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28 December, 2019

£5m award for Highlands & Islands tourism

£5m award for Highlands & Islands tourism: Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop at Loch Garten Reserve

Nine projects in the Highlands and Islands will share a £5 million European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) award to promote the outstanding scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands, Scottish Tourism & Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced today.

The funding has been awarded through the Natural Cultural and Heritage Fund, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Ms Hyslop announced the grants after visiting Wildlife Watch Abernethy.

The project has received just over £252,000 from the Natural Cultural and Heritage Fund, which will create three new, local jobs as well as extend the opening season and improve the visitor experience at Loch Garten, so more people can enjoy the nature reserve and learn about conservation in the Cairngorms.

The area has also recently featured in the BBC Autumnwatch programme and has been promoted by VisitScotland as a key spot for wildlife watching.

RSPB will install new information panels at the centre and on the surrounding woodland trails, expand and extend vehicle parking, and develop a programme of talks, walks and activities.

The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund invests in projects in the Highlands and Islands which improve the experience of visitors exploring the region’s nature and culture.

Multiple attractions along the country’s famed North Coast 500 will benefit including a new visitor centre and improved car parking facility at Corrieshalloch Gorge Gateway to Nature. Strathnaver Museum in North West Sutherland will also be renovated and refurbished into a leading heritage hub in the region.  

Ms Hyslop said:

“Tourism is a major part of the Highland and Islands' economies and it’s essential that its social and economic benefits are shared as widely as possible. That’s why I’m pleased to announce the successful applicants for grants from the Natural Cultural and Heritage Fund to improve their experience for visitors.

“This fund will create jobs and help projects in remote areas, like Wildlife Watch Abernethy, to enhance their offer to the millions of people who visit the region every year. Thanks to support from the European Regional Development Fund, the wonderful landscapes, nature and culture of the Highlands and Islands will welcome new visitors in a way that is sustainable and creates long-term benefits for local communities.”

Francesca Osowska, SNH Chief Executive, added: “A key priority for SNH is to help ensure tourism and other sectors benefit from, and invest in, Scotland’s high quality environment.

"Nature and culture are closely linked in the Highlands & Islands, and in many places they are central to the local economy, maintaining rural populations, jobs and skills. These nine innovative projects can bring significant benefits to more rural communities for years to come, giving visitors even more to enjoy in these iconic areas of Scotland.”

Uwe Stoneman, Senior Site Manager for RSPB Abernethy nature reserve, said:

“Loch Garten has been at the heart of tourism and nature in the highlands for the last 60 years. We are very grateful for this funding which will enable us to continue to showcase the importance of this special forest along with the history of its ospreys for decades to come, bringing benefits to the local community and contributing to tourism in the Cairngorms National Park and beyond.”

Other projects to receive funding include:

West Highland College UHI – The Coast that Shaped the World (£350,371) - This project will develop a website, app and programme of digital exhibitions along the west coast of Scotland. Stories of coastal communities will convey how maritime cultural, and natural, heritage helped to shape the world. Local stories will be mapped and gathered, creating a website and app to inspire potential visitors.

Trees for Life, Dundreggan Rewilding Centre (£714,000) - The project will create a hub where people can experience an ancient pinewood with unique juniper forest, discover Gaelic history and learn about rewilding. It will feature interpretation about Dundreggan’s natural heritage, engagement with Gaelic culture, forest play facilities, accessible trails, walks and trails, learning, outdoor events, indoor study and research and improvements to the wider natural heritage.

National Trust Scotland, Corrieshalloch Gorge Gateway to Nature (£923,000) - A new visitor centre will form a gateway to Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach. The project will also improve and expand car parking and develop new path networks with wayfinding and signage.

Lews Castle College UHI, UVAP- Uibhist Virtual Archaeology Project (£271,000) - This project will create a series of augmented reality experiences and mixed-media exhibitions for seven archaeological sites along the Hebridean Way walking route. 

NW Mull Community Woodland Company, Storas Ulbha (£813,000) - Ulva Cultural Heritage Project - Ulva House will be conserved and refurbished as a visitor centre. A research project with the University of the Highlands and Islands will investigate the story of the people of Ulva and the wider impact they have had on the world. The project will also develop a website, restore Ulva House Garden with volunteers, and create a self-catering flat.

Kilmartin Museum Company Ltd, Kilmartin Museum extension and development (£700,000) - This project will renovate Kilmartin Museum into a fit-for-purpose visitor attraction and learning centre by remodelling the existing buildings and adding an extension. Improved visitor facilities will include a re-modelled shop, an overflow car park, and outdoor and digital interpretation. 

Strathnaver Museum (£650,000) - This project will refurbish and renovate Strathnaver Museum as a heritage hub for North West Sutherland.  It will improve the physical condition of the historic church which houses the current museum; improve the visitor experience and secure the condition and integrity of the collection; extend outreach work across the area; increase the services offered on site; increase the number of staff; and secure the future of the museum by improving the sustainability of the organisation by improving the retail and research spaces.

 Access to Orkney Heritage (£273,420) - This Orkney Islands Council project will create greater access to heritage sites and assets across the smaller isles of the Orkney archipelago. The project will also improve interpretation information about the sites and create dedicated trails and routes that have been developed to encapsulate the main heritage locations of each isle.

Funding for the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund comes from the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, with match funding from other sources bringing overall investment to more than £7m. 


Credit pictures to Ewen Weatherspoon/SNH. Group shot includes L-R:  Jess Tomes, Visitor Operations Manager, RSPB Scotland; Fergus Cumberland, Visitor Experience Manager, RSPB Scotland; Nicholas Meny, Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund Project & Funding Officer, SNH; Alison Elder, Volunteer RSPB Scotland; Fiona Hyslop; Daniel Long, Volunteer, RSPB Scotland.

Contact information

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Notes to editors

The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund  is part of the next phase of the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, which runs through to 2023.  SNH is also managing another element of the programme – the Green Infrastructure Fund.

The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund covers the ‘Highlands & Islands” area which for this purpose is defined as the local authority areas of Highland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney, Shetland, Argyll, Moray and part of North Ayrshire (Arran). 

SNH is leading delivery of the fund, and established an advisory board to guide the process and help make decisions on which projects should be funded. This includes representatives from Visitscotland, HIE, Historic Environment Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. 

ERDF funding is awarded to support investment in innovation, businesses, skills and employment and create jobs. The fund is protected by the guarantees given by the UK and Scottish Governments to maintain EU funding programmes, even in the event of a hard Brexit.

NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

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Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop at Loch Garten Reserve

Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop at Loch Garten Reserve

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Loch Garten Reserve -Group shot

Loch Garten Reserve -Group shot

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Loch Garten Reserve - L-R  Fiona Hyslop; Ross Johnston, Deputy Director of Sustainable Growth, SNH; Uwe Stoneman, Senior Site Manager Abernethy National Nature Reserve, RSPB Scotland

Loch Garten Reserve - L-R Fiona Hyslop; Ross Johnston, Deputy Director of Sustainable Growth, SNH; Uwe Stoneman, Senior Site Manager Abernethy National Nature Reserve, RSPB Scotland

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