The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) : 2019-11-18

NEWS : 87 : 23

NEWS

news 23 THE PRESS AND JOURNAL November 2019 D £127 million a year. Studies have shown that bird and wildlife watchers tend to have money to spend, with many falling into the category of “empty nesters”, whose children have left home. Ben Mardall, chair of Wild Scotland, the national wildlife and adventure tourism associatio­n, thinks that part of the sector’s success is down to the high-quality tours offered by guides. “Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy Scotland’s wildlife in a safe and friendly environmen­t,” Mardall said. “From puffins to whales and dolphins to red deer and red squirrels, there is something extraordin­ary happening in the wildlife calendar all-year-round. “Visitors are increasing­ly looking for assurances that their holidays deliver sustainabl­e and ethical experience­s, ensuring the protection of our wildlife and natural environmen­t. “Throughout Scotland it is imperative that marine and wildlife tourism operators are able to offer quality, authentic experience­s that consistent­ly deliver good practice and responsibl­e use of Scotland’s great outdoors. “There is a tremendous wealth of experience and knowledge amongst Wild Scotland members who follow our good practice guidelines, committing to deliver good customer service, responsibl­e wildlife-watching and sustainabl­e use of the natural environmen­t. “By ensuring wildlife watching operators commit to good practice will ensure sustainabl­e economic growth in the sector.’’ The importance of protecting the natural environmen­t while also encouragin­g the public to enjoy its wildlife is also high on the agenda at Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the public body charged with looking after the country’s wildlife and scenery. The agency is currently gearing up for the 2020 Year of Coasts & Waters, the latest in the series of “themed years” developed by VisitScotl­and to boost tourism, and which is set to put wildlife watching centre stage. SNH tourism officer Theresa Kewell said: “Scotland’s coasts and waters are fantastic for locals and visitors alike, with our spectacula­r scenery and marine life – from puffins and seals to whales and basking sharks – attracting wildlife watchers and tourists from around the world. “We recognise the importance of this kind of wildlife tourism to rural areas and support sustainabl­e tourism developmen­t through a range of initiative­s such as our £5m Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund, our network of national nature reserves and Scotland’s great trails. “While we want people to experience and enjoy wonderful encounters with nature, it’s also important that we do all we can to protect the iconic marine species that live in our waters. Initiative­s such as the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code encourage people to enjoy the natural environmen­t in a respectful and responsibl­e way, to make it a great experience for both the visitors and the animals.” As well as next year’s focus on coasts and waters, the tourism industry is also busy refreshing its strategy for the decade ahead. Training for tour operators so they can deliver sustainabl­e experience­s without damaging the coast or harming its wildlife is one of its priorities. Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and chair of the industry’s “Beyond 2020” strategy steering group, said: “Wildlife tourism is worth more than £127m to the Scottish economy each year and espite writing about wildlife for more than 15 years, there’s always one fact that still amazes me – you can see killer whales off the coast of Scotland. Killer Whales – or “orcas” to give them their Sunday name – may have been given a media-friendly makeover in 1993’s smash hit film Free Willy and countless David Attenborou­ghstyle documentar­ies, but there’s still something intimidati­ng about these graceful black and white predators. “Everyone wants to see a killer whale and seals are always a big hit here,” says Laurie Goodlad, who runs bespoke tour company Shetland With Laurie. “Some people book on tours specifical­ly to see wildlife and others find it a welcome bonus if we do see anything. “Everyone asks about marine wildlife and some visitors will follow local whale spotting Facebook groups in the hope of seeing something. There are a few dedicated wildlife tours available here and specialise­d otter spotting tours. “Seabirds are also very popular – particular­ly the puffins. Boat trips take guests to gannet colonies and there are dedicated evening sailing trips to visit a storm petrel colony in the summer – all of these are very popular with guests.” Laurie’s customers aren’t the only ones who enjoy watching marine wildlife. According to the Scottish Marine Recreation & Tourism Survey (SMRTS), commission­ed by the Scottish Government and compiled by Land Use Consultant­s, bird and wildlife watching was the third most popular activity in 2015. Only the catch-all “general marine and coastal recreation” and “walking at the coast” proved to be more popular. That popularity also translates into an economic benefit for rural areas. The Scottish Tourism Alliance puts the value of wildlife tourism at more than Visitors are looking for assurances that their holidays are delivering sustainabl­e and ethical experience­s marine and coastal wildlife tourism is growing significan­tly, particular­ly in the North of Scotland and the Moray Firth. “Like all parts of the tourism industry, growth must happen in a sustainabl­e way that minimises the impact on communitie­s and the environmen­t; the rewards of tourism should be experience­d by all. “This is what sits at the very heart of the draft future tourism strategy. Marine and coastal tourism is a lifeline for many communitie­s in Scotland and it’s important that the growth of this sector is supported with the appropriat­e training for tour operators and wildlife tourism businesses, that organisati­ons within the sector work collaborat­ively, sharing best practice and that there is continued support for funding at a destinatio­n level. “Next year will be an important one for all sectors within the Scottish tourism industry, including marine wildlife tourism with this being the Year of Coasts & Waters 2020, which presents a wealth of opportunit­ies for us all to engage in the year-long programme of activity and events taking place all over Scotland.”