liv­ing from our vis­i­tors and their en­joy­ment of our beau­ti­ful isle.

We have of­fered a small but vi­able way to earn a liv­ing within an area recog­nised for de­vel­op­ment by Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil, while do­ing our small part to re­duce the pres­sure on, specif­i­cally, Bale­vullin beach. Our sea­sonal vis­i­tors will park and walk or cy­cle to the beach, will go to the toi­let in a toi­let. There will be no ad­di­tional noise, no ad­di­tional light pol­lu­tion, no ad­di­tional ero­sion to the machair … it’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion. Or is Bale­vullin now sim­ply a de­vel­op­ment area from new-build hol­i­day homes?

I have to say that, out­side of the sum­mer sea­son and pub­lic hol­i­days, when the sun sets early, and the wheelie bins blow across the machair, it’s like noth­ing ever hap­pened. But it is sad that my chil­dren have fewer vis­i­tor friends to play with. It is sad to see so many empty and dor­mant sec­ond homes and hol­i­day lets. But to me and my fam­ily it is home and not a hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

If ev­ery­thing works out and sense pre­vails it will re­main home to the end of our days. Af­ter all, why leave home when you live in such a beau­ti­ful place? And should any of these ab­sen­tee hol­i­day home-come-rental own­ers man­age to get to Tiree in the darker, quiet months, please note my camp­ing area will not be empty – it will con­tain my graz­ing sheep. Karl Hughes, Sun­set Cot­tage, Bale­vullin.

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