Loch Lomond fears speeding boaters

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For centuries visitors have been drawn to the shores of Loch Lomond to experience its stunning beauty, tranquillity and, perhaps, to glimpse its legendary inhabitant.

For centuries visitors have been drawn to the shores of Loch Lomond to experience its stunning beauty, tranquillity and, perhaps, to glimpse its legendary inhabitant.

But conservationists warn that a new breed of tourist is more interested in speed than scenery - and their full-throttle invasion is threatening to destroy the loch's appeal.

Jetskis, speedboats and luxury motor launches are increasingly roaring along the loch, which is the largest body of fresh water in Scotland.

In five months the Lake District National Park will enforce a mandatory 10mph speed limit on Lake Windermere - and owners of motor launches are looking north to find an alternative cruising opportunity.

The island-dotted Loch Lomond - at 24 miles long and five miles wide - provides a spectacular habitat for wildlife. In 1997 a "mystery beast" was allegedly captured on film eating ducks.

For years conservationists, anglers and sailing enthusiasts have been fighting to preserve the loch as a tranquil wilderness against increasing pressure from watercraft owners.

In the past few years jetski registrations have risen by more than 54 per cent and so have complaints from visitors and residents. Friends of Loch Lomond, a pressure group with members all over the world, has called on the National Park Authority to introduce restrictions on the spread of motorised craft - or ban them altogether.

"This is a growing sport with inherent dangers and no national regulation," a spokesman for the group said. "Adequate local regulations should be introduced to improve safety and protect third parties."

There are no concrete proposals but it is understood that the authority has the power to create a bylaw imposing a compulsory go-slow for jetskis and speedboats - which could result in speedsters being fined £500 - or even a ban on fast craft in certain parts of the loch.

"For many anglers of my age group, Loch Lomond is part of their soul," said Ian Watson, a local angler who has been fishing on the loch for more than 50 years.

"In the 1950s to 1970s there could be 30 or 40 boats fishing the fly for salmon on the Endrick bank. It was one of the best salmon lochs in Scotland."

Mr Watson, 75, is concerned that, following the speed limit enforced on Lake Windermere, some owners are bringing their speedboats to Loch Lomond and accelerating its destruction.

It is calculated that 5,403 craft took to the waters of Loch Lomond last year, including 686 jetskis and 1,806 speedboats.

Cameron House, the five-star loch-side hotel favoured by the rich and famous, has had a number of enquiries from Windermere boat owners wanting to move to their marina.

Mick Casey of the Lake District National Park confirmed that fewer craft were registering to use Windermere than a couple of years ago.

Next week is Records Week at Windermere, when enthusiasts descend on the lake to break water-speed records.

"It looks as though it will be the last chance for them to do this here," Mr Casey said.

Last month members of Friends of Loch Lomond met park authorities and were given hope that a possible ban could be under consideration.

"We were told that the park had the power to do something and we hope they will," said Hannah Stirling, president of Friends of Loch Lomond.

Chris Neville-Parry, director of the Personal Watercraft Partnership, defended jetskiers.

"The vast majority of users are sensible people. Last year we put 1,400 users through a training programme to learn how to use their machines safely. Considering the industry sold just 1,700 new craft last year, that's a pretty high proportion of users."

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the National Park Authority said they were still finalising a draft National Park Plan for publication and a consultation in January 2005. "The authority is reviewing the effectiveness of existing bylaws which apply to Loch Lomond. Any proposals to change by-laws and introduce new ones will be the subject of a separate public consultation."