Nature Reserve is set for a bumper 50th

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RSPB Scotland’s Stuart Taylor reports that visitor numbers have soared at Balranald Nature Reserve, North Uist as it celebrates its anniversary.

Established 50 years ago between RSPB Scotland and local crofters and landlords the reserve has become one of the most popular tourist locations in the Western Isles.

Initially set up by the RSPB to monitor the incredible wildlife of the area, it has grown into a major birdwatching destination.

In 2004 visitor numbers were just over 9,000, which were estimated to bring £1.38 million into the local economy.

This year, present visitor numbers are indicating that the reserve will have attracted more than 15,000 people.

The 2004 figures from Balranald were calculated to support the equivalent of almost four full time jobs which will now have increased significantly.

The experience at Balranald is reflected elsewhere with wildlife tourism growing in many parts of the world and helping to sustain remote communities.

However increasing visitor numbers also bring demand for improved visitor facilities. RSPB Scotland upgraded the small visitor centre and car park at Balranald in 1996 with help from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Western Isles Council. The visitor centre is standing up well to the increasing numbers but the car park is sometimes struggling to cope.

Jamie Boyle the RSPB site manager for Balranald says, “Increasing numbers of visitors are great news for the island but we do need to be careful.

“The bird breeding season is a popular time to visit but it is also the time when the birds are at their most sensitive to disturbance. We need to manage the area so that people can see the wildlife but not get too close.”

In order to cater for the growing demand the staff run a programme of guided walks which were attended by more than 700 people in 2015.