Diversification without damage
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.