Speyside Wildlife

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Speyside Wildlife's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Speyside Wildlife is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Owner and Manager
Guests wildlife watching
during a Yellowstone
holiday on Beartooth
Speyside Wildlife are wildlife tour operators based in the
Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland.
Founded in 1991, they started by running birdwatching
holidays for small groups from their home. That business plan
lasted a week – at the end of the first holiday, the guests
asked where their next stop was. That took Speyside to further
Scottish destinations, as well as working further afield across
Europe and North America. With a focus on iconic destinations
for birdwatching, the team at Speyside – and owner and
manager Sally Dowden – pride themselves on their wildlife
tourism expertise.
When we started, the world of wildlife tourism was split into two camps: those
within the loosely linked conservation field, who thought we’d sold out and gone
over to the “dark side”, and the rest of the world, who thought we should get a
proper job.
We knew, however, that there were a significant number of people throughout
the UK who enjoyed birdwatching, understood where different species were and
which were rare or common, but were looking for someone to show them the
specialities of an area during their precious and restricted holiday time. They were
looking for great food and comfortable surroundings but wanted to concentrate on
experiencing wildlife in beautiful areas.
These guests drove our schedules and itineraries through the years that followed,
telling us where they wanted to go and when; all the while, however, they relied
»Owner and Manager:
»Established in 1991
»Based in the Cairngorms
National Park, Scottish Highlands
»Services: Wildlife tours in the
UK and the rest of the world
»No. of employees: 20
»We run between 40 and 50
scheduled holidays every
year, plus tailormade day and
evening guiding
»By the time of our 25th
anniversary, 25 guests had taken
25 or more holidays with us.
One customer has, to date, been
on over 50 holidays with us
Speyside Wildlife
Highlighting best practice
on our expertise when it came to the
best time to visit and what they were
likely to see.
Many of them have been appreciative
repeat customers – on our 25th
anniversary in 2016, we were able
to celebrate that we had taken over
25 guests on over 25 individual
holidays with us. We never cease to be
humbled by that loyalty.
The perception of wildlife tourism
has changed in that time, too – it is
now taken seriously as an industry
that contributes to the national and
global economy. We have changed
in kind, too – in 1991, we were just
two people who co-ordinated local
holidays from our own homes; now,
we’re a team of 20 that takes guests
all over the world on all-inclusive
We still have a large portfolio of
Scottish holidays for small groups, led
by professional wildlife tour guides,
but our ethos remains the same for all
our other destinations. This is the case
whether it’s our broad range of trips
to Europe, the USA, South America
and Asia, or the tailormade holidays
we provide for guests with specific
requests and desires.
We endeavour to show our guests
wildlife in its natural environment, with
all the challenges that this brings. We
know that the only way to do this is
sustainably and ensure that the wildlife
will be there when we come back – as
such, we make a concerted effort to
make our impact on the areas we visit
as minimal as possible.
A regulatory seachange in the
wildlife tourism industry
Other aspects of the wildlife tourism
industry and the wider world also
changed over the years. Guests are
now much more conscious of their
impact on the environment and
often want to give something back
when they travel. To this end, several
of our holidays include donations
to commercial operations in the
Guests evening
watching at Loch
Garten, in the
Cairngorms National
In 1991, we
were just two
people who
local holidays
from our own
homes; now,
we’re a team
of 20 that
takes guests
all over the
world on all-
destination; one such initiative sees
annual contributions to a scheme
that looks to reinstate the Caledonian
Our desire to reuse, recycle and
reduce extends to our own office
administrative activities. We
consequently operate almost entirely
in the cloud, to the extent that we
no longer have a bricks and mortar
office, working instead from our
own homes. This brings a number of
unforeseen benefits – not only because
do we not have to travel to work
each day, but we also see the rest of
our lives dovetail seamlessly into our
Dealing with the increasing burden
of regulation is always a challenge
for small businesses, but we find
the biggest challenge to be staffing.
A poor supply of housing makes it
impossible to attract young people
to the area, and we are aware of the
need to find the next generation of
professional wildlifeguides.
Upskilling a limited workforce
– the future for an important
We noticed some years back that the
calibre of potential guides at interview
had changed significantly. A while
ago, we encountered many who were
keen birdwatchers, but they tended
not to want to share that expertise
with guests. As years have gone by,
we have had a greater number of
interviewees who are far more sociable
and willing to share knowledge,
but some of them were unable to
effectively identify species.
To solve this issue, we looked around
for a wildlife identification course
that would upskill potential guides
sufficiently to do this. We couldn’t
find one. There are a great many
courses available, but they are all
short-term day or evening courses. We
need guides who can take guests out
all year, through the changes in bird
plumage, the different species around
during the year and their songs and
calls. In the end, we decided to design
and run a courseourselves.
Knowing that it would take a year for
anyone to learn the birds in even a
relatively small area, we started with a
course in and around the Cairngorms
National Park, home to some of the
most iconic wildlife in the UK. Luckily,
the depth and breadth of our guides’
knowledge meant we were able to
implement an accredited training
course in-house.
Now in its third year, the success of
the course and the feedback from the
students has been deeply rewarding.
Our success has always been down
to the calibre and commitment of
our staff, both in administration and
product delivery.
We have always wanted that to
continue, and to be able to deliver
enjoyable holidays for guests who
appreciate our care and attention to
detail. To see that continue through
nurturing the next generation is deeply
satisfying to us.
We endeavour
to show our
guests wildlife
in its natural
with all the
challenges that
this brings
Media interest in wildlife
watching holidays is


This article was sponsored by Speyside Wildlife. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster