The UK’s largest national park has partnered with leading Internet of Things (IoT) provider, North, to access data which will help it manage a Covid-related surge in visitors.

The Cairngorms has experienced unprecedented levels of tourism during the pandemic, as ‘staycations’ have risen in popularity due to cross-border travel restrictions.

Through the installation of gateways and sensor devices connecting to North’s IoT Scotland network framework, the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and other local land managers will be able to use innovative technologies to monitor footfall, route usage and vehicle parking.

The network will also be available to local businesses to deploy data gathering sensors, providing them with the opportunity to gain key data findings and insights on how they can improve their services.

Funded by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and North, the £6 million IoT Scotland network provides the infrastructure for companies and organisations to tap into smart sensor applications.

The proposed footfall and car park sensors will be installed around the Aviemore and Cairngorm areas and will communicate with the IoT Scotland network through the gateways set up at Glenmore Lodge, Ciste, Day Lodge and two buildings within Aviemore.

Using the data from footfall around the area, the National Park Authority and partners will be able to monitor the most popular routes and carparks to ensure they are effectively managed to prevent degradation of the natural beauty spots.

Additionally, sensors will be used to track real-time data to maximise visitor experience and safety, relieving car park pressures and encouraging drivers towards less populous areas.

Local businesses will be able to access the network and adopt smart technology to improve their services in and around the local area, as they benefit from a surge in visitors from the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Adam Streeter-Smith, recreation and access manager for CNPA said: “We are excited about the potential of this new network which will allow people to connect sensors to and collect much better data about this important part of the National Park. We are in the process of purchasing path and vehicle counters which will be deployed locally in partnership with local land managers, including Forest and Land Scotland and Cairngorm Mountain.

“In time, the data collected will help us all build up a much better picture of who uses the area and the peak times for visiting. We will make this information available for others to use so that we can manage the area better. “

Theresa Swayne, senior development manager at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), said: “The use of IoT technology is growing all the time in industry as more and more businesses discover the benefits it can bring, so we are really pleased to support CNPA with this project, along with our partners.

“The technology will monitor popular routes to help ensure that they are managed sustainably while at the same time helping to maximise the experience for visitors and enabling local businesses to improve their services.”

Alasdair Rettie, group technical director at North, said: “The pandemic has seen a huge upsurge in people taking up walking and outdoor activities and it is important that data plays a role in monitoring such trends to protect beauty spots, ensuring that we can facilitate tourism in a sustainable way.

“Through the use of our IoT Scotland Network, organisations across the country are able to reap the benefits of smart technology which gives access to data that can shape services and environments to mirror the ever-changing ways in which we live and work.

“We are thrilled to be working with Cairngorm National Park Authority and the land managers on this project, and it is a fantastic example of where technology and nature can come together to conserve our environment while boosting local communities.”