Isle of Gometra — a peopled wildness

          Roc Sandford



Update: Although we don't at present, sometimes we have accommodation available for long lets, so if you think you would like to live here, please read up on this website and if still interested, get in touch and we will keep your details in case we have availability.  We are not currently able to offer new leases due to tightening up of Scottish housing law, but while we can't guarantee this we are hoping to find a work-around.  When we do have accommodation available, we ask people who think they might like to come, to camp on the island or to rent one of our bothies directly through AirBnb for a week or so, so as to get a sense of the realities before we start talking in detail.  We do not have employment to offer unfortunately.


Sustainability Note:  Gometra delivers public goods such as amenity, employment, housing, conservation, biodiversity, investment, solar & biofuel and, perhaps above all, displacement of food production from primary rain forest to poor-quality and already denuded temperate hill land, which cannot be otherwise viably used for commercial plant-based human food production. According to any reasonable value system, given its environmental footprint, people should not be eating intensively produced meat, and must be discouraged from doing so, but while they are, let’s produce meat in the least damaging way possible, which may well mean extensive grass-fed hill farming systems.


Research is being done on the carbon flows around extensive grass-fed hill farms like Gometra. Due to methane emissions by sheep and cattle being insufficiently balanced by soil carbon sequestration, they may still be significantly carbon positive.  Even if, as some (possibly interested) research suggests, they are carbon negative, there is a potential opportunity cost in that they may not be as carbon negative as rewilding or commercial spruce forestry with, ideally, storage of the wood produced.


On Gometra we are contractually committed by the Scottish government to keep ruminant livestock for at least the next four years. Whilst we have already partially divested from livestock, a system of powerful incentives and disincentives, operated by the Scottish Government and the EU, hinder us from viably divesting further, and (whilst retaining a livestock element while this can be justified for employment, landscape and heritage purposes) progressively switching from meat farming to carbon & amenity farming as we should like.


Further, without a carbon tax to fully internalise the negative externalities of greenhouse gas emissions, it is impossible for anyone to calculate how to allocate resources efficiently. You are in the central planning predicament, and any solutions will be severely sub-optimal and so almost definitely fail—given incipient climate disaster, sub-optimal solutions are insufficient. Only a carbon tax will solve the resource allocation problem, and it has the bonus of either being fiscally neutral or enabling redistribution as democracy sees fit.


Brexit has created rich policy opportunity for the Scottish and British governments to rebalance their incentives and the legal obligations they impose on farmers away from livestock and towards carbon farming, but without such a policy shift it is nearly impossible for a commercial operation such as ours to make the transition. To create change, the people to lobby and influence are those who frame the obligations and incentives, not those who respond to them. There is also double counting element which is central to mitigation: the true owner of such externalities is their consumer—the motorist, the flyer, the meat-eater, the person. And the consumer, ultimately, is in the strongest position to deliver change by consuming—asceticism!


Gometra is the second largest and second most populous island in the Staffa Archipelago.  It lies in Loch Staffa within the Loch Na Keal National Scenic Area near Staffa (2 miles), the Treshnish Isles (3 miles) and Iona (9 miles).


Gometra's assets are its islanders and its internationally significant wild islandscape and biodiversity.  From Gometra you can see Little Colonsay, Erisgeir, Jura, Colonsay, Islay, Iona, Staffa, Dubh Artach, Maesgeir, Tiree, Bec Bec, Dutchman's Cap, Dioghlum, Skerryvore, Lunga, Fladda, the Carnaburgs, Gunna, Coll, South Uist, Ulva & Mull.  The Small Isles and Skye are visible from a few hundred yards offshore.  Red deer, feral goats and otters can be watched here and grey and common seals pup and haul out on the island, its islets and skerries, singing in the evenings.  Golden and sea eagles scavenge our hills, diminishing quantities of salmon and sea trout pass along both coasts and basking sharks and cetaceans including individually identifiable bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise are seen from our shores, while minke and killer whales are sighted further off.  Gometra, once a territory of the lords of the Isles, lost and regained several times over the centuries, is among various Hebridean islands held today by their myriad spawn, as well as being one of various islands held by the returning progeny of emigrants from the 18th and 19th century Celtic diaspora.


Gometra usually has three to four households and with the key support of Rhoda Munro and young Rhoda Munro, and family, is farmed and managed by Roc Sandford whose family connections with the island go back many years and who lives here part time, there being no school or doctor on the island.  When we came here, Gometra was deserted, with one habitable house, having been on the market for 18 months without attracting a private or community buyer, and was two and a half hours return by Land Rover from the nearest human neighbour at the far end of Ulva.  There are now five habitable houses of which two are occupied full time, two are holiday lets, and one is occupied by Roc's family.  We are lucky enough to have had several dozen people including over a dozen children living here for varying periods over the last quarter century, either for free or at a nominal rent.


We breed Scottish blackface sheep and on occasion Border collies, and keep horses & cats, but no longer highland cattle or pigs.  Mrs Munro is postmistress for the weekly incoming Royal Mail postal run, and runs the Gometra Post Office for outgoing mail.  The Gometra Gallery at Baileclaidh is a centre of excellence showing the work of the island’s jeweller, Mrs Rhoda Munro, and artists including Polly Huggett, Liam Ryan and Sophie Baker.


Two of our four harbours, the best for visiting Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, are filled with yachts in the summer months and shelter our own boats in the winter.  Kayakers, extreme swimmers, wild campers, climbers and access takers are welcomed at own risk.   Accomodation can be booked via AirBnb.  Please bring what you need including camping stove and sleeping bag.  Health and safety information and disclaimers should be studied here; Gometra's hazards are augmented by our lack of medical services and isolation so please take this advice and information for tenants and visitors seriously, together with the risks note.


We have no reasonable access to a doctor or teacher, no reliable internet, mobile or land line, no cars or public transport, and we are off-grid.  There is no working washing machine on the island.  We usually have cold running water (though there are spells when the springs dry and water must be collected from the burns and boiled) and we often have hot or at least warm water.  We are amongst the remotest and most service-poor communities in the Scottish Isles, and the tide of well-meant but inapplicable regulation, hard to satisfy in our extreme situation, may yet sweep us away.  From landfall and access to doctors, schools & shops on Mull (a magnificent island off Gometra's North shore) and the mainland, our safest harbour is fifteen miles return across the turbulent, often treacherous Atlantic waters of Loch Tuath, white with surf and spindrift as I write.  A rough hill track, which takes about five hours return to walk, three hours return to travel by quad bike and trailer or two hours return by quad alone, a journey in winter reminiscent of riding in a washing machine set on cold, leads across a causeway and tidal ford to a community little larger than our own at the East end of Ulva (a magnificent island off Gometra's East shore).


Having been left to our own devices for many years, we are now notorious for mounting the Save Staffa Archipelago campaign and petition to avert a 2 kilotonne factory salmon farm operated by the Scottish Salmon Company which threatens both our own safety, in forcing us out of the lee of the island into the often foul seas of Loch Tuath to access A&E, schools and other services offshore, and the breath-taking biodiversity and wildness which are all we have to offer residents and visitors.  Objectors to the Gometra salmon farm have faced dirty tricks, smears, harassment, abuse and/or intimidation for drawing attention to the scientific evidence for the adverse impacts of salmon farms on biodiversity or of farmed salmon on consumers and their unborn children.  We have been denied a polling station; our political representatives are unaccountable and none has any real experience of the island.  No one on Gometra wants the salmon farm, and that should be enough.  We will fight until it is taken away.


If you find an animal in difficulty, distress or dead please text 07765 951502 / 07899 335486 and/or tell someone immediately - time is crucial.  Please let us know if you have any suggestions or complaints.  Thank you!





All text and Images © Roc Sandford, Gometra, 2015 unless otherwise stated.  Please let us know of any corrections or suggestions.  To contact us click here.