Fresh investment has been announced by the Scottish Government to help promote the scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands.

The £5 million Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), will open for applications on Monday aimed at boosting projects seeking to benefit the area, including improving the experience of visitors.

The funding comes through the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, with match funding from other sources, bringing overall investment to more than £7 million.

The fund will invest in around 10 major new projects and, in addition to promoting nature and culture, will seek to create and support jobs in the area.

Job creation is cited as a key measure of success for the fund, with projects encouraged to demonstrate benefits such as creating and sustaining employment, businesses and services in the local community.

Applications can be submitted from the public, voluntary or third sectors.

The fund is not suitable for applications from the private sector, individuals, commercial enterprise or organisations run entirely by volunteers.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, said: “Tourism is an important aspect of the Highlands and Islands economy, with many communities dependent on visitors who are attracted to the region by its beautiful landscapes, wildlife, heritage and culture.

“I am pleased to see Scottish Natural Heritage launch this fund and encourage relevant applicants from the area to come forward and apply.

“The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund will target resources accordingly to more remote and rural parts of the region, supporting much-needed jobs and bringing additional economic and social benefits.”

SNH chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “This new fund presents fantastic opportunities to show how investing in the environment and culture of the Highlands and Islands can bring significant economic benefits for rural communities.

“SNH has already met with over 100 prospective applicants at events across the region to discuss their project ideas.

“We’re very much looking forward to hearing even more people’s ideas and helping to make them happen, giving visitors an even better experience and seeing the rewards for communities in the coming years.”