THE Scottish Government has announced fresh investment to help promote the scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands.

The £5 million Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), will open for applications today and will invest in around 10 major projects.

The funding is provided by the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, as well as other sources, bringing overall investment to more than £7m.

In addition to promoting nature and culture, the initiative is designed to create and support employment.

Indeed, job creation is cited as a key measure of success for the fund, with project managers encouraged to demonstrate the benefits their schemes could have for local communities, including measures to help create and sustain employment, businesses and services.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, said: “Tourism is an important aspect of the Highlands and Islands economy, with many communities dependent on visitors who are attracted to the region by its beautiful landscapes, wildlife, heritage and culture.

“I am pleased to see SNH launch this fund and encourage relevant applicants from the area to come forward and apply.

“The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund will target resources accordingly to more remote and rural parts of the region, supporting much-needed jobs and bringing additional economic and social benefits.”

Applications can be submitted from the public, voluntary or third sectors.

The fund is not suitable, however, for applications from the private sector, individuals, commercial enterprise or organisations run entirely by volunteers.

SNH chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “This new fund presents fantastic opportunities to show how investing in the environment and culture of the Highlands and Islands can bring significant economic benefits for rural communities.

“SNH has already met with more than 100 prospective applicants at events across the region to discuss their project ideas.

“We are very much looking forward to hearing even more people’s ideas and helping to make them happen, giving visitors an even better experience and seeing the rewards for communities in the coming years.”

Final decisions on the successful projects will be announced in early summer this year.

Commenting on the launch of the funding initiative, SNH chairman Mike Cantlay added: “We are hugely excited to find out more about projects that can make a crucial difference to visitor experience.”