Scotland really values its wildlife as a tourism asset and has done for many years. It aims to be one of the top wildlife tourism destinations in Europe and seems to be well on the way to that. This makes a huge difference. Wildlife viewing sites are star-rated by the Scottish Tourist Board and Scottish wildlife conservation and interpreters seem to understand that what they have to offer can be presented as enjoyable and memorable experiences. These in turn create opportunities to communicate environmental and conservation messages.
We’ve had wonderful times watching wildlife, watching people watch wildlife, and talking to people about watching wildlife, in Scotland. Here are some places that have taught us stuff.
1. Huntly Peregrine WildWatch
We visited here a couple of weeks ago as part of the “Creating Great Visitor Experiences’ workshop. This place demonstrated, again, that often it is people who make the experience. The staff team here are inspirational in their dedication to both the wildlife and the people who visit. They care about both which I reckon is often the hallmark of a great interpreter. We particularly liked that their attention to their visitors and their needs had led to varied provision, so that people who are social or solitary, knowledgeable or novices, intellectual or intuitive can all find a great experience here.
It is such a shame that Huntly is so far from the tourist track – this brilliant place is in a remote part of Scotland and needs to increase its footfall to keep going. Go out of your way to help Scotland’s wildlife – put it on your itinerary. For more pics to encourage you, go to our Flickr.
Argaty Red Kite Centre
For more pics, go to Flickr.
There’s a big organisation (the Forestry Commission Scotland) behind Huntly but a tiny one behind the Argaty Red Kite Centre near Dunblane which we visited on our way home. Wild Scotland, (an excellent small organisation that promotes wildlife tourism and helps visitors find the experiences of wildlife they want) recommended the visit and it was good advice. This is a reminder than many wildlife tourism operators run small businesses (we know what that’s like!) fuelled by passion (that too!).
Argaty is off the beaten track but on this sunny March day, an impressive number of people , many armed with big lenses, had made their way there. All enjoyed the spectacle of the kites, which are even lovelier, and more graceful, in close up, and the knowledgeable, relaxed, wide-ranging discussions with our guide, the farmer. This wildlife tourism venture is a great example of agricultural diversification.
2. FCS hide on Ardnamurchan, Scotland
Ardnamurchan is a beautiful place, rich in wildlife. It also has one of our very favourite wildlife viewing places. The hide in Sunart, near Strontian (whose full name I forget) would work as a landscape viewing site – it is simply a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by. But it is more than that, this facility is beautifully, sensitively and appropriately designed all the way from the structure of the path to the interpretation in the viewpoint. This shelter and the approach to it exudes love for the place and a deep understanding of the people who come to this beautiful spot hoping for views of otters, seals and sea eagles.
3. RSPB Abernethy
When they write the histories of UK wildlife tourism and/or conservation communication (if they haven’t already) Loch Garten will be up there, probably with a chapter of its own. This is where the ospreys came back to breed in 1959 after (probably having been absent from the UK for a century. The site became famous and is still heavily visited. The RSPB use a great team of communicators and web-cams to show people ospreys in a convivial atmosphere everyday of the summer from their Osprey Centre.
(They also run CaperWatch on the same site, to help people see capercaillie without disturbing these rare, elusive and sensitive birds. This is Something Else Entirely and my one experience of it was probably the most extraordinary of my wildlife watching life … but that is a whole other story!)
4. Copinsay, Orkney
I don’t want to give the impression that I think wildlife tourism, or wildlife watching, is only about organised events and facilities. I don’t. I believe these interventions have a huge role to play in popularising wildlife and that popularising wildlife is vital for its conservation. I also think they have a role in channelling physical pressure on a site. But there is a lot of fantastic wildlife watching that can be had by just going ‘out there’. I will write more about this next time but for now and to round off this wee tour of Scotland, here is Copinsay in Orkney. This is another RSPB reserve, but hard to get to, not for the faint hearted, no cups of tea or jolly ranger banter here … just wild, wet, wind and wings.