Holyrood ‘furious’ as people flock to remote Highlands
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.”
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
A sign warding off tourists beside the road leading into Malham, North Yorkshire