New seasonal access rangers carried out over 11,500 site visits in 1100 patrols across the Highland Council region from May – August 2021.
The team were based throughout Highland to promote and advise on responsible access to the countryside through the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
The Highland Council developed a multi-service Visitor Management Plan and allocated £1.5M to implement it.
A fundamental part of the plan was the allocation of £300,000 for the establishment of a ten-person Seasonal Access Ranger team supplemented by a further 7 posts with Better Places 2 funding from the Scottish Government.
They cover a third of the Scottish land area, nearly 26,500 square km.
Tourism Committee Chair, Cllr Gordon Adam said:
“In less than 4 months, over 60,000 vehicles were recorded in car parks and on roadsides over the summer weekends, with over 35,000 people observed by the team just under half of whom were informed or reminded of responsible behaviour by the access ranger team.
“This face to face communication helps ensure that our beautiful outdoor spaces are protected for future generations, and has been widely welcomed.
“The impact of litter, fires, human waste and anti-social behaviour of a small minority remains an issue, but the rangers have worked with rural communities and the Council to promptly reduce its impact.
“Lessons learned will be examined in detail by Members and officers from the access team at a workshop within the next few weeks, so we can plan early for summer 2022.”
Rangers patrolled sites and engaged with visitors to ensure awareness of the Outdoor Access Code, they monitored use and reported incidents to the relevant Council teams or emergency services.
The rangers also carried out duties to keep tidy, maintain and manage Council owned sites, core paths and worked with communities and land managers on other sites to protect the habitats and respect for the landscape.
Where possible, the rangers worked with local volunteers to engage with visitors and it is hoped this will be further developed.
Responsible camping was a key priority and, in many cases, a ‘no fires’ message was promoted.
There is a significant fire risk throughout the Highlands in the summer months and lighting camp-fires on peaty ground, woodland, grassland or moors is irresponsible and contrary to the Code.
It is also irresponsible to light fires close to buildings, historic monuments and within 30m of a public road.
Even small fires cause significant damage to our natural environment from the scorch marks, the trees cut down or the dead wood housing insects.
Much of this damage takes years to recover and is leaving a significant disruptive mark on the beautiful landscape.
A workshop involving Member and Council officers was agreed at yesterday’s tourism committee (Wednesday 29 September 2021) and will be arranged in early autumn to consider feedback from the 2021 season and priorities for a revised Visitor Management Plan for 2022.