Islanders revolutionise transport on Ulva with innovative off-road electric vehicle sharing scheme

Residents of a tiny Scottish island with no tarred roads have bought an electric off-road fleet for an innovative vehicle-sharing scheme in an effort to banish engine noise and pollution.

The organisation which led a community buy-out of Ulva, off Mull, hopes it will encourage people moving to the island to not bring their own vehicles.

An electric quad bike and electric “utility task vehicle” - where two people can sit side-by-side – arrived on the island on Thursday, where they will be recharged using solar panels.

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A membership scheme is being established for use of the vehicles, which were funded by the Scottish Government, which residents can book for tasks such as transporting their shopping from the ferry and moving other heavy items.

All Ulva's roads are rough tracks. Picture: John Devlin

Most of the island’s diesel vehicles, such as a Land Rover, would be scrapped.

The North West Mull Community Woodland Company, which bought the island for £4.4 million in 2018, has already doubled its population from five to 11.

The company hopes to increase this to 25 people by 2025 – a similar level to two decades ago – then at least double that again to 50.

More than 600 people lived on Ulva before the Clearances in the 19th century, and empty homes are being refurbished to house the incomers.

Ulva's new electric quad bike. Picture: Andy Primrose

However, the community company fears for Ulva’s tranquil environment, which is home to eagles, otters and rare butterflies, if the influx is accompanied by the island being swamped with vehicles.

Wendy Reid, its Ulva development officer, said: “The issue is how we can repopulate the island but also maintain the integrity of the environment we’ve inherited, which is relatively untouched.”

She told a Scottish Rural and Islands Transport Community online event: “Having a collective pool of vehicles available for residents to borrow will hopefully mean their transport requirements will be met without the need for them to own their own vehicle.”

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Marc Monsarrat of vehicle supplier Off-Road Electric and Ulva development manager Wendy Reid with the island's new electric utility task vehicle and quad bike. Picture: Andy Primrose

Andy Primrose, the company’s vice chair, added: "People come to Ulva because it’s quiet – we don’t have noise from cars and roads.

“This is a fantastic opportunity which is probably quite rare to create a transport system that is not reliant on cars or fossil fuels, because we are not wedded to a legacy of metalled roads and car usage.

"It’s hugely exciting. We can create something almost from scratch.

"Environmental damage is not only the fumes from cars, but also the noise.

The island's new electric utility task vehicle. Picture: Andy Primrose

"The only noise that comes from an electric quad bike is from the tyres, while you can hear a [traditional] quad bike from half a mile away.”

Laura Robinson, chief operating officer of Electric Vehicle Association Scotland, said: "It is extremely encouraging to hear such a positive story of islanders embracing electric to mitigate the environmental damage of combustion engines on Ulva.

"If this remote island with very little infrastructure can make the switch to electric then it surely begs the questions why can't others?

“Scotland is well positioned to lead the way in the UK for low carbon travel and Ulva is showing that even in challenging circumstances it is feasible.

"We look forward to working with the incoming Scottish Government and wider stakeholders to make this ambition a reality.”

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