The unique partnership of Mull Eagle Watch – an eagle protection and public viewing partnership between Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB, the Mull and Iona Community Trust, and Police Scotland – has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with 2016 being a particular success.
Mull Eagle Watch is a fantastic example of SNH and its partners promoting community empowerment. Prior to 2016 the Mull Eagle Watch Partnership provided a hide on Forestry Commission land, which offered unique viewing of sea eagles on the nest. In a bid to evolve the project, the partnership reached out to the community to see if they wanted to play a bigger role in delivering the project with us. Following community buy-outs of formerly Forestry Commission land on the island, in early 2016 the community took the lead with two viewing hides on their newly acquired land.
Both community trusts (South west Mull and Iona Development and North west Mull Community Woodland Company) working with local volunteers, hosted the MEW hides and learned valuable lessons on running such an enterprise in the longer term on their land. The eagle viewing season ran from April to end-September, with visitors totalling 3092 across both sites. The profits from the two hides were shared equally between the two communities, who could then choose how these funds were distributed in their local area. The MEW also retained a small sum to allocate to their wider Mull grants pot.
Despite the transfer of the hides from FCS to community land, the Sea Eagle Viewing hide project retained its accolade of a five star rating from Visit Scotland. Better still, the Mull Eagle Watch Sea Eagle viewing experience won the Innovation in Tourism Award at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) in November 2016. The island group now goes on to the National Finals in March of this year. The HITA committee stated the following reasons for the win:
“The success of Mull Eagle Watch involves many partners to create one of the UK’s most high profile wildlife attractions, featuring Mull’s majestic white-tailed eagles. It is the mix of involvement with organisations, communities – human and digital – that impressed the judges and raising money for local causes. Congratulations to the Mull and Iona Community Trust for the Mull Eagle Watch for creating and sustaining one of the United Kingdom’s most high profile wildlife attractions. Working across the community with public and private sector groups, engaging with schools, residents, social media channels, Mull Eagle Watch goes from strength to strength – creating a destination in its own right.”
And if one award wasn’t enough, MEW was also shortlisted for Community Initiative and Nature Tourism at the 2016 Nature of Scotland Awards, taking home another win!
MEW was also hugely successful in that it was able to operate whilst essential forestry operations continued, ensuring regular communication with forestry contractors to ensure no conflict with nesting eagles.
MEW is increasingly community led, providing an excellent example of innovative, community asset ownership working across multiple sectors (tourism, wildlife management, forestry and community). Such a partnership is a real cornerstone of Mull’s resilient rural community and one which SNH will continue to support.
Keep in touch with the MEW project here.