Sixty rangers axed across Scotland beauty spots including Isle of Skye, North Coast 500 and Loch Lomond as tourist season looms

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The rangers were hired to deal with the impact of high motorhome use and poor camping practices

The loss of 60 rangers hired to patrol tourist hot-spots around Scotland – from the North Coast 500 to Skye and Loch Lomond – has been described as a “step backwards” as communities living around some of the country’s most scenic locations face the onset of the new holiday season.

The ranger service was launched in 2021 to deal with issues surrounding high levels of motorhomes, wild camping, dangerous campfires and outdoor toileting as the Covid pandemic drove high numbers of people into the countryside.

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Around 60 ranger posts funded by £900,000 of Scottish Government money through NatureScot last year will not continue this season. The Government agency has confirmed “difficult decisions” surrounding budgets had been taken.

Kylesku Bridge in Sutherland, which sits on the North Coast 500. Sixty rangers have been axed across Scotland's beauty spots, including areas covered by the NC500. Picture: Richard Wiseman/Flickr/CCKylesku Bridge in Sutherland, which sits on the North Coast 500. Sixty rangers have been axed across Scotland's beauty spots, including areas covered by the NC500. Picture: Richard Wiseman/Flickr/CC
Kylesku Bridge in Sutherland, which sits on the North Coast 500. Sixty rangers have been axed across Scotland's beauty spots, including areas covered by the NC500. Picture: Richard Wiseman/Flickr/CC

Margaret Meek, one of the founders of the NC500 The Land Weeps page on Facebook, which shares information surrounding activity on the 516-mile driving route through the north and west Highlands, said: “The ranger service absolutely worked. It is inconceivable that it is being scrapped.

“We did a poll in 2022 and the support for the rangers was absolutely overwhelming. I think they have made a huge difference.

“I think those who participate in the Facebook group think there will be a return to bad behaviour and I think we will see things take a step backwards this summer.”

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Rangers were hired to inform visitors about responsible access and the rules of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code on issues such as motorhome parking and the lighting of campfires.

Car parks and beauty spots along the A838 on  the North Coast 500 route near Ullapool fill up in summer 2020 as some lockdown rules were relaxed.. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)Car parks and beauty spots along the A838 on  the North Coast 500 route near Ullapool fill up in summer 2020 as some lockdown rules were relaxed.. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)
Car parks and beauty spots along the A838 on the North Coast 500 route near Ullapool fill up in summer 2020 as some lockdown rules were relaxed.. (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

The loss of the service comes as rangers working in the Highland Council ranger area, including Lochaber, Skye, Loch Ness and Sutherland, including the NC500, revealed the scale of its work in 2023.

Its 18 rangers visited almost 22,000 sites, recorded 31,147 motorhomes across the region and collected 2,189 bags of litter. More than 5,500 off-site tents were discovered, with a total of 8,657 incidents of “outdoor toileting” noted.

An increase in campfires, which are discouraged by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, was noted, with 3,640 recorded.

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In a six-month period, more than 101,634 vehicles were seen parked outside of regulated sites in carparks and on roadsides. Rangers “positively engaged” with 29,435 people – with 439 negative interactions recorded.

Other areas covered by the access rangers included the East Lothian coastline, Loch Tay and Loch Tummel, the Isle of Lewis, Corrie Fee in Angus and Glencoe.

A NatureScot spokesperson said: “The Better Places Fund was a temporary fund originally established to help manage the increase in domestic visitors experienced during and following the Covid-19 pandemic and aimed at helping manage visitor pressures in some of the busiest parts of rural Scotland. The current pressure on budgets means that difficult decisions have had to be made and there are currently no plans to extend this fund.

“We fully understand that this may have an impact on the ability of some organisations to undertake visitor management activity. We will continue to work with partners such as local authorities, national parks, Police Scotland, and Forestry and Land Scotland to address any issues, share good practice and encourage responsible enjoyment of the outdoors and nature by visitors.”

A Highland Council spokesperson said there was no external funding to continue the service.

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