Visitors to the islands are being accused of leaving rubbish, human waste and distress behind them as they continue their onslaught on the beauty spots of Harris and Lewis.
An upsurge of public indignation follows on reports of dumped binbags, burning on the machair and toileting on beaches, while some business owners are reporting arrogant, entitled behaviour which leaves them close to tears.
The beauty spots of Harris are bearing the brunt of the problem, with North Harris Trust last week reporting the first recorded incident of graffiti on tourist signs. Meanwhile residents of West Harris speak of ‘disrespect, disgusting behaviour and a self-entitled attitude.’
One resident posted on social media this week, saying: “Head to the Western Isles. See the unspoilt beauty of the islands – then why do you treat the environment and the locals with such disrespect?
“If the bins are full, take your rubbish with you. Don't just dump it all around the bins. Don't throw your dog poop bags into the garden of one of the local houses.
“Don't park in front of gates. Access is required by the locals, so by doing so you are preventing them carrying on with their daily lives.
“Driving up the banks of the cemetery is totally not acceptable. If you get any further up the bank, then you're almost parked over a buried body. Quite frankly this disgusts the local community.”
Another said: “Seriously people, if the bin or skip is full don't ram it in for the wind and birds to scatter it. Don't pile your waste up beside a bin or a skip because it's the nearest place. Take it away.
“It's not island workers’ jobs to tidy up your rubbish, especially during a pandemic which so many people seem to forget. Do the right thing.”
And another told of her experience picking up litter at Horgabost bus stop, where seagulls had pulled rubbish out of an overflowing bin.
Some point to the lack of action by the local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who should, they say, be increasing rubbish collections to keep pace with increased visitor numbers.
The problem’s being highlighted to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar repeatedly, with Harris councillor Grant Fulton reporting on Wednesday (28 July): “I’ve been in contact constantly with CnES regarding skips and bins. I’ll be completely honest with everyone and say that I’m not really getting anywhere apart from highlighting the issue constantly.”
Cllr Fulton quoted a recent reply from CnES when he specifically brought up the issues being experienced at Luskentyre, Leverburgh and at the official amenity yard at Urgha.
A spokesperson for CnES told Cllr Fulton: “The issue of local waste service being overwhelmed is something that is a challenge for every part of the Highlands and Islands this year, but we are limited to what we can do with the resources that we have.
“Even the regular bin collection routes have been significantly higher than normal, with a need to carry out return trips to some areas due to capacity limits on the bin lorries, and this all stretches our resources.
“As we have been looking to make financial savings across all waste and recycling services for the last few years, this is not something that we have a budget for and we do not have any spare staff or vehicle resources to significantly increase in-house services.
“In terms of fly tipping, there is never a justifiable excuse for indiscriminate dumping of waste. This includes the waste from campervans.”
While Harris residents battle the rising tide of waste, businesses in Stornoway are reporting an increase in anti-social behaviour within and around their places of business.
Confrontation has come when visitors ask to use the toilet and resent a refusal, request a discount and behave unpleasantly when refused, or allow their pets to urinate on displays and planted pots outside businesses.
Most common is a refusal to observe social distancing, mask-wearing or the use of sanitiser within businesses, causing concern to islanders who are closely watching Covid infection rates.
One shopowner this week (Monday 26 July) posted a plea for better manners, saying: “Please be kind and considerate while visiting our beautiful islands. Trying to bully (shopkeepers) into giving discounts is not acceptable. My shop’s prices are fair market value and as low as they can go if my business is to stay afloat during these difficult times. Please accept this response and do not insist, criticize and bully.
“Also please understand I cannot provide public toilet facilities and it is not ok to open closed doors and storage areas because you are curious or to see if you can find a toilet to use anyway.
“It is also not ok to disregard clearly posted maximum numbers, hand sanitiser at entry, or traffic flow/distance. Confrontation is not natural to me and I have been in considerable distress due to antisocial behaviour in my place of business.
“The vast majority of my customers are wonderful human beings, but we’ve had quite a few upsetting incidents and I know other businesses have also experienced this.
“I think as a community we should be holding people to a standard of courtesy. It is easier to let it pass than to call people out of bad behaviour, but sometimes I think it appropriate to let them know they have crossed the line.”
The overwhelming question for many is why negative behaviour has surged so badly since the onset of Coronavirus. As one islander said: “Why has public behaviour degenerated so much? I really don’t see why a pandemic should cause such bad manners.”
The pictures show rubbish piled beside bins at Luskentyre road end (Luskentyre beach) and graffiti on tourist information signs at Rhenigadale (North Harris Trust).