The key role Orkney's wildlife and environment plays in attracting visitors to the islands will be the focus of a special Scottish Tourism Week event being held in the county on Friday (11 March).
Members of Orkney Tourism Group (OTG) and representatives from the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) will meet to discuss the potential of Orkney's abundant nature at RSPB Scotland's Cottascarth Nature Reserve near Finstown.
The event will form part of the STA's Connecting 2020 Roadshow - a week-long series of conferences, seminars, business breakfasts, lunches and receptions being delivered across the country with the aim of boosting Scotland's reputation as a visitor destination.
Steve Sankey, co-chair of OTG, said: "Orkney's outstanding nature and wildlife attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, so we felt the role this very special natural resource plays in maintaining the health of our tourism sector was the ideal focus for a Scottish Tourism Week event. It's vital that all of us within Orkney's tourism industry have a thorough understanding of how best to work in harmony with this resource and share it with our many visitors, while also ensuring it is protected and nurtured for the enjoyment of future generations."
Mr Sankey said the RSPB's Eddie Balfour hide at the Cottascarth reserve was the ideal location for the discussions.
"It's a stunning location, one which encapsulates pretty much everything the islands have to offer visitors seeking an Orkney wildlife experience," he said. "It's also famed for its hen harriers, which are a big draw for tourists. Orkney really is the best place in the UK to see hen harriers and, as such, it's the perfect backdrop for this important event. We're all very much looking forward to meeting up, sharing success stories from our respective tourism businesses and learning more about the STA's Connecting 2020 initiative."
He added: "Whilst Orkney has a unique and distinctive offering in terms of its tourism experience, it's crucial that we continue to listen to what's happening in other parts of the country, share our expertise and learn from others."
Opened last year, RSPB Scotland's Eddie Balfour hide is situated at the heart of the Cottascarth nature reserve and offers superb views of moorland wildlife, alongside space for school and community groups. The hide, designed by architect Shane Scott and built by Casey Construction Ltd, emerges from the ruins of an old croft. The interior features a mural by artist Anne Bignall, alongside artwork by children from P5, P6 and P7 at Firth Primary School.
The naming of the hide honours Orcadian Eddie Balfour, RSPB Scotland's first member of staff in Orkney. His pioneering work on Cottascarth's hen harriers, started in 1943, began one of the world's longest-running raptor studies.
Hen harriers remain one of Orkney's flagship wildlife species. The county is currently home to a quarter of the UK's population of these endangered birds, including three territories at Cottascarth in 2015.
Alison Nimmo, community engagement officer for RSPB Scotland, said: "Orkney's wildlife deserves to be celebrated, so we're very happy to be joining OTG and STA in hosting this get-together. Visitors to the county are so often blown away by their experiences of nature -whether it's watching hen harriers skydancing overhead, or being surrounded by the noise of a chaotic seabird colony for the first time.Their comments bring home just how rich Orkney's natural heritage is in a UK context, and how important it is that we take care of its future."
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