23 November 2001

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Local communities in the Highlands are to benefit from a 1.2 million project, aimed at creating a sustainable network of low level pathways for the enjoyment of local residents and visitors alike. Five access officers have been engaged by The Highland Access Project for three years to refurbish, waymark and promote 1,300 kilometres of existing paths and create 10 kilometres of new paths.

Key criteria for projects include initiatives that are socially inclusive, meet the needs of local communities, attract visitors to Highland and achieve value for money, in the long term, through effective management plans.  The project has also been established to implement part of the Highlands and Islands Access Strategy and to identify access issues arising from the forthcoming Land Reform and Access legislation.
Partners are The Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Paths for All Partnership. The European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund has given a grant of 409,000 to take forward the project.

The access officers are David Barclay, Caithness and Sutherland; Cath Clark, Ross and Cromarty; John Hutcheson, Lochaber and Skye and Lochalsh; Saranne Bish, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey; and David Andrews, Inverness, who is also the project manager. The project office will be based at The Highland Councils Planning and Development Service, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, where Carolyn Taylor will provide administrative support.

The first phase of the project will see the officers liaising with landowners, land managers and communities that are keen to support the development of access in their area or where there are identified needs and benefits. In each of the areas, local advisory groups will be established to ensure participation in the development of project plans.

Councillor David Green, Convener of The Highland Council, said: The Highlands has an outstanding access resource that brings considerable income to the area. The project aims to establish a multi-user path network, not solely for those who already enjoy walking, cycling or horse riding, but also for those who do not normally see themselves as path users.  "By co-ordinating the activities of key public agencies and with local area representation, the project team will be delivering and promoting a high quality, managed countryside access resource that is well defined, protected,

accessible and represents a sustainable asset for future generations."  Dr Jim Hunter, Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "We are very pleased to be involved with this project along with our partners - The Highland Council, SNH and the Paths for All Partnership. There are hundreds of miles of footpaths in the Highlands and therefore raising the awareness of these for the benefit of local people and visitors alike is very important. The paths network provides a valuable recreational amenity which further underlines the quality of life in the Highlands as well as bringing millions of pounds each year into the economy in terms of the number of visitors it attracts. Setting the scene for the forthcoming access legislation, the paths network will open up the area to a much wider spectrum of users, especially those less able to access the countryside."

Dr Jeff Watson, Scottish Natural Heritage North Areas Director, said: "SNH welcomes this superb example of partnership working which will give immediate and very practical benefits for people in the Highlands. Improved access has multiple benefits, for natural heritage, for human health and by providing tangible economic opportunities through enhanced visitor provision."

Magnus Magnusson, Chairman of the Paths for All Partnership, said: "We are very excited about the opportunities that the Highland Access Project will deliver for walking, horse riding and cycling in the Highlands. As well as the benefits for users, we believe well planned and managed path networks can help landowners to manage access and will bring wider tourism and health benefits for local communities."