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Open letter calls for drastic action to protect Sutherland community

By Louise Glen

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The mess left behind by campers in Durness.
The mess left behind by campers in Durness.

An open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has laid out a catalogue of problems that are devastating a community in Sutherland.

The letter from Durness Community Council pleads with the government and Highland Council to rethink the lack of facilities and services in the north as thousands of tourists descend on the area post-lockdown.

Since Covid–19 restrictions were lifted and UK citizens encouraged to ‘staycation’ rather than travel abroad, motorists and wild campers have flocked to the NC500 and Sutherland.

Official campsites, bed and breakfasts and hotels are already bursting at the seams, with holidaymakers being forced to set up camp on the roadsides.

In the letter sent to the First Minister, MSPs Jamie Stone and Gail Ross and Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson, Durness Community Council chairman Donald Campbell and vice-chairman Scott Macpherson said that the lack of police officers, waste facilities and the rise of wild camping with no toilets and a lack of road safety are all putting the health of local residents at risk.

Mr Campbell said: “We love where we live and love welcoming visitors to our small slice of paradise. But give us the protection tools and help to welcome them safely and protect us from those that would damage what we have so long strived to build.”

The mess left behind by campers in Durness.
The mess left behind by campers in Durness.

Claiming that the police station in Durness has not been occupied since the start of April, the letter claims that a large area of Scotland is left ‘unmanned’.

Mr Campbell continued: “Last week the police were called to a disturbance in Durness and officers did not attend until the following morning.

“Local residents and businesses now have little faith that calling the police will result in a prompt response from them”

Turning to wild camping, Mr Campbell said: “We have been swamped by so-called wild campers.

“The result has been damage to our area through rubbish, fires and human waste being left in ever increasing amounts throughout our area.

“The leaving of human waste has left some areas unsafe to visit to allow children to play.”

Irresponsible parking has raised concerns about the likelihood of a serious incident. On Tuesday night, tents were pitched beside a passing place sign with people crossing to their cars on the other side!

The letter continues: “We demand that a full road assessment be carried out in Durness. This should in particular focus on the road around Smoo Cave, Sango Bay and the village square.”

The letter says that bins in the area are overflowing within hours of them being emptied and are demanding they are emptied regularly, but also that waste sites be reopened immediately.

Jamie Stone MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: “The bottom line is that police cover is simply inadequate – no-one should be subject to reduced law enforcement simply because of where they live.

“A decent police presence
should help deal with wild camping.

“Leaving filth lying about should be an offence that the police could help deal with.”

MSP Gail Ross said: “I would like to thank Durness Community Council for copying me in on their letter to the First Minister. I share their concerns and I will be following them up with the Scottish Government and the Highland Council.

“Local communities are at the end of their tether, their concerns are serious and valid and need to be addressed.”

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