Isle of Harris in plea for responsible and respectful tourists in Outer Hebrides as Covid lockdown lifts

A community in the Outer Hebrides is inviting visitors to come on holiday to their island after lockdown, but to help keep it beautiful and unspoiled.

Businesses and residents on the Isle of Harris, known for its stunning sandy beaches and rugged mountain scenery, have launched a sustainable tourism campaign ahead of the anticipated staycation boom as coronavirus restrictions lift.

The campaign – Isle of Harris is a Special PLACE – has been spearheaded in a bid to stave off some of the problems experienced in beauty spots across Scotland last year, including ‘dirty camping’, littering and destruction of the countryside.

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The two community land trusts on the island – North Harris Trust and West Harris Trust – have teamed up with visitor organisation Outer Hebrides Tourism and local children to get the message across “loud and clear” that people are very welcome to visit, but should behave responsibly and respectfully with regard to local people and the environment.

The Isle of Harris is known for its spectacular and unspoilt sandy beaches, making the remote island a popular destination for tourists who want to truly get away from it all. Photo: Paul Wilson

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The PLACE message was created to be both clear for visitors to understand and memorable – P is for parking; L for litter; A for animals; C for campers; and E for engage.

The campaign is aimed at averting the sort of scenes that were witnessed following the first coronavirus lockdown last year, when rural communities across Scotland were hit with a massive influx of people camping at roadsides, cutting down trees and lighting fires, and leaving beaches, forests, laybys, crofting areas and ancient monument sites strewn with rubbish, abandoned tents and camping equipment and human excrement.

David Wake, from North Harris Trust, said: “We look forward to welcoming visitors to our special part of the world and hope that this campaign provides our visitors with clear and useful messages about how to enjoy our islands responsibly and for the benefit of everyone.

Local children gathered on Harris's Horgabost beach to launch the sustainable tourism initiative Isle of Harris is a Special PLACE, which calls for visitors to respect communities and the environment. Photo: John Maher

“As well as better messaging, longer-term action does need to be taken in relation to parking, camping and in protecting our fragile environment for future generations.”

Linda Armstrong, from West Harris Trust, said: “We have all been living in unprecedented times and it is wonderful to see things starting to get back to something much more normal.

“We also look forward to welcoming tourists back too, but have had to focus on some difficult visitor management issues which arose from the increased visitor numbers last summer, issues which were magnified by the pandemic.”

Outer Hebrides Tourism has supported the campaign with the aim of rolling it out across the other islands in the region, with digital messaging across social media from a wide range of organisations as well as leaflets and physical reminders to reinforce the message.

Rob McKinnon, of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “Harris is one of the most popular destinations in the Outer Hebrides and regular visitors know how special a place it is.

“We want this campaign to remind all visitors of the important role they have in maintaining it.

“We look forward to expanding the campaign across the Outer Hebrides during the summer in collaboration with local partners.”

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