Regenerative rural cabins in Wester Ross 'purposefully don't target the North Coast 500' on a mission to 'keep tourism local'
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A WESTER Ross eco–tourism venture launched earlier this year is intentionally avoiding promoting itself to the globally recognised NC500 market.
Sam Planterose launched the Ecotone Cabins this summer with sustainability very much the watchword.
The two unique Ecotone Cabins take on a more sustainable, regenerative outlook when it comes to tourism in the Highlands, including giving back to the community and local ecosystem.
Sam and his family have been in the Leckmelm woodlands near Ullapool for nearly 30 years, who have created a series of different organisations in the woodlands, such as North Woods, sustainable timber and design builds; Kinder Croft, children's outdoor nursery; The West Edge, off–grid forest garden and venue; and most recently Ecotone Cabins.
The cabins take a focus on what Sam calls regenerative tourism. He said: "Regenerative tourism is the progression of sustainable tourism but it's open to a lot of interpretation and misinterpretation. For us, regenerative means that our business makes our local environment and community a little bit better through its existence, rather than a little bit worse.
"Tourism isn’t inherently harmful or positive, it depends on how its done, a big part of this is keeping tourism local. Putting back into the community, employing locals, that's regenerative. A large chain taking the income from tourism, and taking it out of the community to spend it elsewhere, while leaving the negative impacts of tourism in that community – that's where the issues arise.
"There's a lot of terms that get thrown around a lot like: luxury, unique, sustainable. Our buildings are genuinely unique; there are no others like them because we designed and built them from the ground up ourselves. I can’t speak for all other places out there that use those words in their marketing, but we know for ourselves that we’re coming at the sustainable and environmental side of things from an authentic background, so you can be assured that what we are doing is really founded in those principals. "
"The type of guests we have attracted, and we really hoped that we would, are the people who can provide us with the positive aspects of tourism. They're the people who stay here, spend money with other local businesses, and are respectful of the place. And they leave either without a negative impact, or having contributed something positive to the place.
"We purposefully don’t target the NC500 market at all, it's part of our ethos to provide an alternative to that. The idea is not to rush through, it's to stay and build a connection with the place that they visit so that there is that respect, and a mutually beneficial relationship with the place and the people who come to visit. This hopefully provides a counter to the negative impacts of that other type of tourism that the NC500 tends to promote: rushing through and staying one night maximum. We consider ourselves to be an alternative, an opposite of that really. We try and stay away from that market."
The North Coast 500 is a 516 mile scenic route along the coasts of the Scottish Highlands, attracting tourists from all over the world to the rural and authentic beauty of the Highlands. However, according to a study by the Department of Transport there has been a total of 307 accidents on the route from 2016–2020, highlighting some of the negative aspects which come with the success of the route in recent years.
Some of the things Sam and his family did to create the Ecotone Cabins in a more considered and sustainable way were using trees which were cut down from the site in Leckmelm, which made the indoor cladding; reducing the mileage of the materials; using other local timber and using ecological materials for insulation like sheeps wool and wood fibre. They also took time to source other materials in a considered way, which they needed to buy in from further afield. The building itself is also low energy, meaning its environmental impact is minimised.
Sam continued: "All the income from our different organisations goes into projects here in the forest. The income that comes from the cabins allows us to do more of those operations like doing track improvements for the Kinder Croft nursery, or to help support subsidising a new build at North Woods.
"The cabins also provide income that supports four households, offshoots of my family, that allows them to stay here – My sister and her partner, my other sister and her husband, and me and my family, my father, and mum, we all have kids too – it all helps support those households with income to live here. It's making sure that the income from tourism stays locally, supports locally, and is spent locally.
"Like everything we do here, it's not just about income. A huge part of the motivation and reward of what we do, comes from being able to do it all ourselves. The buildings we have: they're not something that has been imported from miles away, they've not been mass produced in a factory somewhere, they're not something that's been made of plastic or another non–renewable material. They've got an intrinsic quality, and hopefully that comes through in what we offer to other people.
"We don’t want to expand the accommodation side of things, that's not our motivation at all, were just doing this to support what we've got here. There is a consideration in the future of something less luxurious than what we currently offer, but that's a long way off if we ever got to that point.
"The forest is a plantation, its like the tree version of a field of wheat, it's a crop. The forest has only four species of trees, three of which are non–native. It's planted in this very artificial way, that doesn't provide the same value that a native woodland would provide.
"So the income from the cabins is supporting us to be here, meaning that we can realise some of our plans for cutting down areas of the conifer and replanting them with deciduous trees, and that provides a much more diverse habitat for other species."
Conifers are trees and plants that bear cones and needle-like leaves that are typically evergreen. Deciduous means trees which shed all leaves annually at the end of the growing season, and then having a dormant period without leaves.
Sam continued: "We are also providing continuous cover on the forestry. Traditionally, a plantation like this would be cleared every 40 or 50 years. The forest would get to maturity, and then Scottish forestry commission would come in and chop the whole thing down, and replant it again with more conifers.
"Its a very artificial process, and in between the trees getting chopped down and replanted, you have a lot of erosion that goes on, the habitat that was there is destroyed and reset. By us being here we can ensure that the forest won't be chopped down all at once, it will be done in small pieces at a time, so the habitat is always maintained but also gradually improved.
"We hope to gently impact our guests with those ideas and concepts, we have information in the cabins and on our website. We are very happy to talking with guests openly, and take them for tours where they can come around and see what we do."