origins

The Black Isle Partnership owes its origins to a study tour, conducted under the North American/United Kingdom Countryside Exchange programmed. The tour, in 1997 resulted in a number of recommendations about how the Black Isle, and its communities could develop in the future. Below is the main part of the study tour report, referring to the Black Isle.

Introduction

The Black Isle is a surprising landscape of dramatic tranquility. The team found a fertile, gently rolling land; wondrous changing cloud banks over expansive firths; abundant wildlife in the air, and dolphins in the seas.

However, the isolation that has helped preserve it is now being challenged by new developments which, if not well managed, may threaten both its environment and its economy. Local communities need to think carefully about, and fully participate in managing changes that develop the rural economy in a sustainable way and that are also socially and environmentally sensitive.

Observations

The team, after meeting many local people and organisations, felt that the following issues needed to be addresses:

The area is a beautiful and vibrant one, but sensitive to change, which must be within socially, economically and environmentally acceptable and agreed limits. Perceived declining social infrastructure is linked by some to new social issues such as youth problems.

Much is going on and more is possible, butnew partnerhsips need to be forged both between Black Isle communities and with others beyond, including the EU.

The quality of the environment is high but seen to be threatened and the variety of its habitats needs to be protected.

Decline in the traditional economy has led to uncertainty as to the best way forward and the type and scale of new development. There are concerns about infrastructure and the feeling that the area´s isolation hampers new business development and skills training. New initiatives do exist and need to be promoted more widely.

There is significant sustainable tourism development potential but the area´s image, marketing, and provision needs better coordination. Current public transport networks are seen by many as inadequate and could result in further isolation. Local rights of way couldbe improved to the benefit of both residents and tourists.

Many recent studies have not appeared to achieve action and this maybe due to a lack of local ownership of them. There is a need for all local residents to recognise their common problems and begin to set the future agenda.

Key issues

The Exchange team developed the following guiding principles to help Black Isle residents create a series of criteria against which to compare possible future development.
•Develop and sustain local communities by encouraging people from across the Black Isle to work together for collective benefit.
•Maintain and improve the quality of the environment. The community needs to be able to influence future development to ensure that it will enhance the quality of the environment benefiting both the local economy and local people.
•Employment opportunities need to be created and strengthened by developing a more diversified economic base by encouraging the establishment of small and medium sized enterprises.
•New initiatives need to be found to market the Black Isle as a low key but quality destination for tourists.
•Transport facilities need to be improved and better integrated to link the area with key regional centres and allow local people better access to the environment and job opportunities.
•Local people need to empower themselves to set their own priorities and implement and integrated action programme.