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‘I would walk 5,000 miles…’

Perthshire man’s epic coast-to-coast hike across Canada to help rewild the Highlands

In 1867, legendary Scots naturalist John Muir completed a famous 1,000-mile journey on foot across North America from Kentucky to the Gulf Coast. More than a century and a half later, 32-year-old musician Michael Yellowlees, from Dunkeld in Perthshire, is on course to emulate that famous feat five times over – by walking across Canada from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the east coast of Newfoundland on the edge of the North Atlantic.

The idea for the trek – which is raising funds for Highlands-based rewilding charity Trees for Life – germinated three years ago while Michael was walking in the Scottish Highlands.

“It is a beautiful landscape but with a strong sense of sadness because of the absence of woodland, wildlife and people,” Michael recalls.

“So I decided then to walk across the great wildernesses of Canada to raise funds for Trees for Life and its work to restore Scotland’s Caledonian Forest, at a time when the world is on high alert over climate chaos and biodiversity loss.”

After working for a spell in Vancouver, looking after sled dogs to help fund his venture, Michael set off in March for the great trek eastwards – a solitary figure in a kilt, with his guitar and a few other belongings in a handcart, and an Alaskan husky called Luna by his side.

Along the way he has experienced adventures aplenty. He has encountered black bears and listened to the howling of wolves.

When following a waterway section of the Great Canada Trail by canoe, Luna jumped out and became lost in the dense wilderness in an area of Northern Ontario. “I was totally distraught. For months, we had been best friends and had looked after one another,” said Michael.

Aided by local volunteers, Michael spent a week searching in vain for his lost companion. “After seven days and seven nights, just as I was giving up all hope, Luna appeared like an apparition, strolling casually back as though nothing had happened – although she had lost some weight.”

If that week was the lowest point of the journey there have been plenty of highs – not least the reception from the Canadian public.

“The warmth of the people has been amazing. In every town and village people have offered me food, shelter and donations. So much kindness. I’ve been accompanied into towns and cities by marching pipe bands and interviewed by newspapers, radio and TV,” said Michael.

Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, said: “We have been following Michael’s journey across Canada with awe and admiration. Restoring native habitats and wildlife to the Scottish Highlands is a big task that no one can do alone. But Michael’s extraordinary trek is proof of the power of the individual to make a difference.”

A family friend back in Perthshire, Bob Davidson, said: “It’s epic what he’s doing. I’ve known Michael since he was 10 years old. This is not a stroll in the park, but an 8,000-kilometre yomp at an incredible pace with Luna. He’s just an amazing guy, always has been and always will be. Hats off to him.”

Michael – a former pupil of Breadalbane Academy – is currently in Quebec, after trekking across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. He expects to arrive at his final destination – the headland of Cape Spear in Newfoundland – in early November.

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. Its volunteers have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites, encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive.

The charity recently announced the launch of Affric Highlands – a 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative to restore nature across an area of over 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel. The community-driven venture aims to tackle the nature and climate emergencies, and create social and economic opportunities in the region.

To support Michael and Luna’s fundraising on their rewilding journey, please visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelandlunarewild.

 

Michael Yellowlees and Luna on their epic rewilding journey across Canada.

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Our Isles and Oceans Summer 2021 Short Film

Our Isles and Oceans is a platform for youth development and opportunity and we create life-changing moments and experiences for all involved.

For more information contact GRM Marketing here.

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First Minister Update COVID-19 28th September 2021

 

The First Minister updated Parliament today on the introduction of the COVID certification scheme in Scotland as well as a new £25 million fund that is being made available to help improve ventilation in business premises: https://www.gov.scot/…/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine…/

Further guidance has been published on the certification scheme. Anyone over the age of 18, who wants to go to a large event or to a late night venue will be required to provide evidence that they are fully vaccinated, or evidence that they are exempt. To facilitate this, the NHS Covid Status app will go live on Thursday.

The legal obligation comes into force at 5am on Friday this week. However, a grace period until 18 October will be in place, before any business could face enforcement action for non-compliance. This will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.
Further information is available here: https://www.gov.scot/…/vaccine-certification…/

The First Minister also gave details of a £25 million package being made available to SMEs to improve ventilation and reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission. Grants will target a wide range of high risk settings where people come into close proximity such as restaurants, bars and gyms: https://www.gov.scot/…/improving-ventilation-to-tackle…/

Changes to the rules on international travel will take effect from 4 October. This means that the blanket requirement for pre-departure tests for people travelling into Scotland will be removed. People who have been fully vaccinated – or who are under 18 – will no longer need to provide a pre-departure test result if they are coming from countries not on the red list. Further details are available here: https://www.gov.scot/…/international-travel-testing…/

The First Minister’s full speech is available here: https://www.gov.scot/…/coronavirus-covid-19-update…/

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30-year project joins prestigious European group of awe-inspiring rewilding areas

An ambitious 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative to link up a majestic sweep of the Scottish Highlands as one vast nature recovery area connecting Loch Ness to Scotland’s west coast has been launched by charity Trees for Life, and joins a select group of prestigious European rewilding areas.

The Affric Highlands initiative follows three years of consultation between Rewilding Europe, Trees for Life, and other local partners and stakeholders.

It will restore nature across a network of landholdings potentially covering an area of over 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.

Trees for Life has brought together a broad coalition of landowners, communities and others to boost habitat connectivity, species diversity, and social and economic opportunities in the region, while tackling climate breakdown.

With community involvement and partnership working central to the project, a diverse group of 20 landowners covering at least 25% of the total area and six organisations are already on board, with hopes that more will join. Work is underway to further involve local people, with practical action to connect areas of rewilding land due to begin in 2023.

During a ceremony attended by partners and stakeholders at Glenurquhart Public Hall in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness on 23 September, Affric Highlands was officially welcomed by Rewilding Europe as the ninth member of its network of large pioneering rewilding areas – taking the organisation one step closer to its ultimate goal of 10 such areas in Europe.

Rewilding Europe’s eight other awe-inspiring rewilding areas are Portugal’s Greater Côa Valley; the Danube Delta in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova; Romania’s Southern Carpathians; Croatia’s Velebit Mountains; Italy’s Central Apennines; Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains; the Oder Delta in Germany and Poland; and Swedish Lapland.

“With Scotland’s rewilding movement growing rapidly – and the Scottish Rewilding Alliance calling for Scotland to become the world’s first Rewilding Nation, with the rewilding of 30% of the country’s land and sea by 2030 – Affric Highlands will take large-scale nature recovery to a new level, providing a catalyst for the local economy at the same time,” said Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life.

“The Highlands have huge potential to help nature to come back and so help people to thrive, and to make a leading contribution to tackling the global climate and nature emergencies. We are delighted Affric Highlands is now one of Rewilding Europe’s large rewilding areas that are inspiring hundreds of other rewilding projects across the continent.”

Because engaging and involving stakeholders from the beginning is crucial to the success of any rewilding initiative, Rewilding Europe has been working with Trees for Life to lay the foundations for this over the past three years – including through meetings with over 50 local stakeholders, drawing on experience from other major rewilding sites across Europe, and a scoping study.

As well as connecting habitats, Affric Highlands will bring people together to help nature recover, and strengthen connections between communities and the wildlife on their doorsteps.

 Forest rewilding has been at the root of Trees for Life’s work for three decades. The charity has so far established nearly two million native trees to restore the unique and globally important Caledonian Forest at its own 10,000 acre estate at Dundreggan in Glenmoriston, and at dozens of other sites in the Highlands, including Glen Affric.

In 2023, Dundreggan will become home to the world’s first Rewilding Centre – showcasing how large-scale nature recovery can give people amazing experiences, create jobs and benefit local communities.

Rewilding Europe says this work in the Highlands has been a beacon of hope for reversing declines in habitat and wildlife that have left vast swathes of Scotland overgrazed, treeless, denuded, drained and over-managed, to the point that little remains unmodified by humans.

“Affric Highlands is a bold, exciting and inspiring venture for nature’s recovery as Scotland moves up the biodiversity league table. Our decision to accept the project as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees for Life, its volunteers and its partners,” said Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe.

“Including Affric Highlands in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.”

The project will take a grassroots, community-driven approach that grows organically – harnessing an interdependence of nature, people and businesses to create a more resilient area for the future.

Rewilding Europe’s rewilding principles, best practices and wealth of Europe-wide practical experience will help to shape and guide Affric Highlands on its rewilding journey.

Affric Highlands has been made possible thanks to funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Find out more about Affric Highlands at treesforlife.org.uk/affric-highlands. For details of Rewilding Europe’s rewilding areas, see rewildingeurope.com/areas.

Glen Affric © Grant Willoughby.

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COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Tracker

VisitEngland has commissioned a tracking survey to understand domestic intent to take short breaks and holidays both within the U.K. and abroad, with particular focus around the current barriers and concerns around travel and how these will evolve over time.

The survey addresses: the likelihood of U.K. residents to travel; when and where they plan to go; specific trip details such as accommodation type and activities undertaken and the type of reassurances they’re seeking from the sector.

The most recent results were published on the 1st September and can be found here.

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Inbound Operator Collaborative Marketing Fund

 

This fund focuses on COVID-19 pandemic recovery for destination management companies (DMCs) and tour operators who offer overnight visits and are based in Scotland. It will allow eligible companies to harness the latest consumer insights to:

  • develop and market responsible tourism to and around Scotland to international visitors
  • encourage international tour operators to add responsible travel to their programmes
  • support the recovery of the tourism sector in line with the Tourism 2030 strategy and Scotland’s ambition to be a responsible tourism destination

Successful applicants will be expected to develop and deliver appropriate itineraries that reflect responsible tourism and an associated marketing plan that meets the assessment criteria.

This fund isn’t open for applications yet. You can apply from 23 September 2021. The guidance is available now: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/service/funding/inbound-operator-collaborative-marketing-fund

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Scottish Tourism Observatory

 

The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) is conducting research with tourism and event businesses to determine the needs and wants for data and information, identify how you currently use data and information in your business and understand the challenges experienced in finding and using this data.

The aim is to develop a knowledge resource for people involved in the Scottish tourism and events industry known as the Scottish Tourism Observatory.

The resource will support the industry to successfully recover from COVID-19 and help to ensure its future resilience by gathering, in an easy to use and accessible way, the data, information and insight that’s vital for business planning and strategy development.

The more businesses that participate, the better the findings and the more useful the Scottish Tourism Observatory will be for your business – assisting you with planning and decision-making. Please help us to generate this invaluable information.

TAKE PART IN THE SURVEY

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Scotland’s business community sends open letter to Ministers over “high risk economic self-harm” of testing policy divergence from UK

 

A group of business organisations led by the Scottish Tourism Alliance has written to economy focussed Ministers and officials seeking an urgent meeting on the renewed crisis in the tourism sector and supply chain as a result of Scottish Government policy.

Open letter from the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland’s business communityOpen letter from the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland’s business community

Commenting on the letter CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Marc Crothall said: 

“The Scottish Government’s latest decision on international travel restrictions, specifically around Day 2 testing has caused serious alarm across the travel, tourism and hospitality sector in Scotland and the broader business community.

I have received a steady stream of messages over the course of the weekend from businesses presenting direct and immediate evidence of the impact of the Scottish Government’s decision on international travel restrictions; as an example, one inbound operator has been told to direct all future bookings to airports south of the border.

It is the grave concern of many that international bookings, revenue and visitors are being lost not just now but should this policy remain, it could destroy any hopes of recovery in 2022.  Unless there is a swift change, the Scottish Government’s position on international travel will effectively write off international tourism to Scotland for another year to the detriment of our businesses, communities, supply chain and wider economy.

 

Our industry has gone above and beyond guidance and legal requirements to protect public health and support the Scottish Government’s efforts to curtail the spread of the virus and curb cases; we have requested that a member of the Scottish Government’s public health team also attends this meeting to explain how the most recent analysis of data supports the view that international travel is driving transmission.  This policy is causing immediate damage to revenues and represents high risk self-harm for jobs and the economy in the short, medium and long term.”

 

Rebecca Brooks, Managing Director of Abbey UK inbound tour operator said:

 

“The Scottish Government’s incomprehensible decision to diverge from the UK government in maintaining PCR testing for fully vaccinated international visitors to Scotland ensures no international recovery in the short to medium term as we now lose out to England and our European neighbours.

European countries have benefitted from the safe restart of International travel without testing for the vaccinated since the 19th July.  Given the immediate onset of the booking window for 2022, there is and will be no international demand whilst PCR testing remains in place, impacting the supply chain for both leisure and business sectors. Inbound operators are now facing the bleak reality of entering a third year with little to no business whilst this colossal disadvantage remains and face potential market failure after nineteen months of no trade. I would call on the Scottish Government to urgently revise their decision or risk the survival of this sector and all of the livelihoods who depend on it.”

Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network commented:

“We simply fail to comprehend and are shocked by the Scottish Government’s decision not to align with others to remove the need for a PCR test for double vaccinated tourists and business travellers. This is not only about the tourism and travel industry, it touches every part of our economy.  Do we seriously believe that our economy will grow, and we will be able to attract investment, without being connected and accessible to the world?

The impact, if this decision if not reversed quickly, is that we will have airlines and operators withdrawing from Scotland with businesses being forced to direct all our exporting and importing trade through other airports.  How will this support jobs in Scotland?”

 

We need to hear and see the data which has driven this decision which is completely contradictory to leading global scientific evidence.”

 

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8th September 2021

 

Wild Scotland Industry Survey Results

The continued impact of COVID-19 on tourism…

70 responded to the survey across the wildlife, adventure and activity sector – including a mix of activity operators, adventure tour operators, wildlife operators and boat operators.

 SUMMARY

 

  • 45% surveyed say that they are still operating at a reduced capacity
  • 37% surveyed say they are fully open and profitable.
  • 4% of those surveyed remain fully closed.
  • 48% surveyed say they are not operating at an economically sustainable level.
  • 90% of Tour Operators that responded in the survey are not operating at an economically sustainable level.
  • 35% surveyed say they are holding 2-3 months of reserves with 10% holding no reserves.

Recruitment Challenges

  • 49% of those surveyed employ or contract between 1 and 5 people with 24 % saying they are solo operators. 10% employ or contract 5-10 people and 16% 10 or more.
  • 29% of all surveyed are experiencing recruitment challenges which relate specifically to skilled seasonal guides and instructors. Drilling this down to boat operators 50% of those surveyed are experiencing problems in this area.
  • There are a mix of reasons including lack of skilled and qualified guides/ instructors available – some have drifted into other jobs due to uncertainty in the sector. Housing of staff has also been identified as an issue in some rural areas.
  • 24% across all surveyed are currently recruiting for staff.
    • 50% of day boat operators are currently recruiting.Most significant barrier to recovery
  • The most significant barrier to recovery has been identified as lack of international visitors.
    • 52% of all surveyed say they have a reliance on international visitors.
    • 55% of activity operators surveyed have a reliance on international visitors.
    • 60% wildlife watching operators surveyed have a reliance on international visitors
    • 89% of tour operators responding in the survey have a reliance on international visitors
    • 46% boat operators surveyed have a reliance on international visitors
  • This second most significant barrier identified is the concern for lack of further funding support from UK and Scottish Government.
  • Ongoing restrictions & regulations (e.g. red./amber/green international travel restrictions, test & protect regulations etc) has also been highlighted as a significant barrier to recovery.

Winter

  • Overall, 50% say they intend to operate right through the winter with an additional 12% looking to adapt their product to operate through the winter and an additional 7% say they are not sure but are considering staying open for longer.
    • Breaking it down 64% of activity operators say they intend to operate through the winter with a further 9% planning to adapt and 5% saying they are thinking about it.
    • 30% Wildlife Watching Operators are adapting their business to operate through the winter
    • Day boat operators – 60% will not be operating through the winter and 20% intend to adapt their business to stay open and a further 20% are thinking about it.
  • There is a real mix across the sector relating to survival through the winter with 34% remaining neutral and then a balance of pessimistic and optimistic.
    • Drilling down to the activity sector there is a slightly more pessimistic view.
  • Over the next two months 32% say bookings are looking poor and 31% say they are looking good.
  • Over the next 12 months 32% say bookings are looking good, 24% say they are poor and 12% say dreadful.

Ongoing Support

  • The number one priority identified for ongoing support is ‘A further round of targeted financial support to avoid structural failure during the winter of 21/22’.
  • Increased national marketing spend on UK markets was also identified as a high priority along with increased spend on international marketing, domestic Scottish/local marketing and easing of international restrictions.

COVID Mitigating Measures

The survey shows that businesses in the sector are operating with a number of COVID mitigating measures 34% surveyed say they do not know how long they will keep these measures in place whilst 24% say they will keep measures in place indefinitely.

 

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Outdoor and Marine Fund Round Two
Criteria launches today…

1st September 2021

Wild Scotland and Sail Scotland have been working tirelessly on your behalf to ensure that this funding remains in the outdoor and marine sector. It has been a long-haul and we very much welcome the launch of the guidance today.

It feels like a while now since we were working on Round One and whilst the fund was incredibly welcome by many across the outdoor and marine sector, there were a number of businesses that missed out on this vital funding. This was due to the initial size of the fund which resulted in the development of strict criteria.

What are the key changes for round two of the Fund? Applicants must meet the criteria of a 40% minimum annual turnover related to tourism activity and that these activities are undertaken in Scotland. The fund has also widened to include certain airborne activities.

You can access the new criteria here.

Please note: if you applied for and was successful from Round One of this Fund, you will not be eligible for this additional funding under Round Two.

Additional Information

  • The £800,000 COVID-19 Marine and Outdoor Tourism Restart Fund: Round Two is being delivered by VisitScotland, with development input from Sail Scotland and Wild Scotland, on behalf of the Scottish Government. This money is part of the £104.3 million Scottish Government package – no new money has been provided for funding.
  • The Fund is intended to provide support to marine and outdoor tourism businesses who have been significantly affected by COVID-19. Round Two is to specifically support Scottish based businesses in the marine and outdoor tourism sector that have faced hardship due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to help keep them in business as they recommence operations.
  • The fund will be open for applications from 12pm on Wednesday 8th September until 5pm on Wednesday 29 September 2021.
  • Guidance is available now: full details of the fund, including eligibility criteria and the information applicants will need to prepare for their application, are available on VisitScotland.org.
  • Businesses who applied to Round One but were rejected because they did not meet the eligibility criteria for Round One can apply for Round Two if they meet the eligibility criteria set out in the guidance document. These businesses will need to submit a new application to be considered for Round Two.

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