A Guide to Nature and Wildlife Tourism in Scotland

Red Squirrel, Highland Perthshire
Red Squirrel, Highland Perthshire | © Courtesy of the Author

In recent years Scotland has firmly cemented her position as a leading destination for travellers. With initiatives like the North Coast 500 and “best destination” accolades from a wide range of sources: sailors, cinema-fans, and a recent vote as the most beautiful destination in the world, people are increasingly viewing this small nation as a must-visit location. A major reason for this is the incredible scenery, wildlife and nature that call it home. Here we explain how these stunning natural assets have brought in visitors to areas of Scotland that were once considered too remote to be profitable, bringing important economic benefits to one of the most peripheral areas of Europe.

Scotland has always attracted wildlife enthusiasts. Originally these were a dedicated few, willing to put up with long journey times, occasionally obstructive landowners, and fewer subjects to photograph or spot. As gamekeepers waged war against the very species tens of thousands of people now travel to see, and tree cover was removed through overgrazing or to make way for larger grouse moors, Scotland almost lost some of her most iconic creatures. It was through tireless hard work and education that visitors can now see birds such as the osprey — extinct in the UK before returning through natural recolonisation in 1954 and then fiercely protected to prevent criminals stealing the eggs. All this hard work resulted in greater public perception of the benefits of natural habitat and allowing wildlife to live alongside other land use options. It has also brought in generations of tourists who travel to Scotland to experience wild places and the animals and birds that inhabit them.

Pine Marten

The famous Royal Society for the Protection of Birds site at Loch Garten, close to Aviemore, has attracted around two and a half million visitors since it opened in 1959, with many people returning year after year. There are no figures that specifically cover tourism attracted to Scotland because of the wildlife, but Loch Garten serves as a good case study. As infrastructure was updated, with road, rail and air links all vastly improved in the last decade of the 20th century, more people began to visit Scotland. Each of these spends money locally, on accommodation, food, and entry to attractions, for example, then there is also the money spent directly on nature tourism.

Capturing the Photographer, Glencoe
Stag in Misty Sutherland

However, with this increase in visitor numbers comes a greater level of responsibility. Wild areas require delicate handling and conservation; for example, many feet can erode pathways, too many loud voices can scare nesting birds, visitors need new accommodation options, too many vehicles on narrow single-track roads can have a negative impact on traffic and farm and estate access. Scotland is lucky that these issues have been identified early enough to be controlled and managed, with several excellent charities, companies and government agencies working together to control any problems arising from increased footfall in wild places.

Red Squirrel, Highland Perthshire

The future for nature-based tourism in Scotland is strong and bright. The country draws more and more visitors each year, some travelling many thousands of miles, others simply driving north from England or Wales, or catching a ferry across from Northern Ireland. As land use alters in Scotland, with several estates already realising they stand to make a sizeable and sustainable income from attracting visitors armed with a camera, or even just a smartphone, rather than hunters with guns, so too does the opportunity for wildlife to flourish increase. The recent reintroduction of beaver and ruling that the species is now protected by law is a prime example, as are the plans to reintroduce the lynx. As ecosystems become more natural, with balance restored, so too does the potential to attract further numbers of visitors grow, with Scotland’s already stunning scenery becoming even more beautiful, full of birdsong and the wildlife that should be there.

European Lynx
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article