FIFE’S coast and countryside has been named Scotland’s most visited outdoor attraction, contributing millions to the Kingdom’s economy.
The Coast and Countryside Trust has received the accolade for the third year running, and now brings in 13 per cent of all of Scotland’s visitors to rural areas - an estimated 22.7 million every year.
The statistics, from Scottish National Heritage, revealed that almost twice as many visitors came to Fife as there are Fifers themselves.
And with belts tightening and prices rising, it’s no surprise that more local folk are also exploring their own back yards for free.
The news comes as the small but dedicated team at the Trust work hard in the face of smaller budgets, coastal erosion and an ever-changing landscape.
Amanda McFarlane, who helped set the trust up in 2002 and continues to be its chief executive, said: “It’s absolutely brilliant - it’s great to be recognised in that way and it’s fantastic for Fife.
“People are struggling financially so not only can they get out and about but there are so many benefits for them. This is a tough time for people and if you can just escape from the hustle and bustle of life and work it’s great.”
Numbers visiting the 93-mile coastal path continue to increase each year, while recent figures suggest those going to Lomond Hills and Lochore Meadows have surpassed 600,000.
“It’s huge,” Amanda continued. “Visitors includes people to Fife but also Fifers themselves - the great thing about locals is that they use their own countryside. They are not going off elsewhere. They are staying here and using it, which tells how good it is.”
The Trust manages 70 sites across Fife, taking in everything from the huge Lomond Hills to small nature reserves dotted across the towns and villages.
But despite the rising numbers, there is still some way to go.
“I think there’s always room for improvement, and that’s part of our job,” Amanda added. “There’s a gap for information on some of our lesser known sites.
‘‘We have seven local nature reserves, and the oldest regional park. We want to make all of that more accessible, but it’s a challenging job.
‘‘We are core funded by the Council, and, like everywhere else, budgets are being cut. We can’t, and wouldn’t want to charge. This is a really valuable asset and it’s about how we protect it and how we keep it.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Trust is the ongoing erosion of Fife’s coast.
“Erosion is a big problem,” Amanda continued. “Our approach has to be that with the coastal path we can’t hold back nature. There’s no point spending thousands putting in hard engineering because we can’t stop it. If there is an issue, it usually means moving the path further inland.”
Part of that approach to continuing the economic input, is moving into the 21st century, with numerous plans for the near future, including a coast and countryside mobile phone app.
“I think the one thing that’s lost in all of this is that there’s an economic value,” Amanda continued.
“The coastal path alone is worth over £25 million to Fife. We have six of Scotland’s seven blue flag beaches in Fife. It’s brilliant, and we need to get that message out.”