Remote Scottish island community “at war” with multimillionaire owner over his decision to reopen holiday lets

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View of Colonsay Harbour
The Isle of Colonsay is famed for its picturesque scenery (Image: dun_deagh/Flickr)

IT IS KNOWN as the small island with the big heart.

For generations, friendly locals have welcomed tourists to share their pristine beaches and abundant wildlife.

Now most of the 120 residents of the Hebridean Isle of Colonsay are begging the Scottish Government to ban visitors to their Covid-free island and planning a protest when the first ferry arrives carrying holidaymakers later this week.

The multimillionaire owner of the island, Lord Strathcona, is opening some of his holiday homes to tourists from Friday and one islander said the community is now “at war” with the laird.

However, Lord Strathcona, who goes by Alex Howard, claims the community is “split” on the issue, and many would like to see the return of tourism.

Change.org petition against opening holiday lets
Islander Jen Macneil started a petition for the communities to be able to determine their own route out of lockdown

So far, a petition demanding a ban on holiday-makers to the islands has received more than 2000 signatures on Change.org

The petition’s founder, Jen MacNeil, said: “Many of the islands have been lucky enough to avoid the virus thus far, and desperately want to keep it that way, to protect not only our precious older generation, but our new-borns, our pregnant residents, our vulnerable people.

“As soon as our islands open up to tourism, that will force us back into lockdown.

“A huge percentage of visitors to the Scottish islands travel from England, where numbers of cases of the virus are still high, and localised outbreaks are still frequent.

“Asymptomatic carriers are another enormous risk.”

Another islander who asked to remain anonymous said: “Alex (Lord Strathcona) has decided to put his profits first and risk the health of the community by letting his cottages as quickly as possible.

Change.org signatures
Many have expressed concern for the health of islanders

“Others on the island who rent homes have taken them off the market this year.

“There is a plan to meet Friday’s ferry with banners begging tourists to turn around and go back on the boat that brought them.

“We’ve heard the island shop is also joining in and banning new arrivals to the island for 14 days which means holiday makers won’t be able to buy food and other essentials here.”

Other accommodation providers have closed for the rest of the year.

Eileen Geekie has cancelled all the bookings at her gin lovers retreat and Sarah Hobhouse has also closed her farmhouse to tourists for the rest of the year.

Lord Strathcona is the nephew of the Queen’s longest serving lady in waiting Lady Susan Hussey and his family have owned the island for over 100 years.

The islander, who declined to be identified, added: “Many of us can’t believe that with most of us against opening up the island owner has decided in time to cash in on the demand for staycations.

Colonsay House owned by Lord Strathcona who is reopening holiday lets
Colonsay House, owned by Lord Strathcona (Image: Colonsay Estate)

“It is generating a long of bad feeling and if there is an outbreak of Covid on the island he will never be forgiven.”

However, Alex Howard says he will only be opening a limited number of lets and the risk of transmission is “negligible.”

He and his wife Jane say that several other holiday homes on the island also plan to reopen.

They said: “In the first week of July there will be six holiday visitors arriving in our properties and in the second week eight further visitors.”

“A community survey taken in early June showed that half the Colonsay community would like to open to holiday visitors in line with Scottish Government regulations.

“Our community is split on this issue and in such situations, it is important to try and have good communications with everyone.

Beach on Isle of Colonsay
The island relies heavily on tourism (Image: www.colonsayestate.co.uk)

“We also understand and respect that some people remain very frightened of Covid-19, even though Government experts advise that the risk of transmission of the virus in the community is now negligible.

The couple say they are taking “extra measures” to prevent locals coming in contact with tourists.

They added: “Colonsay is heavily dependent on the tourist economy.

“At some point our community has to emerge from lockdown and businesses have to put in place a safe way of operating.

“We defer to the Scottish Government to guide us on a suitable route map out of lockdown.”

 
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