We gave qualified support to today’s announcement that Scottish Government Ministers have allocated up to £1.5 million for a third instalment of the Better Places Fund for seasonal posts to help manage recent vastly increased pressure on Scotland’s countryside.
Along with other bodies concerned for quality public access to Scotland’s countryside, we want to see more sustained funding to ensure effective long-term management.
Richard Barron, Chief Operations Officer, explains:
“Of course, we welcome the news of a further round of funding for ranger posts for the coming summer season. Access managers in heavily-pressured areas urgently need more resources to help put more bodies on the ground to advise and educate visitors and to promote responsible use of the land. But we also need more support for access staff in local authorities who protect our exceptional access rights; that capacity has been steadily running down over recent years.
“Both of those are vital if we’re to continue to achieve the benefits of healthy exercise for the widest possible range of users and the economic benefits for rural communities, along with the least possible conflict with farmers and other land managers.
“But short-term funding for temporary posts to deal with intense seasonal pressures is no more than a sticking-plaster. Visitors and land managers both need the confidence of sustained funding for effective long-term visitor management. The lack of continuity and extremely short window for application and recruitment in the present funding package is not conducive to effective selection and training. We urge the Scottish Government to acknowledge the advantages of full-time staffing and to support the posts to realise those advantages.”
The early summer of 2020 saw unprecedented numbers of people heading into Scotland’s countryside following the lifting of the Pandemic lockdown restrictions. Unfortunately, the sheer pressure of numbers caused problems – not enough parking places or toilets, traffic jams at popular spots, over-crowding on paths and land managers struggling to cope with the impact of so many visitors.
The Scottish Government responded with the Better Places Fund managed by NatureScot for seasonal posts such as countryside rangers, to help manage the issues that occurred in hot spot areas. This is part of the Visitor Management Plan led by VisitScotland supported by NatureScot, Police Scotland, National Park Authorities, Forestry & Land Scotland, local authorities, Transport Scotland and other partners.
Over the past two years, the Better Places Fund has enabled additional seasonal rangers and visitor management operational staff to be hired to help the many people who have been getting out into the Scottish countryside during the pandemic. It has made a big difference in hot spot areas and demonstrated the need for more strategic, long-term funding.