Pioneering £22m fund leaves lasting legacy for Highlands and Islands tourism

30 May 2023

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The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund (NCHF) has been hailed a success for supporting 13 major new projects showcasing the outstanding local scenery, wildlife, and culture of the Highlands & Islands.

The projects range from two new visitor centres at Dundreggan and Corrieshalloch Gorge, to virtual reality tours of important archaeological sites along the Hebridean Walking Route, to renovating two museums at Kilmartin and Strathnaver, and innovative grassland restoration on Skye. Another exciting and innovative project is Spirit of the Highlands and Islands. Storytelling is celebrated in this wide-ranging work with 175 stories brought to life through a website, film and photography, audio and two immersive portals featuring 360-degree films of various parts of the Highlands and Islands.

The NCHF, led by NatureScot, and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), supported projects that encourage visitors to experience a wider range of the unique nature and culture of the Highlands and Islands. The fund also aimed to benefit communities, with the projects it supports helping to retain local jobs and services.

Speaking at an event at NatureScot’s Great Glen House today to celebrate the success of the fund and its projects, NatureScot’s Deputy Director, Eileen Stuart, said: “The NCHF programme has been a resounding success. It’s been a wonderful journey seeing these 13 projects come to life, bringing sometimes overlooked corners of Scotland to the forefront and benefitting rural communities. With its breath-taking scenery, the Highlands and Islands have always drawn people from far and wide, and these projects open the window even wider to the area’s fascinating nature, culture, and history.”

The projects were honoured this month in an event at NatureScot headquarters at Great Glen House in Inverness on 30 May, which included talks and demonstrations covering all 13 projects. As well, Chris Taylor of Visit Scotland discussed the legacy of the fund for tourism in the Highlands and Islands, and Brian O’hEadhra of Bòrd na Gàidhlig explained how Gaelic is integrated into the projects and visitor experience.

Chris Taylor, VisitScotland Destination Development Director, said: “Investing in infrastructure projects such as these creates a long lasting legacy of high-quality visitor experiences in the Highlands and islands.

“Investment in 13 projects - spread geographically across the Highlands and islands – is an amazing achievement and really brings our unique nature, scenery and culture to the fore.

“VisitScotland welcomed the opportunity to be part of the project board, which has helped shape £22m of new investment in the visitor economy. The knock-on visitor economy benefits from these projects will be huge – employment, supply chain, local businesses, food, transport will all get a boost.”

Brian Ó hEadhra, Partnerships and Development Manager at Bòrd na Gàidhlig added: "The Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund has helped ensure that the Gaelic language and culture is integrated into these projects and the visitor experience, which is a fantastic legacy for the Highlands and Islands. From the Gaelic signage at Dundreggan rewilding centre to the Gaelic interpretation in the Uist Virtual Archeaology Project, the NCHF has provided important opportunities to highlight and celebrate the richness and diversity of Gaelic culture in Scotland. We are proud to have played a role in supporting these innovative and inspiring projects that will benefit visitors and communities for years to come."

The Scottish Government’s ERDF programme provided £8.2m of NCHF funding for the 13 projects, with match funding from other sources bringing overall investment to more than £22m.

A full list of projects is available