Their wild and almost lunar landscapes have inspired geologists for centuries and helped them map the earth’s journey over millions of years.

Now some of Scotland’s lesser known spots could be about to go global under international plans to make the country an international destination for field trip-style science tourism.

An international team of researchers are calling for tourism businesses interested in developing products in remote destinations across a range of subjects such as marine science, geology, climate change, archaeology and local ecosystems to take part in the EU-funded project worth over €1 million. 

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Led by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, the two-year scientific tourism (SCITOUR) project will help small businesses and start-ups based in remote northern regions to create, promote and sell new products offering tourists an educational experience, and help to diversify local economies. The project has grown out of recent patterns whereby once remote destinations in the Arctic and northern European countries have become more accessible to tourists.

The growth of the expedition cruise industry, cheaper accommodation and an increase in flights have all contributed to this trend. Visitors to these regions are often curious, drawn to less-visited parts of the world to experience and learn about somewhere that is off the beaten track.

Now places like the isle of Arran and Assynt in Wester Ross could become international destinations alongside Iceland and Lapland with tourists keen to learn about science of a local area.

Project manager Ari Laakso from the University of Lapland said “Travellers want to understand and learn about what they see and experience. Often, tourists will visit a museum, a science centre or a culturally interesting venue to learn more about natural phenomena, but why not take this a step further? This new tourism concept would focus on utilising and communicating science in a fun and hands-on fashion, exploring a certain topic or place.” 

“Scientists have always travelled to remote places for study and research. In the same way, tourists travel to remote destinations to experience something different.”

Arran has long fascinated geologists as sits astride the Highland Boundary Fault and is an excellent place to appreciate the variety of ‘Highland’ and ‘Lowland’ geology that Scotland is famous for.

In parts of the island on a simple three-kilometre walk, there is evidence of changing environments that span more than 100 million years and is one of the few places where this can be seen.

In the 1780s, James Hutton visited the north of Arran and discovered the junction between sedimentary rocks and  even older, eroded metamorphic rocks below. This was one of his first ‘unconformities’, which he used to demonstrate the great age of the Earth and the evidence of ‘former worlds’ where different rocks had been formed by natural processes.

The tourism project is part-funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) Programme of the EU and draws on the expertise of Perth College UHI’s Centre for Mountain Studies and the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UH.

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Dr Rosalind Bryce, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Mountain Studies, said: “We look forward to being part of this international collaboration on scientific tourism. Developing tourism products based on scientific knowledge has the potential to provide fulfilling experiences both for visitors and for the businesses and host communities providing them.”

The goal is to create an umbrella organisation that gives businesses a package of benefits including access to an established scientific tourism brand and identity and  a website where they can market and sell their products and will be launched in February 2022. 

Dr Steve Taylor, head of the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, said: “In Scotland, we will be working closely with tourism entrepreneurs in remote areas to help them develop and market scientific tourism products.

“Influenced by the idea of the academic field trip, where students are taken out into the field for an extended period of time to learn in the environment, this embraces a range of subjects such as marine science, climate change, geology, archaeology, astronomy, traditional knowledge, and local ecosystems.”