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Scotland’s richest man loses almost £9.3m on Highland eco-tourism business



Scotland’s richest man has announced a loss of almost £9.3 million on his Highland hospitality and estates business, reinforcing the stark economic realities faced by those trying to develop alternative land uses to driven grouse shooting in the uplands.


Annual accounts for Anders Holch Povlsen’s Wildland show a dramatic fall in turnover over the last 12 months from the previous period.


Critics of driven grouse shooting often cite eco-tourism as a viable alternative for land use however its seasonal and unpredictable nature is reinforced through the dramatic losses highlighted in Povlsen's business.


*Dozens of jobs are created throughout the grouse shooting season

Furthermore, according to a study by Rotherham in 2008, the tourism expenditure 'does little to manage the landscape of the uplands'. This was also extensively covered in Simon Denny's recent report of 2023: A review of the evidence of the economic, environmental and social sustainability of driven grouse shooting.


The report added, 'even when areas have been devoted to natural conservation or rewilding with the aim of promoting local economic development, the evidence is that the development of tourism is not consistent'.


We only need to cast our minds back to the visit of the bearded vulture, or lammergeier, to the Peak District in 2020 to see the reality of the impact of eco-tourism. Even the national news reported it and birdwatchers “flocked” to Derbyshire to catch a glimpse of it.  

 

You would think that local businesses would benefit from all these visitors – and after all, the chance to earn some cash after a hard few months dealing with Covid would have been hugely appreciated. But that’s not the case.


The vast majority of visitors drove up in one day – often leaving at 3am or 4am in the morning – bringing their own thermoses and sandwiches with them. They found their lammergeier, got their photo, and pootled back down the motorway to sleep in their own beds.


Povlsend has been one of the largest advocates of eco-tourism, as a result many have been watching his Scottish empire with great interest to see if he can prove the doubters wrong.


Judging by these recent financial accounts, and the experience many other re-wilders in remote areas have faced, we are a long way off the eco-tourism industry being in any way as sustainable or impactful when compared to the overall benefits brought by driven grouse shooting.


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