BOOMING tourism and cultural benefits will boost communities in Wester Ross as a result of a prestigious international status, a leading Scottish environmental figure believes.
Mike Cantlay, the chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) chair, made the prediction after being presented with a new Unesco certificate this week which officially recognises the Wester Ross Biosphere.
Only regions with outstanding natural heritage and a commitment towards promoting sustainable rural development gain the honour.
And Mr Cantlay believes the status will attract a new wave of visitors, eager to explore the unspoilt landscape and spot its impressive wildlife.
SNH received the certificate in recognition of its help in securing the accolade for the region. It will now go on display in the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR) – a pioneering site which became the UK’s very first such reserve back in 1951.
The site has proven so successful that it was later extended to include the Loch Maree islands and now covers more than 48 square kilometres.
Receiving the certificate from the Wester Ross Biosphere Board at the Beinn Eighe visitor centre, Mr Cantlay said: "I’m delighted this prestigious Unesco certificate will be on permanent display here in our visitor centre at Beinn Eighe National Natura Reserve, which very much remains at the heart of the new Wester Ross Biosphere.
"Beinn Eighe was Scotland’s first National Nature Reserve, a pioneering nature reserve from the start that has led the way in innovative and effective nature conservation for more than 60 years.
"We have been impressed with the enthusiasm of the Wester Ross communities to make this designation happen.
"This international recognition will attract people from all over the world who will come and see for themselves what an outstanding place for nature Wester Ross is.
"It presents new opportunities and we at Scottish Natural Heritage are excited to be working with the people of Wester Ross to demonstrate the links between nature conservation and sustainable economic development, ensuring the region retains its natural beauty for future generations to come and enjoy," he added.
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve has actually held Unesco Biosphere Reserve status since 1976, but when it was first awarded the accolade the United Nations body only needed such sites to manage nature conservation and also support education and research.
It has since expanded the qualifying criteria and such reserves now also need to support and promote sustainable rural development at a wider regional level.
After receiving the renewed accolade Mr Cantlay emphasised SNH’s continued support for the newly designated biosphere
He added that Scottish Natural Heritage will continue to work closely with the local community to help make the most of the opportunities that come with the prestigious international designation.
Unesco is the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, a branch of the United Nations and was founded back in November 1945.