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After only three days on-line, more than £11,500 has been raised to crowdfund a scheme for additional bothies on the Shiant Isles. 

The plan to build two new bothies to shelter overnight visitors to the Shiant Islands will be a continuation of centuries of human presence, according to the owner of the islands speaking to welovestornoway.com last month.

The new, environmentally-sensitive sleeping pods will also contribute to continuing appreciation of the islands’ unique wildlife, landscape and history, without detracting from the uninhabited isles and their sense of wilderness and escape.

Tom Nicolson inherited the Shiant Isles from his author father, Adam, when he was 20 years old. The family has always maintained an open access policy to the islands, with a calendar of bookings for use of the 150-year-old bothy which already sits on House Island.

A Crowdfunder was launched on 1 May to raise support to get the £65,000 needed for the full project in pledges by 22 May. You can find out more about it at https://www.shiantisles.net/bothyproject

The idea for new sleeping quarters followed the successful seabird recovery project, led by the Nicolson family with RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, which saw the successful elimination of rats from the islands in a four-year project which ended in 2018.

Camping outside, volunteers and researchers participating in that project endured everything the weather threw at them, with the most basic shelter and facilities.

Tom said: “The existing bothy on House Island is the only remaining structure on the Shiants and is a lifesaver. It has a basic kitchen, an open fire and bunk beds.

“During the seabird recovery project, they flew in a couple of big green container units for storage, but they also had bunks in them, with mattresses and sleeping bags, to allow people to sleep inside in rough conditions.

“These became enormously popular, and we had a conversation when the project ended about whether we wanted to keep them there, but were reluctant because they were a bit of an eyesore and we could imagine them decaying away in 10 years time.

“We wanted to look at a more sustainable way of having a place to sleep next to the existing bothy and of altering the internal layout of the old bothy so that it could be used as a larger, open space for eating and resting out of the weather.”

Tom made contact with the social enterprise Bothy Stores, a social enterprise founded by artist Bobby Niven and architect Iain MacLeod. The Edinburgh-based company had developed a multipurpose self-contained cabin that can be located anywhere.

Tom said: “Part of my research was to have a conversation with Geoff Allan, author of the Scottish Bothy Bible. These structures are indigenous to remote locations all over Scotland and were designed as a refuge, exactly what I had in mind.”

Iain MacLeod has drawn up a design plan for two bothies containing sleeping accommodation, which can be constructed from low-impact sustainable materials off-site and then shipped to the Shiants.

Planning permission is due to be sought from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, although Tom notes that, as the Shiants have previously been inhabited, there’s a precedent for dwellings on the islands.

Tom said of the fundraising: “It’s an all-or-nothing bid, we either get all the money, or we don’t go ahead. I think it would be quite fantastic to keep the islands open for visitors, but it’s also a referendum – if the appeal isn’t there for people and they don’t pledge, then we won’t get the funding and we’ll just keep it as it is.”

 Photograph: A montage illustrating how the new bothies would be sited (Iain MacLeod).