New roles to help Highland deal with influx of tourists
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Ten new countryside rangers will be taken on to help deal with potential problems at tourist hotspots in the Highlands this summer.
A £1.5 million scheme that aims to deal with irresponsible access around the Highlands has been approved by the local authority's tourism committee.
The Visitor Management Plan for 2021 aims to assist communities and the public during the anticipated busy summer months with travel restrictions across Britain set to ease from Monday.
Visitor numbers to the region have been steadily increasing over many years but the situation caused by the relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions last summer increased issues with irresponsible access and created a number of anti-social issues related to informal camping, such as overcrowding, dirty camping, bad parking, littering, fires, damage to trees, outdoor toileting and overflowing bins.
Members discussed the information outlined by council services in a report that provided additional detail on a range of activities to be undertaken for the 2021 season.
They agreed that the use of rangers dealing specifically with promoting the Scottish Outdoor Access Code would help mitigate some of the issues.
The new ranger posts will liaise with other services and partners and take a co-ordinated approach to visitor management particularly in ‘honeypot’ sites, the Highland Council said.
They will engage with visitors directly, explaining the access code and the 'leave no trace' ethos of wild camping, help to reduce the number of open fires and litter, and help deal with parking issues.
The council has agreed funding for 10 of these posts and is awaiting confirmation of Better Places 2 funding through NatureScot for a further seven posts. These extra posts are in co-operation with local organisations including Skye Connect, Wester Ross Biosphere, Applecross Trust and Visit Inverness Loch Ness.
In order to further improve and develop the Visitor Management Plan, Highland Council has begun to engage with public sector partners and other interest groups. This is intended to continue and a wider Visitor Management Group will be established which will seek feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including tourism businesses and communities affected.
Councillor Gordon Adam, chair of the tourism committee, said: “Welcoming visitors back to the Highlands from Monday is a positive sign that the road to recovery can finally commence.
"Tourism is a vital contributor to our economy and provides employment across Highland. However, we are all acutely aware of the pressures on our communities, infrastructure, transport network and landscape.
"We all play an important part in encouraging responsible visitor behaviour. The Highlands are visited for their beauty and warm Highland welcome, but we urge people to be mindful of Covid-19 regulations and to keep the place beautiful for others to enjoy and to protect the fragile environment.”