Tourism has a dark side.
When you find somewhere you love, you want to tell friends and family so they can experience it too.
This word of mouth and recent big budget shows and films have brought both prosperity and problems to Scotland.
Staffin, on the Isle of Skye, is one of the areas most affected by this dramatic surge in visitors. Sadly, the infrastructure, communities, and environment are reaching a breaking point. And help is needed to protect this beautiful island and unique culture.
We believe that if you enjoyed Skye, or plan to visit, then you have a vested interest and responsibility to help in any way you can. So, we’ve highlighted our partnership with the Staffin Community Trust and how we’re leading by example to address these issues.
The Isle of Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, western Scotland.
North of Portree lies Staffin, a region of Skye so rugged and breathtaking that it’s captured our imaginations for centuries. In recent times, it's been a backdrop for Hollywood movies like Prometheus, Stardust and Highlander.
You might be familiar with the Quiraing, Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the dinosaur footprints on An Corran Beach.
This district also has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers on Skye, with half the population fluent in the language. ‘An t-Eilean Sgitheanach’ is the traditional Gaelic name given to the island.
The Staffin Community Trust (SCT) are a charity with the objective to improve the region's economic opportunities and services, as well as energise social and cultural activities.
They’ve served the community for three decades and are made up of Staffin residents voluntarily giving up their own time to attend meetings and lead projects which are key to the health of the region.
To offset the pollution our mini-coaches produce, we tax ourselves £10 for every tonne of carbon we use. Our team then vote on which community or environmental projects this money goes to each year, distributing the funds according to where most of our passengers go.
We recognise that many of our tours explore the island, so we must take responsibility for the negative impacts of over-tourism. That's why we've chosen to support the SCT the last few years, which has helped them to buy new tools and equipment, as part of the Skye Ecomuseum heritage project.
But we like to get our hands dirty.
So, each year a mini coachload of our enthusiastic staff from Edinburgh volunteer to spend a few days helping with new projects in Staffin. Braving high winds and hail showers, we’ve assisted the SCT with essential repairs and new constructions. But we don’t want you to feel sorry for us; digging holes in the ground with the jaw-dropping Quiraing next to you is a lot of fun.
2016: The beginning of our partnership. Together we upgraded the path at the Quiraing by doubling its surface width and adding additional material. Large boulders were then used to line the edge and increase
s its durability.
2017: Continued work on the path at the Quiraing.
2018: Drainage and path repairs at the popular Brogaig site, which has stunning views of Staffin Bay.
2019: Eight of our office and driver-guide staff spent two days at the path to the Staffin slipway, digging out new and improved drainage and resurfacing after water and thick vegetation had affected the route. The path was once used as a lifeline for generations of local people to deliver important supplies by boat. Now, it’s frequently walked along by locals and tourists visiting the area.
Unfortunately, the local communities on Skye are struggling to cope with the overcrowding of tourists. They urgently need better infrastructure and facilities to meet this demand: public toilets, car parks, paths, better signage, less congestion on roads etc.
“Year upon year, visitor numbers have grown to the extent that the island population increases six-fold in the busiest months. This has a high impact on the environment with, for instance, the footfall on popular routes eroding established walking paths and creating pressure on the areas designated for car-parking.”
~ Angus Murray, Ecomuseum Programme Manager at SCT.
However, these problems go beyond just public facilities.
Skye’s popularity as a holiday destination has created a chronic shortage of affordable housing for young locals in Staffin. This has led to many of them moving away; meaning there will be no generation left to take over local communities and preserve the cultural heritage.
So, the SCT have started a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the cost of building six three-bedroom family homes to enable young locals to afford housing in Staffin.
Our partnership helps to provide a valuable link between the Staffin community and private sector.
Until the infrastructure has been upgraded to a sustainable level, we’ve taken measures to limit our footprint: capping the number of daily departures to Skye (less tours = less impact); and limiting promotion of Skye online during the summer months, by encouraging people to visit during the off-season.
Everyone deserves the chance to enjoy the natural beauty and rich culture in Staffin. So, there are many ways you can help make tourism more sustainable here.
Firstly, plan your next visit in the off-season (October to June). This lessens the erosion of paths and traffic congestion during the summer. It also gives a welcomed economic boost to the local community in winter. Besides, snow-capped mountains will look stunning in your photographs.
Stick to the main paths as much as possible. While trampling over untouched terrain might get you a unique Instagram photo, it won’t impress the locals.
If you’re in a financial situation where you would like to donate money, then contact the SCT to support their future projects in the area.
Alternatively, if you share our love of the outdoors and a wee challenge; plan your next staff volunteering or team building event in Staffin and offer your manual labour.
We donate, volunteer, and do as much as we can to ensure this area is there for future generations to enjoy. Afterall, if dinosaur footprints and some of the oldest rock in the world have survived here for millions of years, it would be a shame for mankind to fail at preserving Staffin’s little paths, clear roads and unique culture.