Fishing village faces stark choice: go for tourism, or die

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The Independent Online

For centuries, the close-knit community of Kinlochbervie, nestled among the craggy, untamed landscape of Sutherland, has depended on the sea for survival.

For centuries, the close-knit community of Kinlochbervie, nestled among the craggy, untamed landscape of Sutherland, has depended on the sea for survival.

For years, the north Highland fishing port in a natural wilderness has provided income for almost every one of the 197 households, regularly landing more than £1m worth of fish every week.

But where there were up to 60 boats in the harbour at night, now there are fewer than 10; like farmers before them, fishermen are being forced to turn to tourists to shore up their fast-declining revenues.

In 1998, the port landed 15,640 tons of fish; now the regular catch is only 7,161 tons, and it is expected to fall again this year as the EU decrees decommissioning of fishing boats and even more quota cuts.

The village, home to just 250 people, is beginning to diversify, faced with the risk becoming a ghost town. The villagers have formed the Kinlochbervie Community Development Partnership to look at ways of tackling the problem and explore the potential for tourism. The area has three hotels and several B&Bs, and there are possibilities in sailing, scuba-diving holidays, walking adventures or birdwatching.

The village, which has a mixture of new and old properties - including a listed Free Presbyterian church built in 1829 to a Thomas Telford design - has a healthy population mix, ranging from nursery children to pensioners. Alex Dawson, the development group's project officer tasked with masterminding the turnaround, said: "We are not at crisis point yet, but as fishing continues to go downhill, almost everybody here will be affected. If we don't start thinking about the future, we could wake up in five years and discover it is too late."

"The crucial age group covers those aged 25 to 44. If they have to leave to find work elsewhere they will take their families with them and Kinloch- bervie could end up nothing more than a retirement village. That is why we are going for the escapism thing.

"This area is one of the last wildernesses in Britain, with beaches such as Oldshoremore, Polin and Sandwood Bay as good as any in the world."

There are also plans for a £1m marina for 60 boats which would create at least 13 jobs. Barry Pearson, a local artist, said: "A few years ago there was so much fish anybody could go down to the harbour at night and pick up £50 helping to unload the boxes.

"Things are different now. We're ideally situated for a marina - being so close to Cape Wrath and Norway - with some of the best sailing waters in the UK. The right facilities could attract people from all over the UK. People in London could fly to Inverness and be afloat here five hours after leaving home, faster than it takes to drive to the south coast on a busy day."

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