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Eigg islanders ask visitors to stay away for now

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Islanders on Eigg have asked visitors to stay away for the time being as tourism opens up across the country.

The community-owned island has closed all self-catering, hostel and guest house accommodation, as well as its café and restaurant, until August 31 to discourage any visits from day trippers, campers or sailors.

The 110-strong community says it has “agonised” over the decision which was taken to protect vulnerable residents and due to limited capacity on ferries.

A vote showed a large majority of locals in favour of not opening up. A statement from the community said: “We realise for many people our decision is hard on you. It wasn’t an easy decision to take and we’ve all agonised over it collectively, as well as individually.”

Due to physical distancing measures, the ferry to Eigg and the other Small Isles of Muck, Rum and Canna currently has just 40 bookable places, instead of the usual 190.

Residents said while people wish to visit Eigg as lockdown eases, others, including tradespeople, need to get to the island. Islanders also wish to go to the mainland, including for hospital appointments and to see loved ones.

“With only four ferries a week, how should we use those 40 places fairly?  Prioritise one islander’s return visit to their elderly parents in Glasgow over another’s need to have their boiler fixed?  A visitor coming to stay for a week in a cottage, over one in a tent for a fortnight, or a day tripper?

“Sadly, for our visitors, the ferry conundrum means it seems much fairer to you and to our Eigg and Small Isles communities to say “please don’t come to Eigg for now.”

Stuart Fergusson, who own the Galmisdale Bay Café and chairs the island’s hospitality group, said the community has put safety first.

“We are in a fortunate position of being socially isolated anyway, but 30% of our population is in the at risk category. We want to protect what we have achieved with Covid not coming here.

“A lot of people here would like to be open, because we’ve lost a season going into lockdown so have lost a lot of money. But we can survive, and it’s weighing up safeguarding our community against the small amount of money we could make in what is left of the season.”

Eigg is the only one of the Small Isles to ask visitors to stay away, although others have limited services.

Day visitors are not being encouraged to Rum where the campsite, bunkhouse, visitor centre, village hall, Kinloch Castle and mountain bothies and toilets are closed.

A statement from islanders says “We are a remote community with good but geographically challenging health care provision and so it is important that we mitigate the risks associated with any re-introduction of visitors to the area. Everyone must play their part to protect one another.”

Muck has some visitors in self-catering accommodation. One local said: “We’re not going out of our way to get more business and most of those who are here are people who come every year.

“We’ve gone to extreme lengths to reassure everyone its safe. We are walking the line between not turning people away and being cautious about Covid and taking things slowly.”

On Canna, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, all overnight accommodation and the island café is closed with a review due at the end of July.

Caledonian MacBrayne said due to restricted capacity, places on ferries must be booked but they cannot stop people travelling to the islands.

Meanwhile, the community-owned island of Gigha has re-opened businesses, including the hotel.

A local said: “We sent a questionnaire to residents and they said it was up to the Scottish Government to decide (about re-opening). So if the Scottish Government say we can open, that’s why we are open.”

The ferry to the community-owned island of Ulva is not running and restaurant, accommodation, church and toilets at the pontoons are not open to the public.

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