Final Visitor Management Plan approved and Seasonal Access Rangers appointed for Highland.

The Highland Council’s Tourism Committee has approved a final draft Visitor Management Plan for 2021 yesterday (Wednesday 21 April) which aims to assist communities and the public during the anticipated busy summer months.

Chair of the Tourism Committee, Cllr Gordon Adam said: “Welcoming visitors back to the Highlands from Monday 26 April 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.”

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 and agreed that further activities may be required that need an immediate solution.

As a result of a particularly busy and demanding summer season in 2020, a need for engagement with visitors to the Highlands has been prioritised. The use of Rangers dealing specifically with promoting the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is an agreed solution.

Visitor numbers have been steadily increasing over many years but the situation caused by COVID- 19 has 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.

The new Ranger posts will liaise with other services and partners and take a co-ordinated approach to visitor management particularly in ‘honeypot’ sites. They will be the eyes and ears of the Council and report back to relevant services where there are issues which need to be addressed.

Seasonal Access Rangers will;

  • Engage face-to-face with visitors, explaining and encouraging adherence of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
  • Monitor visitor use, impacts and incidents while reporting on a weekly basis.
  • Speak to informal campers to explain responsible access and ‘leave no trace’.
  • Reduce the number of open fires by explaining the impacts: damage to vegetation; alarm to residents and improving awareness of risks and how to mitigate risks if fires are used.
  • Reduce the amount of litter by: encouraging visitors to take home what they bring; collecting litter; reporting large quantities of litter and issuing fixed penalty notices if appropriate.
  • Encourage responsible parking; prevent obstructive parking; and assist with parking enforcement if necessary.
  • Liaise with communities and landowners when issues arise, working together on solutions. Establish local volunteer Rangers to assist in busy periods.
  • Improve and maintain the Council-owned or managed countryside sites; and some of the most heavily used paths particularly to popular natural visitor attractions.

The Council has agreed funding for 10 of these posts and is awaiting confirmation of Better Places 2 funding through NatureScot for a further 7 posts. These extra posts are in co-operation with local organisations; Skye Connect, Wester Ross Biosphere, Applecross Trust & Visit Inverness Loch Ness.

In order to further improve and develop the Visitor Management Plan, The 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.

Highland looks forward to welcoming visitors once again from next week. It is important for visitors to plan ahead, especially as restrictions may be different from their home region. Visit Scotland has useful and practical information for tourists on its website

22 Apr 2021