SHAPE – Sustainable Heritage Areas: Partnerships for Ecotourism

SHAPESustainable Heritage Areas: Partnerships for Ecotourism

SHAPE is a €1.5 million three-year project (2017-2020) funded by the European Commission’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. SHAPE will enable authorities, businesses and communities to develop innovative ecotourism initiatives which preserve local natural and cultural assets and generate economic value.

Partners in SHAPE include Scotland’s two biosphere reserves (BR), a BR in Finland, a candidate BR in Norway, a regional park in Iceland, and a World Heritage Site in Greenland.  Together, we refer to these as ‘Sustainable Heritage Areas’.  The project is led by the University of the Highlands and Islands and also involves Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland.

SHAPE Partners:

  • Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve, Scotland
  • Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve, Scotland
  • University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland
  • Snaefellsnes Regional Park, Iceland
  • Kutjataa World Heritage Site, Greenland
  • North Karelia Biosphere Reserve, Finland
  • Karelian University of Applied Sciences Finland
  • Nordhordland Candidate Biosphere Reserve, Norway


These areas experience challenges common to sparsely populated rural areas, including rural depopulation, lack of infrastructure, and low accessibility, which reduce opportunities for community and economic development. Yet these areas are also rich in cultural and natural assets.  SHAPE will develop innovative ecotourism initiatives to promote these assets while preserving their condition and supporting local identity.

SHAPE will bring together communities, local authorities, tourism providers, conservationists and those involved with protection of cultural heritage in each area to create new partnerships to build on existing activities and develop new initiatives that will benefit local communities.

SHAPE will facilitate the sharing of information and experience between partners and countries by organising learning journeys to allow people from each Sustainable Heritage Area to visit those in other countries and learn from their experience of implementing new ecotourism initiatives.

Best practice approaches to stakeholder engagement, mapping and managing cultural and natural heritage in an integrated way, creating new ecotourism markets and governance of Sustainable Heritage Areas will be brought together in a freely available e-service of methods and guidance.  This will open up new approaches to other areas that could benefit from them – across the Northern Periphery and Arctic area and in other parts of the world. The partnership between Universities and protected areas means that academic and practical expertise can be integrated to develop innovative, yet pragmatic and locally adaptable methods. Each Sustainable Heritage Area is at a different stage of development and can offer valuable experience of addressing and overcoming different challenges associated with this; the project outputs should therefore be useful for many other areas.