A recent award of £148 500 to help refurbish the visitor centre at Britain’s oldest National Nature Reserve (NNR) is great news for future visitors, for the local Wester Ross community and for SNH.
The funding, from the European Regional Development Fund, means we can begin to put our exciting plans for the visitor centre at Beinn Eighe NNR into action.
One of the key aims of our NNR management is to provide opportunities for people to understand, experience and enjoy Scotland’s nature. At Beinn Eighe, which was designated the UK’s first NNR in 1951, this includes providing and maintaining a range of self-guided trails and a visitor centre. The centre functions as a gateway to the wider Wester Ross area, somewhere from where we can signpost people to the many other wonderful natural places and wildlife in the area.
The visitor centre provides us with a brilliant base from which we can run a variety of events. For example, the reserve is part of the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail circuit: every July these young musicians put on an open air concert and we put on a barbecue to promote local, healthy food. The Wester Ross Countryside Ranger uses the centre as a base throughout the year, for activities such as pond dips, fungal forays and bug hunts.
The ERDP money represents 45% of the planned revamp costs which will give future visitors to the reserve an enhanced experience. The centre will feature new state of the art interpretation and live wildlife cameras. Exhibits will provide an engaging and up-to-date experience which will help visitors to better understand the nature of Beinn Eighe and Wester Ross.
Although the centre is only open seasonally, the trails are well used throughout the year. A new wildlife viewing hide and interpretation will provide added attractions for visitors during off-peak periods. New interpretation will also allow us to provide visitors with an overview of other nature sites and experiences in the area.
In 2004 the reserve had 50 000 visitors and although this number has since dropped to around 30 000, the reserve is a major attraction which brings significant economic benefits to a remote and economically fragile area. A recent economic study estimated that almost 20% of local businesses’ turnover results from the NNR. We hope that the refurbishment will help to push visitor numbers up again.
The centre will not change much next year. We’ll start installing new waymarking and signage on the trails around the visitor centre this winter, working up the detail for the more extensive work on the inside of the centre. As soon as the doors close in October 2014 though, we’ll be working flat-out to ensure everything’s ready for re-opening in spring 2015.
We think Beinn Eighe is a special place and we want as many people as possible to come and marvel at its beauty. The refurbished centre will hopefully help to attract many thousands more visitors over the coming years.
If you have any questions, or suggestions for walks or events you’d like to see SNH run at Beinn Eighe, or at any other NNR, please let us know on our NNR Facebook page.