Four conservation charities in the Highlands have called upon Highland Council to maintain its commitment to a healthy environment. RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the John Muir Trust have joined forces to highlight the special importance of the natural environment to the Highland economy, the health and welfare of its citizens and the education of its young people.
The appeal from the charities comes as Highland Council reviews its services in the light of budgetary pressure. The charities are particularly concerned at a possible threat to the Council's ranger service which they believe is very important to raising understanding of the environment as well as making a significant contribution to the region's tourism industry by attracting visitors with an interest in wildlife.
Dr Pete Mayhew of RSPB Scotland said, "We understand and appreciate the funding constraints that Highland Council operates under, and the need for a redesign of its services. However the wildlife, habitats and landscapes in the Highlands are of national and international importance. Highland Council plays a very important part in protecting them and we wish to see the Council continue to fulfil that role."
Diarmid Hearns, Head of Policy at the National Trust for Scotland, said, "Tourism is believed to bring in £730m into the Highland economy and a growing part of that is related to wildlife and the environment. Ranger-led events, way-marked paths and information centres are some of the Council services that help to draw tourists to Highland and increase the time and money spent here.
"We should not forget the enormous contribution our wonderful environment makes to the health and welfare - and the prosperity - of our people."
Bruce Wilson of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said, "The Highlands' coastal environment contains a wealth of marine habitats and wildlife that draw visitors to the area, support important local industries such as fisheries, and provide important natural stores of 'blue carbon'. Maintaining the health of these habitats is essential and coastal and marine developments, including renewable energy projects, must be appropriately sited and regulated to allow these benefits to continue."
Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the John Muir Trust said, "The Highlands are blessed in possessing many of the most spectacular and wildest landscapes in the British Isles. It is vital their value is recognised and protected, and informed local planning and development control are therefore crucial. It is essential that an appropriate level of expertise in biodiversity, landscape and other environmental issues, as well as related industries such as farming and forestry, is available to the Council in order to ensure the protection of this incredibly valuable asset and thereby underpin the continued sustainable economic development of our high quality Highland environment."