COVID-19, nature and tourism in Scotland

It is not breaking news that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected greatly the tourism industry all over the world. On the other hand, some places have experienced positive effects in nature and air quality derived from the lockdown situation that some countries have gone through. 

But how are people involved in both nature conservation and touristic activity living this situation?

In this week’s blog, we talk to Kathryn and Angus, owners of Uist Forests Retreat located in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. How is life going in an almost locked-down island? What are the prospects for the recovery of tourism activity?  How are entrepreneurs using this time to give back to nature?

Photography credits: Uist Forest Retreat, Lady An Boat Trips, Uist sea tours, Western isles wildlife. 

Kathryn and Angus say that they have been very fortunate to have had no confirmed cases on Uist.

Ferry travel is severely restricted and operating at only 20%. 

“Ferry crossings can be very difficult to secure on an average summer so this has caused some extra challenges for residents on the islands who need to travel to the mainland for work or healthcare, or for family now living on the mainland wishing to return to Uist to see their family members.”

The rapid development of the pandemic has been very difficult for them in the early days.

“It's fair to say I was quite ill at first as we were already 70% fully booked for the summer months, we are a young business and had invested in refreshing the accommodation in January ready for the new season. We did not have the reserves to return all the deposits."

"We are very relieved that we have since received grant funding that allowed us to refund our guests that were booked this summer but could not travel to us due to lockdown or ferry restrictions.”

While all touristic activity stood still they haven’t and have undertaken many actions to give back to nature. 

“We have been worked on the considerable task of mending deer fencing around the forest so we can protect new native broadleaves we are looking to plant."

"We have a small nursery of trees grown from seed, supplied from a seed bank of old native trees found in hard to reach places for deer and sheep, collected by the RSPB."

“We have also worked on our remote white-tailed eagle cam. The pair of eagles was one of at least 3 pairs on the island this year that for some reason did not nest.”

"We are hopeful for next year and now have the camera system up and running to also stream live from the nest. Like many during the lockdown, we have also worked on our own veg and fruit garden which has been a very welcome distraction during all the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.”

They feel lucky not to experience significant changes in nature because of how well impacts are managed on the island.

“We are so fortunate here that even during the height of tourist season, our numbers are limited by the ferry capacity and disturbance to wildlife is minimal.

It is easy for a human to find a sandy beach or quiet corner to themselves, we hope that wildlife here never feels an impact from the presence of humans even during the tourist season.”

While talking about the future developments of tourism in Scottland they say that the Scottish Government allowed hospitality to open on the 15th of July. 

“However we have not opened for new bookings at this stage, partly due to travel restrictions, partly due to our own family members being high risk and shielded, partly due to the risk of the virus and the challenges surrounding operating in hospitality at this time.”

“We are working with a small group here to set up a social enterprise project that helps map resources as an app for both residents and visitors. So in the future, we can connect visitors to opportunities to support small businesses and community organizations on the islands during their stay and encourage slow and sustainable tourism.”

"We have certainly not been bored in the last few months and are optimistic that next season we will be better prepared should the world still be a challenging place and to enable our valued visitors to find the hidden gems and travel sustainably."