Four conservation charities in the Highlands have called upon Highland Council to maintain its Ranger Services which are believed to be under threat as a result of budget cuts. RSPB Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the John Muir Trust have joined forces to highlight the importance of the Ranger Service to Highland communities, schools and the region's tourism businesses.
The charities believe the Council's Ranger Services play an important role in engaging people in the natural environment leading to substantial associated benefits in terms of the tourist spend in Highland and health and welfare benefits for the local population. They also highlight the important role of the Ranger Service in the education of our young people and in supporting communities in the development and delivery of projects with an environmental focus with particular benefits for disadvantaged communities and individuals.
Dr Pete Mayhew of RSPB Scotland said, "We are all, in our different ways, custodians of the wildlife, habitats and landscapes of the Highlands. We have a collective responsibility and it is crucial that the Highland Council continues to discharge its part of that joint responsibility. This is an important issue for many people in the Highlands. It touches many lives. We urge the Council to support the men and women of the Ranger Service who help it to meet its responsibilities to our wonderful environment and the people and wildlife who depend on it."
Diarmid Hearns, Head of Policy at the National Trust for Scotland, said "We recognise the budgetary pressures Highland Council are under, but would encourage councillors to find a solution that maintains conservation and visitor enjoyment. The natural environment is one of the Highland region's greatest assets and investment in its care and interpretation is repaid many times over by the social, environmental and economic benefits."
Noel Hawkins, the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Communities Officer based in Ullapool, said: "The so-called savings made by cutting the Highland Council Ranger service will have far greater costs in the longer term. It's important that people realise that we will lose more than just the Rangers and their own events and activities.
"I've worked closely with Highland Council Rangers on a number of initiatives to raise awareness of marine conservation and stewardship in coastal communities, and relied on their support to help organise activities and events. The loss of their knowledge and expertise would make some of this work impossible."
Don O'Driscoll, John Muir Trust land manager based in North West Scotland said: "The spectacular and wild landscapes of the Highlands help support more than 15,000 tourism jobs. The Highland Council Rangers Service is a vital cog in that industry, especially in some our most fragile and peripheral areas.
"These rangers are passionate, dedicated people with a wealth of expertise in the wildlife, geology, archaeology, history and culture of the region. They are a vital working asset that the Highlands cannot afford to lose."