Scots turn over new leaf for peepers

IF YOU go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Thousands of “leaf peepers” are flocking to Scotland’s woodlands in order to catch a glimpse of the spectacular autumnal colours.

Across the Atlantic, leaf peeping is a multi-million dollar industry, flooding New England with tourists who travel hundreds of miles to see the “fall foliage”. Now the phenomenon is catching on in Scotland, with the launch of a new website aimed at collecting information on the best spots in the country to view the leaves, and more than 25,000 visitors expected in Perthshire this month to see the changing autumn colours.

Paul McLennan of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust said: “We’re finding more and more people coming to the area specifically to leaf peep. It’s definitely a top attraction for visitors at this time of year, and the way the scenery changes, particularly in Highland Perthshire, makes it extraordinarily beautiful.”

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The region is running the Highland Perthshire Autumn Festival, which encourages visitors to visit specific areas in order to view the changing colours, as well as the Enchanted Forest, a huge sound and light show set in woodland just outside the town of Pitlochry, which will take place throughout October.

“The great thing about our version of leaf peeping compared with the American one is that you can see a huge spectrum of colour over a longer period, so you don’t have to rush out over a specific three week window,” said McLennan. “It will last for anything up to six weeks.”

Meteorologists initially predicted that Scotland could expect an early autumn this year, as the country had experienced an early and wet spring, but with leaves across the country only now beginning to change, or “tint”, the spectacular colours of autumn are expected in the leaf peeping hotspots throughout the month of October.

Jill Donnachie, project officer at the Woodland Trust’s VisitWoods, said: “It’s definitely something that’s growing. We’re trying to get lots more people involved and encourage members of the public to get out there and appreciate the local woodland and the changing colours. It’s a very accessible thing to do.”

The Woodland Trust recently set up a website which allows members of the public to find the best places to see the leaves changing colour around Scotland simply by typing in their postcode.

“The idea is you put your postcode in and it brings up a list of woods where members of the public or landowners have told us there are autumn colours to enjoy. It’s a list of woods where there are great colours, and sometimes specific things like the leaves of the bracken or where to look for particular trees that are spectacularly coloured.”

Peter Webster, manager of Ardanaiseig Hotel, which owns its own woodland and is part of the project, said: “Our guests are always overwhelmed by the beauty of the grounds in autumn. Most visitors take to the woods almost immediately after they arrive, even if they hadn’t intended to. The trees really do have a magical draw.”

The Woodland Trust also runs a separate project called Nature’s Calendar, which charts the dates and times that leaves change throughout the UK.

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Meanwhile, VisitScotland has produced a range of autumnal walks that afford the best views of the changing autumn leaves and Scottish Natural Heritage said the season was a key one for visitors at its nature reserves.

“There is little doubt that Scotland’s national nature reserves have even more to offer when they show their true autumnal glory.” said an SNH spokesperson.

In the US, leaf peeping is an important part of the tourism economy. In the state of Vermont alone, leaf peepers bring in an additional $375 million each autumn. Around 133,000 international tourists flocked to the area last year just to look at the leaves.

“Leaf peeping is enormous in the US,” said Tricia Fox of the Highland Perthshire Autumn Festival. “The fact that it is catching on in the UK, particularly in Scotland, can only be good for the country.”

The Enchanted Forest, which won an award for the Best Cultural Event at this year’s Scottish Event Awards, is expected to attract more than 25,000 visitors this year.