Three new rangers are patrolling Skye and Raasay this year – but they can’t be expected to wave a magic wand as hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the islands.
An explosion in motorhome and wild camping visitor numbers last summer caught island facilities on the hop.
It has prompted Highland Council to draw up a new visitor management plan.
The local authority is investing £1.5 million to deal with the pressures and among its new plan is the return of a seasonal ranger team.
The £300,000 team will see 17 new rangers patrolling the Highlands to monitor and report incidents.
Three of the rangers will be based in Skye and Raasay.
The team will cover an area spanning a third of Scotland – or nearly 26,500sq kilometres (approximately 10,231sq miles).
It is hoped the rangers will be deployed to address some of the negative aspects surrounding tourism highlighted on the Misty Isle in recent years.
A year-long economic study of Skye found 650,000 people visited pre-Covid.
Those visitors boosted the local economy by £211 million.
The large visitor numbers were found to support 2,850 full-time equivalent jobs.
But are three posts enough for Skye and Raasay?
Local councillors have welcomed the additional rangers, while stressing they are not to be used as “emergency” resources.
Councillor John Finlayson said: “It is a very positive start.
“To have 17 Rangers across Highland and three for Skye shows the council responding to the many concerns expressed last year about wild camping and motor home issues.
“There will always be more needing done but this is a big improvement on last year.
“They will of course only have so much capacity.
“We must be realistic and remember they are not an emergency service.
“The responsibility still lies with individuals who need to realise they are visitors to our area and need to remember that once they leave they should leave with no trace of having been there and support local communities.”
✅ Please be responsible as you explore. If travelling to our islands, it's encouraged you take 2 lateral flow tests for COVID-19 before you depart. pic.twitter.com/mLZeG3NyCk
— VisitScotland (@VisitScotland) May 17, 2021
Mr Finlayson believes 10 would be the ideal number for the island considering the number of hotspot tourist destinations it has.
He added: “To increase numbers needs money and community support.
“Local groups and organisations could also work to recruit their own rangers who have dedicated responsibilities for particular areas.
“Partnership working is key and we need to build on what we learn from this year’s experiences.”
‘Highland was unprepared for the onslaught’
Fellow Skye councillor Calum Munro also welcomed the new posts.
He said: “Highland was unprepared for the onslaught last year and so the £1.5m visitor management strategy was essential to addressing many of the issues encountered last year.”
“Obviously Skye is a huge island with multiple beauty spots and attractions but these seasonal rangers will make a difference as they inform and educate and liaise with police when appropriate.
“They will also liaise with parking enforcement officers and officers dealing with increased frequency and capacity of waste collection.
“Our experiences this season will inform us whether we need more.
“I would hope that a well-coordinated response, these three seasonal rangers being a key part of that, will make a huge difference to the negative aspects experienced by our communities last year.”
Positive impact hoped to bring additional funding
Tourism management organisation SkyeConnect, who lobbied to secure extra funding, welcomed the rangers.
The organisation, which represents business owners on the island, hope that the deployment of rangers will be a success and will bring with it future investment.
In an ideal world we would have a ranger at every one of the most popular visitor destinations on Skye, but that’s just not possible.”
A spokesman said: “SkyeConnect warmly welcomes the provision of three rangers for Skye and Raasay.
“It is something we have been lobbying for since the ranger service disappeared a number of years ago.
“These rangers will play a significant role in educating visitors and encouraging them to act responsibly and to enjoy Skye without having a negative impact on those who live and work here.
“In an ideal world we would have a ranger at every one of the most popular visitor destinations on Skye, but that’s just not possible.
“We hope that by demonstrating the positive impact of having rangers on Skye we will be able to secure additional funding to further enhance the service in future years.”