IT SOUNDS as unlikely a contest as the infamous battle between David and Goliath, but tourism chiefs are hoping that Scotland’s diminutive red squirrel can bring in more money than the Loch Ness Monster.
The first cash from a new fund supporting the Scottish Government’s Year of Natural Scotland tourism drive has just been awarded to a project promoting Loch Ness’s natural beauty, rather than its mythical attractions.
While Nessie is arguably Scotland’s best-known tourist attraction, local operators say that few visitors stay in the area for long or spend much money.
Destination Loch Ness has been given £25,000 from the Natural Growth Fund to promote wildlife, the scenery and outdoor activities, with the tourism partnership hoping the lure of seeing a red squirrel in the wild will help to encourage tourists to extend their visit and invest more in the local economy.
In a statement supporting its funding application, the partnership said: “Loch Ness has always been known for one thing, ‘The Monster’, and while this has been very important to the awareness of the destination, it has not encouraged long stays and high spend by visitors.
“This project, by profiling the natural landscape around the loch and all the activities to be enjoyed, plus events, will make visitors realise Loch Ness really does have a lot to offer, thereby encouraging more visits, longer stays and greater spend.”
The money, which must be match-funded by the applicants, will also be used to highlight lesser-known activities showcasing nature in the area, including “weaselling”, which is like potholing but done among rocks.
Graeme Ambrose, who runs a B&B and is executive director at Destination Loch Ness, said: “The south side of Loch Ness is virtually unknown to a lot of people because they just see the north side, for the monster [attractions] and Urquhart Castle.
“There is so much to do on the south side, it’s very much more of a wilderness area where you can cycle and walk, and it is rich in wildlife. There is a large population of red squirrels and also pine martins.”
The £150,000 Growth Fund from the Year of Natural Scotland, launching next year, is aimed at supporting marketing projects showcasing Scotland’s unique natural environment and supporting the growth of tourism across the county.
It was opened to applications last month and provides awards on a 50:50 match-funding basis from £2,500 to £25,000.
Statistics suggest 40 per cent of tourism spending in Scotland is on nature-based activities; the value of wildlife tourism is estimated at over £270 million.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “Not only is Loch Ness renowned around the world and a key Scottish icon, it is also very important area of outstanding environmental and cultural heritage. This award will help position Loch Ness more strongly as a year-round natural destination in key UK markets.”