The sun was shining on Rob Gibson as he cut the ribbon to officially open the new facilities at Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve on Saturday. Around 50,000 people who visit the UK’s oldest NNR each year can now benefit from a £330,000 restoration of its visitor centre, which was able to take place thanks to 45% EU funding.
The MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, talked of his delight at being asked to perform the ribbon-cutting role at this ‘emblematic NNR’, saying that one of its strengths was in ‘helping people to see the values of the natural world but in a community setting.’
Improved visitor facilities include a makeover for the local trail interpretation, new visitor centre installations and a new wildlife-viewing hide.
Ian Ross, the SNH chairman, said: “There is a suite of designations and nationally scarce species here. And the reserve also provides superb mountain access, a high standard of visitor access, and excellent educational and interpretative information. It provides a tangible link between a high-value environment and the creation of jobs and opportunity, with strong community connections and benefits.”
Both Mr Gibson and Mr Ross paid tribute to the work and legacy of Dick Balharry, a world-renowned conservationist who died in April. Mr Gibson talked about Mr Balharry’s early years as the reserve’s warden where he carried out ‘crucial’ work into pesticides such as DDT – research understood to have contributed to the banning of such pesticides in the 1980s.
The visitor centre is the ideal venue from which to explore the 48 square kilometre reserve that stretches from loch shore to mountaintop, embracing rugged peaks, ridges, moor, pine forest and a cluster of islands. And with the option of anything from a 15-minute stroll to a full-day mountain hike, Beinn Eighe presents a great opportunity for everyone to see fantastic wildlife including golden eagle, red deer, white-tailed eagle and black-throated divers.
Around 50 people attended the opening and Chris Donald of SNH said: “We are delighted that so many local people were able to attend the event. The reserve is there for everyone to enjoy and we are committed to ensuring that as many people as possible experience the outstanding beauty of Beinn Eighe and Wester Ross.”
The visitor centre opens from 10am-5pm from April until October.