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Balblair wood, Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. September 2014 ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Interpretive planning

Planning your natural heritage interpretation will help you to structure the process, avoid wasting resources and produce a successful result.

An interpretive plan is essential. It should also fit in with the business, marketing and/or visitor management plans for a site.


Decide at the outset what you wish to achieve with your interpretation.

Your objectives might be:

  • behavioural
  • educational
  • emotional
  • promotional

Be specific and realistic when setting objectives, and ensure that you can measure how well you achieve them. Objectives help to justify the resources you’ll need for the interpretation, and you’ll refer to them in your evaluation.

Keep it subtle if you want to change people’s attitudes or behaviour: it pays to let people think for themselves.

Partners in the planning process

Interpretive planning happens at many different scales – from a single display to an entire region. Involve the right people in the process from the start.

It may make sense to involve several agencies, communities and voluntary groups if the interpretation relates to a large area. For example, you might want to link your site to your local museum or another relevant facility.

A single person may be able to plan a simple interpretation, however.

Subject and audience

Think carefully about what you want to interpret. What makes the feature, collection or site special?

To keep your interpretation relevant, you must also know your audience:

  • How many visitors are there?
  • Who are they and where do they come from?
  • Why do they visit? What interests them?
  • How often and for how long do they visit?

Also ask yourself:

  • What visitor facilities are/will be on offer?
  • What other interpretation is there in the area?
  • What resources are available?

Don’t just interpret what you’re interested in – make sure your audience is able to relate to the interpretation. Visitors shouldn’t have to know much about your subject matter already, but don’t assume it’s entirely new to them either.

Stimulate all the senses where possible. What can your visitors see, hear, feel, smell and taste?


Refine what you want to say into themes. These are the ideas that you want visitors to take away with them. The interpretation for a single site might have several key themes, each containing one big idea.


Your objectives, subject, audience, themes and resources should dictate the media you choose, rather than vice versa. An interpretation panel won’t always be the most suitable way to achieve your objectives.


Cost and schedule the production of the interpretation, and work out who will manage the work. Part of this process is deciding what can be done in house and who you might need to hire in.

Effective interpretation requires great skill. Use only writers and designers who are able to deliver high quality work. Don’t write text yourself unless you’re suitably qualified to do so.

Read more about writing effective interpretation.

Monitoring and evaluation

You should assess whether your interpretation meets your set objectives. What you discover can inform your next interpretation project.

Find out about evaluating interpretation.


Be clear about who is to maintain the interpretation.

Maintenance tasks might include:

  • cleaning surfaces
  • clearing away vegetation
  • checking that interactives and lights work
  • tightening fixings

Find out more

Wildlife Interpretation Guidelines

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