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Projects to improve the visitor experience at two Aberdeenshire locations using Rural Tourism Infrastructure Funding (RTIF) have already brought benefit, according to feedback from visitors.
St Cyrus NNR (National Nature Reserve) and Newburgh Seal Watching Experience both successfully applied for RTIF cash, with St Cyrus receiving more than £261,000 and Newburgh being awarded almost £137,500. Aberdeenshire Council brought forward the projects in partnership with the local community and NatureScot.
RTIF is designed to support collaborative projects which focus on improving the visitor experience in rural parts of Scotland that are facing pressure on their infrastructure and communities as a result of visitor numbers. It was established by the Scottish Government and the fund is managed by VisitScotland on its behalf. To date, £18 million of grant funding has been awarded to 74 projects across rural Scotland, since its launch in 2018.
Visitor numbers at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, near Montrose, increased dramatically in the decade running up to the pandemic, with the majority arriving by car to visit the spectacular beach and nature reserve, which is packed with birds and wildlife.
The successful RTIF project has seen a car park expansion and refurbishment of the public toilets – including an enhanced accessible changing space toilet with hoist and three gender-neutral cubicles, two of which have baby changing tables - as well as a safe pedestrian outdoor welcome and gathering space.
There are now 81 parking bays comprising standard, accessible, horse trailer, coach, motorcycle and campervan / minibus bays; as well as 24 cycle stands, a chemical disposal point and an EV double charge point.
One comment on the St Cyrus NNR Facebook page, following the opening of the St Cyrus toilets, said: “On a recent visit to St Cyrus Nature Reserve, I was heartened and impressed to find accessible toilets for families, people with a range of disabilities and for all genders. The wording and provision of this space (plus the pride flag I was welcomed with at the entrance) had a hugely positive impact on my visit. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community here in Scotland, and as someone who fully supports public spaces becoming more accessible, affirming efforts like these, made by the nature reserve staff, make me feel welcome, validated and an equal part of the environment and green spaces you support. My visit was wonderful, peaceful and inspiring and had such a positive impact on my mental health.”
Another comment, left on the My Park site - a project that helps people visit and support their local parks - said: “Visited St Cyrus NNR and stayed the night in the fantastic little camper van parking area. It is such a fantastic thing you’ve done allocating some van spaces and the chemical toilet emptying facility deserves so much more recognition than it’s already got, thank you.
“Obviously the nature reserve itself is absolutely fantastic but we wouldn’t have been able to visit and enjoy it had it not been for the allocation of some van stop over spaces. The park ranger here was absolutely ace too, giving us information, asking us about what we were planning/doing, and I can only assume she is at least part of the team that made all these fantastic signs around the area! We will be coming back here throughout the different seasons to enjoy how St Cyrus changes throughout a year! Thanks again!”
The aim of the Newburgh project was twofold - to improve the visitor experience by enhancing the facilities on the Newburgh side of the Ythan estuary; and putting measures in place to safeguard the grey seal haul-out on the northern shore.
Newburgh sees the largest haul out of grey seals in the UK, attracting a huge amount of visitors per year. Thousands of seals can be seen from the Newburgh (southern) side of the Ythan estuary, all year round and the introduction of these measures ensures that the adult and young seals have the peace and quiet they require to rest and moult.
Through RTIF funding, Newburgh Links car park was redesigned to provide 65 dedicated parking bays and a one-way system, substantially reducing congestion and improving the surrounding parking situation in general. The project also upgraded an existing onsite interpretation about the seals and the other wildlife of the Ythan Estuary.
It is proposed that a later phase of the project will include provision of an all-abilities path from the car park to a newly-created viewpoint.Agnes Kinloch, owner of the Trellis Cafe in Newburgh, said on the Newburgh village Facebook pageDavid Jackson, VisitScotland Regional Director, said:
“The feedback received after the recent improvement work clearly demonstrates that RTIF can make a real difference to communities who have experienced a large volume of visitors and the impact that can have. These facilities will help alleviate the pressure on the infrastructure of the local area, as well as the local environment.
“We all need to play our part in being responsible visitors and RTIF projects will help ensure our visitor destinations remain sustainable for years to come.”
Tourism infrastructure projects benefit Aberdeenshire communities