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30 Aug 2023

Rangers rise to the challenge in Glencoe

A National Trust for Scotland ranger sits in the driver's seat of a Land Rover, and leans through the open window. A young girl sits in a car seat in the back, smiling.
New Land Rover safaris are helping younger visitors understand how to protect the glen.
As Glencoe experiences one of its busiest years, our ranger team is working hard with visitors and campers to care for this spectacular glen.

With eight famous Munros, and the A82 passing through the middle of the estate, Glencoe is one of Scotland’s most-visited National Nature Reserves (NNRs). Around 2 million vehicles drive through each year, and so balancing nature conservation with responsible enjoyment and access is at the heart of the Trust’s activities here.

Through activities including visitor engagement, litter picks, camp patrols and family tours, we strive to make sure that visitors experience the glen’s stunning scenery and wildlife without leaving negative impacts in their wake. The latest statistics indicate a growth in visitor numbers compared with 2022 – visitors to our Glencoe Visitor Centre have increased by around 35%. There has also been an 18% rise in the number of tents and a 10% rise in the number of camper vans and motorhomes counted during our Friday and Saturday evening ranger patrols through popular areas for camping.

While the vast majority of visitors appreciate the importance of taking care of Glencoe and Scotland’s other special places, the work of our ranger team is critical in managing these rising visitor numbers and minimising any negative impact. So far this season, Trust staff and volunteers have carried out over 200 hours of litter-picking, collecting more than 200 bags of waste.

Raising awareness of responsible access from an early age is another crucial part of our charity’s role in caring for Glencoe NNR. To support this, we have introduced new family Land Rover Safaris this summer. As well as getting children and young people excited about the wildlife in the glen, the tours encourage them to understand and care for the environment, helping to grow future generations of informed and responsible visitors, campers and nature lovers.

Since March this year, our ranger team have engaged with around 600 people on their evening tours of the glen’s camping and overnighting hotspots. During these patrols, they provide help and advice to visitors on how to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when camping in highly protected natural landscapes. They are working closely with the Highland Council Access Rangers and Forestry and Land Scotland rangers, who look after other popular sites neighbouring Glencoe. This work is made possible through the generosity of our members and supporters, as well as by income generated at the Glencoe Visitor Centre. The activity is also supported by NatureScot, through the Better Places Fund.

Scott McCombie, Senior Ranger for Glencoe NNR, explains: ‘All of us at the National Trust for Scotland want to share our special places, ensuring they’re as accessible as possible in a way that is truly sustainable. We thoroughly enjoy meeting people from all walks of life when out and about in Glen Coe and Glen Etive. We engage with thousands of people each year to ensure they get maximum enjoyment out of their time with us as well as go away inspired to take extra care of their natural environment, leaving it as they found it ... or even better.’

“The more time my team can spend on habitat conservation, instead of clearing up after others, the better for this incredible landscape and the people who live and work in it year-round.”
Scott McCombie
Senior Ranger, Glencoe NNR
A view looking down Glencoe in summer on a sunny day. The mountains are green, and white clouds streak across the sky.

Building on our work to protect, care for and share Glencoe NNR, the ranger team is also keen to raise awareness of the ways in which everyone can ensure their behaviour doesn’t cause lasting damage to the special places they have come to visit nor to the local community.

This includes calling for no campfires on the ground in the reserve after the team saw a rise in the number of fire sites compared with last year. Several wildfires were caused by careless campers earlier in the spring, and there have been numerous examples of trees being damaged to provide a source of firewood. As well as spotting campfires and preventing them escalating during this year’s dry spring and early summer, the team is working to educate the public on the impacts of campfires on Glencoe’s spectacular landscape.

Scott says: ‘Campfires have a negative impact on both the peat-rich low-level soils in the glens and the thinner, fragile upland soils. This is not just at times of high wildfire risk, although it is even more unacceptable at these times. We ask that campers bring only camping stoves, or at least portable metal fire bowls with a stand, to keep fires off the bare earth. Please do not light naked flames during dry spells.’

In the famous Hidden Valley of Coire Gabhail, the team has been saddened to see woodland – renowned internationally for its rich mosses and lichens – damaged by campers who have cut branches off trees in an attempt to fuel their campfires. ‘This is not only bad for these precious habitats but it’s also pointless, as live greenwood will not burn’, comments Scott McCombie.

We are also helping to educate visitors to Glencoe on the rules around cars and camper vans driving off-road onto soft verges, peat-rich moorland and even river beaches. Having observed a growing trend for 4x4s with roof-top tents driving off-road, our rangers in Glen Coe and Glen Etive have been engaging actively with drivers to explain that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code does not grant a right of access for camping to motorised vehicles.

Scott says: ‘Every weekend we encounter vehicles that have been driven off hard-surface laybys and car parks, so that their occupants can get a better view or camp beside or on top of their vehicles – often unaware that they’re breaching the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Off-road driving requires the permission of the landowner. While an individual driver might not think they are causing a problem, the cumulative effect at busy locations is very damaging. We are seeing disturbance of vegetation and wildlife, soil erosion or compaction, worsening drainage, and wetter ground conditions. Educating the public has become an important aspect of our conservation activity here.’

Two 4x4s are parked by a river running through a glen, on the island in the middle surrounded by soft sandy banks. The road is a long way away.
Off-road driving can disturb vegetation and wildlife, as well as cause soil erosion or compaction.

Another critical element in our mission to protect and share Glencoe National Nature Reserve is the ranger team’s ongoing work to clear up what visitors leave behind. Top of their list of finds is food packaging, disposable BBQs, used tissues, wet wipes and toilet sites.

Scott says: ‘One of the least pleasant tasks our team faces – and this is certainly one that diverts us from conservation and habitat restoration – is clearing up toilet sites. There is no easy answer to toileting in the outdoors. The advice in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is to bury it. However, at popular sites with thin soils and repeated use, this is not the best option. Many people choose the same spots at the edge of car parks and beside paths, and these areas can become a biohazard. We ask visitors to consider our team members and the other visitors and dogs who may encounter the remnants of their toileting activities.’

“Here in Glencoe NNR, we’re lucky to have some incredible places on our doorstep and we want to make sure they’re there for future generations to enjoy – in a way that’s sustainable and also beneficial for the local community.”
Scott McCombie
Senior Ranger, Glencoe NNR

Scott added: ‘Thanks to the generosity of the National Trust for Scotland’s members and supporters, our ranger team are on the ground working relentlessly to protect, care for and share these stunning glens. We’re grateful to them, as well as to the local community, volunteers and responsible visitors who help us do that.’

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