Along with many other tourism business owners in the area who have benefitted from the Scottish Beaver Trial being located in the Knapdale Forest, I am keen to hear whether the Scottish Government will approve the continuation of the reintroduction of the Knapdale Beavers at the trial site. I had heard that the scientific report had been submitted this year and that the project was awaiting the decision from the Environment Minister, so I was delighted to hear that the Minister (Dr Aileen McLeod) was going to visit the site before making her decision, and was keen to meet some representatives from local tourism businesses to hear how the project had affected tourism in the area.
I was very pleased to be invited, along with Calum Ross from Loch Melfort Hotel and Christine Dobson from the Cairnbaan Hotel to meet with the Minister when she visited last Thursday (21 May 2015) and be given the time with her to talk about the impact that the trial has had on our businesses.
The meeting was organised by SNH, who arranged a visit to Dubh Loch and Barnlusagan Loch to show the minister the sites where some of the beavers have settled and made a significant impact on the landscape. Time was also scheduled for the minister to have a relaxed coffee break and to meet with ourselves in the Barnlusagan cabin.
As the beaver trial has had a significant impact on my business I was keen to tell her about the increased publicity that the area has received as a result of the trial: in 2011 BBC Springwatch visited the site and the Knapdale forest was very much put on the map during prime time TV viewing. Charlie Hamilton James presented a nightly update on his experiences at the trial site, raising public interest in the project. We were also lucky to have the Springwatch team visit our B&B to film a pine marten that visits frequently and to discuss with us the value of wildlife tourism to a small business like ours. We benefitted instantly from the publicity of the beaver trial and the coverage of our B&B and still have guests returning every year who found out about us through watching Springwatch. Similarly in 2012, Ray Mears visited the beaver trial site (and our B&B) and footage of the Knapdale beavers and our pine marten was shown on ‘Wild Britain’ on ITV & STV . In the same year the ‘One Show’ team also visited the site and provided excellent coverage of the project. The minister recognised that the area would not have benefitted from such publicity without the beaver trial.
We were also keen to explain the importance of wildlife tourism to an area like this. In January 2015, tourism businesses were invited to attend some pilot workshops (‘Wild about Argyll’) that were sponsored by Argyll and The Isles Tourism Cooperative, SNH and FCS. I was the presenter of these workshops and was able to relay the enthusiasm that the 24 attendees demonstrated: recognising the wealth of wildlife that this part of Argyll is able to offer the wildlife enthusiast and wanting to work together to promote this area as serious wildlife tourism destination. It was recognised by businesses in the immediate area that the beaver project provided visitors with some unique wildlife spotting opportunities, and the uncertainty as to whether the reintroduction would continue was a concern for some businesses wanting to use this unique selling point to attract more visitors.
Both myself, Christine & Calum were able to report experience of visitors wanting to stay longer having found out that the trial site was nearby and recognised that visitors who do not see beavers on their first visit are happy to return to give themselves another chance at seeing a beaver. When visitors are successful in seeing a beaver, they are keen to let their friends and family know by ‘tweeting’ and ‘facebooking’ their experience which is increasing valuable ‘word of mouth’ style marketing for the area.
We discussed with her the diversity of business that were benefitting from the increase in tourism numbers and tourism spend: illustrating that it is not just accommodation providers who are reaping the benefits: photographing the beavers is a popular attraction, visitors spend money on food and gifts while in the area and in the summer months, many buy midge repellent and nets to allow them longer at the loch side at dusk!
We had 30 minutes talking about these experiences with the minister. She seemed genuinely interested in the positive effect that such a project was having on tourism, recognising that at a time when the whole of the UK was struggling through a recession, we were able to attract a new stream of visitors who had not heard of the Knapdale forest previously and were excited to see an indigenous species returning to shape the Scottish landscape.
Recognising that businesses needed more certainty about the future of the project she assured us that the report was getting her full attention, but that it would still be a while until the final decision is announced. We were however impressed that she had taken the time in her busy schedule to visit the site and listen to our experiences and we hope that the future of the Knapdale beavers will be
Owner: Dunchraigaig House B&B
Freelance Development Agent – Heart of Argyll and Inveraray
Argyll & The Isles Tourism Cooperative Ltd