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Finance and Economy Secretary, Kate Forbes, opens car park and off-grid toilets at Skye’s Iconic Fairy Pools

A community and environmental charity-led project on Skye that has helped boost tourism to the famed Fairy Pools, one of Scotland’s most popular and remote visitor attractions near Glenbrittle, was formally opened today (12 July 2021) by Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes.

Ms Forbes visited the site which has benefited from an £800,000 investment in the development of a 140-space car park and off-grid toilet block.

The project was spearheaded by Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), the local community volunteer organisation, the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS), Scotland’s leading environmental charity promoting sustainable public access, and the Highland Council Development and Infrastructure Service; with funding from LEADER, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Land Fund, and additional financial support from both OATS and MCHA.

The new facilities mean that the site can now safely accommodate 200,000 visitors a year.

Ms Forbes said: “I’m delighted that we have been able to support the improvements that have been made to the infrastructure at the Fairy Pools, improving the facilities at one of our most iconic tourist destinations.

“The Scottish Government are supporting our rural communities as much as possible to cope with the increased numbers looking to enjoy Scotland’s countryside, especially as we encourage people to staycation this year.

“Scotland has world-leading legislation giving people rights to access our countryside, but it’s important that these are exercised responsibly and with respect for others, for wildlife and for the land itself. Investing in visitor management and supporting our rural communities is a crucial part of sustainable tourism growth.”

An unsustainable 82,000 people visited the Fairy Pools in 2015, with more than 180,000 people recorded in 2019. The narrow single-track access road was regularly blocked with parked cars, verges were damaged and both local residents, businesses and emergency services had to deal with significant disruption. The lack of infrastructure and onsite facilities also led to path and habitat degradation and litter and waste management issues.

MCHA used the Community Asset Transfer scheme to acquire the land from Forestry and Land Scotland. The car park site was then leased to OATS, who had the experience, the expertise, and the capacity to deliver the scheme and handle the liabilities, for a 20-year period on condition that they construct, operate, and maintain the car park and toilets.

Despite a number of construction challenges, stemming from the site’s remote location, ground conditions, and constantly increasing visitor numbers, the new facilities have been fully operational since October 2020.

Dougie Baird, Chief Executive of the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland, said: “There is a long-term issue of lack of basic infrastructure at popular remote destinations throughout Scotland. The effects can be far-reaching with disruption to community and business and damage to the very special locations that people wish to see. 

“The hugely successful landlord/tenant collaboration forged between MCHA and OATS is the perfect model to demonstrate how effective third-sector partnerships can address these issues. As well as actively protecting important and fragile assets and ensuring visitors enjoy a positive experience, the project generates revenue that will continue to provide funds for local community objectives and local and national environmental conservation. The legacy will be significant.

“It has only been possible with the provision of government grants to provide a platform to raise the rest of the funds required, and I am sure this will offer visitors a vastly improved experience whilst providing sustainability to the management of the site.”

Since opening with the first 100 parking spaces in January 2019, and despite closing for Covid-19 lockdowns, the car park has already generated enough revenue to pay for two full-time and eight casual support staff, the rent, PPE equipment, and further site infrastructure development and admin costs. This has included the addition of a defibrillator on site.   The operating surplus is being re-invested as seed-corn funding for access and conservation work, including for the new Skye Iconic Sites Project, as well as funding for community benefit projects.

Ends

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For images and interview requests please contact Paddy Cuthbert

Paddy Cuthbert | Littlehouse Media | E: [email protected] | M: +44 (0)7913 951717

Additional Quotes here:

Graham Campbell, Chair, MCHA

“At the outset, our priority was to help address the disruption the increase in visitors was having on local residents through congestion and vehicles parking on verges, often causing blockages.  It wasn’t feasible for us to do this on our own.  Working with OATS and with the support of Highland Council, HIE, Forestry Land Scotland and our MSP, the issues for local residents have been alleviated, the bonus being the much-improved visitor experience, the creation of local employment, and an income stream for MCHA that is allowing us to support other Minginish community projects.”

Ian Moffett, Chair, OATS

“Thanks to all the funders and MCHA who made the Fairy Pools project possible. We believe the resulting product is a credit to us, the community, and to the lenders.  This is an excellent model of how community and charity partnerships can turn a challenge into an opportunity and gives visitors the quality, Covid – safe, experience they should be entitled to expect.

“Providing Off-Grid facilities in the remoter parts of Scotland is always tricky and £420,000 was spent on our toilets. Sounds a lot, but we must protect our unique natural environment with first-class waste treatment. At just over a couple of pounds for each of the Fairy Pool’s 200,000 annual visitors we think the new toilets are a good deal for them, for future site visitors, and for Skye’s precious ecology.  OATS are in discussions elsewhere in Scotland to resolve similar problems.”

Alaistar Nicolson, Head of Strengthening Communities at Highlands and Islands Enterprise Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross team
“We are really pleased to have supported infrastructure work at local visitor attractions such as Fairy Pools. This is a fantastic development, which reduces congestion and improves safety for the community as well for visitors.”

Councillor John Finlayson, Chair of Highland Council’s Education Committee

“I am delighted to see the official opening of the Fairy Pools car park and toilets take place, which again demonstrates the importance of partnership working involving people at the heart of a community and also stakeholders from other agencies.

MCHA should be congratulated on their vision for this important project supported by OATS, The Highland Council, HIE, and the Scottish Government.  I already know from feedback I have received both locally and from visitors to Skye, how well used and valuable this facility is. The ethos of partnership working that drove this project is what we want to see as the cornerstone of the developing Investment and Infrastructure Plan for Skye and Raasay, and I would like to congratulate all stakeholders for what has been achieved at The Fairy Pools.”

Sandra Reid, Visitor Service Ranger, Forestry Land Scotland
“This particular project was the first asset transfer under Land Reform Legislation and it is a great example of how local communities across Scotland are seeing and pursuing opportunities through our Community Asset Transfer Scheme. It’s a great way to marry up focused, local knowledge and ambition with the resources needed to help communities put their drive and talents to work to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.”

Chris Taylor, Regional Leadership Director at VisitScotland

“This is a fantastic example of the collaborative effort that is taking place across Skye and the Highlands to improve facilities and ensure tourism can continue to benefit both visitors and communities whilst protecting our natural environment.

“Over the last three years, the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund has played an important role in improving the visitor experience, be it car parking, toilets or footpaths, as we want people to have a must visit-must return experience.

“We all need to play our part in being responsible visitors and improvement works like these are crucial to ensuring our visitor destinations remain sustainable for years to come.”

Dave Till, Chair, SkyeConnect

“The official opening of the Fairy Pools car park and toilet facility is the culmination of a lot of work and creative fund-raising by a range of organisations.  SkyeConnect is committed to continuing to develop the island’s infrastructure in line with Skye’s ever-increasing popularity. We recognise that we have a duty to protect our unique environment and develop tourism in a sustainable manner that minimises the impact on the resident population. We need more innovative schemes like this at the other popular tourist hotspots, but today is a day to celebrate what can be achieved when public and private sector organisations, charities, and community interest companies (CIC’s like SkyeConnect) work together.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Fairy Pools’ rapid rise in popularity with UK and international visitors in recent years resulted in the existing limited car parking (30 spaces) at the site being frequently overwhelmed.
  2. In 2015 the Highland Council Development and Infrastructure Service commissioned a study by Bryden Associates to explore options for alternative parking provision at the trailhead.  The study concluded the best option was for the community to acquire the land, extend the existing car park and build public toilets. 
  3. From the outset Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA), the local community volunteer organisation, were driven to solve the congestion issues for both residents and local businesses. They were also keen to reduce the environmental impact, generate local employment, and create a better experience for those visiting the Fairy Pools. 
  4. MCHA used the Community Asset Transfer scheme to acquire the land from Forestry and Land Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Land Fund, the first asset transfer under Land Reform Legislation.
  5. They turned to the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS), Scotland’s leading environmental charity promoting sustainable public access, who had the experience, the expertise and the capacity to deliver the scheme and handle the liabilities. 
  6. OATS and MCHA worked together to progress fundraising for the build.  They raised £375,597 for the car park, phase one of the project.  The major contribution for this came from LEADER (£200,000), Highland Council (£100,000), and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£50,000), with support from OATS (£20,708) and MCHA (£4,889).  The challenges of building an off-grid sewage system with a processing tank that could manage the growing visitor numbers required a substantial budget of £418,467.  OATS raised the money with funding from the Scottish Government (£341,140), supplemented by their own funds (£77,327).
  7. The car park has required further infrastructure development including tarmacing, fencing, and line painting. OATS and MCHA had to raise a further £26,863, with £10,198 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise awarded to MCHA, with OATS contributing a further £16,665.
  8. Skye’s Iconic Sites Project will help to address the lack of tourist infrastructure and co-ordinated interpretation on the Isle of Skye, making improvements to the quality of the visitor experience for a wider and more inclusive range of people at three of its most iconic and busiest sites – the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing and the Fairy Pools.  This will be achieved through the development of access infrastructure – paths, bridges, and viewpoints; path and habitat restoration and rehabilitation; and a programme of co-ordinated interpretation through information points and signage, together with promotion, marketing and joined-up thinking within the wider context of Skye as a visitor destination.

The Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (OATS) – is an environmental charity promoting sustainable public access throughout Scotland and innovates, develops, builds and repairs paths and trailhead facilities and fixes mountain habitats.

Minginish Community Hall Association (MCHA)Minginish Community Hall Association is a registered charity originally set up to build a new community hall for the remote rural area of Minginish on the Isle of Skye. It is now involved in wider community-led work in the area and enables other projects that deliver community benefit.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is an economic and community development agency implementing Scotland’s Economic Strategy across a region which covers more than half the country. With around 300 staff, HIE supports hundreds of client businesses and social enterprises; strengthens communities, particularly in fragile areas; develops growth sectors, and invests in infrastructure to create a more competitive and low carbon region.
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