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Council to cash in on country rangers by charging tourists for wilderness walks

The council could soon be raking in cash from offering guided walks around spots like Slains Castle, Haddo House, Cruden Bay and Bennachie.
The council could soon be raking in cash from offering guided walks around spots like Slains Castle, Haddo House, Cruden Bay and Bennachie.

Country rangers could become money-spinners for Aberdeenshire Council under plans to charge tourists for walks around north-east beauty spots.

The scheme is intended to capitalise on a renewed love of the great outdoors, and on an expected influx of cruise ship passengers.

As well as leasing the rangers out to cruise operators and tour companies, private firms would be able to hire them for team-building staff expeditions into the countryside.

A report penned by environment and infrastrucure director, Alan Wood, says the idea is already proving a hit.

Is council sitting on a goldmine?

He writes: “It is believed there will be demand for such sessions in the future, especially as the tourism and cruise liner industry look to rebuild from Covid-19.

“An enquiry has already been received from a cruise service company about the
ranger service’s availability for providing guided walks in 2022.

There is also now increased awareness of the benefits of being outdoors.”

He says the idea of arranging outings to boost mental health is “thought to be attractive to companies looking to improve staff morale”.

Mr Wood clarifies that the ploy “will not detract” from the other work rangers already carry out.

Donations to Aberdeenshire country rangers dried up when Covid hit

There are seven rangers working across Aberdeenshire, two of whom are on part-time contracts.

Their job includes guided walks but they also perform talks at events and monitor threatened species.

And they do their best to keep tourist hotspots safe from harm in the busier months.

The staffing budget is around £250,000.

They do not charge for any of the current activities, but the service does welcome donations for work with the public.

Helen Rowe is a Countryside Ranger for Aberdeenshire Council, covering the Marr area.

That took a huge knock during the pandemic, with pledges falling from £2,500 in 2019/20 to just £25 in 2020/21.

The proposed “activity sessions” would cost about £30 per hour.

Talks have already been carried out with groups who use the ranger service, with 230 of 265 respondents backing the idea.

What would still be free?

Any activities to benefit the community, such as beach cleans and planting trees, will not come at any cost.

Won’t the rangers be too busy?

The council report says the team’s workload is “continually reviewed”.

Mr Wood adds: “This would continue to be the case if this specific element of work was charged for.

“The ranger service have previously provided exclusive activity sessions to commercial organisations, but have not charged for doing so.”

Where will these cruise ship passengers come from?

The Aberdeen South Harbour expansion project should ultimately lead to more ocean liners visiting the region.

After suffering some delays, the work is expected to finish by October this year.

Members of the Kincardine and Mearns area committee will discuss the plans when they meet on Tuesday, January 18.

You can learn more about the Aberdeenshire country rangers here.

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