Visitors to the Cairngorms National Park can now learn about nature and how they can save wildlife following the completion of Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre. 

Based at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park, the £6.5 million project comprises three new buildings, an ambitious community outreach programme and a biodiversity action plan to help protect native species. 

The three buildings or 'hubs' that make up the transformed visitor experience have been constructed with timber and other materials that are designed to meld with the surrounding landscape of the park. The names were created in Scots Gaelic first based on nature to share how they will be used. 

A' Chaonnag, the Learning Hive, is named after the hope for the space to be a hive of learning, activity and collaboration.  It will enable groups and communities to explore the world of wildlife, removing barriers and accessible programmes to connect people to nature and conservation through engaging and adaptable sessions, STEM, outdoor learning and citizen science.

An Doras, the Gateway, draws on the idea of openings in nature, like a forest clearing. It has been designed as a colourful space with no linear path, so visitors will need to explore, just as if they were in a forest. 

READ MORE: Highland Wildlife Park snow leopards celebrate first birthday

An Saobhaidh, the Conservation Den, is a safe space where visitors can learn about the challenges facing the natural world. The space offers 360 degree views of the landscape, looking into the area of the park where captive wildcats are bred for release into the wild and then out into the unique habitats of the Cairngorms.

The Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre Project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund led by NatureScot, and many other funders.    

Ben Supple, the wildlife conservation charity’s deputy chief executive, said: “With one in nine species at risk of extinction in Scotland and a million across the globe, it is more important than ever to engage and inspire people to create a world where nature is protected, valued and loved. 

“We are incredibly proud to open the doors to the Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre project, which includes an interactive exhibition, a hilltop den where we will tell stories about how we work with partners to restore species, and new classrooms to support STEM learning and provide space to engage local communities with the natural world. 

“A fantastic example is how we will place visitors at the heart of conservation as they enjoy 360-degree views of the wildcat breeding centre at Highland Wildlife Park and into the Cairngorms, where wildcats are being released as part of the Saving Wildcats partnership led by RZSS.” 

Visitors to the Cairngorms National Park can now learn about nature and how they can save wildlife following the completion of Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery CentreVisitors to the Cairngorms National Park can now learn about nature and how they can save wildlife following the completion of Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre (Image: Royal Zoological Society of Scotland)

Funding for the project will deliver new education and community jobs to broaden inclusion and access to nature. It will also help protect native species found at Highland Wildlife Park. 

“Access to nature can have tremendously powerful mental and physical health and wellbeing benefits and this project will help more people and communities experience the joys of being close to wildlife,” said Supple. 

“We are very grateful for the funding we have received, which has enabled us to considerably increase the size of our education and community team. Our aim will be to reach out to various, diverse communities which experience barriers to accessing nature, including poverty, loneliness and disabilities. 

“The project has also helped to fund a biodiversity action plan to discover and protect native species at Highland Wildlife Park such as the small scabious mining bee.”

NatureScot's Deputy Director of Nature & Climate Change, Eileen Stuart added: "We are pleased to see Scotland's Wildlife Discovery Centre open its doors, with our support given through European Regional Development Funding.

"These buildings allow more visitors to experience meaningful connections with the wildlife that surrounds them, inspiring them to care more deeply for the nature on their doorstep as well as understanding the impacts on cold-environment animals from around the world." 

Based in Kincraig, seven miles south of Aviemore, Highland Wildlife Park provides a home to rare animals of the world's mountains and tundra regions, such as Amur tigers, snow monkeys, red pandas, Bactrian camels and polar bears.