Sustainable Tourism Scotland

It’s that time of year when travellers are about to descend on Scotland en masse. Peak season. All in the industry have been revelling in this wee chunk of the planet getting worldwide recognition as a must-visit, bucket-list, incomparable destination. Great stuff. But, with stereotypical Scottish caution, I present a spanner for the works.

The environment is our most priceless possession. I choose ‘possession’, because it belongs to all of us. With that comes responsibility, and that applies as much to travellers as it does to residents. While there has been an unprecedented surge in exposés and awareness-raising campaigns recently, I’m now throwing my hat in to see if there’s anything I can do to help the little corner I’ve dedicated myself to. This is the part where I need your support.

So get your credit card out and….just kidding. All I ask is that you read on.

 

Things for us all to keep in mind….

Over-Tourism

This is becoming a worldwide issue with hot-spots across the globe breaking under the strain of too many people at the same time. Big cities like Barcelona, Venice, Rome and many more are stunning ancient capitals that can hold large numbers but were simply not built to be descended upon without limits. Not to mention very specific sites like Petra, Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. Ancient relics are at great risk.

In Scotland, this problem is primarily restricted to Edinburgh, Skye, parts of the North Coast 500 and parts of the Loch Ness area. The impact fluctuates between problematic and disastrous as the lack of facilities, infrastructure and controlling causes chaos. Fights by the roadside at the Fairy Pools; car parking free for alls in otherwise stunning, serene rural spots; hoteliers being asked if they will let people sleep on their lobby floors as there’s nowhere else available; litter bins overflowing; residents’ privacy being wiped out; non-locals, sensing a business opportunity, setting up low quality second home accommodation and charging scandalous rental prices; locals being completely priced out of the property market and being forced away; the necessity of an imminent tourist tax; chronic traffic congestion…..

Some gentle suggestions:

  • Is it possible for you to avoid coming to the above places in July and August? I appreciate that many travellers will be restricted by school holidays, but many will not. A word to the wise – the weather is generally better in the shoulder seasons, you’ll likely have better accommodation choices open to you and the midges are less nightmareish. So it’s quite likely to be in your own best interests too….
  • Do you need to go to these places at all? If you’ve never been before that’s one thing, but if you’re a repeat visitor could you not consider other options? Glasgow, Stirling, Dundee instead of Edinburgh. The North East 250 instead of the North Coast 500? The Outer Hebrides, Mull, Arran, Islay, Orkney, the Cairngorms instead of Skye? Scotland is utterly packed with quality outdoor destinations and the over-crowded ones are not necessarily the best. And I’m not just saying that.
  • Please don’t go to the Devil’s Pulpit (just north of Glasgow) in busy season. It simply can’t cope and is in danger of being completely ruined irreparably.
  • Don’t go somewhere primarily because of ‘Instagrammability’. Come on people, please. Go somewhere for an experience, blaze your own trail and make your own memories. Standing in a line of people queuing for your Instagram ‘hero shot’ is surely about as depressingly unauthentic as it gets.

I certainly do my best to be a responsible marketer and keep my promotion of all of the above ‘at risk’ places to a minimum. Some others do too. But it’s not enough, not by a long shot. The responsibility lies – with all that work in tourism – to promote sensibly and thoughtfully and not aim for the quick wins that are driving numbers to the same old spots. Spots that are struggling badly to handle demand.

coast sustainable tourism scotland
This is Orkney…
waterfall isle of mull scotland
This is Mull…
isle of harris drone
This is Harris…

 

Recycling and Waste

I enjoy a good rant about bins. Tenement life in Glasgow sees me cursing under my breath on a regular basis when I, like the good citizen, take my various bins down to the back close only to see that, yet again, the bins remain unemptied and overflowing. I’ll give the bins a good, feckin’ ragin’ kick (that’ll teach them) and trudge back homeward, with all my rubbish, tae think again.

The shortcomings of the collectors aside, however, we all have a responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as we can. Blatant dropping of litter is an abomination and merits a night in the cells but, assuming that that’s pretty clear, the bigger challenge comes when recycling is involved. With our bloated public sector, things do seem to vary from region to region and lack standardisation, but this website allows you to search for all you need based on the relevant council/local authority that you’re visiting.

Usual bin guide:

  • Green bins are general waste
  • Blue is plastic/paper/cardboard
  • Grey is food waste
  • Brown is garden waste – a composter basically
  • Glass bins are separate again and will say very clearly on them at recycling points

But the rules here are understandably frustrating – precisely what can go in each bin can sometimes be ambiguous, particularly regarding plastic. Even us locals get confused. For example, if in the Highlands, this is what can go in your blue bin up there.

A very obvious free tip by the way, no charge. The tap water in Scotland is quite possibly the best in the world. You don’t need to be buying the bottled stuff. Save money, reduce plastic. Win at life.

 

Being an ‘Aware’ Traveller

These are Annoying….

Drones

Coming from a commercial drone pilot, it’ll likely not astonish to learn that I’m a bit pernickety about drone flying behaviour. Foaming at the mouth rabid actually.

One absolute bampot on Harris the other week sent his drone 1.5 kilometres away from him to put it over one of the outlying islands. Well chuffed with himself so he was.

Stupid. Dangerous. Selfish. Illegal.

The cheeky idiot was completely oblivious to the issue, not to mention my death stare. Seeing it drop squarely into the ocean would have been the very definition of karma, but would hardly have been fair on the sea life. The rules on this are (for the most part) crystal clear, here’s a few of the basics for the hobbyist flyers out there:

  • You must always be within Visual Line of Sight of your drone ie. you need to be able to physically see it all times. It’s not difficult you know.
  • Never fly it more than 500 metres away from yourself, or above 400 feet in height (unless you have specific permission from the CAA). The further away you go the less control you have and flyaways do happen. In such instances you have zero control of your drone and it’ll keep flying on its own accord until the battery dies and it comes dropping out of the sky. I’ll let your imagination picture how that could potentially go.
  • Always be aware of the weather (never fly in rain or anything more than light wind) and have permission from any relevant landowners of your take-off and landing spots.
  • Never fly within 50 metres of a person, building, car, busy road, animal or any other obvious hazard unless they are under your immediate control. Common sense, not to mention good manners. A drone flying at speed into an ancient castle could damage it forever, could kill a human and could cause a car to crash. It’s not hyperbole.
  • Don’t fly in restricted airspace, the consequences here can very easily be catastrophically lethal. This includes anywhere near airports of any description, and any built-up areas. Forget flying in cities and towns, just forget it.

drone code sustainable tourism scotland

 

Campervans

Some campervanners have an increasingly large amount to answer for in the Highlands and Islands. Locals will grumble endlessly that they come in, bulldoze their way to the best spots, gobble up facilities and space and give next to nothing back to local economies and the environment. The criticisms:

  • The owners bring all their own food, shopping only in supermarkets and spend nothing in the rural areas that they are taking advantage of.
  • They take up a huge amount of space. Parking on roadsides (often illegally), devastating scenic vistas and scaring off wildlife.
  • The people controlling them can’t drive. Struck dumb by the prospect of reversing on single track roads they freeze at the wheel, causing congestion, erosion and road rage for those that can actually drive. Given the lack of motorways up north the pace of travel for everyone on the roads is slowed massively – not a big problem if slower vehicles are small in number but when they make up a big percentage of total traffic, no-one is going anywhere fast.
  • Outrage caused by the casual dumping of human waste by roadsides, in public toilets and worse. This waste is often chemical as well.

These criticisms certainly do not apply to all users, only a minority. If you are a campervan/motorhome user, all that I, and most others, will ever ask is that you are aware of the potential seriousness of the above and act accordingly. For all road drivers:

Respect other drivers by pulling over now and then if you’re causing a pile up behind you; practice reversing somewhere safe until confident; don’t park illegally; don’t dump illegally; respect that locals have lives to live; respect the environment (it’s the only one we have) and try, please try, to give something back financially to the places that you are visiting. That’s the only way that tourism works for the economy.

As someone who road trips in the Highlands regularly, all of the above requests come off the back of personal, often horrified, experience. I have campervanned before and it’s good fun. I’ve promoted them before too. But, no longer. I can, unfortunately, no longer in good conscience continue to encourage them as a mode of holidaying, thanks to a. the sheer number of them now in the popular locations and b. the selfish behaviour of a few bad eggs.

 

Moving On…

Now that we’re all good travellers and are going to green heaven, park the above to-dos and focus on having a great time in Scotland. It’s an amazing country, truly. It’ll find a place in your soul and may never leave.

But, probably the two biggest assets we have here are our naturally beautiful landscapes and our ancient, superbly maintained, history. Both are fragile. Both need a concerted effort to prevent them slipping into decline. And both can be preserved by considering all of the above and being honest enough with ourselves to assess whether we can do just a little bit more when we travel.

Enjoy Scotland, and let Scotland enjoy you.

 

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