GO WILD! Making the most of your coast

GO WILD! Making the most of your coast
Fred Gordon, Head Ranger at Aberdeenshire Council, spoke about the marine & wildlife tourism markets and promoting the Moray Firth coastline.

In this presentation I want to take a look at some key points in relation to the Moray Firth Partnership area and how we can help visitors and residents make the most of its wildlife tourism potential. So what are these key points?

• What are the key natural heritage features that make this area special?
• Where might people go to see these?
• Where can people go to find attractive walks that don’t involve serious hill walking?
• What services are available from wildlife or walking guides, rangers, or wildlife –based attractions?

There is little doubt that there is an increase in the numbers of visitors coming to Scotland in search of a wildlife experience. Television programmes such as Spring Watch and Blue Planet, with presenters such as Bill Oddie and David Attenborourgh, have raised awareness of the bounty of wildlife available on and around our islands. Access to the Internet has also ensured that our wildlife treasures are brought to the attention of a worldwide audience of potential visitors.

However, when they do arrive on our shores many of them feel a bit lost as to where to go to see the best in the short time they may have available. In many cases visitors will turn to the local Tourist Board or their accommodation provider for advice as they have an expectation that these people will have an in-depth knowledge of their local area and be able to assist them. This is not such a difficult service to offer visitors as it might at first seem.

Many visitors may come with a tick list of wild species they would like to see in the area. Fulfilling their wishes can at times seem daunting but moderating expectations can be quite negative. The trick is to assist as much as you can with regard to their wish list but also to point out the other species and habitats they might want to look for. Remember, those dolphins, or the puffin, or the seal just might not be there when they go. So offering other options ensures that they still see wildlife, or at least stand a better chance of seeing their target species. Let’s take a closer look at the potential.

As a general rule it is worth emphasising that wild animals can be dangerous, and whilst they are exciting to look at, they should not be approached too closely or handled. Also the lonely looking small bird or animal on the beach may not be lost or injured.

Sandy Coasts
We can find good examples of these all around the Moray Firth Partnership area and this list is by no means exhaustive.
• Cullen Bay
• Sunnyside beach – Findlater Castle
• Boyndie Bay
• Banff Bay
• Cullykhan Bay
• Rosehearty

All of these offer opportunities for younger visitors to have a bit of fun but are also places where they might see;
• Seals
• Oystercatchers
• Sea ducks such as Eiders
• Waders such as Dunlin, Sandpiper, Redshanks and many more

Rocky Shores
These can often be quite spectacular but they can also be dangerous and should not be approached too closely. Good examples can be seen at:
• Cullen – Sandend
• Knock Head – Whitehills
• Troup Head – RSPB Reserve
• Pennan Head
• Portknockie – Bow Fiddle Rock

Here we can see many of the species we saw at the sandy shores but can add many exciting birds that nest on the steep cliffs here. For example:
• Puffins
• Cormorants
• Shags
• Guillemots
• Razorbills

Another good and perhaps more exciting way to have a look at both sandy and rocky coasts is to see them from a boat and there are companies in the area who will offer such trips.

From all of these there is the possibility that the visitor might see:
• Minke whales
• Bottlenose dolphins
• Killer whales (Orcas)

If the weather is not very good for wildlife watching in the area there are often other opportunities which are no less exciting. Visits to the Moray Firth Dolphin Centre, the Marine Aquarium at Macduff, or the Scottish Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh are all very worthwhile.

Sometimes visitors lack the confidence to go on their own and feel more comfortable with a guide. This is also possible as local authorities often provide Ranger guided activities on the coast and information on these can be obtained from their websites or from booklets available in Visitor Centres, Tourist Information Centres, hotels and guest houses. Going with a person who has local knowledge can often save time and many of these events will be free of charge.

Accommodation providers and others can often do quite a lot to assist visitors to an area, without
necessarily incurring a lot of expense. Things like:

• Access to maps and guide books (these may be borrowed by guests)
• Access to websites to look for walks or events
• Folders with up to date information on services and events
• Make yourself more familiar with the area and what it has to offer
• Selection of simple guidebooks (Collins Little Gem series?)
• Binoculars – inexpensive.

Any of these can turn a good experience into a great experience which tempts the visitor to stay a bit longer in the area.

In conclusion then one or two of the basic points;

• This coastal area has a huge amount to offer wildlife tourism
• Make good use of local and national websites for information and events
• Keep in touch with your local Ranger Service. Get their events programme
• Ask local activity providers for their programmes for wildlife watching
• Visit Visitor Centres and areas and get to know them yourself
• Browse as many wildlife books as you can. Get to know the local species and where best to see them
• Have FUN. Remember if you are enjoying the wildlife so will your visitors