Month: April 2017

Most people want to conserve the countryside but is what Ralia Estate means by “conserving the countryside” compatible with a National Park? (see below)

 

On Wednesday evening I went to have another look at the northern section of the access track which had been created for the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and which was due to be restored last year (see here).  Its situated on the east side of the A9 behind the tree shelter belt and opposite the southern turn off to Dalwhinnie.

The north end of the track, which is blighted by a so-far unrestored large turning area

That post resulted in the North East Mountain Trust, who had been concerned about the original planning application, taking the matter up with the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   It transpires that the Estate had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency about the details of how they were going to restore the track, missed the deadline and the CNPA has now extended it until the end of 2017.    There was provision for this under the conditions attached to the planning consent which lasts until February 2018.    Unfortunately there are still no details of this on the CNPA planning portal (see here) where the last available document is dated July 2015.  If you are a member of the public, therefore,  not only does it appear that the estate has failed to restore the track within the deadline but also that the National Park has done nothing about this.   The CNPA is letting itself down and, I believe, making planning enforcement much harder for itself because of this lack of transparency.

 

 

The CNPA did though state to NEMT  that, should the Estate fail to restore the track as per the planning permission it granted by the Park Authority, once the CNPA planning permission lapses the ground would  need to be completely restored, as per the Section 37 Electricity Act consent for the Beauly-Denny.  They said the Scottish Government would be responsible for enforcing this. (I am unclear how this can be reconciled with earlier advice I received from the Scottish Government that  “In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place”).   If it comes to that, four years will have been lost in which this land could have been restored properly to the benefit of both landscape and wildlife.     Funny how delays in our planning system are always portrayed as being the fault of planning authorities when in fact by far the biggest delays and created by developers/landowners.

Tower 125 just beyond the end of the track. There is a patch, just behind the tower, where vegetation is recovering, unlike the scar in the middle distance

Meantime, the Scottish Government is even less transparent – one rule for local government, another for national government – and removes planning applications it approves from the public realm.  There is therefore no convenient means for the public to find out how the restoration of the Beauly Denny is going.  I resorted to a FOI request to the CNPA about what information they held and was – again very helpfully – provided with information about the restoration of land under the 76 towers and approx 28km of track that are within the National Park boundary.

Extract from SSE monitoring report October 2016. The Drumochter track is 25a and the FT reference is short for the Fort Augustus to Tummel section and followed by the number on the tower.

According to SSE most of the restoration for which it is still responsible is going well – or rather is “of an acceptable standard”.  I think the photos show otherwise, as does a report the CNPA’s peatland officer in 2015  (see here) – well done him and the CNPA.     What the papers, which I will come back to in further posts, show is that SSE is just hoping all the destruction which it caused will regenerate naturally, whereas the CNPA and SNH are concerned whether this is going to happen.    The problem is the CNPA appears to have very little power to make SSE do anything – although if it went public with its concerns that I think would make a significant difference.

Photo of ground north of tower 125. Stones have been mixed with soil and insufficient turf retained to resurface the whole. To make matters worse clumps of turf have simply been dumped on along with stones on the surface.

So why has Ralia estate taken over the burden of restoring the land from SSE?

 

 

The amount of work – and therefore cost – in meeting the approved design plans for the track are considerable.   The 4.7 km of track needs to be reduced from its current width of 5-7m to 3m.

So much aggregate has been imported to construct the track that even where turves have been properly stored, re-landscaping will be a real challenge.   The planning permission granted by the CNPA specifies that excess materials will be removed, which would make landscaping considerably easier – a great requirement but will the estate do it?

 

The job will not be made any easier because so much of the temporary construction work was so poor.   If this track is to be halved in width, so will the drainage pipes.

Bizarrely, among all the protuding pipes, there was one example of a culvert which had been properly finished – at both ends too!   Unfortunately, the track here was even wider than normal, 7m rather than 5m, and at least one of the finished culverts will need be ripped out if the track is to be reduced in width to 3m.    If this work was done by SSE, one wonders why?  If by the Estate, that would suggest they are intending to keep the track at its current width, contrary to planning requirements.

The reason why the estate wanted to retain the track though quickly became apparent.  It makes it much easier for the gamekeepers to manage animal traps or, from their viewpoint, “to conserve the countryside”.   This was the first time I had seen a live bird in a Larsen trap in 100s of visits to the hills (not a coincidence, they are usually tucked away like this) and I found it quite distressing but then I see crows as beautiful creatures, one of the most intelligent of all birds, and not pests.   The crow was hopping up and down and beating its wings against the side of the trap – that’s what’s meant to happen, it attracts other crows wishing to defend their territory.    All my instincts were to free it but that, I recalled somewhere, is a criminal offence.

The ostensible purpose of Larsen traps is that the flapping crow (or other corvid) attracts others which are then lured into one of the two traps.    In Scotland only hens’ eggs or bread are allowed as  bait (as here).  The theory and use of these traps from the landowner viewpoint is set out in guidance from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).     The trap in the photos appeared to meet all animal welfare requirements about provision of water, food and a perch for roosting at night.   While Scotland has stricter requirements than England on the use of these traps, under General License under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it seems to me there is question about whether this General License should extend to National Parks.

 

While the GWCT claim there is little evidence of raptors being caught in such traps and that live traps such as this allow protected birds to be released,  that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the level of persecution of raptors on grouse moors.  Why would estates ever report if hen harriers, say, were found in such traps?  Maybe I am unobservant, or always unfortunate in my timing, but while there were large numbers of grouse about (and some song thrush, pied wagtail and wheatear) there was not a sign of a hen harrier.

 

What was clear was that the estate was trapping anything else that might prey on grouse.   The tracks make maintenance of such traps easier for estate staff.

 

A  multi-catch cage trap was located slightly further away from the track – as recommended by GWCT – part of the reason being to avoid the public coming into them while in use and becoming distressed.  What is clear to me is the CNPA, by granting planning permission, for the retention of this track has made it much easier for estate staff to trap and kill anything that is perceived as a threat to red grouse.  The CNPA talks about the need for balance between competing interests, but in terms of species there is no balance.  Everything is about increasing numbers of red grouse.

Ralia estate: Grouse shooting in Inverness-shire

While as the link shows, the numbers of grouse at Ralia have increased dramatically, what is not reported is the numbers of other species that predate on them.

 

The CNPA’s consent to Ralia Estate retaining this section of track appears to have had little impact on their off-road use of vehicles.     Indeed, Ralia estate appears to be creating further tracks without any planning permission.

The track that has been developed along the line of grouse butts on the north side of the Allt Coire nan Cisteachan.    The installation of a water bar means, I believe, that this counts as a constructed track and should have had full planning permission – its purpose, along the line of grouse butts is only too clear and has nothing to do with agriculture (where developments only require “prior notification”).

The track, as you can see far right, runs up in front of the grouse butts

 

New track, running up south side of Allt Coire na Cisteachan and branching off track used by many walkers to access A Bhuidheanach

The constructed nature of the track on the south side of the burn is even more obvious and to an appalling standard (I will report it to the National Park).  Although the newly “constructed” section is short,  its intention is clearly to enable vehicle access up the hillside easier and yet more scars on the Drumochter.

End of the 20m section of track showing erosion created beyond

The issue at Drumochter therefore is not just about restoration of the Beauly Denny or planning permission for hill tracks and what they are then used for – although both have had major and unnecessary impacts on the landscape – its about what off-road use estates should be allowed to make of vehicles in the National Park.   In my  the National Park could contain and control all these issues through the use of byelaws which introduce licenses for hunting.   Such hunting licenses could require estates not to use vehicles off-track or trap any animal without explicit permission.

By Ross MacBeath

The new directive for Countryside Rangers – enforce the byelaws above all else.

 

Secret slide released under FOI

While the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park made a great hullabaloo claiming success with their byelaws on the East Loch Lomond shore, what they failed to explain was that to achieve this as yet unsubstantiated claim, they had to increase ranger patrols in the area.    The problem now for the LLTNPA is the area covered by the extended byelaws covers over ten times the length of road – a vast area – and they don’t have 10 times the resources.

As a result they have had to remodel the Ranger Service.  Education and conservation have gone as priorities, the focus of Rangers is now on enforcement and engagement.

 

“Take Your Litter Home” is not a strategy.

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Meantime “Take your litter home” is not a strategy nor is it a policy for preventing  littering.  It’s an educational program designed to raise awareness of littering issues in the long term and as such requires to be supported with litter bins, a litter collection and pick up strategy if the National Park is ever to be made litter free.

 

After over a decade watching litter polluting the park the LLTLPA still look on

 

Spent Barbeque left at Carpark Loch Venacher North Zone B 10th April '17The LLTNPA blinkered insistence that ‘Take your litter home’ IS the only contribution they have to make to litter management is itself the prime driver for the increasing mess in the National Park.

 

What a welcoming first sight for visitors, a spent barbeque in the car park.  How long will this and the rest of the litter pictured in this post remain, damaging the reputation of the Scottish Tourism before the Park Authority arranges for it to be cleaned up.

 

I was taught to put litter in a bin, my children were educated to do the same and undoubtedly their generation are teaching children the same thing. Changing that entrenched mindset is not only undesirable, it could also take 5 -10 generations to accomplish, so what the LLTNPA need to do is get a workable park cleaning strategy in place meantime and get the decades worth of rubbish they have allowed to accumulate cleaned up.

It’s somewhat ironic the LLTNPA, who berate campers for leaving litter in a bag,  are themselves guilty of fly tipping at Loch Chon.  I trust they paid the £200 fine or reported themselves to the Procurator Fiscal.

 

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the dirty National Park

 

The National Park Board really need to get out of their Ivory Tower, stop listening to the tripe related to them at secret board meetings and see what’s going on in the Park.for themselves.  The LLTNPA have not made any effort to clean up many areas before the byelaws commenced on the 1st of March 2017 so there is no frame of reference for the success or failure of the byelaws to be measured against (though the LLTNPA promised this would be done), while leaving the park in a mess for this season’s visitors.

 

Click images to zoom

 

This is the state of the loch side adjacent to the Loch Venacher North permit Zone A.  It is clear from the degradation on the cardboard that the above 3 images are historical.

 

Littering still taking place on 8th and 9th April ’17 in management zones

 

By contrast, the two images below show litter left by visitors on the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April despite the byelaws.    How can this be when policing the byelaws is now the Rangers first and main priority?  One would expect extreme effort at the start of the season where the Ranger to visitor ratio is high.   When the rangers can’t even cope in the low season, with  only a handful of visitors using the permit and management zones, this counts as abject failure.

 

 

It would appear the rangers just don’t have the manpower to stop this, making the byelaws superfluous.   So far It is clear the byelaws are having little effect on the negative impacts of the few.   Does this result from too much talking and not enough doing?!  With the claimed 4 million visitors to the park it is impractical to interact with them all – a ranger presence which focusses on problems is more important than endless time checking permits.

 

Serious littering, fouling and other criminal offences allowed to go on unchecked

 

After visiting 6 sites over a couple of weekends 3 of them showed serious littering, 2 toilet fouling and 2,  instances of “fire raising” (see here),  all of them criminal offences under the byelaws.    There were also two instances of landowners locking gates preventing reasonable access to 2 of the permit zones.

 

The only possible “success” the Park has had so far is in making it harder for well behaved visitors and their families who are now unable to exercise their access rights to enjoy camping in the popular areas of the Park.

 

March 19th Loch Chon Shelter erected in management zone

Under the byelaws it is a criminal Two visitors committing criminal offencesoffence to erect a shelter overnight, which means any time between 7pm or 7am.   On these light evenings, its mad that its legal for fishermen to use shelters, which  are after all a piece of personal protection equipment necessary to prevent hypothermia on bad weather days, at 18. 59 but at 19.01 they are criminals.  Two visitors had put up this shelter and 2 Rangers were in vicinity – I wonder how they advised the fishermen?    This rule is impossible to enforce.  It would require signs at every place used by fisherman in the camping management zones.

 

March 19th Loch Chon Campsite

 

At the Loch Chon camp site I witnessed two day visitors light a fire using wood collected from surrounding area.   Rangers were present and did nothing (just like at South Loch Earn) (see here).  Impossible to enforce for non-campers because none of the Park’s signage tell you about this and the wording of the byelaws is not clear – you need to cause damage.  However, campers when they apply for a permit agree to terms and conditions that clearly state you cannot use wood you have collected and say that breach of these terms is itself a criminal offence.  The byelaws are thus potentially enforceable against campers who apply for permits but no-one else.

 

April 2nd Tents pitched outside permit zone but in a management zone

 

Two weeks later in Forrest Drive down by Loch Achray, I had a chat with a family of 4 adults and 2 kids who were all enjoying a bright warm spring day on the 2nd April ’17 at an illegal camping pitch on the South side of Loch Achhray,

The family were experienced campers and with three tents, a shelter and a toilet tent they were certainly well prepared.  All in all the kids were having a wonderful time fishing with plenty of space to run around the tent and on the loch side where large grassy expanses abound. They seemed blissfully unaware the 4 adults were committing criminal offences by just pitching here outside a permit zone.  However, as they intimated rangers had stopped by the day before and again today, Sunday 2nd, when they should have been made aware of their crime.  However they were not asked for a permit or moved on.   The reason why is perhaps explained by  the image to the right.  The Forestry Commission sign states this IS a permit zone when the actual permit Zone ‘L’ is on the opposite side of the Drive.  Not even FCS know where people are allowed to camp!

 

Zone ‘L’, opposite, is however unsuitable for camping as there are no viable pitches

 

Had the family purchased a permit for the adjacent zone L they would not have been able to camp there. Images showing why can be seen in the Zone L gallery or the full report is here.  Perhaps the Rangers allowed the illegal camp on the shore because it is impossible to camp in Zone ‘L’ another complete failure as a camping zone claiming 9 pitches.

 

Zone  ‘L’ is however being used for toileting and the rangers of course are powerless to prevent it.  Now, while having a crap is not covered by the byelaws for the general public, it is covered by the camping permit terms and conditions breach of which is a criminal offence.  There is a clear breach here – toilet paper for example has to be carried out – but I just wonder just what is the LLTNPA’s modus operandi for catching people in the act of shitting in the woods.  That would surely make an interesting read.
This incident is recent, possibly a week ago, certainly within the management season.   It would be impossible to attribute this to any individual permit holder without photographs or witnesses and of course it’s just as likely to be a day visitor (its not just campers who need toilets).   So the byelaws  themselves fail to make any material difference to this illegal fouling. They are no more than an unwelcoming threat and intrusion on every visitors day in the park, compounded by the inevitable attempt of a pair of rangers to engage is a 10 minute dialogue.     What can they do with the nearest toilets 45 minutes away by car (round trip) from any permit zone on Forest Drive?

 

 

Rangers attend an incident April 1st  ’17  Loch Achray Youth Site

The same family told me  of a fracas in the Chopped down tree for firewood, 2nd April '17adjacent camping area a bit further along the loch on Saturday night, the 1st of April, where some live tree chopping had taken place.     They explained that rangers attended at an incident at the loch side and some raised voices followed.   Hopefully we will see a report sent to the Procurator Fiscal for this damage but it will be interesting to see if the report is for breach of permit terms and conditions or under the existing law of damage to property.

 

The important point here that the presence of Ranger patrols failed to stop the damage occurring in the first place again confirming the Ranger Patrols are ineffective and just a huge revenue expense that would be better invested in infrastructure such as provision of wood for fires.

 

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10th April Loch Achray South.   No change here with black plastic bags left at the gates and water bottle left by the campfire, the byelaws clearly making no improvement.   What is and always has been required of course is litter bins which would prevents bag like this being ripped open by foraging animals.  The LLTNPA have failed to elucidate how this mess will be cleared up without a litter management policy.

 

Gates Firmly Locked, so is this zone even active?

 

Somewhat strange for an advertised camping zone that can be booked on the permit site, these gates are locked like no other, with two padlocks through heavy duty chains and 3 bike locks with additional rope loops and a barbed wire fence to boot.

 

Quite clearly access is being denied to visitors however on entering the zone it is also clear it is this zone is currently being used by visitors.

Why this is listed as a camping zone at all is a mystery when the gate is obviously permanently locked.

So how can this be allowed to happen at such a prominent site.

 

Illegal toleting at Loch Achray SouthThere was also evidence off toileting at Loch Achray South, which would be illegal if done by a permit holder although strangely enough not illegal if done by someone without a permit (though they of course would have been committing a different criminal offence if they had pitched a tent here without a permit.  Perhaps the Rangers, in cases like these,  check names and addresses of recent permit holders and then contact them to ask if they are responsible?    How can the Rangers ever know if its a camper or day visitor responsible, as was the case for most of the fire, barbeque and toileting incidents described above.

 

Against all reason the LLTNPA accost visitors with their futile byelaws.

 

The LLTNPA has added a dozen or so new criminal offences for campers and campervanners through the back door by making breach of their permit terms and conditions a criminal offence.  One rule for campers applying for permits, another for everyone else.   It has reduced their credibility to that of a petulant child. It’s just embarrassing.
The main tool at the Ranger’s disposal now is fear and threat of prosecution.  While that may very well be a useful and perhaps even an acceptable way to prevent  serious criminal offences its scandalous this could be applied to pitching a tent or staying 4 nights in a zone instead of 3

 

The LLTNPA were advised from people who understood outdoor recreation and criminal behaviour that the byelaws were never going to be an effective deterrent and affect the wrong people.  It should be clear to all now that other than some reports to the Procurator Fiscal when Rangers just happen to be in the right place at the right time, the majority of contraventions of the byelaws will go undetected because Ranger cover is just too infrequent.   While this frequency is inversely proportional to the time Rangers spend pestering visitors with their visitor engagement, its still unlikely to be enough, even if rangers did stick to patrolling and adopted the policy for all petulant children of being seen and not heard.

Photo taken Sunday 19th March and posted by Donald Morris on the Save Cairngorm Mountain facebook page – great source of information for what is going on at Cairngorm. Natural Retreats were burning off the old snow fencing which they had previously committed to remove from the mountain.

After Highland and Island’s Enterprise announcement that they had agreed a new masterplan for Cairngorm, along with a £4m loan to Natural Retreats (see here),  I asked HIE for a copy of the masterplan and any associated plans for the proposal- such as a business plan providing evidence for the proposals:

HIE Response

“At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board approved CML’s [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s] new Master Plan.  However, the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time.”

Comment

The business plan – although HIE has avoided answering whether such a plan exists – could be commercially sensitive and thus exempt from FOI law,  but a masterplan is a planning document and should be available to the public.

I also asked for a list of all organisations HIE has consulted on this proposed and any information relating to that consultation:

 

HIE Response

“CML will be the applicant in terms of any forthcoming planning application. Both HIE and CML have been involved in prior consultation with CNPA, THC [Highland Council] and SNH.”

Comment

HIE have failed to answer whether they hold any information relating to this “consultation”  with other public bodies.

My final request was asking HIE to clarify whether whether Schedule 4 to the current lease, which was about the requirement to deliver a new day lodge as part of the lease, has been revoked:

 

HIE Response

At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board agreed that the legal documents will be amended to accommodate the new projects.

Comment

This is the only informative part of HIE’s response.  What it means is that the HIE Board have agreed to drop the legally binding requirement in the original lease with Natural Retreats to develop a new Day Lodge.  Its significance is that this was an opportunity for HIE to terminate their lease with Natural Retreats.  They have chosen not to do so.

The failures and lack of accountability of HIE

 

It is not unreasonable to ask how a public authority, funded by public monies, believes it is acceptable to put out a press release stating a masterplan has been agreed at Cairngorm but then keep that masterplan secret?

 

The proposal for a masterplan at Cairngorm formed part of the Glenmore Strategy agreed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year.

While I cannot find any reference to a masterplan in the CNPA Local Development Plan agreed in 2015, the footnote to the table above indicates that the masterplan is a spatial plan and therefore, its fair to assume, a masterplan in the formal planning sense.  Even if not, in terms of good practice, one might have hoped HIE would have taken some heed on the Scottish Government Planning Advice Note on developing masterplans (see here).

That guidance I believe is very relevant for Cairngorm.   It requires site appraisal – for Cairngorm that would mean a look at the ski area as a whole – and consultation with local communities:
“When creating successful places, people must be at the heart of the process. The local community’s understanding of the needs of an area are invaluable in establishing priorities and arriving at a vision for a place. Once the local community and key stakeholders (the community in its widest sense) have been identified, early discussions can provide a wealth of information about the area’s history and how it functions. An engagement plan could be devised to identify mechanisms for involving the community. These will establish opinions and confirm local people’s aspirations for the place. Various types of interests may have to be engaged in different ways.”
 
While because of the special nature of Cairngorm, I would argue that consultation should be far wider, and involve for example recreational (e.g skiers and mountaineers) and conservation interests, the important point is there has NO consultation at all.   HIE has apparently agreed what it wants to happen at Cairngorm with Natural Retreats and how to fund this through public money without any consideration of other views.    A top down solution that again is likely to end in tears.

Natural Retreats is not fit to manage any development at Cairngorm

While HIE and Natural Retreats have kept all information about the proposed dry ski slope secret at present (e.g its location) one detail emerged on the Cairngorm Mountain facebook page on 13th April where they said it would be constructed out of snowflex .  This raises some intriguing questions because the nature of the product http://www.snowflex.com/ which is “solid” rather than other types of artificial slope:
  • with no spaces for vegetation to grow through, it is likely to have a greater impact than other potential products on the vegetation and soils at Cairngorm;
  • without holes in the matting, there is higher friction and this means snowflex requires a water misting system which cannot operate in low temperatures because it freezes up;
  • because of the high friction, snow flex also needs to be installed on steeper slopes (unlikely to be of use at the Shieling rope tow which was installed for beginners).   While the manufacturer states it can be used when frosted, in such condition it can only be used by better skiers and boarders.  Not much use then for beginners in winter then;
  • if my understanding is correct and you cannot use piste bashers on snow flex, then if partly snow covered, snow flex could not be used at all (it would be like skiing over grass patches but worse).

 

There is nothing wrong with snowflex as a product, the trouble is its not designed for use in a mountain environment year round.  Its advantage over other products comes in artificial snowparks (artificial half pipes etc).  One wonders therefore if a summer snowpark is the secret plan for Cairngorm?.

 

If there is any case for an artificial ski slope at Cairngorm, it would be to provide a beginners area when there is insufficient snow and to link to the piste system.   This has been done in other parts of the world using different materials.

 

The revelation about the proposed use of snowflex just provides further evidence of Natural Retreats’ lack of competence to manage the Cairngorm ski area.

 

Cairngorm Estate Management Plan

 

Meantime, there is no sign of HIE’s  proposed estate management plan which might one have hoped excluded practices such as taking skips up the mountain to burn off fencing (first photo) and which needs to be considered along with any masterplan.

By Ross MacBeath

It is now clear that much of camping provision intended as replacements for camping by our loch shores banned under the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Byelaws is little more than a collection of undesirable areas with little or nothing to offer families or groups of visitors as a camping experience.

 

With the exception of the yet unfinished site at Loch Chon and pitches at Rowardennan little else if anything is new.  The Park Authority is just issuing paid for permission slips to camp in the same areas that were free to campers previously, without the benefit of toilets or drinking water, or in the case of many permit zones,  places you would not want to camp, or even be able to pitch a tent.

 

Forest Drive Zone ‘E’ – no more than a collection of broken down pitches

 

Forest drive Zone ‘E’ supposedly providing  4 camping pitches, has a trio of broken down  pitches, created by the  forestry commission many years before with the 4th to be selected from the greater camping zone.

 

 

The first formal pitch has been destroyed by a forestry vehicle crossing it to access active forestry operations in the permit zone. The pitch is unusable.

 

As you might expect from an existing Forestry Commission site, this location is rather desirable at least as a view point and picnic spot. It has a true feel of a mature forest with pine needles softening the lines of the car park.  However forestry operations and tree  felling is putting this at risk.

 

The area overlooks the westerly reaches of Loch Drunkie. It is therefore a very popular spot with drive through visitors for both photo stopovers and extended stops for picnicking which means there is high demand for the limited space at the view point overlooking Loch Drunkie, marked ‘P’ on the map.

 

It is clear these pitches have not been used for camping in recent years and resurrecting them brings 8 to 16 additional visitors who will remain on the site with their vehicles.  This number of visitors using such a small area is as detrimental to the forest drive experience, as it is to the camping experience where a continuous flow of drive through visitors in search of picnic spots, disturb peace and quiet of the 3 pitches sited at the car park. The campers in turn block the use of the desirable location at the view point with  their own picnics and recreational use.

 

No work has been done in this zone other than the erection of a sign and some posts

 

The Forestry Commission’s original 3 camping pitches   have over the years fallen into disrepair through lack of maintenance and other damage.

That said, the LLTNPA have adopted this site as a camping permit zone and seen fit to do no remedial works whatsoever leaving the area in a state not fit for pitching tents.  Toilets for this zone are a 14.4 km round trip by car taking around 45 minutes.

 

The second of three pitches has a tree stump in it’s centre making it impossible to use as a viable camping pitch. How does the Park Authority expect anyone to sleep on this?

 

Again the National Park Authority have show their utter contempt for visitors at this site

 

 

The third pitch is a little better insofar as it is undamaged and you could pitch a small tent, but it does have borderline issues with slope which makes it undesirable from a comfort and sleeping perspective.  It would also be far more flexible without the wooden border and like the others, it is somewhat overgrown and does not provide a good ‘paid for’ camping experience.

 

The fourth pitch does not exist in any  formal form  and it appears you are expected to select a place to camp in the greater area that forms Zone ‘E’.  Some of the pine needle covered spots near the car parking looked promising but they turned out to be on hardcore that has become overgrown meaning there is no way to pitch a tent.

 

 

Looking back into the zone from the boundary opposite the car park we find what has now become a typical LLTNPA NON-solution,  with active forestry work  in progress within an area that is generally unsuitable for pitching tents. Wet, un-even ground with vegetation and forestry debris makes it an impossibility for camping as well as undesirable for visitor access.  Could another tent pitch be found? Yes if the debris from forest operations was removed, but the question remains, why would anyone want to?

 

Besides the one place identified above, could 3 other pitches be found to camp?  That’s a definite no at the moment. So the LLTNPA need to remedy the problems with the existing three faulty pitches and clear the ground for a fourth.

 

Another failure to provide the required number of pitches advertised

 

Like so much of the camping provision this zone is not family friendly due to pitch size which are too small for 4, 6 or 8 man tents. a lack of space to host 4 families and the drive through visitors at this popular spot with a likely conflict for both seating and car parking spaces.

This makes  zone ‘E’  unsuitable as a replacement for the previous camping provision by our loch shores and with the limitation on erecting only one tent per permit it is difficult to see how a family could use this area even if the pitch issues were resolved.

See also

 Forest Drive Zone B
 Loch Lomond Suie Field & Cuileag
 Forest Drive Zone C
 Loch Lomond Inveruglas (2nd half post)
 Forest Drive Zone D
 Forest Drive Zone E (this Post)
 Loch Lomond Firkin Point (1st half post)
 Forest Drive Zone F (to follow)
 Loch Earn South
 Forest Drive Zone G (to follow)
 Forest Drive Zone H (to follow)
 Forest Drive Zone L (coming soon)
 Forest Drive Zone M
Aerial view of the proposed development area included in he scoping report from Peter Brett Associates

At the beginning of April, Flamingo Land (see here for most recent post and links) asked the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be needed for its proposed development at Balloch  (see here)   The response of the LLTNPA on 13th April (see here) was that a full EIA will be required:

 

The development is permanent and will have an impact on a large area (33.5ha) and will have an impact on both visitors to the National Park, residents and businesses.  The proposal is complex and large scale.  The construction period is likely to be long and any impacts during construction will be prolonged in terms of construction traffic, noise and pollution.  The operation of the development also gives rise to potential significant environmental impact in terms of landscape impact, traffic increase and noise nuisance

 

The response was rapid I believe because the LLTNPA could hardly have said anything else.    So, what can the concerned public learn from the 125 pages of report submitted with the request for a screening opinion?

The most striking thing about this proposed development in our National Park is its size, 33.5 hectares, almost twice the size of the West Riverside Site marketed by Scottish Enterprise (map above).  What the top photo illustrates graphically is how Flamingo Land, through its purchase of Woodbank House, has in effect gained control of all the undeveloped land on the north west side of Balloch and its proposed development will effectively surround Loch Lomond shores.   Its power will increase further if Scottish Enterprise, as its proposing, eventually sells it the West Riverside Site. Land.   In effect the southern gateway to the National Park is being handed over to a private business.   There are legitimate questions about whether this is in the public interest and whether, whatever developments might eventually go be agreed by the LLTNPA,  the ownership of the West Riverside site should remain in public ownership or, alternatively, be transferred to the local community.

The EIA Report makes a reference to the site as being vacant and derelict – a myth that supporters of the development are using to justify the development – and states that there is a desire across  Glasgow Region to treat such land as an investment opportunity.   The trouble is the portrayal of the West Riverside site as derelict is  not true as the photo above shows.  Yes, there are pockets of dereliction and Woodbank House is in a sad state of disrepair.  While the West Riverside site may  not be the best green space in the world there is far more green than dereliction and, contrary again to claims in the Balloch Charrette, its well used by people.  Indeed much of the  greenspace is the  product of earlier restoration of what was formerly the line of the railway.

There are even pockets of wild along the shores of the River Leven.    If this is developed into a constructed river walkway, as the LLTNPA and Scottish Enterprise appears to wish, how will visitors to Balloch be able to access nature?   That is after all what the National Park is meant to be about?

 

The developers will argue that  people will still be able to access Balloch Country Park on the other side of the River Leven but this is inaccessible.   The EIA makes no mention of the long-wished for pedestrian bridge across  the head of the River Leven  which would enable people visiting Lomond Shores to access the Country Park.  That might offset to some extent the development of this site but the omission of the bridge from the EIA scoping requests indicates Flamingo Land has no intention of paying for this.

 

The EIA scoping Report is very vague about Flamingo Land’s plans which are listed as follows:

 

  However, other parts of the report give an indication of what this includes.

As if the existing Drumkinnon Tower at Loch Lomond shores was not enough, the report includes an outline visual impact assessment of a 100m high viewing tower.  Its appears that to compensate for the removal of greenspace  at Balloch, the idea is visitors should be able to view nature from afar.

 

 

 

You don’t need a viewing tower to see Ben Lomond from Balloch but  any viewing tower will have a signficant impact on the views south from the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area, including from the summit of Ben Lomond.   The EIA, though, apparently believes a solution could be found: “consideration should be given as to how to mitigate expansive southerly views from this popular hillwalking viewpoint”.    A friend suggested it could be very slim and reflect the shape of a Flamingo’s neck.

There is another apparent give away in the scoping of the Zones of Theoretical Visability (ZTVs).   On the maps that depict what can be seen from where there are three references to a “chute” which occurs nowhere else in the document.   Is this why the proposed Leisure Development feature is 50m high?    Is this an enormous water slide?   It appears the Sunday Herald was fully justified in referring to the proposal as the blingy bling banks of Loch Lomond (see here).    Such evidence as can be gleaned from the EIA documents provides no re-assurance about what Flamingo Land is going to propose but what it is it appears to be an intensive tourist development.

 

Such development is, I believe,  not appropriate for a National Park.   National Planning Guidance re-inforces this:

A good reason, one might have thought, for the LLTNPA to reject the proposal but the EIA provides an indication of why this might not happen:

This reads as though the application has already been agreed, its only the fine detail that needs to be sorted out and all can be mitigated.   It makes one wonder if the 100m viewing tower and leisure development are being proposed to divert people’s attention from other aspects of the plan, which are fundamentally about development on greenspace at one of the main entry points into the National Park?   The scenario is that following the inevitable public stushi on the viewing tower, the LLTNPA rejects that aspect of the proposal and tries to market the “compromise” which follows to the public as somehow meeting the statutory objectives of our National Parks.

 

The EIA contains a number of proposals for consultation, mainly with statutory bodies – potential for lots of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors – but nothing I could see about engaging with people who care about National Parks in Scotland, including the people who signed the petition against Flamingo Land.  So, how about Flamingo Land starting their consultation by asking the public about the viewing tower and leisure chute?

 

 

On Wednesday, James Stuart, new convener of the National Park had an agenda piece in the Herald to promote the consultation on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park draft plan (see here).  It included a commitment to engage properly recreational organisations – a implicit indictment of the way the LLTNPA bludgeoned through its camping byelaws – but a welcome step in the right direction.    The response from Dave Morris (above) shows the disastrous consequences.

 

The wider point though is the LLTNPA did not just fail to consult with representative organisations, they failed to consult any of the people who actually camp and stop in campervans along the loch shores.  I saw a good illustration of this yesterday morning driving up the A82 to climb on the Ben.  There were campervans everywhere, in the Transport Scotland laybys which are exempt from the byelaws, on road verges (which are also exempt although the LLTNPA has not recognised this), in car parking areas where they are not (unless covered by the permit system as at Inveruglas and off-road.

 

campervans at Tarbert

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who actually slept the night in the campervans in the above photo were committing criminal offences although I doubt any of the owners knew it.   What the photo illustrates is the byelaws are completely unenforceable – for campervans anyway.  If challenged by a Ranger all the campervan has to do is move onto a road verge or into a layby.    Complete nonsense.  The LLTNPA would have never got itself into this mess if it had actually talked to the people who use campervans.    So, how about some proper visitor surveys – instead of the latest dumbed down ones that say nothing – asking people what they need?  I suspect the answers will include “be left alone to make our own decisions” and Chemical disposal points.   Where are the chemical disposal points in the National Park (I have asked) and what are the plans to increase them?   Err……………..

 

And over to the Cairngorms National Park Authority

 

Following its lengthy coverage of National Parks in January, Scotland Out of Doors on Saturday included an interview Hamish Trench from the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its right at the start BBC out of doors.    Mark Stephen asked some searching questions about what partnership actually means and whether some partners have more power than others – highly recommended.    While Hamish Trench’s answers were carefully worded, the really important thing is that CNPA staff appear prepared now to articulate a vision for the National Park integral to which is large scale conservation.   While I don’t believe this can be achieved through the current ways of partnership working, which favour landed interests over everyone else, the fact that the CNPA is promoting this vision in public is in a sense a challenge to those interests.  Intelligent questions from the media, such as those put by Mark Stephen, can only help  change the parameters of the debate.

Tents at the St Fillans end of the Loch Earn south camping permit zone – much of the camping is on shingle beaches.

Parkswatch has, since the camping byelaws came into force on 1st March, documented how the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Park is trying to force campers into areas totally unsuitable for camping.  Relatively little coverage has been given to how the LLTNPA is managing the permit areas which are being used by campers.   Last Saturday, as part of a walk over hills east of Ben Vorlich, four of us walked through the South Loch Earn camping permit zone, the largest in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   It provided plenty of evidence of the incoherent thinking behind the camping management zones.

 

 

The first thing that struck me was that people were enjoying themselves, despite the biting wind.     Yes, there were a few beer bottles out – we were offered a couple after helping a child to swing from an old rope hanging off an oak tree – but people were fishing, using their ingenuity and natural materials to construct shelters,  socialising, cooking on the camp fire, foraging for wood (a criminal offence now under the byelaws), taking a short walk up into the woods to find a place to have a crap, out for walks.  Lots of families, not just adults, many of whom had been coming for years, giving lie to the Park’s claim that the byelaws were needed to encourage families back to the lochshores.    Examples of connecting with nature in way that is just not possible for most people in their day to day lives.

Loch Earn Leisure Park

The contrast with the sanitised environment of the Loch Earn Leisure Park which sits between the camping management zone and St Fillans was striking.   Now, I am not disputing caravan parks meet a demand – the Leisure Park is enormous and it would appear more people go there than to camp –  but in terms of connecting with nature, what offers the better experience, staying in a chalet or camping by the loch shore?     What has the bigger impact on the landscape – the suburban style chalets or the tents on the loch shore whose presence is temporary (even if abandoned)?

 

 

Whatever the LLTNPA may have claimed in the past about roadside camping not being wild camping, the campers on south Loch Earn were out enjoying nature in a way that is just not possible in a chalet park.     This surely should be at the centre of what our National Parks should be about – “connecting people with nature” – but in the whole development of the camping byelaws the LLTNPA never once articulated the value of camping by the lochsides.  If it had done so, it would have wanted to encourage more people to camp, instead of trying to restrict numbers and confine campers to a few permit areas.

 

South Loch Earn is the only extensive permit zone the LLTNPA has created (all the others are very restricted) and the only place therefore where camping could carry on anything like it did previously with people turning up and having a wide choice of places to camp.   Its therefore atypical.

The reason for this became clear from discussions with campers.  Many have been coming for years – there would have been a riot if the LLTNPA had tried to ban them – and the Ardvorlich Estate appears to support their presence, not least because of the income it derives from fishing permits.   Hence, the LLTNPA had very little choice but to allow camping to continue here.

The enforcement of camping permits

 

We talked to some campers who had been advised by the estate to buy permits beforehand and others who had just turned up, and bought a permit online when requested to do so by Rangers.  Most saw £3 a night as a small price to pay to be able to continue to camp as they had done previously.  The big issue I believe will arise on popular weekends when 100 tents turn up, most of whom will be regular visitors, in a zone where the Park has allocated places for 38 tents (this is an arbitrary figure decided by Park staff).   I don’t envy the Rangers who are tasked with sending these people away.   The LLTNPA is going to have to work very hard indeed if its going to turn people who have been lucky enough to get a permit against those who haven’t.

The bureaucracy and cost of enforcing the camping byelaws was only too apparent on our visit.  We heard from the campers that there had been one round of Ranger visits in the morning to check permits – that’s when some people applied for them online.  The campers had then received a visit from the water bailiff, checking that those fishing had fishing permits.   Then,  late in the afternoon, the Rangers visited again.

We watched them for a time, referring to note books after getting out their vehicle and then walking down to each tent to ask campers for their permit.  They appeared to be having long conversations with campers and I would say it took 5-10 minutes to check each tent.    Now I don’t know what the Rangers were saying because the LLTNPA have refused to provide me with what they have briefed rangers to do stating this would prejudice enforcement of the camping byelaws:

 

“Release of this information is likely to have a negative impact on the ability of the Rangers to perform an effective role in working with the police, interacting with the public and, where required, submitting byelaw contravention reports”   (see EIR 2017-029 Response)

 

What is 100% clear though is that the new permit system has resulted in three check up visits in one day for people who go to camp to escape from the rules and regulations of everyday life!    An intrusion into our freedom to enjoy the outdoors, an attempt to bureaucratise the experience in the name of social control.  The costs are enormous – for whose benefit is this?   Where will it go next?

 

While people may be buying permits when requested, its quite clear that the permit  are having little impact on either the quality of the environment or the behaviour of campers.

 

 

At the St Fillans end of the zone, there was a significant amount of rubbish which has been blown against the boundary fence.   We got talking to the people camping there – they had been coming for 12 years – and they told us the area had been like that before they arrived.  What this highlighted is that the introduction of camping management zones is not going to do anything to reduce the amount of litter along the loch shores unless there is actually someone employed by the LLTNPA to pick it up.

Unlike other Council areas within the National Park, Perth and Kinross provide bins the whole way along the road and they are well used – and not just by visitors.  As a result the Loch Earn shoreline has far less litter than other areas in the National Park.
Where litter is dropped though – whether by visitors, residents, people passing through or campers – it appears the LLTNPA Rangers are not picking it up – and from I previously established from talking to them is they are not allowed to put litter in vans.  This has three consequences.   First, its unlikely that the permits will have much impact on litter in the Park – the only thing it might prevent is people who have applied for a permit abandoning their campsites as they can be traced.  This however was only a tiny part of the problem.

The impact of flytipping was greater than anything left by campers

Second, the permit system does not help identify the sources of other litter along the loch shores, much of which does not come from campers, so will do nothing to prevent it.  Third, the sensible solution to all of this would be for Rangers to get their hands dirty, set a lead – and invite campers to help them to clean up the lochshores.  Whether people will do this now they are being forced to pay is less certain:  if people are paying for a permit they have the right to expect the LLTNPA ensures the area is clean before they arrive.

An example of a camper occupying more than the 5 x 5m area allowed for by the Park in each permit

During our visit we saw plenty of evidence to show that the Rangers at present are failing to enforce the terms and conditions associated with the camping permits.  Among the camping permit terms and conditions, breach of which is a further criminal offence with fine of up to £500, are the following:

 

  • Ancillary items must be kept to a minimum and limited to items reasonably necessary in connection with recreational camping activities; e.g.toilet tents, gazebo, fire bowl/bbq
  • The total area occupied by your tent and ancillary items must not exceed 5 m x 5m

 

The toilet tent in the above photo is allowed under the permit system but  it and the tent occupy an area greater than 5 x 5 square metres, the maximum allowed by the Park.  So, a criminal offence committed but it appears the Rangers have done nothing to prevent this.  One cannot blame them – what a stupid rule!   Who would want to sleep right next door to the toilet tent?

 

The daft rules associated with the permits are also illustrated by the photo which featured at the top of this post and shows a shelter hanging between two trees (again, with the tent, occupying an area greater than 5m x 5m).  Now, under the byelaws, while the public can put up a shelter during the day, its an offence to leave one up overnight unless its an umbrella.    So, will these campers be told to take the shelter down each night?  The rules are daft – an inevitable consequence I believe of trying to control every aspect of campers behaviour rather than leaving people with the right to make their own decisions.

Contrast the stultification of the Park bureaucracy with the ingenuity of campers making use of natural materials.

 

The most obvious failure in terms of enforcement however were campfires (as in photos above), which were everywhere, and in a number of cases clearly breached the byelaws.

The things people do – Dave Morris, veteran access campaigner, with firewood which someone had thoughtfully disposed of in the bin!

While a number of campers had brought their own wood, others were collecting it locally – an offence under the byelaws.  Whether they were doing harm of course is another matter – there were large amounts of wood available in the plantations above the road – and the estate had been busy chopping down trees.  People were carrying felled off-cuts back down to the shore to burn.

 

Now, I believe the way the provisions of the byelaws in respect of fires – collection of wood is an offence – is both wrong and is well nigh impossible for Rangers to enforce.  As a society do we really want to criminalise an eight year old who collects a twig to add to a fire on which they are cooking or to prosecute an adult who has picked up a log to burn (both of which we saw happening)?  The focus of the LLTNPA should be on preventing live wood being felled for fires – otherwise Rangers are being given an impossible task.

 

The basic problem on Loch Earn at present is not the quantity of dead wood – lots has been felled – but rather what wood the estate is happy for campers to use and what not.  There are no messages about this and as a result people forage.    To ensure damage is not done inadvertently or wood, intended for another purpose, is not burned, the solution is surely for the LLTNPA to provide wood to people who want it for a small price.  Indeed, under the original Five Lochs Management Plan the idea was to provide wood stores at campsites, a proposal  that has since disappeared without trace.   It would be far better use of Rangers time to spend a small portion of it providing wood to campers than checking up on permits.

 

The real failure in enforcement

 

Unlawful camping notice in the management zone – the camping ban applies from 1st March to 30th September and general notices such as this are thus contrary to access rights.

 

The most significant failure of the LLTNPA Ranger Service however to enforce the law, has nothing to do with campers.  The Park Ranger service drive by these signs, which are contrary to access rights and go beyond anything agreed by the byelaws, every day.  For some reason they don’t see it as their job to take enforcement action – or rather I suspect they have been told by the Park’s senior management to do nothing.  One rule for campers, another for landowners.
I first noticed a no camping sign here in May 2015 and reported it to the LLTNPA with a number of other access issues  access issues LLTNP identified May 2015.   At the time I thought there was only one sign here but on this visit counted over ten signs on a 100m stretch of road just before St Fillans – could you get more unwelcoming than that?  At first the LLTNPA responded positively to my report of the issues and Claire Travis, the member of staff responsible, told me Park staff had been to see the sign at Auchengavin and it was then removed.  Senior management then banned her from speaking to me – I know because I obtained the information through data protection – and provided me no further progress reports on what action the LLTNPA was taking.  It appears the LTNPA senior management decided not to take any action, a fundamental failure in their responsibilities as an access authority.
This is further evidence that this National Park is being run in the interests of landowners – good for the Ardvorlich Estate and the few other landowners who still tolerate campers but shame on Forestry Commission Scotland which has gone along with this whole charade – not of ordinary people.  If any readers are willing to report the signs at the east end of the south Loch Earn Rd as being contrary to access rights – best to use your own photos –  parkswatch would be delighted to publish any responses from the LLTNPA.

The implications of the permit zone for access rights

At the end of our walk, both Dave Morris and I agreed, that really the introduction of the permit zone on Loch Earn has so far, changed only one thing.   It has introduced charging for access.   The permits have done nothing to address the litter or other basic infrastructure issues that the LLTNPA should be addressing.
So what, it might be argued, people appear to be accepting the £3 charge.   Well, so would most people faced with the choice of a charge or a ban from staying in a place you have been visiting all your life.   That doesn’t make the charge right – people are getting nothing for it except bureaucracy and intrusion – and of course what is likely to happen is that sometime in the next year or so a report goes up to the LLTNPA Board explaining openly for the first time the enormous enforcement costs and suggesting these should be recovered from campers.   If people accept the principle of permits and charges,  our access legislation will be in tatters.
What needs to happen – and the LLTNPA is currently consulting on its new Five Year Partnership Plan – is the resources currently being spent on enforcement of the permit system (which means almost the entire time of Park Rangers) should be redirected to other tasks.  High on my priority list would be removal of litter – including Rangers encouraging campers and other visitors to take part in litter picks – and provision of wood for campfires.    Ranger services were never intended as quasi – or is that Stasi?  – type police forces  and the Park Ranger service should be allowed to return to its educational role, which should include leading by example.

First impressions count for a lot – I think “utter contempt” would describe what I thought on first viewing this site.  That’s the utter contempt shown to visitors by the LLTNPA. They have the gall to suggest that this constitutes a replacement camping place to those now banned to visitors on our loch shores. Quite frankly it’s preposterous to suggest any visitor would consider camping in Zone D as a valuable life experience in natural surroundings.  It has all the charm of a landfill site.

 

Plus points: parking for 2 cars.  Minus points: everything else!

 

Zone D represents everything we despise in the forestry industry

 

Utter devastation is wrought on the landscape when forests are clear-felled, leaving a wasteland of fallen branches and cutoff tree trunks. Although the clear-fell in Zone D did not happen yesterday it should serve as a reminder that Forest Drive is an active working forest and forest operations are continuing at many other camping zones in the area rendering some of them unusable.

 

 

On viewing a Satellite Image I expected a forest location – nothing prepared me for the vista in the photo above. The location map is not fitted in the correct position ( the map is not drawn correctly) and the two posts on the other side of the river which would normally demarcate the zone limits, are side by side, outside the permit zone and on the wrong side of the stream. It would seem even those laying out this zone could not fathom where the zone begins or ends.

 

Just Commit a criminal offence if you can’t find a camping spot!

It’s so bad that the LLTNPA “Get a Permit” website even encourages visitors to commit a criminal offence by camping outside the permit zone.  They seem to be well aware there are no viable camping pitches within the zone.

 

 

The fact that other side of the burn is outside the permitted area is however somewhat academic as its hard to imagine anyone would want to camp there and secondly, felled forests do not hold much hope for finding camping pitches, as well as which they are quite hazardous areas to enter.  I can confirm there are no camping spots in the immediate vicinity of the two marker poles on the south of the river as after stumbling on them I searched the area before realising they were positioned in the wrong place.

 

The zone map is somewhat confusing as it shows what appears to a fork in Forest Drive with a large car parking area right on the junction.  At first glance there would appear to be a path running around the southern perimeter of the zone.  On comparing the map with the terrain it is a stream not a path.    The main camping area marked with the tent symbol looks like an open grass area bounded by the stream.  However the  presence of zone markers in the wrong location on the other side of the stream makes initial orientation impossible until you can accept the fact they’re wrong. .  This isn’t acceptable, the zone boundary only became clear when the path of the river was traced out on foot and even then I doubted I was in the right location because of the unsuitability of the location as a camping zone and lack of any obvious pitches. The trees shown in the permit zone map and the area beyond are fictional as the entire area has been harvested.

More phantom camping provision, 2 pitches claimed for this site?

The zone is another fantasy, there is no choice of camping pitches as there are no  pitches.

 

The only spot in the entire zone in which you could fit a tent.

 

It’s on rough grasses growing over previously felled wood and not suitable.

 

Looking from the far end of the zone towards the zone map post (top right)

 

Zone D is yet another example of phantom camping provision from the LLTNPA and supposedly provides 2 camping pitches to replace those on the areas of our loch shores where campers are now banned. This area has zero amenity.  There is no good reason to be here, let alone camp, it has no redeeming features and the presence of the stream  holds only false  promise. It is a thoroughly.unrewarding location.

 

Camping on the side of Forest Drive is not desirable

 

The drive-by location  highlights another issue.   Zone D is at the bottom of a long downhill section of Forest Drive where would-be boy racers just can’t help themselves trying to get close to 50 mph, despite the 10 mph limit, thus causing a dust storm, not conducive to sitting by a tent good.

The LLTNPA’s abject failure to fulfill their promises

 

Anyone being duped into paying for this site or other similar permit areas should seek compensation from the LLTNPA. Not just a return of the the permit fee but compensation for the loss of a weekend, the travel expenses and any other ancillary costs incurred  getting to this ridiculous camping zone.  The National Park is quite clearly misrepresenting the nature of this site and a visit to the small claims court should surely see compensation awarded despite their denial of liability in their terms and conditions  (See Permit Terms and Conditions here).

 

Meantime, perhaps the LLTNPA could explain publicly just how many viable camping places  are actually available?   Its promise to the Minister to deliver 300 “new” camping places by the 1st March was clearly never met if you take account of all the unusable permit areas and the non-functioning Loch Chon campsite.

The Ardvorlich powerhouse on the east side of the burn followed by the main path up Ben Vorlich from the north. It was designed to resemble the traditional water mill that was once located here. Had the intake and tailrace also been finished in natural stone, this aspiration would have been met.

The General Election and National Parks

Had this been been published when originally intended it would have been issued to subscribers at about the same time  as the general election was announced yesterday!    In the world of newspapers, radio and TV I guess the post would have been scrapped.   I will persist!   However, its worth saying first that the general election will provide an opportunity to consider why decisions at the UK still matter to Scotland’s National Parks, even though powers to create and manage  National Parks belong to the Scottish Parliament.

 

For Scotland’s National Parks don’t exist in a vacuum but reflect wider changes and conflicts in society.   Among the matters at stake in the General Election that will affect our National Parks are:

 

  • wage levels (employment law is controlled by Westminster) – average wage levels in the Cairngorms National Park are below the Scottish average
  • levels of public expenditure in our National Parks, which will be determined not just by any future UK Government’s commitment to “austerity” but what is proposed by the political parties proposals for rural expenditure post-Brexit
  • ownership of land through complex legal and financial vehicles (which are ultimately aimed at avoiding not just tax but other legislation such as the community right to buy

 

All these things ultimately impact on our landscape, wildlife and ability to enjoy them.  Meantime though, a little more evidence of what appears on the ground.

 

Ardvorlich estate hydro scheme

 

Following my post on the Keltie Water hydro scheme (see here), I was up on the north side of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin at the weekend (about which more anon) and took the opportunity to have a look at the Ardvorlich hydro scheme.   I returned home to find that Jim Robertson of the Munro Society had sent parkswatch photos of the Tarken Glen hydro on the north side of Loch Earn.  Both are featured here and, while there are many positive aspects to the way both schemes have been designed and executed, both raise issues about how successfully the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is protecting the landscape.

The Ardvorlich hydro was granted planning permission back in 2009, before the LLTNPA published its guidance stating that pipes should wherever possible be placed under bridges  and the only paper currently on the planning portal is the decision notice (see here) .  Its not possible therefore to what what consideration was given to this pipe across the burn which in my view is the single worst aspect of scheme.   It should not have been so difficult to align the pipe with the bridge and track so the pipe was concealed by the bridge as at Keltie Water.

 

The biggest landscape impact is not where pipe runs underground – the ground above the buried pipe  is recovering well – but the steep edge of the track – too steep to regenerate naturally and which is likely to continue eroding for years.

Same view from closer up:  a few years and I suspect it will be very difficult, even for vegetation experts, to detect line of the pipeline, quite a contrast to the permanent landscape scar created by the track.   According to my old OS Map, dating from 1988, at that time there was just a path up the west side of the burn.  Now there is a vehicle track on both sides.

View of western intake above fork in the burn  – the main walker’s path up Ben Vorlich from the  north runs up the skyline

There are two intake to the hydro scheme.    The main visual impact of the western intake is the concrete on left side of dam which has not been faced with natural materials.  The concrete on the right side appears to have coloured due to water flowing over it regularly so it blends better into the landscape    The wooden safety fence is also unobtrusive and fits in Park’s subsequent policy to use natural materials, such as wood for fencing.

Closer up the main visual impact of the dam remains the grey/white concrete.  If our National Parks and other planning authorities required intake structures to be finished in stone, except where likely to be stained by water,  their visual impact would reduce considerably.   The cost of this would be minimal and it could reduce carbon imprints.

 

In the past natural stone was used a lot more (see photo below) as it was less easy to import materials and people consequently used whatever was to hand.

Stone faced intake, Cuaich hydro scheme, beneath Beauly Denny powerline, Drumochter.

 

View from just below western intake dam to bridge (where pipe crosses burn).  The pipe runs beneath grassy/mossy section in centre of photo.  Even though the greenery is probably explained by the failure of the heather to recover yet, its almost impossible to tell now that this conceals a pipeline – succcessful restoration!

The visual impact of the dam is also reduced because the track does not go right up to the dam, as in most later developments in the Park.    There is nothing to draw your eye to it and as a result many people walking up the track probably miss it.

The formal track also ends short of the eastern intake (to right of view in photo) although an ATV eroded track continues up the glen (in place of the old path).   What is good about this track is that there is no large turning area which is so common with so many other hydro tracks.

Eastern intake on Allt

 

The second intake is closer to the track than the first and more intrusive.   While the lower concrete has stained there is a much greater expanse of light grey concrete retaining wall, which is made even more obvious by the Lomond blue piping.   Added to this there rip-rap boulder embankment on the far side of the burn and the excavation of the banks on either side of the burn where vegetation has not recovered (its too steep, just like the bank of the track below the bridge).  The design of this intake could, in my view, have been considerable improved and the impact on the landscape reduced.

eastern intake

Still, its a small scheme and within the landscape as a whole the impact is not great.   In many places this would be judged a good scheme but it still falls short of what I believe we should expect in our National Parks.   Its not the location of the scheme that should cause concern, its the execution.

 

Tarken Glen hydro scheme

 

The border of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park runs just north of Loch Earn and only the lower part of Tarken Glen, by St Fillans, lies within it.   The papers on the LLTNPA planning portal show that LLTNPA staff, in deciding this scheme, worked closely with Perth and Kinross Council.

Photo Credit Jim Robertson

Within the National Park there is a small section of new track to the powerhouse, the powerhouse itself and a very short area of open pipeline behind the powerhouse.   This is well concealed and not possible to see from Jim’s photos.

 

 

Photo credit Jim Robertson

While the intake is outwith the National Park, it  is fairly typical of those found within our National Parks, being constructed out of white/grey concrete partially concealed by rip rap tendering.  The gantry adds to the visual impact although viewers will note the piping is not bright “Lomond” blue.  The location of this dam in a wide open glen makes it more visible than those at Ardvorlich.

View of intake from above – photo credit Jim Robertson

The rip-rap bouldering looks as artificial as the concrete dam.

An existing track was used for construction purposes and, because the size of the scheme was relatively small, it appears the track did not require extensive upgrading.   Vegetation appears to be recovering well which will give it a more “natural” feel for walkers.

The track demonstrates what a track looks like from close up where there is a central vegetated strip – as advocated in the LLTNPA’s Best Practice Guidance.

View of Tarken Glen from Meall Rheamhar above Fin Glen – the power house is behind the large agricultural shed located just north of the Tarken burn and you can just see the line of the buried pipeline through the bracken covered area to the left of the burn.

The photo demonstrates once again that the main impact of hydro schemes is not the pipeline, where these are buried, but the access tracks.   While in this case the track was already in place, where tracks cut across the grain of the landscape, as in the middle ground of this photos where the track goes diagonally uphill, they are particularly prominent.  While the LLTNPA did refer to the visual impact of the scheme from the South Loch Earn road, it made no recommendations about what might be done to mitigate the impact of what can be seen from the National Park.

The Tarken Glen track though is not nearly as bad as the new track (above) you can see from the summit of  Meall Rheamhar in Gleann Ghoinean which again lies outwith the National Park boundary to the south.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

There is a much older hydro scheme at the head of Glen Tarken – part of the extensive Breadalbane hydro scheme  – which demonstrates that at least in respect of pipelines, some progress has been made.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

Jim’s photo though raises questions about how much progress has been made in reducing the impact of dams and hydro intakes.  In this case, the intake diverts all the normal flow of the burn, which will only flow in spate conditions, whereas intakes are always designed nowadays, due to greater awareness of hydrology and the framework of water catchment plans, to maintain some flow.   Are the concrete embankments of the existing hydro intake though any worse than the rip rap tendering shown in Jim’s second photo of the new scheme?

View from above intake – Photo Credit Jim Robertson

The photos also demonstrate just how long it takes for concrete retaining walls to be colonised by mosses and lichens and to start blending into the landscape.   A good reason why theLLTNPA needs to enforce its guidance that concrete dam structures should wherever possible be faced with natural materials.

 

Parkswatch  covers our two National Parks.  The Munro Society is trying to survey the impact of hydro schemes across Scotland (see here) as part of its work on measuring change in our hills.  This is incredibly important work because it will provide evidence of the impact of hydro developments in mountain areas on the landscape across Scotland.    Parkswatch has agreed to share with the Munro Society photographic evidence of hydro schemes gathered within in our National Parks – so if you have photos please send them as Jim and others have done –  but if you have photos from outwith the National Parks, do please contact the Munro Society directly (see here) and let them know what you might be able to share with them.

 

The LINK hill tracks group is doing similar work on hill tracks and also collects photographic evidence of their impact  across Scotland and you can submit photos online (see here) .

 

By Nick Halls

Damage to the new gates at the Torpedo station put in place to stop flytipping. Outside the gate fly tipping down onto the shore seems to be continuing.

 

In my last post (see here) on the torpedo station, I stated that the gates blocking the old main road were both locked, thereby preventing vehicles entering the area.    Recently, the southern of the two gates has been burst open and badly damaged. It was ajar for a period and it was not clear whether this was ‘official’, and signified that fly tipping was being cleared, or that it had been ‘unofficially’ opened to allow further tipping to take place.  The photographs here, taken on Saturday 15th April,  give some impression of the current situation.  The evidence seems to indicate that both situations seem to prevail.

 

The right-hand side of the southern gate has been more or less destroyed, and the left-hand side is off the hinges. It does not look as if this ‘official’, and adds to the impression of dereliction of the site, but in a very public place, right next to the main road.

Southern gate view east from main road

 

The previous obstructions, which seem to be water filled road barriers, remain together with an old concrete post from a dismantled building. Again, this gives the impression of dereliction, destroying the landscape quality of what could be an attractive outlook to the opposite side of the Loch.

View from inside the gates

Inside the destroyed gate it would appear that either pedestrians or the occupant of a vehicle has thrown down litter as if in an urban street. It is very depressing to see this type of littering but it is in accord with how such derelict spaces are treated whether in an urban environment or the countryside. It is characteristic of the state of many of the parking places along Loch Lomond side and elsewhere in the National Park.  Again, the whole scene destroys the quality of the outlook behind.

 

Immediately beyond the gate it appears that fly tipping from vehicles has taken place recently.

Fly tipping down the bank onto the sea shore.

One gets the impression that fly tipping at this site is regular and is generated locally, and one would imagine that someone in the community is aware of the culprits. Only some sort of enforcement action is likely to reduce the progressive degeneration of the whole area.

 

 

Further along the road walking towards the derelict torpedo station there is further evidence of  fly tipping of building debris – which suggests that this might be commercial tipping. See photo above and two below.

 In the two photos above, the fly tipping along margin of the old main road leading north towards the derelict torpedo station appears to be very recent, since my last visit.

 

On the section of the old main road on either side of the bridge over the Allt a’Bhalachain, where two dumps of corrugated iron were shown in a previous report, these have now been cleared – in a pretty crude fashion – the scars of which will probably take some time to recover.

Sites where where dumped material has recently been cleared from the verges of the old main road.

However, the material seems simply to have been transferred to the fly tipping area within the derelict industrial area of the torpedo station.

 

There is evidence of a rather crude and superficial attempt to clear fly tipped material from the what was formerly the main dumping ground. The work seems to be ongoing as there is a container, presumably awaiting to be used to remove material from the site.

However, while material is being cleared the amenity of the area is hardly improved, and the whole process gives the impression of doing the barest minimum to conform to the demand from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to clear the site.

Main dumping ground on the derelict industrial site of Torpedo Station

The quality of the work, whether complete or still in progress, gives the impression that the owner/contractor is doing the barest minimum and could not care less about the amenity of the area or that it lies within an area of outstanding scenic quality within a National Park.

 

Repeated visits to understand the situation that prevails brings it forcibly home that the derelict torpedo station will be very costly to clear up, as a brown field site, and equally costly to develop into the sort of tourist development presented in the planning application (see here).

 

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this site will remain in a similar state for decades to come and that the M.O.D. should be compelled to tidy up the mess they left.

 

Despite the recent work to clear up the site the corrugated asbestos, featured in my last post, remains untouched so far.

 

There are two dumps of what appears to be asbestos in fairly close proximity

 

 

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities are all wrong: it  should be focussing its efforts and resources on environmental dereliction, fly tipping and the litter problem in the National Park instead of trying to ban innocent campers.

Extract from secret Board Meeting about implementation camping byelaws. The claimed antisocial behaviour has been grossly overstated as has its popularity as a camping destination – too inaccessible for most.

By Ross MacBeath

What differentiates a campsite from wild camping?   Most people would say at the very least the existence of  services such as the provision of drinking water and toilets.  The evidence from my visits to  Loch Chon the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority cannot even provide a reliable water supply for the £7 a night charge  (see here for post and here for a set of photographs of wider issues with the campsite).

 

The reasons why the water supply at Loch Chon is defective

 

One of the first principle of designing a private water supply it to ensure the availability of water from the source stream by carrying out a year long study of peak water flow. What follows below shows that  these investigations were either not carried out or ignored but its worth considering first why the LLTNPA has behaved in this manner..

 

Gordon Watson at a Public Meeting with Strathard Community Council on the 4th July 2016 stated that the Loch Chon campsite was chosen for it’s suitability and merits as a campsite rather than its availability.  The slide above, which was obtained subsequently through FOI, shows that this is not true and that Loch Chon was the ONLY option  that would allow the LLTNPA to deliver the  number of pitches they had promised to Scottish Ministers by 1st March to enact their byelaws.

 

What this shows is that the LLTNPA intended to build a campsite at Loch Chon no matter what.  For how the LLTNPA dealt with its planning permission to itself (see here). This is reprehensible behavior on all counts and LLTNPA are quite clearly paying the price with a defective water supply. But ultimately it’s visitors and communities who will pay the real price for this unwarranted development going forward.

 

Peak water flow and the LLTNPA Loch Chon water supply

 

An unsightly installation with loops in blue water pipe makes a poor impression.  When taken together with the positioning of the intake manifold, which is partially out of the water, unsecured and likely to be dislodged the first time the stream is in spate, it provides a rather damming but realistic indication of what was initially installed.

 

Just while we’re looking at this image, you can see that the concrete floor of the culvert under the bridge is smooth and curved.  This is done intentionally to stop materials collecting on the surface.  When the stream is in spate, large boulders are transported in the torrent of water and the smooth culvert base ensures they can roll right through preventing them from  causing an obstruction under the bridge. We will see why this is important later in the article.

 

Another important factor in providing a water supply is water pressure

 

One measure of the effectiveness of the water supply is determined by the water flow from the taps, which is of course dependent on the water pressure.  Water pressure in turn determined by the difference in elevation between the tap and the intake manifold.  The greater the height between the two the greater the pressure.

 

At this development the Park Authority have chosen to place the intake manifold almost 2  metres underground just by the road bridge over the stream  though it is still above the level of the taps which are further down the slope.  Not sufficiently high though to provide a sufficient head of water which is responsible for many of the issues with the water supply.   It would seem clear then that the intake manifold is in the wrong pace. It’s a basic design flaw and still goes uncorrected even though the LLTNPA is aware of the fact.

An essential requirement is that the intake manifold is always underwater

 

You would think that making sure the intake manifold is always under water would be a given. Yet here we are at Loch Chon on the 12th  March 2017 with the manifold almost completely uncovered  drawing air into the system.

 

Water intake pipe is aove the water level of the river drawing air instead of water.
Image 12th March 2017 lying on surface at water level

 

The problem is clear that the stream does not have sufficient water flow in dry periods.  This was evident during a dry spell starting before March 1st and through 12th March when the water supply failed intermittently when the intake pipe was not fully submerged causing air to be drawn into the system. In this location there is sufficient depth of water the intake is just not positioned properly.

 

 

Of course once the air lock is in the system it won’t self clear easily as water won’t flow up hill.  So many basic principles have just been overlooked cumulatively resulting in poor system design. This is a contributory factor together with the failure of staff, the clerk of works and the contractor to understand the basic requirements for implementing such a water supply.

 

One must ask who is managing this project, clearly the people involved with the development at Loch Chon have little or no understanding of stream feeds to private water supplies or their design. This lack of capability is worrying in an organisation which claims to wish to provide more campsites.   The LLTNPA is evidently not up to the task.

 

One week later the water was partially on, there was drinking water but no toilets

 

One week later on the 19th March 2017 the intake pipe was submerged once more, after some rainfall, however the water to the toilets and wash hand basins was still off.  You can see here the pipe had been removed from the clips removing the ridiculous upward loops in the water feed pipe.

 

Recent rainfall has caused the stream level to rise and cover manifold The Intake Manifold under the surface of the stream after rainfall

The water supply was still causing issues, drinking water was  available but toilet flushing was not.

Two weeks later there is still no effective water supply

 

On the 2nd of April the water supply was again only partially functioning the intake manifold was submerged  and there was water.   This time while one toilet was working the drinking water wasn’t.  3 of the 4 toilets remained locked.  The disabled toilet wass open and functioning with wash hand basins.

 

Another week on engineers were working on the system and some water was flowing

 

10th April 2017 – Water was now available from the outside taps though pressure was so low the auto shut off taps fail to operate correctly.  Well at least there was drinking water on site.  Although container filling took a while, it was better than nothing.

 

Again only one toilet was unlocked but I am pleased to report  it was flushing and the wash hand basin was operational. The other three toilets remain locked and strangely it was not the disabled toilet that was open.

 

It had taken the LLTNPA well over a month since the date the campsite was officially open to get even a basic water supply in place.  This was my first visit where toilets and drinking water have been available together but it is clear the LLTNPA are not out of the woods yet with low flow rates and intermittent supply. The test will be when all 4 toilets are in operation and water still comes out of the taps.

 

The engineers were working on the system when I arrived and allowed an opportunity to see whats inside the container next to the toilet block. It does look like there is a leak in the container roof.

 

The confusion over the hot and cold taps had also been sorted and there were now neutered tap tops both supplying cold water.

 

The  LLTNPA have been busy correcting some of the issues above and creating others

 

My visit on the 10th of April 2017 showed some changes.  The main visible differences one week on were  up by the intake manifold.  They had cut the pipe back and fitted a black sheath which is far less  intrusive.  The had also removed the old stainless steel manifold and fitted a cage to cover the end of the pipe.  However the pipe end is open and directly facing into the water flow with nothing to prevent  pebbles and smaller items being transported down the stream from finding their way into the system, so anything smaller than the mesh can also enter the intake pipe.  I think this may pose a problem for the future, potentially causing blockages in the intake pipe and significant costs and disruption to clear it. Some form of strainer or baffle is surely required.

 

Cage fitted over intake pipe, small stones of dam will be washed away with first rains In dryer weather the water level fails to cover the intake pipe

Click on images for zoomed view

 

The second and most important is the placement of the intake port on to the surface of the culvert, these images are very telling considering the recent weather has been wet followed by a short dry spell, the level here has dropped 20 cm since last checked.3 weeks ago.

 

This indicates the Peak flow of the stream may be very small in dry weather.

The problem is clear, the peak flow of the stream on dry days is so small that the water level in the culvert is no more than a centimetre or so and doesn’t even cover the intake pipe.  To solve this a small dam, and I mean small, has been created with stones and gravel where the depth of water behind this is sufficient to cover the intake pipe.

 

Culverts are designed to prevent debris collecting

As we discussed already, the smooth curved floor of the culvert is designed to prevent debris collecting in this location.  The Debris (dam) (photo above) will be removed by fast water flow.

Even with the current level of water flow the smaller stones and gravel around the intake pipe will be washed away eventually breaking the dam causing the water level to drop below the intake pipe and the water supply to fail.

 

In Spate the stream will remove all debris

With any heavy rain storm the stream will be in spate, the force of water will clear all of the rocks forming the dam in the culvert.  When in spate the stream can also carry branches and fallen trees down through the culvert but now with the fixed obstruction of the mesh cage there is a possibility that these will damage the cage or more likely get jammed on it causing a build up of debris in the culvert. This is not good practice and I would think it should be avoided.

 

The arrangement of the pipe has changed, now entering the river bank at a much lower level, the pipe is not secured on it’s traverse across the culvert and the gap underneath will most likely collect sticks and other vegetation then a build up of debris will possibly  occur.

 

Two months on and no further forward.

 

Around 2 months since the water problems became public and it would seem we are right back where we started with an intermittent supply determined by rainfall.   The National Park Authority really have to get their act together on this and stop penny pinching.  There is a problem with the water supply and it’s clear what it is.  In dry spells there is no water.  Get it sorted!  The solution is simple providing the stream does not dry up altogether, and only time will tell if that’s going to happen.

 

One thing remains clear, the LLTNPAs current solution is unlikely to work effectively even in the short term.

The real problem here is systemic failures within the LLTNPA

 

The LLTNPA Board should have been well aware of these problems as some apparently visited the campsite but have denied their existence in almost every public forum, even at their own board meetings.  I’m aware of one occasion where their spokesperson stated “As with any new site, there have been some snagging issues such as the running water which was unavailable for a few days due to a temporary problem with the new connection”  at least finally giving a nod to a problem everyone knows exists.     41 days of no water, limited water or intermittent water supply is hardly reflected by their “temporary problem”.   I believe it’s clear from the series of images here that the  problem has existed from the beginning and the vagaries of Scottish weather has determined if water was available or not. The solutions created  just promise more of the same – an ineffectual, intermittent water supply.

 

See here for video on the 19th March and here for the 2nd April

 

In the strange world of infallibility the LLTNPA inhabit even when they’rere wrong, they say they’re right and put out statement claiming all is well, whether it’s true or not.  This was certainly what happened at their board meeting on the 13th of March when numerous board members patted each other on the back for a job well done at Loch Chon and for getting the site finished on tiime.   This was witnessed by seven members of the public but should have been recorded for all to see.   Quite a surreal experience to see a National Park Authority  behave in this way.

Plans to rebuild the Day Lodge and turn it into an international conference centre have been dropped

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s news release on 12th April (see here) on its latest plans for Cairn Gorm – or “CairnGorm Mountain” in marketing speak – was widely taken up by the press.    HIE must be delighted there was so little critical coverage but their announcement raises a number of serious questions.

 

The truth is that the long promised masterplan, if it exists, is not yet public and the only agreement there has been is between HIE and Natural Retreats, the organisation that now run Cairngorm.   Nothing resembling a plan has been issued or is available on either the Cairngorm Mountain or HIE website.    So, for example, no indication has been given about where the proposed dry ski slope will be located nor how that proposal will meet environmental requirements.   The design and location of the dry ski slope and proposals for environmental mitigation are absolutely crucial for determining whether the Cairngorms National Park Authority should give ANY consideration to the new “plan” – yet HIE claims the masterplan has been agreed.  Either there has been yet more shady behind the scenes negotiations or this is pure spin!   I suspect the latter.

 

However, there is a reason I believe for the spin and that is if HIE can get a head of steam up behind the proposal and convince people that in this lies the economic salvation of Speyside, it will make it much harder for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to reject the proposal, however awful it might be.     Hence the emphasis in the News Release about the new jobs that HIE claims will be created – 35-45, but nothing of course about pay or working terms and conditions – and this just a few weeks after Natural Retreats had been threatening to make a large proportion of the workforce at Cairngorm redundant.

 

Rather than a masterplan, what has been made public is that HIE has agreed to re-direct the loan of £4 million its Board had previously agreed with Natural Retreats to construct a new Day Lodge (see here for legal agreement obtained under FOI).  It is now being proposed that the loan should be used for the construction of a dry ski slope and to make changes to the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the top of the funicular, doubling the size of the restaurant and creating a viewing platform.

 

The rationale behind the Ptarmigan part of the proposal is obvious, to increase numbers of people using the funicular, but whether it is sensible is another matter.  The funicular has been a disaster from start to finish, both for skiers and day visitors, but HIE management and funding of the Cairn Gorm estate has been driven by the need to justify it and  keep it afloat financially:  HIE’s one and only idea about how to do this up till now has been to increase the numbers of paying visitors in summer.  Why take the funicular in summer though when all you can do is walk around inside the Ptarmigan restaurant,  because the soils and vegetation on Cairn Gorm are just too fragile to sustain thousands of visitors, or be escorted to the top of Cairn Gorm and back by Rangers for a price.   The wrap around viewing platform proposal would appear to be an attempt to enable more visitors to experience fresh air – or should that be the more usual howling gale at the top of Cairn Gorm? – and expansion of the restaurant designed to allow people to sit around for longer periods at the Ptarmigan spending money.

Back of the Ptarmigan January 2016 – why anyone would want to walk around a viewing platform to look onto this is unclear.

The key problem for though for HIE is when Cairn Gorm is shrouded in cloud, as it is for much of the year, why would anyone visit?  Not many people want to pay a £12 entry fee (the cost of the funicular) to a restaurant.  On clear days, given the legal agreement in place preventing funicular users leaving the stop station, for those fit enough to do so, its much better to walk up Cairn Gorm and, for those who are not, to walk elsewhere. The whole concept of attracting people to the top of the mountain to sit inside is fundamentally flawed  yet HIE persist with it.   The wider flaw in their thinking though is the belief that people visit National Parks primarily for a manufactured tourist experience rather than for the great outdoors.   A strategy built on trying to extract large amounts of money from people for poor experiences is just not going to work.

 

What you can charge money for at Cairn Gorm is for skiing and there is a hint in the news release that at long last HIE realise that if they want to make the Cairn Gorm ski facilities financially viable, they need to make it a better place for skiing.  One part of that is to try and compensate for poor snow cover as this year- hence the dry ski slope proposal in an attempt to guarantee beginners a ski experience.   That however will not bring in enough people to make the ski area financially viable.   What’s needed is a complete re-think of skiing at Cairngorm within the context of the challenges posed by global warming.  There is no sign of HIE doing this, instead they are “lending” money to Natural Retreats.

 

Financial questions that need to be asked

 

The first  question HIE needs to answer is what, if anything, are Natural Retreats going to invest in the Cairn Gorm ski area?  While the HIE News Release referred to HIE’s  £4m loan to CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, it said not a thing about any financial contribution from Natural Retreats.  I suspect that this is because Natural Retreats are contributing nothing.   CML  at the end of December 2015 had net liabilities of £776,328 and while 2016 was a good ski season, 2017 has been awful and its safe to conclude CML has no money to invest – that is why is was threatening to lay off staff just a few weeks ago.  Its owner, Natural Assets Investment Ltd is ostensibly in a far worse financial position, with net liabilities at 31st December 2015 of £38,083,245  (see here for consideration of both sets of accounts).

 

The second question HIE needs to ask is on what basis do they believe CML will ever pay the loan back given the losses currently being made by the company?   CML had a £1,219,606 operating loss in the nine months to December 2015.  I assume HIE has already produced a set of visitor projections to the new Ptarmigan and the dry ski slope that shows projected income exceeding projected expenditure and how the loan will be repaid.   While any such projections should be treated with healthy scepticism – remember how the funicular would have paid for itself by now – HIE needs to explain how any projected extra income will also offset the current massive operating loss.

 

The third question HIE needs to answer therefore is why is it lending money to a company that is basically insolvent and dependent on the goodwill of hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton, the ultimate owner?   When selling CML HIE retained most of the assets at Cairngorm, including the land and lift infrastructure.   Why not then simply pay for the new assets itself and retain them in public ownership rather than lend money so they end up in the hands of a hedge fund manager whose companies appear to be going bust?   The safe way to get the money back would be to keep the asset and then to charge extra rent to CML for the use of those assets?

 

I suspect the reason this option is not being taken is because of neoliberal dogma, that public assets and public investment are bad and everything is best done through the private sector.    The financial evidence in this case (as in many others) suggests otherwise and that HIE is creating a disaster at Cairn Gorm.  HIE will no doubt claim that it will secure its loan as it it did in its agreement with CML over the day lodge (see link in paragraph 4 above).   That agreement states CML cannot sell the new assets financed by the HIE loan without permission.   That sounds fine until a company goes into liquidation – and CML appears heading that way – when its assets are distributed among all creditors which would inevitably result in HIE getting back less than what it put in.  I am not an expert in these things but  its looks to me as though its almost impossible for HIE to secure its loan properly.

 

The wider questions about Cairn Gorm

 

Part of the justification for selling Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats was to enable much needed investment in facilities to be financed by the private sector – the latest investment announcement suggests that is no nearer to happening.  If investment depends on the public sector, the obvious question is why have the private sector involved at all?

 

The answer is that sometime the private sector has expertise that the public sector lacks.  However, Natural Retreats was a new company with little experience and no expertise in skiing – so why then did HIE choose them?   There were – and are now – local people and businesses who are prepared to work together and manage Cairn Gorm for the benefit of everyone and keep money invested in the local area.    The biggest question therefore which HIE needs to answer is why its still pressing ahead with financing Natural Retreats instead of putting its efforts into supporting a community enterprise to takeover and run Cairn Gorm?

 

It would appear from the HIE News Release is that the proposal to redevelop the Day Lodge has now been abandoned.   The delivery of a new Day Lodge was a condition of HIE’s lease with Cairngorm Mountain and set out in Schedule 4.  That schedule now needs to change and it appears therefore that HIE would, if it gave notice to Natural Retreats to terminate the lease now, be secure from any legal challenge.   It has no excuse for not doing so.

 

The public investment at Cairn Gorm is a good thing – its just being given to the wrong people for the wrong purpose.  Its time our politicians appreciated this and started arguing for alternatives.

By Ross MacBeath

Three Lochs Forest Drive Camping Permit Zone M

Following my visit to Forest Drive and posts on Zone B and Zone C, I thought I would cover zone M at the other end of Forest Drive because there was actually a family camping there when I visited on the 10th of April ’17.

 

Misleading information about the permit area

There are according to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority website no facilities in this permit zone, “no drinking water available” but “There are toilets half way along Three Lochs Forest Drive, up to 3km away.” 

* click map to zoom
  • The distance back along the drive to the toilets is 5.6 Km, if walking this would give a round trip of 11.2 km, not the maximum of 3 km implied, taking between 2.5 hrs to 4 hrs depending on pace.
  • Forest drive is a one way system, therefore to drive from any camping zone on Forest Drive to the toilets and return to your permit zone is a 14.4 km round trip taking about 45 minutes drive within speed limits

 

A Family with young children and a dog sold a pitch for a two man tent

The family of 5, 2 adults and 3 children, with a dog,  had purchased a permit for Forest Drive zone ‘M’: a site suitable only for a three man tent in a location wholly unsuitable for a family camp. The LLTNPA’s “Get a Permit site” misled them by not explaining the nature of the site or it’s capacity for tent size. The result is their 8 man tent had to be shoehorned into the only level space in the entire zone leaving them precariously close to an overhanging river bank.

 

8 man tent shoehorned into 2/3 man pitch
Pitching an 8 man tent on a 3 man pitch

Problems posed for these campers

It’s impossible to tension the guys properly due to the river behind and dense vegetation to the front so with high winds the whole lot could end in the river or collapsed with pole damage. Without space between the tent and the river, the central pole hoops each side of the door could not be pegged at the river side at all, leaving the tent unstable in the 26 mph winds experienced on 10th April when this camp took place.  Being so close to river,  the weight of an adult on the bank fixing guy lines could cause a collapse with at best a soaking, at worst a serious injury.  .

 

The door as you can see opens into the gap in the vegetation making entry and exit limited if not problematic, forcing entry to be made by a corridor in the vegetation. The greater area around the tent is a nightmare, it’s tick heaven and puts those in this area at some risk of tick bites. The nature of the vegetation also makes it likely that adders are present and care should be take especially in April when they come out of hibernation.   The use of sandals or even shorts would be ill advised due to the blanket of brambles prevalent in this area of the zone.

 

LLTNPA sells a product that fails to meet requirements then refuses a replacement.

 

The family in question were new to camping and oblivious to some of the problems they may face which could turn their first camping experience into a camping nightmare. They had identified on arrival that zone G by the loch side would have made a more suitable location for the family to camp. but there was no indication of this on the permit booking website as there are no photographs or descriptive text to the suitability of any zone.at Forest Drive.

In any case changing zones is not allowed under the parks  terms and conditions, which states “Permits cannot be transferred to other permit areas…” considering  they have been  mis-sold the camping experience that is no more than a cynical attempt by the LLTNPA to absolve itself from the need to provide a more suitable pitch which should have been identifiable during the booking process in the first place.

 

The LLTNPAs map for Three Lochs Forest Drive Zone M shows a long zone bounded by the river to the north and Forest Drive to the south  It details some trees at the western limit of a large semi oval camping ground becoming narrower corridor as it stretches east to the wooded area just below the gate. This area is expected to provide two camping pitches with visitor choice from the greater zone area. The image of the tent is placed over a location which in reality is a sink hole that drains runoff from the road in wet weather.

 

LLTNPA’s map fails to represent the true nature of Zone M

 

The Map of course does not represent what we find on the ground.  The shape of the zone follows the north and south bounds of the river and road making the true area of the zone similar in size but the narrow area between each end of the zone is filled with trees and scrub.  There is also a discrepancy with post position at the east end sign and yellow topped marker by the river.

 

The whole idea of a zone is misused here to con the public, stakeholders and ministers into believing something has been delivered when it has not.  It is clear the true extent of the camping zone is virtually  no larger than those areas shown in green and marked as pitch 1 and pitch 2 (on map below) and even then pitch 2 is not viable for camping due to the nature of the ground vegetation cover and it’s location in surrounding vegetation.

 

Diagram showing the poor access to Camping Zone M
Vegetation is dynamic and the diagram represents summer / autumn seasons.

Pitch 1 – a Natural “found” pitch by the river bank

 

As stated before, good camping pitches are found not made.

Pitch 1 is the only natural camping pitch in the  zone.  Its a small, level, dry grassy patch to the west edge of the zone. The pitch is longer and not much than wider than the path it sits on so will only suit a 1 or 2 man oblong footprint tent.  The presence of a mature fire ring indicates that this area has been used for camping in past seasons. This is not a new provision but an existing site. Being on a path into the rest of the oval area its not well situated as people and their pets pass looking for the second pitch or just exploring the area.  While at present there is another route down from the road it’s likely to be cutoff with brambles when the growing season begins. .

 

A natural pitch, used prior to byelaws but counted as new provision
Pitch 1 Long and Narrow and suitable for a two/three person tent.

 

Pitch 2 is not a viable camping pitch

 

The second pitch is just beyond the first, on the same path.  It is no more than a strimmed area of vegetation (bracken) on ground which is raised slightly above the surrounding area.  It is dry, even and fairly level.  The problem is the underlying vegetation has been cut back to provide the so called pitch in the middle of what is a dense patch of Bracken and Brambles.   When the growing season restarts it will quickly be come unusable without regular strimming and very undesirable when the surrounding vegetation reaches waist height.

 

 

Pitch 2 is not viable as a camping pitch, the cut down vegetation will re-establish itself and its location in the middle of bracken is wholly unsuitable.  The location is adjacent to brambles and will suffer encroachment if not already present on the pitch. Locating tents in .bracken is undesirable as it’s a preferred habitat for ticks.

The location of two pitches such in close proximity is also undesirable with the potential for mutual disturbance and the lack of surrounding space in this side of the zone make multiple occupancy undesirable.   The remainder of the half oval end of Zone M is not inaccessible to humans because of dense vegetation and brambles.

 

The west end of the zone is largely inaccessible.

 

The ground cover in the oval area of zone M, designated the camping area by the tent symbol in the Parks Map, in reality, like the rest of the area, offers nothing in the way of recreation.  It is both rough and bramble filled, where access to the rest of the zone is down slopes only if they are not overgrown and so blocked by vegetation. The central section where the zone narrows to a steep slope and with an almost vertical drop to the river it is not accessible.  The areas immediately to the west and east of the narrows are overgrown and bramble filled.

The Central Narrowed Portion of Zone M is Completely inaccessible

 

The central potion from the east of the zone to the west is impassable due to steep slope and tick vegetation. There is no connection path between the West and East side of Zone M’ The Bramble and dense vegetation covers almost half of the semi oval area shown with the tent symbol.

 

Thick brambles covering large areas of west side of Zone M, vertical slopes down to river.

The East end of Zone M

 

The east end of Zone M is somewhat inaccessible due to slopes and thick bramble entangled vegetation, There are three or so locations where access is possible down rather steep slopes there is nothing more in the area than a path through to one of the other exits.making entrance pointless as there is no viable camping locations or other reason to come into this end of the zone.other than to search fruitlessly for a camping spot or exploration.

 

These images were taken before the start of the growing season

The LLTNPA attitude towards visitors is shocking and their terms & conditions and regulations for the park are draconian:  “You must arrive at your permit area after
1pm on the first day of your permit and leave before 11am on the last day of your permit”  under threat of a £500 fine and a criminal conviction.

 

See terms and conditions here

 

The LLTNPA also take the view through their zero liability clause that it is your responsibility to decide on the safety of their product, that is the “camping experience” that they have sold you, which of course you can only do once you arrive on site.  Then, if the location is dangerous and unsuitable as is the case above, they expect you to put up with a poor experience or cancel your weekend and return home.

New bridge over the Allt Breac Nic, Stuc a Chroin in distance.   The pipe has been concealed under the bridge, as per LLTNPA good practice guidance.    Photo Credit Derek Sime.

The Munro Society has started to monitor hydro schemes – a very welcome development – and my thanks to Derek Sime who sent parkswatch a number of photos of the Keltie Water Hydro Scheme, situated between Callander and Stuc a Chroin.   While the Keltie Water forms the eastern boundary of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park all the development associated with the hydro scheme lies within it.   The hydro scheme was originally approved in 2013, revised plans approved in 2014 (see here) and map below and apparently constructed in 2016.

Location and site plan for Keltie Water hydro scheme 2014 from LLTNPA planning portal

The track up the glen by the Keltie Water from Braeleny farm is the starting point for a number of fine walks, including the southern approach to Stuc a Chroin, along the prominent rounded ridge from Meall Odhar, and a wonderful round from Beinn Each to Meall na Fearna taking in Stuc a Chroin and Ben Vorlich.    Derek’s photos, which are mainly of the access track and the pipeline – there are none of the two intakes  – show some good and bad things about the hydro scheme but on balance this appears one of the better schemes in the National Park.

Photo credit Derek Sime

 

The power house is situated close to Braeleny Farm, has been finished with natural materials and is quite tucked away.   It will have almost no landscape impact on the glen, which becomes wide and open higher up.  The construction compound to the left of the building has been restored well – from this distance you would hardly know it had been there – and for good measure Drummond Estate have added three blocks of tree planting.   While in the wrong place, tree planting can look artifical, not far  south of the powerhouse on the far side of the river (outside the National Park boundary) there is a large block of forestry while further south, along the Keltie Water, there is some fine native woodland and the planting here has the potential to link to that.

 

Generally the LLTNPA has ensured the power house elements of hydro schemes in the National Park have been done well – their planners I think are more comfortable with buildings than landscape – and this is appears a good example.

Photo credit Derek Sime

The other element of hydro schemes that the LLTNPA have generally ensured is done well is restoration of the ground in grassland and peatland areas.   If peat and turves are removed and stored before the trench for the pipeline is dug, once replaced the ground should recover quickly.  A multitude of stones on the surface as along Glen Bruar (see here) is a sign that contractors have mixed up excavations with top soil and vegetation.  While you can see some stones on the surface here, generally this section of pipeline restoration appears to have been done well and is likely to recover quickly.  In two years it may not be possible to see the line of the pipeline.

 

The section of pipe on the left of the photo is another matter.  It is one of several which appear to have been abandoned as all machinery has been removed from the site and there is no sign of ongoing works.   There is no need for this and it is not acceptable.  Sadly abandoned sections of pipe are a feature of a number of other hydro schemes in our National Park – its cheaper to leave them in situ than recycle them – including Glen Bruar.  (Its also yet another example of why the litter left by a few irresponsible campers needs to be seen in perspective).

Photo Credit Derek Sime

 

The restoration of the ground just south of the bridge over the Allt Breac Nic and beyond it on the left side of the track appears less successful, with far more stone visible and what appears to be a boulder dump by the sheep on the far left.   I suspect part of the reason for this is the ground before the bridge slopes steeply and the depth of soil here was less.    Where the soil is shallower its much more difficult to separate vegetation and topsoil from rocks if the work is done by machine as it invariably is nowadays.  This is a problem not just at Glen Bruar but on sections of the Beauly Denny powerline.   If our National Parks are serious about ensuring the highest standards of restoration I believe they need to consider and support the development of  alternative “construction” techniques in areas of shallow soil.    Meantime the LLTNPA needs to consider how its going to make the restoration of this area effective.

 

Photo Credit Derek Sime

Prior to the construction of the hydro there was an existing track to Arivurichardich.  This was upgraded to enable the construction works to take place.  Drummond Estate’s planning application asked for the tracks, after restoration, to be 2.5m wide.  The LLTNPA, stuck by their Planning Guidance and made the following requirements:

 

Notwithstanding the approved plans and for the avoidance of doubt these tracks shall be reduced to a width of between 2 metres, and 2.5 metres (at essential turning areas and steep gradients only), (to be agreed in writing by the Planning Authority), and shall have a grassed central strip.

 

What the photo above illustrates is that this requirement has not been met.  This straight section of track is more than 2m wide.  You can also see how aggregate from the track has spilled down the slope to the right, broadening it still further.  There is no sign of a grass central strip.  Perhaps that will be put in place this spring?     The problem here is not with the conditions the LLTNPA required in this case, its the enforcement of them.

A close up of the area between the two bridges (above) illustrates a number of areas where restoration work could have been better.  Left of the track large amounts of stony substrata has been mixed up with the peat and may change the type of vegetation that grows back here .   Another piece of abandoned pipe is visible to the right of the sign.  The track itself is clearly broader than the 2.5m the LLTNPA allowed for bends and junctions.   And, while I am not against all signs – this is part of a core path network – did it really have to be bright red?

Photo credit Derek Sime

The old bridge south of Arivurichardich (above) over the Keltie Water was washed away on 18 August 2004, during a violent thunderstorm which sat over Stuc a’Chroin, and which was also responsible for sweeping away a number of other bridges in the area, including that on the public South Loch Earn road at Edinample.     Since then the Keltie Water has been uncrossable when it has been in spate, and while of course the hydro pipeline will reduce those levels in future, the two bridges help make the area more accessible.  This is a  benefit on what is part of a core path network.

 

What Derek Sime’s photos illustrate is that the problems with this hydro scheme is not about its location but about the way its been finished.   The officer’s report recommending approval for the scheme is very thorough and show a good appreciation of the landscape:

 

The site is within an expansive and unspoilt glen comprising a mosaic of sensitive habitats and watercourses featuring unique geological rock formations.

 

It then recommends a number of specific conditions which I think are welcome.   For example, one condition was that the two dam intakes should be finished in local stone.  While use of local stone to finish dams forms part of the LLTNPA’s Good Practice Guidance, in reality most dams and intake structures within the National Park have been finished in concrete and no requirements made to abide by the Park’s own guidance.   So, the requirement in this case is very welcome.  It would be interesting though to see if this has actually happened here – photos please!

 

It will be interesting too to see hat the LLTNPA does to ensure the other conditions it has made, particularly regarding the width of the track, are enforced.   One problem with monitoring all of this – and it will be a challenge to all the Munro Society volunteers who are adopting hydro schemes – is that the LLTNPA is not adding any information to the planning portal once a decision has been made.   There is no information publicly available about the Keltie Water hydro scheme since it was finally approved in 2014.  Its impossible to see therefore whether Park enforcement have done anything to address the problems illustrated in the photos.  The result is if you, I  or Munro Society volunteers want to find out what has happened we have to submit Freedom of Information Requests.  That is wrong and needs to change.

 

If, following the People and Places planning consultation,  the Scottish Government publishes a new Planning Bill  it should include a requirement to make Planning Authorities publish on their planning portals information relating to the implementation of planning consents, including whether planning conditions have been met .   One would have hoped a National Park would be doing this anyway.  In the case of the LLTNPA it appears it is frightened that if it made this information public, that would expose its failure to take proper enforcement action against landowners.

Ledard Farm, owned by Councillor Fergus Wood, situated by the start of the popular southern approach path to Ben Venue (heads up by Ledard burn to left)

At the beginning of March Councillor Fergus Wood, owner of Ledard Farm and a member of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, submitted a planning application to develop a small camp and chalet park on the shore of Loch Ard.   Some of the documents associated with the application were published on the LLTNPA website in the second half  of March (see here).   While there is a need for more campsites in the National Park and there are several positive aspects to this application, it does raise a number of serious questions about the relationship between Board Members personal interests and the public interest and how this is being managed by the LLTNPA.   This posts explores the issues.

 

The positives

The proposed campsite will be accessed off layby (right of photo) and be located by line of trees which are growing by the Ledard burn

On entering the Trossachs West “Camping Management” zone, what is striking is that most of north shore of Loch Ard is uncampable – though not in the mind of Park officials who are so divorced from reality that they believe people can camp on rocks and in water,  About the only good place for camping on the north shore is in the fields in front of Ledard Farm which are owned by Cllr Wood.

Most of the north shore of Loch Ard is uncampable and was hardly ever used for camping – it did not stop the camping ban being extended to cover this area though, more evidence irrationality of the LLTNPA proposals.

Cllr Wood, unlike other Board Members, is obviously not against camping.  Indeed, the proposed campsite will be in full sight of his house.  What is more the LLTNPA, who claim they have been trying to persuade private landowners to develop new camping provision within the National Park, have had almost no success in doing so.  Cllr Wood, therefore, by submitting this application is setting an example to other landowners.   He is clearly not part of the NIMBY brigade – the contrast between what he appears to want to happen on Loch Ard and the exclusion of campers from the area around Loch Venachar House, the residence of the former convener Linda McKay, is striking (see here).

The Trossachs West management zone runs from Loch Ard to Loch Arklet and contains only two official places to camp and no campervan provision

 

What is also the case, if you accept the logic of the camping byelaws and the LLTNPA’s attempt to ban camping under access rights from the lochshores, is that Cllr Wood’s proposal addresses a serious shortfall of places to camp in the Trossachs West “camping management zone”.  Apart from the con at Loch Chon – where the LLTNPA has made no provision for campervans – the only other place people are allowed to camp (campervans can stop off as long as its on what counts at the verge of a road) is the permit area on the southern side of Loch Ard (which according to someone who visited and commented on parkswatch was not fit for use on 1st March).   Under the logic of the camping ban therefore, and I expect the LLTNPA to make this argument in their evaluation of the planning application, the proposed site helps reduce a shortfall of places to camp in Strathard.

In landscape terms there are questions about developing a campsite here – its a more open site than the site plan (above) illustrates suggests – and yet another chalet development would appear inappropriate.  However, the use of the word “chalets” appears misleading if the photos on the plan illustrate what is intended (camping pods would be a more appropriate term) and there are, in planning terms, a number of positive aspects to this development.   First, Cllr Wood has included accommodation for a site manager in the reception building, a contrast to the tourist developers in Balmaha who have failed to provide sufficient staff accommodation (see here).   This is also something the LLTNPA made no provision for at Loch Chon, their 26 place campsite just up the road.    Second, the planning application states the proposed toilets will be available for public use – a boon for walkers setting up Ben Venue – and a positive step to addressing the lack of public toilets in the Park – the number one issue that came up on visitor surveys until the LLTPNA stopped asking about this.   It would be good if the toilets could be open all year, unlike the LLTNPA’s own facilities.

 

Cllr Wood also set an example to other Board Members when, at the Board Meetings in both October and December 2016, he declared an interest “as a result of a potential future planning application” (the one that is now being considered by the LLTNPA) and then left the meeting for the “Your Park” items.   This was the first time I had heard a Board Member declare an interest and then decide they should not take part in discussion.  Cllr Wood’s actions contrast with those of his former convener, Linda McKay, and Board Members Martin Earl and Owen McKee, who not only failed to declare they owned property in a management zone at the meeting in April 2015, which approved the camping byelaws (Cllr Wood was not present at that meeting) but appear never once to have left a meeting.    What is highly ironic is that the one Board Member who has shown himself NOT to be a NIMBY has excluded himself from meetings but other Board Members who live in the camping management zones have contributed to the LLTNPA narrative on campers (irresponsible louts who always leave a mess) which has fed NIMBYIST views and never once recognised this as a conflict of interest. In my view, Cllr Wood’s action rather shows up the corruption at the heart of how the camping byelaws were developed.

 

Private interests and the public interest

 

Although Cllr Wood appears to be well ahead of most of his fellow members on the LLTNPA Board in being open about his interests, the planning application provides a number of reasons for the public to be concerned.

Extract from planning application for Ledard farm campsite as it (still) appeared 10th April

First, the application clearly does NOT state Cllr Wood is a Board Member.  Now I am sure this is just a mistake, but the whole point about including this section on all planning applications is to ensure transparency.  Board Members should be checking what is submitted in their name – it appears Cllr Wood has failed to do this and what’s more LLTNPA staff have failed to pick up the error in the ten days it took for them to publish the form.    Board Members have had endless training in declaration of interest over the last year and still neither they nor Park officials appear to be able to get even the basics right.  I am afraid its yet more evidence about basic failures in governance at the heart of the LLTNPA.

 

Second, and I believe significant, the application shows that that LLTNPA staff provided pre-application advice to Cllr Wood back in September 2015.

 

This raises two questions.

 

First transparency.  There is no information on the LLTNPA planning portal about what advice was given to Cllr Wood prior to this application (despite the reference number) but its not unreasonable to suppose the current application reflects advice from Park officials and they are therefore likely to recommend to the Planning Committee (all applications by Board Members have to be decided by the Committee rather than officials) that the application be approved.   Its in the public interest therefore that all communications from Cllr Wood or his agent and the LLTNPA’s responses should be publicly available to ensure Cllr Wood, as a Board Member, was not being favoured in an way.    Related to this, any consideration of the application also needs to state clearly whether there has been any discussion between the LLTNPA and Cllr Wood about financing the costs of this proposed development, whether this Cllr Wood was asking for financial assistance from the LLTNPA or conversely if the LLTNPA put any money on the table.

 

Second, the date of the pre-application advice, September 2015, tells us Cllr Wood has been considering this application for sometime.   While the two public Board Meetings which considered the camping byelaws pre-date that, in 2016 there were no less than six secret Board Meetings, four of which considered the byelaws and camping development plan.   As a result of an FOI request I have ascertained that the LLTNPA did ask for declarations of interest at these meetings (see here for example) BUT, because the LLTNPA claims no minutes are taken of these meetings, its not possible to tell either who attended or if they declared an interest.   This is wrong.   It also betrays the double think  behind how the LLTNPA operates,  on the one hand they claim these secret Board Meetings don’t take decisions but then at the same time they ask Board Members to declare interests at those meetings.   There is no way of the public knowing therefore if Cllr Wood took part in the secret Board discussions about campsite plans about which he had an interest or not.   This should be a matter of public record.  It would show either that Cllr Wood did the right thing from the start, and did not take part in these discussions, or else that his departure from public meetings was for show and that behind the scenes he had been contributing to discussions which impacted on his private interest.   There is therefore a serious issue here about the public interest, which while in this case is about Cllr Wood, is actually much wider than that, its about all Board Members and how the LLTNPA Board should operate.

 

The reason why its important to know about Cllr Wood’s involvement in Board discussions about the camping byelaws is they have an obvious impact on the financial viability of his proposed campsite.  Demand for the campsite will be influenced by where people can camp nearby and, while the planning proposal can be seen as a way of meeting a shortfall in provision locally, the converse to this is the way the West Trossachs Camping Management zone has been designed means that, if approved, people will in effect be channelled by the LLTNPA into Cllr Wood’s campsite.  This is most clearly seen in the case of campervans, where there is NOT one permit place for campervans in the whole of Strathard.  This means that any campervanner who did not know their rights would be likely to end up using one of the four motorhome places proposed for the Ledard Farm campsite, benefitting Cllr Wood.

 

Again, to give credit to Cllr Wood, he recognised this in respect of the planning application the LLTNPA made to itself for the Loch Chon campsite last year:

 

FW declared an interest as a landowner within a camping management zone in respect of item 4 North Car Park off B829 Loch Chon as he has an interest in loch shore campsite provision on his land. FW advised that he would leave the meeting for Agenda Item 4

 

While the minute shows Fergus Wood left the meeting, it also shows not a single other Board Member questioned the lack of motorhome provision at Loch Chon.   This I find very strange:  the effect will be to channel motorhomes to Cllr Wood’s campsite if his planning application is approved.   It seems to me that in order for the LLTNPA and its staff to avoid any suspicion of collusion in favour of Cllr Wood – and I am not suggesting he has had any part in this, indeed being pro-access the decision at Loch Chon might have been better had he remained at the meeting! – the LLTNPA need to open up the Loch Chon campsite to campervans.

 

The conflict of interest issues are even broader than this and concern Board Members contributing to the development of policies which have a direct impact on their own interests.   Whatever stage he decided he needed to leave meetings, Cllr Wood would appear to have taken part in policy developments that will facilitate his proposed campsite at Ledard Farm.  This is not just about the camping byelaws, although if he took any part in the development of the idea of camping management zones (before considering whether he should develop a campsite) that could be seen to have contributed to his private interests.  Its also about the development of the  Park Development Plan which was approved last year.  In that plan, planning applications for developments in the countryside will be considered in certain circumstances, one of which is if they contribute to the National Park Partnership Plan – which includes new camping infrastructure.   I somehow doubt Cllr Wood excluded himself from every Board discussion which has resulted in the current policy position of the LLTNPA which will be used to determine this planning application and which might benefit him.

 

Does this matter?   While I am sure Cllr Wood would claim at the time of those discussions he had no idea that he was going to propose a camping development at Ledard Farm, once he did start to think about this, it seems to me that a conflict of interest was created and the question then should have been not just about whether Cllr Wood would absent himself from specific discussions, but whether he should have continued to take part in more general policy development which impacted on his interests.

 

In a Public Authority with a different ethos, other Board Members might well have started asking questions and Cllr Wood might have, for example, stepped down from the Planning Committee.  This is the second major planning application Cllr Wood has made to the LLTNPA – the first was in 2013 for the Ledard hydro scheme.   Again, while he took no part in the meeting which determined that application, Cllr Wood had, as a planning committee member, been involved in developing LLTNPA policy and practice around hydro schemes.   Its possible to see this either as Cllr Wood setting a good example, doing himself what the LLTNPA was asking others to do, or as a conflict of interest.

 

In my view, its fine for Board Members to start practicing what they preach but, in any case where they might then benefit from this financially – in other words their business interests are clearly impacted on by the decisions being taken by the National Park Authority –  the only way they can remain squeaky clean is to step down.  While I respect Cllr Wood for his lack of NIMBYISM and preparedness to welcome visitors who may not spend lots of money, his business interests appear so entwined with what the National Park is doing that I don’t believe his current position is tenable.

 

With the local elections coming up, there is an opportunity for Cllr Wood to stand down voluntarily and for Stirling Council to replace Cllr Wood as one of their two nominees on the LLTNPA Board.  The much bigger issue however is how do establish a National Park Board which has a clear moral compass and sound governance.

By Nick Halls

Northern Gate, preventing access to old road and former Torpedo range site. The gate was recently installed, apparently under a road closure notice which was related to the planning permission for the development of the site. That planning permission has however lapsed.   All photos Nick Halls.

Following the post about the planning blight at the site of the former torpedo factory and range on Loch Long  (see here),  I went to take a look for myself.  I wanted to take a look at the impact of the gates that have blocked off the old road and check if any of the flytipping had been removed as required by the Amenity Notice.   This was served last August and  gave the owners four weeks to clear the rubbish from the site.  Since then, the minutes of the Arrochar, Tarbert and Ardlui Community Council Area Forum held in March  (see here) have not just confirmed that Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is giving the owners four to five more months to remove the flytipping (on top of the six months since the Amenity Notice deadline expired) but also that there is asbestos on site.

View south down the old main road towards derelict Torpedo factory.

It is possible to by-pass the gate on foot which, in respect of the danger from asbestos renders the gates ineffective, and, although the gate prevents fly tipping from vehicles, it does not prevent people disposing of bags of garbage which are being thrown down towards the shore line.

Garbage thrown down from within the northern gate from shore side of old road

Stuart Mearns, the Park’s Head of Planning, spoke too soon when he stated (as recorded in the  Forum minutes)  “that at least there would be no more fly tipping” on the site.

The southern entry to the site and the old A83  has also been blocked off with similar style gates

Dumping from vehicles is still possible also at the southern gate and is still happening.

Building materials and general garbage tipped down bank by vehicles on the main road side of the southern gate

The next photos are of tipping and garbage disposal within the gated area, on the area that was the former torpedo factory, on a road that leads from the old main road into the decayed industrial ruins.

View south
View south east

There are a series of dumping spots on the western side of this road (see below) mostly containing what appears to be builders/commercial rubbish.

View west

Two of the fly tipping sites contain what appears to be corrugated asbestos.  Both of these sites are east of the old road on what was the site of the torpedo factory.

View north west

 

Note: the old main road runs behind trees in the background, so the asbestos risk is well away from the former public highway.

View north west, site immediately beside the one shown above

If this is the asbestos and it influenced the decision to close the old main road, it would have cost less to remove than to install the gates!  It is also situated on the grounds immediately beside the industrial ruins of the former torpedo factory – not particularly close to the old main road.

 

The industrial area of the former torpedo factory is a potentially heavily polluted ‘brown field’ site, which should have been cleared by the M.O.D., as they constitute the polluter/previous owner. On the basis that the ‘polluter should pay’ it seems likely that the responsibility still lies with the M.O.D. even if the site has been sold to a possible developer.

View south along the old main road

There is much less evidence of fly tipping along the southern section of the old main road, beyond the access loop leading through the ruins of the former torpedo factory.

Fly tipping and garbage along the northern part of the old main road

The quantities are not large and appeared to be fairly straightforward to remove. Again, clearing the roadside might have involved less effort than placing the gates – with an unnecessary restriction of access.

Parts of a broken-up fiber-glass boat, in three parts thrown off bridge into stream passing through site. The stream above the ruined factory site looks as if it is quite natural, and constitutes quite a scenic view, were it not for the dumping.

 

Remains of demolished building, which might have been residential or administrative. Note also the remains from what appears to be some sort of forestry operation involving stripping bark and branches, which presumably took place elsewhere, and then disposed of along the roadside.

Much of the fly tipping along the sides of the old road is fairly easy to remove, or does not pose a particular health risk.

 

The forestry operation debris, although unsightly will eventually break down and become over grown – but it still constitutes fly tipping – always assuming it was carried outout with the owners consent.

Most of the unsightly material seems to be the remains of demolished buildings, which have not previously given rise to concerns, whether on health and safety or amenity grounds, and have been in this state for decades.   The blight at the former torpedo testing site is far greater than the flytipping and while the LLTNPA needs to address the flytipping, a much bigger challenge is to clear the site up and make it fit for public enjoyment again.   Its a prime site in the heart of our National Park, a disgrace, a challenge and an opportunity.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority Board is meeting on Friday to discuss and approve its new Partnership Plan, the overarching Plan which guides what it will do over the next five years (see here for the 60 page plan and supporting documents).    The LLTNPA’s announcement about this can be read (here).   Its positive the Board is devoting a whole meeting to consider the plan – it deserves this.  What follows is not a comprehensive evaluation of the Plan  but rather an attempt to highlight some key issues for those who aspire to create  National Parks in Scotland which are worthy of the name.

 

Positive changes in the revised plan

 

It is clear that the CNPA has listened to criticisms of the draft plan and has made far stronger statements/commitments in certain areas.   Among the specific changes which should be welcomed are:

 

  • to eliminate raptor persecution in the National Park (an ongoing issue as recent disappearance of a golden eagle on the North Glenbuchat estate shows (see here)
  • the recognition of the role of moorland management in creating flooding downstream
  • the statement that the Park will  “plan proactively” for beavers
  • the presumption against new bulldozed tracks in the uplands
  • the commitment to join up the path network in the eastern Cairngorms  and to create a new long distance walking route, the Deeside Way

 

There has also been some strengthening of the general statements that underpin what the Partnership Plan should be about, particularly the creation of a section on public interest priorities for landuse in the National Park  This includes the role that National Parks can play in combating climate change, reversing loss of biodiversity and landscape scale conservation as well as how the National Park can promote best practice in terms of recreational visitors and empowering local communities.

 

All this is positive and suggests there are people within the CNPA who have clear aspirations for what the National Park could deliver.

 

Weaknesses in the revised plan

 

While the revised plan is more aspirational than the draft, it still seems to me to fall short of what we should expect from a National Park.   Here are some examples:

 

  • In announcing the Partnership Plan the CNPA cited the inclusion of a target of 5000 hectares of woodland restoration in the next five years as showing its conservation intent.   5000 hectares sound a lot until you consider that the total area of the Cairngorms National Park is 4528 square kilometres or 452,800 hectares – so the target is to increase the amount of land with woodland cover in the National Park by about 1.1% in the next five years.  Nothing in that target that remotely threatens to change the way that “sporting” estates are managed.  Indeed its unclear if grouse moors or stalking estates are going to contribute anything to this target or whether it will be delivered by the NGOs and Forest Enterprise.
  • Connected to this, the Plan states that public interest land-use objectives, such as increasing woodland cover, should be delivered “in conjunction with private objectives”.  In effect this means the objectives of sporting estates.   If these remain untouched, will anything change as a result of the plan?  My reservations are re-inforced by the section on deer management which contains actions like the further development of methodologies for establishing the “right level” deer grazing.   This type of approach that has been taken for years without any meaningful results.   There are no commitments from sporting estates to change what they do.
  • These weaknesses derive from an ongoing commitment by the CNPA to using the voluntary approach, and that alone, to achieve its statutory objectives:   “All sectors must work together to deliver for the Cairngorms”.   There is not, as far as I can see, any fallback position in the Partnersip Plan which sets out what the CNPA will do if this voluntary approach, once again, fails to work.  What is the CNPA going to do if golden eagles are still disappearing in the Cairngorms this time next year?    There is no plan B.  Worse, in my view, if there is no stick there is absolutely no incentive or reason for private sporting estates to change how they manage the land on a voluntary basis.
  • The basic omission in the plan is about how the CNPA will tackle powerful interests in the National Park if they fail to act in the public interest.   Land Reform is one way that the power of landed interests could be tackled but, while there are welcome statements in the Plan about  empowering local communities, there is nothing to say how land reform might help the CNPA meets its statutory objectives.   This is not just about land though – the CNPA rightly recognises low pay is a serious issue for the majority of those working in the National Park, but makes no proposals for how this might be tackled.   Instead it wants to see the contribution tourism makes to the economy in the eastern Cairngorms increase – more low paid jobs?   When one of the statutory objectives of the National Park is sustainable economic development, its a major omission when the Park Plan has nothing to say about whether changing the way land is managed could create more and better jobs.
  • At least though the CNPA is clear – unlike the LLTNPA whose thinking is far more overtly neo-liberal (they even have a commercialisation strategy) – that public investment is key to the future of both conservation and the people living in the National Park.

The Plan reads as if the CNPA has identified most of the key issues, its just not worked out yet how to deliver its aspirations.

 

Omissions from the Partnership Plan

In my view, in addition to any plan to tackle vested interests,  there are two further major omissions from the plan

  1. A lack of a vision for wild land and rewilding.   While near the start of the Plan there is a map showing wild land in the Cairngorms, the Plan says nothing about how this will be protected or enhanced apart from there being a presumption against new tracks.   There is no commitment to restore land that has been trashed by past developments – surely the National Park should be identifying tracks and other developments that impact adversely on wild land landscapes and which we should aspire to have removed?   Nor does the Plan explain  how the Park’s commitment to new hydro schemes fits with wild land.  While re-iterating its opposition to windfarms, on landscape grounds, the CNPA seems to see hydro as unproblematic – there is plenty of evidence that this is just wrong (see here for example).   The lack of vision however goes further than this:  is there nowhere in the National Park where the CNPA would like to see natural processes predominate and where nature should be allowed to take its course; what about the re-introduction of species?   The beaver is mentioned, but there are no firms plans, while of lynx, which would help reduce numbers of roe deer, there is not a mention.   This is an opportunity missed, an opportunity for the National Park to take a lead that would inspire people.
  2. What resources are needed.   While there is much talk of partnership (and indeed even a statement that partnerships are a way of bringing resources together), there is no systematic attempt to describe what resources the various partners can definitely contribute to make the Plan happen (an exception is a list of major capital investment projects both private and public).  Nor is there any attempt to describe the resource gap, things that the Partners would like to do if they had the resources.    What most striking about this is its completely unclear how the Park’s conservation objectives in the Plan will be financed (apart from the Peatland Action project).

 

What next?

 

The Parternship Plan, once amended/approved by the Board needs to be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham.    While there is a lot of good things in the Plan, much of this, particularly the conservation objectives, are likely to unravel because they are totally dependent on the voluntary principle.   If the Minister really wants objectives such as the elimination of raptor persecution to be achieved, she would be wise to ask the CNPA to develop alternative mechanisms to ensure the Partnership Plan is delivered.

Camping byelaw 10 and 11 provides for exemptions from the camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.  Camping byelaw 10 is for land (e.g campsites) and byelaw 11 for people.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has used byelaw 11 to set up permit areas within the camping management zones  (except that many of these places are unfit for camping (see here) and (here)).   Byelaw 11 also allows people to apply for exemptions in other areas in the camping management zones.   At present though the  LLTNPA has only advertised this facility on its camping pages to groups  (see here) such as the Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

 

The reason for this, I believe, is not because the LLTNPA cares about young people being able to experience the countryside  – under the terms and conditions for the Loch Chon campsite people under 16 are banned from staying unless there is an adult with them while young backpackers walking the West Highland Way have been hit hard by the byelaws on east Loch Lomond –  but because the Scouts and D of E were very concerned about the proposed byelaws and the Park wanted to buy them off.  In fact the LLTNPA does not charge them for permits.  A clear case of divide and rule among recreational groups.

 

The camping permit areas created by the LLTNPA are of limited use to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and the Scouts.  This is partly because one of the points of going on expeditions is to encourage young people to be self-reliant and being herded together with other campers in permit zones is little different to being on a campsite.  Its also because the permit zones may not fit with expedition routes.   The LLTNPA, having removed the right to choose somewhere to camp on the lochshores where no one else is present, if that is what you wanted to do, or to suit your journey (eg if you are backpacking the West Highland Way) has in effect reinstated this for formal youth groups.   If this is the right thing to do for youth groups though, and I think it is, it should be right for everyone else too.   The way the LLTNPA is managing exemptions for formal groups just exposes further the unfairness of the byelaws.

 

LLTNPA officers have, however,  set up a system where organised youth groups need to apply for exemptions at least four weeks in advance and each application is then advertised on the weekly planning list (though its not clear if anyone can object – under the Scheme of Delegation approved by the Board at its December meeting its up to officers to decide).   What the system does is extend control over youth groups even beyond what was explicitly stated in the byelaws.   Its also hugely bureaucratic – if you don’t believe this read the form that groups have to fill in Group-permit-application

 

The planning list shows there have already been two exemptions approved for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and two more are in the pipeline.  Here is an example:

The application form states that the LLTNPA may apply further terms and conditions to exemptions over and above the provisions in the standard terms and conditions for permit areas.   Since breach of the terms and conditions under byelaw 11 creates a new criminal offence, what this means is Park staff can create even more criminal offences for youth groups – or in other words increase control over them.   Its like creating an anti-social behaviour order for youth groups (rather than individuals) which controls what they do and when.   While NO terms and conditions have been applied to the  exemption above,  they have  been applied to the other application which was approved – see left – although what these conditions are is not stated.  They should be.  Another case of Park staff developing controls in secret.

 

In terms of the fairness about how applications for exemptions are decided, I have not  been able to find anything on the LLTNPA website which says how they will do this, although procedures are meant to be in place:

Extract from Board Paper December 2016

The criteria should be public to ensure that the LLTNPA is not discriminating in favour of one recreational group against other recreational groups or users.

 

The criteria also need to be made public because local residents and businesses need to apply for exemptions (see here) if they want to avoid friends or staff committing criminal offences, such as where they sleep in a tent overnight a garden or in a caravan within the camping management zones.  Local residents need to know what criteria will be used to decide applications they might make and also to ensure there is not one set of criteria for local residents and another for visitors.

 

Before the end of March there had been more applications for exemptions (I know of at least five) than happened in any year of the east Loch Lomond byelaws.

Extract from Review of east Loch Lomond byelaws

Its quite predictable that the number of exemption requests under the new byelaws is going to escalate and it appears the LLTNPA has not thought through either the cost implications of managing this or how it will manage this fairly.  I don’t think it can.   Access Rights were and are fair.  They allow you to camp as long as you do this responsibly.  There never was any need for the LLTNPA to add to this, the existing criminal law was quite sufficient but the Park is now trying to micro manage people’s behaviour.

 

That they are doing so should, in my view, be seen as part of a wider programme of social control.   I have just been reading George Monbiot book of essays, “How did we get into this mess?”.  This has many has interesting things to say about the increasing social control of young people and the impact of their increasing exclusion from nature.   The camping byelaws and the way exemptions are being managed, with ever more controls being put in place, are a good example of this.   The National Park should have been a breathing space for people from the Glasgow conurbation, instead its becoming a highly controlled place.

By Ross MacBeath

 

On the 13th March at the Board Meeting at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park HQ in Balloch, the Your Park update report (see here) stated the “Loch Chon campsite is on course for completion and handover………….for 1st March” .   At the end of the meeting, in what appeared to be an orchestrated statement, it was reported  that the Board had made a site visit and all was found to be in order.    It will be interesting to see if this is recorded in the minutes when they eventually appear.
Having visited the campsite on the 12th March ’17, the day before the board meeting, I knew the statement to be untrue and have published  over a hundred photographs which are proof of this fact.  Its very worrying that Board Members who visited appear to have so little knowledge of camping that they were oblivious to the multitude of obvious problems and then that senior staff and the  entire board have colluded to hide the fact that all was not in order with the completion and handover of the development at Loch Chon.

 

Now, over a full month after Scottish Ministers were promised 300 new pitches were to be provided, allowing the Byelaws to be brought into force, the Loch Chon site has still not been delivered and many of permit zones are unsuitable for camping (see here) and  (here) for examples.  The majority of pitches at Loch Chon remain both unusable or undesirable as camping pitches – as of 2nd April 2017

 

General Conditions of site

The area remains a building site with tracked vehicles, tippers and aggregates at one end of the toilet block and an unwelcoming mess at the entrance container known as the site office and bin store. We are into April and the only pitch that’s truly serviceable is pitch 21 which is coincidentally the only pitch on the entire campsite the LLTNPA did not create.

 

The Park Authority’s hypocrisy knows no bounds

After chastising Campers and Visitors for leaving black bags of rubbish by overflowing bins and  handing out penalties, here we have the Park Authority leaving their own bags of rubbish by the bin store, the entrance to which is strewn with various building materials creating a great first impression for visitors.


This is typical of what we now see in the undesirable culture created by the National Park Byelaws,  where the law makers and their landowner or business partners don’t have to comply with any laws they have created for park users.

 

Drinking water issues continue to plague Loch Chon campsite

 

No Drinking water or dish washing facilities available at site.

Although the site is claimed to be fully operational, there is no treated drinking water to the external taps, preventing container filling and dish washing. 3 of the 4 toilets remained locked.  The 4th is open with flushing cistern and working wash hand basins. I suspect a re-plumbing exercise has diverted the drinking water to the toilet block, though the  LLTNPA still insist the issues only lasted a few days despite the almost weekly video reports to the contrary.


The promised sympathetic integration of containers into the site has been greatly exaggerated, this solution for buildings in a National Park is just tacky, it’s not appropriate for a National Park and ruins the aesthetic of the entire development.

 

Cross contamination of materials used on site.

 

The uncontrolled spread of construction materials beyond the confines of paths and roads is a major concern at this development and this will be the subject of an environmental post shortly.  What’s going on now is the cross contamination of finished works with a new quartz aggregate material introduced to the site.  The use of quartz aggregate in an ancient forest needs to be avoided. It’s an alien material and grates at every view but when it’s spread through the environment in this manner it should be a crime.

 

How is this possible when there is an appointed clerk of works with responsibly for overseeing all variations to the original planning application and agreeing and documenting all construction work meets environmental standards? The need for a remedy is clear and mixing of this aggregate with vegetation can only be restored by picking it up stone by stone rather than the heavy handed machine operation that has damaged the site unnecessarily in other locations.

Environmental Damage created through attempting to clear contamination by alien materials

 

These images show an attempt to clean up hardcore.deposited on a slope.

Cross contamination with hardcore, perhaps the original rout of the path? Attempt to clean off hard core contamination by scraping with excavator.

The original contamination on the left and the disastrous attempt to remove it effectively  has caused destruction to the hillside in the process. It remains unclear why  the hardcore was deposited on vegetation in the first place, given the area, probably a path placement error.

 

Pitch problems and solutions

 

The LLTNPA has introduced grit to camping pitch surfaces: grit is a disaster for camping as it’s carried into the tent sleeping area and sticks to everything – what are they thinking?!

 

Many of the proposed pitches were covered in rough grasses, mosses and rushes:  successive cutting of the coarse grasses have removed the rough edges but the reality is they are still not suitable as a surface for pitching a tent and will deteriorate rapidly through the growing season.

 

Uneven surfaces and slopes: inappropriate aggregates and graded building materials have been spread over peat and moss to even out the ground but fail to to make it level.

 

Wet areas: with the exception of Pitch 8 and 10, wet areas remain untouched, I guess it’s a wait and see and hope summer weather will dry them out.   It probably won’t,  they’re built on natural water courses, as was pitch 10.

 

Brambles: still pose a great threat to the pitches it looks like they are just being covered over rather than removed.  It won’t work, brambles need intensive management.

 

Access to popular camping spots denied by the National Park Authority

 

The image below shows a typical and popular loch side camping spot now banned by the bylaws. It’s high amenity, provides a level, short grass surface over firm ground, the surface is even with sufficient depth to take tent pegs. it also covers a large area and so provides for cooking  and sitting around the tent to eat.  The proximity of the loch shore and open areas allow for play and other activities making for a good visitor experience.

This is a former Forestry Commission camping pitch where camping is now banned. It is sited within view of the useless ‘Three Lochs Forest Drive Zone L’ by Loch Achray

 

Pitch 1 just not up to scratch

 

12th March Sowing the nature of the surface that is pitch 1 Superficial cutting does not change anything it will grow back in a few weeks when the growing season starts.

In stark contrast the National Park’s  paid for replacement is just not suitable.  These low lying areas are sited well back from the shore on wild tussock grass which, by it’s very nature, is unsuitable for camping.  It is uncomfortable if not impossible to sleep on.  There is no firm ground to light a stove, place a seat or even sit or lie down on a beach towel.  Then consider these photographs were taken in the dormant season (March 12th/April 2nd) after winter die back, when new growth takes hold matters will rapidly worsen.   The old adage, good campsites are found not made holds true and if you insist in making them them they take years to create and require much more work than than a brush over with a strimmer.

 

Pitch 4

 

Pitch 4 has been trimmed leaving the solid core of tussocks with depressions of 8 to 10 inches the pitch remains unsuitable.

Pitch 5 fares only slightly better over a confined area.

The crux of the problem is the Park Board and senior staff clearly know nothing about camping and  the vision the Park Authority has for its camping provision is far from the expectation and previous experiences of visitors who have enjoyed camping at popular loch side spots for decades.  The most used camping places were popular for a reason, they were good for camping.

 

Pitch 6 – improvements or just hiding the problem?

12th March 2017 - before improvements 2nd April - after improvements            Pitch 6 -19th March compared to modified pitch 2nd April

Pitch 6 has been covered with grit. It’s not a material you want inside the tent and yet that’s exactly what’s going to happen here.

 

A bright quartz aggregate overlaid with a graded building material, it is not constrained at the edges and so is likely to spread out over the adjacent areas.  It is also likely that the finer materials will be washed into the aggregate with rain leaving an inappropriate bright quartz aggregate finish to the area.  This pitch surface requires to be a natural material in an ancient wood and where works have been carried out that should be grass  This grit is going to cause no end of aggravation to campers as it’s carried in to the tent and deposited in the sleeping area, wholly inappropriate.

 

The evidence of bramble stalks showing through the surface indicates the underlying ground cover of brambles will remain an issue as the removal of a bramble infestation can take up to 2 years of concerted effort of cutting back and digging out roots. Simply burying the problem out of sight will get you through the site handover but they will grow through in a matter of weeks.

 

Pitch 7

Pitch 7 19th March

Pitch 7 has been reworked

 

Disabled sites 8 and 9 have had a makeover

 

The two disabled pitches were an embarrassment see video of pitch 8 here.

 

The NP have attempted to constrain and divert the water course around pitch 8 while raising the finished surface of the pitch and that should solve the water problem. It is unclear whether the hardcore layer extends below the entire pitch.  If it does we can only hope the soil depth remains around six inches otherwise pegging out the tent base will be an issue. As to the brambles, these will almost certainly grow through the hardcore layer to the surface once more unless the entire subsoil was removed.

Park Authority re-sites pitch 10 and Pitch 12

Pitch 10

This is typical of the area of the former pitch 10, obviously not a good choice for camping. The former Pitch 10 a site of environmental destruction which was totaly avoidable if anyone at the NP Authority gave a shit.

Unbelievable but true, the site of the former pitch 10 was a peat bog.   Unfortunately when the Park Authority designates a pitch a mechanical digger drives across it for good measure.  The whole area should never have been selected in the first place, it’s just incompetence and results in a large area of unnecessary environmental damage.

Pitch 10  re-work

 

The new pitch is undoubtedly drier but unfortunately in the middle of a bramble patch with the trees to one side and the bog to the other.

 

New Pitch 10 Created on Bramble Patch Close up of Pitch 10 showing brambles and bracken

 

Brambles, an invasive species.BBC Life of Plants - Brambles

While it should be obvious with ground sheet piercing thorns, brambles and tents don’t mix and are to be avoided. It is unacceptable to construct a pitch containing or even adjacent to brambles as they will cause both financial loss to the camper and possible injury.

Pitch 11

 

Pitch 11 remains an uneven wet mess.

 

Pitch 12

 

The old Pitch 12 leaves a scar on the environment

 

Pitch 12 is re-sited from a slope to a more suitable area near by.  All that is now required is to reinstate the environmental damage to the old site (see LH image) and trim up the new site removing moss and grass clumps.

Pitch 13

Pitch 13 remains unusable even after trimming

N.B. Pitch 14 and 15 are reversed on site

Pitch 14 re-work includes surfacing with quartz aggregate infilled with fines

 

Having decided to do something about the problems at some of the pitches the National Park Authority has still failed to take on board the issues with their camping provision.  It’s simple.  Pitches require to be level, even, dry and able to take tent pegs with area of about 5 m X 5 m as a minimum to allow for cooking and other activities by the tent.

 

Pitch 14 showing slope to side of slope and down towards path.

 

The problem with Pitch 14, as with so many at Loch Chon, is size and the slope.  It’s just too steep to be a viable camping pitch.  In an attempt to make the pitch surface even, the Park Authority have covered the area with their inappropriate quartz aggregate / gravel mix and while it is now even they have completely failed to correct the slope which is far too steep to be used as a camping pitch.This is a double slope, across the hill and down the hill, and will cause campers to role into each other and  push the tent sides into the fly, letting water penetrate.

 

The second problem is that the topping used to provide an even surface is not constrained and will inevitably spread out over the surrounding area, reducing effectiveness and contaminating a far greater area.

 

Pitch 15

Marked 14 on post in error!

 

Similar solution to pitch 14 with grit.  Recent works have made the pitch level but the surface is not constrained so very quickly the whole of the aggregate will spread down the slope leaving the pitch back where it started.   The size of this pitch has been confined to around 5 square metres from the 25 or more square metres available.   A tent pitch requires to be at least twice the size of a tent footprint giving a desirable minimum of around 12 square metres  and an optimum minimum of 25 square metres for a two/three man tent.

 

The site selection is again poor with the lower point of the first image in a water course.

This project was doomed to failure but no one expected it to be quite so dramatic

 

The sad fact of the matter is that the Loch chon site was selected not on its merits as a camping site, nor due to demand for camping in the area.

 

It has been created for one reason, and one reason alone, to enable the LLTNPA to be able to say to the Minister that it had created a new campsite  by the 1st of March.and in doing so the environment of the ancient woodland at Loch Chon was no more than collateral damage.

 

How has this happened?

 

To create the Loch Chon campsite it is my opinion that the National Park Authority have engaged in a willful deception of the public and other stakeholders at every stage of this unwarranted development.

 

The LLTNPA have exaggerated the numbers using the area and any environmental concerns arising from that use.

 

They have deceived local communities and interested parties as to the care and attention they would exercise on the site to protect the greater environment while providing a sympathetic development.

 

They have intentionally misconstrued their own ranger figures making claims of equivalence of this site to the Forestry Commissions site at Sallochy.

 

The balance of the pitches and financial aspects of the project will be covereD in part two of this post…

The sale of the Tulchan Estate, which straddles the northern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park, was announced last week  (see here).  The estate, or rather Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd which Leon Litchfield, the previous owner, set up as the vehicle to own it soon after he purchased the estate in 1993,  was bought by the Yuri Schefler, a Russian billionaire.   He owns the SPI Group which is registered in Luxemburg (notorious for its loose tax regime).   Companies House still records – from a statement made in 2016 – that no single person or legal entity has “significant control” of the company.   Its therefore unclear if Mr Schefler has bought the shares in Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd personally or through another legal vehicle.   It appears though he has appointed a new director, to replace the Directors who resigned in March, one Natalia Sidorenco (a UK citizen).

 

Ms Sidorenco is also a Director of Tulchan Estate Services Ltd, a new company set up in February 2017, and which appears to have nothing to do with the Litchfield family.   It has nominal capital but  its owners’,  sf Scottish Properties Ltd, correspondence address is Lefebvre Court, Lefebvre Street, St Peter Port, Guernsey, GY1 6EJ.   Another tax haven.   The Herald quoted claims that Yuri Schefler is aiming to invest in the estate, and that might be so, but why set up a service company which is owned by another company which appears based in a tax haven if your long-term intentions are to invest in the area?   It looks like any returns on Mr Schefler’s investments may go elsewhere rather than benefitting local people.  This is yet another sale which raises issues about the need for land reform.

 

Indeed, the creation of companies and trusts to own estates is now being used to circumvent the right to buy provisions in our Land Reform legislation.  This was well put in the Herald article:

 

“But the sale had been hit by a row over the rights of the estate’s tenant farmers, which campaigners had asked to be put on hold.

Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 is meant to ensure tenants are granted the right to buy when farms are put up for sale.

Because the new owners of Tulchan will buy the shares of a company, rather than a property, the farms will not technically have been sold and the tenants will not be able to trigger a right to buy.

But a spokeswoman for Savills said the issue over the tenant farms had been resolved with the sale.”

 

While Tulchan Estate had been put on the market for offers over £25 million the most recent company accounts for January 2016 show Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd had been valued at nothing like this amount.

Part of the reason for this was that a number of loans had been secured on property owned by the Company,  including as recently as last year,  and Companies House records all these were paid off earlier this year.   Then on 10th March 2017 the Directors issued a statement reducing share capital in the company to £14,355,802 shortly  before resigning and being replaced by Ms Siderenco.  Now, I am not an accountant but I am not sure why they would do this unless the offer for the estate was less than the previous share capital of £15,653,208.  Its also possible of course that it was Mr Schefler who paid off the various creditors of the company.

 

Natalia Siderenco has also become a Director of Tulchan Springwater Ltd but that company is dormant and is worth nothing   Her fourth Directorship is I think relevant.  She is a Director of SPI Spirits (UK) Ltd which after paying interest lost £165k in financial year to December 2015 and  whose liabilities exceeded its assets at that time by c£1.85m. Those accounts use Company Act exemptions and don’t report on internal transactions with the wider SPI group owned by Mr Schefler but its another company that appears insolvent.

 

So why is all this relevant to our National Parks?

 

The predominant model of National Parks across the world is that land is state owned.  Indeed in Chile, the state added 11 million acres of land to National Parks in March (see here), albeit spurred to do so in part by a legacy from the campaigner Doug Tompkins.  In Scotland we allow all land to be traded, even that in National Parks, without controls.   Tulchan is just the latest example of this.

 

Proponents of private ownership would argue so what?  Well the reason this matters if we have no idea whether Mr Schefler respects the four statutory objectives of the National Park.   We allow landowners to buy land in our National Parks without even having to make a declaration about their intentions – Mr Schefler says he is going to invest in the estate but, for all the Cairngorms National Park Authority knows, this might bulldozing more tracks onto grouse moors or cutting off access to the river Spey for outdoor recreation apart from fishing which is happening downstream, just outside the National Park.

 

While the CNPA to their credit have tried to get every estate in the National Park to develop estate plans many did not do so: Tulchan was one of those.  So will Mr Schefler, or rather his apparent nominee, Natalia Siderenco, now ensure one is produced and consult with the National Park on this?  The problem is its their choice.    The CNPA has no powers to force the company to produce a plan yet alone to determine whether they are fit people to own land in a National Park.    Owners of Care Homes have to show they are fit to do so, so why not owners of land in our National Parks?  Someone who has abused people or allowed people to be abused would not be allowed to own a care home, and we should apply the same principle to land ownership, so people who allow protected species to be killed should not be allowed to own land in our National Parks.

 

If you want a compelling reason for this, the day after the sale of Tulchan was announced, the RSPB reported the disappearance of  yet another golden eagle on the Glenbuchat estate (two estates on from Tulchan going east).  Its worth reading the history from Raptor Persecution Scotland:

 

Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ on North Glenbuchat Estate in Cairngorms National Park

 

Nothing to do with Mr Schefler of course but the point is we have no idea what he is going to do, whether he might be like the managers of north Glenbuchat or at the other end of the spectrum, like Anders Povslen, the owner of Glen Feshie.   We need to create ways to assess suitability of people to own or lease large areas of land in our National Parks and this should include a financial fitness test to ensure companies such as Natural Retreats don’t siphon money out of the National Park.   Mr Schefler’s companies that relate to Tulcha haven’t done anything yet of course but will need watching.