Drainage experts drawn in to South Uist to tackle flooding

A drainage company has been drafted in to investigate flooding on South Uist.

The community landowner Storas Uibhist drew consultants in and formed a flood action group with key agencies.

Flooding is an ongoing problem in the area and its chief executive Darren Taylor said everyone has to step up to the plate.

He said: “I’m not thrilled that we’re having to take the lead on this but if it has to be us then we will do it. We have started the ball rolling.”

He added: “We want to play our part but what we’re not prepared to do is step in and mend gaps statutory bodies might be failing to fill in.”

The government must maintain around 11,000 metres of the drainage system and insists it will uphold its duty.

Total drainage length is believed to be greatly in excess of this 11,000 metres, however, which means the landowner and tenant crofters are responsible for the rest.

Struggle to cope with flow

The Roe Glas drain is part of an extensive drainage system on South Uist maintained by the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID).  Image: Stewart Angus

Significant areas of western Benbecula and southern South Uist are below sea level.

In his recent lecture on South Uist flooding, coastal ecology expert Professor Stewart Angus said the sea level is rising and is predicted to continue to do so for centuries.

He said: “It was perhaps Mark Twain who said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, I dispute this, because there’s a third: Coasts change.”

Hints from history

Stewart Angus. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Mr Angus, who is the coastal ecology manager for NatureScot, said research suggests sea level rise beyond 3-4mm per year is the “tipping-point”.

After this we start to see “major re-organisation of coastal areas” and history can show us what this may look like.

He added: “The Papal Charter of Inchaffrey of 1389 mentions the township of Hussabost.

It would have been on a landmass west of Baile Sear, off the west coast of North Uist, which is low lying and watery.”

Baile Sear from the sky. Image: Stewart Angus

He added: “Baile Sear means east town, which is suggesting that there was a west town.

“Perhaps this west town was Hussabost, because what is likely to be the remains of Hussabost is a cluster of rocks with that name on the west coast of Baile Sear.”

Are these boulders what is left of Hussabost? Image: Stuart Angus

Mr Angus said quern stones for grinding grain discovered here on the seashore strengthen the case.

He added: “This is the sort of major change we could be looking at.”

South Uist flood strategy needs funds

Stalks of kelp beds washed ashore on South Uist. Image: Stewart Angus

Together with University of Glasgow Professor Jim Hansom, Mr Angus has co-produced a climate resilience strategy for Uist, which gives the scientific case.

It has yet to be endorsed by official bodies and would need funding.

A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar spokesman said: “Organisational and financial resources are limited and there will therefore have to be a prioritisation of competing demands and vulnerabilities undertaken over the coming months, prior to making additional commitments.”

More reading and viewing:

Uist and Climate Change: A talk by Professor Stewart Angus

Coastal Change Adaptation Plan (Interim Guidance) Scottish Government

South Uist flood action strategy unveiled ahead of anniversary of tragedy

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