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A community and environmental charity-led project on Skye that has helped boost tourism to the famed Fairy Pools, near Glenbrittle, was formally opened on Monday by Finance and Economy Secretary and local Skye MSP, Kate Forbes.
Ms Forbes visited the site which has benefited from an £800,000 investment in the development of a 140-space car park and off-grid toilet block.
The project was spearheaded by Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), the local community volunteer organisation, the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS), Scotland’s leading environmental charity promoting sustainable public access, and the Highland Council Development and Infrastructure Service; with funding from LEADER, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Land Fund, and additional financial support from both OATS and MCHA.
The new facilities mean the site can now safely accommodate 200,000 visitors a year and Ms Forbes said she was delighted that the government had been able to support the improvements.
‘The Scottish Government is supporting our rural communities as much as possible to cope with the increased numbers looking to enjoy Scotland’s countryside, especially as we encourage people to staycation this year,’ Ms Forbes added.
‘Scotland has world-leading legislation giving people rights to access our countryside, but it’s important that these are exercised responsibly and with respect for others, for wildlife and for the land itself. Investing in visitor management and supporting our rural communities is a crucial part of sustainable tourism growth.’
An unsustainable 82,000 people visited the Fairy Pools in 2015, with more than 180,000 people recorded in 2019.
The narrow single-track access road was regularly blocked with parked cars, verges were damaged and both local residents, businesses and emergency services had to deal with significant disruption. The lack of infrastructure and onsite facilities also led to path and habitat degradation and litter and waste management issues.
MCHA used the Community Asset Transfer scheme to acquire the land from Forestry and Land Scotland. The car park site was then leased to OATS, which had the experience, the expertise and the capacity to deliver the scheme and handle the liabilities for a 20-year period on condition that it constructs, operates and maintains the car park and toilets.
Despite a number of construction challenges, stemming from the site’s remote location, ground conditions, and constantly increasing visitor numbers, the new facilities have been fully operational since October.
Dave Till, chairman of SkyeConnect, said: ‘The official opening of the Fairy Pools car park and toilet facility is the culmination of a lot of work and creative fundraising by a range of organisations.
‘SkyeConnect is committed to continuing to develop the island’s infrastructure in line with Skye’s ever increasing popularity. We recognise that we have a duty to protect our unique environment and develop tourism in a sustainable manner that minimises the impact on the resident population.
‘We need more innovative schemes like this at the other popular tourist hotspots, but today is a day to celebrate what can be achieved when public and private sector organisation, charities and community interest companies (CIC’s like SkyeConnect) work together.’
Dougie Baird, chief executive of the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland, added: ‘There is a long-term issue of lack of basic infrastructure at popular remote destinations throughout Scotland. The effects can be far reaching with disruption to community and business and damage to the very special locations that people wish to see.
‘The hugely successful landlord/tenant collaboration forged between MCHA and OATS is the perfect model to demonstrate how effective third-sector partnerships can address these issues.’
Since opening with the first 100 parking spaces in January 2019, and despite closing for Covid-19 lockdowns, the car park has already generated enough revenue to pay for two full-time and eight casual support staff, the rent, PPE equipment, and further site infrastructure development and administration costs. This has included the addition of a defibrillator on site.
The operating surplus is being reinvested as seed-corn funding for access and conservation work, including for the new Skye Iconic Sites Project, and funding community benefit projects.