Nature-based tourism is worth at least £1.4bn a year to the Scottish economy and supports the equivalent of 39,000 full time jobs. Walking and landscape enjoyment nets £900 million for Scotland each year. These are some of the findings in a new report commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Wildlife tourism brings in £127m and is the main driver behind more than one million trips to Scotland each year. Activities include bird watching, whale watching, guided walks and practical conservation holidays. Among the contributors is dolphin watching on the east coast, which generates at least £4m a year to the local economy, while sea eagles on Mull bring in around £2m.
Adventure activities, such as mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, are worth £178m. This category also includes surfing, sub aqua, sailing, extreme snow sports, horse riding and adventure activities such as gorge walking, rafting and paragliding. Surfing in particular is growing by around 20% a year, and there are now around 3,000 surfers in Scotland.
Carrying out these kind of studies is very complex, particularly for activities such as walking and enjoying the landscape. But, using information from other studies, this research estimates that walking and landscape are thought to be worth at least £900m between them.
This includes hill walking, mountaineering and climbing, as well as gentler walks of more than one mile. Examples include the 110,000 people who tackle to the summit of Ben Nevis; the 30,000 who complete the whole route of the West Highland Way and the further 60,000 others who trek part of it. It also includes income from those who tour and enjoy Scotland’s landscapes and scenery, such as the 400,000 people a year who visit Glen Nevis.
SNH commissioned the study, called ‘valuing nature-based tourism in Scotland’, as part of wider research to quantify the value of Scotland’s nature to the economy. It follows a previous report which found that sustainable management of natural resources was worth £17.2bn a year to Scotland.
Commenting on the findings, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “Scotland’s wonderful natural environment and fascinating wildlife have so much to offer and it’s exciting that there are visitors coming here to appreciate our world-class landscape.
“Tourists obviously enjoy what they see and there’s such a wide variety of activities on offer, whether it’s walking in the glens, spotting some of Scotland’s iconic species or getting involved in conservation.
"Nature based tourism generates significant benefits for the economy, including thousands of jobs. It’s vital that work on the conservation and enhancement of our natural environment continues to ensure we can deliver these benefits for generations to come.”
Ian Jardine, SNH chief executive, added: “We have always known that landscapes and wildlife are one of the main reasons why visitors come to Scotland. We also know that enjoying nature is one of the key activities they like to do when they get here. Now we know just how important that is to the economy of Scotland. With spending on nature activities worth nearly 40% of all tourism spending, nature based tourism can generate significant benefits for the economy.
“These findings underline the need to recognise the role of nature in supporting the economy, to ensure it is managed sustainably, and to make certain that we make the best use of nature as an economic resource.”