Many thanks to all those who came out to meetings, returned surveys, or made a special effort to speak with NHT Directors or Staff during our annual Community Consultation during November last year. As usual, the feedback from the community was broadly positive and supportive, and we were encouraged by good turnouts at some local meetings.
Various specific points were raised on a wide range of subjects, and some suggestions made for NHT to action. These points were spread among our strategic areas of people, economy and environment, and included topics such as housing availability, small business opportunities, crofting community support, and tourism management.
As a result NHT Directors have assessed the points raised by the community and determined the immediate workable actions for each topic raised, to be delivered over the coming 6 to 12 months. A full summary of topics raised and the resultant action planned can be found here.
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A number of people have asked recently, “What are those grey boxes on poles, either side of the footpath?” Well, they are people counters and are used to build a picture of traffic levels on the key paths in North Harris. The counters unfortunately can’t differentiate between cows, deer and people, so there has to be some interpretation of the raw data delivered. This data allows us to focus maintenance activities and assists the search for funding.
This year saw the first post-pandemic visitor season, with numbers approaching those seen in 2019.
Lacasdail Lochs – Urgha
This is the first full season with a people counter in place on the circular walk around the middle loch at Urgha. In the period Jan-Oct there were 4169 counts. In the core summer months – Jun – Sep there was an average of 21 people per day passing. This is way beyond our predictions when we started to build the new track.
This well-trod path along the cliff from Huisinis toward Mhelein had 11,549 counts April-Sept. If we assume the majority of walkers go out and return the same way, the number of path users would be 5774. This is of similar size to the 2019 pre-Covid figure. That gives an averages 35 people per day.
The counter located at the entrance to the building only operated until August when the batteries failed. To this point 18,643 people entered and exited the building in the five months to Aug. This averages 169 people per day. Traffic was busiest at the start of June, then died back, increasing again towards a peak at the end of July. This number is down on the pre-COVID high of 41,317 in 2019.
Scalpay Eilean Glas
The counter is located out near the lighthouse. If we assume the majority of people walk out and back the same route, 7735 people passed the counter, with an average of 46 a day. During the winter i.e Sept 2021 – April 20222 the number of people passing was 4835, making this an all year-round destination.
Eagle Observatory – Mhiabhaig
Located at the entrance to the Observatory, this year we saw 8855 visitors, with an average of 52 a day. This is slightly up on the 2019 figure at 8561.Traffic is consistent throughout the season, tailing off at the end of September
Community Woodland – Aird a Mhulaidh
Located at the entrance to the woodland, Apr-Sep 2022 brought 1023 visitors averaging 6.3 people per day. This closely matches the winter count, demonstrating that the woods are being used by the local community, year-round. There was traffic each day throughout the summer, with an increase towards the end of August. This marks an increase from the 4 people per day counted in the 4 months in 2019 before work started on the Woodland Observatory.
Postman’s Path – Urgha
The counter was only re-installed on the path mid-season, following the construction of the new fenceline and a bridge replacement. As such, it had a short 2022 season counting 1389 people in the 70 days Jul – Sep giving an average of 20 people per day.
Many summer visitors come to North Harris for the landscape. The numbers above prove how popular the footpath network is. The Trust maintains the path network as best it can but receives no direct funding from the local authority, path users or visitors. As mentioned above, the counters give us justification for grant applications to assist with the major repairs.
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During the holiday period the North Harris Ranger will lead a number of new walks. In addition to the regular Monday “Whale and Dolphin Walk” and Wednesday’s “Eagle Walk”, we plan to explore some of the lesser trod paths on the estate. There are both long and short walks to cater for all abilities.
The North Harris Trust Strategic Plan 2022-27 can be found here.
This was published as the result of an internal process to develop Trust priorities over the winter 2021-22 leading to a presentation at the NHT AGM in March 2022. Community feedback and partner organisation input on subsequent drafts was sought before approval of a final version by the Trust Board in May 2022.
The Annual General Meeting of The North Harris Trust will take place on Tuesday 8th March 2022 at 7.30pm in Tarbert Community Centre. Please consider taking the time to come along, find out what we have been doing, ask questions, make comments, and contribute to our future direction. All are very welcome.
At this meeting candidates shall be appointed to four vacancies on the Trust Board of Directors. If you are resident in North Harris and think you might be interested in serving on the board for a three-year term, please contact the Trust on 01859 502222 or at email@example.com
The Annual General Meeting of the North Harris Trading Company is also scheduled for the evening of Tuesday 8th March 2022 in Tarbert Community Centre, at 6.30pm. All are welcome.
Today we had the pleasure of hosting the S2 year group from Sir E Scott School in Tarbert. They have been working with resources developed by Community Land Scotland to understand more about Community Land Ownership and the role it can play in strengthening our communities. North Harris has examples of renewable generation, social housing and business space – all community-developed, within ten minutes drive of the school.
To start the day, a hike up the Monan track to understand what’s involved in building a windfarm. After this, a trip to Bunavoneader to see a hydro-electric generator in full flow, stopping on the way at Ceann an Ora housing development. Finally, a stop at Iomairt an Obain business Units in Tarbert to understand what’s involved in creating business space and securing tenants who will create new job opportunities.
From a Trust perspective, these events give us the chance to show pupils the type of work we are involved in. It will also hopefully spread the word that community-ownership can be a good thing.
With the sun shining, everyone is so much more motivated to get out around the estate doing stuff. Now we have the maintenance team in place, the list of jobs is slowly shrinking. One day there’s bench painting going on, the next footpath maintenance, but all interspersed by a bit of Visitor Management.
The volume of cars on the road has jumped, and this puts pressure on the limited carparking at the beach hotspots in Harris. We are routinely informing and educating visitors, especially those that think it OK to restrict access on our narrow roads, by parking half on the verge. Huisinis is one busy spot on a hot summer’s day! We recently added a few more parking places at Huisinis Gateway and spent some time marking them out to get best use of the space. The hydrant has also now been concreted in and since painted for visibility.
On the other side of the estate, work has been continuing on the new path at Lacasdail Lochs. We have been working for a while now on a path down the eastern side of the loch to link via the existing bridge to the Urgha to Maraig path. This will eventually complete a circular route around the loch. Progress ramped up this week with the hire of a Polaris 6×6 ATV. With its extra capacity, 40 ton of stone was shipped 800m down the path in a few days. The bridge is almost in touching distance!
Next week will be back to doing smaller jobs round the estate, whilst shoulders and backs recover!
Funders for this path include Paths for All, Crown Estate and Western Isles Development Trust.
The Isle of Harris, known for its rich traditions and stunning scenery, has seen a marked increase in the number of visitors in recent years. Data from Outer Hebrides Tourism suggests that the number of visitors to Lewis and Harris grew by 10% per annum between 2013 and 2017. In North Harris, our people counters have shown an increase of about 25% in visitor numbers over the past 5 years with significant pressure at certain sites, such as over 40,000 seasonal visitors to the Huisinis Gateway building.
Increased visitor numbers have placed significant pressures on already limited infrastructure and services, with the Coronavirus pandemic highlighting pressure points. Following the 2020 season, we started work with Outer Hebrides Tourism and our neighbours The West Harris Trust to develop a Visitor Management Strategy. With financial assistance from Nature.Scot we engaged a consultant to carry out the initial research both within the community and looking to other areas of Britain for inspiration. Over 130 Harris residents were invited to complete a survey, with a large portion meeting online for one-to-one consultations afterwards. Discussions were also held with key stakeholders like Calmac, Visit Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
This extensive consultation and research has lead to a series of recommendations. It’s acknowledged that physical infrastructure takes time to organise, but there are a number of “quick wins” around messaging and education. The first deliverable is the “Harris is a special PLACE” campaign. This is all about reminding visitors what we, the community, expect of them.
The Harris Visitor Management Strategy will help us to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience, protect the unique Harris environment whilst reassuring the local community that tourism on the island can offer a sustainable future.