Bothy plans for uninhabited Shiant Islands off Lewis

Image source, Tom Nicolson
Image caption,
The existing 150-year-old bothy on Eilean an Taighe, an island in the Shiants

Two bothies have been proposed as visitor accommodation on the Shiants, a small group of uninhabited islands off Lewis.

Wildlife enthusiasts are drawn to the isles because their its birds, which include razorbills, Manx shearwaters, puffins, storm petrels and sea eagles.

Visitors stay in tents and often use an existing 150-year-old bothy as a communal area for cooking meals.

The new shelters would accommodate a maximum of four people each.

Tom Nicolson, the islands' owner, said the bothies would help to keep the Shiants open to wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists for the next 50 years.

The isles lie about four miles (6km) off Lewis in the Minch, a stretch of water separating the Western Isles from Skye and the Highlands mainland.

During the visitor season, only six to eight people are usually on the islands at any one time and tend to stay for about a week.

The Shiants' last inhabitants left in 1905 and there are no amenities, such as running water.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Puffins are among the seabirds that draw wildlife enthusiasts to the Shiants

Part of the idea for the new bothies came from the use of temporary portable accommodation put on the islands for use by volunteers during conservation work to eradicate black rats from the Shiants.

The rodents were not native to the isles and were thought to be the descendants of rats that came ashore from shipwrecks in the 1900s.

The rats ate the eggs of ground-nesting birds, leading to some seabird species being plunged into serious declines.

Following several years of extermination work, conservationists declared the islands rat-free in March 2018 after no rats were spotted for a period of two years.

While the portable accommodation was unsightly, volunteers said it had offered far greater comforts and privacy than a tent on a "windy, rainy night".

Image source, John Tayton
Image caption,
The Shiant Isles are in the Minch, about four miles off Lewis

Mr Nicolson has proposed erecting two small bothies of a design "sympathetic to the landscape".

Bothy Stores, a social enterprise involving Edinburgh-based artist Bobby Niven and architect Iain MacLeod, is working on the plans.

Mr Nicolson is to launch a crowdfunding campaign in May with the hope of having the accommodation available by next summer to those who donate funds.

He said staying on the Shiants was not for everyone and the islands' visitors were usually people looking to experience "life on the edge, seclusion and wildlife".

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