Clinical Lead, U&B Hospital

Sustainability, the environment, and our health

I am Dr Kate Dawson, one of the GPs at Benbecula Medical Practice. I have been working here since 1990, with three short breaks to complete some training and when I had my babies, who are now grown up. We are lucky to live in a beautiful and precious place, which is generally safe and kind. I love gardening, knitting, and observing our wildlife when I am out walking. 

Our islands, though, are very vulnerable to change. Global warming is bringing more changeable weather and rising sea levels will change our coastlines. It is getting more difficult to recruit staff, and travel links are not as good as they were a few years ago. 

In the face of this, I have been considering the sustainability of the healthcare system that I am part of and how we can make positive changes that will help our patients achieve better health and, at the same time, reduce our impact on resources. I dived in to think about this in more detail in the last year and found more than I thought possible. 

What does sustainability and the environment mean in terms of health care? Here are some of the ideas that may affect patients directly. Some items will not surprise you, others might. 

– Patient transport: This includes trying to use active transport such as walking and cycling, using electric bikes and electric cars. This can be hard when distances are long and our roads are narrow. However, this also includes trying to avoid travel to appointments when a phone call or video link would be as effective. 

–  Waste management: Unused medication should be returned to the surgery for safe disposal, so it does not cause environmental contamination. You can also help by only ordering what you need when ordering repeat prescriptions. Empty inhalers and insulin pens should be returned to the surgery. Incinerating empty inhalers causes less damage than the gas in the inhaler being left in the environment.

– Better prescribing: As an example, inhalers have a particularly detrimental effect on the environment. One MDI inhaler is as damaging as a drive to Inverness, whereas one breath-activated inhaler is equivalent of a drive between Griminish and Balivanich. Unnecessary and ineffective medication is a waste too. Don’t cut down on your inhalers, get advice about managing your asthma more effectively, use your preventer more, and ask to try a switch to breath activated inhalers.

– Better decisions: Better discussions about treatment and referral help patients and doctors make better decisions. If you are referred for a treatment that you don’t really want, or which may not benefit you much, then it is far better to discuss this before the travel, prescribing, tests and worry begin. It begins with talking frankly to your GP about the benefits, risks, and alternatives to the proposed treatment, and to ask what would happen if you did not seek treatment. Take someone with you if you need support with these discussions. 

– Good health is more than medicine: Our current medical model from the twentieth century has been about patients coming to the doctors, their ailments quickly assessed, and a treatment or procedure prescribed. With authoritarian health care, the patient can become a passive recipient of medical care, and every ailment is met with a treatment or a procedure. There may be another healthier, less wasteful, more sustainable way. 

Imagine this; you can improve your appearance, reduce your need for medication, your reliance on health care, improve your energy levels and joy in life, the benefits will last for years, and the cost is minimal. I am really excited with the possibilities. What is the secret? If everyone could do this, it would reduce reliance on health care resources and we would live to enjoy health into our retirement. I am talking about improving health by improving fitness. 

As an example, the most cost-effective treatments for Chronic Airways Disease (COPD) are physical activity, smoking cessation and flu immunisation. These three things are associated with better outcomes than any inhaler or medication.

I am using the word ‘fitness’ for a good reason, as it covers lots of concepts. It does not focus specifically on weight, or exercise, or smoking, or alcohol. It just focuses on being healthier. Where should you start? The beginning is to think about what you want to improve, to imagine what your goal is, what is driving you to consider making a change. Give yourself permission to write down or say aloud what you want to change, what could be better. Perhaps you want to be less short of breath, or your knees to hurt less, or to feel less lonely. Your goal will inspire you to keep trying. You could list all the things you might want to change and work out what you need to do for each thing. 

Don’t try to change everything all at once. It is better to focus on one easy thing at a time and make it about fitness and fun. This year, for example, I plan to go for a walk at least once a week. If I miss a week, I have given myself permission to try again the next week, and not to give up when I fail. Last year, we started using smaller plates to reduce our portion sizes without cutting out our favourite foods. You don’t need Lycra, or to run, or to go on an extreme diet, just find one thing that you can do, that you can enjoy, and make that into a habit that you can sustain. 

Who are your allies? Have you got a trusted friend to talk to? A professional such as a physiotherapist, counsellor, nurse, or doctor could listen and support you, if you asked for this; the most important thing is to find someone who can listen to you. They may help you work out what you might be able to do next, to identify one thing that you can do easily, and to support you too. 

Your one change may bring more benefits than you think. Going for a short walk will improve your fitness, and it will also raise your mood, reduce isolation and ease joint pain. Meeting up with someone else for an activity such as knitting or singing will improve your mental agility, and will also reduce isolation, low mood and loneliness. 

As you start to improve your health, you may inspire others. We could have a new normal, in which we support each other to take steps to improve our health through simple changes to our lifestyles, reducing our reliance on medication and leading more fulfilling and joyful lives. We can help the environment and the NHS stay sustainable by creating our own better health.

For ideas, why not listen to Michael Mosley’s podcast ‘just one thing’ on BBC sounds.

Dè bhios dùil againn ris

Fiona MacVicar

Seachdain na Gàidhlig airson an treas uair, agus a-rèir choltais, tha an sgioba an dùil ri tachartas nas motha na bha aca roimhe. Thèid a’ chiad seachdain cànain nàiseanta an Alba a chumail eadar 19mh is 25mh Gearran 2024, 

‘S e ‘Do Chànan, Do Chothrom’ cuspair na seachdain agus tha sgioba Seachdain na Gàidhlig ag amas air  cuid le Gàidhlig, luchd-ionnsachaidh agus a’ chuid gun Gàidhlig gu bheil cothrom ann dhaibh uile. ’S urrainn dhaibh uile pàirt a ghabhail san t-seachdain ann an dòigh a bhios freagarrach dhaibh fhèin. Tha dòchas ann gun gabh daoine sealladh air an t-seachdain, air a’ chànan cuideachd agus an cànan mar phàirt chudromach dem beatha. 

Airson a’ chiad turas, thathar a cuir seiseanan air-loidhne air dòigh do sgoiltean airson an dà chuid clasaichean Gàidhlig agus Beurla.-Thathas an dùil gun deàn mòran sgoiltean bho air feadh Alba (gu h-àraid às na h-eileanan)oidhirp clàradh air son seo. 

Fhuair 53 tachartas ann an 17 sgìre comhairle  maoineachadh am bliadhna tro mhaoin nan tabhartasan beaga, le taic bho Bhòrd na Gàidhlig. Ach, chan ann dìreach dhan fheadhainn a fhuair taic-airgid a tha Seachdain na Gàidhlig- tha eagraichean na h-iomairt airson dèanamh soilleir gu faod a h-uile duine pàirt a ghabhail ann.

Ged a bhios tachartasan a’ gabhail àite air feadh Alba, agus cuid ann an Uibhist fhèin, bi rudan air-loidhne a bhios fosgailte dhan a h-uile duine aig a h-uile ìre fileantas. Tha an sgioba mothachail gu bheil coimhearsnachd beòthail air-loidhne, agus le ‘Latha Abairt na Gàidhlig’, thèid aig daoine an abairt a chlàradh air-loidhne agus a sgaoileadh air na meadhanan-sòisealta leis a

hashtag  #LathanahAbairtGhaidhlig no #SeachdainnaGaidhlig2024, gus cuid a bhrosnachadh no airson abairt ùr ionnsachadh. 

Dh’ innis Shona Nic a’ Mhaoilein, Neach-taice Rianachd agus nam Meadhan-Sòisealta aig Seachdain na Gàidhlig:

“Air an treas Seachdain na Gàidhlig, tha ‘Do Chànan. Do Chothrom.’ againn mar chuspair, a’ toirt suil air luach na Gàidhlig ann am beatha dhaoine agus air na dorsan a bhios i a’ fosgladh. Tha sinn an dòchas gun comharraich daoine seo ann an iomadach diofar dhòigh, a fhreagras air na coimhearsnachdan aca fhèin, agus a bheir cothrom do dhaoine aig gach ìre fileantais agus de gach aois pàirt a ghabhail ann an seachdain air leth prìseil. Tha sinn air ar dòigh cluinntinn gu bheil buidhnean ag obair air plana Gàidhlig do dh’ Uibhist, ann an sgìre a bhios ag obair gus a h-inbhe agus a cliù a thogail agus a bhios ga cumail aig cridhe chùisean làitheil. Tha sinn an dòchas gum bi Seachdain na Gàidhlig na cuideachadh gus aire dhaoine a tharraing chun iomairt aca agus gum bi taic aca bho dhaoine is bhuidhnean air feadh nan Eilean Siar.”

Faodaidh duine sam bith a tha airson pàirt a ghabhail an tachartas acasan a chur ri prògram na seachdaine tro leabhar-latha oifigeil aig:

Thuirt Ealasaid Dhòmhnallach, Ceannard Bhòrd na Gàidhlig: “Tha Bòrd na Gàidhlig glè thoilichte taic a chumail ri Sheachdain na Gàidhlig tro Mhaoin nan Tabhartas Beaga a-rithist am bliadhna. ’S e prìomh amas a’ Phlana Nàiseanta Gàidhlig ùr cleachdadh na Gàidhlig a mheudachadh agus tha Seachdain na Gàidhlig a’ cruthachadh diofar chothroman gus Gàidhlig a chleachdadh tro ghnìomhachdan a tha gu math tlachdmhor. ‘S e deagh dhearbhadh a th’ ann an Seachdain na Gàidhlig gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig beò agus air a cleachdadh ann an dachaighean, coimhearsnachdan, sgoiltean agus àiteachan obrach air feadh na h-Alba – mar sin gabh pàirt ann agus bi mar phàirt de seachdain a  bhios, a-rithist, air leth tarraingeach agus spòrsail.”

The economics of buying and selling island stock

Uist crofters are still reeling from the news that Dingwall & Highland Marts Ltd (DHM) has withdrawn auctioneering services from Lochmaddy Mart. 

DHM Managing Director Grant MacPherson told Am Pàipear why the decision to cease operation at Lochmaddy had been made:

“Different factors have led us to this point, including a reduction in the numbers of stock presented for sale, which has led to a reduction in the number of buyers prepared to make the two day trip, and the difficulty of finding suitable auctioneers. Costs have been increasing as revenue has fallen and it is no longer sustainable for us to keep a presence in Uist. Ultimately we are a business and we simply can not afford to subsidise non-profitable parts of our operation.”

The crofters Am Pàipear spoke to said that the fall in stock numbers mirrored a downward trend in prices, an accusation Mr MacPherson refuted:

“There is no doubt that the stock on Uist is first class; the lamb sale at Lochmaddy last year returned some of our highest prices across our marts.  The stock is excellent but the numbers are just not there to allow us to cover our costs.”

Mr MacPherson confirmed the company’s commitment to stock sales in Stornoway and said that the business there was doing well. He pointed to the greater ease of travel, saying buyers could fly in and out the same day rather than risk three days away from their own farms.

The Lochmaddy mart is operated by North Uist and Benbecula Livestock (Marketing) Ltd (NUBLM), the shareholder organisation set up in 1985 to co-ordinate sales in Lochmaddy.

NUBLM Chair Donald Norman MacDonald, Clachan Farms, told Am Pàipear that the company’s Directors had been unanimous in their commitment to ensuring the safe future of the Mart:

“After all the hard work that has been done over the decades, it would be a huge loss to the islands and the economy. It would affect the smaller shareholders as the costs of transport to the mainland could make it unviable. 

“We have excellent stock in the islands and with numbers falling all over the country I think in the future there will be great demand for island stock. 

“We also have a good number of young crofters coming up and it is very important to support them by selling at the local mart which is also a fantastic meeting place for them.”

NUBLM say that alternative auctioneers have been approached, with Shareholders meeting on February 15th to decide the future direction of the Mart.

NUBLM Shareholder Neil MacPherson, Liniclate Township, has played a key role in supporting the Lochmaddy Mart over many years and says the news from DHM is not entirely unexpected:

“I was very saddened to hear the news from Dingwall & Highland Marts, but not greatly surprised. The number of crofters choosing to sell their stock at other venues has increased over the years and that has clearly made it more difficult for the auctioneers to cover their costs.”

“Where to sell stock is, of course, a question of personal choice, but I am afraid it has been a case of ‘use it or lose it’.”

“As to what happens next, we will have to await the outcome of our meeting in early February, when I hope we will have some alternative options to consider. It will then be for shareholders to decide how they want to proceed.”

Local crofter and NUBLM Shareholder Keith MacDonald, Trumisgarry was hopeful of a good outcome:

“Bha coinneamh aig stiuirichean Mart Loch nam Madadh air 10mh den Fhaoilleach agus iad aonaichte oidhirp a dheànamh Mart Loch nam Madadh a chumail fosgailte agus buidhean eile a tharraing a-steach airson sèilichean a chumail. Bha iad gu math dòchasach gun gabhadh seo a dheànamh as na mìosan ri thighinn ann an ùine son fèile uain a chumail mar as àbhaist deireadh an t-sàmhradh seo.” 

In South Uist, the Lochboisdale Mart has avoided the same fate as its North Uist cousin.

The picture in the South end of Uist appears to be very different, where United Auctions reports a roaring trade at Lochboisdale. Director and Chief Auctioneer Donald Young told Am Pàipear:

“The logistical requirements of an island sale certainly don’t make things easy – ferries, additional travel times and costs all have the potential to put buyers off. For us, Uist stock is worth that extra effort. We had eight mainland buyers bidding at Lochboisdale last month and the prices were very good. Our cattle sale in November saw prices easily keep par with mainland sales.”

Asked if United Auctions had any plans to extend their presence in Uist, Mr Young said: “We will always be delighted to sell Uist beasts through our marts. For us, the question of frequency is a question of need; we will always seek to meet demand.”

Mr Young concluded: ‘United Auctions is 100% committed to maintaining our service at Lochboisdale; be assured, we are here for the long run.”

The first NUBLM sale at Lochmaddy Mart saw 1,323 sheep and 383 cattle sold. By 

1988, the numbers had grown, with 5308 sheep and 579 cattle sold. The NUBLM records show how numbers have declined over the years

Loganair flight change threatens medical services

NHS Western Isles has highlighted the risk to medical services as a result of newly introduced timetable changes on the Benbecula to Stornoway air service. 

The intra-Western Isles shuttle currently operates on a Tuesday and Thursday and, although passenger numbers are small, the service is much relied upon by NHS patients travelling to and from medical appointments and by medical staff attending Uist-based clinics.

The new timetable introduced by Loganair in January sees the departure of the previous 08.15 flight from Stornoway delayed and rescheduled to arrive in Benbecula at 12.35, substantially reducing the length of time that visiting clinicians from the Western Isles Hospital can deal with Uist-based patients.

A spokesperson from NHS Western Isles said: “There is no doubt that more forthcoming flight schedule changes/reductions will impact very significantly on service delivery across the entire health system here in the Western Isles.     

“We are in the process of mapping out the entirety of the system-wide impact. We expect the impact to be very significant and it remains to be seen whether or not we can sustain the current level of service delivery in all locations.     

“We will be communicating further information about specific service impact very shortly once this assessment is complete and mitigating actions fully explored.” 

Responding to the Health Board’s concerns, a spokesperson for Loganair said: “Loganair’s services are set in line with customer demand and as a result of wider route and frequency changes at Inverness, our base which supports the Benbecula to Stornoway operation, we’ve had to make adjustments to the flight times on this route.

“Loganair continues to operate the route between Benbecula and Stornoway twice on Tuesdays and twice on Thursdays as we are obligated to do so, up to March 28th 2024. With the new PSO tender now issued, we are unable to comment further.’’

The tender notice for the new contract to operate ‘Air Services between Stornoway and Benbecula’ is available to view on the Government’s Public Contracts Scotland website and states the value at an estimated £1.8m over four years.

The service operates under a Public Service Obligation (PSO) subsidised by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and supported in part by Scottish Government with a non-statutory allocation that is made without ring-fence restrictions.

North Uist Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee told Am Pàipear: “We have repeatedly called for Scottish Government to support the Stornoway-Benbecula route with a fully-funded PSO contract. The service is not used by a high enough number of passengers to make it commercially viable yet it provides a crucial service for medical appointments, a situation which surely meets Transport Scotland’s own justification for full financial support. 

“As things stand, the route will always be under threat from over-stretched Comhairle budgets. This month our seven-strong team of Uist and Barra Councillors will make a strong case to maintain this vital service and, given the unprecedented financial pressures we face, we can only hope that our colleagues in Lewis and Harris will remain as steadfast in their support.”

Last month’s timetable change marks a second blow for the Benbecula-Stornoway service; in July last year, despite a £200k shortfall in the Transport budget and a reduction in service from three to two days per week, the Comhairle voted to continue the service. No offer was made by the airline to continue the three day service as they considered that the subsidy required to support this service would be disproportionate to the passenger numbers.

The Transport Scotland operated PSO contract for the Barra/Glasgow flight was reissued to Loganair in October last year.

The current tender process for the PSO contract to operate the Benbecula/Stornoway Air Service is expected to conclude this month.

A well-deserved honour

January’s 2024 New Year Honours list included two well-respected and much-admired Western Isles names: Mrs Malina Macleod MBE, Lochportain, North Uist and Mr Norman A “Dokus” Macdonald OBE, Uig, Lewis.

Making the announcement last month, Iain Macaulay, Lord-Lieutenant for the Western Isles, said:  

”The honours system offers public recognition to people from all walks of life who have given exceptional service and made a difference in their community. I am therefore delighted that Mrs Malina Macleod MBE and Mr Norman A “Dokus” Macdonald OBE have been named in the 2024 New Year Honours list. They have both provided outstanding service, in their various roles, for a considerable length of time.” 

A former Matron of Lochmaddy Hospital for many years, Malina was the first Deputy Manager of the Uist and Barra Hospital in Benbecula when it opened in 2001, and went on to take the Manager’s role a few years later.

Since her retirement from the nursing profession, Mrs MacLeod has worked as a highly-valued and much sought after home-carer for local charity Tagsa Uibhist, where she has been described as ‘always going the extra mile’. Her patients and clients speak appreciatively of her devotion, skills and caring abilities.

In his statement of recognition, the Lord Lieutenant said: “Mrs Malina Macleod MBE has dedicated herself to a career in nursing and social care, spanning a period of over 60 years; her commitment and service to the North Uist community has been truly outstanding.”

Mrs MacLeod told Am Pàipear of her surprise at the news: “I’m shocked and still can’t believe it has happened!”

She continued:

“I was a medical nurse all my life.  I could never go into a surgical ward without feeling nauseous! 

“I don’t think I was a good manager but I was a team player and it became clear things were changing over quite a number of the early years. Bringing together two different cultures was very hard, but assuring that all would work out was the hardest and most difficult time in my whole career.  

“I will never forget the day the last patient left Lochmaddy Hospital. I went to my office and wept before someone came to take a photo as I locked the door.

“I missed the chat and good fun we had but it continued.  For me management was a hurdle and I was always happy to challenge, but it was always important to go back to what I knew well – caring for the most vulnerable.”

Retired Councillor and Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Norman MacDonald was awarded an OBE. He has a long record of public duty, both in his native Uig and across the Western Isles thorough his work with the Comhairle, and until very recently, served as a Watch Commander with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

‘Funding position is extremely challenging’

Representatives from Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac were in Uist last month to update members of the public on two major infrastructure projects: the new Gasay pier in Lochboisdale and the replacement vessel that will take over from MV Lord of the Isles when she finally starts a long-over due retirement.

At a public engagement event in Cnoc Soillier, CMAL presented the final design for the new Gasay development, which will include a finger pier, a main berth with linkspan and a secondary berth which can be used for certain wind conditions.

CMAL said the next phase of development would see a full business case and detailed design progressed from the Spring of 2024, with construction hoped to start in the Spring of 2026. If the proposed timeline is followed, the new pier will be ready for service some eleven years after the current pier was deemed to have reached the end of its life.

Plans for a replacement vessel for the Lochboisdale service were also on show.

The new boat will be around the same size as LOTI, but will have a reduced passenger carrying capacity of 300, 200 fewer than the current vessel, although deck space will allow for three additional cars and the same number of HGVs.

CMAL says the vessel will meet approximately 90% of expected future demand on the route. A CalMac spokesperson told Am Pàipear: “If passenger growth stretches beyond vessel capacity we will meet that requirement through additional sailings.”

Proposals are expected to be finalised in due course, with a full business case submitted to Transport Scotland in the first half of next year.

CMAL said: “Given wider pressures on public funding, there is currently no funding allocated for future stages of this project and the funding position is extremely challenging. This may impact the planned timeline to take forward procurement.”

Both projects are years off completion, and yet to be awarded the capital funding to progress beyond the initial designs. With Scottish Government facing increasing budget pressures, and conflicting infrastructure demands, for example from the A9, concerns have been raised that these key projects may never reach beyond the planning stage.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation Committee and HITRANS told Am Pàipear that hopes for both the new vessel and the new pier were very much alive:
“It is my belief that these projects can and will go ahead if we maintain our pressure on Scottish Government.”

The recent and recurring disruptions to services on the Sounds has further damaged confidence in the network, jeopardising the daily through flow of island life, from refuse lorries to medical supplies.Replacement vessels for these routes will not be considered until phase two of the now delayed Small Vessel Replacement Programme at some time after 2028.

Meanwhile, Scottish Government has confirmed its intention to progress a direct award of the new Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service Contract to CalMac, without going through a competitive tender process. The award has been met with calls for improved performance.

Cllr Robertson said: “ There needs to be major change to Calmac Ferries Limited and a sensible step towards this would be a senior management team and Board of Directors living and working in island communities.”

‘Challenging but interesting’ times ahead for tourism

The challenges and opportunities facing Uist’s tourism sector were explored in a day-long conference hosted by Outer Hebrides Tourism at the start of November.

All sectors were represented at the well-attended event in Cnoc Soilleir, with a national view provided by Scottish Tourism Alliance and Visit Scotland and plenty of local insight contributed by Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) and the local business operating here in Uist.

OHT CEO Sarah Maclean spoke of the Outer Hebrides as a globally recognised destination, highlighting the value of strong marketing. Ms Maclean referenced the success of OHT’s Made in the Hebrides promotion and its Eat, Drink, Hebrides initiative, which had fuelled visitor interest, and this year had earned the organisation a Scottish Food and Drink Excellence Award.

Presentations from Uist Unearthed, Stòras Uibhist and Ceòlas highlighted the work being done to promote Uist’s language, landscape and cultural history.

Lindsay Robertson, of Loch Skipport based Long Island Retreats, showcased the growth in agri-tourism, highlighting how marketable ‘Uist’ branded experiences and produce can be.

Agritourism in Scotland is currently worth around £60m, with the farm retail sector contributing an additional £110m to the economy. The Scottish Agri Tourism strategy seeks to grow that income to £250m by 2030 and the hope is that Uist can play a key role in this burgeoning sector.

If it was clear that tourism opportunity knocks for Uist, it was clearer still that numerous challenges lay ahead.

Ms MacLean said that, while visitor numbers had seen increases in 2021 and 2022, figures for this current season evidenced that occupancy rates were down on previous years.

Chief among the challenges was the devastation wreaked by the loss of the Lochboisdale ferry, which had left a good number of tourism operators out of pocket, and some out of business.

The new Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill was set out as both challenge and opportunity.

Proposed in May this year, the Bill will grant local authorities the right to introduce an additional charge when a visitor pays for overnight accommodation.

Both the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Outer Hebrides Tourism had given the Bill their support, highlighting that money raised by the sector could provide much needed support for local tourism infrastructure. The Comhairle supports the introduction of the Visitor Levy but has yet to confirm if and how it will be applied in the Western Isles.

The Levy is expected to add a 4% surcharge to booked accommodation and will be charged and administered by local providers.

The Scottish Parliament held a public consultation on proposals, reporting that the majority of those responding were against the Bill, saying the proposals were ‘viewed by many respondents as an unwanted policy being forced on a struggling sector.’

Amanda Leveson Gower echoed the Parliament’s findings, saying that the administrative burden would sit with already stretched local businesses and act as a disincentive for visitors:

“It’s difficult enough for guests as it is. Getting here is a risk and if guests are stranded on Skye they can end up paying £300 or more in emergency accommodation costs. When ferries are cancelled, and as a consequence, stays are cancelled at short notice, it will be accommodation providers who are faced with reimbursing the levy charges. Frankly, I am hugely disappointed that OHT and the Scottish Tourism Alliance are supporting the Bill.”

Further legislative burden is facing the sector as a result of the Short Term Lets licence, which requires all providers of tourism accommodation to register their business with their Local Authority. In September, the Comhairle reported that it had granted 236 licences, and was still processing 180 applications, with a further 65 pending.

The highlight of the day was the the inaugural Our Tourism Community Awards.

The new annual Awards recognise, congratulate and celebrate businesses that deliver amazing experiences for visitors in the Outer Hebrides, champion innovation in the face of challenging times and showcase best practice.

Anne MacLellan from Hougharry, North Uist won two top accolades; the Best Accommodation Business Award for Balranald Campsite and the Best Food and Drink Experience Award for the Dunes Cabin. The award for Best See and Do Experience was awarded to Vatersay-based Mingulay Boat Trips, with Best Green Sustainable Business Award going to Castlebay Marina.

Anne MacLellan was thrilled with the Awards, telling Am Pàipear: “We’re absolutely delighted… The campsite business was established in 2012 initially with only myself working there. The campsite and the dunes cabin have now grown to employ 11 members of staff during the season. These prestigious awards recognise the great job done by my amazing team who make the visitor experience a special one. We’re grateful to all our customers, friends and family who voted for us and support us throughout the year. Ceud Mile Taing.”

Summing up the event, OHT Development Manager Mairi Thomson said: “It was a fantastic day, with a full house of tourism and hospitality businesses, community organisations and stakeholders, a brilliant line-up of inspiring and interesting speakers, mouthwatering seafood by Lochmaddy Bay Prawns and a wee tipple of Downpour from North Uist Distillery to celebrate the winners of our inaugural awards.”

Dreams come true in new BBC Alba documentary

There are many different ways to approach one’s 90th birthday celebrations but flying a spitfire might not be on every octogenarian’s wish list.

For Uist pilot and author Bill Innes, that was exactly the birthday treat he had in store.
Since first seeing a Spitfire fly overhead in Glencoe in 1940 when he was just seven years old, Bill has “dreamt of roaming the clouds in such a thrilling machine”.

BBC ALBA’s new documentary, Bill agus an Spitfire, follows him as he sets out to realise this life-long ambition.

Bill was born in Kinlochleven, but when tragedy struck the family, he and his younger brother were brought to Uist to be fostered by the Bowie family in Howbeg. A keen academic, Bill went on to study at Glasgow University, but never lost his fascination for aviation. As a student, he was selected to join the RAF Air Reserve Squadron and to his delight, when the time came for him to do National Service, he was accepted for pilot training in the RAF.

Bill went on to achieve his dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot, a job he loved and found exciting and fulfilling. Over the course of his career, he had flown classic British planes such as the Viscount, Comet, Vanguard and Trident, but never got behind the controls of a Spitfire – until now.

Bill is a regular visitor home to Howbeg, where he stays across from the old Bowie family home where he was raised. He has fond memories and many stories of Uist and the kindness of the people who cared for him and his younger brother. A well-known presenter and reporter on Gaelic radio and TV, he has written several books and edited the much acclaimed edition of Donald John MacDonald’s poetry Chì Mi, which won the 1999 An Comunn Gaidhealach Mod Award for best book.

Bill agus an Spitfire premieres on BBC ALBA and iPlayer on Christmas Day, Monday 25 December at 8.30pm.


John Joe MacNeil

Ceannard, Ceòlas

How could there be a world without Gaelic?

A few weeks ago, on an unusually warm September evening, I headed to Stoneybridge beach for a walk.  It was a particularly stunning evening with the glow of the sun setting to the west, the sound of the crashing waves filling up the silence of the deserted beach and the whisper of the wind whistling through the marram grass.

As I journeyed across the edge of the water, I started to reminisce about childhood days.  The image of me walking the Tràigh Mhòr in Barra with my grandfather in search of cockles came into my head.  He would often pass on many stories and traditions as we walked the length of the beach.  He would every so often stop, search for cockles, grasp two together and after expertly opening them up, eat them straight from the shell.  An experience which I closed my eyes to with distain.  Nonetheless, a tradition and an important tradition of his generation.  

Traditions are central to a way of living and of understanding the land, the sea and the surrounding environment.  They give us a sense of belonging and connect us to our intergenerational heritage whilst providing us with continuity.  Traditions are not only of the past, but they are also of the present and the future, and for us, murmuring through all of these, is Gaelic. 

Gaelic is simply not just a beautiful language; it is a way of living, it is our cultural identity, it connects us to our environment and climate, it is the lens to the past and the key to the door for our sustainable future.  Gaelic encapsulates our very being and allows us to see the world with such magnificent vision.

I often spend a long time looking out on the horizon watching the sky as it changes – the colours, the moods and the shapes.  Distracted by the glistening sun setting to the west that evening, I started to move my thoughts to the negativity I hear about the language and our traditions – perhaps the changeable horizon is an interesting metaphor for us to visualise.  Of course, people are welcome to their opinions.  However, more often than not, the negativity surrounding the language is through fear and the lack of understanding of the history, the injustice, the political and economic narrative, the beauty and intricate meaning of each word and phrase not comprehendible in any other language, and the cultural significance of the language.  I could go on.  The apprehension by some not to allow others to view the world through a non-English lens, to me, is difficult to comprehend and is unacceptable.  

Positivity always outweighs the minority of negative views that exist.  Yet, positivity requires work and commitment from each and every one of us regardless of where we are on our language learning journey.      

Those of us with fluent Gaelic, whether from birth or whether learnt, must use our language. Let us not be afraid to use it at every opportunity and let us not be afraid to continue to learn more about our language and its culture.  I frequently think that our biggest fault is that we are too kind – a stunning trait in us islanders and Gaels.  Whilst it is important to be hospitable, we cannot always sacrifice our language and our culture.  We must always remember that English is the dominant language.  It is everywhere.  It will never be at risk of leaving our shores.  Let us also not be afraid to pass on our culture, our traditions and customs to help shape the future generations of Gaels.  We must be proud that we have been given such a gift.  I used to hear a cailleach in our village use the well-known saying – ‘there’s always tomorrow’.  Tomorrow is permanently on the horizon, but we must all act now and take our responsibilities seriously to allow for the next generation to experience what we take for granted.  How could there be a world without Gaelic?   

If you are on your learning journey, firstly, thank you.  You are a beacon of hope.  Keep going and the more you learn, the more you will experience the joy of the language and all it brings.  There is always support near at hand.  Take every opportunity to use what you have learnt to build your confidence in speaking the language.  Do not be shy and remember that we all make mistakes.  Fluent speakers – let us remember to be patient with those learning and help them along the road.    

If you have not started learning Gaelic, there is always today.  There are plenty of people and resources out there to support you on your journey.  You do not need to commit to fluency but perhaps try to take the first steps on your own voyage of discovery.       

We also must respect those who do not wish to learn the language.  There are many reasons for this.  We Gaels, new and old, should not have to ask for mutual respect, remembering that we need to flex our language and its intertwined culture to allow it to flourish and not just become a language of the history books.     

As the sun begins its final descent for the day into the calm still waters of the Atlantic and my footprints are washed away by the impeding waters, I look back across over to the far side of the beach.  I hope that somewhere among the sand that my imprints remain and that one day, in many years to come, someone will walk across these shores feeling the passion and pride that I feel to be a Gaelic speaker.  I hope that whilst the wind continues to whistle through the marram grass, the next generations hear our language, our culture and our traditions – a language written in the wind.    

‘Gur truagh a’ Ghàidhlig bhith na càs,

On dh’fhalbh na Gàidheil a bh’ againn;

A ghineil òig tha tighinn nan àit’,

O, togaibh àrd a bratach.’

Sealladh na Beinne Moire AGM

New directors welcomed as Stòras sets out its stall

Siân Swinton

Sealladh na Beinne Moire held their AGM in Griminish on 14th September where the new members of the board of directors were introduced. Iain Stephen Morrison and Ronald MacKenzie join the re-elected directors Catriona Walker, Donnie Steele and Donald John Cameron, while Mary Schmoller and Norman MacAskill remain in place.

CEO Darren Taylor began the meeting with a rundown of the previous year’s activities covering topics such as deer management, crofting and local business development, before moving onto questions from the floor. A lively debate ensued, with plans for the new Lochboisdale pier (see right) and for seaweed harvesting (see p7) discussed at length. 

The operational review of the previous year showed great success for South Uist Renewable Energy alongside profits from Askernish Golf Course and from fishing on the estate. 

Lochboisdale Harbour and Grogarry Lodge both showed losses but Stòras pointed to the considerable investments made in a bid to encourage business growth. Stòras said it hoped that the money spent on the Lodge would allow them to increase room rates from the £80 to a more profitable £150 per night.

Deer numbers have been a hot debate this year so promises of action to bring the herd numbers down and the cull numbers up were welcomed.

The estate said it hoped the recent increase in cull numbers might allow the herd to reach the preferred size of 400 earlier than the initial target date of 2028. Mr Taylor reiterated the estate’s commitment to shoot any marauding beasts west of the road and to have venison on sale locally  and made available through the food bank.

Darren Taylor congratulated Askernish Golf Course on their placing on the Golf World magazines Top 100 courses: “Askernish Golf Course brings in more to the wider economy of the estate than anything else Stòras does and it’s not always appreciated enough.”

Stòras said they had worked on many projects focused on returning community assets to use. These include the waiting room at Ludag, the shed at Loch Carnan and the industrial site at Orasaigh, all of which have been grant funded and will soon be seeking interested parties.

The Lochboisdale Strategic Visioning plan was also discussed with a rundown of the work already achieved, such as painting the buildings, building the Marloch memorial and installing EV charging points. Stòras said the Smart Clachan project was still underway and awaiting planning approval.

The board was asked about the potential for the energy generated by the estate to be sold to the community at a reduced rate, with a request to have more energy produced locally. The board was also asked why so much of the income from renewables was held as reserves, rather than spent on community projects. The board referenced the unreliability of the interconnecter on which the renewables project relies, saying that reserves had to be maintained to ensure against lost earnings should that connection fail.

The idea of the estate owning its own flock of sheep was also raised and Mr Taylor said that the possibility had been discussed.

The board was also asked about the potential to have director meetings live streamed to the membership, as previously agreed. Board chair Mary Schmoller said it would be inappropriate to do as sensitive matters were discussed.

Finally, the board was asked why the road end was blocked at Loch Skipport. Mary Schmoller told the members that the road was dangerous and blocks had been placed to deter vehicles. Pressed on the issue, the Chair confirmed no formal review of the risks had been undertaken. A member in the hall claimed the blocks belonged to him and had been taken without permission.

At a meeting of the board the following day Mary Schmoller was re-elected as chair of SnBM.