Supplementary Environmental Information published

The long awaited Supplementary Environmental Information (SEI) to the Environmental Impact Report on the Spaceport 1 development was published on the Comhairle’s planning portal at the start of February, kicking off an additional four week period of public consultation.

The submission included more than 100 new documents, ranging from maps, illustrations and photographs to technical reports and surveys.

The Spaceport 1 development at Scolpaig Farm has had a mixed response from the community, with some welcoming the economic value of the project and others citing environmental and cultural heritage concerns.

The developers have set out the beneficial economic impacts associated with both the construction and operation of the site, saying by year three of operation, Spaceport 1 will be providing 23.26 Full-Time Equivalent jobs and generating turnover of £6.45 million.

Those raising objections included the Friends of Scolpaig Tower group, which has campaigned against the development. The Group says it is “fighting to protect this area of exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity from the inappropriate development of a commercial spaceport.”

The Group’s concerns include the impact on the single track road between Carinish and Scolpaig, which will be subject to clearway restrictions during launch periods and will not be upgraded as part of the development.

The location of the development has also proved controversial, as it is sited on Scolpaig Farm, a well-preserved 19th century agricultural holding, and close to Scolpaig Tower and the Iron Age Dun on which it was built.

As part of the SEI requirements, developers were asked to extend their survey work to include a structural assessment of the Tower.

Consultants Harley Haddow were commissioned to undertake the structural survey and the Report they returned makes up part of the SEI submissions.

The Report confirms that a site inspection was carried out in August 22, covering Scolpaig Tower, the Farm and its associated buildings. The surveyors were able to carry out a visual inspection of the outbuildings, ‘externally and internally where possible’, and made their inspection of the Farm itself from the perimeter only. Scolpaig Tower was subject to a ‘visual assessment from loch side only, given the compromised access arrangements, with subsequent photographic/video survey undertaken separately by Fraser Architecture.’

On the question of Scolpaig Tower, the surveyors state that: “Our view is that the tower is highly sensitive, either to wind loads or perhaps even vibration from running traffic or even, say, operatives setting up a scaffolding frame. It may be that the only way to ensure longevity of the tower whilst minimising risk to those operatives charged with the work is to take down the tower, by hand.”

In its response to the consultation last year, the North Uist Community Council summed up community feeling by saying:

“The Community Council recognises that there is divided opinion on the proposal and does not provide judgement in favour of or against the proposal. We do, however, provide the following comments:

“There is strong community desire for creation of sustainable employment to help stem population decline and provide quality employment opportunities. There is, however, some scepticism that the number of projected FTE jobs will materialise and that they will manifest as full-time roles in North Uist or elsewhere in the local area…… The lack of suitable and available housing is a significant problem for businesses trying to recruit staff in the locality. Similar challenges can be envisaged for any job opportunities that are created via the Spaceport…

“The EIA presents arguments of no detrimental environmental impact; there are some community concerns that some detrimental impact could result. There is some concern as to how the safety of activities will be assured, particularly given the experimental nature of some activities…

“There is some concern of the possible impact to fishing activity; although this may only be for a limited number of days a year when there could be contention in short good weather windows…

“We acknowledge there is a sizeable construction phase and would encourage that work is contracted wherever possible to local contractors. It is acknowledged that the lease of Scolpaig Farm for agricultural use is a positive outcome.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar acquired the full 687 acres that make up the farm in June 2019. The Farm and the Tower are scheduled monuments.

The Spaceport 1 development is being led by a consortium that includes Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, HIE, QinetiQ, Rhea Group and Commercial Space Technologies Ltd.

Development plans for the Spaceport were first submitted in the summer of 2019 but later withdrawn after more than 600 objections were raised. In November 2021, the developers showcased revised plans for a scaled down project, which generated 223 objections.

As Am Pàipear went to print at the end February, there were only four new responses from members of the public to this new consultation, one neutral and three against.

With the final submissions now returned, the Comhairle’s planning department will review the application proposal and the consultation comments from members of the public and specialist consultees before preparing its report and recommendation for consideration by the Planning Board of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in due course.

New rules ring alarm bells for Uist drinks producers and retailers

Scottish Government appears to be pushing ahead with its controversial new Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), despite warnings that the Scheme will not be ready by the August launch date.

The new DRS will require all drinks producers and importers to introduce a 20p surcharge on every single-use drinks container sold in Scotland. The charge is passed on through the supply chain, through wholesalers, retailers and hospitality outlets, with consumers finally paying the 20p as a deposit, to be refunded when the drink is returned. This loop is designed to ensure that nobody is out of pocket.

The new rules apply whether or not the drink was manufactured in Scotland, and cover all containers made from PET plastic, glass, steel and aluminium.

With only five months before the scheme’s launch, producers, retailers and hospitality outlets have echoed the findings of the Scottish Government’s own Gateway Review, published in December last year, which stated in the strongest possible terms that the Scheme should be delayed: “The Review Team finds that a fully functioning and compliant DRS cannot be in operation for the revised August 2023 schedule.”

The DRS was subject to an Islands Impact Assessment in March 2020, which highlighted a number of island-specific impacts that would result form the new regulations.

The Assessment recognises the logistical difficulties in transporting waste/recyclables off the islands, but states: “Most islands are net importers of goods and therefore vehicles leaving the islands should have available capacity to back-haul materials to the mainland.” Concerns have been raised regarding ferry capacity, especially in the busy summer months.

The Assessment also noted a potential issue with ‘distance sales take-back’ and the requirement for producers, importers and wholesalers to be responsible for collecting returned containers, regardless of where they are sold. In practice, this means that those drinks sold in Uist are going to cost a lot more to return than those sold in Glasgow. The additional costs associated with distance sellers operating a take-back service, could result in a number of businesses choosing not to deliver to the islands.

With a resident population of less than 27,000 and annual visitor numbers well in excess of 200,000, the Assessment also recognised that ‘the number of containers likely to be returned to retailers would significantly exceed the volumes being sold, creating challenges around both storage of returned containers and cash-flow related to the paying out of deposits.’

The Assessment concludes: “We are confident that the policy does not only look to accommodate islands communities but is optimised for them. The overall impact will be significantly positive, supporting the development of a circular economy, acting to address the climate crisis, and preventing litter and plastic pollution escaping into our natural environment.”

The Scheme was developed by Zero Waste Scotland, is to be administered by Circulatory Scotland and will be regulated by SEPA.

Circularity Scotland is a membership organisation set up by industry stakeholders to manage the operation of the Scheme on their behalf. Its role is to take on producer responsibilities for the collection and recycling of returned materials and effectively ‘administer’ the Scheme. Under pressure from industry, Circulatory Scotland last month announced £22 million of cashflow support measures to help Scotland’s manufacturers prepare for the introduction of the Scheme.

SEPA is the regulator for the DRS, carrying out audits, inspections and enforcement activity.
Scottish Government says that 90% of containers included in the Scheme will be captured for recycling, resulting in 34,000 fewer plastic bottles littered every day, with 76,000 additional tonnes of containers recycled each year.

A spokesperson for the Comhairle said:

“Once the DRS system is fully up and running in the Western Isles, it should help our recycling rates and reduce what we have to collect, bale and pay to be shipped to the mainland.

“The Comhairle has been in contact with Biffa and have offered to assist where we can in making this scheme a success.

“Recycling plastic containers in an Island location is costly due to the haulage costs, so this scheme is welcomed.

“We would hope that all consumers of drinks included in DRS will return containers and get their deposit back.  It will still be counted towards the household recycling figures in the Western Isles and there is an expectation of a much higher capture rate which can only be a good thing for the environment.  We expect to have to review how we collect the remaining recyclable materials but will still provide kerbside collection services.”

Highlands & Islands MSP Ariane Burgess has welcomed the new Scheme, telling Am Pàipear: “I am very excited about the Deposit Return Scheme, which will be a major part of Scotland’s efforts to reduce litter, cut emissions and build a more sustainable economy.

“I understand that implementing DRS is a big change for small businesses to manage, which is why a range of measures have been put in place to support them. For example, there will be no registration fee for producers with an annual turnover of £85,000 or lower. A producer will be charged for each individual container placed upon the Scottish market, so their charges will be proportionate to the size of the business meaning a small producer like a small distiller will pay less than a larger producer.

“This will be the first scheme of its kind in the UK and one of the most environmentally ambitious and accessible in Europe. It will be good for people and planet and it will help us to improve recycling rates – even in areas like Na h-Eileanan an Iar already well known for their efficiency – as well as helping to tackle climate change.

“I am proud that the scheme is being led by Green minister Lorna Slater, who has taken a pragmatic and ambitious approach, supported by industry through Circularity Scotland, and am confident it will be launched in August.”

A spokesperson for the Co-op, said: “We are facing into a climate and environmental crisis and Co-op is committed to making it easier for our members, customers and colleagues to take action that makes a positive difference to our natural environment. As a business we are working hard so we will be ready for the introduction of the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme.” 

As Am Pàipear went to print, it was still unclear if the Scheme would launch as scheduled.

Uist recycling:
Household and commercial waste in Uist and Barra is collected at the premises and taken to the Market Stance Waste Transfer Station, in Benbecula.

Materials for recycling are compacted to reduce volume and loaded onto lorries for transportation direct to mainland recycling facilities.

Market Stance processes around five loads of glass each year, each weighing around 20 to 25 tonnes, and a similar volume of plastic and cans, each weighing around 20 tonnes.

Around 100 tonnes of non recyclable waste is compacted and taken to Stornoway for landfill, where it is subject to a £98 per tonne Landfill Tax charge.

All in all, more than 740 tonnes of materials were recycled through Market Stance last year.

Despite the islands’ logistical disadvantage, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s recycling rates for 2021 were 34.6%, placing us slightly below the Scottish average and well ahead of some bigger Authorities such as Glasgow City Council.

New restrictions set to ban fishing and fish farming in designated areas

Scottish Government has set out plans to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

HPMAs will restrict all marine-based human activity, effectively banning all types of commercial fishing and fish farming.

The policy lists a range of other activities that will be prohibited under the new rules, including: non-commercial and recreational fishing; hand gathering and diving; collection by any method of flora, fauna and natural materials, including crustaceans, molluscs, seaweed, fossils, shells, rocks, sediments, seagrass or algae; activities associated with oil and gas exploration and production; activities associated with renewable energy production; and aggregate extraction. Boats will not be permitted to lay anchor, but ferries will be allowed to pass through.

The policy provides reassurance that: “Carefully managed recreational activities may still be allowed at non-damaging levels.”

The proposals will now be subject to public consultation before the location of the new designations are announced in 2026.

Launching the plans at the COP15 Biodiversity Summit in Montreal in December, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet and we are committed to safeguarding them.

“Scotland’s MPA network extends to over a third of our seas, and I am today setting out how we intend to go even further by designating at least 10% of our seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas – a world-leading commitment.”

Fishing bodies have already expressed strong opposition. Elspeth Macdonald, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “HPMAs are an exercise in government greenwashing. There is no justifiable scientific rationale for their introduction or any evidence whatsoever that they will achieve their very vague aims.

“The speed at which the Scottish Government intends to bring in these restrictions – first signalled out of the blue, without any consultation, in the Bute House Agreement – is totally unsuitable relative to the scale of the potential impact on fishing.

“The fishing industry has no objection to meaningful conservation and indeed has been an active and supportive partner in developing the MPA network, but it is vitally important that we understand what we are conserving and why, and how we assess the contribution of restrictions to the objectives in question.”

Kilbride Shellfish Ltd is based at Ludag, and operates as a co-operative to support around 20 local catchers using static pots for crab and prawn. Director Angus Campbell told Am Pàipear that if HPMAs were imposed on Hebridean waters, the impact would be devastating.

Angus is also Chair of the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association, and says the proposals now on the table have caused alarm across the islands: “HPMAs pose the biggest threat to local fishing in a generation. The community engagement exercise that Marine Scotland ran before introducing local MPAs in 2014 ignored the views of the community. We fully expect that the consultation now running for the HPMAs will follow a similar pattern.

“The Western Isles has the largest number of registered shellfish vessels anywhere in Scotland. The HPMA ban on all fishing would have a disproportionate impact on islanders and we hope that some protection can be given to our fishing fleet within the Islands (Scotland) Act.”

Local fish farms would also be impacted by the new restrictions. Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Marine biodiversity is vitally important, and this can be achieved through responsible stewardship of our seas. Simply putting up barriers to companies and preventing responsible management of the sea threatens jobs in fragile coastal communities.

“If we reduce our competitiveness, businesses will simply turn their attention to our Scandinavian competitors.

“There should be a focus on evidence and balance, and the case has simply not been made for HPMAs.

“Sustainable growth of the Scottish salmon sector is crucial for coastal communities, where the local salmon farm is often at the heart of the community and the main employer, as well as for the wider economy and the Scottish Government’s vision for the country.”

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands, set out the case for HPMAs, saying: “Important marine habitats have declined across all of Scotland’s waters due to pressures including bottom-contacting fishing and aquaculture, and 46% of our fish populations are overfished, according to Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020.

“HPMAs will help turn this around and allow Scotland to play its part in achieving the global target to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030.”

“The views of local fishers, other coastal businesses in Uist and community groups such as Clean Coast Outer Hebrides will be crucial to ensure the designations are effective and workable. The next stages including site designation will be progressed in close cooperation with coastal communities, and I encourage everyone to respond to the consultation which is out now.”

Alasadair Allan MSP told Am Pàipear: “It is important to stress that no sites have been selected yet. As the Scottish Government’s Partial Island Communities Impact Assessment Screening Report notes, the vulnerability of island communities where employment is dominated by both fisheries and aquaculture is likely to be a key consideration.

“Fishing continues to play a vital role in economies like Uist. It is important that designations of any kind recognise the importance of the sector to our goals around island economic growth and population retention.”

The waters around the Western Isles are already subject to stringent restrictions under current Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other conservation designations. Additional limitations are also expected to be imposed by the proposed Special Area of Conservation in the Sound of Barra, which Comahirle nan Eilean Siar has said would have a devastating impact on the local economies of both Uist and Barra.

Scottish Government has said that the new HPMAs will: “Complement and add value to the existing MPA network…HPMAs may overlap either fully or partially with existing MPAs in order to maximise the conservation benefits associated with stricter management approaches in a particular geographic location. HPMAs may also be located outside the current MPA network.”

Government published statistics state that the Scottish fishing fleet landed 437,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish in 2021, with a gross value of £560m. Almost one third of that value was derived from nephrops and other shellfish. In the Western Isles, the catching sector generates over £12m.

Marine Scotland’s Scottish Fish farm Production Survey lists a total aquaculture value of well over £1billion, with the Western Isles alone valued at over £161 million.|

The Scottish Government Seaweed Review Group reports that seaweed harvesting currently generates £4m turnover in Scotland, with a substantial opportunity for growth.

The public consultation is available on the Scottish Government website at and will close on March 20th.

Flood management plans set out ‘potentially vulnerable areas’ of concern

The recent bad weather and subsequent flooding has brought climate change impacts horribly close to home.

Throughout November, main roads were flooded well beyond safe levels, and across the islands, a good number of village roads were impassable for days. Emergency services were called to support people travelling to work and school and in Kildonan, the cut-off villagers even made the national news.

Once such area impacted by flooding was Snishival, where Lexie and Iain MacDonald had to travel on foot over fields and fences to reach their home.

Lexie, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, spoke to Am Pàipear about the difficulties they faced: “I was coming home from work around 4pm and as I approached the Snishival bridge, it was clear that the water was well over the road. Thankfully, it was still fairly light and I was able to see just how deep it was. My husband was also heading home from work and we parked our cars back by the main road and together we set off for the hour-long walk across the crofts to get home. There are fences to get over and no clear path through. It was hard-going and at times we were ankle deep in water. By the time I got to my door, I was exhausted to the point of collapse.”

The issue is causing considerable worry for those who live in flood-prone areas, and it isn’t just a question of inconvenience, as Lexie explains: “In bad weather, you can’t be sure you will get home at all, so you have to plan ahead. I can’t leave the slow-cooker on anymore, for example, and there are worries about animals needing fed. If the weather looks bad, I just won’t go out, and I certainly now don’t go out in the winter evenings, and that can be quite isolating.”

Managing flood risk is a shared responsibility between SEPA, Local Authorities and other agencies, and which body is responsible for which particular part of this complex problem is not always clear cut.

The process by which flood is managed here in the Western Isles is set out in the Outer Hebrides Flood Risk Management Plan, the latest draft of which was open for consultation for three months last year, and is now due to be published by the Comhairle before the end of this year.

The Local Flood Management Plan details five ‘nationally significant’ Potentially Vulnerable Areas, which it lists as: a small section of Stornoway near the Point road; a good portion of North Uist; and the vast majority of Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. The Plan goes on to quantify the Western Isles risk by stating: “Currently it is estimated that there are 980 people and 820 homes and businesses at risk from flooding. This is estimated to increase to 1,500 people and 1,200 homes and businesses by the 2080s, due to climate change. The annual cost of flooding is approximately £3.4 million. Note however that flooding from wave overtopping is not fully represented in the assessment of flood risk and the impact of coastal flooding may be underestimated.”

The actions set out in the Plan include awareness raising, data gathering, flood forecasting and warning, hazard mapping, land use planning and maintenance. Aside from an objective to design, procure and construct the elements of the South Ford Flood Protection Scheme, there are very few actual works listed for the period of the Plan.

A Comhairle spokesperson told Am Pàipear: “The drainage systems in Uist can be quite complex and dependent on a variety of structures and open channels to operate effectively.  Ownership and maintenance responsibilities for structures and channels can be; private landowner, community landowner, tenant, Scottish Government (Agriculture and Rural Economy) or Local Authority (Comhairle).

“The Comhairle recognises the vulnerabilities in Uist to surface and tidal flooding and a requirement to better understand the present and future impacts in relation to climate change.  This can be achieved through the mechanisms of the Flood Risk Management Plan, however funding for flood studies is restrictive (£30k pa). 

“In a more immediate timescale the convening of a meeting of major stakeholders in South Uist, including SEPA, Storas Uibhist, Scottish Government, Scottish Water and the Comhairle, is being considered. This would be to agree a common approach to maintenance and response to flooding events.”

Stòras Uibhst CEO Darren Taylor said: “It is increasingly apparent that the current infrastructure across the estate, whether that it is the responsibility of Stòras, the Comhairle or the government, is struggling to cope with the rainfall we are now experiencing. In addition to carrying out work on certain drains that Stòras has responsibility for, we have supported townships over the last couple of years to carry out work and we would encourage all township clerks to contact us to discuss projects that need funding in 2023.

“We are also planning to carry out major improvements to the bridge at Snishival in 2023.  We will also be working closely with townships on Benbecula in 2023 to develop a coordinated plan for improvements to the main drain there. Stòras will do its part but we cannot tackle the problem on our own. Specifically we will be pushing the government for improvements to the Roe Glas outlet, which are needed urgently.”

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, CNES Chair of Transportation & “I am acutely aware of the growing concerns within communities in Uist and Barra following recent flood events.  Intense and localised rainfall, when falling on already saturated ground, can very quickly inundate lochs and drainage channels, affecting low-lying sections of roads.  These events seen to be occurring more frequently.

“It is important that we all do all that we can to mitigate the impacts of these weather events, and this includes all landowners and responsible organisations, such as the Comhairle, SEPA and Scottish Government, working together to ensure that the existing drainage systems are operating as efficiently as possible.  There may still be times when the drainage infrastructure quite simply can’t cope and under these circumstances a proportionate and coordinated response will be required, potentially with the assistance of emergency services.  People should not put themselves at risk by attempting to cross flooded roads where the depth of water or road edge location are unknown.”

Scottish Government Wildlife Bill to ban all muirburning on peatland

New proposals put forward by Scottish Government will introduce a ban on all muirburning on peatland and require a licence for every muirburn carried out on other types of land. The ban will see the majority of Uist’s burns rendered illegal.

The proposals are part of a new Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill, due to be published in the 2022/23 parliamentary session and out for consultation until until 15th December.

The new Bill is based on the findings of an independent review of grouse moor management, known as the Werrity Report, and covers a range of measures including the introduction of new licensing requirements for grouse shooting and restrictions on snaring and trapping.

The current Muirburn Code sets out a range of stipulations about how and when land can be burned, prohibiting burns outside the agreed 1 October to 15 April season, restricting burns on certain areas, for example Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and encouraging those planning muirburns to alert the relevant landowners in advance. The Code is accompanied by common sense safety guidance, including the advice that burns should not be started between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise or within 30m of a public road and that fires should not be left unattended.

While the current Code advises against burning on peatland, there is currently no legal prohibition against it, unless on SSSIs.

The new legislation sets out a much more stringent approach, putting in place a statutory ban on all muirburning on peatland (currently defined as peat of a depth of 40cm or more) unless it is part of an approved habitat restoration programme, to protect public safety or for the purpose of research. The legislation will also introduce the requirement for a licence to be obtained for burning on a limited range of permitted areas, such as dry heath.

The Consultation document states: “The impacts of burning on carbon release and sequestration on moorland are disputed and there is conflicting scientific evidence. However, given the importance of peatland to Scotland’s net zero target, we have taken the view that a precautionary approach is required until there is more consensus on the impacts of muirburn.

“Peatland restoration is a key part of the Scottish Government’s goal of achieving a net-zero Scotland by 2045 as peat soils cover almost a quarter of Scotland, about 1.7 million hectares, storing some 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of an estimated 140 years of Scotland’s emissions. If we continue to allow unregulated muirburn on peatland, the progress that has been made restoring Scotland’s peatlands could be negated by damage caused by muirburn.”

Scottish Crofting Federation Chair Donald Mackinnon said: “Muirburn is an important tool that crofters should continue to have available to them for the management of hill grazing….While it is not crofters that are the target of this proposed legislation, it is clear that crofters will be affected. SCF does not oppose the principal of licensing but any scheme must be proportionate to the activity being carried out, a one size fits all approach will not work. Licenses should be easily obtainable for those already following best practice. We need to understand more about the implications of the proposal to ban burning on deep peat, we recognise the climate impact of this activity but there may still be specific areas where this practice is appropriate and exceptions should be possible.” 

The Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill consultation closes on December 15th.

Suspected Uist H5N1 cases waiting to be confirmed

The RSPB and NatureScot have confirmed that a number of dead and dying swans have been found in the Drimsdale area.

In accordance with current guidance, the birds were reported to Defra but delays in testing have held back confirmation of the suspected presence of Avian Influenza H5N1.

Local NatureScot staff are now being trained to allow them to carry out the required testing regime and it is hoped that confirmation of suspected cases will be a smoother, quicker process in future.

Members of the public are reminded not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds and to report a single dead bird of prey, three dead gulls or wild waterfowl or five or more dead wild birds of any other species to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone is now in place across the UK, bringing additional regulations for all poultry keepers. The measures require all free ranging birds to be kept within fenced areas, with ponds, watercourses and areas of permanent standing water fenced off and all feeding and watering provision to be kept within enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.

Environmental impact studies submitted

The construction of a sub-orbital vertical launch spaceport at Scolpaig Farm, North Uist reached an important waymarker last month with the publication of additional environmental impact studies.

The Spaceport project is led by a consortium that includes Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, HIE, QinetiQ, Rhea Group and Commercial Space Technologies Ltd. Plans for the project were first submitted in the summer of 2019 but later withdrawn after more than 600 objections were raised.

At a public information session held in November 2021, the developers showcased revised plans for a scaled down project, substantially reducing the size of the development and committing to a maximum of ten launches per year.

In February this year, revised plans were submitted along with environmental and other impact reports and a further period of consultation ensued. The new plans detailed ‘construction of sub-orbital vertical launch spaceport, including access road, fencing, launch pad with demountable launch tower, water and liquid storage tanks with associated services and infrastructure, repair and use 1no former farm building for storage, water pumps and communications facility, stabilize 1no derelict former farm building, upgrade to existing farm track and water crossing, vehicle parking and periodic intermittent siting of storage containers.’

As Planning Authority, the Comhairle announced in September that it had requested further Supplementary Environmental Information (SEI), which was due to be submitted at the end of November, and should be available to view on the Comhairle’s planning portal.
The Project will now go through a further period of consultation.

A spokesperson for CNES confirmed that the SEI would be available for comment, stating: “Receipt of the SEI will be advertised in both the Stornoway Gazette and Edinburgh Gazette in accordance with the regulatory requirements and will invite the public to review and comment upon the SEI. A re-consultation will also take place with relevant consultees.

A detailed assessment of the planning application proposal will follow, which will have regard to comments made by members of the public and specialist consultees.   

A comprehensive report detailing the planning assessment and a recommendation will be prepared for consideration by the Planning Board of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, in due course.”

By Danny Rafferty

Uisinis Bothy is on the south side of Mol a Deas, which is a boulder beach about two miles south-west of Uisinis Lighthouse. It was first renovated by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) volunteers in 1979 in memory of Donald H Stuart, a staunch contributor to early MBA work parties, and it offers basic accommodation and shelter to walkers and those interested in the outdoors. It is the only MBA-maintained bothy in the Outer Hebrides.

The MBA was founded in 1965 and the first projects were in the Borders of Scotland and the north of England. The MBA works in partnership with estate owners and today maintains over 100 bothies with the majority in rural and upland Scotland. With the agreement of the estate owners the MBA renovates traditional vernacular buildings in remote locations and renders them habitable. In the majority of cases it does not actually own the bothies. This work is done by volunteers, as is everything else in the MBA except for some outsourcing for the purposes of audit and membership affairs. On its fiftieth anniversary in 2015 it received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The MBA is a membership organisation and is financed by subscriptions and the occasional legacy. You do not have to be a member to use bothies and there is no charge. You are, however, expected to follow common-sense rules and respect the building, the environment and your fellow-users. In short, leave the place in as good or better condition than you found it. All bothies have a bothy book and the number of entries helps us to monitor levels of use. Many interesting anecdotes are recorded and some people are inspired to create poetry and pictures. An increasing number of visitors are from abroad.

Uisinis is a small two-roomed building facing east-west about 50 metres above the shore. The first room is a storeroom for tools and some fuel. Part of the floor here is earthen. The living-space has two wide bunkbeds and a single bench which also can also serve as a bed. It has a stove which can burn dry peat, coal or driftwood but not plastic. Water is obtained from a burn 200 metres to the south, but there must have been a closer source when the building was continuously occupied. The bothy can accommodate about six persons in reasonable comfort.

Today the east side of South Uist is uninhabited and seems remote. Its rugged character is very different to the flat fertile lands of the west. However in the past it did have advantages as a place of settlement: it was more sheltered from the prevailing south-westerlies; it had all-season access to the Minch at a time when fishing was far more productive; it had a plentiful supply of seaweed for fertiliser and kelp, peat for fuel, and possibly a slightly milder climate. Like Knoydart across the Minch it was a good place for wintering cattle. Testimony to the former sizeable population can be seen in the landscape with the numerous feannagan – lazybeds – in evidence. However sheep husbandry was introduced after the change in estate ownership in 1838 and the catastrophe of the 1846 Potato Famine. The existing population was removed and a lesser number of shepherds and their families mainly from the Bracadale area of Skye introduced to the area.

The building we see today probably dates from the 1860s and was continuously occupied at least until the early 1920s when the famous Scottish naturalist Seton-Gordon happened upon it when he was lost in mist. He was well received by the resident family and this is recorded in his ‘Hebridean Memories’ – still in print.

When the MBA took on the building in 1978, Uisinis was still being used by crofters seasonally for gatherings. In fact there was always guidance for recreational users that priority should be given to them. The crofters would visit the lighthouse staff in the evening. The keepers were able to receive television beamed from Skye before it arrived in Uist and the visitors could then describe the programmes and relate storylines to friends and relatives at home. The lighthouse became automatic in the early 1970s.

There was an MBA work-party at Uisinis in 1998 and the building was transformed by four work-parties between 2011 and 2015. In 2014 the old roof was removed and a new one put in its place. That took a small team of volunteers a full month to execute and was a Herculean task. Stòras Uibhist has always been supportive with transport and assistance.

Not only is Uisinis a beautiful place to visit it also is rich in archaeological remains particularly Iron Age wheelhouses and souterrains. If you intend to visit with a party of four or more, you should inform the estate and myself. During the stag-shooting season which runs from about the beginning of September to the end of October users should inform the estate on 01878700101 of their intended movements.

Given the weather in these islands there are always maintenance issues. If you would like to join me in caring for the bothy, I can be reached by email on My landline is 01878700249 (voicemail). You don’t have to have DIY skills though that of course would be useful, just some enthusiasm and a willingness to help. If you wish to learn more about the Mountain Bothies Association, there is an excellent website.

Danny Rafferty, MBA Maintenance Organiser, Uisinis.

By Simon M. Davies

There can be no doubt that place names are of immense importance, not only for finding and identifying a location, but also for giving indications of its former uses, ownership or cultural associations. This is particularly true of the traditional Gaelic names which often contain a wealth of information in their formulation. However, so much of the accuracy can be inadvertently lost when surveying and recording of information is carried out by non-Gaelic speakers and reliance is placed on phonetic approximations. Blanket corporate policies can further worsen the situation for a few unfortunate localities.

There is a certain loch on the Isle of South Uist, within Howmore township at NF 76 36, whose name made its cartographic debut as ‘Loch Rigarey’ on the ‘Plan of the Island of South Uist’, surveyed 1805 by Wm Bald, a 17-year-old prodigy from Burntisland, Fife. By the time of the O.S. 1st Edition, the loch had been divided into two parts by the building of the road, now the A865, and the two resultant lochs now had individual names. The name ‘chosen’ by O.S. for the main loch had evolved into Loch Rigarry – from the Name Book options of Loch Rigarry (Neil McIntyre’s suggestion), Loch Rigary (from the Admiralty Chart), Loch Rigarey (from Johnston’s map) or Loch Righarruidh (suggested by A. A. Carmichael, with a note to check this spelling, so possibly Loch Righaraidh). The secondary, eastern loch was now called Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh. There was also a school marked adjacent to the township road junction, some 200 metres south of the loch.

In the 1921-30 ‘new’ 1-inch survey, the names remained unchanged, but on a small promontory to the west of the main road, a ‘new’ building group – a small farmstead and outbuildings – are now marked, although the school has not changed its position. During the 20th Century, the angling on South Uist became more important, and the loch began to be referred to as ‘Schoolhouse Loch’ – wrongly identifying the now disused farmstead as a former small schoolhouse. It is likely the name was chosen to avoid any potential Gaelic pronunciation problems. By taking this step, the loch immediately lost its provenance and past, but for this loch, things are about to get worse.

The publication of the new Explorer maps came along, and with that, the desire to reinvigorate the Gaelic names of features on the maps as important cultural features. So, once again, the loch’s name has been changed – and is now proudly (?) sporting the name of Loch an Taigh-Sgoil, marked against the southern portion of the loch. The position of the name “Loch Eilean a’ Ghille-ruaidh” has also been now moved to the West of the main road, which itself has been straightened, widened and repositioned some 20-50 metres east, and now seems to refer to the northern section of the main loch, not the sectioned-off eastern portion.

So, clarity or madness? Should an English name, given to a loch to avoid potential embarrassment of tourists, be translated into Gaelic and gain ‘official’ recognition in a Crown document, erasing all mention of the original Gaelic roots? Or would it be better to retain the Gaelic name – preferably going with a version of Carmichael’s suggestion Righaraidh (King’s Hut or King’s Shieling) – and give it the subsidiary English alternative of Schoolhouse Loch (even though the schoolhouse was never there!).

Were the original phonetic Gaelic suggestions true to the intended origins? The -garry suffix is most commonly from Gearraidh – a term for the intermediate land twixt Machair (the coastal strip of blown shell-sand cover) and Monadh (the peaty marshland pasture). And what of the now anonymous Eastern loch? Perhaps we should adopt a plan of simplicity and just call it ‘Fred’.

All maps referred to in the text are available on the National Library of Scotland at

O.S. Name Books can be accessed and interrogated online at

Edward Dwelly’s Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary was used for referencing translations as needed.

Simon M. Davies has lived on South Uist since 2004 and has had a keen interest in the archaeological, historical and cultural heritage of the West Highlands and the Isles since childhood. He is currently the Chair of the Uist Community Archaeology Group and an active member of ACFA, a national group of field archaeologists specialising in surveying and recording the archaeological landscapes of both mainland Scotland and the Isles.

Restrictions back in place

An outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed on Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis, resulting in a 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone being established around the infected premises.

An increase in the overall number of UK cases has resulted in the UK Government reintroducing its Prevention Zone declaration across Great Britain, making it a legal requirement for all poultry keepers to follow strict biosecurity measures.

All bird keepers – whether keeping birds as pets, in commercial flocks or just a few birds in a backyard flock – are required to keep a close watch for signs of disease and to seek prompt advice from the vet should they have any concerns.

In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Wales said:
“Bird keepers have faced the largest ever outbreak of avian flu this year and with winter bringing an even more increased risk to flocks as migratory birds return to the United Kingdom.

“Scrupulous biosecurity and hygiene measures are the best form of defence, which is why we have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Great Britain, meaning that all bird keepers must take action to help prevent the disease spreading to more poultry and other domestic birds.

The introduction of an AIPZ means regardless of whether you keep a few birds or thousands, you are legally required to meet enhanced biosecurity requirements to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

The new measures means bird keepers must keep free ranging birds within fenced areas, and ensure that ponds, watercourses and areas of permanent standing water are fenced off. Domestic ducks and geese must be separated from other poultry and all birds should be fed and watered in enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.

The Government is asking all poultry keepers to register their flock, even if they only keep the odd hen or duck as a pet. Registration is a legal requirement for flocks of more than 50 or more birds.