Spoiling the attraction (Jeff Merrifield)

Shetland Jazz Club brings a lot of top jazz musicians to the islands and many of them stay with me in Sandwick.

One of the highlights of their stay here is a visit to St Ninian’s Isle with its beautiful sands and perfect picture-postcard views. Jim Mullen, in particular, was so struck by St Ninian’s that when he went back to London, to a gig at the Ronnie Scott Club, he spent all the night showing the other jazz players his pictures of the isle, and sharing his delight of the place.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I took those nice chaps from the Nova Scotia Jazz Band to St Ninian’s for a Sunday afternoon treat, to find that the causeway had been taken over by large numbers of people on quad machines charging up and down the beautiful beach without a care for other visitors.

The band was horrified, so we did not linger too long. It was impossible to admire the beauty of the place with the sound of whining high-pitched engines, the acrid smell of distasteful burnt fuel that lodges in the throat, the churning up of the wonderful beaches and the sight of these unseemly machines literally taking over one of Shetland’s natural beauty spots. As we left, more of these gross machines were arriving in twos and threes on trailers.

I was interested to read Janice Armstrong’s letter on the same subject in The Shetland Times of 27th May. She hit the nail right on the head. St Ninian’s is one of Shetland’s tourist attractions, one of the things people take away from their visit and tell others about.

This is not the place to be taken over and destroyed by this kind of activity, which may have a place elsewhere but not in this natural beauty spot. Heaven knows how it is affecting the wildlife.

Someone in the council, the tourist or the law enforcement agencies must have the authority to nip this in the bud, and should do so before one of the summer tourist attractions is wrecked.

I have spoken to others who have been disturbed by this and it seems to happen most Sundays, the one day when the peace and tranquillity that St Ninian’s used to offer was most appreciated and is now most missed.

Jeff Merrifield
Da Cutts,


Add Your Comment
  • Paul Meyer

    • June 11th, 2011 11:49

    I fully agree with Jeff’s horror when surrounded and affronted by noisy quad machines charging up and down St. Ninians Isle beach Tombolo.

    The St Ninian’s tombolo is the largest geomorphologically active sand tombolo in Britain. The size (c. 500 m long) and almost perfect symmetry of the tombolo is unique. The tombolo, composed of a shelly sand overlying a shingle base, is part of a dynamic and complex nearshore sediment circulation system. Although tombolos are relatively common along submerged coasts such as the Shetland Isles, it is the exceptional scale, composition and dynamism of St Ninian’s tombolo that are of particular scientific interest. This interest is enhanced by the flanking windblown deposits of dunes and dune grassland. Conservation of this key site for coastal geomorphology is of the utmost importance; any disturbance of the sediment dynamics of the system may be critical to the tombolo’s long-term existence.

    In 2007 the St Ninian’s Isle Tombolo won ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful Seaside Award’. Allowing vehicles onto this beautiful and unique beach is a a travesty and makes a complete mockery of both this award and in maintaining our Tombolo as a place of great scientific interest. In addition, visitors to this major tourist attraction will be put off coming if these vehicles are allowed to continue their rampage.

    Apart from passing a local by-law making it illegal for such vehicles access to the tombolo and by posting signs, in order to to reinforce this by-law, it would be a simple task to install a large lockable gate and associated fencing that would only allow the local crofter and other authorised accesses to the beach. A smaller ‘kissing’ gate could also be installed to allow person access – but not large enough to allow quads or other unauthorised vehicle access.

    I encourage folk to lobby their local councillor and the SIC to immediately instigate such measures so as to finally stop this intrusion on one of the most unique beauty spots in the UK.

  • Colin Hunter

    • June 12th, 2011 10:19

    I completely agree. There is absolutely no need for Quad “bikers” (except in the line of croft work) or motor cyclists to rampage through one of Shetlands most admired and visited beauty spots, regardless of its conservation status. Surely common sense dictates that it’s a bad idea to allow this activity where people with young families, and others, may also roam freely.
    May I say that I have nothing against bikers or quad users, having had a bike ( on “L” plates) many years ago and a few “Wee shots” on quads in the past. There is no denying it is great fun. Shetland is a big place with lots of wide open spaces. Surely the bike brigade could find another venue which is not so well loved and fragile. It can’t be that difficult.

  • Peg Young

    • June 14th, 2011 0:19

    I totally agree with the objections noted. As someone said, “You can’t legislate stupidity.” Unfortunately, in addition to the obvious lack of brains of adults despoiling the landscape and endangering the eco-systems in the name of “fun,” there are others concerns.

    This recent news story from Canada regarding ATV’s indicates some of the hazards of these machines. I hope that the laws in the UK prevent children from riding them. If not, the children of the brainless stand in danger of having theirs damaged as is happening here in Alberta.


  • Michael Garriock

    • June 14th, 2011 0:50

    In reply to Messrs Lawrence, Merrifield & Meyer. Why not just skip the bleedin heart “justification” in your letters, and openly admit to what it is you’re really saying, that you are anti off road biking up close and personal.

    Aside from mumblings about “possible” ecology, wildlife and legal “issues”, which so far contain no substance upon which to comment or debate whatsoever, among you you have only succeeded in establishing your personal dislike of the sight, sound and smell of motorbikes. While you’re perfectly entitled to your own opinion of them, a little acknowledgement that not everyone shares your opinions of motorbikes would not go amiss. Where is “live and let live”??

    To put it bluntly, as a beach with public access those using it with bikes have as much right to be there as you pedestrians, so who the hell do you think you are to demand the removal of others who have an equal right to yourselves to be there, and deny them their enjoyment, just so your own enjoyment can be enhanced to the optimum. Selfish, anyone??

    Lets get a few things straight here, bikes, trikes and quads have been using the beach regularly for over 25 years at the very least and for most of the year, if not all of it, so any “destroying” has already occured, any “nipping in the bud” is a tad on the late side, and to suggest either simply displays the writer’s ignorance of their subject. You will note, that despite in excess of 25 years of being “destroyed”, the beach, wildlife, ecology AND tourists are still there, same as they ever were. Do I need to go on….

    It all very well, and extremely easy, to sit and type “go elsewhere”, but quite apart from the “why?” aspect which is a whole other debate, there is also the “where?” aspect. Perhaps if in addition to your hatchet job on all off road bikes and bikers, you had also at least attempted to offer suggestions of possible alternative sites, your sentiments might have been somewhat better received. I stand corrected if wrong, but it is my recollection that the sand only started to be used with any regularity when previous sites became no longer available or unsuitable.

    Just so that you are aware that I have no axe to grind in this, I am not, and never have been involved in scrambling, trials, trikes, quads etc biking, however for 10 years I spent probably more time all year round on that and other local beaches on a road bike for my own reasons, than anyone else at that time, and I would be doing the same yet were it not for disability. So I have seen it and spent time on it every which way, from being under 6 foot of water, to being a sandstorm, to being crowded with visitors, to being used as a racetrack.

    Tourism is notoriously fickle, and enjoys only an extremely short season anyway, to suggest as your letters do that local residents suspend certain activities during that season, which just happens to coincide with the short period we get anything that remotely resembles a summer, is asking for far more than all the tourists we’ll ever attract would be worth. If they’re coming, let that see it warts and all, if they don’t like it it wasn’t the right place for them to be visiting in the first place. If we have to go round making it all “pretty” for them, they’re being sold a fake, not the real thing.

  • Paul Meyer

    • June 21st, 2011 21:31

    Referring to Mr Garriock’s comments above, for his information, St Ninian’s Isle tombolo apart from being designated SSSI is neither public nor common land. Access rights conferred by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 do not extend to the use of motorised vehicles for recreational use – unless the landowner has granted strict individual permission.

    Unlike horses and pedestrians that neither create noise nor undue nuisance, quad & trail bikes are a modern day phenomenon and other authorities in Scotland have taken significant measures to stop their illegal usage on private land – where they do not have the landowner’s permission.
    See link:

    If the current landowner of the Tombolo continues to permit motorised vehicles bombing up and down the sands and the dunes on a Sunday (or whenever), tourists and visitors alike will no doubt be giving this popular destination a wide berth.

  • Celia Ellis

    • June 6th, 2021 22:19

    2021 and same problem…..trail bikes rather than quad bikes. Horrendous noise. Unpleasant for everyone walking on and near the tombolo. A unique spot. Surely by laws should ban leisure noise makers to one of the many other beaches that isn’t so special?


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