• kaitlynchatwood

Restorations taking place on the Isle of Skye

As we continue to promote the Scottish isles which contain much of our beloved natural heritage and visit the increasingly iconic places of renowned beauty, it is important to remember that increased visitor attention means an increase in the erosion of the natural landscape. That is why the Outdoor Access Trust of Scotland (OATS) has teamed up with a variety of agencies and projects such as the Skye Iconic Sites Project (SISP), NatureScot and others to protect the local vegetation areas from further erosion and to improve the visitor experience at the Old Man of Storr site on the Isle of Skye.

The Old Man of Storr is one of the most famous walks on the island and throughout Scotland: there are several projects currently underway in an effort to improve and protect the natural vegetation. The most recent is a trial of seed cutting and collection techniques to identify the best way to restore natural vegetation before they scale up the operation next season. OATS are Scotland's leading environmental charity as they promote sustainable public access and as such, they are the leading body of this project which they are trialling on the rich grasslands at the site.

Seed cutting techniques included hand cutting, strimming and vacuuming up the seeds from the land over several days. This data will play a crucial role in informing the project of the best system to use from next season to restore the site to its original status. The collected seeds will then be distributed in order to establish the reintroduction of various plant species to the area - some of which were lost to the pressure of visitor footfall. Habitat will be restored and allowed to flourish on a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and it will also stabilise the bare areas from wind and rain erosion. This has an additional bonus of making it more aesthetically pleasing for future visitors.

Another project taking place at the Old Man of Storr is the improvement of the pathway itself. With an increase in visitor numbers from 20,000 to 340,000 in recent years, the sensitive vegetation and soft peat surface have been severely damaged further causing erosion. OATS has designed the works along the pathway which will be upgraded to reduce erosion and vegetation loss, improving the site for visitors and natural inhabitants alike.

The habitat restoration at the Old Man of Storr is just the beginning of extensive work planned across the Isle of Skye by SISP as the Fairy Pools and Quiraing are also receiving special care. Habitat restoration, new pathworks and bridges are in the works to improve the areas for the optimal visitor experience but also, more importantly, to achieve sustainable management of these remote and popular locations which suffer due to the increase in tourism at the Isle of Skye.

SISP has a budget of close to £1 million thanks to the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, OATS, the Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspection Division, the Minguish Community Hall Association and the Highland Council with a grand total of £929,308. These funds will be invested to provide better quality opportunities for visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of Scotland, whilst protecting the environment and local habitats for future visitors.

Dougie Baird, CEO of OATS said; “Skye is a global destination for international visitors keen to experience and relish in its beauty but, as we’ve seen many times before, an increase in visitor numbers comes at a cost. As an environmental organisation we aim to protect and develop the incredible sites Skye has so the public can enjoy everything the island has to offer, sustainably.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to learn more about the land on one of Skye’s most famous and busiest walkingroutes. The seed collection is the first step in allowing us to capture the information we require in order to successfully restore the land and offer a solution that works for everyone. We can’t wait for the restoration to get fully underway.”

SISP is part of the new almost £9 million Scottish programme of projects which are to be invested in the Highlands and Islands. The Isle of Skye continues to be a favourite to visit thanks to the beautiful breath-taking landscape and scenery, however the increased visitor footfall has led to erosion of the natural land. The plans for restoration are underway as OATS and SISP work hard to bring the Isle of Skye back to its original state and after this year’s trials, the work can start in earnest at the Old Man of Storr.