Holy­rood ‘fu­ri­ous’ as peo­ple flock to re­mote High­lands

The Guardian - - News | Coronaviru­s - Libby Brooks

The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment has urged peo­ple to stop trav­el­ling to the High­lands and Is­lands after re­ports of an in­flux of self-iso­la­tors and peo­ple in camper vans to the area in re­cent days.

In a strongly worded state­ment is­sued on Satur­day night, Holy­rood’s ru­ral econ­omy and tourism sec­re­tary, Fer­gus Ewing, said he was “fu­ri­ous” at such ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour and would dis­cuss with ferry op­er­a­tors and other agen­cies whether further re­stric­tive measures were needed to halt the flow.

Ewing, the MSP for In­ver­ness and Nairn, said: “I am fu­ri­ous at the reck­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour of some peo­ple trav­el­ling to the

Highland and Is­lands. This has to stop now. Let me be crys­tal clear – peo­ple should not be trav­el­ling to ru­ral and is­land com­mu­ni­ties, full stop. They are en­dan­ger­ing lives. Do not travel.”

He added: “Panic buy­ing will have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on the liveli­hoods of ru­ral shops and po­ten­tially puts un­wanted pres­sure on NHS ser­vices in our ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s ad­vice is that es­sen­tial travel only should be un­der­taken.”

There have been in­creas­ing re­ports in re­cent days of peo­ple leav­ing cities further south for sec­ond homes in the re­mote Scot­tish coun­try­side, or turn­ing up at ru­ral camp­sites in well-stocked camper vans with the in­ten­tion of self-iso­lat­ing there.

Ear­lier on Satur­day, the SNP’s West­min­ster leader, Ian Black­ford MP, who rep­re­sents the Highland con­stituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, tweeted: “I have been con­tacted by the Ne­vis Range cen­tre in Fort Wil­liam who tell me that they have had to turn away around 30 camper vans, from var­i­ous parts of the UK, who were in­tend­ing to use their car park as a refuge.”

Black­ford said lo­cal ser­vices were al­ready fac­ing un­prece­dented pres­sure. “I urge ev­ery­one to do the right thing; fol­low the gov­ern­ment ad­vice and please do not travel here,” he said. “If th­ese warn­ings are not heeded and peo­ple need to be stopped from trav­el­ling, then I am afraid that is what will have to hap­pen. Those in camper vans please go home!”

Chris O’Brien, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ne­vis Range cen­tre, said that camper vans started turn­ing up on Satur­day morn­ing, just as the cen­tre’s man­age­ment had de­cided that “the only so­cially re­spon­si­ble thing we could do was close com­pletely”.

He said: “We had a skele­ton staff tak­ing down the site when camper vans started ap­pear­ing out of nowhere. We turned away about 30 in to­tal. Peo­ple were very hon­est that they were com­ing for a few weeks to get away from cities. We con­tacted the po­lice

and ended up putting a bar­rier across the car park to stop peo­ple driv­ing in.”

He added: “We are dev­as­tated to be closing, but we know it is so­cially re­spon­si­ble. Now we’re try­ing to help the com­mu­nity in other ways.”

James Keith, who owns the Sango Sands Oa­sis beach­side re­sort in Dur­ness, in the north of Scot­land, said he had been field­ing in­quiries from mo­tor-home campers all week, and at one point had to block the en­trance to his 60-pitch camp­site.

“I just wish that peo­ple would take the gov­ern­ment’s ad­vice,” he said. “We have a high pro­por­tion of el­derly peo­ple in our vil­lage and I don’t want to be re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing in in­fec­tion. It’s a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion, and it’s go­ing to hit ev­ery­one in the tourist in­dus­try hard, but what can you do?”

The re­sort is on the pop­u­lar North Coast 500 driv­ing route and is now closed to vis­i­tors, but Keith said he was con­cerned that other sites along the route were still tak­ing book­ings.

“Th­ese vis­i­tors then go into lo­cal shops and fill up their mo­tor homes at petrol pumps. The sooner we all act re­spon­si­bly the sooner it’ll all be over and we can get back to nor­mal.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JEFF J MITCHELL/GETTY PHO­TO­GRAPH: JEFF J MITCHELL/GETTY IMAGES

A cof­fee shop in Fort Wil­liam, where peo­ple have been asked to stop ar­riv­ing in the hope of self-iso­lat­ing ▼ The Scot­tish High­lands, where there has been a sud­den surge in trav­ellers who are try­ing to get away from more pop­u­lated ar­eas

PHO­TO­GRAPH: LI SCARFF/AFP VIA GETTY

A sign ward­ing off tourists be­side the road lead­ing into Mal­ham, North Yorkshire

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