With the relaxation of Covid arrangements - and after several months of storms and cold, wintry conditions - residents and visitors alike will be eager to get out into the fresh air and once again enjoy the wealth of sights and activities the region has to offer.
Aberdeenshire remains a mecca for visitors and relies on that tourism to support many of its communities and businesses.
During the last two years, it was heartening so see the vast majority of visitors showing respect for the great outdoors and ensuring our parks, forests and beaches were kept in tip-top condition.
However, there were a number of issues at some tourist hotspots including littering, dirty camping, public toileting and damage through unattended barbecues and campfires.
Many areas – including Linn o’ Dee and Glen Muick in the Cairngorms National Park – also saw hundreds of vehicles including campervans being parked dangerously on roadside verges, blocking emergency access roads and, in some cases, damaging private land, prompting serious safety concerns.
Through engagement with communities and those volunteer teams who continue to help us keep areas clean and tidy, council teams have been busy in recent weeks preparing country parks, beaches and other attractions to ensure facilities are in place to welcome visitors including improvements to toilet provision, litter bins and signage.
Alan Wood, Director of Environment and Infrastructure Services, explained: “Communities the length and breadth of Aberdeenshire are gearing up to welcome thousands of visitors in the coming weeks and indeed throughout the summer. Particularly after two very challenging years, our towns and villages will again be relying on this influx to support businesses and battle back from the effects of Covid.
“Ahead of the coming tourist season, I would like to thank all those who will be enjoying Aberdeenshire’s scenery and ensuring our countryside and coastline is kept clean and tidy for all to enjoy.”
The council is currently in the process of applying for funding to employ additional Seasonal Access Rangers and is also in the process of installing additional bins at many identified sites including The Glebe at Drumoak and Portarch Green.
Conversations are also continuing with community groups around the potential installation of barbecue stands to avoid the misuse and careless disposal of single-use barbecues.
In a bid to prevent sites exceeding capacity and traffic congestion, Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service is once again encouraging people to have a Plan B when visiting the countryside.
Temporary traffic orders such as those implemented at Linn o’ Dee and Glen Muick in recent years will not initially be used, however the council’s roads teams will monitor and review in the months ahead.
The Ranger Service is also reminding us all that the right to countryside access is only applicable when visitors behave responsibly. This is a very busy time for farmers and land managers with lambing continuing to take place across Aberdeenshire and preparations for calving and sowing well underway. We are also about to enter bird nesting season, wildlife which is particularly susceptible to disturbance.
If you are visiting our countryside with a dog it must be under proper control at all times. In areas where there is livestock or ground nesting birds, this means the dog should be on a short lead or close at heel, and you should not enter fields where there is livestock.
Dogs not under proper control can kill or injure livestock or wildlife causing emotional distress for those who have to deal with the aftermath. It’s therefore important that visitors follow reasonable requests and signage and respect those who live and work in our countryside.
When you are out you should avoid farmyards and farm machinery and try to avoid touching surfaces such as gates or stiles. If an area feels too busy, move on to your Plan B site.
Echoing messages from many groups including NatureScot and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, our key message remains the same:
Bin your waste - Please ensure you dispose of all litter and bagged dog waste in our bins or, if they are full, take your waste homePlan ahead - Some hotspots could be busy and car parks will undoubtedly fill up quickly – so check the relevant website and be prepared to move to your Plan B site
Be responsible – Take extra care to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, especially on farmland, and abide by the latest guidance, including on hygiene and physical distancing.
In Scotland, you can go on to most land to enjoy the outdoors – as long as you behave responsibly.
This is known as Scottish access rights and is different to the position in England and Wales. When you are enjoying the outdoors, you must follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Scottish access rights apply, for example, to hills and moors, forests and woods, beaches and the coast, rivers and lochs, parks and some types of farmland.
For more detail on the code please visit www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot
Meanwhile, toilets operated by Aberdeenshire Council and community groups will be opened from April to September from 8am-8pm.
Aberdeenshire's Comfort Partnership Scheme is an initiative being developed by the Council to enhance the service offered in the area. Members of this scheme offer free of charge use of their toilet facilities, without any expectation to purchase any goods or services.
You can find out where they are at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/leisure-sport-and-culture/aberdeenshire-tourist-and-visitor-information/public-toilets/