Month: March 2016

March 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Last week, the Tory Government at Westminster published an 8 – Point Plan for National Parks in England http://www.cnp.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploadsfiles/National%20Parks%20Plan.pdf

In the introduction it states the Government has an “ambition to put National Parks at the heart of the way we think about the environment”.

 

Contrast this level of interest with this week’s Political Hustings in the Sunday Herald  which gave the political parties a chance to consider “all things environmental”.  Aileen McLeod, the Environment Minister, wrote the SNP contribution which was limited to repeating what the Government has done so far on climate change (no new commitments) and a statement a future SNP Government would increase the Climate Justice fund to £3m a year.    Her poverty of imagination is illustrated by the issues mentioned by Mark Ruskell for the Greens:  sea and air pollution, including pesticides; warm homes; fracking; environmental jobs; greener farming through changing subsidies and land reform;  food poverty; green spaces and wildlife persecution.   Sarah Boyack said Labour would protect air, water and food but spent most of her piece attacking the SNP record on fracking rather than saying what Labour would do.   Only RISE mentioned re-wilding and only the Tories mentioned landscape, two issues which should be central to the future of our National Parks.

 

The Scottish Tories, in line with their party south of the border, are even calling for an extension of National Parks, something that the SNP Government included in their last election manifesto but have never progressed.    While some of the ideology behind the Tories 8-Point Action Plan makes me cringe –  “National Parks are the soul of Britain. They are the centre of our imagination. When people think of Britain, wherever they are, they imagine these landscapes” –   they have picked up on something, that landscapes are very important to people.   The other political parties in Scotland have missed this almost completely.    Our politicians have been treating the performance of our existing National Parks as a management, not an environmental or political issue.

 

While I am not advocating an English model for our National Parks, our politicians could still learn something from the 8-Point Action Plan, for example:
* that our National Parks have a role in preventing flooding – think of the Cairngorms, intensive moorland management and the floods on Deeside
* that our National Parks have a key role to play in outdoor education and the commitment to increase this – think of the closure of Outdoor Education centres for young people in our National Parks as a result of Local Authority cuts
* that the diversity of people visiting the National Parks should be increased – think of the proposed camping ban and its impact on  people from the Clyde conurbation being able to enjoy the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
While the action plan is full of positive aspirations, some of the proposed targets are far from meeting those aspirations and I find that some of the means of getting there are quite sinister.  For example, Westminster wants to connect every young person with nature and is aiming to ensure that 60,000 young people a year experience the Parks through the National Citizens Service.  NCS “brings together young people from different backgrounds to learn about responsibility and serving their communities” – not, you may note to enjoy the outdoors or learn about the natural environment.      The Action Plan therefore is far from a suitable blue-print for Scotland but should be a wake-up call to the next Scottish Government.
In order to try and promote some debate about National Parks in the lead up to the Scottish Elections – and what a Scottish Action Plan for our existing National Parks might look like – Parkswatch hopes to feature some articles from different authors over the next few weeks.
March 27, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Douglas McAdam, Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates had an article in the Sunday Herald today http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14386203.A_landowner_s_defence_of_culling_mountain_hares/ defending the killing of hares in which he referred to the Cairngorms at the end.  He was obviously trying to persuade our politicians, who I have heard read the Sunday Herald, and the CNPA that everything is just fine.

 

McAdam’s argument is basically that landowners need to cull hares for the same reasons that red deer need to be culled, to prevent grazing pressure.    Ignoring the obvious provocation,  that landowners aren’t culling red deer nearly enough and haven’t been for as long as I can remember, the argument is completely untenable:

  • It implies mountain hare are doing similar damage to vegetation as red deer.  They don’t.  I have checked  three of the management statements for large Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Cairngorms (the eastern Cairngorms, Beinn a Ghlo and Caenlochan)  – you can see them for yourself at http://gateway.snh.gov.uk/sitelink/searchmap.jsp    They all mention grazing pressure from deer, not one even refers to grazing by mountain hare
  • More importantly, the mountain hare has a number of natural predators in Scotland, ranging from the fox to the eagle, unlike adult red deer.  So, whatever arguments there are for humans to cull red deer simply don’t apply to hares because there are other creatures which could control their numbers or would if estates hadn’t persecuted predators to extinction on grouse moors.   Agreeing with the landowner’s rationale for culling hares is simply to condone this persecution, which is unacceptable anywhere but should be off the radar in our National Parks.

What some of the debate on persecution of mountain hares is perhaps missing is that estates have hunted the creatures of the high tops, mountain hare and ptarmigan, for many years.   McAdam’s article was silent about this and has tried to turn the debate onto a supposed need for culls.   What this hides perhaps is a shift in the way hares are being killed, from hunting for pleasure (where landowners and their guests might have shot a few hares in a day) to mass extermination by estate staff using machines on the utilitarian grounds that this increases grouse numbers .  What this suggests  is that  hunting of hares as such has become less socially acceptable – maybe its difficult now for estates to attract paying guests – whereas there is still high demand for grouse shooting.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Cairngorms National Park answers the argument of the landowners.

March 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments

On Friday I took advantage of the only good day forecast for the holiday weekend to visit Loch Chon (dog loch) before going for a walk over Beinn a Choin (Ben of the dogs).  Most of the road between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid, covering Loch Ard, Loch Chon and Loch Arklet is part of the proposed Trossachs West camping management zone and is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland.   Loch Chon is the one place in the National Park where the LLTNPA has announced plans for a new campsite since the Your Park consultation and I wanted to take a closer look.

 

The proposed Trossachs West camping management zone is hard to access except by car.  There is no bus between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid and its a long drive from Glasgow.   Even on a sunny holiday Friday there was very little traffic which reminded me how little visited this area is.   Driving along the shore of Loch Ard, where the road hugs the shore, there are very few places where is physically possible.

 

Most of the Loch Ard shoreline looks like this
Most of the Loch Ard shoreline looks like this
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, on the shores of Loch Ard,. at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I got home I checked the Park’s Ranger Patrol records, which I obtained through a Freedom of Information request.    In 2015 tents were only recorded on four occasions along Loch Ard in the whole of 2015, twice on the Kinlochard Community Field.    So not only is the terrain alongside Loch Ard mostly unsuitable for camping, as anyone can see, but very few people camp there anyway.

 

Ranger Patrol records show a similar position for Loch Arklet, above Inversnaid, where tents were recorded on only a handful of occasions in 2015.

 

The patrol records show Loch Chon is easily the most popular of the three lochs in the proposed west Trossachs campingse lochs for camping.   This is hardly surprising as it has fewer houses and more flat areas than Loch Ard and is far less bleak than Loch Arklet.  We saw two groups “camping” there.

Camping at south end of Loch Chon
Camping at south end of Loch Chon

IMG_5871

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We went over and spoke to the first, a group of people from Glasgow who had originated from Hongkong and had come out for a day for a picnic.  They had a large lump of meat they had just placed on a spit over an open fire and it looked as though they were planning for a great feast in the outdoors while the children played.  They told me they had been here several times before. They had  not heard that the proposed byelaws would make it an offence for them to light a fire or erect a tent without permission from the Park and the response from one, that they would take to the hills, met with laughter.  I think it might have tickled Rob Roy too.

 

There was evidence in the area of some of the things the Park says justify banning camping.

Chopped tree south Loch Chon
Chopped tree south Loch Chon
Remains of fire Loch Chon
Remains of fire Loch Chon
Tent blown onto island Loch Chon
Tent blown onto island Loch Chon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess some people might see the chopping of the tree as a justification for banning access completely.    I think the Park need to think about why people might chop a tree down.  It might be mindless vandalism, a criminal offence already, and something that won’t stop just because there is a campsite in the vicinity.  Or it might have been because someone wanted to light a fire (although there was no sign of the tree having been burned).

FCS felling Loch Chon
FCS felling Loch Chon

 

If the latter there is an easy solution.  Transport some of the trimmings from the tree felling on the north side of the Loch to the areas where people camp.  In other parts of the Park landowners have sold wood for fires to people fishing.   And, if FCS is concerned about fires, put in a few barbecue pits.  Problem  more or less solved.

 

 

Not many people camp at Loch Chon though, so there is not that much pressure.   The maximum number of tents recorded in 2015, from six different sites spread over approximately 5 kms , was 22 and on only two other days were more than 10 tents recorded.  So why did the Park, in its news release welcoming the byelaws http://www.thisisyourpark.org.uk/approval/, announce that it was proposing to create a 30 place campsite at Loch Chon with the Forestry Commission?     I have asked the Park for the basis of their decision through FOI, but they have so far refused, claiming an exemption on the grounds that it is commercially confidential.   The answer I believe is that having claimed throughout the Your Park consultation that it aimed to create 300 new camping places the Park had to announce something to save face.  Loch Chon was the only proposal for a campsite it had on the table and to make it sound good the Park  decided to say 30 places would be created.  No matter that there is no demand for anything like this number or that the west Trossachs camping management zone must be the lowest priority for new campsites in the National Park.

 

What is even more shocking though is that the Loch Chon campsite will consume ALL the resources the Park has available for new campsites next year, £245k out of £505k in the 2016/17 budget approved by the LLTNPA Board in March Agenda Item 10 DRAFT – Appendix 1 Draft Budget 2016-17  (the rest of the budget is to be spent on things like signage).  This contradicts the statement in the Park’s Press release that “Similar sites will be created across the four management zones”.  How, if there is no money allocated?

 

According to the figures for 2015/16 which were included in the Draft Budget for comparison purposes,  the Loch Chon campsite will have already consumed £100k by 31st March.  There was no sign of any works having started on the 25th March but maybe the Park has purchased some toilets which are now ready to install?.  Given that you can buy a block of composting toilets with disabled access for under £10k that still leaves a lot of money to be accounted for.  In a time when public resources are being so savagely cut, it is completely incomprehensible how the Park Authority has decided to spend £345k on developing one camping facility at Loch Chon on ground owned by another public authority,  Forestry Commission Scotland.   The money could be spent in far better ways and in far more camping facilities.

 

 

The Park’s own data for the proposed west Trossachs Camping Management zone, which is backed up with what I have observed, contradicts its Chief Executive’s claim that the Park is being swamped by campers.  It also demonstrates that the Environment Minister’s claim that the  camping byelaws cover “four hot spot” areas where controls are needed because of a combination of a high volume of campers with environmental damage is complete nonsense Govt Press release

 

So, why have camping byelaws been proposed for the lochs between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid?

 

The answer I believe lies in the fact that almost all this land in the west Trossachs Camping Zone is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland and they wish to remove roadside camping from access rights across Scotland http://www.robedwards.com/2015/11/fury-over-proposal-to-ban-camping-by-roads.html.    I will post more evidence about this in due course but its striking that Loch Arklet was not included in the original area camping management zone but only added after the Your Park consultation.   The only explanation I can see for this –  the Park Ranger patrol records contain no evidence of any significant use let alone problems – is that FCS asked for it to be included.   It appears that LLTNPA is so in thrall to FCS staff that they did what they bid,  including paying for a campsite, no doubt to FCS specifications,  on FCS  land.

 

The FCS have I think though shot themselves in the foot.   At present they are trying to promote the Great Trossachs Trail, part of which runs along the old military road along Loch Arklet. IMG_5842 I ran along a section of this on Friday, its a great path (and all credit to FCS for the work that went into it) but is sadly underused.   It should be promoted for backpacking both  as part of the Great Trossachs Trail to Callander and following the path network by Loch Chon to Aberfoyle.  Some campsites along the way would help  – and Loch Chon is a good place for one – but backpackers need the freedom to be able to stop as needed, a freedom that is available under access rights but which FCS and the Park wish to remove.

 

What I would like to happen is that FCS staff drop their blinkered opposition to camping near roads, that the LLTNPA  spends its limited resources far more wisely and the Minister for the Environment wakes up and admits she has been presented with duff evidence and an even duffer plan.

 

 

March 26, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

A copy of Voice, the excellent publication from the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs (I am a member), arrived in the post this morning.   Voice gives over a page of the publication to Gordon Watson, LLTNP Chief Executive, to provide an update from the Park Authority.  It includes a section on the proposed camping byelaws which says nothing about what the Park is actually planning to do in the new camping management zones but states the byelaws will “regulate camping, tackle anti-social behaviour and make it an offence to cause damage to the Park’s natural environment.   They will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampements by caravans and campervans”.

 

Two parts of Mr Watson’s statement are simply wrong and another is totally misleading.  The only bit he has got right is that  the proposed byelaws would regulate camping (or in other words remove the right to camp):

  • The proposed byelaws contain NO provisions to tackle anti-social behaviour.   The provisions of the draft byelaws approved by the Scottish Government  make it an offence to put up a tent without permission from the Park, stay overnight in any shelter or to light a fire.  There are no references to anti-social behaviour which is covered by the existing criminal law and a matter for the police.   Mr Watson appears to believe that antisocial behaviour in the Park, whether by residents or visitors, only occurs when people are camping.   This is nonsense.
  • The proposed byelaws contain NO provisions to protect the Park’s natural environment.   The only way to interpret Mr Watson’s claim about protection of the natural environment is if the lighting of fires or camping are seen in themselves as activities damaging the environment.  The Scottish Parliament obviously did not think so when passing our access legislation as both camping and the lighting of fires are included in access rights (and like all other access rights are dependent on  being exercised responsibly).
  • The proposed byelaws are simply not necessary to prevent encampments in laybys as there are already legal powers available to tackle this in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1994/33/section/61.   The question which the Park has never answered is why it has not worked with the police and landowners to use these existing powers.  To suggest, as Mr Watson continues to do, that camping byelaws are somehow necessary to address this problem is totally misleading.

 

The whole of the Your Park consultation process was based on similar misinformation about what camping byelaws would achieve.     The Park and the Scottish Government has been well aware of the glaring deficiencies in the case for camping byelaws for almost 18 months now, even since former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater’s response to the Your Park consultation was made public.  Yet the Park’s Chief Executive continues to repeat false claims apparently in the belief that you can fool all of the people all of the time.    In the long run I predict the Park and its Board are going to look the bigger fools.

March 25, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

On Tuesday the RSPB reported the death of a Hen Harrier on a moor near Newtonmore last September  http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/archive/2016/03/22/hen-harrier-lad-found-dead-on-speyside.aspxhe  It was good to hear Grant Moir, the Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park, condemn the probable killing outright – a more upfront response than the Park’s reaction to the Mountain Hare massacres last week.  The commitment he made though was rather vague and  I doubt will have anyone who persecutes raptors trembling in their boots  “The National Park Authority will work with all our partners to try and ensure that raptor crime is a thing of the past and that populations and ranges recover in the Park.

 

How hunting byelaws could stop raptor persecution

 

The CNPA needs to start thinking about how it can use its powers to make persecution of wildlife by estates much harder if not impossible.  As I pointed out last week, http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/20/mountain-hare-massacres-balmoral-cairngorms-national-park/ the Park could use its powers to create byelaws to to protect species like the mountain hare and to control hunting in the National Park.    It is interesting that while the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been so keen, encouraged by the Minister, to try and ban camping for spurious conservation purposes, when it comes to the deliberate destruction of wildlife, the Cairngorms National Park  and the Minister have so far been silent about the need for more controls.

 

Here are some ways in which the CNPA could use hunting permits  to protect wildlife::

    • permits could be removed if  an estate or anyone connected to it committed a wildlife crime  (this would be a huge deterrent for estates whose main purpose is hunting)
    • permits could be issued on condition the landowner waived any right they might have to require RSPB and other wildlife organisations to seek permission before ringing or tagging wildlife on their land (or indeed set up monitoring cameras).   The RSPB had had to ask permission to tag the Hen Harrier which was found dead – it was given which was great but how many other estates refuse or fail to cooperate?.
    • permits could put a limit on the size of grouse “bags” shot by any one person or on any one day.   One of the drivers behind grouse moor intensification is that the size of the bag is very important to the people who shoot grouse.  Put simply the more grouse  the better the day and the more the people shooting the grouse are willing to pay for it.  Putting a limit on bags would help challenge this mindset which results in pressure on estate staff to increase grouse numbers in whatever way they can.
    • permits could be required for any wildlife trapping in the Park which would stop the proliferation of traps on grouse moors which has been directed at eradicating stoats

      Stoat trap, Dalnaspidal (close to the National Park Boundary)
      Stoat trap, Dalnaspidal (close to the National Park Boundary)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How development planning powers could help prevent raptor persecution

 

I visit Newtonmore regularly and the moors around it and along the A9 corridor all provide good habitats for Hen Harrier.   Over the last twenty years  there have been significant developments on most of the private  estates in the area which are linked to the intensification of grouse moor management:  new luxury estate housing for the shooters;  the creation and upgrade of hilltracks to make it easy for shooters to get up the hill and for gamekeepers to pursue their business;   the upgrading of bothies to provide places for the shooters luncheon.   As Planning Authority, the Park has had a role in facilitating these developments.  Its time that it had a re-think.  As a National Park it needs to set an example to other Planning Authorities about how to use existing and potential planning powers to prevent and influence developments that are associated with the intensification of grouse moor management and the destruction of wildlife.

Among the things the CNPA could do are:

  •  call on the Government to give National Parks full planning powers over the creation of hill tracks not just on landscape grounds but because of their role in wildlife persecution  (I now think of tracks as persecution corridors because they give easy access to gamekeepers to set traps or monitor anything they regard as vermin).  At present the CNPA can only control hill tracks in the National Scenic Areas which cover the central Cairngorms and Deeside.  Moreover because they are not a full planning authority they do not have to be notified of proposals under the Scottish Government’s new prior notification scheme where estate owners have to tell planning authorities what they are intending to do before doing it anyway.

    This hilltrack on Dalnaspidal estate just inside the CNPA boundary was created 2-3 years ago
    This hilltrack on Dalnaspidal estate just inside the CNPA boundary was created 2-3 years ago
  • the Park should make it clear it opposes the creation of all new hill tracks on moorland in the National Park (the main  purpose of which is the intensification of grouse management)
  • the Park should then start challenging estates about their claims that tracks on moorland have been constructed for agricultural or forestry purposes (which are permitted developments and are the loophole by which estates create tracks without planning permission).  It should consider taking legal action to require such tracks to be removed.  One case would be sufficient to get landowners to think twice………….
  • the Park should use its development planning powers creatively to influence the large-scale investments that are being made on some estate properties at present to ensure that the investment does not lead to even greater grouse moor management.  Investments such as those at Dalnaspidal,  http://www.lochericht.co.uk/dalnaspidal-lodge.html
     to which the Park granted planning permission a couple of years ago, are aimed at people with a lot of money who want to shoot a lot of grouse.   Once constructed the pressure is then on estate staff to ensure they attract enough paying guests to pay for the investment.  The main way they do this is by increasing grouse numbers and the temptation must be to do this by whatever means they can, particularly if their accommodation is owned by the estate.  I have walked over the Dalnaspidal estate several times in the last year  (both inside and outside the Park boundary) and there are grouse everywhere but not a lot else.   A pre-condition for planning permission on estates should be that they can show that a proposed development is  contributing to the conservation purpose of the National Park and that the investment will not lead to further destruction of wildlife.

It was not by chance that the dead Hen Harrier  had been born and ringed on land owned by Wildland Ltd, better known as the Glen Feshie Estate, and owned by Anders Holch Povlsen.   He has been committed to conservation and is doing the opposite to most other private landowners in the area, reducing red deer numbers and enabling other wildlife to increase.   He has also bought up and invested a lot of money in Killiehuntly farm, just like Dalnaspidal, but by all appearances the land round about is being managed in a very different way.

 

 

March 23, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

As a result of campaigning against the proposed camping byelaws, I have uncovered a number of failings in respect to how the LLTNPA operates, many of which concern a lack of openness and what I would describe as cover-ups.  Today I received further proof of this.   I hope you will bear with me while I explain and then suggest some changes which are needed to make LLTNA more accountable.

 

The agenda for the LLTNPA Board meeting in October 2015 included proposals to change  the time  Papers were published before Board Meetings from 7 days to 3.   I emailed a letter to Linda McKay, the Convener of the Board, before the meeting objecting and stating why I thought this was not in the public interest Letter Linda McKay 151023     I strongly suspected then – and still do – that the change was in part prompted by my discovery that the minutes of the April 2015 Board Meeting had been fiddled, with declarations of interest about ownership of property in the proposed camping management zones being added after the meeting.  This was covered by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald

http://www.robedwards.com/2015/06/row-over-loch-lomond-board-members-with-homes-in-camping-control-zone.html#more

 

Although the Park’s Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, accused me of “utter nonsense”  at the time,  the false declarations were eventually removed from the minute (although the Park has refused to explain who authorised the fiddling of the minute, a subject I will cover In a future post).  The point here though is that if the minute had appeared  just three days before the meeting, the chances of those of us who witnessed the April meeting spotting the fact they had been falsified would have been significantly reduced. Both the public and Board Members need time to check that minutes properly reflect meetings.

 

Linda McKay failed to refer to my letter at the October Board meeting, though it may well have been discussed at the secret business session that takes place before every Board Meeting.  Cllr George Freeman did however raise a question  about whether reducing timescales for publication of papers was reasonable but accepted the response of the  legal and governance manager that the change  was the result of legal advice – the implication being that Park staff had been told to change Standing Orders.  Neither Cllr Freeman nor any other Board Member thought to ask what  the legal advice actually said – strange you might think for people who are employed to scrutinise decision making.

 

So, after the Board meeting I wrote another letter to Linda McKay asking for the legal advice Letter Linda McKay 151102 and recording what I had heard at the meeting.  Linda McKay never responded but, as she and her Chief Executive now do as a matter of course, treated my questions as a Freedom of Information request FOI 2015-051 Response changes to LLTNP standing orders.   The Park then refused to disclose the information under FOI claiming an exemption for legal advice.

 

I appealed to the Freedom of Information Commissioner and today received a letter from the Park that they had decided to provide me with the information after all FOI 2015-051Appendix A – legal advice, along with what I can only describe as all sorts of nonsense about not setting a precedent FOI 2015-051 Response160323

 

The so-called legal advicewas no such thing – purely some comments from a solicitor, written in the margins of the Standing Orders,  which pointed out that the statutory requirements for production of minutes is in fact just 3 days.  The law if my memory is right dates back to the 1970s but Government and technology has moved on and almost every public authority now publishes papers a week in advance.  Even my own Local Authority, Glasgow City Council, which has dozens of meetings manages to do it.  Yet this is apparently beyond the capability of a National Park that now only holds four meetings in public a year.  Indeed it has decided to move in the opposite direction.  This appears a deliberate decision to reduce openness through misrepresenting the legal advice that had been received.

 

What should happen to improve democratic accountability

 

I hope now that any members of the Board who were misled by the claim about what the legal advice said, call on this change to Standing Orders to be reversed and call for some other changes, as I suggested in my letter to Linda McKay, to make our National Park more open and democratically accountable:

  1. The National Park should publish draft agendas for meetings and draft minutes of meetings as soon as these are agreed. This would usually be well before the publication date as set in Standing Orders which should revert to 7 days.   This would increase transparency by enabling the public to find out what decisions had been made (instead of having to resort to FOI requests) and to ascertain if matters of interest to them were likely to be discussed at future Board meetings.
  2. The Park should clearly state in Standing Orders when Board papers will be made available to Board members if this is different to their publication date.
  3. The Park should start recording meetings and making these available as podcasts. This would I believe have helped prevent the subsequent falsification of the draft April Board meeting minute.   The public can watch sessions of the Scottish Parliament after the event on the Parliament TV.   While not a legal requirement on public bodies, recording meetings would mean that the many people who were unable to attend Board Meetings might nevertheless hear how the Board operated and what individual Board Members said.  Podcasts would be cheap and technically relatively straightforward to arrange.

 

Linda McKay, however, is at the very top of Government being a non-executive director of the Scottish Government Strategic Board http://www.gov.scot/About/People/strategic-board and the   Environment Minister, Aileen McLeod, has never responded to this or any of the other governance matters I have referred to her.    I suspect we will need a lot more people to start calling for our National Parks to become open and more democratically accountable before Board Members have the courage to make changes such as these.

 

Meantime, my sincere thanks to the staff at the Office of the Information Commissioner.   I am certain the Park only released this information due to their intervention.   There is more information the Park has withheld from me and I hope I will be able to make this public in due course.

March 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following the parkswatch post last week on what the Cairngorms National Park could do to stop mountain hair massacres, claims have been made about another massacre on Balmoral

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14371147.Queen_urged_to_stop_mass_killing_of_hares_at_Balmoral/

Ever since Queen Victoria bought Balmoral, the royal family have set the standard about what is acceptable in terms of hunting.   Deer hunting used to be conducted with dogs – stag hounds – and although inefficient, because the hounds were hard to control and tended to scatter the deer, this practice continued until, so the story goes, Prince Albert let it be known he frowned on it.   Roll on to 2007 and two hen harriers were reported to have been shot at Dersingham Nature Reserve near Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk, when Prince Harry was out shooting.   Whether true or not the point is that for the people who persecute hen harriers, the fact that the royal family might be doing it is an important justification of their cause.   Its the same for mountain hares.   So perhaps the Queen, besides clearly stating that  killing hares on her land is unacceptable, could let it be known that there will be no royal invitations to any estate owners who allow hares to be massacred.

Its been great to see a sigificant shift in the statements from the Cairngorms National Park over the last week.   The Conservation Director, Hamish Trench, has been quoted as saying the balance between wildlife and grouse shooting needs to be re-set (whereas a week ago he was saying could be done without more data) and Councillor Bill Lobban has been openly critical of grouse shooting interests.   I hope that they will now openly ask for a meeting with Balmoral to discuss a ban on mountain hare culls.  I hope too the CNPA will commit to producing a paper for the next Board Meeting of the CNPA about how the National Park can use its powers to “re-set” the balance between grouse moor management and conservation: even better would be a special meeting of the National Park Authority to consider what it might do.   I suspect it would be well attended by the public.

March 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

KPMG, one of the big four accountancy firms, have acted as internal auditors for our two National Parks from 2011/12.   Just why public authorities would want to appoint KPMG, who have as auditors failed to pick major failings with banks such as HBOS or the Coop and organisations such as FIFA, is a mystery to me.    KPMG are still at the forefront of the tax avoidance/low tax industry http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/category/kpmg/ which results in our National Parks, among other public bodies, being underfunded.  It would be nice therefore if the announcement at the December LLTNPA Board Meeting that KPMG’s appointment was being reviewed was a consequence of the  Scottish Government’s stated intention that public procurement should help drive wider social objectives such as equality and fairness.   I expect the outcome of that review will be included in the LLTNPA Audit Committee papers that are due to be published next Thursday http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/looking-after/audit-committee-meetings/menu-id-425.html.

 

 

I hope the deliberations at the the LLTNPA  Audit Committee will be informed by the response to a Freedom of Information request I received on Friday  FOI 2016-007 Response.  This, I believe, demonstrates KPMG audits of our National Parks complaints procedures has been both unprofessional and incompetent.  The background to this is that I wrote two letters of complaint to the Convener of the LLTNP, Linda McKay,  about the Park’s former and new Chief Executives misleading statements in the media about the Park’s case for extending camping byelaws.  I suggested to Ms McKay that because the complaints were about the Chief Executive they should be investigated by a Board Member.  This point was ignored and the complaint passed down to the Park’s Legal and Governance Manager to investigate.  I then found out this was in breach of the Park’s own complaints procedure (which I had to obtain through another FOI request) which requires complaints against senior staff to be investigated by a legal Director of the Park.     I appealed against the decision but  the review, undertaken by Jaki Carnegie who was a legal Director of the Park,  simply glossed over the breach of procedure.  Ms Carnegie was directly managed by Gordon Watson, the new Chief Executive,  and it came as little surprise when she decided her boss had done no wrong.

 

 

Nine months later, in December 2015, I found out KPMG had just completed an internal audit of both National Park’s complaints procedures http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/images/stories/Looking%20After/PDF/Audit%20Committee/2015/Agenda%20Item%205%20-%20Complaints%20Handling.pdf.  This audit found LLTNPA to be fully compliant with their own complaints procedures.  I knew this was not true so wrote to  Andrew Shaw KPMG complaints audit letter 151214   asking if my complaints had been included in the KPMG audit and raising wider issues about LLTNP’s complaints process.   Andrew Shaw emailed me back to say it was not part of KPMG’s remit to respond to the issues I had raised KPMG response151218.    This raises issues about what then is the purpose of internal audit and why were we paying for this from the public purse?    It prompted me to write to Audit Scotland.

 

 

What the FOI response shows is first that Andrew Shaw then forwarded my letter to LLTNPA  – I believe this was underhand and unprofessional and shows they were far too close to the people they were meant to be auditing.    Second, it shows that my complaint about the two Chief Executives (COMP 2015-001) was included in the KPMG audit and that either they did not do their job and read the file or simply ignored the evidence therein about the breach of the Park’s procedures.   I think therefore that FOI 2016-007 Response shows KPMG are unfit to continue as auditors of the National Parks and that their other internal audit reports should be read with a large degree of scepticism.

 

 

While the FOI Response shows the audit sample was chosen by KPMG, not the Park, the refusal by the Park to answer my question about whether they alerted KPMG to this breach of their own procedures is also significant.     What should have happened of course is that the body being audited should be upfront about issues that are relevant to the audit and should be considered by it.    If the Park has kept quiet about breaches of its own procedures in this case, there can be no confidence that it has not done this in other cases.

 

 

The key issue therefore is how we establish credible audit processes in our National Parks. This means thinking about what audits cover, who does them and how we can ensure the Parks operate openly and transparently.   I believe that audits that simply look at processes are a waste of time and money.  For example, on complaints, what is really important is not so much whether they have been responded to on time but whether the response is fair and how many complainants were satisfied by the response they received.     While the LLTNPA is too small to conduct its own internal audits –  any auditor would inevitably end up trying and failing to scrutinise their own line-managers – there is no reason audits should not be undertaken by staff from other organisations that answer to the Scottish Government.   Above all we need a Park Board and Audit Committee that is self-critical and open to dialogue.  This would help ensure proper scrutiny of reports instead of leaving this to members of the public.

March 19, 2016 Nick Halls No comments exist

On Monday I drove along the A 82 stopping at laybys & sites used for camping along

the Loch side. Most of the land is owned by Luss Estates who last year blamed campers

for the state of the country-side http://lussestates.co.uk/news/litter-problem-worsens-wild
-campers   Apart from the usual litter thrown from car traffic, which is ubiquitous

throughout Scotland, the laybys showed evidence offly tipping, some of it gross & use

as toilet stops.

 

Litter across the fence from the Auchentullich layby on land that appears owned by Luss Estates
Litter across the fence from the Auchentullich layby on land that appears owned by Luss Estates
Flytipping Auchentullich layby
Flytipping Auchentullich layby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional camping sites along the Loch side that will be included in the area covered

by the camping byelaws were generally quitelitter free, and the litter in evidence could

have been picked up  in five minutes. I got the impression that by laws are not

motivated by environmental concern but sociological considerations, and LL&TNP
have been pushed into implementing such an arrangement by residents rather than

visitors. I was struck by the fact that fly tipping material looked as if it was local rather

than imported, builders waste, refuse that could have been taken to a tip & farm waste

tossed over a fence [pretty common throughout rural Scotland].

 

 

 

Flytipping Auchentullich layby
Flytipping Auchentullich layby
Abandoned farm fence within what appears to be Luss Estates land
Abandoned farm fence within what appears to be Luss Estates land
Abandoned farm litter - you can see the source over the wall. Again this appears to be Luss Estates land
Abandoned farm litter – you can see the source over the wall. Again this appears to be Luss Estates land
Fly tipping stank A82
Fly tipping stank A82

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The visit to the head of Loch Long revealed the usual post winter mess of wind & tide

born rubbish [which seems to be being cleared by piling it in a heap half way down the

tidal zone.] As this is the only marine salt marsh habitat in the NP it struck me that
environmental concerns must be low on the agenda of the LL&TNP Board.

 

 

 

 

Rubbish Head Loch Long
Rubbish Head Loch Long
A half-completed attempt to collect rubbish at Loch Long. When campers bundle up litter the Park calls it irresponsible
A half-completed attempt to collect rubbish at Loch Long. When campers bundle up litter the Park calls it irresponsible

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From my perspective litter is litter from whatever source it derives, and that left by even

the most degenerate of campers is trivial compared with that derived from other

sources. If litter matters then it is hard to understand why so much attention is focused

on roadside campers as they are probably the least of the NP problems if the

environment matters. A visit to NP facilities at Firkin Point revealed that the toilets
are closed until 31 March & the car park at 16.00. This suggests that the NP has very

little notion of what offering a service to visitors means. The message I get is that the

NP sees its responsibilities as restricting services, limiting access to facilities &

addressing any problem through exclusion.

 

 

20160314_131646 20160314_131513

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have visited most of the National & regional Parks in Western Europe the contrast is

stark – visitors from abroad must be pretty confused if they arrive at Glasgow Airport

then visit the NP & discover it is being operated like a town park, with closed facilities,

restricted opening hours, litter everywhere & park rangers evolving into enforcement

officers for bye laws that seem to contradict the very purpose of a NP.

 

 

 

March 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Scottish Campaign for National Parks (I sit on their Executive Committee) has published its report on Tourism and Future National Parks in Scotland, see  SCNP press release for tourism report 16.03.16   This follows on from http://www.scnp.org.uk/News/Docs/2013/Unfinished-Business-a-national-parks-strategy-for-scotland.pdf  

While the purpose of Parkswatchscotland is primarily to scrutinise our existing National Parks, I would hope that this will help people think through how any new National Parks should be set up and run.

March 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

When I was out on Monday on west Loch Lomondside I was struck by the number of cyclists.  It was a lovely sunny day and lots of people were out on the main National Cycle route.     Get the West Highland Line to Tarbert and cycle back to Glasgow or Dumbarton- a great day out.

 

The Cycle Campaigns, Spokes and Go Bike, are now both protesting against the design of the trains that are being refitted for the the West Highland Line Scenic route.   They will have only two places for bikes instead of six as at present (which are often fully booked)  or as they put it a 66% reduction in cycling capacity http://www.spokes.org.uk/2016/03/cuts-coming-to-train-bike-spaces/.  The cycling campaigns have highlighted the impact for tourism in Fort William and Oban but there will probably be as significant an impact on Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the ability of people from the Glasgow conurbation to get out for a day cycling.    Coupled with the camping ban, which will make cycle touring along west Loch Lomond much harder, this is not good news for cyclists in the National Park.

 

There is also huge potential to cut down on car use in our National Parks through promoting travel by train and then bike (the A82 on a holiday weekend is a nightmare).   Lots of people drive out to the head of Loch Long to walk up the Cobbler but the Arrochar/Tarbert station is not close enough to make this an attractive walk.  Make it easy to put the bike on the train and increase the number of trains and we could open up these hills to many more people.   I believe this is something the National Park should be advocating.

 

I have emailed Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive of LLTNP today, asking him if the Park has made representations to the Minister about the impact of reducing cycle places on the West Highland Line.  The Park sits on the A83 landslip group that is chaired by the Minister so they should have plenty of opportunities to get the message across and the importance of looking at public transport and cycling as well as roads on the western side of the National Park.

 

March 16, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have long wondered why Scottish Land and Estates, the organisation representing landowners, was so vocal in its support for camping  bye-laws.   After all Forestry Commission Scotland is by far the largest landowner in the National Park and the voluntary sector, including the Woodland Trust, NTS, RSPB and Royal Scottish Forestry Society also own sizeable chunks.   Yes, there are a few private estates such as Glen Falloch and Ardvorlich but Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is hardly a stronghold for the SLE.  Moreover, local landowners were not even united in their views on camping: while Luss Estates strongly supported the byelaws, there was a lot of concern  from riparian landowners in the Trossachs because of the importance of income from fishing.  Drummond Estates expressed serious concerns about the byelaws (which of course the Park failed to acknowledge).   My conclusion for some time has been that SLE was vociferous in its support for the byelaws because they wanted a precedent that would open up the possibility of landowners reversing access rights all over Scotland.

I do not think therefore that the timing of the announcement by the Duke of Buccleuch that he had decided to charge for access at Dalkeith Country Park, just six weeks after the byelaws were approved, was entirely a coincidence https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3657/exclusive-land-reformers-launch-19th-march-protest-to-target-duke-of-buccleuch-s-estate.   That the two issues are linked was confirmed by the SLE in a letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday.  This claimed the proposed charge “is an attempt to manage anti-social behaviour and vandalism”.  It went on “This is not so dissimilar to the situation in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where the Park is unfairly being accused of acting against the spirit of the access legislation by introducing camping restrictions”.    The parallels are actually even stronger. The Duke, through his access charge is in effect copying the National Park Authority which wishes to charge people for permits to camp in places with NO facilities.  The camping byelaws have opened a can of worms.

It Is good to see political campaigners from the SNP, RISE and the Greens reacting to the Duke of Buccleuch’s decision to try and charge for access at Dalkeith Country Park and about his land being held in a tax haven https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3678/revealed-scotland-s-largest-aristocratic-landowner-holds-land-in-offshore-tax-haven .  But they do not seem to have made the connection yet with the LLTNPA’s camping byelaws.    I hope they will.      Perhaps some of the MSPs who are committed to land reform will starting asking questions to Aileen McLeod, Minister for the Environment, about the camping byelaws.  Perhaps some of the activists will now consider demonstrating out the Park HQ in Balloch.  The Duke, for all his wealth, has far less power than the National Park to prevent people taking access.

 

March 15, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

After a morning looking around west Loch Lomond (to be covered in future posts) I attended  today’s LLTNPA Board Meeting as an observer with Peter and Mary Jack from the Loch Lomond Association.  A member of Buchanan Community Council had also turned up to see how the Board operates. In governance terms the March meeting should be the most important of the year, it agrees what the Park will do for the next year and sets the budget.

 

Although the meeting started late, about 2.15, it was all over by 3.30. Not bad for a meeting with 17 agenda items. The only semblance of any debate was over Board Member’s remuneration where the Board agreed it was very unfair they had to set their own remuneration as there were pressures on them not to increase this. Instead they wanted an independent review body, which presumably would agree that because like our MPs they are all such good people, they would require a percentage increase over what the rest of the population receives. To me this missed the main point which is why pay 17 members to attend meetings where there is no discussion or debate.
The papers though were of interest. The Park has only had a 2% cut in Government grant this year, much less than most other bodies financed through the Scottish Government’s Natural resources directorate. I was tempted to think this was a reward for delivering the byelaws but I checked and the Cairngorms NPA had a similar cut. The Park has responded to these cuts partly by dragging staff vacancies – staff comprise 80% of its costs – but also by planning to increase income. While they can charge for planning applications, income from this is forecast to drop and one of the ways the Park is intending to increase income is through charges to visitors. There were no questions about the implications of this but a section in the Operational Plan indicates that a contract is to be let in the summer to manage parking at Balmaha – so we  can predict parking charges there.  There is no indication that visitors will get better facilities in return.

20160314_131424The increase in income forecast for next year however is not  great – about £65k in the budget – and does not appear to warrant the employment of an estates team to lead on producing more income and delivering capital projects.   They appear to be being paid for out of the capital budget presumably in order to progress the stalled campsite programme.  This is obviously unsustainable and my suspicion is that the Park is hoping that once the camping permit system is up and running this will generate the income to pay for the estates team. If this is the case, in effect the Park is going to charge for access in order to pay for its own services. This is totally wrong, needless to say, and contrary to our access legislation.

 

The Operational Plan openly emphasises that delivery of the camping byelaws is the Park’s number one priority for the next year: “Following approval by Scottish Ministers on 26th January 2016 for the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Camping Management Byelaws, our top priority will be the delivery of Your Park in time for the byelaws coming into force in March 2017”.  The main thing to appreciate about this is the considerable shift of resources away from other projects to camping provision and management as set out in the Park’s budget Agenda Item 10 – Draft Budget 2016-17:

      • conservation revenue expenditure decreases from £525k to £71k- no Board Member asked if the wildlife organisations had been consulted or were happy with this.
      • visitor experience (tourism) capital expenditure drops from £525k to £44k – no Board Member asked if tourism businesses had been consulted or were happy with this.
      • Expenditure on litter management drops from £38k to nil – no Board Member asked if the community at Arrochar, which is blighted by the worst litter problems in the
Litter at the Head of Loch Long
Litter at the Head of Loch Long
     Park, had been consulted or was happy with this.

  • Even the increase of expenditure on camping to £505k is not as good as it looks.  £100k on this is to be spent on signage – ie signs saying camping is now a criminal offence – and another £200k on developing a single campsite on Forestry Commission land at Loch Chon.  This is hardly the transformational investment in camping facilities the Park promised.

My guess is that as the implications of this shift in expenditure become evident over time, support for the byelaws which has been grossly exaggerated anyway will evaporate.    The resources that are to be devoted to trying to make the camping byelaws work would be much better spent on other things.

 

Meantime pages 4-5 of the Agenda Item 9 – Appendix 1 – DRAFT Annual Operational Plan 2016-17 set out a timetable for implementing the byelaws.  The Board to their credit asked for quarterly update reports which means that progress on this should be public.

 

The one interesting piece of additional information that did come out in the meeting was – to give her credit – in response to a question asked by Linda McKay, the Park’s Convener:  the Scottish Government never responded or gave any feedback to the Park’s review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws.   The point I think of Linda McKay’s question was to ascertain whether the Park is ever likely to receive feedback on the reports it will have to make in future on the operation of the byelaws.

 

I too asked the Government about their response to my critique of the report on the east Loch Lomond byelaws and have never had a reply.   The Park is not the only body that is unaccountable and it seems to me fundamentally wrong that Aileen McLeod, as Minister for the Environment, can act in this way.    We need MSPs to ask her questions about this in the Scottish Parliament.

 

 

March 14, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The CNPA have responded to the media coverage of the mountain hare cull  http://cairngorms.co.uk/mountain-hare-cull-statement/    The response is quite predictable – as a member of staff the Director of Conservation was not in a position to launch the CNPA in new directions – but very sad.  It demonstrates some of what is wrong with so-called conservation in the National Park:

  • there can be no “balance of moorland species” when everything centres on grouse shooting; a balance of moorland species would see golden eagles everywhere in the Cairngorms.
  • there is no need for better data; what difference does knowing the numbers of hares make except when they are being exterminated from grouse moors?  Data in this case is a trap which has sent the conservation agencies off on years of research which feeds into the hunting narrative that large numbers of hares are a problem.   They are not, but the lack of eagles and other predators is.  Instead of requiring better data on hares before banning culls, we should be requiring numbers of eagles to rise to predicted levels before allowing any shooting.
  • and just what does a “management cull” have to do with nature conservation in this case?   The Park has allowed management speak from the red deer world to be used to justify killing other species which unlike deer have a number of natural predators.

 

March 13, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

There has been some excellent coverage today of the mass killing of hares in the Cairngorms National Park by Rob Edwards http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14340402.Outrage_of_landowners_mass_killing_of_mountain_hares/

Raptor Persecution Scotland https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/more-mountain-hares-massacred-in-cairngorms-national-park/ and Mark Avery http://markavery.info/2016/03/13/mountain-mountain-hares/

I am delighted that some of the commentators are now asking why this practice is taking place in a National Park which was set up to protect the environment.

 

The landowners excuse for destroying the mountain hares, is that they carry a tick which can harm red grouse and sheep.  While of all the species our National Parks should protect, there is a strong case that sheep and red grouse should be at the bottom of the list, I think there is another reason for the persecution.  Mountain hare is a favourite food for eagles.     The persecution of golden eagles in the eastern Cairngorms is well documented but the risks to estates of doing so are increasing because most birds are now monitored through tracking devices and penalties for wildlife crimes have increased.   Allow the grouse moors to provide plentiful food for eagles and they will keep coming back and might take a few red grouse, too, so better just to exterminate their food source.

 

As Mark Avery, former Director of Conservation at RSPB, argued in his book Inglorious, as long as the production of grouse for shooting is the primary purpose of owning land, almost every other species will suffer.  He argues for an end to intensive grouse shooting – what better place to start than the Cairngorms National Park?

 

SNH meanwhile is still talking about what evidence might be required to impose a temporary ban.   I believe this is the wrong way of looking at things.   The more hares, the more food for golden eagles.  The way to get eagle numbers back to what they should be in the Cairngorms and further afield is to ban  ALL culling of hares and  other species persecuted by the estates.  Let the food for eagles flourish.

 

There are two ways that I can see to do this quickly.  One is simply for SNH to use its powers to issue a temporary ban on mountain hare shooting.  The second is for the National Park to introduce byelaws to ban mountain hare culling.   To ensure enforcement of this National Parks could require estates to apply for permits for all shooting under the byelaws.   (There is a precedent for this in the permits for hunting SNH issues under National Nature Reserve byelaws).    Both options could happen with a little encouragement from the Minister of the Environment, Aileen McLeod.

 

Having backed byelaws to ban camping in LLTNP, on the  grounds that these were needed to protect the environment, one might have thought Aileen McLeod  would be only too keen to support the introduction of byelaws to stop  landowners and managers destroying Scotland’s wildllife.   I personally believe the photos of rows of massacred hares are far more compelling evidence of the need for action than the photos of a few abandoned campsites.    Unfortunately, I suspect that evidence, let alone consistency  won’t come into it.

 

If Aileen McLeod doesn’t give a lead, I hope others will:

  • The Cairngorm National Park Authority should announce its intention to introduce byelaws to control hunting in the National Park, including a ban on hare culls, as soon as possible.
  • Our MSPs should press Aileen McLeod to add Mountain Hares to our list of protected mammals – there is no need ever for human to control mountain hare numbers, our predators can do this job quite effectively – and by supporting the introduction of hunting licenses to ensure this is observed.  Any estate found breaking the law, whether killing hares or raptors, should lose their right to hunt.
  • SNH should stop trying to evaluate whether the population of the mountain hare is in danger or not and instead focus on the impact that the persecution of these and other animals has on the population of other species

 

 

March 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In the last week I have come across a couple of obituaries of Tom Hunter, who died in February, and whose idea of a long distance walking route from Glasgow north led to the creation of the West Highland Way http://www.milngavieherald.co.uk/news/local-headlines/in-memory-of-tom-hunter-creator-of-the-west-highland-way-path-1-4061152  and http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14329809.Tom_Hunter/    

Its worth quoting an extract from the Herald   “In those days, there were no quangos or lobbyists for lovers of the countryside and there were battles to be fought with the likes of the Forestry Commission who would indulge in blanket planting over traditional walkways. One day when the Hunters were walking on Ben Lomond, Mr Hunter looked down and saw the side of the loch that was earmarked for a ribbon of development and became determined to do something. That was the first seed of the idea that became the West Highland Way and, with several associates, he went on to develop the idea and attract support for it. At the opening ceremony of the Kelvin Way in Glasgow, he and a group of walkers arrived having walked form Fort William to deliver a letter from the Provost calling for the route. The seed was beginning to sprout. Asked by the publisher Constable to write a book to coincide with the launch, Mr Hunter did just that. Afterwards he said: “The book was easy compared with fighting the bureaucrats to get the route established.”

I never met Tom Hunter but I believe  his life and achievements illustrate why our National Parks and Forestry Commission Scotland should be listening to outdoor recreationists.    A primary purpose of Parkswatchscotland is to challenge the bureacracies of our National Parks when they get things wrong and push them to be realise visions –  such as those of Tom Hunter.  This should be inherent in everything our National Parks do.

 

March 8, 2016 Dave Morris No comments exist

I welcome the creation of parkswatchscotland because our National Parks are so important for outdoor recreation and they are not always getting matters right.  Every item in this briefing  on outdoor recreation issues for the Scottish Parliament elections is relevant to National Parks and some concern them directly.

 

Briefing by Dave Morris

 

This is a contribution to the forthcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament on 5 May. It provides a briefing on key issues which are of concern to participants in outdoor recreation. It may help in challenging those who seek election on 5 May to explain what they will do for outdoor recreation if elected. It also provides an indication to the next Scottish Government of ways in which they can enhance the Scottish outdoor recreation experience.

 

Camping byelaws.
The present Scottish Government made a serious mistake in early 2016 by approving the expansion of camping byelaws to curtail informal camping in areas close to loch shores in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This will seriously undermine the principles embedded within the rights of public access to our land and water that were secured by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. It opens the door to landowners everywhere to press for the removal of any of our access rights through byelaw establishment and replacing those rights by regulation through permit systems. These camping byelaws, which are due to become operational in 2017, need to be abandoned. Instead a ten year programme of education, improved law enforcement and new camp site provision, both formal and informal, needs to be established, linked to an expanded path network. In support of this a change in forestry budget priorities is needed. It is difficult to understand how in 2015 Forestry Commission Scotland, the largest landowner in the Park through its agency, Forest Enterprise, claimed to have no funds available for camp site development in this national park. Nevertheless, in the Cairngorms National Park in 2014, this same organisation had £7.4 million available to purchase a large area of Old Caledonian Pinewood from a private landowner, in a secret deal, when there was no obvious threat to the woodland. In addition to FCS budget alterations in the national parks there is a need for entirely new funding arrangements to support developments such as new paths and camping areas. Such funding could come from infrastructure levies applied to new housing developments or through tourist taxes applied to all accommodation providers in the parks, as found in other European countries. Furthermore, most of the existing litter problems in our parks and elsewhere would disappear if the Scottish Government introduced a nationwide deposit and return system for bottles and other food and drink containers.

 

Old Caledonian Pinewood.
Our native pinewood remnants, descended by natural regeneration from the native forests established as the last glaciers retreated nearly 10,000 years ago, are under threat. Excessive grazing by red deer or sheep continues to prevent regeneration in many OCP areas. Elsewhere too many landowners are planting too close to the old remnants, creating an artificial character, eroding the natural qualities of the native woodland. In some native pinewoods inappropriate use of large timber harvesting machines is damaging soil and vegetation profiles and causing excessive damage to old trees. These are some of the finest old growth forests left in Europe – elsewhere such mistreatment would not be permitted. Complaints to the European Commission are likely to lead to pressure on the Scottish Government to alter regulatory regimes and financial incentives in Scotland to ensure better compliance with the Habitats and Water Framework Directives and EC guidance on wild land protection.

 

Management of hunting
Successive governments, both in Holyrood and Westminster, have failed to provide a proper regulatory framework for hunting. This has led to excessive populations of red deer in many areas and the intensification of grouse moor management. Too much control remains in the hands of private landowners – no other country in Europe or North America has such a system where private interests prevail over the wider public interest in the management of our woodlands, moorlands and mountains. The direct result is massive overgrazing and excessive muirburn in too much of our uplands, with consequent soil erosion and vegetation damage, all leading to the possibilities of increased run off and downstream flooding. The indirect consequences include wildlife persecution on grouse moors and the loss of the economic opportunities that are associated with native woodland development. The next Scottish Government needs to legislate to establish a licensing system for all red deer and grouse moor managers so that permission to cull red deer is dependent on meeting targets set by a publicly accountable organisation and raptor persecution results in loss of hunting rights.

 

Electric fencing
Electrified deer fencing and stock fencing has been spreading across moorland Scotland in recent years, bringing with it massive constraints on public access and risk to those crossing electrified fences. Such fences should be prohibited, except in very restricted circumstances, such as within enclosed fields where horses and cattle need additional constraints.

 

Hill tracks
The widespread use of all terrain vehicles and the construction of new hill tracks are continuing, with no effective constraints in place. It was a serious error of the present Scottish Government when it failed to take the opportunity to bring such tracks under full planning control, opting instead for a system of prior notification. Landowners and planners say this creates just as much work as a full planning application, but with less clarity and no public scrutiny. This must be rectified in the next Parliament.

 

Windfarms
The UK Government decision to cut the subsidy for wind turbine development has been a welcome measure that has helped to curtail the proliferation of industrial scale windfarms in much of upland Scotland. Further constraints on such developments are needed, along with increased incentives to promote less energy use in the home, workplace and vehicle. The future for large scale wind turbines lies offshore.

 

Paths, trails and physical activity
In recent years the Scottish Government made substantial progress in the development of better paths and trails and the promotion of physical activity, partly as legacy benefits from the 2012 Olympic and 2014 Commonwealth Games. These achievements must be built on by the next Scottish Government, recognising not only the health and environmental benefits of improved walking and cycling routes, but also the economic value brought to all parts of the country through new trail construction work and its role in providing a key part of the infrastructure that underpins Scottish tourism. To achieve this there needs to be a national target to increase path expenditure relative to road expenditure on an annual incremental basis.

 

Field margins
The Common Agricultural Policy continues to deliver very little environmental benefit. Too much of the subsidy provided to lowland farmland is devoted to delivering increased production, leaving a biological desert across much of our land. Much more effort is needed by the next Scottish Government, in partnership with others, to drive CAP reforms in the direction where the majority of public money paid to farmers and crofters is to deliver public benefit not production profit. One of the most effective means of achieving this would be through expanded field margin management schemes to deliver biodiversity, public access and pollution control benefits on all farms. Securing funding for such margin schemes should be a key objective of Scottish Government rural policy in future CAP negotiations.

 

National Parks
The last two SNP Governments, in post since 2007, have achieved very little in the development of Scotland’s national park system, apart from the southern extension of the Cairngorms Park to Blair Atholl. They have allowed the governance of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to degenerate to a level not usually seen in other public bodies. Manifesto promises on developing the national parks system have come to nothing. In the next Parliament lessons need to be learnt from the establishment of the first two parks, including their current failings, so that the associated environmental and economic benefits that the parks are capable of can also be brought to other areas of Scotland which are worthy of national parks status. A priority should be the establishment of a national park on Harris in the Western Isles, where the economic case for providing a tourism boost here through national park designation outweighs any other location in Scotland.

 

Wild land protection
A major achievement of the Scottish Government has been the establishment of a wild land mapping programme by Scottish Natural Heritage which has classified all parts of Scotland according to degrees of wildness. This was in part a response to a European Parliament resolution in 2009 which called on all governments to do more to protect wild land and wilderness values. By building wild land evaluation into land use decisions Scotland is now at the forefront of European efforts to protect these values. This should be recognised by the next Scottish Government and further progress made to extend wild land understanding and to incorporate rewilding principles into government policy.

 

Government agency reorganisation
The structure of Scottish Government departments that deal with environmental and outdoor recreational interests has remained fairly static for many years. There is a case for refreshing the present system and dealing with some endemic problems embedded within the present structure. A priority should be the splitting up of Forestry Commission Scotland so that its land ownership and management functions, as carried out by Forest Enterprise, are clearly separated from the regulatory and grant aid functions of the FCS. A better arrangement might be to combine these functions with the parallel regulatory and grant aid functions of Scottish Natural Heritage. Indeed a case can be made for combining all these functions plus SNH’s habitat protection roles with similar functions for the water environment carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This would create a single body better equipped to deal with the challenges of wildlife and habitat management, including woodland and peatland development, in a world where the impacts of changing climates and needs of outdoor recreation require a much more integrated approach by rural agencies. In parallel to this is the need to strengthen understanding and provision for outdoor recreation so that, at the highest levels of government, there is clear recognition of the role of outdoor recreation in delivering health, environmental and economic benefits. At present the promotion of outdoor recreation falls between too many stools, being a part of SNH and FCS functions, as well as those of sportscotland and visitscotland. Learning from other parts of the world, a better arrangement might be to bring these functions together into, for example, a department or agency for outdoor recreation and sport. This would give outdoor recreation the profile and resource priority that it needs in order to play an enhanced role in the lives of every one of our citizens as well as all visitors to Scotland.

(Dave Morris is former Director of Ramblers Scotland and is an adviser to the UIAA)

March 8, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

IMG_1658I was delighted to see early on Sunday morning on my way to climb on Beinn Udlaidh that the  abandoned car that has been lying off the road south of Inverarnan has been lifted – five months after I asked the Park what they were doing about it  http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/02/17/litter-a-mote-in-the-eye-of-the-national-park-authority/  

 

I wish I could claim this as a first success for the blog but alas IMG_1799it was still at proto-trial stage and  its coincidence the car has just been lifted.  Perhaps the Minister for the Environment was about to do a guided tour of the A82, which has been designated a national scenic route.

If so, perhaps the Park might also clear up the abandoned bumper which is just 50m away from where the car was, the blue  tape left stranded on the brambles and clear up the roadside while they are it.

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the roadsides along the A82 by Loch Lomond.  They are littered with rubbish.  Winter is a good time to look as the vegetation has died back.   This litter has nothing specifically to do with IMG_1800campers.  It is thrown out of car windows and dropped in laybys by visitors, people travelling through and locals.   This is a national issue which the Park cannot be expected to address on its own.

However, along the A82 instead of wasting resources policing campers, the Park could employ local people to keep the road verges rubbish free and set an example.  It could also use its powers as a National Park to ensure litter bins are installed at all the stopping off points north of Tarbet as the current position of just hoping people will take their litter home is not working

 

 

 

March 7, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments

Among the papers for the LLTNP Board meeting on 14th March is a letter from Aileen McLeod, Minister for the Environment, setting out why she explained camping bye-laws.  Agenda Item 8 – Appendix 1 – Ministerial Letter to Linda McKay – Byelaw decision  It is essential reading.   Beneath the spin about listening to a range of views, the letter shows Aileen McLeod has got her “facts”  wrong, has no understanding of access rights and has undermined the will of the Scottish Parliament in respect of the Land Reform Act.

 

The Minister’s judgment

 

Aileen McLeod, the Minister for the Environment,  believes that:

  • that the measures are “not a ban on camping” – this is Orwellian newspeak.  Camping will only be allowed in specified places and it is banned elsewhere.
  • permits are not incompatible with access rights – the whole point of the access legislation is it gave you rights, to go and NOT ask permission.  Permits require you to ask permission and  the byelaws will create criminal offences for campers who don’t.
  • to allow camping to continue would “risk these special places being lost to future generations” – this is purple hyperbole!   Ground vegetation recovers in days or weeks, even the worst litter bio-degrades in a few years, trees regenerate as they always have and dare I say it crap biogrades in a few months.   The Minister and her civil servants appear to have no knowledge of basic science.
  • that camping has negative impacts on local communities and business – where then is the economic impact assessment that demonstrates this?   The anglers who camp around Loch Earn directly create local jobs (two water bailiffs), maintain the viability of local shops etc. The Park has done no evaluation of the business that will move elsewhere.

The Minister does not say why she has reduced the period of operation of the byelaws by one month, October.  This is unsupported by any evidence supplied by the Park.    Out of the summer period angling is the biggest single reason people camp and the angling season extends to the end of October.  While its good to know anglers are not the cause of the problems,  this looks like a political sop…….

The Minister’s justification of the need to manage camping is threefold, volume of campers, environmental damage and anti-social behaviour.  Here I will focus on volume campers (I have covered environmental fairly extensively but will come back to this and rural crime in separate posts).

 

Volume of campers

 

I find it staggering that the Minister has accepted the Park’s claims that volumes of campers are a problem.   This is totally contrary to what the Scottish Parliament intended in respect of access rights.   The Land Reform Act contains NO provisions about limiting numbers accessing the countryside and for a very good reason – it was about enabling whoever wanted to to enjoy our countryside.   The Park has tried to change to take us back to the Countryside in 1970 Conference, where members of the establishment promulgated scare stories  about the large numbers of visitors predicted to swamp the countryside:  as a result of which it was decided to promote the idea that the law of trespass meant you had no rights to be on land in Scotland.   The Land Reform Act overturned  thirty years nonsense about this from public agencies but now the Minister, without any reference to the Scottish Parliament, has simply reversed this.   Her decision is wrong in principle.

The Minister’s decision  has pandered to nimbyism in the Park as demonstrated by the Chief Executive claims that the Park was being swamped by campers and this email, from a Councillor on the Board to their Convener which I obtained through a Subject Access Request:

 

From: Martin Earl
Sent: 11 September 2015 17:47
To: Linda McKay
Subject: Re: Sunday Herald
Thanks Linda,
I only mention because Mr Kempe has always only talked about how to deal with ‘ bad ‘ campers and never acknowledged that a major part of the problem is too many people in some highly desirable locations (my emphasis).
Regards

Martin

 

The facts  are that large numbers of people are limited to a few weekends of the year when there is good weather.   According to the Minister’s letter though,  this might “risk the Park’s reputation at both home and abroad as being a premium tourist destination”.    I thought the Scottish Government was committed to tackling social exclusion but instead it seems it wants to ban people from the Glasgow conurbation, many of whom could never afford accommodation in the Park, from camping.

For people whose sense of order is offended by the freedom of people enjoying themselves out of doors, there are simple  solutions to help people who want to get out at these times to do so.  For example, in the English National Parks, farmers open up fields for camping with portaloos – so why not in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs?

 

So is there anything good in the letter?

 

Yes, the campaign is far from over:

  • The annual updates required of the Park by Ministers should provide plenty of opportunities for further campaigning.
  • The formal three year review is better than the ten years that some were pushing but will only have a real impact if recreational interests insist they are properly consulted, unlike for the deeply flawed Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws  (see my Report on Your Park consultation process and critique of proposals 150618 (corrected version))
  • The delayed implementation date of March 2017 gives plenty of time for  the decision to unravel or be overturned by a new Minister for the Environment.
  • The Minister has put no cap on the number of camping places and states 300 is only the initial target for next year.  This offers continued opportunities to question the rationale of any proposals the Park comes up with………..and these are then likely to collapse as they are based on prejudice not reason.
March 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday the Campaign for National Parks, which operates in England and Wales, launched  a new blog and survey  http://www.cnp.org.uk/blog/we-need-talk-about%E2%80%A6national-parks  which I received via the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (I am on their Executive).

What I like about the blog piece and the survey is that is aimed at everyone, residents and visitors, and that it says changes are needed to make National Parks “even better”.   Its openness and its clear statement that all National Parks could be improved are welcome.

I am one of the many people from Scotland who visit the English National Parks, particularly Northumberland and the Lake District Lakes Aug 10 016when the weather is poor up north, so filled in the survey.  Anyone with an interest in National Parks will have some criticisms of the survey questions.  Two of mine were:

  • there was hardly anything on nature conservation and no questions about what role National Parks could play in rewilding.   A shame because its George Monbiot from south of the border who has done as much as anyone to put rewilding on the map
  • and, as access veteran, I wonder why organisations in  England who value access to the countryside find it so hard to see beyond rights of way and don’t ask people whether they would like Scotland’s system of access rights (minus byelaws of course!)

It will be interesting to compare the results of this survey with the visitor surveys that have been conducted by our two National Parks

March 4, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Another interesting revelation from the Board Strategy Group minutes see post 2nd March) is about the the failure of the LLTNP Authority to consider properly the cost of enforcing the proposed camping  byelaws.

At the meeting of 7th May:  “FL (Fiona Logan, their then Chief Exec) advised that the patrol of East Loch Lomond has taken considerable Ranger resource to implement”  (more…)

March 2, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I attended the special Park Board Meeting that approved the camping bye-laws on 27th April 2015 along with three people from the Loch Lomond Association http://lochlomondassociation.co.uk/. The business took well under an hour and 5 minutes of this was taken up with telling the three of us we were not allowed to say anything – the Park was sufficiently worried about us that they had called on their very own police officer to attend the meeting. There was then a presentation on the outcome of the consultation, about which not a single critical question (more…)