Additional £2.6m award for Highlands & Islands tourism

15 March 2021

Four projects in the Highlands and Islands will share a £2.6 million European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) award to promote the outstanding scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, announced today.

The funding has been awarded through the Natural Cultural and Heritage Fund, led by NatureScot. The fund invests in projects in the Highlands and Islands which improve the experience of visitors exploring the region’s nature and culture, and support jobs in remote and rural areas. The funding for these four new projects are in addition to £5m for nine projects announced in December 2019.

NatureScot has approved funding for Archaeology Scotland to start their project for a heritage and tourism network in the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Projects NatureScot also plan to fund include improved visitor infrastructure at sites on the Isle of Skye, new visitor facilities at the Highland Wildlife Park, and a circular historic route around Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Our commitment to supporting our outstanding nature and vibrant culture in the Highlands and Islands is reflected in this latest £2.6 million European Regional Development Fund investment, which follows the £5 million funding awarded less than 18 months ago.

“We are dedicated to enhancing employment in our rural communities and developing further the experience for locals and visitors, who cherish these areas of spectacular natural interest and beauty.

“The range of projects underlines the diverse attractions we know will continue to drive job opportunities and increase visitor numbers.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot Chief Executive, added:

"Nature and culture are intrinsically linked in the beautiful Highlands and Islands. They are central to local economies and help maintain rural populations, jobs and skills, especially at a time when a green recovery from the pandemic is so important. These four fantastic projects will make a real difference to rural communities for years to come, and give visitors even more to enjoy in these iconic areas of Scotland.”

Archaeology Scotland Project Manager Phil Richardson said:

“Archaeology Scotland is very excited to begin work with our partners on Ardnamurchan. The project will allow us to develop our Adopt-a- Monument Scheme, supported by Historic Environment Scotland, into a more holistic heritage tourism and engagement programme. Our goal is to connect people to the deep and rich cultural past of the peninsula, and our field work, excavations, experimental archaeology and innovative interpretation will have a significant impact on the understanding, enjoyment and care of the historical environment of the peninsula for local people, businesses and visitors.”

More detail on the four projects receiving funding include:

Archaeology Scotland – The Real Wild West – Adopt-a-Monument and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula (£306,844) - The Real Wild West project will develop a heritage and tourism network and strategy, as well as develop interpretation at important sites and locations, create a trail through west Ardnamurchan, and improve access, condition and maintenance of 10 heritage sites.

Outdoors Access Trust for Scotland, Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites (£748,954) - There will be new interpretation, promotion and marketing on the Isle of Skye, providing improvements at Skye’s Iconic Natural Heritage Sites including the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. The project will develop infrastructure to help a wider and more diverse range of people access the sites and will provide a better visitor experience. 

NatureScot, Hermaness Hill Path and Welcome Area - (£541,718) - NatureScot will install 1940m of recycled plastic boardwalk to reinstate the historic route to Muckle Flugga lighthouse signalling station at Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst in the Shetland Islands, creating a circular route around Hermaness National Nature Reserve, while protecting fragile blanket bog and rare nesting birds. An innovative shelter will be installed at the reserve entrance, housing interpretation to accommodate an increasing number of visitors.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre (£980,000) - New visitor facilities at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kincraig, to showcase the richness and diversity of native wildlife.

Funding for the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund comes from the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, with match funding from other sources, including charitable trusts, public and voluntary sector contributions, bringing overall investment into the 13 projects, to nearly £25million.  

For more information on the awards granted in the first round, see previous press release '£5m award for Highlands & Islands tourism'. 


The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund  is part of the next phase of the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, which runs through to 2023.  NatureScot is also managing another element of the programme – the Green Infrastructure Fund.

The Scottish Government is the Managing Authority for the European Structural Funds 2014-20 Programme. For further information visit our webpages or follow @scotgovESIF.

The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund covers the ‘Highlands & Islands” area which for this purpose is defined as the local authority areas of Highland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney, Shetland, Argyll, Moray and part of North Ayrshire (Arran). 

NatureScot is leading delivery of the fund, and established an advisory board to guide the process and help make decisions on which projects should be funded. This includes representatives from Visitscotland, HIE, Historic Environment Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. 

ERDF funding is awarded to support investment in innovation, businesses, skills and employment and create jobs. The fund is protected by the guarantees given by the UK and Scottish Governments to maintain EU funding programmes, even after Brexit.

This investment in four additional projects of £2.6m is in addition to the £4,946,892 of grants already announced towards nine other eligible projects

The further investment in these four reserve projects brings the total grant requested to fund all 13 projects to a total of £8,837,643.00 with match funding of around £16m.