Popular Highlands destination becomes ‘one of the first smart villages in Scotland’

The village of Gartness, a popular stopping point at the beginning of the West Highland Way, has become one of the first smart villages in Scotland, having deployed new Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure to support tourism and development in the local community.

The digital village project, backed by the Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER programme, is designed to be one of the first of many in Scotland, revitalising and empowering rural communities to create employment opportunities and attract future investment.

The project is also supported by experts from CENSIS – Scotland’s centre of excellence for sensing, imaging systems, and IoT technologies – Stirling Council, Gartness Community Group and North (formerly Boston Networks).

At the heart of the project is a series of IoT-enabled sensors that have been installed to provide the community with near real-time data on the number of walkers heading towards Gartness and nearby Drymen, via the West Highland Way, helping local businesses to monitor the demand for their services.

On average, around 120,000 people walk the West Highland Way each year, with tourism generating an estimated £5.5 million for the local economy. Accommodation providers and hospitality businesses rely on estimated numbers to anticipate the popularity of campsites, B&Bs and food and drink venues. However, the new technology counts the number of footsteps on the popular walking trail, with the numerical data available to view online.

In addition to counting footfall, the smart network also includes an IoT-connected weather station, hosted at Drymen primary school, and water level sensors deployed on the nearby Endrick Water, which demonstrate a low cost and accessible way for communities to monitor flood risks.

The IoT system makes use of North’s IoT Scotland network, powered by LoRaWAN technology – a wireless wide area network that enables long-range communications between sensors and application servers, using very little power.

Douglas Johnston, chair of Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER, said: “Scotland is fast becoming a leader in IoT and digital technology. We have recognised this through the employment of a Community Broadband Officer, and the Smart Digital Village project at Gartness is just the beginning of a what could become a vast network of digital communities, including other points on the West Highland Way and beyond. We hope that the capabilities demonstrated in Gartness will be the catalyst for similar remote communities to embrace the potential of IoT.”

Scotland’s Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “I am pleased to see sensor technologies being used in such a practical application, supporting local community regeneration. Digital connectivity is critical to Scotland’s economic and social recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic and for a rural village like Gartness, which depends on tourism, the use of sensor technology is delivering good results.

“By providing a lifeline to local businesses alongside improving community resilience to events outwith their control, Internet of Things (IoT) has offered a cost effective and future-proofed solution and one that will continue to benefit the community for years to come.”

The project was born from a ‘FutureTech’ seminar held by CENSIS at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Country Park HQ in Balloch, which explored the use of IoT in tourism. The workshop was part of a wider programme of business support commissioned by the Scottish Government and delivered by CENSIS to explore and support the use of IoT in Scotland’s key sectors.

Rachael Wakefield, business development manager at CENSIS, said: “This year the West Highland Way is celebrating 40 years, and the communities along the route are now looking towards a sustainable future. Gartness is a great example of how communities can deploy low power sensors and IoT technologies and start to work with data provided to create opportunities and manage resources. IoT data like footfall, local weather, or the number of cars parked in a remote spot can support Scottish tourism, helping businesses to predict and understand patterns in the demand for their services. There are numerous opportunities for integrating data into day-to-day operations, seizing opportunities for diversification and growth.”