Ross-shire beauty spot Applecross seeks long-term solutions as coronavirus crisis 'perfect storm' highlights tourism challenges
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A BEAUTY spot Ross-shire community struggling to cope with the influx of dirty campers and an endless stream of staycation motorhome visitors has imposed emergency measures to help it through "the perfect storm".
Amid pressure to open up the Highlands' lifeline tourist trade as coronavirus restrictions are eased, an influx of visitors has left many Ross-shire communities struggling to cope.
One go-ahead community in Applecross now working on a long-term solution has taken short-term action by employing a ranger to clamp down as part of a pilot project.
Contacted for comment, Jess Whistance of The Applecross Trust said: "I do think we are in unprecedented times. Here in Applecross, much like many other hot spots along the west coast of the Highlands, we have been inundated with visitors not necessarily used to camping or being in a remote environment. We have had serious problems with ‘casual camping’ in areas with sensitive eco-systems, littering, human waste, extensive fires/barbeques, cutting down of ancient trees, and blocking roads with cars and vans/motorhomes
In the short-term, immediate action is being taken by The Applecross Trust, with the local community, through a number of "emergency measures".
Ms Whistance said: "We have just employed an Applecross Ranger. He will be responsible for giving direction to visitors wanting to camp/park at the Bay area, communicating the message about littering, leaving human waste, lighting fires and so on. "
The pilot scheme will run for the next six weeks, and will be aided by the additional measures:
* All campervans and motorhomes (and caravans) discouraged from overnight parking at the Bay area. These vehicles will be directed to the campsite or given guidance on other areas where they might spend the night
* There will be a designated wild camping area for tents (maximum 10 tents). No tents will be allowed in any other area of the bay and will be moved on
* No fires will be permitted
* Sensitive areas will have strengthened restrictions to make it difficult for visitors to park/camp
* Signage (take your litter home/do not leave human waste etc in all problematic areas)
These measures are with immediate effect and are regarded as a trial. They will be adjusted as required.
"The biggest issue here is lack of infrastructure and facilities. If we can manage the many motorhomes and vans so that they park in designated spaces and use facilities provided, then we will have tourism that benefits both the local community and the visitors looking for a positive experience. This is our aim." - Jess Whistance
The Trust is also looking at the option of working with Highland Council to put in portaloos at the Bay for a short time. Ms Whistance said: "They are a bit of an eyesore but better than human waste everywhere. This will be temporary and they will be managed if put in. But this is not yet confirmed."
The Applecross Tourism Group established last November consists of community members and the Applecross Trust and has been working on a tourism strategy to better manage the substantial increase in visitors over the last five years.
Longer term, the Trust will be using the data collected from the pilot scheme to inform its strategy. She said: "However, much work has already been done in the Applecross Tourism Group to develop a proposal to manage the ‘casual camping’ in the Bay area of Applecross. The biggest issue here is lack of infrastructure and facilities. If we can manage the many motorhomes and vans so that they park in designated spaces and use facilities provided, then we will have tourism that benefits both the local community and the visitors looking for a positive experience. This is our aim. It is a lot of work, but is proving successful on the Islands, and in the Alps, so there is no reason we cannot make it work here.
"If nothing changes then our natural environment and the very thing that makes Applecross special, will be destroyed."
Asked if the current situation is a sign of things to come or just an anomaly linked to the response to an easing of coronavirus restrictions and greater difficulty going abroad, she said: "I think it is the latter. We are struggling in Applecross with increased visitor numbers and this has been the case for several years. This we need to address. But the descent on Applecross of visitors that don’t seem to have any appreciation of the natural world, or any understanding of how to behave, this is almost certainly a result of the pandemic, of being in lockdown for several months, of schools being off, of travel restrictions, and redundancies. It is like a perfect storm. And it won’t last forever.
"And lastly I must stress that the majority of people visiting Applecross are lovely. We welcome anyone who wants to come and share this magical place. We just ask that whoever they are, they treat it as we hope they would their own home and family – with respect and care."
The Applecross Ranger,Gregor Watson, will give directions to visitors wanting to camp or park at the Bay area and communicate vital messages about littering, leaving human waste and lighting fires.
"The consensus is that we do not have enough public toilets and bins, the road surfaces are in very bad condition, and that the single-track roads and available parking space simply cannot handle the current numbers of visitors." - Saara Viitanen
Applecross Community Company's local development officer Saara Viitanen is looking to improve infrastructure longer term.
She said: "This is indeed a wider issue in the Highlands and Islands, as domestic holidays - and perhaps particularly camping/motorhome holidays - have proven to be very popular right after lockdown measures eased. Applecross has been a holiday destination for decades if not centuries but has certainly had an increase in visitor numbers in recent years due to the popularity of the North Coast 500 route.
"Anecdotally, many residents here in Applecross report that they have never seen this many ‘wild campers’ around. Although the negative impacts- littering, going to the toilet outdoors in appropriate places/ways, damage to the ground and grass from fire pits, camping/overnight parking in inappropriate places against the Scottish Outdoor Access Code etc - have been an issue for many years, they seem to have amplified within the last month as Applecross and other locations in the Highlands have experienced very large numbers of visitors all at once.
"It’s difficult to predict the future, but personally I think it will probably depend on whether there will be any further travelling restrictions/quarantine requirements with popular holiday destinations abroad, and consequently if domestic holidays will remain as popular. We absolutely welcome visitors to Applecross, but only ask that they respect our community and the environment, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic – litter and faeces pose health risks to not only our largely vulnerable community, but also other visitors, pets and wildlife.
"A lot of these negative impacts could be alleviated with strengthening the infrastructure. The consensus is that we do not have enough public toilets and bins, the road surfaces are in very bad condition, and that the single-track roads and available parking space simply cannot handle the current numbers of visitors. Another idea that has been flagged up is having a local ranger, and perhaps designated ‘wild camping’ spots where camping outwith the Applecross Campsite is permitted only, with some basic amenities such as composting toilets available with a donation tin. More provision of public transport would also help alleviate the traffic and congestion. Educating visitors about their impact on the environment and communities is also important."
Writing in this week's Ross-shire Journal, Mountaineering Scotland chief Stuart Younie admitted being "appalled and dismayed" at the image of camping in recent weeks leaving "litter, human waste and even whole abandoned campsites in their wake".