SCOTTISH Natural Heritage (SNH) is planning to invest more than three quarters of a million pounds to upgrade visitor facilities at Britain’s most northerly national nature reserve at Hermaness in Unst.
The agency has just been awarded £300,000 from the Scottish Government’s rural tourism infrastructure fund (RTIF) towards the £800,000 project that will see the construction of an elevated board walk, the provision of toilets and a sheltered interpretation point.
Work is planned to get under way in October this year depending on whether all necessary funding is in place by then. SNH is also awaiting news on a funding application to the natural and cultural heritage fund.
Giving access to some of Scotland’s most spectacular gannet colonies as well as puffins and great skuas (bonxies), Hermaness have seen a steady rise in visitor numbers over recent years.
Jonathan Swale of the Lerwick SNH office said visitor numbers have gone up by 50 per cent over the last four years to 9,000 last summer.
About ten years ago SNH installed a plastic board walk to the western edge of the nature reserve which has proved to be very successful.
However, due to erosion of the vulnerable peatland, the original path heading north was closed off a few years ago, preventing visitors from completing the traditional circular walk of the nature reserve.
Swale said the new walkway will take a slightly different route north to avoid red throated diver nesting sites, but once completed it will give people the chance to once again enjoy the circular walk.
The project, which is being undertaken in conjunction with Shetland Islands Council, will also see the construction of toilet facilities at the entrance to the nature reserve, new sheltered interpretation of the site as well as an upgrade to the car parking facilities.
Swale said: “Hermaness is one of the most important tourist attractions on the island of Unst and visitor numbers to the site are increasing every year.”
Hermaness is one of 13 projects across Scotland benefiting from a share of over £2.8 million from the second round of the RTIF programme which is aimed at helping meet the demand of growing visitor numbers.
VisitScotland Shetland manager Steve Matheson said: “It is vital we support businesses and communities experiencing pinch points as we see the continued success of tourism across Shetland, as evidenced by our recent inclusion in Lonely Planet’s top 10 Best in Europe 2019 list.”