Month: September 2016

September 30, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The foundations for the new fixed wheel at the top of the West Wall poma Photo credit Terry Smith

In May 2015 Natural Retreats were granted planning permission to Highland Council to replace the “floating” top wheel of the West Wall poma lift with a fixed wheel and to extend the run by 40m subject to certain conditions.   The Cairngorms National Park Authority, in their wisdom, did not  call in this application unlike the Shieling rope tow in Coire Cas and so have no formal locus in the case as planning authority.   Unfortunately, while Highland Council included conditions to protect nesting birds during the breeding season, there were no other stipulations of the timing of the work.  Natural Retreats started the work in September, far too late for the vegetation to recover before winter, and Cairngorm has been hit by two serious storms in the week since these photos were taken (and my thanks to Terry Smith for supplying me with photos from his visit on 23rd September).   Unfortunately too, Highland Council does not appear to have enquired about what Natural Retreats meant by the creation of a graded slope.

 

However, even if Highland Council had taken more care before approving the application, I am not sure it would have made a difference as Natural Retreats simply do what they like anyway.

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Digger operating outwith area granted planning permission – all vehicles were meant to be carefully controlled Photo from Cairngorm Mountain webcam (thanks to George Paton)

While Natural Retreats did commit  to meeting certain standards in their Method Statement (see here)  there is plenty of evidence these have been ignored just like with the Sheiling Tow in Coire Cas.

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“Contractor to park up any machinery on existing track, or outside top station garage, where all fuelling and proper storage of fuel is to be kept” – see centre left
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“Remove Turf from slopes where digger will use its reach from. Any aggregates and spoil from construction will be stored on Terram geotextile to be reused in landscaping” – no sign of terram geotextile but at least some turf is being stored unlike at the Shieling rope tow.

 

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This aggregate is not being stored on matting as specified either. Dumping spoil like this simply destroys a larger areas of vegetation.
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“A site cordon for access will be established to control vehicle movement and prevent damage to vegetation”- far left you can see new erosion caused by vehicles while the quality of the new drainage – again it appears Highland Council does not appear to have specified how this work should be done, looks very poor.

If you want a preview of the outcome of Natural Retreats’ failure to follow its own Method Statement there is evidence the other side of the snow fence (see photo below) where Natural Retreats installed new cabling.    Highland Council in their wisdom decided did not need planning permission because it was ancillary works to an existing development.p1020793-copy

The failure to restore the vegetation along the line of the ditch results from a failure to remove and store it properly pending re-instatement. The granite gravel surface will now be very vulnerable to erosion.

There is plenty of other evidence of a complete lack of care taken by the contractorsp1020782-copy

Cement bag in Allt na Ciste – its not hillwalkers or even general tourists who cause most of the rubbish at Cairngorm

 

 

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More rubbish from the construction blown into the burn
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The standard of work on the new fencing is extremely poor.   Just what quality control have HIE who I understand have funded this put in place How long will this bit of fence last?
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The old posts which supported the chestnut fencing have not been removed but simply broken off while there has been no attempt to clear up old cabling

 

 

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A lack of care in bringing vehicles up the mountain has damaged the access track. At one time permission had to be sought every time a vehicle was taken up the hill.

 

There is no excuse for Natural Retreats’ failure to follow its own Method Statement and for the lack of care it has taken on the upper slopes of Cairngorm.  Despite all the adverse publicity it has received over its failures to adhere to the planning requirements agreed with the CNPA for the Shieling Rope Tow in Coire Cas Natural Retreats appears to have made little attempt to improve its practice.   That says a lot about how effective our public authorities have been recently in protecting the natural environment at Cairngorm.   The poor standards evidenced by these photos would not have been tolerated 15 years ago before the Cairngorms National Park was created.  Whatever you think about the funicular there was a concerted attempt by our public authorities then to ensure the highest possible standards of construction.  Natural Retreats now appears free to treat them as an irrelevance.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • Highland Council and the CNPA as planning authorities both need to start using their enforcement powers at Cairngorm to make it very clear that breaches of planning permission will not be tolerated.    They need to work together on this and while CNPA is not involved in the West Wall Poma it could and should take action to re-instate the unlawful track in Coire Cas.
  • Highland Council should stop giving Natural Retreats the benefit of the doubt by assenting to works being undertaken without planning permission.   There is lots of evidence that such works (eg the laying of new cable) have been far more extensive than indicated by Natural Retreats.
  • Highlands and Island Enterprise as the landowner needs to start to manage all works undertaken by Natural Retreats and ensure these meet the highest standards
  • The CNPA should require HIE to produce a proper Environmental Management Plan at Cairngorm (I have established through FOI requests that there is none).
  • The CNPA should ask Scottish Natural Heritage  to start taking an active role at Cairngorm again and quality check all Method Statements and Plans to provide public re-assurance that they meet the highest standards
  • HIE, Highland Council and CNPA need to commission an independent report, which should be paid for by Natural Retreats, to survey and log all the damage that has been caused by Natural Retreats at Cairngorm and identify remedial measures.
  • The Scottish Government should instigate a transfer of the Cairngorms estate from HIE to the Forestry Commission
September 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The building site near the top of the West Wall poma – Photo Credit Terry Smith 23/9/16

Following my last post (see here) on Natural Retreats, they have now started further work to re-locate the return wheel at the top of the West Wall poma lift.   Suffice to say just now (I hope to do a further post tomorrow with photos of what has been going on) that the creation of a building site was never included in the planning application.

 

The building site is on the upper slopes of Cairngorm, a place so sensitive that when planning approval was given to funicular this was on condition that visitors could not exit the top station in summer because of the damage their feet would cause.   This was sealed by the public authorities involved, Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and Highlands and Islands Enterprise as the landowner with a binding legal agreement.

 

Just over 15 years later those same authorities – and Highland Council are responsible for planning enforcement in this case because the Cairngorms National Park Authority in their wisdom did not call in the planning application – are just sitting by while Natural Retreats trashes the hillside.   Morrison’s, when constructing the funicular were closely supervised and would never have been allowed to do this.   This is indefensible.   Its about time that the CNPA said enough is enough at Cairngorm and started to take a proactive lead to sort out the mess that HIE has created through their appointment of Natural Retreats to operate the ski area.

 

While the Tories were calling in the Scottish Parliament yesterday for more National Parks to be created, none of our politicians are taking any real interest in the current failures of our National Parks.  This is epitomised by what Natural Retreats is doing at Cairngorm and what Flamingo Land is likely to do on Loch Lomond.

 

There was an interesting letter in the Herald today calling on a new body to be set up to supervise our National Parks and steer them back to the ideals that led to them being created in the first place.   I couldn’t help thinking it would be much simpler if Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, just gave them a steer but so far there has been no lead from the Scottish Government either.

 

 

 

September 28, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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Glenfenzie ruin in Glen Fenzie just off the A839 on the Dinnet estate.  This used to be a small farm that supported people but is now managed as a grouse moor and the shooting let out.

 

Following my post questioning  the Cairngorms National Park Authority assertion that grouse moors bring much needed employment to the National Park see here, on Sunday I went for a walk round the western half of the Dinnet estate via the summit of Morven.  My main intention was to look at the unlawful hill tracks that have been created there in recent years (subject of a future post), but the number of abandoned houses was striking.  Hardly a sign of grouse moor management bringing prosperity to the area.

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Glen Fenzie farm. The change from conventional to grouse farming has not created any new jobs, precisely the opposite.
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Abandoned estate buildings above Morven Lodge. How many people used to work here?

The CNPA partnership plan says nothing directly about the number of jobs or houses that have been lost as a result of the intensification of grouse moor managment.  In my view it should.  This is a fundamental issue about land reform.    These estates have been clearing not just wildlife (see here for yesterday’s announcement of yet another unlawful hen harrier killing in the National Park) but also people from the countryside

 

This should have implications to the CNPA proposals on housing, one of the Big 9 issues in the Partnership Plan, and where the CNPA is still supporting a couple of large new housing developments of owner occupied housing (see here for housing evidence). The Housing Evidence document (at 43 pages) and Flood Management documents (36 pages) are about twice the length  as any other evidence document (eg Active Cairngorms gets 11 pages and landscape scale conservation 18).  Despite the length, this is the nearest the Housing Evidence document gets to discussing the impact of landed estates on the housing supply in the countryside:

 

Around 14% of households rent from the private sector, which is a fall of around 6% since 2001 (down from 20%). One unusual facet of the National Park’s rented sector is the relatively high proportion of households renting from an employer of a household member. In 2011 these households represented 5% of the private rented market. It is likely that these households largely represent estate workers and seasonal workers in the tourism sector, where accommodation is often included with the job.
There was however a drop in this tenure class from 35% in 2001; the reasons for which are uncertain. In part it may represent a change in the categorisation of tenure definitions, for while the 2001 census records no households as living rent free, the 2011 indicates a level of 4%. Other causes may include changes in the working practices of estates and the sale of estate stock.

 

The CNPA fails to mention that one possible contribution to the decline in private sector rented housing is that estates are continuing to remove people (and jobs) from the land.     The CNPA Plan has promoted no discussion about this or options for the future.  While much estate accommodation is remote – that around Morven Lodge is accessed by unsurfaced hill tracks – judging by the numbers of people who respond to adverts to live on remote islands, if you offered these houses to people to live in, there would be lots of demand.  Alternatively, if renovated and offered as holiday accommodation they would be in high demand which would help support local jobs.  There is no electricity at Morven at present –  there are  gas lights in the Lodge – but with micro hydro everywhere else, why not here?

 

I don’t think however that any vision such as this – and I am sure there are other alternatives – is ever going to happen though while landowners maintain their feudal grip.  The owners of the grouse moors don’t want independent people living or staying in remote areas who might notice and report what is actually going on in terms of wildlife persecution and grouse moor management.   A good reason for the CNPA to promote community buy outs and control of these buildings.   There is a fantastic resource out there of attractive Victorian buildings that the CNPA is letting landowners abandon.  Is this called protecting the cultural heritage?p1000120-copy

The nature of the abandoned estate buildings suggest this was a place that once supported several jobs.

 

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The only building still in use is the former lodge. Its use now appears to be restricted to providing lunch to shooters. There does not appear to be any overnight accommodation. If this is right the only job that is supported is the cook that is brought in for the day and the gamekeepers who live elsewhere.
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The main function of Morven Lodge now is to provide luncheon

 

 

Our failure as a society to make use of existing housing is not just a problem with Landed Estates of course and there are other aspects to this such as second homes which are are covered in the Partnership Plan.   However, from a quick tour of Deeside I spotted over 10 empty dwellings – some of which are probably not even on the CNPA’s database of empty dwellings.   When the CNPA is estimating 4.5 new properties a year are needed on Deeside (from Aberdeenshire’s figures of 90 properties in 20 years)  to meet demand why is it not taking a serious look at how abandoned estate buildings could be brought back in the housing stock?

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Abandoned house Corriemulzie
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The boarded up house opposite the car park and public toilets in Braemar

Below is the extract from the main Partnership Plan of the CNPA’s preferred direction (notice there are no actual targets) on housing.  The CNPA should firm up the vague commitment to help local communities buy land to secure local housing “solutions” with a firm plan to help them buy up and renovate abandoned estate housing before it deteriorates still further.

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TARGETS / PREFERRED DIRECTION
• Making sure that when new housing is built, more of it is accessible to people who live and work in the National Park through influencing scale and tenure of housing;
• Delivering more affordable housing as a proportion of all new development;
• Increasing the level of investment in affordable housing and infrastructure on key sites;
• Ensuring the delivery of key strategic sites; [ie the large sites at An Camus Mor and Kingussie]
• Maintaining high design standards appropriate for a National Park; [what better than renovating traditional buildings?]
• Helping communities make the most of any right to buy land in order to secure local housing solutions; and
• Reducing the proportion of second and holiday homes in the National Park.

September 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The proposed Flamingo Land development of the west riverside side at Balloch was covered by  an interesting article in the Sunday Herald (and I say that not just because I was quoted in it) which made links between the proposed camping ban and the proposed development.  Ultimately this is about what National Parks are for and what sort of public enjoyment the National Park Authorities should be promoting.   That this an issue of major concern to the public appears to be confirmed by the petitition on 38 degress which last night had 29,176 signatures.

 

Judith Duffy, the Sunday Herald Chief Reporter managed to extract a couple of interesting statements from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

 

The first was from Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, was about the Flamingo Land Development:

 

“Watson said a planning application or detailed proposals had yet to be submitted for the Flamingo Land development, so the authority was “reserving its position” to see if the plans are acceptable or not.”   Gordon Watson was then quoted as saying:   “We can obviously assess a development and if we feel it is not appropriate, doesn’t fit in for whatever reason, or there is environmental issues, then obviously we have the power to refuse planning permission.”

 

To me this suggests that somehow the LLTNPA has been neutral in this process up till now, knows almost nothing about what is being proposed and will then take a decision.   Actually, as my previous post showed the LLTNPA has been in discussions about this site for sometime and this has basically been confirmed by the excellent comment on my post by James Fraser, Chair of Friends and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, on the history of public agency involvement with the west riverside site which I recommend everyone interested in the future of this site reads (see comment).    

 

In this, after stating that hopefully there will be a chance to influence the final plans, James says that the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs “suggested this to a representative of the company prior to the Charrette getting underway more than 6 months ago and for whatever reason this wasn’t followed through at that time.”    If FOLLAT were talking to the developer six months ago, the LLTNPA must have been too, yet instead of being open and using the Balloch community planning event (the charrette) to develop ideas for the whole site (and not just the walkway), the LLTNPA kept discussions with the proposed developer secret from the local community.  Why?  How does this secretive process fit with the Scottish Government Minister Kevin Stewart’s statement that “Decisions affecting local communities should be made by those local communities”?

 

What concerns me about the development is not the sort of aspirations that James outlines, which appear to me things that both local community and people who care about the National Park could support,  but the way Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA are going about this through appointment of a preferred private developer, with a track record in bling and what appears to be poverty wages, whose interests appear very different to those of the National Park.   Flamingo Land’s failure to participate in the community planning event, despite apparently being asked, just set off even more alarm bells.   The risk here, and I would judge it very high, is that Flamingo Land ask for more development than anyone wants and types of development that are both inappropriate, bling!  This will then have an adverse affect on existing local businesses but all of this will be justified by the LLTNPA as being the only way to finance further “improvement” of the site.   In my view its therefore imperative that both local and national organisations are involved in  discussions with Flamingo Land now, before any further detailed plans are developed.

 

The second interesting statement in Judith Duffy’s piece was about camping:

 

The park authority says it has not yet been decided if charges will be made for permits, but insist any will be “minimal”.

 

This is not true (and I would be very happy to publish a statement from the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong).  In the Board Paper that approved the byelaws para 5.8 read as follows:

 

“A camping permit scheme will provide the opportunity for sustainable levels of informal camping within a camping management zone. This form of provision requires minimal capital investment, little or no new development of facilities, allows for a reasonable level of provision subject to a defined maximum number and would be centrally administered by the National Park Authority with a small administration charge for booking a permit”.

 

A “small administration charge”, however “small” is defined, is a charge and I can find nothing in subsequent Board Papers to say this has changed.   Now of course the LLTNPA may still be deliberating camping permit charges in its secret monthly meetings  –  which have no doubt also discussed the west riverside development – but officially it decided 18 months ago to impose charges for camping under permit in places where currently people camp for free.   Its a charge for access, nothing less.

 

If Scottish Ministers want another good reason to suspend the implementation of the proposed camping byelaws they would do well to read an excellent piece that appeared in the Guardian comment is free yesterday (see here).   This is the first major critique of the proposed camping byelaws that I am aware of that has appeared in the press south of the border.   Do Scottish Ministers really want the LLTNPA, which was set up in no small part to promote public enjoyment of the countryside,  to destroy Scotland’s reputation as having world class access rights?

September 26, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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Part of the proposed camping area at Loch Chon. Instead of being able to choose where to camp people will have to use fixed pitches covered in woodchip

Today, the LLTNPA will decide its planning application to itself for a campsite at Loch Chon.  There are now 54 documents associated with this proposal and I hope the members of the Planning Committee read the objections as well as the Committee Report.

 

There are several  issues about the campsite which are very relevant to the application and which I have not picked up previously (see here):

  • While the proposal to place some of the camping pitches on wooden platforms has been dropped, its been replaced by something just as stupid:   “The camping proposal would involve the formation of 26 camping pitches. Apart from the scraping of the soil by hand where necessary (to form a level area),and the laying of chipped bark, no physical development is required to form the pitches.”    It appears no-one in the LLTNPA knows a thing about camping and has simply not bothered to ask campers what its like camping on bark chip.  As every camper knows grass would be infinitely preferable but it appears the LLTNPA is going to clear the grass to make the whole site look like a suburban play area.
  • Also up for approval is “The construction of new access roads (compacted hardcore gravel surfacing), parking areas (grid with gravel infill) and footpaths (compacted hardcore gravel or bark surface with natural edge) will be sympathetic to the rural setting.”   Instead of people wandering alongside the loch creating minimal damage to find a place to camp it appears the LLTNPA is going to construct paths to every pitch. 
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    Dark brown is hard core, dotted brown woodchip tracks
  • Consider the amount of vegetation that will be lost through all this path and pitch creation, not to mention new car parking areas, and compare this to the small bare patches created by people camping in the same spot which the LLTNPA claimed was so significant that it justified removing rights of access and the introduction of its proposed camping byelaws.    The Loch Chon campsite will destroy more vegetation  than wild campers have ever done within the four proposed management zones.  Now this impact might not matter – the smaller impacts of wild campers are completely irrelevant and should have never been used by the Minister at the time, Aileen McLeod, as reason to approve the proposed camping byelaws – if there was demand for a campsite of this size but there isn’t (see here).    For the LLTNPA to  blame campers for destroying vegetation and then to destroy a lot more itself, for a facility in the wrong place, is complete hyprocrisy.

 

I hope the Planning Committee will discuss the physical impacts on the land earmarked for the campsite and minute why they believe the impacts of this development are of so little concern compared to the impact of wild campers,  why they believe campers want to camp on woodchip and why all the pathwork is necessary .

 

In doing so they would be well advised to consider this contribution from Ross MacBeath commenting on the application:

 

Campers know best

Over decades of camping in the National Park a number of preferred sites have been selected by campers as desirable for their own particular outdoor pursuit.  This natural spread out camping model is undoubtedly the best for the environment, best for outdoor recreation and the best for communities.   To that end if it is the Park Authority intention to ignore the wishes of Park Users and to implement formal campsites instead of the preferred informal camping currently enjoyed then they should consider creating smaller sized spread out developments to both protect the environment and provide choice for the many different outdoor pursuits that require to use tents in different geographic locations.  The Park Authority have failed to consult the users of camping facilities as so fail to understand camping is not merely about staying overnight in a tent and that it is important to have the ability to pitch a tent in an area that suits your outdoor pursuit or personal preference.

 

I also believe it would be in the public interest that individual Board members on the Planning Committee declare whether they have been involved in any discussion on campsite design, size or financing at the secret Board “Briefing Sessions” they attend.   I also think the Committee should ask and minute whether the LLTNPA has signed a contract to purchase the shipping containers that will serve as a storage area and as toilets.   Although the toilet blocks will now be clad in larch, thanks to pressure from Strathard Community Council, there has been no explanation of why ex-shipping containers are required or suitable for this site.   I suspect the reason Gordon Watson has refused to budge on this is that the LLTNPA may have already agreed to purchase the containers.   If true, its very difficult to see how the Planning Committee could take an objective decision.

September 24, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

raptorsRaptor Persecution Scotland picked up  (see here) on a Cairngorms blog piece and article in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald by Peter Argyle, Convener of the the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

 

I believe Peter’s contribution is very welcome and its very refreshing that as Convener of the National Park he seems prepared to engage in public debate, unlike his counterpart, Linda McKay, at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority where everything is sorted out with preferred partners in secrecy and behind closed doors.

 

I thought it interesting that Peter has not referenced any of the powers the CNPA has to address the widespread raptor persecution that takes place in the National Park.   I have argued how these could be used before (see here) but there is now a very interesting precedent just to the North in Moray where the creation of bye-laws and permits for shooting geese at Findhorn has been supported by none less than the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary who was responsible for National Parks until earlier this year:

 

“Following his meeting with Basc, Mr Lochhead argued it was “absolutely clear” the existing regulations weren’t working properly.

And he has now encouraged councillors to impose a permit system with certain by-laws to satisfy parties on either side of the debate.

Mr Lochhead said: “There’s been a backlash in the local community due to some visitors not respecting the local environment, and it’s absolutely clear the status quo is not an option.

“My meeting with Basc was positive and they made it clear they support a permit system with by-laws.

“We need the council to adopt a can-do attitude and calculate the costs of a permit system to inform the debate.

“The shooting season is under way and I don’t think anyone wants to see another season go by without a solution being put in place.”

Basc Scotland’s Donald Muir added: “We explained that a permit system should be put in place at Findhorn Bay, which should eliminate any bad practice taking place.”

(from Press and Journal ((see here))

 

So why doesn’t the CNPA adopt a similar type of can-do attitude as Richard Lochhead is calling on Moray to adopt?

 

 

I also think Peter and the CNPA have got the economic contribution that moorland management makes to the National Park wrong.   It is now very profitable, in part because the financiers are enamoured with grouse shooting (Fred Goodwin when running the Royal Bank of Scotland as his personal fiefdom loved to put on his plus fours and go shooting as told by Ian Fraser in “Shredded: Inside RBS the bank that broke Britain)  and have both invested in estates and pay large amounts for a day’s shooting (£9,943 per day compared to £729 per day of stag shooting according to the Cairngorms Estates survey in £2014).   This has resulted in a shift from deer management to grouse shooting as shown by Andy Wightman and Ruth Tangay in “Research into the Intensification of Grouse Moor Management”.   Unfortunately the CNPA have completely failed to provide a similar overall analysis for the Partnership Plan and I think if they did, it would show that most of the alleged benefits grouse moor management brings to the National Park are myths.

 

Peter Argyle acknowledges that driven grouse shooting has been banned in much of the rest of Europe but does not say why its a problem.  Driven grouse shooting is just like a glorified clay pigeon shoot the difference being the supply of targets is limited.   This might not matter to most people but grouse shooting is about conspicuous consumption and among the shooters part of the “fun” is downing more grouse than the person next door.  The numbers of grouse are extremely important and this is what has driven the intensification of grouse moor management including raptor persecution.  While the CNPA has been trying to talk to estates, the ground rules have been changing beneath their feet and as a result they are always on the back foot.     If the CNPA introduced a permit system and limited the numbers of grouse that could be shot in a day they could stop this completely and “de-intensify” grouse moor management.

 

Peter seems to fear that if grouse shooting was tackled there would be a loss of jobs.   The evidence suggests that while grouse shooting is now extremely profitable, most of the profit is not invested in the National Park but elsewhere.  There is a complete myth that grouse shooting is essential to maintain jobs in remote areas.  The pay of estate staff, often working in very difficult conditions, is lamentable (Andy Wightman found the average salary was £11401 and this would seem to accord with the CNPA’s own findings that wages in the National Park are 26% lower than elsewhere in Scotland).   The obvious question, which is not being asked by the CNPA, is whether alternative land-uses which depended on the natural rather than the highly managed qualities of the National Park could provide more and better paid jobs which kept money in the local area?     Surely this is the sort of question the CNPA should be considering under its mandate to promote sustainable economic development?

 

The CNPA has produced lots of information on economic development but what is conspicuous by its absence in the Partnership Plan is the absence of any analysis of the role of sporting estates.  Part of the reason for this that while previous economic surveys have identified “game management” as one of the most distinctive economic activities in the National Park, it has not been analysed as such but included partly under the tourism sector and partly under food and drink.  So, the dominant land-uses in the National Park simply disappear from the economic analysis as this graphic from the draft plan and the quote below illustrates:

 

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Land Management related industry is of vital importance to the economy of the Cairngorms
National Park and activities to support this sector are a key priority. Land Management in itself,
however, has not been identified as a Priority Sector. This is because it is such a diverse
industry which cross-cuts wider sectors including tourism, forestry, agriculture, renewables etc.  (Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015)

 

The result is the draft Plan, instead of looking at the economics of sporting estates and how this impacts on it priority issues of landscape scale conservation and deer and moorland management, comes up with this non-plan:

 

Deer and moorland management is a significant aspect of the local economy and culture for many people living in the National Park. The fact that estates invest heavily in deer and moorland management is clearly demonstrated in the landowners’ survey carried out in 2013. This currently supports jobs in sometimes remote locations. Investment in moorland management is a personal choice often driven by a range of external social and economic motivations. Changes to any model of land use carries risks and uncertainties about how alternatives are funded, particularly for individual businesses. Therefore the long term viability and continued employment opportunities must be integral to addressing any changes, to maintain viable land management with investment in public interest outcomes. There is a good opportunity in the National Park to explore new approaches to combining the value of sport with a high quality environment, maintaining employment and investment.

 

I welcome Peter Argyle’s call for a frank dialogue but I think that to take that forward requires a much more rigorous analysis to that presented in the draft Partnership Plan.  Peter says in his blog “There is much good work being done on heather moorlands within the Park, be it on peatland restoration, the spread of upland scrub species and more effective control of deer numbers.”   I would agree there is good work and also that some people are trying very very hard – I don’t want to belittle the efforts of those who are trying – but unfortunately the Park Plan does not explicitly put these efforts in context:

 

  • 350ha of peatland restoration underway in the National Park, with a target of 2,000 ha by 2018.   This is tiny in the context of the National Park and the 2m hectares of peatland in Scotland that is in poor condition.
  • 890 hectares of new woodland is tiny within the context that the National Park covers 4528 km2 or 452800 hectares

 

Is this really good enough for a National Park which should be setting an example to the rest of Scotland?

 

What the Partnership Plan needs is some much more ambitious targets if the CNPA is to deliver its statutory aims.   I hope Peter Argyle will take part in further public dialogue and debate about this.

 

 

 

September 23, 2016 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

– by Ross MacBeath

At the public meeting with Strathard Community Council, Gordon Watson, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Chief Executive, tried to justify the creation of a large campsite at Loch Chon by referring to the campsite at Sallochy, on east Loch Lomond.  While this is also on Forestry Commission land, demand there is totally different, as this analysis shows.

 

While the LLTNPA have tried to say that demand is not relevant to planning applications, posted on the planning portal alongside the planning application is a Question and Answer sheet which includes the following:

 

Q: Why is the proposed site for 33 pitches (now 26)?

A: Following a full site assessment, this is the maximum number of pitches that the site can accommodate at periods of peak demand.

As current peak demand is nowhere near this level, it appears the Park is going to dragoon campers and force them to stay at Loch Chon, whether they want to or not.   All the statistics on which this analysis is based have been obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

 

Appraisal of the situation at Sallochy

 

The Sallochy campsite which has 30 places, is on the shores of east Loch Lomond and was created in 2011.  While the number of pitches is similar to Loch Chon, even with the recent reduction to 26 pitches, the layouts are different, the toilets are different and most importantly the clientele is different.  Sallochy is open from March to October.

 

Sallochy services the West Highland Way and that is now where the majority of its users come from. Without this huge bolus of WHW travellers Sallochy would be oversized for the provision of car based camping in the area.

 

Other than July and August, the peak holiday months, Sallochy is underused for the rest of the time it is open.   Percentage occupancy is high for these 2 busiest months and drops off to lower figures at other times (just like wild camping in the National Park).

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The number of pitches is 30 and this give a pitch availability of 900 to 930 per month (dependent on the number of days in the month)

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The same pattern is shown if you look at the number of campers rather than tents.

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If you compare Current Demand (2015) and Capacity at Sallochy it looks like this:

5The conclusion is that Demand and Capacity at Sallochy are well matched in the peak summer months, less so in May and June but the site is virtually empty March, April September and October or more than half the season.

 

Current Demand for Camping in Loch Chon

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The number of pitches is based on tents recorded by Rangers.  While the records only cover weekends as no ranger patrols are made midweek, however midweek numbers are insignificant.   The Current Demand does not come anywhere near the capacity of the Park Authorities new 26 Pitch proposal for Loch Chon, the total Number of pitches per month is  806 (May, Jul, Aug) and 780.(Apr, Jun, Sep).

 

The current demand applied to the new site shows a huge over capacity.

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To apply the same design criteria to Loch Chon as used at Sallochy, where demand is fed by the West Highland Way, makes no sense.  While there is a path network in the area, the only way demand will rise is if people can camp elsewhere and link campsites, but the byelaws will stop that.  A portion of this camping provision should be sited along the path network in the area. The 9 place Loch Lubnaig campsite would be a much more valid comparison of the size of campsite needed.

 

The site at Sallochy and its demands have no relationship to Loch Chon and it is not helpful to associate the two as being similar  in this respect.

Return on Investment

 

Gordon Watson stated at the public meeting the LLTNPA would build the site and review the situation next year. Surely it would be better to review the situation properly before committing the Park Authority to spending £345,000.  It’s reasonable to assume once spent a need for the LLTNPA to get a return on investment will drive forward promotion of the area as a centre for camping and other sports.  Whether this will work is doubtful and the money is likely to be wasted.

 

Vehicles

 

The other primary concern for the community at Strathard has been the number of vehicles that could be attracted to the site.  Its harder to compare Loch Chon with Sallochy in this respect because at Sallochy many of the campers walk in from the West Highland Way. Moreover while there is a reserved Car Park for those who have purchased a tent pitch there is also a public car park and this is one of few places you can still stop off on east Loch Lomond.   So, there is no direct correlation between pitches sold and vehicles counted.

 

The vehicle recorder for the public car park shows the Recorded figures for vehicles and their occupants using the car park at Sallochy in the 2015 season is 17,089 cars and 30,760 people an average of 1.8 persons per car.    While a higher proportion of visitors are likely to access Loch Chon by car, the total will be much lower unless fuelled by  displacement or marketing by the LLTNPA  to achieve a return on investment.  Its thus very difficult to predict vehicle numbers but it is likely to be low.

 

What is needed at Loch Chon

 

What is called for is another solution, and that is simple to achieve. Create a 12 pitch formal site supported by a 6 pitch informal site (without defined pitches) in a designated area that can be used when the small number of days when the peak demand rises above the capacity of 12 pitches,  around 5 days in the 2015 season and that will take care of the low frequency high demands of good weather days.

 

The Planning Committee on Monday should think again and reduce the size of the campsite.

 

September 22, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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By coincidence, the above article appeared in the Sunday Herald (in their towns supplement) just a few days after Flamingo Land had been announced as the preferred developer for the west riverside site at Balloch (see here).    The contrast between what Kevin Stewart is saying and what Scottish Enterprise announced is stark:

    • The “solution” to the west riverside site has NOT been developed by those who live and work in Balloch apart from the aspiration that the site should link the Loch Lomond shores development to the town centre by means of a riverside site.   The actual use of the rest of the site has not been subject to consultation.
    • The decision to make Flamingo Land the preferred developer was not made by the local community but by Scottish Enterprise and could well have involved another member of the Scottish Government, the Business Minister.
    • A Development Trust, the Scottish Government’s apparent preferred solution for re-invigorating towns like Balloch, appears not to have been considered.

 

Announcements that the LLTNPA was in discussions about the development of a theme park on the shores of Loch Lomond were made back in 2011 (see here)  (thanks to a reader for the link!).  It appears very likely that the secret site referred to by Wayne Gardner Young was west riverside.   Meantime, Government policy has changed so cosy deals with developers are no longer supposed to happen and the community should be put in the lead.     Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA however have just blundered on (I don’t blame the staff, just the senior management and Boards) with an approach that is now discredited.

 

I have submitted a number of Freedom of Information requests about this, such as whether the LLTNPA has assessed  the likely impact this development could have on existing local businesses or if Scottish Enterprise advertised the opportunity.   (I have not been able to find any contract advertisement on the Scotland Contracts Portal – that may just be me – but the public sector is now supposed to advertise all such opportunities there).  In terms of public policy, following Kevin Stewart’s piece, I believe the local community should have been given a chance to bid for the development or alternative use of the west riverside site.

 

So why the gap between rhetoric and reality?

 

The main reason I believe lies in neo-liberal thinking, which accepts there is no alternative to private finance to make things happen and indeed believes private enterprises do everything best.   The problem is that despite all the evidence for the failure of neo-liberalism, the Scottish Government has not worked out any solutions to make Kevin Stewart’s vision a reality.  This I believe needs to involve local sources of finance (in German local banks finance local business and development) and more public expenditure (which is about our tax system and most pressingly tax evasion).    However,  Scottish Enterprise has hardly started to think about this, despite it having a co-operative development team,  and it still operates as if  large developers and developments are the only option.

 

Added to that,  Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Goverment Minister responsible for tourism and enterprise from 2011 until earlier this year, has always been on the right wing of the SNP.   He was responsible for both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Island Enterprise and I don’t think its a coincidence that outside developers have been brought in to develop two prime sites controlled by them,  Natural Retreats at Cairngorm and now Flamingo Land at west Riverside.    Its the way he thinks and he was never going to say to Scottish Enterprise “hang on a moment, is this the only option?”

 

At the same time the LLTNPA adopted an explicit neo-liberal path under their previous Chief Executive, Fiona Logan, who saw business as the answer to everything (this is well illustrated by her flirtation with Wayne Gardner Young – see link above).   She then got her Board to adopt an explicit Commercialisation Policy in 2013 which covers every aspect of what the National Park does, from how to develop tourist facilities to charging for toilets and carparks (which I will cover further in due course).    Part of this involved the Board getting big developers to pay for their planning section by increasing charges – a conflict of interest if ever there was one – as  the future of the planners’ jobs at the National Park in part depends on developments such as Flamingo Land going ahead.

 

While the LLTNPA still claims to put the conservation and public enjoyment of the National Park first, the reality is that commercialisation is driving everything in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   This is bad for local communities and bad for the people who visit the National Park.    While we cannot expect our National Parks to address all the ills of neo-liberalism and the austerity that goes with it,  if our National Parks are not about other values such as protecting landscape and nature from the excesses of capitalism and enabling people to enjoy these things, then they are not worth anything.

 

I think the organiser of the petition to stop Flamingo Land was right (see here) The Scottish Government should intervene, tell Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA to scrap the Flamingo Land proposal and start work with the local community and other organisations to develop alternatives.  I would hope Kevin Stewart, the Minister, will publicly support that as a way forward in accordance with his thinking.

 

 

September 21, 2016 Nick Kempe 4 comments
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Lochs and Glens buses appear to regularly park overnight at the Inveruglas car park

If you have passed up or down the A82 this summer you may have noticed Lochs and Glens buses parked overnight in the Inveruglas car park – I have several times.   This is one of the car parks where the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority want to introduce parking charges which will be enforced through number plate recognition technology (see here).  I was intrigued about what arrangements might be in place now between Lochs and Glens, which is a prominent business in the park and is a member of Love Loch Lomond, and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  So I asked and at the end of last week received this response.

 
The Park Authority has no agreement with Lochs and Glens for the use of Inveruglas car park. Therefore I have to advise you under Regulation 10(4)a of the EIRs that there is no relevant information held.

 

I believe this gives a further insight into the warped priorities of this National Park Authority.    Here is a business which appears to be using Inveruglas as a free depot to park its buses on a regular basis and the LLTNPA has simply allowed this to happen.  It’s a business encampment!   However, while the LLTNPA was using encampments in car parks to justify the proposed byelaws, it does not appear too worried about this one.  Indeed I don’t recollect any mention of business encampments during the byelaw consultations –  but maybe this was not happening back then.

 

What I find particularly interesting is the LLTNPA, whose rangers must know better than anyone from their daily patrols how often the buses are parked here, appears to be doing nothing about it.   If they think its a problem, why not act?   While there are specific remedies for encampments (see here) its much simpler with a business, you simply take out an interdict preventing them from ab/using your property.

 

If its not a problem though, what a missed opportunity.   Lochs and Glens – and I have nothing against it as successful bus tour business – is a member of Love Loch Lomond, which represents local tourist businesses.  Now while Love Loch Lomond supported the introduction of camping byelaws in its formal response to the Your Park consultation it was also in favour of more camping places, including new campsites, and specifically mentioned the  need for improvements to toilet and litter infrastructure.  Inveruglas is an ideal stopping off point on west Loch Lomond, its not close to houses and there is space for people to camp behind the scenic routes viewing tower.  However, while Inveruglas has a toilet, you can only access it at present through the cafe which closes.  So why not ask Lochs and Glens to install an additional toilet or a new external access to the existing one in return for free parking.   This would enable people to camp or stay in their campervans overnight with minimal impact.

 

Unfortunately, the agenda of the LLTNPA is to restrict access to the shores of our lochs, not just through the camping byelaws, but by installing gates across all its car parks and introducing parking charges wherever they can.   The LLTNPA is far too busy planning for this disaster to do anything creative like talk to Lochs and Glens and other businesses to come up with creative solutions to the issues.    I suspect local businesses could even be persuaded to pay for the installation of litter bins on every layby on the A82 (its not a lot of money) – which would have a far greater impact on litter than the camping byelaws –  if only the LLTNPA could persuade Argyll and Bute Council to get its bin lorries to stop as they trundle up the A82 and empty them.

 

September 20, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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Will the great glacial trench of Loch Lomond now spill out into a Flamingo Land theme park?

A petition to the Scottish Government to stop the Flamingo Land development on the west riverside site at Balloch has been set up by George McMillan (see here).  A number of signatories have made comments which show that people care deeply about our National Parks and believe they should be about protecting the landscape and natural environment, enjoyment for all – in fact the very reasons National Parks were set up in the first place.   The LLTNPA would be wise to listen, indeed it could even harness the energy of the mass of people out there who really want out National Parks to be different, but I suspect it will carry on as it is at present, trying to please the rich and powerful, out of touch and not fit for the purpose.

 

Here’s a sample of what people are saying:

 

“These plans are preposterous. Our National Parks are few and far between as it is. There should be much greater protection for the Highlands of Scotland in particular. Loch Lomond is famous for its wild, rugged beauty and its wildlife. It should never be spoilt by building any sort of theme park here. The “theme” is entirely natural and we MUST preserve that.”  Audrey L

“You can’t even wild camp on loch lomond anymore , but flash the cash and these capitalist so and so’s can build what and where they like” Graham S

“A National Park is just that. A resource for everybody to enjoy. The attraction is the landscape – those who want something different can find it elsewhere quite easily” .Richard K

As in other countries with National Parks, their special status is to protect their natural environment and ecosysystems. They must not be commercially developed.” Tom L

“A national park is created to conserve the planet’s nature and wildlife. It is available for everyone to enjoy free walking, cycling, swimming, canoeing and being in pristine nature. What more do we want? -Why turn it into a destructive US style amusement park? And if it were for economic benefit of the local community – few of the pennies made would remain here and big bucks taken elsewhere by very few.”  Antje P

“It’s important to protect our naturally beautiful areas and especially important is to never allow private ownership or conglomerates to bypass our laws and develop our National Parks.” Ruth H

This is an appalling proposal, the aims and objectives of the National Park are being ignored – protection of environment and natural surroundings should be of greater importance than a few more low paid jobs and bog standard tourist attractions.  Rose H

I couldn’t help thinking, reading these, what the signatories would have thought of all the destruction caused by the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch.  There is simply not enough transparency about what’s going on in our National Parks and not enough democratic accountability for how they have run.

About 1500 people have added their names to the petition in the last day, after a slow start.  If only half  – and I am sure there will be a lot more – object to the planning application when its eventually submitted that could be sufficient to de-rail the whole development.

I hope the local community, many of whom are deeply worried about this proposal, can somehow find a way to harness this national energy and come up with alternative ideas for west riverside that would benefit both local people and the wider community of people who care about our National Parks.

September 20, 2016 Phil Swainson No comments exist
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Badaguish from Meall a Buachaille ridge showing the huge increase in area covered by the development

 

In response to an editorial about the repeated breaches of planning requirements at Badaguish by Speyside Trust (see here), I had a letter published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald last week explaining what I think has been going on.    I hope to cover this further in the next few weeks but meantime appended are some more photos illustrating why this matters from an environmental perspective.

badaguish-letter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Two of the lodges leased by Highland Council between 2006-15

 

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The new camping pods are in a large area of what was plantation forest which has been felled – as yet there is no agreed lease with Forestry Commission Scotland for the use of this land
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The lack of care is not dissimilar to Natural Retreats up the hill at Cairngorm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 18, 2016 Nick Kempe 6 comments

Balmoral was in the news twice over the last week, first for a grouse shoot and second because Prince Charles collided with a deer when driving on the estate (see Mirror). Raptor Persecution Scotland provided some excellent critical commentary on the use of soldiers as beaters on the grouse moor but most of the media repeated the story of Kate Middleton being driven up above “the imposing Creag Bhiorrach” by Loch Muick by the Queen for a royal picnic and to watch the grouse shooting without any consideration of what this tells us about how the royal family views the land.

 

Leaving aside the intensification of grouse production and all that implies for wildlife, some of the stories referred to Prince William driving towards or over to Glen Clova – its not certain which – up the Capel Mounth road.   This suggests part of the royal view of their land is it is perfectly acceptable for landowners to be able to drive up onto the tops of the hills or indeed over to neighbouring estates.  I have commented before on how being in a big Range Rover must feel when passing walkers on hill tracks – a sense of power and privilege – because of course only certain people are allowed to drive here.   As the technology has improved and its become cheaper,  private landowners have extended tracks all over our hills.   Post-war there were various proposals to create public roads through the core of the Cairngorms including the Lairig Ghru which were rejected but what has happened is that now  in many parts of the Cairngorms we have  private road networks instead.   What happens on Balmoral is important  because it gives this the ultimate social respectability, royal endorsement.

 

It also tells us something about landowners perceptions of our landscapes.  I think most people would say that a key part of what is special about the landscape in the Cairngorms National Park is that it is unspoilt and feels wild – even if they are viewing it from the public roadside.  Hill tracks from this perspective are scars on the landscape, something that detracts from the landscape and National Park.   The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family can’t share that view as they use these same tracks as a matter of course, see it as their prerogative even.    I suspect they, and most other private landowners, have very different ideas of  beauty to the rest of the population.

 

A search of the Cairngorms National Park draft Partnership Plan does not come up with a single mention of the word “beauty”.   Indeed, there is almost no consideration of landscape and wild land   (see here).   A Plan that took these issues seriously would have to take on the Royal Family and other powerful landowners and it appears the CNPA is simply not up for this – so better just to avoid mentioning it.  To me it just reinforces for me that we will only effectively protect our landscapes through securing fundamental reforms in land ownership.

 

The draft Park Plan though does cast some light on the second story, Prince Charles’ collision with a deer.   On page 8 of the Moorland Evidence document 160621deermoorlandmanagementfinal1 there is a “crude” map of aspirations by landowners for deer densities in the National Park.  It shows Balmoral, along with a great swathe of land to the west, as having aspirations for the highest deer densities in the National Park.    The planners then will not have been surprised then that Prince Charles collided with a deer on the Balmoral Estate.     The same report shows much of Balmoral is in a woodland expansion area where grants are available for woodland planting.  The Plan offers no firm proposals for how the differences between these objectives should be reconciled – how to stop deer eating all the trees – but again  that would mean the CNPA taking on the Royal Family among others.    How Balmoral is managed is in a real sense a litmus test for how well the CNPA is doing.

 

 

September 17, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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Photo posted 7th September http://www.cairngormmountain.org/category/behind-the-scenes/  Coire na Ciste

As part of its programme to upgrade the cabling at Cairngorm, funded by Highlands and Enterprise, Natural Retreats started work on the Coire na Ciste t-bar late August/September (see here for the earlier work on cabling of the car park tow).    Now this work did not require planning permission because Highland Council had judged it, like the carpark t-bar upgrade, as ancillary to an existing development.  HOWEVER, thanks to a Freedom of Information request from George Paton, we know what Murray Ferguson, Head of Conservation and Planning at the CNPA  told Natural Retreats back in July.

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You will notice Murray Ferguson told Natural Retreats they needed to set out their procedures for doing ground works which would involving marking out the site, storing turf and storing spoil on terram matting.    While you can see some turves in Natural Retreats photo, their own evidence shows that they have completely ignored all the CNPA’s other recommendations.

 

What’s happening here is that because Natural Retreats – and by implication Highlands and Islands Enterprise who are funding all of this – know that planning permission is not required they believe the CNPA is absolutely helpless to do anything about this mismanagement.

 

However, even where  planning permission is required, Natural Retreats still ignore the rules.  The replacement of the top return station of the West Wall Poma did require planning permission but this was decided by Highland Council because the CNPA did not see any implications for the National Park.   Back in June though Natural Retreats sent a detailed 13 page Trial Pit Report to the CNPA by a company called ADAC structures about the foundations for the new structure.   The photograph below illustrates they appear to have done a good job.

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Note the use of the matting to protect vegetation – photo from ADAC report. Thanks to George Paton who obtained this report through FOI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contrast this though with the photos that appeared on 9th September on Cairngorm Mountain website when the main work had started – no ground protection at all!westwallpomaextension-copy

The photo on the left shows that the preventive measures taken by ADAC have simply been abandoned

 

The Highland Council, CNPA and HIE must have seen this, its on the Cairngorm website, so why no action?  For the avoidance of doubt this is totally contrary to the Method Statement approved by Highlands council which again specified the use of terram matting  (15_01000_ful-method_statement-791596-west-wall-tow).    There was a CNPA planning committee meeting on Friday with an agenda item “update at Cairngorm” by Gavin Miles Head of Planning.   I do hope he made the Committee aware of all of this and they agreed an action plan.

 

Meantime, the consultation on the retrospective planning application for a hill track in Coire Cas is still open and I was interested to see that two responses in support of the track have been submitted by people purporting to be members of the public (see here and here).   Iain Cornfoot, works at Cairngorm and is second in command of outside operations in winter – he is therefore part of the Natural Retreats management team.  His brother, Jim Cornfoot, is the land manager at Cairngorm Mountain, the person with first line management responsibility for all the destruction and failures to do works in accordance with planning requirements and good practice.  While I can understand him coming to the defence of his brother he should not have portrayed himself as a member of the public.  Iain Cornfoot’s response argues that tracks are needed for efficiency – the implication, if true, is Natural Retreats intend to create new tracks by every ski tow in the area – and says “some of their wacky ideas for alternatives to this track have amused me greatly”.   Actually most of the arguments to planning have said that since Cairngorm Mountain has managed up to now without tracks it could do so in future.  I can only assume by “wacky ideas” Iain Cornfoot is referring to the suggestions that  the CNPA should require tree planting as compensation for all the destruction carried out under his brother’s upervision.  Iain seems totally unaware that the CNPA has a montane scrub strategy – he presumably thinks that is wacky too.

 

The other member of staff’s response is factually what one might term a pile of mince.  For example he claims:

 

Last summers weather was horrendous and condition extremely difficult to landscape in. I think
that the objectors should be mindful of this issue as many do not understand the difficulties of
landscaping in such conditions.
Thanks to some research from Alan Mackay the facts are:
  • Met Office north of Scotland climate  area data shows August having just under average rainfall (98% – but drier towards North and East of Scotland). By mid August fairly limited ground works along the line of the old tow track had been carried out.
  • Met Office north of Scotland climate  area data shows September and October as being unusually dry months. September having only 37% of the long term average rainfall and October 47%.
  • Moreover, Natural Retreats Method Statement, agreed with CNPA and HIE, did not allow work to take place in wet conditions
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No credibility should be given to any statements and claims by staff from Natural Retreats without independent verification.    I am afraid that the Management of Natural Retreats and their staff at Cairngorm are totally out of control and will claim anything to justify the destruction they are causing.
Meantime, the deafening silence from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has responsibility for the site and lease and is funding this destruction continues.  Its time our politicians and Board Members of the CNPA got a grip of the situation.

 

September 16, 2016 Nick Kempe 5 comments
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Balloch Impression of West Riverside Walk by 7N Architects from community planning report

On Wednesday, Scottish Enterprise announced that it had appointed Flamingo Land Ltd, which runs a holiday resort, theme park and zoo in North Yorkshire, as the “preferred developer” for the 20 hectare site it owns on the west bank of the River Leven in Balloch  (see here). The development, billed as the “Iconic Leisure Resort Loch Lomond” will apparently involve £30m being invested in “lodges, a boutique hotel, hostel and glamping pods together with a range of high quality family based attractions and restaurants that are fitting with the aims of the National Park.”

 

How this fits with the first three statutory aims of the National Park, conservation of the cultural and natural heritage, enjoyment of the special qualities of the area and sustainable use of natural resources I am not sure.     Scottish Enterprise certainly didn’t explain this in their news release.   My guess is the “Iconic Leisure Resort Loch Lomond” is supposed to fulfil the fourth and final statutory aim of the National Park, “sustainable economic development”.

 

Earlier this year the LLTNPA held a Scottish Government funded community planning event, known as a charrette in Balloch to draw a community plan for the area.  There is a fair amount of derelict/neglected ground around the settlement and the idea was to involve the community in developing a vision for the area.  This was never though about giving the community control as is shown by what happened in January when the Balloch and Haldane Community Council asked for a decision on a proposed housing development for the green space next to the LLTNPA HQ to be deferred until after a full tourist plan had been developed, ie after the charrette:

 

Balloch & Haldane Community Council would request that the Planning Committee defers the planning decision in respect of this site until the NP considers the wider issues in respect of tourist and visitor management and development in Balloch in line with the proposed Local Development Plan. In particular there a re some key issues to be considered such as overall car parking provision and the potential for further tourist development in Balloch.
 
What could be reasonable than that?
 
Response: The request by B&HCC is noted and whilst it is for the Committee Members
to consider this request, it is the opinion of the Planning Authority that it would be unreasonable to defer the determination of this application whilst awaiting the adoption of the proposed Local Development Plan (LDP)  (committee report)
 
The LLTNPA Planning Committee members approved their officers’ recommendation and ignored the views of  something like 50 members of the local community – a record for the LLTNPA?  – who attended the Planning Committee in January.  Not a good precedent, but maybe not all is lost.  LLTNPA Chief Executive Gordon Watson, in welcoming the Flamingo Land Development did say:
 
A key point that came out of the Charrette was the aspiration in the local community to see the West Riverside developed in a way that connects Lomond Shores to the village, to make the most of Balloch as a gateway to Loch Lomond.
The charrette report’s visual depiction of this is shown in the photo above and articulated as follows:

What should happen?

⚪ An enhanced riverside walkway connecting village centre, Balloch Pier and Loch Lomond Shores.

⚪ Integration of existing routes: River Leven towpath, John Muir Way, Three Lochs Way and via Loch Lomond Shores to Cameron House.

⚪ Develop guidelines for redeveloping pier area for Maid of the Loch operations and new water sports centre

⚪ Open up views of the river and loch, integrate facilities, improve pedestrian connections to village centre and Loch Lomond Shores.

⚪ Define guidelines for development to rear of riverside walkway: create opportunities for eating, drinking and outdoor activity to improve Balloch’s offer and choice, connect rather than divide village centre and Loch Lomond Shores, maximise access for visitors and residents.

⚪ Put in place measures to reduce erosion of river banks.

 

Whether Flamingo Land will be able to deliver this is another question and enough has been said so far to raise serious doubts:

 

“Being in the beautiful surroundings of the national park, the activities will be swimming and outdoor adrenaline pursuits rather than the rollercoasters and rides and attractions that we have become famous for at Flamingo Land,”     (Gordon Gibb, Chief Executive and largest shareholder Flamingo Land).

Sounds good until you consider whether Balloch is really a very good place for swimming or other “outdoor adrenaline pursuits”.  Now, I know open water swimming has become very popular in the National Park but Balloch is the single biggest centre for boating and swimmers in the water and boats do not go well together – its just too dangerous.  Perhaps Flamingo Land is going to build a swimming pool?    In terms of other adrenaline outdoor pursuits, Balloch is really only well placed for watersports.    Now sailing, kayaking or cruising on the loch are not particularly noted for inducing adrenaline rushes so it looks as though Flamingo Land is thinking of more speedboats and water skiing which have historically raised lots of issues in terms of their compatibility with the aims of the National Park.   Before Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA let this development go any further I think they need to clarify what activities Flamingo Land is actually proposing and consider whether these really are compatible with the aims of the National Park.

 
The other big issue is about the intensity of the development.  Now the local communities aspirations for a good walking connection between the village and Loch Lomond shores looks good to me and I am sure there is a place for some low key accommodation and places to eat.  They made no mention of any need for more accommodation though and this seems to be a key part of Flamingo Land and Scottish Enterprise’s plans for a “family-oriented attraction”.   Note, a single attraction, which could easily become a variation on a theme park and Scottish Enterprise explicitly state they appointed Flamingo Land because of its strong record in creating visitor attractions.   However, overdevelop this bit of land and its qualities could be completely destroyed and Scottish Enterprise’s talk about attracting even more visitors suggests that this could just become an extension of Loch Lomond Shores.  Is this really about what the National Park is about or what the local community wants?
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Photo of Balloch from charrette report, the West Riverside site is the wooded area that connects Loch Lomond Shores (right of centre) with the first bridge on the river Leven. If the Flamingo Land is too intensive, it could turn the whole of the west bank into a ribbon development like Lomond shores.

Can Flamingo Land deliver sustainable economic development?

I think its important to appreciate that appointing a fairly large leisure company to develop the west Riverside site was not the only option available to Scottish Enterprise, although it is no doubt the easiest.   What about community development?   The ideas coming out of the charrette, for places  to eat and drink and outdoor activities could all be delivered by small businesses or social enterprises run by local people.   This would not require lots of capital and would return income to the area – something I would call sustainable economic development.   The problem though is such businesses  could not fund the walkway/riverbank improvements under our current financial system and it looks as though intensive development under the control of an outside organisation is the price to be paid for connecting the village to Loch Lomond shores.     In my view, there should be other ways to fund this sort of local infrastructure development to address what the local community identified as problems in their first workshop:

 

“What Charrette participants outlined as their most disliked aspects of Balloch during the first workshop:
⚪ Condition of Balloch Castle
⚪ Inadequate Parking and congestion in Village Centre
⚪ No ‘Heart’ to the Village and poor sense of arrival
⚪ Commercialisation of the Loch
⚪ Poor connectivity to/ from the Loch and Lomond Shores
⚪ Lack of safe and accessible nighttime activities
⚪ Poor signage and lighting
⚪ Lack of Public Conveniences
⚪ Unsightly Marina/ Boat Yard and river management

 

I fear that Scottish Enterprise in appointing Flamingo Land is just promoting more of the same type of “economic solutions”, temporary jobs during construction and then low paid jobs in the tourism industry to to follow.    You can see some of this from Flamingo Land’s last financial statements that cover the period until March 2015:

  • Flamingo Land is a family owned business, with three Directors from the Gibb family and is wholely owned by Flamingo Land Resort Ltd, which is in turn owned by two of the Gibb family directors.
  • The Gibb family do very well from their business, with the Directors receiving £1,003,716 in emoluments with £582,301 of this going to Gordon Gibb, the main shareholder and Chief Executive.   They also received a further £235k in dividends paid to Flamingo Land Resort Ltd.
  • Staff appears to do less well.    313 was the average number of people employed during the year (length of working week and contractual position unclear)  and they received a total of £6,352,483 in wages net of employer’s National Insurance.    The means they received an average wage of £20,295, ie well below the national average of £26,500.  By the time you account for the much higher wages managers receive, it looks like majority of the workforce are paid at or just above the statutory National Living Wage (which comes to £15k for a 40 hour week).
  • The total of £123,385 spent on other pension costs (apart from National Insurance) –  just a quarter of the salary received by Mr Gibb – shows that the bulk of the workforce will receive no pension (this of course will change with the stakeholder pension scheme).
  • Flamingo Land contributed £25k to the Conservative Party in both 2014-5 and the year proceeding it.

 

I think this evidence shows that Flamingo Land is unlikely to bring any great economic benefit to the people of Balloch and a very good reason why Scottish Enterprise should have explored community controlled alternatives.

 

Now, I am not saying Flamingo Land is a bad company.   Compared to Natural Retreats which was appointed by HIE, Scottish Enterprise’s equivalent in the north, to run Cairngorm its very well run.   There is over £15m in shareholder funds, which will help finance developments in Balloch, compared to Natural Retreats parent company whose net worth is (minus) (£22,545,689).  It also regularly invests in infrastructure and pays corporation tax.   It does though appear though to be operated on neo-liberal principles which are basically about benefitting the few before the many.    Will it really deliver the fairer society that the Scottish Government says it wants to see?

 

Recently Flamingo Land also bought the 12 Acre Woodbank site on the west side of Balloch by the A82.  That too has been earmarked for visitor development. You have to wonder too what Flamingo Land is really planning for Balloch which they describe as a “rare opportunity”.   For what is the question?  Flamingo Land are now in a very strong position to hold the LLTNPA to ransom in terms of what types of development are delivered.    A key question therefore is whether the LLTNPA will be strong enough to withstand the pressure they will be subjected to despite all the talk of “partnership”.   I hope too the local community will start campaigning to ensure that the development delivers aspirations for better paid jobs and pensions as well as the vision they developed in the charrette.

 

 

September 15, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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Camping on the shore of Loch Chon. The LLTNPA wants to prevents people from camping by the Lochshores and force people to camp on fixed pitches away from the loch.

On Wednesday, a day after posting an email from Strathard Community Council saying its members had voted not to object to the planning application, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority published a  Report recommending approval of the application by its Planning Committee.  This will meet on Monday 26th September (conveniently on a holiday Monday when many West of Scotland campers will be out camping!).

 

While it will be interesting to see what undertaking the LLTNPA have given to Strathard Community Council – and indeed what if anything has been put in writing –  the representations from the Community Council and public campaigning have resulted in some changes to the scheme.   The most positive changes are the Park has dropped its daft idea of camping platforms on the hillside – one wonders if any of the staff behind this proposal had ever slept in a tent! – and the shipping containers which were going to be covered with some very expensive photographs are now going to be clad with larch panels.

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The proposed printed images on the metal shipping containers have been dropped

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most people I suspect will think wood cladded containers will be an improvement on the di-bond panels but just why does the LLTNPA need to join the international market for used shipping containers rather than paying a local business to construct the toilet blocks out of locally sourced materials?

 

The LLTNPA has also reduced the size of the campsite from 33 to 26 pitches – well above the peak number of tents ever recorded for camping on ALL the places where people camp around Loch Chon.    Now while I objected to the size of the campsite at Loch Chon,  the reduction in places without the creation of new places elsewhere (and there needs to be a network of SMALL campsites through the Trossachs, camping byelaws or not) will simply reduce the total amount of camping that can take place in Strathard.    Indeed, what I don’t think people have appreciated yet is that because there are NO campervan places on the development  overnight stays in campervans on Strathard will become completely unlawful.  (The only other place in Strathard where it appears overnight stays will be allowed is on the south shore of Loch Ard in a location inaccessible to vehicles).

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Campervans at Loch Chon – because the camping byelaws cover the whole of the B829 through Strathard, from Milton to just above Inversnaid, staying overnight in campervans will become unlawful

So,the LLTNPA in effect wants to ban campervans from one entire section of the National Park.     Does the LLTNPA Board understand nothing about current trends in tourism or how people are enjoying the countryside?  Luckily, unless the Park spends even more on ranger patrols than it does at present (the rangers currently  only patrol Strathard at weekends and stop work at 10pm) this, like the rest of the byelaws, is likely to be unenforceable.

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The north shore of Loch Arklet. The proposed camping byelaws, which prevent any overnight stays, extend along the B829 and in theory will make it impossible for people to stop here overnight in their campervans. The Park would say campers can walk round to the south shore of the Loch or up the hill – not much use if you are cycle touring or fishing
While the Committee Report clearly states that “Demand is not a relevant planning consideration” the question of how best to facilitate camping and overnight stays by campervans is a relevant consideration to the LLTNPA as a whole, if not to the Planning Committee.  As the Park’s patrol records show there is no demand for a campsite of this size at Loch Chon (more analysis to come on this soon).  The LLTNPA is therefore wasting scarce public resources (the budget allocation for the Loch Chon con was £345k for this year alone and £100k last year).  This money would be much better used to create 26 pitch campsites in places where there is high demand such as Loch Venachar – but you need to remember the convener of the LLTNPA, Linda McKay, lives there and all campsite plans there have been scrapped.   Alternatively, it could be used to create further new small campsites/overnight stop offs in areas of like the north shore of Loch Arklet where there is low demand but great potential to increase uptake of the current path network.
 
The Loch Chon planning application is only being pushed through so the LLTNPA can say to Ministers it has created a certain number of new camping places before the scheduled start date of the new byelaws.   I am not sure if Board Members really care whether its used or not and I suspect Strathard Community Council Members when voting about the proposal came to the same conclusion.   Most of the camping places will probably never be used.   Indeed the Report even says this – contradicting Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive’s claims at the public meeting on the campsite that only a large campsite would be financially viable  “It should also be noted that camping will be seasonal and is likely to operate at capacity at peak summer periods only.”
 

The flawed logic in the Planning Committee report

While the Report dismisses most of the objections to the planning application which the LLTNPA has made to itself on the grounds that they are not relevant planning considerations,  three major flaws in the Report are worth highlighting:
1) The Report claims: “New seasonal camping management byelaws (which come into force in March 2017 and will apply 1 March–30 September each year) to regulate camping, tackle antisocial 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 encampments by caravans and campervans”.     It appears no-one in the planning department talks to their colleagues because the provisions in the first draft of the byelaws to make it an offence to damage to the Park’s natural environment were removed on the advice of SNH and Police Scotland.    This is because damage to the natural environment is already covered by the criminal law.   So, the Park’s planners do not even understand the scope of the byelaws.  Moreover they repeat the claim that the byelaws will prevent encampments while ignoring the fact that there are already powers for the police to remove encampments under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.   What this shows is the LLTNPA is still scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to trying to justify the proposed byelaws.
 
2) The Report provides further evidence of the Park’s double standards when it comes to chopping down trees.  One of the major ways it whipped up public outrage about campers was by publishing photos of chopped trees.
 
“The layout of proposed paths and camping pitches has been determined with sensitivity and consequently tree loss is at low level within the context of the site;
 40 individual trees and 3 tree groups require pruning or removal;
 Semi-mature birch trees requiring removal are low or moderate quality trees of
less than 20 years of age and the design proposals provide compensatory
planting to offset the loss of trees;
 Of the trees surveyed, 20 are regarded as important and require special
consideration during construction.”
 
Now I don’t condone the chopping of live trees for firewood by visitors – its stupid because green wood doesn’t burn well if at all – but the fact is in creating this campsite the LLTNPA are likely to chop down far more trees than have been chopped by irresponsible campers in Strathard in the last 40 years.   It really does help put the damage caused by campers in perspective – is it really justifiable to remove access rights of the many for this?   Morever, since the campsite won’t be managed, there is nothing to stop irresponsible campers chopping the occasional tree after the campsite is created.
 
3) The Report fails to establish that a campsite of this size is consistent with the LLTNPA development plan.  Both the existing and proposed plans classify Strathard as an area where only small scale tourist development is appropriate:
 
“The development site is within the “Aberfoyle, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and them Trossachs” Sub -Destination Area. Schedule 5 contains a list of tourism opportunities /constraints for each sub-destination. The relevant part of the schedule in this case specifically refers to “support for visitor infrastructure and small -scale self catering, bunkhouse, camping opportunities within Queen Elizabeth Forest Park area around Aberfoyle and the Trossachs.”
 
Now, the crucial part of this is what is meant by the word “small” and whether a 26 place campsite is small or not?    The Report asserts that because the campsite is low density is should be classed as small even though it covers 7 hectares!    While the Development Plan avoided defining precisely what small-scale means, it is relevant that the Five Lochs Management Plan (which now appears to have been axed) which promoted small campsite included plans for an 8 pitch campsite at Loch Lubnaig (now delivered), 8 pitches and 2 motorhome places at North Loch Venachar, 9 pitches at Glen Oglehead etc.   None of these campsites were over 10 pitches and I think its pretty clear what the LLTNPA has meant up till now when it has talked about delivering small campsites as part of the Your Park plan.    So, what has happened is that the Park has had to re-interpret the meaning of words, and therefore of whole policies, in order to get this planning applicationl through.    This just brings the planning system into further disrepute.  I feel every sympathy for the planning staff who must have been leaned on from on high to find the words to justify this development and have little faith that the Planning Committee will take a stand (there are unfortunately all too many examples of it ignoring or failing to enforce its own policies).
 
What is needed on Strathard is not one big campsite at Loch Chon that concentrates campers and results in a campervan ban but a network of small “sites” (toilet, tap and litter bin without pitches so people can choose where to put up their tents) and stopping off places.    Most people would use these but those who want to camp “wild” should be able to do so – they are doing far less harm than this National Park.

 

September 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Herald readers will be aware that there has been an ongoing correspondence in that paper about the performance of the Scottish Government and there was an interesting letter yesterday which claimed there was NO evidence of poor governance under the SNP.   I was tempted to write and offer what has been going on at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park as a clear example to the contrary: manipulation of the Your Park consultation responses to make it look more people/organisations supported the byelaws than was the case; mispresentation of Police Scotland statistics on anti-social behaviour (see here);  the secret report into the share trading by former Board Member Owen McKee (see here); falsification of Board Minutes and failure to explain who was responsible for this letter-linda-mckay-151215; failure to follow their own complaints procedure; decisions being taken by secret Board Briefing sessions;  the list could go on (see below).
 
By coincidence  the LLTNPA Audit Committee, which is responsible for the governance of the Park Authority, met today – so what does it tell us about how the LLTNPA is responding to this catalogue of failings?
 
First, a positive – in the minute of the meeting under Final Accounts the following appears:  “Standards Commission complaint statement regarding Owen McKee’s resignation added as a footnote to page 1”.  Parkswatchscotland had pointed out that it was quite extraordinary that the draft accounts of the LLTNPA, which include a section on governance, contained nothing on the Owen McKee case, the Board Member and convener of Planning who had traded in Scotgold shares after granting planning permission to the Cononish goldmine.  Mind you, a footnote hardly gives this the prominence this deserves and as I have highlighted in previous posts there are still a number of questions that have not been answered.   The Audit Committee has NEVER considered these or anything else from the Owen McKee case.
 
The first main paper is an audit plan for the next three years.  For this year it includes Attendance Management, ICT General Review, Business Continuity /Resilience, Employee Licences / Vehicle Checks, Health and Safety,  Control Risk Self-Assessment of General Financial areas.   All very worthy stuff I am sure but they  don’t touch on any of the main governance affecting this National Park.  I set out a list of serious issues I had identified for Audit Scotland in a letter last December letter-to-kevin-boyle151221 after failing to get any response to my letter to the then Ministers responsible for the National Park letter-to-ministers-110121-governance-lltnp-and-proposed-bye-laws.  Audit Scotland told me it was not their role to investigate these complaints (nor would it seem is it anyone else’s as the Scottish Public Ombudsman will not look at general failures in governance) but they would consider them for future audits.   There is no sign of any of the issues I highlighted in the three year audit plan:   secret operation of the Board, lack of information about who has authority to take decisions (the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan now appears to have been abandoned), failure of the Park to follow its complaints procedures, collection and analysis of data and project management.     The only things I can see that might be of interest to the public are two audits scheduled for next year, one on Freedom of Information (its a year too late given the LLTNPA have just removed so much public information from their website) and another on Fixed Penalty Notices – that’s the fines the Park have introduced for littering.
 
The final item was the annual report of the Audit Committee to the Board – this one covering March 2015-June 2016 ie 15 months. This presents a rosy picture of the operations of the LLTNPA:
 
The Authority’s accounts for 2014/15 and 2015/16 received a clear, unqualified external auditor’s report and opinion from Audit Scotland, our external auditors.
It is reassuring to see that only   a small number of low priority recommendations have been raised by the internal auditors over the course of the period
 
There is a simple explanation for these conclusions.  The Audit Committee, internal auditors and external auditors have simply failed to look at any of the issues that mattered.  I call that a fundamental failure in governance.
 
Its interesting to note that the Annual Report shows there was a Board level “workshop” in June 2016 looking at risk management.  This almost certainly considered the chances of the camping byelaws failing as this was identified on the Park risk register as the biggest single risk the Park faces over the next year.  Looking at the number of campervans stopping along the main roads through the National Park this summer I would say the camping byelaws are unenforceable and will collapse whether or not there is a mass campaign of civil disobedience.
 
The other big risk to the Park is its failure to deliver enough camping places and I suspect this explains why the Board meeting scheduled for September has now been postponed until October.    The Park clearly does not want the public to know about how its plans to develop new campsites and introduce a camping permit system are going.    There are now only four meetings of the Board each year and a Park Authority that keeps shifting the dates of those meetings,   when we know that secret Board Briefing sessions take place on a monthly basis, is again breaching basic principles of good governance.
September 12, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have previously touched on elements of the Cairngorms National Park Authority draft Partnership Plan (e.g see here and here) and wanted to take a look at the Plan as a whole as it is supposed to provide the framework for what the National Park will do over the next five years.  It’s therefore the key document for anyone interested in what the National Park intends to do in future (which is not to claim documents are everything).

 

The CNPA consultation, which closes 30th September) focuses on what they have identified as major issues, or the Big 9 as they have branded it.  Before reading the Plan, or the nine evidence reports that accompany it, I would suggest you jot down your own list of issues and compare these to the those the Park has identified.     What doing this highlighted for me was there are major omissions from the draft Park Plan.

 

My Big 9 The CNPA Big 9
The landscape of the Cairngorms Landscape scale conservation
Wild land and natural processes Deer and moorland management
Land ownership and use Flood management
Recreational infrastructure Visitor Infrastructure
Resources to make things happen Active Cairngorms
The CNPA’s powers and use of them Learning and inclusion
Better paid jobs and sustainable land-use

 

Housing
Accessibility of the National Park Community Capacity and empowerment
What improvements the CNPA will deliver in the next 5 years Economic Development

 

Landscape

 

While the Plan makes a reference to the special landscape qualities of the National Park, this paragraph is about the sum total it has to say about landscape:

plan-landscape-quote

Don’t be fooled by the heading in the Park’s Big 9 “landscape scale conservation” as this is about conservation, not landscape.   There is nothing in the Plan about landscape threats to the Park or what the CNPA has been doing about this, except a brief mention that it will maintain its opposition to all wind-farms in the National Park.   Welcome, but is that it?   Its almost as though, having taken a stand against wind-farms, the CNPA feels its stuck its neck out far enough.  There is no reference to the extent of the new hill tracks that scar many of the hills in the National Park, no mention of the impact of the Beauly/Denny power line in the Drumochter, no mention of the destruction at Cairngorm, no consideration of whether attempts to mitigate hydro schemes to date have been successful nor how best to mitigate the dualling of the A9.   Nothing.

The absence of any plans to protect the landscape unfortunately implies the CNPA will allow the attrition of the Cairngorms landscape to continue.   Is this what National Parks are for?

 

Wild land and Natural processes

 

Closely related to landscape issues, is how we protect wild land and allow natural processes to flourish.   While the Plan includes the SNH wild land map there is no analysis of how wild land has been impacted on over the last 5 years.  The sad fact is that the CNPA has allowed the area of remote land to reduce, mainly through a failure to control the creation of hill tracks.  This is what the Plan has to say about hill tracks:

plan-hill-tracks

This view, that hill tracks are required to facilitate access to remoter areas for land management purposes, needs to be challenged.  Deer used to be culled and shot without tracks and tracks have made it much easier for estates to kill wildlife they perceive as vermin.   Tracks are not necessary, they are a political and economic choice but the consultation offers us NO choice.

 

Moreover, while the Park considers conservation from a management perspective I could find not a single mention of restoring natural processes outside the paper on flood management.  Indeed, the current re-wilding debate seems to have passed the Park by.   The de-designation of the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve has allowed the CNPA simply to abandon any commitment that in the core of the National Park nature should come first.  Instead, the Plan asks us to consider how to ameliorate the worst excesses of landed estates in the way they manage the land for grouse and red deer.

 

The management approach though is clearly failing.  The CNPA’s own figures show that 1/3 of the European protected sites are in unfavourable condition, almost entirely down to the way the land is being used or rather abused.  The Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation were supposed to be the jewels of the crown in the National Park, until Brexit at least, and it should be to the CNPA’s shame that they are still in such poor condition.  The Plan will only be able to offer more of the same, and continued failures, until its starts to look at alternatives that put wildness at the core of nature conservation in the National Park.

 

Landownership and use.

 

The draft Plan contains no critical analysis of the impact of current systems of landownership in the Park and proposes no ideas for change.  While one of the Big 9 issues is Community Empowerment, there is no analysis of the potential for community ownership or control of land in the National Park and nothing about how the CNPA might assist communities to take over and run estates.   There is no analysis either of how the different types of landowner (public agency, voluntary sector, progressive private landowners such as Glen Feshie, traditional estates) impact on the ability of the CNPA to meet its statutory objectives.    Without such an analysis, its simply not possible to devise a Plan which will deliver those statutory objectives.

 

Powers of the National Park  

 

The Plan contains no analysis of how the CNPA has used its powers to date and how it might do so in future.  The implication of the many failures of the CNPA to enforce planning decisions effectively is that landowners can do what they want.  There is hardly a reference to Development Planning in the entire document, a major omission when the CNPA does not have full planning powers and needs to work in partnership with local Councils on planning matters.   There is also no consideration of how the CNPA might uses to powers better to meet its statutory objectives, whether bringing in byelaws to control hunting or ensuring that there is cross compliance between the grants the Park and its partners award and statutory objectives.   I suspect for example that all the estates where illegally killed raptors have been found are in receipt of public monies of one type or another.   The CNPA should be able to co-ordinate withdrawal of all public subsidies where landowners are failing to respect the objectives of the National Park.

 

Resources

 

There is no analysis or even estimate of the resources needed to deliver the Park’s statutory objectives or the Park Plan.  Instead, there are references through the Plan to various pots of money that could be drawn on to meet the specific initiatives that are described in the Plan.    There is no analysis of whether this is sufficient or what is really needed.  The Park Plan seems to just accept the current Government narratives about austerity and that the National Park and other agencies should still devote considerable effort to scrabbling about try to find funds from wherever.  This is very important because without proper resourcing, its not possible for the National Park for firm up any clear strategic direction, and the Plan is limited to aspirational directions of travel.

 

What improvement the CNPA will deliver in the next five years

 

The draft Plan refers to some existing targets, contained in other plans, but contains no new ones that I could see.   Where aspirations are expressed, such as that in five years time  sites protected under European legislation will be in better condition than others in Scotland, there are no firm commitments.  On my reading,  I am none the wiser of what changes the CNPA is hoping to deliver.

 

A comparison with the existing Park Plan

 

Having drafted this, I was concerned that I was being too critical, because there are some good things in the draft Plan (which I will cover in future posts).  I therefore did a comparison between the current 2012-17 Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/working-partnership/national-park-partnership-plan/  and the proposed new Plan and found significant changes in approach.   Here are three illustrations of this:

  • The current plan has five pages on the vision, the new Plan has reduced this to 15 words (which were in the last plan):   “An outstanding National Park, enjoyed and valued by everyone, where nature and people thrive together.”     Everything that is visionary, along with the inspirational photos, has been stripped out.   Maybe this is not intentional, maybe the Board and senior staff know the vision so well that they thought there was no need to repeat it again,  but for me the lack of visionary statements reinforces the impression that the CNPA has lost its vision.
  • The current  Plan contains a whole page on landscape qualities of the Park.  Its so good, I have appended it below.  The contrast with the void in the current plan is striking.
  • The current Plan clearly identifies which Partners would be involved in delivering what.   Now  it wasn’t perfect and I regret the omission of recreational organisations and many conservation NGOs from the list of partners BUT the proposed new Plan does not even contain a list of partners.   While some organisations may be signed up to some of the other subsidiary plans referred to in the document (its impossible to tell without wading through all those documents too) its not difficult to identify gaping holes:  Scottish Natural Heritage  for example, does not appear to be included in any of the mechanisms mentioned for moorland and deer management when it has statutory responsibility for Red Deer numbers.  If this really is a Partnership Plan should we not know SNH’s views about deer numbers in the National Park and what it intends to do about them?   You could ask similar questions with all the organisations listed as partners in the current Plan.

 

The muddled approach in the proposed new plan is summed up for me by this statement on the Role of the National Park Authority:

 

The purpose of a National Park Authority is to ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in a coordinated way [a quote from S9 of the National Parks Act] This means leading the vision for the National Park and the partnerships necessary for delivery.

 

So where is the vision?   Who are the partners and what will they do?

 

Addendum – The Cairngorms landscape

 

plan-landscape-qualities

September 10, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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Fire Edinchip Estate 5th September 2016

I passed this fire last Sunday at the start of a walk round the Glen Kendrum horseshoe, near Lochearnhead.  It was still burning when we came back 6 hours later.

 

By chance, Ross MacBeath had just passed on to me an FOI response he had made to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which contains this statement on the rationale for the camping byelaws:

 

The basis of the byelaws is evidence of a problem that the Park Authority has been unable to fully resolve. The Park Authority has no evidence of landowners camping on their own land, lighting fires and causing a detrimental impact on the environment or other people’s enjoyment.

 

Forget for a moment the dozens of examples of landowners in the National Park doing things that have a detrimental affect on the environment or people’s enjoyment of it (bulldozed tracks, deer fences, inappropriate developments on wild land, blanket conifer plantations, destruction of biodiversity etc) and just consider fires.

 

The fire in the photo – and we saw an estate vehicle drive off leaving the fire unattended – is likely to have had a far worse impact on the environment than several dozen small camp fires.   The biggest impact will have come from burning general rubbish which could have released toxic fumes into the environment –  which doesn’t happen when campers or day visitors burn untreated dead wood.  The fire is also on the grass verge and because of its size it will have left far bigger burnt patch than those the LLTNPA presented as justifying byelaws.   So, will the LLTNPA use this evidence to refer the Edinchip Estate to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency?   I am sure they won’t.  Within the LLTNPA there  is one set of rules for landowners and another for everyone else.

 

This is not just hypocrisy, its driven by deep seated ideological beliefs that perceive visitors as the cause of potential  problems while being blind to similar or much greater impacts caused by landowners.   There is no understanding that landowners have far greater powers to cause environmental damage than visitors (just look at the Glen Falloch Hydro Schemes).   The LLTNPA claim that they have no evidence of landowners causing damage to the environment.   Well, if you don’t look, you won’t find it:   direct your Rangers to patrol popular places for visitors and instruct them just to record data for those places, and the data you hold will mostly be about visitors.  How about the LLTPNA directing its Rangers to do an audit on all the farm rubbish in the Park?   It would then have a different type of evidence on litter that it has quite simply ignored.

 

img_5182-rubbish-and-l-venachar-house-on-right-small
This farm litter, opposite Park Convener Linda McKay’s House, at the east end of Loch Venachar which I originally photographed in 2015 was still there a year later. The Ranger Patrols pass it daily during the summer but it is never recorded so the Park has no evidence of this problem.

The camping byelaw proposals are not primarily about evidence at all, but about ideology.  At heart this is an argument about who, if anyone, should be allowed into your backyard (and note the perfect field for a campsite just to the right of the Venachar dam in the field by Linda McKay’s House).

 

For an extreme example of this, its well worth reading this article about the eviction of homeless campers from Anchorage in Alaska (thanks very much to Anne MacIntyre for sending this to parkswatch) http://www.adn.com/alaska-news/anchorage/2016/09/07/police-post-eviction-notice-for-residents-of-tent-camp-near-valley-of-the-moon-park/    Don’t just read the article, read the comments to understand where neo-liberalism takes people in relation to what happens in their backyard.   One is from a guy who, after joining the general condemnation of the campers for being homeless, argues against any public provision of toilets because if you provide a toilet, someone will eventually get hurt in the toilet, sue the Council, that will cost millions and result in higher taxes for local residents!   The perfect excuse for the failure of the LLTNPA to improve the infrastructure for visitors.

 

 

 

 

September 9, 2016 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

In fact, its three leaves, that’s right in just 3 pages (at the bottom of this post) the New Forest National Park lays out its entire litter management plan in terms even a layman can understand.  It’s cost effective and keeps the park clean. It does all this without access restricting bye-laws or management zones or the destructive negativity Loch Lomond &TNP exhibits towards its visitors. It is a positive approach which just gets the job done.

 

Small but perfectly formed

 

At only 220 square miles the New Forest National Park is less than one third of the area of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs’ 720 square miles. However, its network of roads and 150 forest car parks handle 13,555,400 visitor days per year which dwarfs the Loch Lomond &TNP in all respects [circa 7m visitor days]. Despite these huge numbers they provide unprecedented access through their network of car parks each one with that most essential of items, a litter bin, ensuring the best chance of keeping the Park spotlessly clean as part of an effective litter management policy and a shared £250k annual bill for collecting/picking up litter in the countryside.

 

Surprisingly they have only 5 full time rangers supported by another 5 from The Forestry Commission and 70 volunteer rangers so it’s easy to see it’s not brute force of patrolling that makes a difference. So what’s their secret?  In truth, it’s all down to having implemented a proper litter management strategy.

 

Smaller still, but out of touch

 

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P & K litter bin Loch Earn – Photo Credit Nick Kempe

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park with much of its area inaccessible to the litter dropping public has identified only 3.7% of the park as problem zones or 27 square miles. The cost of collecting/picking up litter in this area would equate to £ 31 K on a pro-rata basis with the New Forest.  Given that household litter collection is already a feature in many areas it should be possible to do this for a similar amount  to be shared between local Councils, Forestry Commission Scotland and Transport Scotland. Indeed Perth and Kinross Council already do this.  However, 10 years on, the Loch Lomond &TNP has spectacularly failed to deliver any effective infrastructure for visitors or rural sites in most of the National Park.

 

Meetings about meetings as the Park Authorities failure to act continues

 

Loch Lomond &TNP admitted this in their first conclusion reached at a meeting in June 13th 2016 to discuss litter management

rossIt’s obvious to all that a litter bin to contain this bag would have prevented this situation.

Innovative Approach or just good Management?

 

The New Forest are to be congratulated on their approach which involves the public in a very constructive manner. The park authority takes their own responsibilities seriously by coordinating public awareness of where to report litter problems and the Councils and Forestry Commission are fully on board understanding what is expected of them. The innovative use of technology to allow easy reporting to be carried out using an app directly involves the public encouraging them to take ownership of the problem.

A stark and damning contrast

In stark contrast to the New Forest, LLTNPA employs lots of rangers with 30 full time rangers (some water-based), 30 seasonal rangers supported by a further 150 volunteer rangers.  In addition, there are 3 forestry Rangers assigned to duties on the East Loch Lomond shore and where their schedules permit, access is available to 3 more park wide.   Historically the role of “Ranger” has been educational rather than about policing and Rangers have been viewed with respect through their love and knowledge of the countryside and our National Parks. The Park Authority is undermining that position by turning them into parking wardens and a quasi police force and not providing the infrastructure that would make their jobs possible.

 

Polar opposites

 

It can be seen  the two management strategies is polarised and comparing them it is clear which one comes out on top; do away with the regulation, enforcement, bylaws and other unnecessary distractions and get on with the job of managing the National Park is the clear message.

 

Loch Lomond &TNP’s failure to implement a litter strategy makes them complicit in littering through their failure to act.  Instead they capitalise by taking images of the very mess they are responsible for creating to justify the byelaws no one wants. They continue to waste taxpayer’s money on ineffective campaigns, enforcement and ranger patrols when it is clear that without the infrastructure in place they will fail. The requirement for litter bins and a man with a van to empty them is not so difficult a concept to grasp, so why year after year are we presented with another set of excuses and round of blame shifting to another group of visitors?   Meanwhile the litter management strategy is still in draft.

 

No Consensus on any Litter Management Strategy but full agreement on fines.

 

Their meeting agenda to try and convince the public that they are on top of litter management is a distraction to convince those who monitor that some progress has been made. It refers to initiatives from 2014 and ends with a second conclusion which says it all, another tranche of fixed penalties and enforcement to penalise a beleaguered public is the only way forward:

 

7.2. The Park Authority has made progress on the public information and awareness aspects with the litter emphasis of the RESPECT Your Park campaign and also the enforcement aspect with the use of Fixed Penalty Notice Powers being introduced this summer.

Appendix 1 – Fixed Penalty Notice Policy

Appendix 2 – Fixed Penalty Notice Scheme of Delegation

 

The truth is the introduction of Fixed Penalty Notices is creating confusion among visitors who want to put rubbish in its place but are confounded by the fact in large areas of the Park there is simply no place to put it.

 

New Forest Litter Strategy

(see http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/info/20096/unspoilt_landscape/44/litter )

new-forest

The New Forest’s unspoilt natural beauty is one of the things that people value most about the area. In general, the air and streams are clean and away from the roadsides and car parks there is very little litter.

Sadly, a minority of people deliberately throw food packaging from their cars, allow pieces of plastic to blow from open-backed vehicles, leave litter in parking areas and even deliberately dump quantities of waste materials if they think they can get away with it.

We work with partner organisations, especially the Forestry Commission and New Forest District Council, to raise awareness of the problems caused by litter and to tackle them.

If you see excessive litter in the New Forest, please report it. This can now be done using the New Forest In Touch mobile app which can be downloaded for free.

 

Reporting litter and fly-tipping

 

The sooner litter and fly-tipped material is cleared up the better. Some roads are checked and cleaned on a regular schedule, but most are done when needed, so your help in telling us when there is a problem is appreciated.

The New Forest National Park spans a wide area in which different organisations have responsibility for collecting and disposing of waste, removing litter and following up reports of fly-tipping on public land. Public land includes roads, pavements, council-owned car parks, parks and recreation areas, laybys etc.

New Forest District Council is responsible throughout much of the National Park although, as land owner, the Forestry Commission has responsibility for the Crown Land. In Wiltshire (between Landford and Redlynch) responsibility falls to Wiltshire Council, and around Canada and West Wellow, Test Valley Borough Council is responsible.

Further information is available on the websites of these organisations and some have online reporting forms.

Please be ready to give as much information as you can, such as:

  • your own name and address, contact telephone number or e-mail address;
  • the location and description of litter or fly-tipping;
  • any information on perpetrators.

Contact details:

New Forest District Council
023 8028 5000
Report litter and fly-tipping using the New Forest in Touch mobile app which can be downloaded for free.
customer.services@nfdc.gov.uk
www.newforest.gov.uk

Wiltshire Council
0300 456 0100
www.wiltshire.gov.uk

Test Valley Borough Council
01264 368000
environmentalservice@testvalley.gov.uk
www.testvalley.gov.uk

Forestry Commission
General enquiries (office hours): 0300 067 4601
enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk
Urgent enquiries (24/7): 0300 067 4600
www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest

 

What is being done

Although we are not directly responsible for litter in the National Park, we do work with local organisations to try to reduce the amount of litter dropped and to increase the effectiveness of litter collection.

This work is coordinated through the Joint Litter Working Group which is attended by staff from the National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and New Forest District Council.

As the Principle Litter Authority for most of the National Park, New Forest District Council has a team of people who are tasked with regular waste collections and a range of other litter-related activities. However, much is also done by land owners, especially the Forestry Commission which is responsible for the Crown Lands, and illegal activities are followed up by the Police and Environment Agency.

The estimated cost of litter removal in the New Forest is over £250,000 per year.

Recent joint initiatives include:

  • Each year, staff visit schools across the New Forest to talk at assemblies and to individual classes about why it is so important not to drop litter. These are specially themed sessions that appeal to the age of the children and link to their curriculums.
  • Rangers and education staff often talk with people who might not normally think about litter through public events and at local fetes. Some of these are ideal for the topic – for example an annual Marine Wonders event at Lepe Country Park is a great place to talk about the effects of litter on the sea.
  • Each year, litter picks are organised in a variety of places, ranging from beaches to Open Forest. Usually these are instigated by local community groups but equipment such as litter pickers and tabards can be supplied on loan. Guidance on organising a litter pick is available from the District Council, which is able to call by to pick up bags at the end of the event. Following the success of the Clean for the Queen event in March 2016 we intend to promote an annual ‘spring clean’ – please let us know if your group or organisation would like to get involved.
  • Litter bins are provided at key locations throughout the Forest. Specially designed litter bins have been installed in villages where ponies graze. Not only are the bins pony-proof, but they have a routed ‘message’ saying how important it is not to leave litter where the animals might try to eat it. The Forestry Commission’s car park litter bins are also pony-proof and carry the same message; some locations have double-sized bins to cope with the demand.
  • Each year, posters are put up at key locations across the New Forest including car parks and windows of local businesses. To catch the eye of regular visitors, posters are changed at regular intervals, and rotated with posters about other important topics.
  • Increasingly, social media is used to encourage people not to drop litter. Through Facebook and Twitter we can reach a very wide local and visiting audience.
  • Roadsides are regularly litter picked by NFDC contractors, either at a regular frequency or when excessive litter is reported. This currently includes a contract with the Forestry Commission to cover Crown Land roadsides.
  • Hampshire County Council and Highways England are both committed to liaising with NFDC to ensure that where possible litter picking is coordinated with verge maintenance activities.
  • Please visit our webpage signposting people to the best ways of reporting litter. No single organisation is responsible for litter across the whole of the National Park, and it really helps those who are responsible to be quickly informed when there is a problem.
  • New Forest organisations have joined Tidy Britain Group’s Love Where You Live campaign. This encourages people to take pride in their local area and inspire them to get out there and make it the kind of place they want to live and work. It is planned to be a 10-year national campaign with widespread advertising and we welcome this additional publicity.
  • There are some good examples of local businesses that actively encourage their customers to take litter seriously and, for example, staff from the McDonalds restaurant at Picket Post regularly litter pick nearby roadsides. We hope to work with other local businesses to encourage best practice wherever possible.
September 8, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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The “spruced up” unlawful Shieling hill track                                   Photo Credit Alan Mackay

Thanks to Alan Mackay for this photo, taken on Monday 4th September, which shows the new hill track by the shieling rope tow.  Its doesn’t look too bad does it unless you appreciate that the track has been spruced up to impress the planners – if you look carefully you can see the right line of the track is eroding, the third time this has happened since the track was put in.

 

I am delighted that a number of well reasoned objectives to the retrospective planning application have been submitted including from local people, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the North East Mountain Trust among others.   Rather confusingly they are not included under the comments section of the planning application but under “documents” (see here)  but are worth reading.    I particularly liked this one, which happens to be from furth of Scotland, because the respondent does not mince her words:

 

A company who flagrantly ignores original planning laws should not be able to apply in retrospect when the damage has already been done. They need to be stopped (not just fined, as a fine is peanuts to a large company and acts as no deterrent to them or any other company/organisation in the future). The only way to stop such environmental damage is to ignore their planning application as being too late, insist that the damage is put right (by very harsh fines or even enforced closure of the company at a time that will hit their purse and profits). Finally this way some of the companies who flout planning laws and the environment will start to listen. If you fail to act, then expect the destruction of the very countryside which draws in money and tourism to the area (kill the golden goose and you will kill the golden eggs it lays for your economy).

 

As I have said elsewhere, the failure of the CNPA to use its planning enforcement powers is bringing the whole planning system in the Park into disrepute.   The key long-term issue is that if the CNPA accept this planning application, rather than requiring the track to be removed, this sets a precedent for new tracks being created alongside every ski lift within the ski area.    The CNPA will have no grounds then to refuse any further planning applications that follow, whether retrospective or not.   I have asked Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the owners of the land, for all the information they hold about the need or plans to cover Cairngorm with more tracks.   If they don’t hold information on the need for hill tracks, this will help  demonstrate the current application is unjustifiable but if they do, this will indicate they have a secret agenda at Cairngorm.

 

The wider problem is there appears to be NO proper plan to manage the Cairngorm ski area from a recreational and environmental perspective.  This is illustrated by both the evidence on the ground and paperwork.

 

The latest evidence on the groundimg_7887-cas-gantry

Cas Gantry 5th September                                                             Photo Credit Alan Mackay

 

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Cas Gantry 5th September Photo Credit Alan Mackay
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Photo credit Alan Mackay

While Natural Retreats has been busy sprucing up the shieling ski track for the planners, they have done nothing about the bullodozed stones and soil at the Cas Gantry which sits just above the top of this slope and been there for months.   The reason why?  Highland Council stated that this did not need planning permission because it was part of emergency works last year to make the gantry safe.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority Planners appear to have accepted this BUT if so they have their head in the sand.   The CNPA is also responsible for the conservation of the area, whether particular earthworks are deemed to require planning permission or not.    And unless the CNPA can force Natural Retreats to abide by planning requirements its going to have NO ability to prevent any of the other destruction that is going on at Cairngorm.

The remains of the old gantry that Natural Retreats has simply cut off rather than removing properly – everywhere you look there is evidence to disprove Natural Retreats claims to be undertaking high quality re-instatement work. Photo Credit Alan Mackay 5th September

 

 

The paperwork

There are a number of mechanisms in place or being developed that in theory should have been able to prevent the destruction that is going on at Cairngorm.   The problem is that all so far are deficient.  This is a major problem for the National Park and a key reason why ownership of the land at Cairngorm needs to be transferred from Highlands and Islands Entrerprise to Forestry Commission Scotland.

 

Earlier this year the Cairngorms National Park Authority consulted on a plan for Cairngorm and Glenmore which said nothing meaningful about future plans for the Cairngorm ski area because Natural Retreats had not supplied them with the necessary information.   There is still as far as I know NO plan for Cairngorm.   This plan would be the right place to set out an overall vision for the ski area which included both upgrades to the ski infrastructure but also how the adverse landscape impacts from the past could be mitigated (from removal of all the abandoned rubbish to planting of montane scrub to screen some of the infrastructure and improve the recreational experience).

 

The other documentation which relates to the care of the natural environment at Cairngorm consists of the lease  between HIE and Natural Retreats and Natural Retreats’ Environment Management System.  The current lease includes the Visitor Management Plan which was developed to enable the funicular to go ahead but that is about the only environmental provision.   While all the land in the Cairngorm ski area is included in the definition of the “Premises”, almost all the clauses about the premises are about buildings and infrastructure and how this will be paid for.   There are no specific clauses about protecting or restoring ground vegetation or wildlife and while there are some very general clauses its hard to see how HIE might invoke them to stop the destruction at Cairngorm.   To put it another way, HIE’s contractual relationship with Natural Retreats has allowed this destruction to happen and HIE bear responsibility for this.   The fact they have done nothing to remedy this deficiency – their negligence – is  evidence that they are not fit to manage Cairngorm.

 

Natural Retreats’ Environmental Management system is one of the those bits of paperwork that  enables boxes to be ticked but avoids the main issue.  There is nothing in it about how the land at Cairngorm will be managed.   Nothing to indicate if their management of the ground and external environment was better or worse than what has gone before.  Instead, like the lease, it is buildings focussed ( a necessary but minor part of the issue at Cairngorm).

 

Their Environment Policy demonstrates this clearly:

 

To minimise environmental impacts concerning our activities, products and services, we shall:
 Comply with applicable legal requirements and other requirements to which the Company subscribes which relate to its environmental aspects
 Prevent pollution, reduce waste and minimise the consumption of resources
 Educate, train and motivate employees to carry out tasks in an environmentally responsible manner
 Apply the principles of continuous improvement in respect of air, water, noise and light pollution from ourpremises and reduce any impacts from our operations on the environment and local community
 Encourage environmental protection among suppliers and subcontractors
 As far as possible purchase products and services that do the least damage to the environment and encourage others to do the same
 Assess the environmental impact of any new processes or products we intend to introduce in advance.
About the only part of this they have breached in relation to all the destruction of the external environment is the requirement to educate employees to undertaken tasks in an environmentally responsible manner.

What needs to happen

 

I  believe the evidence and paperwork shows neither HIE nor Natural Retreats are fit to manage Cairngorm.   What needs to happen is the CNPA needs to use all the powers available to it to stop the destruction at Cairngorm and develop a proper plan but I doubt this can be effective until Scottish Ministers transfer the land from HIE to FCS and the lease with Natural Retreats is terminated.   Instead  I would like to see a community led business appointed to run the Cairngorm Ski Area.

September 7, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Raptor Persecution Scotland published yesterday a list of over 60 illegal raptor persecution incidents since the Cairngorms National Park was created  https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/the-illegal-killing-of-birds-of-prey-in-the-cairngorms-national-park/ and are promising a further piece on how the Cairngorms National Park Authority has so far failed to address the issue.  The list is likely to be the tip of iceberg but is well worth reading: I was particularly struck by the number of persecution incidents that have taken place in the vicinity of Grantown on Spey, where the CNPA headquarters is located.   It appears to me to be symbolic of the powerlessness of the CNPA to date.  If they cannot stop raptor persecution in their own backyard what hope for the remoter parts of the National Park where persecution is much less likely to be detected?

 

This history – and I look forward to Raptor Persecution Scotland’s further analysis of why this has been allowed to happen – should be reason enough for anyone who cares about raptors or our wildlife to respond to the CNPA’s consultation on their new Partnership Plan.  Indeed the CNPA has encouraged people to respond to their proposals on grouse moor management which I covered in a previous post http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/08/29/grouse-moor-management-cairngorms-national-park/.

 

Its worth also being aware that there is a short section in the Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/160608CNPPP3mainDoc1.pdf on “Protecting and enhancing species diversity”:

 

” The Cairngorms is home to a vast array of rare and endangered species, with at least 1,200 of regional, national or international significance. While our work on habitat enhancement should secure species diversity in the long-term, there are some species that need targeted action
in the short-term, for example the freshwater pearl mussel, capercaillie, and raptor species.
This means:

• connecting individual species management needs into the wider vision for habitat
enhancement and land management practices;
• joining up habitat management, recreation management and development management
to address pressures on species in a co-ordinated way, specifically implementing
the Capercaillie Framework;
• co-ordinating action to control further spread of invasive non-native species;
• taking a planned approach to potential species restoration.

 

I don’t understand what “connecting individual species management needs” in the first bullet point means.  I think it’s trying to say “the way individual landowners/estates manage species” needs to be connected “into the wider vision for habitat enhancement”.     Whether I have got this right or not,  I believe the emphasis on “management” is wrong.   Generally, what we need in our National Parks is much less management (apart from preventing further spread of non-native invasive species) and many more “wild”.  What this should mean is there should be a presumption in favour of protecting all our native wildlife (foxes, stoats, weasels, hares, crows) within the National Park instead of culling these species in order to maximise game species like pheasants or red grouse.  There could then be specific exceptions made to allow hunting (not vermin control) of certain species such as red and roe deer, red grouse and rabbits.   This should take place under licence which the CNPA could introduce through its byelaw making powers.    A condition of all licences would be they could be withdrawn where there was evidence of persecution of protected wildlife.  This proposal goes far beyond anything being proposed by the CNPA in the Partnership Plan but I am afraid without it wildlife such as raptors will continue to be persecuted while their potential food supply will be artificially reduced (e.g the culling of hares reduces the food available to golden eagles).

 

The draft Plan looks at Issues, Targets and Mechanisms to reach these.   Its positive the draft Plan identifies Raptor Persecution as an issue.   I have previously commented that the Target/Preferred Direction to “Improve raptor population conservation” is feeble and misses the point – raptors need to be protected and if they were numbers would increase significantly.    The only mechanism being proposed  for raptor protection/conservation is the “East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership”.   This only covers part of the National Park, the part of the Park where the absence of raptors is most noticeable.   It will never achieve the National Park’s Targets/preferred direction.

 

Instead or in addition, I would suggest that to protect raptors and other wildlife the CNPA should introduce the following mechanisms:

 

  • license all hunting within the National Park
  • license all hunting dogs within the National Park (e.g terriers are used to kill foxes) and estates should only be able to keep them if they agree to conditions for their use
  • ban all traps (through bye-laws)
  • satellite tagging of all the rarer raptor species to help identify areas where illegal persecution is taking place
  • publicise the whereabouts of raptors to improve their protection and give the public an opportunity to enjoy them rather than keeping their whereabouts secret which plays into the hands of the persecutors

 

I hope these proposals provoke debate and there may be other or better ideas/suggestions but the more people who respond to the Park Plan consultation demanding that the CNPA introduces effective measures to protect wildlife in the National Park the more chance there is of achieving change.

 

 

September 5, 2016 Nick Kempe 8 comments

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I visited the south Loch Lubnaig car park for the first time on Sunday, on the way back from a day on the hill, and was struck by the signage.  I think it proves the dangers of car park charging I made in my post two weeks ago.    Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority would have visitors believe that the charges are to help maintain the car park.  In fact I suspect a significant proportion of the charges collected is being used to pay for the people who come round to lock the gates of this car park each night and other car parks where the LLTNPA has not yet installed pay and display machines.  Some of the money will also contribute to the installation of gates at all the car parks controlled by the LLTNPA.    This is a National Park that is supposed to be promoting access but instead is paying people to prevent it.   This needs to be stopped.

 

When I asked Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive of the LLTNPA, the reasons why gates were installed across the car park outside the Park Convener, Linda McKay’s House on the Invertrossachs Road on South Loch Venachar, this was his response (Complaint 093 response dated 14th December 2014):

gates

IMG_5160 gates
Gate at first Invertrossachs Road car park – Loch Venachar House, the home of the Park convener, is behind the double height fence

This was nonsense and I followed it up as I had photos showing the then recent flooding at Loch Venachar where water levels were well below the carpark – indeed a local person informed me they had never known the loch to flood that high.  I also could not understand how a car park could assist with traffic management on what is generally a very quiet back road.   This is the Park’s Response –EIR 2015-014 Response.   What it proves is part of the response from Mr Watson to my complaint was simply made up.  EIR 2015-014 clearly states that the Park had “no written information about the basis of the decision to install gates at the car parks”, “does not hold information about flooding on the loch shore at the location on the car parks on south Loch Venachar” and had no information from the police or Stirling Council about any need for traffic management.  So the National Park held absolutely no evidence to substantiate Mr Watson’s claims as to why the gates were installed – not the first time this has happened.

 

The wider problem is that the letter shows that people like Mr Watson are being allowed to take decisions that fundamentally affect access rights (and its worth knowing Mr Watson lives in the National Park):

 

“The decision to install gates was an internal decision by officers [note the LLTNPA avoided my question as to who authorised the installation of the gates].  This decision follows the same approach as that taken at other visitor sites that have been improved by the Park Authority, including Loch Lubnaig North and South, Milarrochy Bay, North Loch Venachar and Firkin Point.”  

If this is true, a group of senior staff would appear to have taken a decision to install gates with a view to keeping people out across the National Park. (If its not true, the Park Board is responsible).  I would question how on earth this promotes the statutory duty of the National Park to promote public enjoyment of the countryside?   Why shouldn’t campervans pull in and spend the night at south Loch Venachar or Firkin Point or anywhere else?   Elsewhere in the Highlands people are generally welcomed but in the Loch Lomond and National Park everything is done to discourage visitors unless they pay for it at times the Park decides.   I think it significant that Linda McKay, the Park Convener, while apparently fully aware of the installation of gates as neighbours were notified (though the letter indirectly shows she did not comment) did not think to raise the wider access implications.   More evidence that NIMBYIST attitudes and assumptions in the LLTNPA  start at the top with the Chief Executive and the Convener.

September 5, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Loch Chon
Artist’s impression of improved camping at Loch Chon, in The Trossachs (LLTNPA Press Release)

“As part of the plans which will come into effect for the 2017 season, feasibility work is already well advanced at Loch Chon in The Trossachs on land managed by Forest Enterprise Scotland. It is proposed that the picturesque site at Loch Chon will accommodate 30 tent pitches alongside facilities including a fresh water supply, waste disposal and toilets. Similar sites will be created across the four management zones”.  (LLTNPA Press Release 26/01/16 welcoming the Ministers approval of the camping byelaws).

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs Press Release bears NO resemblance to the planning application the Park has made to itself  (see here) which shows fixed pitches, all set back from the loch

loch chon camping plan

 

Under the LLTNPA’s actual proposals the pretty scene in the first photo, which is on the beach well to the left of any of the pitches,  could not happen.   Its  propaganda based on a conviction that you can fool most of the people most of the time – what the Park is actually planning includes wooden camping platforms on the hillside.

CAMPSITE DESIGN
Illustrative campsite design submitted to Scottish Ministers as Appendix 4 to the bye-law proposals
What is more people camping near the beach as in the first photo would be in breach of the byelaws and committing a criminal offence.
Note also the claim that similar sites would be delivered across the four management zones.  The LLTNPA has still not announced any other site and now has only six months to deliver.   I doubt it will and there is no time now for any public consultation but then the LLTNPA develops all its important plans which affect people who live in, visit and care about the National Park behind closed doors.  If the Park fails to deliver the promised campsite that is yet another reason for the new Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham to reverse the decision to approve the byelaws.

 

There has been no further news about the Park’s planning application to itself  (see here) on Loch Chon but I suspect this is because the LLTNPA  is secretly trying to win over the local community, many of whom rightly objected to its proposals.  I hope they hold out.  Its worth reminding Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive, what he committed in writing to the local community  about the byelaws and the Park’s camping plans back  in April 2014 Loch Ard meeting notes (obtained through an FOI request ): 

 

Enjoy Mr Watson’s reference to Loch Drunky, but the points that stand out for me are:

  • The Community Council suggested campsites at Loch Katrine, Loch Arklet and various other locations in the area.  This would have fitted well with my suggestion that there should be a network of small campsites in Strathard linked by the current path network which is underused.  A great opportunity to promote weekend cycling and backpacking trips.   This has been ignored and instead the LLTNPA wants one big campsite at Loch Chon.
  • The Community Council wanted to allow camping at Loch Arklet, but because the byelaws have been extended there and the Park is refusing to consider a campsite,  camping will be banned there completely.
  • Most of the campers at Loch Chon are fishermen who obtain fishing permits from Forest Enterprise Scotland.

 

Now local people have been concerned about fishermen leaving a mess at Loch Chon and I believe this was partly why there was local support for the proposed camping byelaws.  However, byelaws were never needed or the right solution:  the Forestry Commission Scotland should have been managing these issues, its their land after all.  They could have simply removed fishing permits from people who did not abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code when camping or undertaking other activities (fishing itself is not covered by access rights).  Instead, FCS have simply abandoned all their visitor management responsibilities at Loch Chon and have been only too pleased to see the National Park step into the void and pay for a campsite on their land.  The FCS should have been creating campsites throughout the Trossachs and the western part of the National Park where its by far the largest landowner.

 

The FCS as well at the LLTNPA has betrayed local and recreational communities and I hope both will start demanding it either starts to play a constructive role in Strathard or is held to account by Scottish Ministers.    In my view the best way out of the mess that LLTNPA and FCS have created in Strathard would be for a tourism and recreation plan for Strathard which is developed openly and transparently with the local community and recreational organisations.

 

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

If you have been onto the LLTNPA website recently you will notice it has been totally revamped.  While its a lot faster than it was, the information available on it has been greatly reduced.   I did not appreciate to what extent until last night.   While working on my piece on the Glen Falloch hydro schemes, I went to check the papers for the planning committee in 2009 which approved the proposals and found they have all gone.

 

In fact the LLTNPA appears to used the website re-vamp as an opportunity to wipe history – something that normally only dictatorships attempt to do.  Here are a few examples:

 

1) All Board Meeting papers pre-2014 have been removed completely and replaced by this message:

If you’d like information on meetings which have taken place before 2014, please contact us: email: infomailbox@lochlomond-trossachs.org or tel: 01389 722 600.

2) All links with the Your Park consultation about the camping byelaws have been removed although the your park website still exists at http://www.thisisyourpark.org.uk/ – for how long one wonders? – and there is still an active “Your Park” facebook page.

3) There is now a page headed “Freedom of Information responses”, which is welcome, but there are just two responses which have been published one on black grouse and one on dark skies.  None of the Freedom of Information requests submitted by myself and others which uncovered the Park’s manipulation of police data in the Your Park consultation or the Owen McKee cover-up have been published.   The rationale for this is given on the webpage:

“Information related to very specific, individually focused issues may not be suitable for wider publication, as without understanding the context of the information, it wouldn’t necessarily be useful to anyone other than the original requester”

4) Search for the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan – which contained excellent plans for campsites which the Park has since abandoned – and you get “page not found”.

 

Take all this together and its quite clear that the LLTNPA is deliberately trying to avoid publishing information which would help hold it to account.   The replacement of information about Board Meetings pre-2014 by a facility to request these is a huge step away from transparency because without having a good idea of what might have been discussed or decided  its impossible for any member of the public or researcher to know what to ask for.  It also makes it much harder to question the Park because instead of being able to access the information immediately you are likely to have to wait 3 weeks to obtain it under FOI.    So, on Glen Falloch, while I know the hydro schemes were discussed by the Planning Committee in 2009, its very difficult to find out whether the significant changes that have been made to those schemes were agreed by the Board or not.  There are lots of other examples where knowing the history of decisions (or lack of them as the Park decides so much in secret outwith Board Meetings) is absolutely in the public interest:  the  collapse of the camping proposals in the 5 Lochs Management Plan; the Owen McKee case; the increasing commercialisation of the National Park.

 

The only historic information that is still available relate to planning applications and associated papers (although these do not include Planning Committee Reports which contain information on all the important decisions).   This is because  information on planning applications is published on a national planning data base – as part of a drive to greater transparency – and is outwith LLTNPA control.   It demonstrates just how out of step the LLTNPA is when it comes to transparency and provides more evidence that it has a lot to hide.

 

Luckily, I think this attempt to wipe history can be reversed.  Every public authority in Scotland is required to adopt a publication scheme by the Information Commissioner (the LLTNPA’s publication scheme incidentally is not on its new website).   The Commissioner requires each public authority to publish certain classes of information and this includes a category of “How we take decisions and what we have decided” which is described as “Information about the decisions we take, how we make decisions and how we involve others”.   There is no time-limit put on this and, given that many of the current issues in the National Park go back many years, it seems to me that the LLTNPA should be publishing this information on its website and are falling foul of this requirement from the Information Commissioner.

Something therefore that I and other activists will take up with the Information Commissioner.   Something too that the Scottish Government should be telling the LLTNPA it needs to get sorted and quick.

 

 

 

September 3, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The Derrydaroch penstock which is clearly visible from the A82 and West Highland Way – the Park’s policy states that all penstock and pipes should reflect the natural colours of the landscape.

Since  blogging about the bright blue penstock used in the Glen Falloch hydro schemes at the end of June, I have been intending to write more about the quality of the “restoration” works and here will focus on the dams/intakes that collect the water for the four schemes.

 

In discussing the schemes I will refer to the mitigation measures that were approved by the Scottish Government as part of the original planning consent back in 2010 (CLARIFICATION_NOTE_4, and 11 09 01 Appendix 2 Additional Mitigation)  and conditions) which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority said would ensure that  “the overall integrity of the area will not be compromised.”   Since then LLTNPA has developed its Supplementary Guidance on Renewables.

 

IMG_4893 - CopyMy first view of any of the dams was from above.  I had come down the Allt Fionn, after a run over Ben Oss and  Beinn Dubhcraig,  and after a beautiful gorge came across the scene on the left.   Hardly less beautiful and it probably coloured my initial response to the downhill side of the dam which I thought had a negligible impact on the landscape.   Re-looking at the photos now I would not go that far, but I still think the Allt Fionn is the best of the Glen Falloch Hydro schemes (and the LLTNPA won an award for it).

 

 

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Allt Fionn intake dam

One of the reasons the Allt Fionn Scheme has limited visual impact is that upstream of the dam there was very little engineering – just the blocks on the far side of the dam which have been well covered.  Other aspects of the dam though do not meet the requirements of the Park’s current guidance.

 

LLTNPA example
Good Practice Photo from LLTNPA Supplementary Guidance on Renewables

“If wing walls are required and concreteis to be used, choose a subdued colour which blends with the adjacent surroundings. A local source of boulders should be used to help screen the concrete structure. Be aware that concrete will stain on contact with water and that at periods of low water linear striping can be an issue. Use stone cladding on exposed faces of the concrete to assist it to blend with its surroundings.”

 

 

In fact not a single one of the Glen Falloch dams meets the Park’s current best practice guidance – all are concrete without any stone cladding though in some cases boulders have been piled against the wing walls to helps screen them.

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Allt Andoran – note boulders piled below right wall of dam and also lack of engineering of the pool behind – its looks natural

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The original landscape assessment suggested there would be very little impact on the landscape apart from the dams themselves.

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Visualisation of how the Upper Falloch intake dam would look like in 2009

 

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Upper Glen Falloch intake 2016 – its in a slightly different location to where originally planned

The current visual impact of the Upper Falloch must be at least six times the size as in the original landscape assessment and the main reason for this is the use of boulders in screening the dam and in “rip-rap retention” along the banks of the intake pool but also the river below.  Now its possible “restoration” work is not complete and some of the boulders may be covered in vegetation although its not clear where this might come from as none has been stored locally.  In my view the left side wall of the dam would have looked better without the boulders.  Its difficult to see anything growing on them for decades and they are likely to continue to look like a pile of boulders dumped by a digger.  Its hard to see how anyone could claim this is effective restoration of the landscape.   However, it appears to result from the LLTNPA Guidance:

 

“bury wing walls to reduce their dominanceand minimise the amount of visible concrete as far as possible;” and “carefully place large boulders against wing walls, to reduce the exposed height and the need for railings;”

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The Upper Falloch Intake – large amounts of rip rap engineering has been required to create the pool which greatly increases the visual impact of these scheme compared to the Allt Fionn scheme
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Upper Falloch from bleow – its hard to see how vegetation can establish itself in these boulders and they are likely to scar the landscape for decades

 

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Rip Rap retention on Eas Eonan contrasts with the natural gorge below
IMG_6583 - Copy Allt a Chuilinn
Rip Rap retention below Allt a Chuilinn intake – because the boulders have been built into the bank they have a lower landscape impact

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is interesting is how little the LLTNPA has to say about what I believe is the biggest landscape issue associated with the dams:

 

“If rip-rap retention is required in the vicinity of the inundation area or the river bank immediately adjacent to the weir, consideration should be given to the detail and use of local rocks and boulders to minimise visual impact”

 

Elsewhere under mitigation measures  though it says:

“Cover any rip rap bank protection in peat”

This has clearly not happened and I don’t think can.

 

While I believe the rip-rap retention and lack of stone cladding of the concrete are the biggest landscape issues, there are other examples of poor landscape design.

 

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Upper Falloch – alien hard chip

Hard chip, which looks completely different to the local schist, has been imported to at least three of the intake areas.  It appears there might have been some spare at the Upper Falloch powerhouse and someone thought it a good idea to bring it up the hill.  The LLTNPA’s Guidance states:

“The surface material on tracks should be with an aggregate of similar tone, colour and texture to the surrounding landscape,”

 

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Allt a Chuillin second intake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This small intake is only example in Glen Falloch where wood has been used for the railings, which accords with the Park’s policy on use of natural materials where possible – the sign unfortunately spoils the effect as do the metal footings.   As with most of the schemes it has a blue outflow pipe – when the Park’s Guidance states “Introduce as few different materials and colours as possible. A mute galvanised finish in a mute grey / green colour will blend in with most upland environments.”  This is another place where cladding the concrete with stone would have looked far better than piling up boulders in front of the wing walls.

 

What needs to happen

 

While I have seen worse examples of hydro intakes than those in Glen Falloch, the Beinn Bhuidhe scheme just outside the National Park being a good example, I believe the ones in Glen Falloch will have a far more lasting impact than the LLTNPA has claimed and they need to learn from their mistakes:

  • first, siting of the dam is of crucial importance and if dams cannot be constructed without extensive use of boulders to retain banks, in my view they should not be constructed at all
  • second, the LLTNPA needs to reconsider its policy of getting developers to hide wing walls behind heaps of boulders and instead develop other solutions such as facing them with stone
  • third, they need to enforce planning requirements and their Supplementary Planning Guidance on Renewables.   There are clear examples where they have failed to do this.