All quiet at Cairngorm?

May 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments
The unauthorised tip/storage area at the former Fiacaill T-bar loading area in Coire Cas has grown in  size

Publicly, all has gone quiet at Cairngorm, though these photos taken last week during the dry weather tell a tale.


Coire Cas

Unauthorised tip at White Lady loading area
Yet more dumping and evidence of a lack of care

The promised clean up of Cairngorm does not appear to have lasted long.

Evidence of the basic lack of care by Natural Retreats, even of what is new, is not hard to find:

Buttons from new shieling rope tow, paid for by Highlands and Islands Enterprise for a cost of £82,243 left lying on the ground.

Judging by this work, the new Sunkid tow may not have been properly installed in the first place – who is paying for this, HIE or Natural Retreats who supervised the works?

About 1/3 way up the Shieling track, there is evidence of water seepage  despite the long dry spell.  In my critique of the Cairngorms National Park Committee Report which approved the retrospective planning application (see here) I raised concerns about the impact of the track on the drainage:

  • There is no attempt to describe the extent of the area where works took place in breach of the planning permission (the application was for a strip of ground 30m broad).   This is important because without a description of what has been done, the CNPA is not in a position to stipulate what remedial measures are required.
  • Related to this, there is NO description of the impacts of the works on the hydrology of the area.

It doesn’t take any expertise in hydrology to appreciate that the track has not been properly constructed – patches are soft and spongy – and will not be able to bear regular vehicle use.  Indeed the photo below shows how its continuing to erode even in a dry spell.


Meanwhile the CNPA’s agreement to grant planning permission to this track retrospectively has done nothing to stop Natural Retreats’ staff from driving vehicles all over the hillside causing yet more damage.

Still, on the plus side, Natural Retreats do appear to have started to repair the monoblock outside the Shieling:

You can judge the quality of the repair for yourself.

Treatment of staff


Meantime, this advert  appeared recently   The Rangers were the people who have tried to repair all the damage caused by Natural Retreats at Cairngorm – I met one last year re-seeding a bulldozed area, trying his best to restore the damage caused around the Cas Gantry by the “de minimis” emergency works there. The advert describes the Senior Ranger “as an important cog in the operation of Cairngorm Mountain”.   “Cog” tells you something.


Natural Retreats are proposing to pay the lead person with the expertise to care for the environment at Cairngorm all of £22-24k………and its worth reading the job description for what they are expected to do, including working bank holidays and weekends for no extra pay apparently……….tells you something more about how little Natural Retreats value their staff and the environment.   While the average UK salary is now apparently £27k, wages in Scotland are lower and wages in the Cairngorms National Park lower still.


The contrast between what Natural Retreats pay their staff – and they have taken over the Ranger Service from HIE – and the wealth of David Michael Gorton, the man who basically owns and controls the Natural Retreats suite of companies (see here) is striking.   According to efinancial careers (see here):


In 2002, London Diversified [the Hedge Fund he set up] spun out on its own. Initially, it did well. In 2004, Gorton and two others are said to have shared a 55m payout and the business expanded to around 70 people.


Yes, you have read that right, and this was just 14 months after David Gorton and two others had setup the fund.  London Diversified was subsequently hit by the financial crisis – caused of course by the casino capitalism of the city of which it was part – and the assets it managed collapsed from $5 billion to $300m.   David Michael Gorton though would appear to remain a very rich man  being party in 2015 to a £12.5m divorce settlement (see here).


The disparity – gulf would be a more accurate term –  between Mr Gorton’s wealth and the low pay at Cairngorm is not accidental, its connected and a reflection of our neo-liberal capitalist times.   The rich have got richer at the expense of others.    In my view the primary purpose of the Natural Retreats suite of businesses  has nothing to do with caring for the environment or the people working at Cairngorm, its a vehicle for making money for its ultimate owner and one way that is done is by paying staff as little possible.


The other way is to invest as little money as possible in the environment and that is reflected in what you can still see on the ground at Cairngorm.


Coire na Ciste


The area by the former Coire na Ciste chair lift, where planning consent has now been granted to remove the abandoned buildings (and rightly so), is still a dump.

The Aonach Poma loading gantry – its been in this state for almost 7 years now

The historic neglect at Cairngorm of course is not Natural Retreats’ responsibility – its the responsibility of HIE.   There have been no planning applications to demolish or remove the other abandoned infrastructure in Coire na Ciste and, because the masterplan for Cairngorm is still secret (see here), its not clear whether there are any such plans.

Natural Retreats’ lease however covers the whole ski area, including Coire na Ciste, and while the delapidated buildings and infrastructure may be HIE’ responsibility, Natural Retreats does have responsibility for the general amenity of the area.

Collapsed snow fencing,  approaching West Wall poma upload area

Natural Retreats also has a specific responsibility for maintenance of snow fencing, though its not clear if anything has been agreed with HIE about removal and replacement of old snow fencing in Coire na Ciste.

Abandoned chairlift sheaves which have been on the ground since 2012

Again, while this has not been caused by Natural Retreats, their purchase of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd has not resulted in any improvements to the historic delapidation and rubbish in Coire na Ciste.

Windblown? pipe January 2017 Photo Credit Louis Mullen




However, judging by the age of this pipe, Natural Retreats appears to have added to it.   The Allt na Ciste, within the ski area, has collected all sorts of rubbish and needs a clean-up.


What needs to happen?


The secret masterplan at Cairngorm needs to be made public and there needs to be a full consultation by HIE and Natural Retreats about how to address the historic neglect at Cairngorm as a precondition to any plans for new developments.

7 Comments on “All quiet at Cairngorm?

  1. The fact that none of the public Agencies, HIE, CNPA or SNH does anything whatsoever to address the disgraceful mess that has been allowed to accumulate on Cairn Gorm Mountain is quite shameful. The Government minister with responsibility for HIE should step in now and bring about the remedial action that’s been required for years. This continuing issue cannot be ducked for any longer.

      1. The government minister with responsibility for HIE is fully aware of the situation on Cairn Gorm. The accumulated mess isn’t new with much of it having lain there for years. Nothing ever gets done to effect the very clearly necessary clean-up. HIE and NR will be asked what they plan to do about it, at a meeting that will be convened soon. Their response will be published here.

    1. I have several times contacted Roseanna Cunningham and Fergus Ewing over this kind of issue: the response was a Yes Ministeresque reply from a civil servant indicating that this was a planning issue for CNPA and was outwith the remit of said Ministers.

  2. I am a frequent hillgoer in the Northern Cairngorms, working as a mountain leader here for many years. All the photos you have posted are an absolute disgrace. I do try and avoid walking down through the ski area but when my groups are tired it is fast. Thanks for highlighting this litter to the general public. Its almost laughable that Cairngorm Mountain are talking about spending millions of pounds in making the area a ‘world class ski resort’ when they can’t even clean up their rubbish that has been dumped over the years.

  3. I find it interesting to compare ad contrast the operators attitudes in Cairngorm and those in the Swiss Bernese Oberland, whilst I fully realise that the Swiss resorts have more money coming in they take a pride in the appearance of their buildings and infrastructure that is obviously lacking here, One thing the Swiss do is organise an annual cleanup of the slopes, everyone volunteers there is no money changing hands, but the resort does provide rubbish bags and arranges to pick up the full bags, the only reward is usually a barbeque, surely something along similar lines would not be difficult to organise? Having said that if NR want to develop the area they need to be willing to do a decent job of it and not leave the place looking like a rubbish dump.

  4. It is very disappointing that nothing seems to have happened re cleaning up the area. This issue was pressed at the meeting the Park convened with voluntary bodies regarding the Cairngorm/Glenmore strategy a year ago. I was certainly left with the impression that action would be taken. While some aspects, such as the removal of redundant buildings, will take time and resources, all that is needed to clear up a lot of the debris is a modicum of ‘man power’ and the will to do it. Much could be done in a few weeks.
    With regard to erosion on the new track, North East Mountain Trust made a suggestion to the Park Planning Committee when it was considering whether to approve it restrospectively which would have prevented this problem. NEMT objected to the track but, appreciating that the Park was likely to approve it, NEMT suggested that it be left but be planted over with heather. Natural Retreats stated that it was only required for occasional use and NEMT’s suggestion would have stabilised the ground, thus reducing potential erosion, and would have meant that it would have been almost invisible, while still providing a firm base for the odd vehicle. Unfortunately the Park officials did not pick strongly on this and the Committee did not make it a condition of consent. It is not, however, too late. Wouldn’t it be good if Natural Retreats listened to those who would like to see an environmentally friendly, and more visually appealing, ski area by heathering over/vegetating the track (and, at the same time, organising a quick clean up of the worst, easily removal debris over the next few weeks).
    Adam Gough- if you are listening as you say you want to, how about showing willing and taking these two easily achievable steps forward?

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