The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) is investing £1.9m to support the development of three important heritage sites in the Scottish Highlands – Braemar Castle, Dundreggan Rewilding Centre and Strathnaver Museum.
Rural tourism in the Highlands has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, leading to job losses in the area. The Highland & Islands Enterprise Impact of Covid survey reported that tourism was one of the worst hit sectors in the region with visitor spend down by up to £564m.
The NLHF funding aims to develop the three sites to benefit the local rural communities by providing employment and improving the heritage attractions to bring more tourists to the area as pandemic restrictions eventually lift.
The largest portion of funding, £702,300, goes towards establishing the world’s first rewilding centre at Dundreggan on a 10,000-acre estate in Glenmoriston, near Loch Ness. The organisation is protecting and expanding important fragments of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest.
Visitors will be able to explore the wild landscape, discover Gaelic culture and learn about the estate’s 4,000 plant and animal species. Dundreggan Rewilding Centre will have interpretation in English and Gaelic, and will comprise a café, classrooms, Gaelic resource centre and an events space.
Outdoors there will be fully accessible trails, a children’s forest experience area, as well as more challenging trails. The centre hopes to welcome over 50,000 visitors annually.
Braemar Castle, at the heart of Cairngorms National Park, receives a grant of £555,900. The money will go towards vital repairs to keep water out and away from the castle’s collections, as well as improving access to the castle with a new visitor reception and all-weather pathways. The grounds will also be upgraded and used to host a range of community activities focusing on health and wellbeing.
And Strathnaver Museum, in the Bettyhill area, receives £650,000 to transform the 1750s former church into a modern museum with essential repairs to the building, a new annex and layout to improve the visitor experience, and up-to-date interpretation to tell the stories of the artefacts it holds. A new archive room will also be created so that the museum can develop a genealogy service.
There will also be a range of new activities to help address isolation and mental health including courses in traditional craft skills, the opportunity to help build a traditional fishing boat, and research into a digital Highland Clearances trail.
Caroline Clark, the director of Scotland for the NLHF, said: “The road to recovery is going to be extremely challenging, and we are doing all we can to help people, communities and places through this crisis. Thanks to funds raised by National Lottery players, we can help Scotland’s heritage sector build resilience into their future plans which is vital given its crucial role in supporting Scotland’s social and green economic recovery.”
“We are pleased to be able to support these rural economies. We applaud the hard work and commitment of the communities involved, particularly given the challenges they have had to face over the last year, and hope it will allow them to look ahead with renewed optimism.”
The National Lottery Heritage Fund has resumed accepting project funding applications for grants between £3,000 to £100,000 and launched an interest-free loans pilot. The funding will support heritage organisations adapt to fundamentally changed circumstances and develop new, creative and more resilient ways of operating.
From 8 February the organisation will resume accepting applications for grants from £100,000-£250,000 and £250,000-£5m.