Sea eagles have boosted business from tourists by £2.4million on Skye, with around 200 jobs now supported by wildlife tourism.
According to a survey carried out by RSPB Scotland, wildlife tourism on the isle generated more than £4.2million between August 2013 and October last year.
Sea eagles alone were responsible for some £2.4million – an increase on a 2008 survey, which found £1.8million was generated by the presence of the huge birds.
And now a new sea eagle viewing facility is being tested on the island to capitalise on the growing interest.
Alison MacLennan, RSPB Scotland’s conservation officer for Skye and Wester Ross, said: “The number of people visiting the island hoping to see sea eagles has steadily increased year on year over the past 10 years.
“We have had a tremendous demand for our sea eagle guides, produced as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported Seeviews project, which indicate where the birds can be seen and how to identify them.
“And, of course, a number of businesses have been started in recent years on Skye, to cater for the increasing demand to see these magnificent birds in the wild, with wildlife guides and tour boats now operate from many locations around the island.”
Ms MacLennan added that to cater for the growing interest, the RSPB and Forestry Commission Scotland are trialling a sea eagle viewing facility at the commission’s site at Kylerhea.
She said: “We have been overwhelmed by the positive response we are receiving for our date with nature project at Kylerhea.
“It is a brilliant location, overlooking the narrows that separate the island from the mainland, where visitors are able to experience, at first hand, all the wonderful wildlife that can be seen there.
“Otter, seals, dolphins, porpoises and seabirds are all regular if not daily occurrences. The star of the show is, of course, Victor the sea eagle who regularly turns out to entertain the visitors while he goes about stealing or catching fish to feed his off-spring.”
The Kylerhea viewing facility is manned from Tuesday-Saturday by local residents Andy Law and Jake Butcher.
Dr MacLennan added: “It is very encouraging that the growing wildlife interest, as demonstrated by this economic report, is also benefiting local businesses and creating sustainable employment for local people.”