Month: November 2016

November 30, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
hares
Photo credit Raptor Persecution Scotland
camping
This photo from the LLTNPA which I believe dates back several years still periodically appears in the mainstream media in stories about the camping byelaws. What does it tell us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I  have been pondering further what Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, said about more evidence being needed before the Government can act to protect mountain hares (see here) when I believe action could be taken in our National Parks now. Roseanna Cunningham never explained what sort of evidence the Scottish Governance would need before it could act and why.    I doubt she could, I suspect she is repeating what the civil servants have told her.

 

I think Roseanna Cunningham should therefore ask her civil servants why photos of abandoned tents counts as sufficient “evidence”to justify the introduction of camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park whereas photos of piles of dead mountain hares is not apparently regarded as sufficient evidence to introduce byelaws to control hunting in the Cairngorms National Park?

 

I know that photos of abandoned tents were used by the previous Minister, Aileen McLeod, as the MAIN “evidence” to justify the introduction of camping byelaws as a result of a number of FOI requests.    When Aileen McLeod announced she had given the go ahead for the camping byelaws she referred to the evidence she had personally seen.   I asked the Scottish Government in February to clarify under Freedom of Information what evidence the Minister had actually seen (see here) and received this response  in April.  Basically the Minister had made one visit to the National Park to three places, one of which was a hotel:  “Loch Lubnaig Visitor Site (North Site); Loch Earn, North Shore Horseshoe Layby; and the Mhor84 Hotel.  I think we can safely conclude from this the main “evidence” she had SEEN were the photos of abandoned tents.

 

I also asked in that request a number of other questions about evidence:

evidence

 

 

 

 

 

The response was clear the Scottish Government held no evidence other than that provided by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority

evidence-2

 

 

 

I had provided an extensive critique (see here) to the Scottish Government on the camping byelaw proposals and the so-called evidence the LLTNPA had provided to them appendix-1-overview-of-evidence-base-1  and what the response above shows is that the Scottish Government had done nothing to check the veracity of that evidence.  Contrast that with Mountain Hares, where ever more evidence is needed before action can be taken.

 

It was the same with the review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws (see here) where the Government admitted it had no criteria by which to judge the LLTNPA’s review and held no information at all on this.  The Scottish Government simply accepted what the LLTNPA had said and had taken no account of the critique I had submitted to them.    If the Scottish Government can accept such poor evidence from the LLTNPA, I can’t see any problem with it accepting whatever evidence the CNPA can draw together to justify a suspension of hare culls (the photos in themselves should be sufficient).  After all the CNPA already have a legal duty to conserve and enhance the natural heritage which is supposed to take precedence over its other aims if they clash.

 

I find it interesting that while the Scottish Government, when it talks about the need for more evidence (a reference I believe to SNH research into mountain hares) did not ask SNH to conduct research into the impact of camping on Loch Lomond before taking a decision.   Nowhere in the SNH sitelink database on protected areas in the National Park have I seen camping listed as a threat.   That says it all.   There is one rule for trying to protect nature, another rule for trying to stop people from enjoying nature.

 

Research into the impact of culls on mountain hares has been going on for years, with SNH producing two research reports in 2008, is ongoing, and will probably never reach a definitive conclusion.   SNH however has been concerned enough to agree with Scottish Land and Estates and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust an interim position which calls for a voluntary suspension of culls.  That one would have thought should be enough for the Scottish Government and National Park to act.  However, they apparently need more evidence………………

 

I think what this shows is that “evidence” is a highly political matter and what counts as evidence very much depends on whether you are trying to control what landowners and their employees do or what the general public does.  Unfortunately we live in a system where its much easier for one National Park to remove access rights, which both National Parks were set up to promote, on the basis of flawed and fabricated evidence, than for our other National Park to protect wildlife, which both National Parks were also set up to do, on the basis of sound evidence.

November 29, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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Overflowing litter bin Balmaha 12th November 2016

Last year, between June and August, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority commissioned Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) to undertake a litter audit in the four proposed camping management zones.    I have been asking for the audit report ever since under FOI and last week, 13 months later, after another enquiry was told it had been received and published on the Park website (see here).

 

The Report consists of two documents, the first summarises the findings and the second contains a report for each of the 58 sites visited along with comments.  The LLTNPA appears to have intended it as providing a baseline to assess the impact of  the camping byelaws.   I will deal with the methodological issues and general context at the end of this post but will first focus on the two findings that I found most striking.

 

What the audit tells us about visitor management and the east Loch Lomond byelaws

 

litter-2
The percentage totals are based on the total number of visits ie 58 sites x 8 visits = total sample of 464 visits

The audit is very helpful in putting visitor management issues into perspective, something that the LLTNPA has lamentably failed to do:   on well over half of all visits sites were in an acceptable condition.  This is despite the fact that most of the sites were selected because the LLTNPA had identified them as hotspots, or more particularly camping hotspots, within the four proposed camping management zones and despite the fact that many of these sites have no facilities.

 

Even more significant is the evidence allows a comparison to be made between east Loch Lomond, where a whole package of measures, including camping byelaws, has been in place for three years, and the other three zones.

litter

What this shows is that while  a higher percentage of the six sites audited in east Loch Lomond were in acceptable condition than the other zones (and indeed it had not a single site in Category D) the difference is less than you might have thought if you believed the LLTNPA’s claims that the camping byelaws had solved all the problems on east Loch Lomond  Indeed,  if you remove one site,  the small inaccessible beach below the metal bridge round from Balmaha pier (another of the sites chosen) where no litter was found, the difference disappears.   In other words the environment on east Loch Lomond does not appear that much better than the other areas despite the package of measures that has been in place there (one would for example expect the alcohol byelaws to have an impact on the number of drinks bottles counted by KBS, while the banning of camping has clearly had an impact on the number of abandoned tents – nil).

 

Furthermore, east Loch Lomond has has much better infrastructure than many places in the National Park.  The audit sites for East Loch Lomond also included the Sallochy campsite and visitor car park at Rowardennan both of have which toilets:   so its hardly surprising less human excrement was found for the audit sites there.   There are toilets at Balmaha too though this did not prevent human excrement being found at Balmaha pier – obviously nothing to do with campers as camping is banned.

 

What the KSB Audit clearly shows therefore is that the types of impact covered by the report and  not just about campers as I and others have claimed on a number of occasions on Parkswatch (see here) and (see here) for example.    This is the sort of evidence that the National Park should have included in its review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws which it and the Scottish Government then used to justify the extension of the camping ban to other areas of the Park.  It didn’t, that review report was totally flawed and so is the justification for the proposed camping byelaws.   Because the litter audit provides no basis for distinguishing between impacts of campers and general visitors (see below) it does not even provide a baseline to evaluate any impact of the camping byelaws.

 

Abandoned tents are a very minor problem

 

The most striking “finding” in the report is the number of abandoned tents.    I must confess I looked at the table below and was initially surprised by the numbers.    Out of 146 tents recorded 40 were abandoned.  That sounds terrible.   Aren’t campers shocking?  Over a quarter of campers in the National Park are dumping their tents after use…………you can hear the outrage from the Daily Mail and that is certainly how the LLTPNA I believe want people to read this.  Remember they asked for this to be reported and their main evidence for the byelaws consisted of a large number of photos of abandoned tents taken from different angles.

litter-table-8

 

A little analysis though puts the numbers of abandoned tents in context.   We don’t know how many abandoned tents were ever cleared up:

litter-9

 

The Audits were in the weekday so the tents in use column tells us nothing about the total number of campers compared to abandoned tents.  For that you would need to look at the information in the LLTNPA Ranger patrol data of the total number of tents recorded.  Its possible though to do a quick estimate here.   On a popular weekend according to the LLTNPA there can be over 800 tents recorded on the most popular loch shores.  It was a poor summer so let’s halve that to 400 a weekend, add another 100 during the week and multiply that by 8 weeks.  That comes to 4000 tents.  The Audit found 40 abandoned tents.   That shows 1% of campers abandon their tents.   If you think the 4000 figure is too high, halve it, its still only 2% of campers abandoning tents.   Add to that that it was a poor summer and some campers abandon tents – I know they shouldn’t but it still happens – when they get flooded etc and it really does put this “problem” into context.   The LLTNPA and the Scottish Government have agreed to the creation of camping byelaws and the removal of access rights from the majority of people who camp because of the activities of the 2%.

 

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Even if campsites are installed, it does not stop the tiny minority from abandoning tents (photo previously featured of abandoned tents at Ben Glas farm).

Added to this one needs to ask about the time and effort required to clear up abandoned tents.  Yes, sometimes, there is a wrecked campsite which might take a couple of hours to clean up but often as in the photo above, it would take less than five minutes for someone to pack up an abandoned tent and either put it in the bin or recycle it.   That’s all it took Nick Halls and I earlier this year at the Ben Venue car park.   We took far longer discussing with the Park Rangers whether they would take the tent or not.  They wouldn’t and since there was a hole in it we put it in the bin on the way home.

 

Methodological and other issues in the KSB Audit

 

I will come back to look at the implications of some of the other findings from the audit, much of which is quite helpful, in due course but think its worth highlighting here a number of methodological and other issues which reduces the Report’s  usefulness.  These include:

  • the sites are limited to the four management zones so the Report does not tell us anything about the extent of “litter” within the management zones compared to outside
  • 27 of the sites were chosen because they were included in the 2012 KSB Audit which the LLTNPA used as evidence for the need for camping byelaws.  This would allow a comparison between then and now but strangely no comparison has been made.
  • The audit visits (there were 8 to each site) all took place during weekdays when we know the time of greatest visitor numbers is at weekends.   This means the report is unable to draw any conclusions between the litter reported and the number and type of visitor, i.e who left the litter and how great a problem this is within the context of the numbers who visited.  For example the report makes clear abandoned tents were often not cleared up for weeks (and therefore  the same abandoned tents and other litter was presumably counted week after week).  The LLTNPA does hold data on total visitor numbers from its ranger patrol records, which appear to cover almost all the sites covered in the audit, but there is no mention of this or how it might enable the KSB findings to be seen in context.
  • The report contains limited analysis of the relationship between the type of “litter” found and the type of infrastructure provided to enable visitors to enjoy the National Park.   For example,  KSB was asked by the Park to record fire sites and incidences of human excrement as well as litter but this is not related to whether barbecue sites or toilets  were available on any one site.   There is plenty of anecdotal evidence about this in the report – you can see that sites that have toilets are the ones least likely to have human excrement reported – but none of this is drawn out.   While the report, in the summary for each area, lists the number of sites with litter bins and records the number of overflowing bins, there is no analysis of the relationship between litter bin provision and litter.      I think if an analysis of the relationship between infrastructure and issues had been undertaken,  it would have shown up the failure of the LLTNPA to provide the type of infrastructure that is needed. Instead the Report  recommends that “the Park Authority undertakes an audit of bin provision”.     This is strange because KSB appears to have this information and I find it incredible that the LLTNPA, which has repeatedly claimed it has tried for ten years to solve the litter problem on our loch shores without success and has used this to justify the camping byelaws does not even appear to know where litter bins are provided and who should be emptying them.
  • The Report does not consider the incidence of litter within the context of other visitor management measures, ranging from the alcohol byelaws in place on east Loch Lomond and around Luss (how did this impact on the numbers of alcoholic drinks cans and bottles found?) or when litter bins were emptied or even if the people who empty the bins where they exist also have responsibility for cleaning up the area.

 

While the Report therefore is in some ways quite limited, and the recommendations it contains appear to bear little relationship to the content, there is an opportunity to relate the evidence it provides to other data held by the LLTNPA and for more systematic analysis.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The LLTNPA Board should discuss in public how it intends to respond to the KSB audit findings and more specifically commit to commissioning independent analysis of how the information from the audit relates to other information, including ranger patrol records, held by the Park
  • The Scottish Government should use the information from the KSB to scrutinise the LLTNPA review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws (which the civil servants accepted without any apparent scrutiny)  and review its findings (which would in my view undermine the case for the camping byelaws which the Scottish Government has accepted)..
  • Its time the Scottish Parliament scrutinised the so-called evidence which has been used to justify the removal of access rights in the National Park
  • The LLTNPA and Scottish Government need to refocus their efforts and the resources that will be wasted in trying to ban campers on provision of basic infrastructure in the National Park and targetted educational messages

 

There is a great opportunity for some independent research to be undertaken about the relationship between the information in the KSB audit and the data patrol records held by the Park but in the public realm and looking at how this relates to basic infrastructure.

 

November 28, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

On 24th November the Scottish Government finally announced it has agreed the permanent re-introduction of  beavers to Scotland.   Despite beavers being role in improving water quality, flood prevention and promoting more diverse habitiats and species, all objectives of the Scottish Government, the “decision”  was far from a foregone conclusion.  The whole process shows the power of landowning “interests” and prejudice.   Over ten years ago, when I was on the Board SNH, the then Environment Minister (I can’t remember who, they change each year) was minded to approve their re-introduction but then some farmers had a word to a senior civil servant and we ended up with the five year re-introduction trial in Knapdale.  Two years after the end of that trial the Scottish Government has at last considered the “evidence” and made its decision.   An attempt to kick what should have been a simple species re-introduction into the long grass.

 

Meanwhile the unlawfully released but flourishing beaver population on Tayside showed the trial up for the farce it really was.    I suspect that without this direct action a decision might never have been made.      The Government’s announcement has made it clear that while they will allow beavers to expand naturally, there will be lots more bureaucracy before beavers are re-introduced anywhere else.  Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald quotes a Government spokesperson as saying “we have no plans to license the reintroduction further releases in the foreseeable future.  We will also take swift action if another illegal release takes place – such an action constitutes a wildlife crime and carries serious potential penalties”.    The lack of vision is lamentable.

 

The explanation for this lies with our farmers and landowners whose starting point appears to be that any wildlife, apart from that shot for sport, is a threat to their living and to the viability of “fragile” or “remote” local communities.  This actually is the reverse of the truth but the Scottish Government is simply unwilling to challenge the dominant ideology that controls our countryside.   What they should have said is that wanted to see further re-introductions over the next five years and that our two National Parks should be at the forefront of this.

 

Beavers and the Cairngorms National Park

 

It is good that Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, welcomed the announcement.  Rob Edwards quotes him as saying:   “We will explore the potential for, and the implications of, beaver re-introduction in river catchments in the Cairngorms National Park” .

 

This is a step in the right direction.   There was not a single member of beaver re-introduction in the draft Cairngorms Partnership Plan, which was recently subject to public consultation along with the supporting papers on flood management and  landscape scale conservation.  This was a missed opportunity because they contain lots of information which supports the re-introduction of beavers into the Cairngorms National Park as a priority.

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The Flood Management issues report contains maps of “Potentially Vulnerable Areas” throughout the National Park. Beaver dams, if located upstream, help hold back water and prevent flooding lower down

 

 

Looking at the flood threat to Aviemore and surrounds one cannot help thinking that re-introducing beavers into Glenmore, along with re-establishment of a montane scrub zone at Cairngorm,  would help reduce risks considerably.    The Cairngorm-Glenmore Strategy approved by the Park in September said nothing about beavers either.

 

The CNPA’s Flood Issues report quantified the amount of damage caused each year by flooding.

flood-1

Our National Parks should place the objections that will inevitably be raised by farmers and landowners to beaver re-introduction  into the wider context of the social cost of flooding and how current land management practices promote this (muirburn, drainage etc).  The CNPA’s flood issues report suggested an ecosystems approach to prevent flooding but did not say HOW they would do this.   The re-introduction of beavers should be part of the answer.

 

There is further supporting evidence in the Flood Issues report on water quality.  Its always a surprise to see that the water quality in our National Parks is not 100% good.  Beaver dams of course help improve water quality.water beavers-nature-plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not in the draft Partnership Plan, the CNPA has in fact in the past done quite a bit of work on species reintroduction.    The quote above is from the Cairngorm Nature, 2013-18.  The Action at the bottom is very cautious, in fact Grant Moir gave almost exactly the same form of words “explore the potential” to the Sunday Herald.

 

In fact in 2013, the CNPA Ecology Adviser, David Hetherington, produced a report on the potential to re-introduce vertebrate species, into the National Park.  This went as far as to identify two priority areas for their re-introduction in the National Park, Insh Marshes and Dinnet.   The CNPA therefore has done lots of preparatory work, I am not sure there is any need to “explore” beaver introduction further, what is needed is that negotiations need to start to make it happen.  It should be performance indicator for the next Park Plan:  the re-introduction of beavers at two sites, one on west and one on east of the National Park, within the next five years.  And if the landowners don’t co-operate the land should be secured through compulsory purchase.

beaver

 

 

 

I understand Chief Executives have to be cautious but it really is time that the CNPA started to give a strong lead on this.

 

Beavers and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

 

The LLTPNA appears to have done less work on species re-introduction than the CNPA.   There is nothing in their current Partnership Plan for example about species re-introduction although their plan for wildlife,  WildPark 2020, does contain some aspirational statements:

 

Conversely, recolonising native species such as beaver are valued for the role they play in
our natural heritage.

The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.

The problem, as in the Cairngorms National Park, is what will be “acceptable locations” to landowners.  The Royal Scottish Zoological Society, which was involved in the Knapdale re-introductions has said it would be ideal if the beaver populations there could be joined up with the beavers on Tayside.    The LLTNP sits between the two and there is a great opportunity to build on their recognition that the Tay population could expand into the National Park.

 

I have my doubts that they will do this without public pressure.  All the LLTNPA’s focus and resources at present is being diverted to prevent people from camping rather than doing anything visionary.

 

The wider role of our National Parks in beaver re-introduction

 

Our National Park have a statutory duty to promote conservation, sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic development.   Beavers are a great opportunity to do this, to do something that would be visionary for Scotland for a change.

 

In other countries none of this would be complicated.  In North America there are jobs in beaver management (in the few places where beaver dams have adverse consequences there are specialist firms who have invented all sorts of ingenious solutions).   Our National Parks should be taking that learning from abroad and applying it to Scotland.

 

 

November 25, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

It turns out I was wrong to say in yesterday’s post on the protection of mountain hares (see here) that  at least the Cairngorms National Park Authority keeps minutes of meetings………………

 

Raptor Persecution Scotland revealed later in the day (see here) that the minute had been taken by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association not the National Park!   They also rightly noted that Park Planning Convener, Eleanor MacKintosh, in saying the minute had been taken by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association appeared to be trying to divert attention away from herself.   As the documentation obtained by Andy Holden through Freedom of Information requests shows she had been sent the minute and had had a chance to comment on it.  It appears she didn’t.    She therefore needs to explain either why she failed to comment on the minute or take responsibility for what she said.

 

Last year there was an even more serious case of an apparent failure to read a minute in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.   At the LLTNPA Meeting in April 2015, where the Board formally agreed to propose camping byelaws, under declarations of interest not a single Board Member declared owning a property in the proposed management zones where camping would be banned.   I know because I and other witnesses were at the meeting.   Immediately after the meeting I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking if any Board Members owned properties in the management zones.  Two months later when the draft minute of that meeting was published, under declarations of interest, it stated that three Board Members, Linda McKay (Convener), Owen McKee (the Board Member who traded in Cononish goldmine shares) had declared that they owned properties in the three camping management zones (see here). This was completely untrue.

 

Eventually the LLTNPA,  after media coverage by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald and a complaint to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards, removed these false declarations from the minute.  The question that has never been answered is how the false minute was published.   It is normal practice for Board Conveners to read minutes before they are issued and indeed the CNPA Board Standing Orders say that conveners of the Board Committees must approve minutes before they are circulated.   The LLTNPA Standing Orders don’t stipulate this requirement and  Linda McKay has never answered the question of whether she read the minute before it was issued (great similarities here with the Eleanor MacKintosh case and mountain hares).  If Linda McKay  had read to the minute, she basically failed to correct a serious error which just happened to involve her declaration of interest.  If not, like Eleanor MacKintosh I believe that Linda McKay should  explain how come she never read a minute for a meeting for which she held prime responsibility as Board Convener.

 

What I did find out was that according to the report by the Commissioner of Ethical Standards in Public Life (Complaint Findings 1771) that it was not Board Members who asked the minute to be changed:

 

minutes

 

 

While the Commissioner treated the falsification of the minute as being “not a true reflection of the declarations made”  I believe alteration of minutes of meetings should be treated as a serious issue.  Indeed in Glasgow City Council where I used to work I am pretty certain that if any officer had falsified a minute in a similar way they would have faced disciplinary action for Gross Misconduct.   So, after receiving the Commissioner’s decision I wrote to Linda McKay twice (see here) and (see here) asking her to find out who authorised the alteration of the minute and take appropriate action.   Linda McKay did not reply but delegated the prime suspect Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive,  to answer the question.  He, after providing some non-answers to why the LLTNPA had taken measures to prevent people camping by Linda McKay’s house  declared the matter closed (see here).   My response (see here), copied to Government, has never been answered.

 

The issue that is common to both the Eleanor Mackintosh and Linda McKay/Gordon Watson cases is that in both Board Members have apparently failed to read minutes and then treat those minutes of being of no account.    While the Linda McKay/Gordon Watson case is in my view significantly more serious, because it involves falsification of records, the fundamental issue is that we need public authorities (and indeed I would say private organisations), including our National Parks, to be transparent because without this they cannot be held accountable for what they do.   Both these cases have much wider implications because that accountability relates to issues which are the core of whatour National Parks should be doing, protecting wildlife in the Eleanor MacKintosh case and promoting enjoyment of the countryside in the Linda McKay/Gordon Watson case.

What needs to happen

 

There are significant differences between our National Parks in terms of the transparency of how they operate.   The LLTNPA holds extensive meetings in secret (for a list of the topics discussed since 2010 at secret full Board Meetings for which no minutes are taken (see here)).   The CNPA appears to be more open and has an extensive list of working groups etc in which Board Members are involved on its website.  However, the fundamental issues that need to be addressed are the same:

 

  • Meetings should  be properly recorded.  While minutes are fine for most meetings, I think all Board meetings should be recorded and then put on the web as podcasts.  The Scottish Parliament does this – its seen as being fundamental to its accountability as you can see what your MSP is saying – so why cannot our National Parks?   If the April 2015 meeting had been recorded it would have been clear exactly what interests Linda McKay and other Board Members had declared from the start.  Instead the Park has dug a deeper hole for itself by falsifying a minute and then refusing to take appropriate action in response.
  • Board Members need to read the minutes of meetings they attend and ensure what is recorded is accurate.    While I am against creating rules for everything, given that these two case suggest that Board Members are dissociating themselves from what is recorded in minutes, I do think the Government should consider adding an explicit clause to the Code of Conduct for those involved in public life about basic responsibilities of Board Members such as reading papers before meetings and checking the minutes afterwards.  That would enable members of the public to complain in cases like those described above.
  • Minutes of meetings should be finalised and distributed timeously.  I know of cases where the  LLTNPA has failed to provide minutes of meeting under Freedom of Information because they have not been completed six months after the meeting was held.   Try and find out what happened at a Board Meeting if you were not there and often you cannot till the minute appears months later.  A good reason for posting podcasts of all Board Meetings but I don’t see why draft minutes of all Board Meetings, approved by the appropriate convener, should not be published within two weeks.
  • There should also be minutes taken of meetings involving Board Members and third parties, like the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.   The LLTNPA kept no proper records of the dozens of meetings it undertook in the Your Park consultation to win support for its proposals and there is no clear audit trail of what it agreed with who.  I think that was quite deliberate.   Proper records available through FOI are the only way we are going to stop behind the behind the scenes deals on matters like the persecution of mountain hares and the camping ban.
November 24, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Last week Raptor Persecution Scotland reported on the OneKind demonstration against the slaughter of mountain hares outside the Scottish Parliament on the 17th November:

 

“Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham addressed the rally and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.” 

 

Other reports of the demonstration also reported Roseanna Cunningham had spoken of the need for evidence but in the context of legislation rather than broader action.    Whatever Roseanna Cunningham said there are things that could be done NOW to protect mountain hares without any government legislation and without any further evidence:

  • conservation is one of the four statutory purposes of our National Parks but when other of the purposes conflict with it, conservation should be put first.  Now whether the slaughter of hares is classified as coming up the statutory purpose of enjoyment or of sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources (the other three aims) doesn’t matter.  Conservation comes first and the photographic evidence of slaughter should be enough for our National Parks to act.   The Government just needs to tell them to do so and to introduce byelaws to prohibit the killing of mountain hares in the National Park.
  • moreover, the Government has created Special Protection Areas to protect Golden Eagles whose favourite food is mountain hare.   The citation for the Cairngorm golden eagle SPA, which runs beyond the National Park boundary in the Angus Glens at present focusses on the habitats rather than the species on which the eagle depends.   Amazingly the main threat listed for this SPA is disease.   There is nothing on the eagle’s food supply.   I believe if the Scottish Government had the will they could simply ask SNH to include provisions about protecting mountain hares in all our eagle SPAs including those in our National Parks.
  • in addtion, some of the citations for moorland Sites of Special Scientific Interest explicitly refer to mountain hare in their description of the “features” worth protecting (the Morven SSSI is one example).  Roseanna Cunningham could again ask SNH to ensure that culling of mountain hares was listed as an operation requiring consent, which in effect would introduce a licensing system year round (hares are currently protected for only part of the year in the “closed season”).    SNH could then only issue consents for mountain hare culls if landowners were able to provide proof that this was not detrimental to the environment, including the eagle population.  In other words shift the burden of proof away from public authorities onto landowners.

 

All this would make a difference, without the need for any more evidence.  It could also be done relatively quickly.   However, if the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which is currently finalising its partnership plan for submission to Roseanna Cunningham in the New Year, is to do this there needs to be a shift in thinking both at the Scottish Government and in the National Park Board.   The need for this is illustrated by this revelation also featured on the Raptor Persecution Scotland post:

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Credit Raptor Persecution Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Eleanor MacKintosh has rightly been criticised for saying this, and it was a very stupid thing to say, I am not sure Eleanor MacKintosh is stupid.   The interesting question is why the convenor of the CNPA planning committee is telling the gamekeepers simply to hide the mountain hares they are shooting?   A legitimate question is whether someone else told her to find a way to prevent the mountain hare massacres hitting the headlines in future and this was her clumsy attempt to do this.

 

Critics should hold onto the fact that this information came out as a result of an FOI request and at least the CNPA is recording things properly.  It would be almost impossible to obtain this type of information from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park because they stopped writing things down long ago.  The position at LLTNPA in terms of basic governance is far worse than the CNPA.

 

So I think campaigners need to pressurise both the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government that the new Cairngorms plan contains measures, including byelaws, that will protect mountain hares in the National Park from next year.  There is no reason why it could not be done and the Scottish Government could also extend protection would widely through using existing conservation legislation.

 

November 22, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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Slide presented to Board 13th and 15th April 2015 two weeks before the “open” Board meeting which endorsed the camping bye laws proposals

Anyone who responded to the Your Park consultation or followed the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park plans for new campsites will recognise this photo of tents pitched on wooden platforms.  While this slide from the secret LLTNPA Board Meetings (see here) reveals this was this was a specific  proposal for the Ardvorlich Estate it also tells us a lot about how the Park has developed its camping proposals.   First it tells us that the people who developed the camping plan did not have a clue about camping.  This photo was used for about two years and indeed the original Loch Chon planning application made earlier this summer contained proposals for camping on wooden platforms.   Not a single LLTNPA Board Member appears to have questioned this.  Even Flamingo Land – which may well, if its allowed to go ahead, develop some sort of camping at Balloch – allows people to camp on grass http://www.flamingoland.co.uk/holiday-resort/accommodation/camping-and-caravanning-guide.html  even if that is at £42 a night.    The decisions in the original camping plan were taken by people who never camp and failed to engage with those who do.

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Second, the site plan is interesting because it shows the camping area was to be situated away from the loch shore, and a north facing slope at that.

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The illustrative campsite plan, which appears to relate to the Ardvorlich campsite, although this is not stated explicitly, shows this very clearly.  Its as if the campsite was designed and located to keep people away from the shore when as everyone knows its the shores where people want to camp (and not lost in the depths of Forest Drive where the Park now wishes to force people to camp).  This provides evidence that an unstated aim of the LLTNPA is to use the camping byelaws to remove as much camping from the loch shores as possible.

 

There are two other interesting slides for the Loch Earn campsite which come from earlier slide shows that year.4

This illustration was linked with the photo in the first slide in this post and appears to show the Ardvorlich campsites in profile.  Note the flat areas with tents on them which appear to be carved out of the hillside.   More hyprocrisy from the LLTNPA that at the same time it was developing this proposal was spinning  that campers cause all the significant damage in the National Park. 3

 

 

This slide, from April 2015, is significant because it shows that at that time the Park were proposing not just a campsite but also a permit zone, a total of up to 55 places.

 

In the camping “strategy” approved by the LLTNPA meeting in October 2016 there is no sign of the Ardvorlich campsite proposal or explanation of why its no longer being considered.  Instead its been replaced by a permit zone running more or less along the same area of shore for about 6k.

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Extract from camping strategy map for the Trossachs North zone showing Loch Earn

11The permit zone allows for just 38 places compared to the 55 originally envisaged.  Yet more evidence of the arbitrary way the LLTNPA takes decisions.

 

Although the south Loch Earn area is described as a permit area with services, there will be no facilities developed before the start of the camping byelaws.   Instead, its listed as one of two proposals under a heading in the strategy “Investment priorities for 2017” .

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The extract also shows the Park have not apparently abandoned all ideas of a campsite on south Loch Earn in future.   So, I am not sure that the absence of a campsite on platforms in the trees is a sign that the LLTNPA realises this is a daft proposal, its more that they do not have the money to invest at present.  And that is significant because my understanding is the Scottish Government has to approve all the Park’s investment plans:  this suggests the lack of investment in new campsites, including Loch Earn, comes down to money, austerity and financial cuts.

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If the Government does improve investment in facilities next year, that is likely to include toilets as illustrated here in the original proposal for Ardvorlich.   At least this looks better than the shipping containers which were approved for Loch Chon but maybe they will be moved here if the Loch Chon campsite turns out to be a flop.  What the Park though has not explained is how people in the Loch Earn permit zone are expected to use these toilets: the zone by my reckoning is 6k long – are people meant to drive to them?  More evidence that the Park does not have a clue about how to manage visitor pressures.  It would be better to distribute the three portaloos behind the screening along the shore at regular intervals rather than have them in one place.

 

What needs to happen

The Loch Earn proposals show the LLTNPA and Government urgently need to get people with the right expertise involved in the development of a campite plan whether or not the byelaws go ahead.

November 21, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Well paid jobs in rural areas in Scotland are few and far between and what I found the single most shocking single fact in the draft Cairngorms Partnership Plan was that the average wage in the Cairngorms National Park is 23% lower than the Scottish average.   A consequence of this is that  when developers come to the Highlands and promise benefits for local communities, for everything from goldmines or windfarms, not surprisingly people’s hopes are kindled and usually results in initial  support for such projects.   The appointment of Natural Retreats to run the Cairngorm Ski area is just such as case.   The converse of this is that the people employed by such developers tend to support them even when everything is unravelling.   An example is Iain Cornfoot’s support for the retrospective hill track planning application at Cairngorm (about which there has been silence from the Cairngorms National Park Authority for two months now):
Scottish ski resorts need to be as efficient as possible to continue to provide direct employment to the local communities, for which I, my friends and family rely on. A viable ski area will provide economic stability for the surrounding communities within the National park.
 
Now I believe that Natural Retreats main  interest in Cairngorm is to extract as much money as possible (see here for small example) – taking money out of the area and ultimately i – and has very little to do with the staff that work there.   As an example of this  its worth contrasting the financial position of the person who is now the ultimate owner of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd with staff at Cairngorm.
David Michael Gorton, whose address is 80-83 Long Lane, London EC1A 9ET – the heart of the City – ultimately controls (owns) Cairngorm Mountain Ltd through Natural Assets Investment Ltd.   He is currently Director of another 29 companies/limited liability partnerships.     While there are a group of companies linked to Natural Retreats, which I will come back to in future posts,  I have had a look at some of the other companies.  One of these is the London Diversified Fund Management (UK) Ltd, where David Michael Gordon is one of two directors:
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The company has 13 employees, the average salary is over £100k and, since I don’t expect the admininstrative staff get anything like that, most of the wage is probably split between the five Investment Managers:
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What I found most interesting though is that most of the company’s assets are in an Employee Benefit Fund.  Yes that looks like £85m for 13 employees (and whoever has been employed in the past):
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 In fact its not nearly as much as that as it turns out there are tax liabilities to HMRC relating to this fund going back to 2003.  A cool £31m owed in tax.
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That’s not the whole picture though because the accounts for london-diversitiified-fund-management-ltd show that in 2011 £18,378,604 were transferred out of the Employment Benefit Fund into an Executive Retirement Plan.  That’s in addition to the £53m remaining in the EBT so by my reckoning there is over £71m stashed away for the benefit of a handful of employees.
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The accounts  are coy about who will receive this money but I think we can take it that David Michael Gorton is one of the main beneficiaries as he is one of the two Directors.
Contrast this with the retirement benefits that will be paid to employees of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd which was taken over by Natural Retreats in June 2014 cml-accounts-to-march-2015.  The fund was revalued in the year by actuaries, which is why it is now shown as a liability, but what it tells us that the fund has under £1m in assets compared to the £70m plus available to David Michael Gorton and his fellow Directors/Executives at London Diversified Fund Management.
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Now, London Diversified Fund Management is completely separate from Natural Retreats as far as I can  see.  Its clearly not  Mr Gorton’s responsibility that Cairngorm Mountain Ltd had such a pitiful pension fund compared to what looks like being available to him.  I cannot though see Mr Gorton though using any of his considerable personal wealth – and this is just one company I have looked at, I am sure there will be more – to remedy the situation.
 
In fact what I think is likely to happen is the opposite.  Money earned from Cairngorm will – quite legally – ultimately end up in Mr Gorton’s pocket or in some off-shore tax haven.  I don’t think this will bring any good to the staff at Cairngorm and is unlikely to bring much benefit to the local economy.
 
I think the big question that needs to be asked is why Highlands and Islands Enterprise sold Cairngorms Mountain Ltd to Natural Retreats Investment Ltd?   It must have known who the ultimate controlling party was and a little research, such as I have done, would have shown them that person is involved in a company that has failed to pay tax due to HMRC timeously, is linked to tax havens and has amassed considerable personal wealth.  Surely this should have set some alarm bells ringing?
In future posts I will show that there is also plenty of reason to be worried about the financial group of companies around Natural Retreats which are also involved in other HIE contracts.   Highlands and Islands Enterprise is like Natural Retreats part of the problem at Cairngorm, not the solution.

Postscript

Richard Murphy’s blog, tax research uk, yesterday carried a press release from Christian Aid about how Councils are cracking down on tax dodging companies in England and Wales (see here).  We should be doing the same in Scotland and not just Councils but other government agencies like HIE.  So, the question HIE needs to answer is whether it is confident that the companies associated with Natural Retreats are squeaky clean when it comes to tax?

November 20, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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Slide from Secret LLTNPA Board “Briefing Session” 16th March 2015 – I have asked the Park what “shoulder day” means

 

The slide shows that soon after the Your Park consultation – which failed to mention the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was planning for a permit system despite the fundamental implications this had for access rights – the Park had developed its thinking on permits to such an extent that it was considering varying the number of people who could camp in its proposed camping zones by day of the week and period of the year.   There is no reference to this in the Park’s letter to Ministers two months later proposing 300 “new” camping places, comprising a mixture of permits and campsites.    I assume therefore the idea of varying the number of permits has been dropped because otherwise the Park could not claim to be delivering 300 places (on shoulder days it would have been under half of that).

 

The slide’s significance is that it provides evidence that the Park was – and still is – wanting to restrict numbers of campers to the minimum it can get away with.   Why otherwise were 190 permits thought suitable for a peak weekend but only 57 on an ordinary weekday?

 

The slide also:

      • shows up the Park’s claim that they need to limit the number of campers because campers prevent other visitors from enjoying the loch shores.  If that was true the Park would have proposed FEWER camping permits on popular weekends when the loch shores are busier with other visitors and MORE in the quieter periods
      • shows up the Park’s claim that byelaws are needed to protect the environment:  why in any particular place would less damage be done on a peak weekend than on an ordinary weekend?
      • provides further evidence of just how arbitrary the proposal for 300 camping places is and  provides further evidence,  if this proposal has indeed been dropped, that these secret Board “Briefing sessions” took decisions – something the Park has denied.   That decision though should have been minuted and taken in public.

 

All this is added reason to be very sceptical of the LLTNPA when they reveal their proposals for a permit system at their December Board Meeting (they have to take “decisions” about this in public before the system is due to come into force on 1st March 2017).

November 18, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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Slide presented to secret Board Briefing session 23rd February 2015

 

This slide provides a crude summary of the Park’s data on camping activity within the four proposed management zones.  Its not surprising, its what anyone who camps or goes to the countryside knows, most camping takes place in summer (despite the midges!).   It raises though serious questions about why the The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority recommended the camping byelaws should extend from 1st March to 31st October and then why Aileen McLeod, Environment Minister at the time, modified this recommendation so the proposed byelaws will now run from 1st March to 30th September.

 

The first thing to say is that the slide demonstrates that the main justifications the LLTNPA is now citing for the proposed byelaws, a) the sheer number of campers and b) environmental damage, do not justify the period of the proposed byelaws.    While the number of campers represented by each colour in the chart is not defined in the slides (again this is typical for the Park, this is not evidence that would stand up in a court of law), if they were they would show that the number of campers in  the green months are very low and in the orange months low compared to the summer period.    So, even if one accepts the argument that byelaws are needed to limit the number of campers, the LLTNPA has no evidence that,  outwith the four summer months, numbers are a problem or need to be regulated .

 

Related to this, unless a far higher proportion of campers outwith the summer months behave irresponsibly, the impact of irresponsible behaviour when it occurs will be much less March-April and September-October and is  much easier to manage. In visitor management terms, if an occasional abandoned campsite has to be cleared up, so what?   There is only a problem if lots and lots of tents are abandoned and are beyond the capacity of the Ranger service and other services to cope with.  (The LLTNPA incidentally has never provided any evidence that this actually happens or assessed this problem relative to other litter, such as that washed up at the head of Loch Long after storms).   Actually, I believe  the proportion of people camping responsibly outwith the summer months is likely to be higher, as people camping at these times are more likely to be dedicated to pursuing their chosen activity and such people are generally more aware of their impacts on the environment.

 

What this slide shows therefore is that the LLTNPA’s recommendations to Ministers about the byelaw periods was not based on any evidence worth the name but rather on something else.   While there are a number of possible explanations, I believe NIMBYISM – which is of course totally contrary to access rights – is at the heart of this.

 

When I learned that Scottish Ministers had decided to reduce the proposed period of the byelaws from 1st March – 30th September I asked them on what grounds they had done this.  I received this reply on 29th April:

 

Question Four

The decision taken to reduce the period of operation of the byelaws by 1 month was a policy decision taken by Ministers in line with their options to approve, approve with modifications or reject the byelaw proposals submitted by the National Park Authority. While the National Park Authority’s preference was for the byelaws to be in place between 1 March to 31 October as per the operation of the existing East Loch Lomond byelaws, Ministers decided that in approving the new measures they wished to see a reduction in the period of operation by 1 month across all the proposed zones, including those operating in East Loch Lomond. This decision was based on a view that visits to the National Park and the affected areas naturally start to tail off in October, in part due to falling overnight temperatures. 

 

This simply provides further evidence of the arbitrary decision making.  The Minister has NO evidence that numbers are less in October than March – indeed the opposite is probably the case because of the fishing season – and as for the claim that October is colder than March this is MINCE!   The official who wrote this did not even think it worth consulting the records of the Met:  March is significantly colder than October.

 

What worries me most about the whole camping byelaw farce is that none of it is based on any evidence that would stand up in court.  What a contrast to the levels of evidence Ministers demand before agreeing to protect mountain hares or cull red deer.

 

 

 

 

 

November 17, 2016 Nick Kempe 3 comments

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Natural Retreats included this graphic in its announcement that its guided walks to the summit of Cairngorm had stopped for another year.   It tells us a lot of what is going wrong at Cairngorm.

 

The walks cost £20 a shot which means Natural Retreats earned £36,640 from them between May and October this year.   While the charge includes the return trip on the funicular  (cost for an adult £12) I think we can safely say many of the people would never have taken the funicular unless they had been able to go for a walk at the top.   So, I think its safe to say this is extra income for Natural Retreats and extra visitors to contribute to its formal agreement with HIE (as written in the lease) that the minimum number of visitors it should attract to Cairngorm each year should be 210,000.

 

These walks only happen because of the closed funicular system as explained on the Cairngorm Mountain Website:

 

In order to protect the plateau outwith our snowsports operation, funicular passengers are not permitted to exit the top station to go onto the mountain unless they are booked on a guided walk or a guided mountain bike descent.

The closed system, which was intended to protect the Cairngorm plateau, is being used by Natural Retreats to raise extra income for itself.  At the same time Natural Retreats completely ignored their own method statement for the West Wall Poma, work which is now completed, and needlessly trashed a section of the plateau (see here).  

 

highland-council-letter-copyHighland Council were alerted to this when the evidence of destruction first became evident early September but have still not responded to the formal complaint which was submitted about unauthorised operations at the end of September.    Another example of the totally ineffective system of planning enforcement in our National Parks.

 

HIE meanwhile seem to be quite happy to allow Natural Retreats to destroy parts of the plateau on the one hand – they have not intervened as far as I am aware in the breaches of planning permission at the West Wall poma – while on the other charging people for walks to protect that same environment.

Part of lease agreement between HIE and Natural Retreats includes this clause:

 

Minimum of 1 Head Ranger and 2 season rangers to be employed for at least as many days and hours per annum as they are currently employed

So, maybe Natural Retreats are using the closed funicular system as a means to raise money to pay for the Ranger Service.   £36,640 would be enough to pay for a Head Ranger.   The trouble with this explanation is that as far as I am aware HIE still employ the Ranger Service at Cairngorm* and are in discussions with the CNPA about creating a unitary ranger service as part of the strategy for Glenmore/Cairngorm.  I will check with HIE about this but if they still employ the Rangers public monies are being used to raise money for Natural Retreats.   The much bigger issue though is that despite raising monies through the Ranger service for guided walks on the plateau, lower down the mountain they are completely failing to maintain the infrastructure that would enable people to conduct their own guided walks.

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The Cairngorm Mountain Garden Project is history repeating itself. It replaced the former Alpine Garden created by Ben Humble which had been neglected and was removed by the creation of the funicular. It is now sadly neglected.
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There is no sign of Natural Retreats investing in replacement signage
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The lack of care was very evident earlier this summer. No sign of the Alpine Bistort described by this sign. No sign for the Dwarf Cornel which was easy to see.

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The bleeding of Cairngorm

 

The wider message behind the charges for guided walks and the lack of investment in signage for walkers is really quite simple, Natural Retreats are taking every penny they can and investing as little as they can get away with at Cairngorm.    The way they are treating interpretation is just a small example of a much wider problem of what happens when you allow companies like Natural Retreats to operate what should be public assets.

 

The accounts for Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, the company which is owned by Natural Retreats and operates Cairngorm, show this quite clearly.  The last accounts ending March 2015 cml-accounts-to-march-2015 show a profit of £466,216.   I will come back to that figure and wider issues of how money appears to be being drained out of Cairngorm in future posts but just a small part of that profit could have renovated all the signs at Cairngorm and paid for a clean-up too.   Natural Retreats, in its first year of running Cairngorm Mountain Limited chose not to invest  money in what would benefit Cairngorm but instead to take make a profit.   This is the company which was widely touted as having the financial resources to invest in Cairngorm.   I will come back to a wider look at Natural Retreats finances in future posts but I believe understanding them is the key to understanding  everything that is happening at Cairngorm, from the protection of the environment, investment in the ski area, treatment of customers, whether skiers or summer visitors, to the treatment of staff.

 

A key question is why is HIE allowing all of this to happen?

 

Update

*I received this note from HIE on 22nd November “CML/NR have funded the Cairngorm Ranger Service since taking over the lease of the ski area”.     I am sorry I did not have time to check this properly before the post.  I think the main argument however stands and it raises questions about the National Park will be able to “Move to a single integrated ranger service across Cairngorm and Glenmore with increased presence on the ground” as set out in the Cairngorm/Glenmore Strategy approved in September.

November 16, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
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The West Riverside site at Balloch which Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA wish to develop is currently a greenspace

A month ago I received a response from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority about their involvement in the west Riverside side and Flamingo Land.    In their letter eir-2016-051-responseb the Park have tried to defend their integrity as a planning authority and their ability to make an independent judgement on the Flamingo Land proposals:

 

“Scottish Enterprise invited the Park Authority’s Head of Visitor Experience to be involved in the process of reviewing the submissions for the West Riverside site. This involvement was in an advisory capacity in relation to tourism considerations and separate from, and without prejudice to, any consideration of planning issues. The decision regarding a preferred developer was for Scottish Enterprise as landowner to make.”

The documents which accompanied the letter eir-2016-051-response-appendix-a however contradict this claim –  and shows the Park were on the selection panel which appointed Flamingo Land.   Here are some relevant extracts which prove this:

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So if the decision was for Scottish Enterprise to make, why were the Park involved in appraising the bids? Scottish Enterprise of course wanted to be certain the in selecting a developer and proposal for west Riverside the LLTNPA would not later on object to this.

 

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This email makes it clear that LLTNPA were not just providing advice on the implications of each Developer’s bid, which would have maintained the Park’s claim to be neutral in this, they were involved in scoring each bid. In agreeing to score bids the Park made themselves a party to the selection of the developer.
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The emails about this meeting – the subject is deleted from the response – show both Stuart (Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning) and Mairi Bell attended this meeting. This meeting appears to have taken place soon after Flamingo Land had been appointed. It shows the Park are involved in every aspect of the proposal including land price.

While the FOI/EIR response is far from complete – there are references to other written material/meetings about which no information has been provided – they provide enough information to show that the LLTNPA was deeply involved in the selection of Flamingo Land.

 

What they also show is that the LLTNPA made a number of false claims in their flamingo-land-news-release issued on 26th September:

 

“Scottish Enterprise recently appointed Flamingo Land Limited as the preferred developer of their 20 hectare site at West Riverside, Balloch, in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.”

Comment:  this is far from the full truth, the LLTNPA was clearly involved in the selection process

“Scottish Enterprise kept the National Park Authority’s tourism team informed at each stage of the marketing of the site and the process of selection of their preferred developer.”

Comment: this wrongly implies that LLTNPA were not involved in the selection process.  The Park have bent the truth as far you can without actually lying.  Yes, the Park were informed but they were also INVOLVED.

I am afraid this disregard of the facts and bending of the truth is what I have come to expect from the National Park Authority.  Its how they got Government Ministers to approve their proposed camping ban.   Perhaps before the same process is repeated with Flamingo Land, the LLTPNA Board could start to insist that its staff start working to some basic standards of governance.  Perhaps they could also explain how in  light of this level of involvement by their staff they can take an independent decision on any planning application from Flamingo Land?

 

I fear though that following all the bad publicity on Flamingo Land, the LLTNPA/Scottish Enterprise are working together intensively behind the scenes to win people over to the proposal and put propaganda into the press through their bloated communicationss team http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/community-council-back-flamingo-lands-9189747.   I am pretty sure Murdoch Cameron, chair of Balloch and Haldane Community Council, was not the person who contacted the media about this.  Indeed, from the article its unclear whether the Community Council actually met to agree a position or whether the views expressed were personal but have been taken to reflect those of the Community Council.    I say this because there are lots of people in Balloch concerned about the proposals and I would be surprised if the Community Council had been able to take such a clear position.

 

What might we learn from Flamingo Land in Scarborough?

 

Meantime, for those concerned about what Flamingo Land might do on the site, thanks to the reader who sent this press article from Scarborough.   Although it dates from 2014, it is well worth a read as its very relevant to what is happening in Balloch.  It provides further evidence of where Flamingo Land’s expertise lies – bling!

 

” Made up of three distinct environments – ‘Subterranean’, ‘Coastline’ and ‘Sky’ – Flamingo Land Coast will feature an iconic glass roofed botanical gardens, roller coaster, 55 metre iconic lighthouse structure and Space Shot Tower, walk through aviary, sea view bar, restaurant and a new town square.”

 

In both cases, Flamingo Land was appointed in secret.  In Scarborough the Council were forced to reveal the mystery bidder to redevelop the Futurist Theatre site.  In Balloch, Scottish Enterprise appeared to have appointed Flamingo Land back in September 2015 but they and the Park kept the appointment secret  until after the Balloch Community Planning event.

 

In both cases the Flamingo Land development involves destroying something else.  In Scarborough, for the last two years there has been a campaign to save the building and in effect prevent the Flamingo Land development but this appears recently to have failed (see here)   In Balloch, it will involve the destruction of what is currently greenspace.

 

If the Scarborough development now goes ahead,  it raises interesting questions about Flaming Land’s capacity to develop so many sites at once.   This should have been considered as part of the tender evaluation and I wonder how the LLTNPA member of the panel scored this?   (The answer is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act unfortunately).

 

And for those of us who are interested in the manipulation of public opinion and claims made that as Gordon Gibb is a Scot the development should be supported, the following quote should be of interest:

“Flamingo Land boss Gordon Gibb said:

“Scarborough is my home town so it gives me great pleasure, both personally and on behalf of Flamingo Land Limited, to be associated with developing a major visitor attraction on the old Futurist site.”

 

 

November 15, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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Walking the Aviemore to Kincraig section of the Speyside Way on 30th December 2015. Much of the walk was then marred by pylons which I understand are due to be removed.

The Cairngorms National Park announced last week it has won a planning quality award for the extension of the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Kincraig (http://cairngorms.co.uk/planning-award-for-speyside-way-extension/):

 

“The judges praised the Park Authority for its partnership working, community consultation and sheer determination over a decade to develop the best off road route to connect Aviemore to Kincraig.

This included the first use of a Path Order in Scotland to secure rights to develop the path on the preferred route”

 

I think the staff involved do need congratulating on their persistence but the time taken to deliver this path and the walking experience demonstrate that our access legislation is still very weak when it comes to creating new paths and that our landowners still have far too much power.  The basic problem was that the Kinrara Estate objected to the Speyside Way crossing its land, even under an electricity wayleave, and it required two consultations in 2005 and 2007, approvement in principle by Scottish Ministers in 2009, then a path order which required a public inquiry before being approved in June 2012.  Three and a quarter years later the extension opened in September 2015.

 

No wonder the Ramblers Association cited the Speyside Way extension in its submission to the Land Reform Review Group in 2013 in the part of its submission which dealt with “Failure to expand path networks”:

 

“While core paths plans are now drawn up, that does not mean they are being
implemented on the ground – and core paths comprise just a small proportion of the
entire path network. As noted above, access authorities seem reluctant to use the
powers they have within the Act, and this includes powers to use compulsory purchase
or path orders. Just one path order has been used in Scotland, to extend the Speyside
Way, and this followed many years of fruitless discussion with the landowner
concerned. Much time is spent on negotiating with landowners across Scotland who
are resistant to public access, with the public becoming increasingly frustrated with
plans for path networks that they have helped to develop but which produce no change
on the ground. It is inconceivable that transport departments would spend so long
negotiating routes for new roads and yet paths do not have the same status despite
potentially being of huge public benefit.”

 

Now I don’t believe the ten year delay in getting the path off the ground was either the fault of SNH (who had started on plan for the path) or the Cairngorms National Park Authority who took on the work c2009.  However, neither highlighted the case to the Land Reform Review Group (indeed from a trawl through the responses the CNPA did not even make a response).  I think this is wrong.  Our National Parks should be trailblazing when it comes to new paths and if they do not have sufficient powers to do this effectively they should be highlighting the issues to the Scottish Government.

 

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The extension also raises significant issues in relating to the quality of the walking experience which the CNPA has simply not mentioned.  Indeed in their news section they claim “we built the path on the best route for both visitors and local communities”.   That is a matter of opinion but I think if the CNPA asked the public they would disagree.  As one foreign visitor said, the trouble with the Speyside Way is that it avoids the river and this is very true of the  new section.   Of the c8 kilometres of new path, only c2 km, near Kincraig, are by the Spey.

 

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Speyside Way, the thick brown line.                                                          Map Credit CNPA

The problem was and still is that the Kinrara Estate did not want people walking along the river, despite having a right to do so, or Bogach, the loch north of the Duke of Gordon’s monument which is a great place to watch ospreys fishing.  Unfortunately our public authorities were not strong enough to stand up to the estate and the result is the Speyside Way avoids all the best things places to visit in the area.  A missed opportunity.  I would advise anyone who wants to experience the best that Speyside has to offer should find their own route rather than follow the Speyside Way until close to Speybank.

 

Apart from the route it takes, the path provides a good illustration of a number of access issues.

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While Network Rail don’t actually say here you will be prosecuted for crossing the line the message is unwelcoming. Railway crossings are a problem across Scotland but surely our National Parks should be trailblazing solutions with Network Rail which facilitate access rather than stopping it?  The new gate and sign looked to me like a response from Network Rail to the creation of the Speyside Way.
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While the wooden fencing has been done to a very good standard the overall experience is one of being hemmed in and kept away from nature. Compare this to walking along a river bank.  Openness is important to walkers and rarely have I seen such a constricted path.
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The landowners concerns, however ridiculous – they appear to believe that cyclists or runners risk colliding with wildlife – show why all the fencing is in place.
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Another  ridiculous sign. Note the two dog proof fences on either side of the path – there is  nowhere for a dog or people to go. Arguably, because of the new fencing, the creation of this section of path has made access worse not better. What is the point of access if you cannot step off the path and go and sit under a tree?
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Nature beats planning!

 

 

img_1453-copyOur access legislation means that people can walk the Speyside Way extension and all the land around it whether the landowner agrees or not.  Unfortunately the CNPA had not for whatever reason managed to get the owner of this wood or the Forestry Commission to remove this sign which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

 

What should the Cairngorms National Park do about the Speyside Way extension?

Despite my criticisms, the extension is a new path and that is a plus. I think it is important though the CNPA does not in any way suggest that the Speyside Way is the only or main walking route between Aviemore and Kincraig.  I would suggest the CNPA:

 

  • Removes the signage which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
  • Produces a plan to reduce the fencing along either side of the path to improve the quality of the recreational experience
  • Signposts alternative routes, including how to follow the Spey itself
  • Stops the spin and say how it really was for the staff involved
  • Use this example to argue the need for Access Authorities to have stronger powers to create new paths in the places people want to visit

I also suspect that if the CNPA had treated organisations representing recreational users, Ramblers, cyclists and horseriders as true partners, many of the problems with this path could have been avoided.  The Ramblers, for example, have long campaigned again signage such as is evident on the Speyside Way extension and I believe if they had been involved it would not have been tolerated.

November 14, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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This slide from 13th/15th April shows that the LLLTNPA  had already taken a decision before the public board meeting on 27th April which was ostensibly held to decide on the byelaws.   How else could the Park have told the Community Councils prior to the Board Meeting which of their suggestions it had agreed?

Following the Scottish Information Commissioner’s decision (see here) that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park should have to disclose the presentations given to the Board at its secret meetings to develop the camping byelaws and undermine access rights, the Commissioner’s staff said they would check that the Park had given me ALL the slides.   I thought this was being needlessly thorough but then low and behold late on Friday afternoon I received this email from the LLTNPA:

 

Dear Mr Kempe

I refer to my email of 8th November 2016. I inadvertently missed some slides, which are now attached. The additional slides are:

Slide Presentation 23 February 2015 – Slide 3

Slide Presentation 13 & 15 April 2015 – Slides 29, 31, 33 and 35

In my covering letter, I explained that a personal email address has been redacted from a slide, for the avoidance of doubt, this is slide 8 from Slide Presentation 23 February 2015.

Yours sincerely

 

Now, most normal organisations save their slide shows as one document, not as a series of separate slides and the the only explanation I can think of is that the member of staff involved was told to remove certain slides, which included the ones above, from the slideshow.   This is reinforced by fact they are all about the same thing, the manipulation of due process and public opinion.  All praise therefore to the Information Commissioner’s Office for the thoroughness of their staff in detecting this.  Every camper should be grateful to them for this.  Freedom of Information processes may be slow and bureaucratic but the Information Commissioner’s Office is one of the most important safeguards we have against arbitrary authority and abuse of power.

 

What do the missing slides tell us?

 

The slides provide proof us that the LLTNPA approved the camping byelaws BEFORE the Board Meeting on 27th April (no wonder the Your Park item was over in less than half an hour).  The Park is supposed to take decisions in public but the current Board makes decisions in private and contrary to proper governance.  Legally it may well have acted ultra vires.    No wonder the LLTNPA did not want this information to become public and thank goodness for the Scottish Information Commissioner who clearly stated the information should be made public because it was important our public authorities should be accountable for what they do.

 

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The messaging “officers have made a recommendation to our Board” and this would be considered at the Board Meeting on 27th April was a complete lie because, as other slides show, the Board had already taken a decision
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Again the messaging is a lie. The decision was taken beforehand and that’s the only reason the message could also be decided beforehand. Note also the “informal briefing” before the full Board Session. We know, thanks to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life investigation that the Board practised what declarations of interest to make beforehand and no doubt rehearsed who would say what that afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The significance of this slide from 23rd February is the word “discussion”. This shows that this session was not simply a briefing of what staff were proposing but included a discussion of how the Board would respond. In other words it was a decision making meeting.

 

 

While the slides are now public, questions remain about what other information is being kept secret

 

In response to the Information Commissioner’s decision the LLTNPA has now made all the information I requested available on the FOI section of its website http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/park-authority/freedom-of-information/.    I believe the LLTNPA has tried to cut its losses rather than the information being released slide by slide.  Why do I think this?  Well all the missing slides are on the website so obviously this was put up after the Scottish Information Commissioner had been in contact and after I started blogging about this.   I hope people will look at the slides and start raising asking their political representatives if our National Parks should be allowed to take decisions in this way.  I will continue commenting on what the slides tell us about the corruption at the heart of the National Park over the next few weeks and following the slides up with further FOI requests.

 

The biggest single secrecy issue is that I  do not believe the LTNPA has declared all the information it has.  While it provided the slides from the secret meetings that took place from 15/9/14 until 21/9/15 there are no slides or apparently any other written information from the earlier meetings that took place on 9/9/13,  28/10/13, 9/12/13, 17/3/14 and 16/6/14.   The LLTNPA has clearly claimed to the Scottish Information Commission that there is NO written information for any of these meetings.   The Information Commissioner can only force public authorities to disclose information which they admit to existing.  I am afraid I don’t believe that briefing meetings, some of which devoted over an hour to briefing Board Members on camping issues, were conducted with no written information other than agendas (see here).   Perhaps the LLTNPA has destroyed the information but the lack of it is I believe a further strong indication that there has been a conspiracy to undermine access rights.

 

What needs to happen

  • Scottish Ministers should suspend the proposed camping byelaws because of the LLTNPA’s failure to follow due process and because it has taken decisions ultra vires
  • Scottish Ministers need to require all Board Meetings of our National Parks to be held in public, papers to be published at least a week beforehand, all sessions to be recorded and broadcast like the Scottish Parliament (a podcast recording would cost almost nothing) and then properly minuted.
November 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

 

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The Morven Site of Special Scientific Interest as shown on SNH sitelink. I walked with my partner Louise from Glen Fenzie, bottom left of map up to Mona Gowan (new track on its south ridge not shown on map) along ridge to Morven and then down to Morven Lodge.

Following my post on “How to protect wildlife in our national parks”  I have been thinking about how the Cairngorms National Park could achieve its stated objected of landscape scale conservation on the Dinnet Estate where I walked in September.   I have since used it to illustrate the connection between grouse moors and rural depopulation (see here) and the persecution of wildlife (see here).

 

I had not checked what areas on Dinnet were protected by nature conservation designations before our walk but there is in fact a connection between what is protected and what you see.  Unlike  many SSSIs in the National Park all the features are currently classified as being in favourable condition, with only one of these – the assemblage of upland birds, surprise surprise – classified as declining (see here). However, and this is a major problem as we will see, the site is not regularly monitored and the last survey of the Alpine Heath was back in 2000.

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On grouse moors there are high culls of red deer, because they are believed to impact on grouse numbers, with the consequence that trees can regenerate as here by the A839 in Glen Fenzie

 

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One of the reasons Morven is designated a SSSI is because of its juniper. The reduced grazing pressure is also helping juniper regenerate outwith the SSSI
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The regeneration however does not last for long because of muirburn, which has here destroyed what was a large patch of juniper (the bare branches across the middle of the photo). Juniper is not fire tolerant unlike heather.

 

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The fence, running to the summit of Mona Gowan, marks the boundary of the SSSI. Within SSSIs landowners have to ask permission from SNH for operations requiring consent and for Morven this includes creation of all hill tracks. The bulldozing of this new track just outside the SSSI boundary is not a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

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The creation of the tracks has not however stopped the estate taking vehicles into the SSSI and damaging the moorland.  “Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest except four-wheel drive or similar agricultural vehicles on existing estate roads and tracks” is one of the Operations Requiring Consent on the Morven SSSI. Its not possible to tell from Sitelink if SNH consented to this or not as the details of the consents are not publicly available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground” is another Operation Requiring Consent. Its not clear if the estate got consent either to dig this hole to create this mound for putting out medicated grit for grouse. While adminstration of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are all ORCs, strangely feeding medicated grit to grouse is not.
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Another earthwork created to feed medicated grit to grouse within the SSSI. Morven beyond.
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As we got further into the SSSI, the evidence of land management operations reduced and the wildlife increased.
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Having not seen any mountain hare on Mona Gowan, on the edge of the SSSI, on Morven there were many. “The killing or removal of any wild mammal or bird, including pest control, except bird species covered by the General Licence (Scottish Government Rural Directorate); other species under a specific licence issued by SGRD.” is listed as an ORC. SSSIs could thus be used to protect mountain hares.
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There was also lots of fantastic heath, another feature for which Morven is designated a SSSI
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The Cairngorms National Park Authority is currently dealing with tracks created without planning permission on the Dinnet Estate. This track and large borrow pit, on Roar Hill, is within the SSSI and both track and pit were Operations Requiring Consent. Its unclear if SNH gave consent to these tracks but its quite clear they have had a large impact on the vegetation and should not be allowed on nature conservation grounds. Note also the muirburn. “Burning (and) changes in the pattern or frequency of burning” are also ORC.
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More damage by all terrain vehicles within the SSSI
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Below that however is the success story, the large expanse of juniper which is now classified as being in favourable condition. Walking through it was a wonderful experience.
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While there was some sheep grazing, except for tussock fields of purple moor grass, I cannot think of a time in Scotland when I have walked through grasses as tall as this. Again, a great experience.
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As soon as you leave the SSSI there are traps everywhere. Even if small mammals like stoats are not persecuted within the SSSI, as soon as they move out they are. The SSSI is too small to support species that require large territories like eagles. Its thus failing to fulfil its potential.
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As soon as you leave the Morven SSSI, you are back into intensively managed grouse moors where muirburn stops all regeneration of the land.

 

Nature protection and landscape scale conservation

I have been thinking about how Alison Johnstone MSP’s suggestion that Nature Conservation Orders could be used to protect the mountain hare in the National Park could be applied to the Dinnet Estate and what other mechanisms are available to protect species and enable habitat restoration.

  • The purpose of Nature Conservation Orders is to protect natural features from damage.   They are stronger than the Operations Requiring Consent because they make certain activities that damage natural features illegal.   They can also be applied to land contiguous with an SSSI or European protected site  or any land which Scottish Ministers believe to be of special interest for its natural features.  They could thus, in theory be used to ban certain activities from the entire National Park.
  • The provisions relating to Operations Requiring Consent should  be sufficient to prevent much of the persecution of wildlife that goes on on grouse moors that are designated as SSSIs as the Morven SSSI shows.   The problem is the lack of monitoring (SNH does not have the resources to monitor sites properly) and the will to use existing powers to take enforcement action.   There are plenty of powers to force landowners to restore damage, the problem is they are not used.     I think a first step to improvement would be if SNH published in full those Operations Requiring Consent it had approved for each SSSI and together with this a mechanism for the public to report land-managers who had breached these conditions.   The public would then be clearer if damage such as that documented above (the earthworks, track creation and damage by ATVs) had been agreed with SNH or not.
  • In the case of species protection outside SSSIs, species like mountain hare are already protected.  The problem is that SNH has consented to culls because of claims that mountain hares carry ticks and damage trees.  Again, this is a matter of the will of our public authorities to take on the landowners.
  • What is lacking at present however is any effective means to extend areas which are doing well in conservation terms.   A basic flaw of our conservation system is it was designed to protect what is already there, than what might be there.  To protect land SNH has to undertake a lengthy and bureaucratic process to show that certain habitats or species are present in a particular area.  If they get lost, that area can lose its protected status.   When I was on the Board of SNH there were proposals from the RSPB to create Special Protected Areas to save hen harrier.  To designate an area SNH had to show sufficient hen harrier were present – all that did was  incentivise the landowners to kill off their hen harrier as quickly as possible to avoid their land being designated.  So, in my view we do need an effective means to enable natural processes and species to be restored to areas which do not meet the criteria for SSSIs or European Protected Areas.
  • National Parks are one way that this could be done as they have the power to create byelaws for nature conservation purposes that cover all land, not just SSSIs.  Hence my proposal that the Cairngorms National Park should regulate hunting through byelaws.  The CNPA however could, if it had the will, introduce byelaws to control/stop damaging activities such as muirburn.
  • Another mechanism however could be Nature Conservation Orders.   Their advantage over byelaws is that they could be applied to particular areas of land.   They are a stick which the Cairngorms National Park Authority, if it worked with SNH and the Scottish Government, could use to encourage landowners to work in partnership.   The CNPA keeps talking about the need to work in partnership but I very much doubt that Dinnet Estate, whose failure to co-operate with the National Park on hill tracks I intend to blog about soon, would agree at present to any reduction in the damaging activities it conducts on its land outwith the SSSI.   If the CNPA however was able to say it had decided that the area of juniper should be expanded beyond the SSSI boundaries to achieve landscape scale conservation, would be happy to agree with the estate where to do this but if they failed to co-operate, would ask SNH to issue a Nature Conservation Order……………….well, I think that might just provide an incentive for partnership to work.

 

 

 

The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including shrub, herb, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus and turf.

In respect of borrow pits within Muir of Dinnet and Morven and Mullachdubh SSSIs whilst the method statement refers to borrow pits there is no information to state whether these are subject of the planning application and therefore to be used. Works to borrow pits within the SSSIs may require consent from SNH.
33. In respect of the Muir of Dinnet SSSI and its geomorphologic interest, SNH note that the original track cuts across a number of sub glacial ridge and channel features, with the recent upgrading of the track causing additional damage which cannot be restored and has increased visual intrusion. The proposed mitigation should benefit the geomorphologic interest by visually reducing the interruption to the landforms

November 12, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

slides-regulationThis slide (see here for background) was presented to the secret Board briefing session on 15th September 2014, just a few weeks before the formal launch of the Your Park consultation in October 2014. Its significance is threefold.

 

First it shows the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park were considering a permit system BEFORE the Your Park consultation. The LLTNPA failed to consult on the need, desirability or implications of a permit system during the Your Park consultation and there has been no consultation since then.   Up until seeing this slide I had thought the Park’s proposals for a permit system resulted from their inability to deliver more campsite places and that permits were a way of topping the pitifully small number of new campsite places up to the 300 they had promised the Scottish Government to deliver.   I was mistaken, but what the LLTNPA did, in manipulating the Your Park consultation to conceal their real intentions, was wrong, both morally and legally.   I think this greatly increases the chances of successful legal challenges to the legitimacy of the byelaws to ban camping.

 

Second, it shows the LLTNPA were preparing to implement the byelaws long before they had publicly consulted on them.   This is further evidence that the LLTNPA had already made up its mind and that the consultation process was a farce.    Again, that increases the likelihood of successful legal challenge.

 

Third, it shows the current attempt by the LLTNPA to try and present the byelaws as not being a camping ban for what it is, propaganda.  Look up any dictionary and it will say to ban something is to prohibit that thing and enforce this, usually by legal means.   The slide shows the Park were planning for how to enforce the ban and take campers to court back in 2014.   Following LLTNPA Director of Conservation Simon Jones’ claim on newsdrive (see here) that the Park was not banning camping I asked him the following question:

 

“if someone is camping on an area of land which is covered by camping byelaws, between March and Sept next year and does not have a permit and is not on an official camping site and is causing no problem in terms of obstruction, noise, litter or any other matter which potentially contravenes other legislation, and refuses to move on, would the Park support the prosecution of such a person? “

 

Simon has declined to answer but if there will be no ban,  as he claims, there will be no prosecutions under the byelaws and people will be free to camp as before, with irresponsible campers being prosecuted under other laws.   That is what should have always happened anyway.  All the irresponsible and anti-social behaviour that takes place in the Park, whether conducted by campers, other visitors or local residents is already covered by the criminal law as those of us involved in developing the access legislation have repeatedly said.

 

The problem is that ever since Grant Moir left the LLTNPA to become Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater left the police, there has been no will to address criminal behaviour through joint work between Park staff and the police.   Instead,  effective policing in places like Luss has collapsed.  The result has been that local residents have supported camping byelaws because they are plagued by groups of louts who come out to the village to drink and happen to camp afterwards.   Ironically, there are already alcohol byelaws in place at Luss, which give the police additional powers to address the problem.   The problem is they have not been used.  It will be interesting to see if the police treat people camping responsibly according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whose only offense is to refuse to apply for a permit or to camp outwith permitted areas, as a higher priority.

 

If you break a byelaw, you commit a criminal offence and if you are found guilty of this you end up with a criminal record.   That is why all byelaws have to be approved by the Scottish Government, the consequences are so serious.   However, if you drop litter and you are issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice,  this does not create any criminal record.    The Park in their latest blog on Questions and Answers about the byelaws state they will issue Fixed Penalty Notices as a last resort.  What this means is that next year the person who stops to spend the night in any camping management zone for whatever reason and who abides to the letter of the SOAC could end up with a criminal record but the person who fly tips (which like litter is also covered by the Fixed Penalty Notice) won’t.   This is wrong.  It creates a serious anomaly  unlike the framework set out under access rights where remedies are proportionate.

 

I suspect the Park will respond by claiming that they will take a flexible approach to enforcement and ignore certain breaches of the byelaws.   This is what happens on east Loch Lomond at present where rangers tell walkers on the West Highland Way who have nowhere to camp to move out of sight round the corner or wait till the rangers have gone home to bed.   Such an approach however is deeply discriminatory.  The working class angler from the Glasgow conurbation gets removed from the area or prosecuted, while a blind eye is turned to the tourists from abroad or people with the right accents.   Former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater made the point very well in his objection to the byelaws.   If there is a camping ban, to be fair the police need to enforce it against everyone, and that would mean referring people who had been camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to the Procurator Fiscal.  He did not think this was right or sensible which is why, after supporting the original byelaws on east Loch Lomond, he changed his mind.   If the Scottish Government cares about fairness they should do the same and simply instruct the Prosecutor Fiscal not to prosecute campers whose only offence is to breach the camping ban and to use other laws to prosecute any irresponsible behaviour by campers.

November 11, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

After the dire debate in the UK parliament about the public petition to ban driven grouse shooting which took place on 31 October http://markavery.info/2016/11/02/debate-thoughts/, the debate in the Scottish Parliament on 10th November on the Species Champions initiative (on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) offered some hope for those who are concerned about nature conservation in our national parks.    Under this initiative, from Scottish Environment LINK, MSPs agree to become species champions and speak up for them.   They have made some good choices.

 

Mairi Evans, MSP for Angus North and Mearns, whose constitutency covers the South East corner of the Cairngorms National Park has become champion for the Hen Harrier.   Here at last is an MSP for a rural constituency who does not appear to be under the control of local landowners: the estates along Glen Esk, which is her area, provide the location for a long list of unsolved wildlife crimes.  She was brave enough to say that in the north east of Scotland the numbers of hen harrier have reduced from 28 pairs in 1990 to just one.  Her solution to this though is to advocate the SNP Party Line which is there need to be tough new penalties and more resources devoted to preventing wildlife crime.  I have to say I find it hard to see this happening,  given the poor record of the police in prosecuting wildlife crime added to which are the current cuts in police budgets.  I believe that rather than responding to wildlife crime we need to prevent it, which was of course what the petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the UK parliament is all about.    The important thing though is Mairi Evans is prepared to speak up for Hen Harriers and I hope this will lead her into considering what the Cairngorms National Park could do to prevent raptor and other persecution.

 

Alison Johnstone, list MSP for Lothian, had adopted the brown hare but spent almost as much time talking about the mountain hare.     She explained that estates “cull” mountain hare in a belief, for which there is no evidence, that the ticks they carry affect red grouse numbers and called for an end of “the persecution of one species in favour of another”.    That phrase is spot on.  Our National Parks which have a duty to conserve nature, should be leading on this.     Alison Johnstone went one step further and called on the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to issue a Nature Conservation Order putting a moratorium on hare culling for the next three years.

 

Now I appreciate Alison Johnstone was limited by the terms of the debate and could only speak for one species, but any solution to wildlife persecution in our National Parks has to look  beyond any single species.   This is illustrated by the press release the RSPB issued a day after the debate on their latest eagle survey which had this to say about north east Scotland:

 

Less than one third of the traditional ‘home ranges’ in this area were occupied by a pair of eagles and no eagles were recorded at all in over 30% of them, despite the fact that these should be very productive landscapes for these birds. Many of the vacant territories in this area are on ground managed intensively for driven grouse shooting and in recent years, four eagles fitted with satellite tags have been found illegally killed in the central and eastern Highlands (4).

 

So while I support Alison Johnstone’s intention, and also those of the RSPB who want to license grouse shooting estates, I think they are too narrow.  Our National Park should protect all native species from persecution and I am not sure Nature Conservation Orders can do this.

 

The first problem is that that Nature Conservation Orders are designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest and European protected sites.   They may be used on land adjoining these protected areas or on land which Scottish Ministers think are of special interest because of their natural features.    While Scottish Ministers perhaps should be saying the whole of the Cairngorms National Park is important for its natural features, I suspect the civil servants will advise them this would be frought with difficulty.  Part of the reason for this is the lack of designation areas in the eastern half of the National Park (vertical lines Special Protection Area Birds, red crossed hatching SSSIs).export

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The landowners on the grouse moors have made very sure that their land is not designated or if it is the designated area is as small and limited as possible. In the white area in the map is the Ladder Hills SSSI:   hen harrier were one of the reasons why this site was protected in the first place but have now been removed as “a qualifying interest” because they are no longer found there.  The Management Statement for that SSSI notes “mountain hares are shot for sport”.  Not a word about protecting them.   The only mention of mountain hares in the Morven SSSI management statement is to say that they graze on the protected vegetation (though it does say sheep are the main problem).   The trouble with our system of protected sites is they are all about protecting specific species and habitats which have to meet certain criteria and because of this its likely that any Nature Conservation Order would have to meet those criteria too.  A recipe for long wrangling and legal disputes.

 

Related to this they have usually been used to protect habitats not species.  The only example of a Nature Conservation Order that I can find that protects species is one that was issued to prevent wildfowling at Loch of Strathbeg.  This does not mean they shouldn’t be used to protect species of course but I suspect that unless the species is the primary reason for the protected site, it might legally be hard to justify use of a Nature Conservation Order.

 

While I believe therefore that we should make far more use of Nature Conservation Orders – their numbers have dropped so there are now just a handful in the whole of Scotland – I believe a much simpler solution for our National Parks would be for Scottish Ministers to tell the National Park that they should control hunting through the use of byelaws (see here) and use this to protect all native species in our National Parks.   I hope that Mairi Evans, Alison Johnstone and all the other MSPs who spoke so eloquently for our wildlife will start to ask our National Parks to develop mechanisms that ensure no native species is persecuted in favour of another.

November 9, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

loch-chon-original-camping-proposalA few hours after yesterday’s post on the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Decision (see here) and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s failure to provide me with the slides presented at the secret Your Park Briefing Sessions,   I received them by email (see here for accompanying letter).   This is not a coincidence as the Park have monitored everything I do and say for quite some time.   The power of social media!     I don’t believe though that the Park have sent the slides because they are concerned about what the public think about them taking over 4 weeks to send a set of slides as ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner, its that they are worried their minders at the Scottish Government might ask them questions.   If asked, the Park will simply shrug off the delay as a minor oversight on their part rather than part of a systematic attempt to deprive the public of information.

 

A quick look at the content of the slides though has shown me why the Park did not want them in the public realm.   They provide further proof that the Park’s proposed camping ban is not based on any rational evidence, of its complete inability to deliver basic facilities like camping places and of the way it has systematically tried to manipulate public opinion (and the withholding of information is part of that).

 

The slide above on the plans for Loch Chon, which have been covered extensively on Parkswatch, (see here) and (here) provides a good example.  This slide was presented to Board Members at secret briefings on 13th and 15th April 2015 two weeks before the Board formally approved the “Your Park” recommendations at the Board Meeting on 27th April.  The discussion at the open Board Meeting which is where the Park is supposed to take decisions was over in half an hour – I know because I timed it.  I realised then that the Board had already made their decision on the byelaws in secret beforehand and this slide is just one example of how thoroughly Board Members had discussed the Your Park proposals before they went public.   The Board had nothing to discuss on 27th April because the decision had already been made in private at Briefings such as this.   This is a fundamental failure in democracy and accountability.

 

The numbers on the slide tell a tell.  Regular readers will recall that the planning application the Park submitted to itself to build a campsite at Loch Chon earlier this year was originally for 33 places but, after community protests, was reduced to 26 places with Gordon Watson, the Park Chief Executive, claiming this number of places was necessary to make the campsite financially viability.

loch-chon-october-2016

 

So, the Park has cut the numbers of people it was prepared to allow to camp at Loch Chon from 50 in April 2015 to 26 now.  Ignore the fact that there is not even the demand for 26 places at Loch Chon (see here) and think about what this shows about the Park’s claims that the National Park can only sustain 300 more camping places above those provided in formal campsites.   The National Park claims there are too many campers, but one moment is prepared to accept 50 at Loch Chon, the next 26.   The Park also claims it needs to reduce campers  to sustainable levels and has fixed on 300 as the total number of places it would allow, in addition to pre-existing campsites, across the four management zones.   This raises questions not just about how the Park decided one moment that the natural environment around Loch Chon could  sustain 50 places and the the next 26, but also why the areas the 24 “surplus” places were transferred to could suddenly sustain this extra number of places.   The truth, as this slide demonstrates (and you might also wish to note that the permit area at Loch Ard has changed from 5-6 places) is that the number of places is based on prejudice, the NIMBY interests who dislike people camping on popular lochs, and political expediency (so when the Strathard Community Council objected the Park simply transferred the places to the Forestry Commission land at Forest Drive because they knew FCS could not object publicly).

 

The even more worrying thing shown by the slide is the extent to which the National Park is exercising its powers arbitrarily.   For everyone who cares about access rights the choice is whether to oppose the byelaws or subject yourself to the arbitrary authority of the Park.    No-one should trust the current propaganda from the Park on its camping plans that numbers are not fixed because they want to be flexible.   This is code for saying if we get a complaint from a NIMBY, we will simply change the area where people are allowed to camp.  The recreational movement needs to re-assert that access rights and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code are the only appropriate way to manage informal camping in the National Park.

November 8, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

On 6th October the Information Commissioner for Scotland ordered the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority in Decision 209/2016 (see here) to provide me with written information from ten Board Briefing Sessions that had developed the camping byelaws which it wanted to keep secret. It was only when I received a letter from the Commissioner informing me of the decision that I learned that the written information consisted of a number of powerpoint slides presented to the Park Board.  While my appeal was classified as being “partially upheld” this is because the Commissioner decided the LLTNPA was entitled to withhold just one slide out of the 119 presented to the secret Board meetings.   Basically the Commissioner agreed with me that the LLTNPA should not have withheld the information – a small victory.          This follows two other cases where the Commissioner did not reach a formal decision against the LLTNPA because they at the last minute decided to provide me with the information.  That information included extracts from the minutes of the Strategy Group meetings which discussed the byelaws foi-2015-021-response-appendix-a-strategy-group-notes

 

I have still not seen the slides, which I will publish on parkswatchscotland, because the law gives public authorities six weeks to provide information once they have been ordered to do so by the Commissioner.   Its now well over 4 weeks since the LLTNPA received the Commissioner’s decision and the fact that I have still not received the 118 slides in my view says a great deal about the way the LLTNPA operates.  But then the Commissioner’s report makes clear (paras 14-20) that while the LLTNPA claimed during the investigation that 77 slides were already in the public domain, when asked to send them to me the LLTNPA declined to do so on two occasions.

 

While regular readers will know what I think about the governance of the LLTNPA, I am pleased to say that the Information Commissioner has now joined the Standards Commission (see here) in having critical things to say about the way this National Park operates:

 

“the investigating officer was unable to locate the withheld information which LLTNPA was now claiming to be publicly available”.

“46. The Commissioner is somewhat confused by LLTNPA’s submissions. On the one hand, it considers the information in the 52 slides is now in the public domain. On the other, it has been unable to confirm that the information in the public domain is identical, or even substantially similar, to that recorded on the slides.”

“50. In any event, LLTNPA has been asked to identify where in the publicly available information the information in the 52 slides is to be found. It has been unable to do so with any remotely appropriate degree of specification. The Commissioner can only therefore conclude that the information in the slides is not publicly available, never mind easily accessible to Mr Kempe: some of it may be, but the onus must be on the publicly authority to satisfy the Commissioner that this is the case. It has failed to do so.”

“117. The Commissioner is concerned that, in this case, LLTNPA has been unwilling to disclose to Mr Kempe the information which, during the investigation, it had identified as suitable for disclosure, and similarly unwilling to provide him with details describing where he could access other information which it claimed was now publicly available. This was not good practice.”

 

The public interest and the development of the byelaws

In my view the most important part of the Commissioner’s decision is where she says the information the Park withheld should have been subject to public scrutiny and that the LLTNPA needs to be accountable and transparent:

 

93. The Commissioner considers there is a strong public interest in allowing public scrutiny of the information withheld under this exception. In her view, this would add to the public’s understanding of how the proposals for the camping development plan and byelaws were progressed, particularly in light of their impact on the environment and the community. There is a public interest in ensuring that LLTNPA is accountable and transparent, and in understanding what matters were presented to Board members at Board Briefing Sessions, in this process.

 

This puts in a nutshell everything that has been wrong with the development of the camping byelaws – Scottish Ministers and politicians take note!   Unfortunately, its outwith the powers of the Information Commissioner to require public authorities to operate in an open and transparent way unless one is prepared to go through very lengthy processes.   While my appeal to the Commissioner was lodged in April 2016 (and might have taken less than 6 months to decide if the Park had been more co-operative) the original response to my FOI request was received in May 2015.  It took me almost a year before I was able to lodge a valid appeal with the Commissioner.

 

Part of the problem is asking the right questions.  I asked for the dates of all the meetings involving Board Members which considered the Your Park proposals and received this extensive list foi-2015-021-response-appendix-a-meetings-that-discussed-ban in response in May 2015.  It did NOT contain the first two Board Meetings which discussed the byelaws but I only found this out later – the Park would no doubt justify omitting these two meetings because they were held before the “Your Park” concept was created and I had asked about “Your Park” meetings.    The letter foi-2015-021-response-project-board accompanying the list of  meetings stated there were NO “meeting notes” or “papers” relating to the Board Briefing sessions  but, in their usual helpful way, the Park avoided letting me know there might be other written information which did not fit these categories.  It was only when I explicitly asked for copies of any presentations given at the Board Briefing Sessions that the Park admitted in January 2016 foi-2015-058-response, that “Presentations and briefing documents were produced for some of the Board Briefing sessions that considered the Your Park proposals”.  Their refusal to  provide this information led to my successful appeal to the Commissioner.

 

What all this shows is that although the LLTNPA may abide by the letter of the FOI/EIR legislation, they don’t abide by its spirit and their Board and senior management are doing everything they can to obstruct people who are questioning how they operate.

 

What should happen now

 

While one might hope that after this decision the LLTNPA would review its practice and start to operate more openly, I am afraid all the signs are the opposite will happen.  The Information Commissioner noted “the LLTNPA’s arguments that making the information available would likely lead to fewer updates being provided to Board members, resulting in their involvement in matters, such as the formulation of policies, becoming inhibited.”  In effect the LLTNPA were saying to the Information Commissioner that if you make us disclose information from secret meetings, we will stop circulating ANY information at those meetings.  In other words, the Park will deliberately avoid committing anything to paper that might result in them subject to public scrutiny or held accountable for their actions.

 

The LLTNPA are not the only public authority who are doing this in Scotland and this way of operating threatens to drive a coach and horses through our Freedom of Information legislation.   It will also result in Board Members and senior staff becoming less and less accountable.

 

The Scottish Government has the power under the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 to issue Directions and Guidance to our National Parks:

16 Directions and guidance

(1)The Scottish Ministers may give a National Park authority directions of a general or specific character as to the exercise of the authority’s functions; and the authority must comply with those directions.

It should now use this power to issue directions on transparency and accountability.

November 7, 2016 Nick Kempe 6 comments
east-loch-lomond
The LLTNPA camping development strategy map for east Loch Lomond is wrong, depicting campsites where there are none and omitting the campsite at Cashell. Not a single Board Member picked this up. At the very least locally elected Board Member, Willie Nisbet, and local Tory Councillor Martin Earl should have done so.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on Monday 24th October approved what it called a camping development strategy, all 27 pages of it, along with a ten page Board paper.   Prior to the meeting I showed (see here) that the strategy would create a huge shortfall in camping places in the National Park but not a single Board Member at the meeting questioned the numbers. Nor did any of them pick up the errors in the Report, such as in the map above.  If the Board is incapable of even getting basic facts right, its not surprising they are unable to question the Orwellian newspeak which permeated the papers and starts with  “Your Park” which means “no longer your National Park”.

 

Examples of LLTNPA newspeak in the Camping Strategy

 

False claim
“The Camping Development Strategy sets out…………..how 300 places will be delivered by 2017………..and how the Park Authority will invest in facilities within 2017 and in subsequent years”.

It doesn’t. The Strategy includes in its target of 300 camping places (a figure which was in any case plucked out of thin air) a number of camping places that were already in place (9 at Loch Lubnaig and 22 at Sallochy which were in place before Your Park and created as a result of earlier plans) while the only investment described is for this financial year, 2016-17.
False claim
“Wherever possible, opportunities to accommodate motor homes are also identified. Opportunities are constrained within each site due to the desire (whose?) to meet a range of visitors from within constrained sites” and “Motorhomes will have places to stop that provide the right facilities all across the Park”.

 

Motor-homes of course don’t need facilities – the difference between a motor-home and campervan being in part that motor-homes have their own toilets.  Motor-homes simply need somewhere to park and currently dozens do so along the roads through the management zones. The LLTNPA is going to limit this to just 20 across the four management zones and one way its going to make this easier to enforce is to introduce automated car parking recognition systems at places such as Tarbert where up to 40 campervans have been counted this year.  Board Member Colin Bayes, commented on the number of motorhome places at the meeting saying the number may appear small but he hoped in future businesses will provide places for campervans and motor-homes to spend the night.   Does this not prove part of the agenda behind the camping byelaws is to force people into the hands of local businesses?

 

False claim


“ a key consideration is whether sites can safely accessed by car from the public road”

 

The LLTNPA has used this claim as an excuse for not providing a single camping or caravan places along west Loch Lomond north of Inveruglas.   However, it has failed to explain why safety is a key consideration for campervans but NOT for day visitors arriving by car?  If day visitors are allowed to park off road then there should be no issue with campervans doing the same. Again, not a single Board Member questioned this claim. Perhaps this is because the LLTNPA, who state several times that they are working closely with Transport Scotland, are secretly working to try and block off the informal pulling off places by the A82 (which will simply stop everyone from enjoying the lochside).
Neither did a single Board Member ask, if road safety is such an issue, why permits could not be issued to all those campers who arrive by canoe, foot, or bicycle.  Where there are car safety issues, the answer is to create clearways not camping byelaws, as has already happened on east Loch Lomond.


Double speak


“there is an excellent opportunity to contribute to improving to health outcomes by encouraging more people to get active in the outdoors”


How reducing the numbers able to camp on popular weekends by 500 and introducing charges for camping is going to encourage more people to get active in the outdoors is not explained. The LLTNPA has not produced a shred of evidence that campers put other people off enjoying the lochsides; on the contrary, the ranger patrol figures show day visitors and campers mixing. There is in fact a considerable amount of research that shows that being in the outdoors, which is what campers do, improves people’s health and therefore that the LLTNPA’s proposals to ban people from being able to remain in the outdoors for for any length of time is an attack on health.  Health Minister, Shona Robison, should really tell the Park to get their act together.


Double-speak


“By addressing the negative impacts associate with irresponsible camping it is aimed that the popularity of the area will increase”


One of the main justifications the LLTNPA has come up with to justify the camping ban (the justifications keep shifting) is that there are just too many campers along the loch shores but now, to justify reducing the numbers of campers, it wants to INCREASE the number of day visitors who, by the way, also drop litter, have an impact on vegetation and do all the things that campers do.   The Park of course has no plan to address any impacts from day visitors or campers and that’s the problem, not the numbers.


False claim


“Care has also been taken to ensure that camping opportunities are well connected to other recreation opportunities in the area”


This is not true. There is still NO camping provision at Balmaha despite this being the area which a high proportion of backpackers on the West Highland Way reach at the end of their first day and despite various organisations suggesting camping provision is badly needed there. There is NO camping provision for all the people who currently fish the west shore of Loch Lomond north of Inveruglas. There is no new camping provision around Loch Long despite this area having lost a large number of camping places and the Arrochar Alps being so popular for walking and climbing. The camping strategy provides for just 8 new places at Rowardennan when this is both on the West Highland Way and at the foot of Ben Lomond.


Failure of understand access rights


“investment is focussed in those locations where higher number of camping opportunities can be provided”


Not a single Board Member asked what if campers want to find places on lochsides away from other campers? Central to Scotland’s access legislation is it puts the power to decide to go firmly in the hands of the individual, along with the responsibility to access that right according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The LLTNPA wants to replace this by a bureaucratic and managerialist approach which herds people together.

 

False claim


“The investment of public money in facilities needs to ensure the maximum benefits to deliver the best camping experience in the Park”.

What constitutes “maximum benefits” and “best camping experience” is not defined. Not a single Board Member asked what it meant or questioned how the £250,000 the LLTNPA is still planning to invest this year at Loch Chon, where there is no demand for a 26 place campsite, meets this criterion. The LLTNPA is however now hedging its bets: “any on site facilities will be designed as self contained units which can be transferred to another site if necessary”.    What the paper does not say is that the shipping containers the LLTNPA is using for toilet blocks at Loch Chon have to be plumbed in to a new water supply and sewerage disposal system and if the Park was really wanting to test demand, portaloos would be a much cheaper and more sensible solution.

 

Double speak


“The intention is that this investment coupled with the byelaws will build confidence in Loch Lomond and Trossachs that is a safe and enjoyable place to come and camp”

Or as Orwell might have put it,  “we are reducing the numbers of campers to enable more people to camp”.

False claim

On Loch chon “its already a popular camping location”.

According to the LLTNPA’s own data its one of least popular lochs for camping in the National Park, which is no surprise as its hard to get to.

Re-writing history

On North Loch Venachar, ”there is limited vehicle parking” and “There are no public facilities to support camping”

And why is this? Because the LLTNPA ripped up the 5 Parks Plan, though it has never admitted to doing this, and replaced the 29 car parking places with just 12 and failed to install a toilet block!
It beggars belief that Board Members, Linda McKay the Park Convener, who lives on the shores of Loch Venachar, and Martin Earl, who lives closeby are not both fully aware of this – yet they said nothing.

Newspeak in the media – we welcome camping by banning it

After the Board Meeting, various pieces appeared in the media including an interview on newsdrive  – (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07z38m2#play at about 56.30 minutes into the programme) with Simon Jones, the Director of Conservation of the LLTNPA, and Brendan Paddy the acting Director of Ramblers Scotland.  Simon claimed at the start that “I think its important Mhairi to say first of all its not a camping ban.  We very much welcome camping tin the future but its going to be through a permit system”.    Look up any dictionary and the definition of ban is Officially or legally prohibit (something)”.  That is exactly what the LLTNPA is doing.  Its trying to prohibit camping on the lochsides in the National park except for in official campsites and the few places that are covered by permits.  The fact that anyone breaking this ban will be committing a criminal offence proves the point.

It was great to hear Brendan go on the offensive and his description of the byelaws as a “bureaucratic rigmarole” was spot on.

What needs to happen

The explanation for all this newspeak is that the LLTNPA has dug itself a deeper and deeper hole based on the prejudices of its senior staff and Board Members and has had to resort to ever more contorted to try and justify what it is doing.    I don’t think this will change while the current Board is in place but if it was a good starting point for language would be that used in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

 

The outdoor recreation movement need to start challenging the language the LLTNPA has been using.   Cut through the newspeak in the camping strategy and the fact is that the LLTNPA has lamentably failed to produce new camping facilities in the places that are needed and has no effective plan to change this as I will show in my next post on this.

 

 

 

 

 

November 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
p1000843-copy
I counted over 20 campervans in this car park, at Montanejos, a popular climbing and walking area in Spain, which is more than will be allowed next year along all the lochsides in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

I have just returned from a rock climbing holiday in Spain, a first for me.  Its a beautiful country although the coast between Alicante and where we were staying, inland from Valencia, has been well and truly been trashed.     Its not difficult though to find examples of facilities and treatment of visitors which are far far better than anything that is happening in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

p1000849-copy
This climbing crag, situated beneath some wonderful sandstone towers near Betxi, was reached by several kilometers of track. It was completely hidden in the woods and it took us an hour to find it after leaving the car. I was amazed therefore to find this well used litter bin at its base. It obviously worked because the base of the crag was spotless. I was struck by the effort required to provide and empty this bin with the failure of the LLTNPA to provide litter bins even in the most accessible places such as car parks.
p1000839-copy-2
Outside cooking area – not quite the same as a barbecue pit but a similar idea. The village where I stayed provided facilities which would be unthinkable in our National Parks. and in all likelihood would be rejected by the NIMBY brigade.
p1000836-copy
Facilities are seen as public goods – you can find water in every village – rather than as something to be charged for.

Why what happens elsewhere matters

At the LLTNPA Board Meeting on 24th October, the papers on the camping plan implied that the Park intended to learn through experience and one board member, James Stuart, made an enthusiastic contribution to this effect, saying that this is just the start of a process to find out what works.   I don’t think this is good enough.   There is a mass of experience and evidence from elsewhere in Scotland, the UK and abroad of what works and of ways to manage visitor pressures, including campsite provision.  The problem is the LLTNPA has failed to consider any of this, as the photos above illustrate, let alone basic principles about access rights or how to resolve potential conflicts between recreational interests where they exist.

 

The solutions to this failure to learn from elsewhere are not difficult.  The Scottish Government could appoint people to the Board who had knowledge and experience of what goes on elsewhere and who were prepared to advocate alternative solutions.   The National Park Authority could empower its staff to learn from elsewhere or start asking the Local Access Forum to advise it on alternatives drawing on experiences from elsewhere.   I suspect though none of this will happen until things start going horribly wrong next year when the National Park starts trying to clear the lochsides of campers.

 

November 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s planning approval of the Loch Chon campsite  (http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/09/26/loch-chon-con-goes-planning/) I submitted further FOI requests to try and understand  better what I believe is a stupid decision and a waste of resources.

 

For a long time now been treating all my queries about the management of the National Park either as Freedom of Information/Enviromental Information requests or as complaints.  Their normal practice has been to divulge as little information as possible but sometimes they add commentary in order to justify what they are doing (which to me shows they are misusing the FOI/EIR rules to suit their own purposes).   Both approaches are evident in their latest FOI/EIR response on Loch Chon eir-2016-054-response. 

 

On the one hand the Response says that the Park hold NO information about why the LLTNPA  rather than Forestry Commission Scotland are developing the Loch Chon campsite.  I must say I find this incredible.  There must have been some discussion with FCS about the use of their land by the LLTNPA but the Park, rather than being open about their discussions with FCS, have chosen to interpret my question in the narrowest possible sense as being about why FCS chose not to develop the campsite.   I will ask again for all correspondence between FCS and LLTNPA about the development of Loch Chon and also ask FCS.  I believe its in the public interest to know what FCS think of the development of a 26 place campsite on their land where there is no evidence a campsite of this size is needed and believe its unacceptable that our public authorities are not being open about this.

 

On the other hand while the Response confirms that the shipping containers which will be used for the toilet blocks at Loch Chon had been bought PRIOR to the decision about the planning application, the Park adds the comment that if the planning application had been refused, the containers would have been used elsewhere.  The LLTNPA are obviously keen to avoid any legal challenge that the planning decision was prejudiced because the Park Board had already decided that this campsite should go ahead.    To cover their back the Park have also written into their  Board report on the camping plan that the shipping containers could be moved in future if better used elsewhere.   It is not clear though from the Response whether  the Park has bought other shipping containers than those destined for Loch Chon for £16,512 but I think this prior purchase explains why the Park refused to consider alternatives to shipping containers for this site as suggested by the Strathard Community Council.  As importantly there has been no consultation at all with the people who actually camp on the lochshores about what they think.

 

The LLTNPA is about to convene a stakeholder group to consult on future camping plans.  I hope that that group insists from the start that the LLTNPA needs to be transparent about all decision making on their camping plans and engage with the people who actually camp in the National Park.