Our refurbished Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre will open from Easter to October this year. As Fergus MacNeill reveals, this is the ideal time to sample the delights on offer at Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve. Why not pop along and have a look at the new displays and then enjoy one of the trails. Beinn Eighe NNR embraces over 48 square kilometres from lochside to mountain top. With opportunities for anything from a 15-minute stroll to a strenuous mountain day, it’s a wonderful location.
The splendour of the Highlands, and in particular the north-west, is well-known among visitors and locals. This array of sights is matched only by the chance of a glimpse of a golden eagle, mountain hare or perhaps a pine marten.
And that diversity of nature and landscape is set to be celebrated in style in time for Easter with the opening of the new-look and refreshed visitor centre at Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve.
This £330,000 restoration has been achieved thanks to 45% funding from the European Rural Development Fund (ERDF) as part of a drive to celebrate the many attractions on offer. Final touches are being made to the new-look centre which is preparing to throw open its doors to visitors as usual on the Easter weekend over 4-5 April.
We part-own and manage this magnificent 5000-hectare reserve which stretches from loch shore to mountain top embracing rugged peaks, ridges, moor, pine forest and a cluster of islands. It offers around 50,000 visitors each year the chance to see golden eagle, red deer, white-tailed eagle, and black-throated divers.
And the portfolio of improved visitor facilities includes the local trail interpretation being given a makeover; new visitor centre installations, and a new wildlife viewing hide.
The visitor centre is a focal point for visitors to the National Nature Reserve. It now boasts new displays which are visual and appealing in design, and focus on landscape and species.
Beinn Eighe is Britain’s first national nature reserve, having been created in 1951. Currently there are 47 NNRs in Scotland. All have special plants, animals and landforms that are worthy of conservation.
We manage the reserve to protect and enhance the pine forest, moorland and upland, and the many species that live here. Part of our remit is to encourage visitors to get out and explore the area, and hopefully inspire them to return at a different time of year, or for longer.
And a major part of that drive is to bring wildlife to people by providing live camera feeds on our reserve white-tailed eagle nest (if they nest!) and a wildlife viewing area with information on species locally and their behaviour. The reserve also has nest cameras and feeders for woodland birds so that people can observe them up close and in their natural habitat. In addition there is a new wildlife viewing hide which will allow visitors to get up close and personal with the array of other species at Beinn Eighe. We know that this is what people want to see – look at the success of programmes like Springwatch and Autumnwatch.
It is plain that animals and scenery are important to people, and folk want to learn about them. That is why giving people the chance to experience, enjoy, and understand nature is a key aim of our management at the reserve.
Part of our drive to improve things was the desire to use the ERDF grant to create a new facility that would help increase visitor numbers. We want Beinn Eighe to be a gateway destination, in this case to Wester Ross.
And that means we will do our best to ensure that visitors are encouraged and helped to explore Beinn Eighe, take in the local area and discover Wester Ross – to enjoy the wealth of landscape and natural heritage on offer.
These are, as you would expect, displays in the centre with information on what it is best to do at Beinn Eighe and around the area. We promote places to get out and explore, stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery or look for iconic Highland wildlife.
By signposting people to more nature experiences it will help people enjoy and appreciate our environment more. And if they see the opportunities available that will results in longer and repeat visits.
But we hope it will also lead to a direct benefit for economic enterprises in the area. This includes our local hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops, restaurants, wildlife boat operators, and walking guides.
We take our community role seriously too.
Our reserve manager is local and lives in the area, and we are aware of our responsibility to the township of Kinlochewe. It is reckoned almost a fifth of the turnover of local businesses results from the reserve with a total economic contribution of between £490,000 and £760,000 a year. This helps secure around 10 jobs locally.
We recently offered people the chance to comment on the future management of the reserve as part of our Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree National Nature Reserve Management Proposals cover 2015 to 2026. Moreover, we’re committed to listening to the responses and acting upon them in the best interests of the reserve. That way, we can create a memorable and lasting experience for the visitor and hopefully sustain an enduring legacy for nature and our visitors.
So if you are only coming for a day, or as part of your annual holiday at Easter or in the summer, make sure a visit to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is on the cards.
You won’t regret it.
Find out more about Beinn Eighe NNR at http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/beinn-eighe/
Beinn Eighe NNR refurbishment gratefully acknowledges ERDF funding.