A network of whale-watching sites is to be created around Scotland’s west coast as part of ambitious plans to make the country an essential European destination for marine tourism.
As part of wider plans to regenerate coastal communities, the Scottish Government has awarded a grant of nearly £200,000 to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT).
It is hoped that money will help the organisation create the Hebridean Whale Trail, a network of 25 sites for whale-watching around the west coast, where the creatures are attracted by mineral-rich waters warmed by the Gulf Stream.
The plans, expected to take more than two years to complete, are part of a £4.3m package which will also improve coastal paths, transform harbours and create new visitor attractions through the Coastal Communities Fund.
Of the world’s 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, 24 species have been recorded in the waters off the west coast of Scotland in recent years. Many are at the centre of international conservation efforts. “Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important habitats for cetaceans and one of the UK’s most biologically productive areas,” a spokesman for HWDT said.
“Humpback whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction in Scottish waters, but in recent years the trust has noticed an increase in the number of sightings.”
Alison Lomax, the Trust’s deputy director, told i the project was still “in its infancy” and that the exact sites had yet to be decided upon, but that future visitors could look forward to seeing minke whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales.
“There are so many fantastic places to watch whales and dolphins from shore in the west of Scotland.
“The project will connect those places together to really showcase the amazing wildlife experiences that can be had across the Hebrides,” she added.
As well as the grant to HWDT, Dumfries and Galloway Council has been awarded £300,000 to create 64 miles of coastal paths at the Rhins peninsula.
RSPB Scotland has also been given £237,000 to restore a 270-hectare reserve on Egilsay, one of the Orkney Islands, to secure a future for endangered wildlife including corncrakes, curlews, lapwings and snipe.