Month: July 2017

July 26, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Abandoned campsite at Firbush Point, Loch Tay just outside the National Park, 30th May                      Photo Credit Stephen Campbell

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

It was stated at your June Board Meeting that there was evidence that fewer campsites are being abandoned in the National Park since the byelaws came into force.   The Your Park consultation never analysed how many campers abandoned tents – my guesstimate is 1%  – so I am not sure what data you have on which to base this claim, but even if the byelaws have had an effect, they may just be displacing this problem elsewhere to Councils who have far fewer resources than you do to clear up the mess.   We don’t ban driving in one area, just because some drivers toss litter out of the window, so why are you trying to ban campers from specific areas because of the actions of the few?

July 25, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The view from the National Park boundary on the bealach between Beinn Odhar and Beinn a’Chaisteil looking north down Glen Coralan, part of the Auch Estate.        Photo Credit Jane Meek 14th May

 

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

What would the poet of these hills, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, who decried the destruction brought by sheep have thought of this?

My old OS map shows only the track on the right, the new tracks appear to have been created as part of one of the Auch hydro schemes.    Your Renewables Policy Guidance talks about influencing windfarm location and design outwith the National Park boundary but say nothing about hydro developments beyond the boundary.  Isn’t it time you did so?  Or are you worried other planning authorities might refer to the new network of tracks in Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart which you have approved and question what example you are setting as a National Park?

 

July 25, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Open fishing shelter. Mr Trout’s dog can be seen to right of stove. He is a joiner and brings his wood for the stove.

The “enforcement” of the camping byelaws

 

Over the last couple of months its become clear that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Ranger service are not referring anyone to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of the byelaws.  On the one hand this is because the byelaws are almost impossible to enforce against campervans, on the other because current  parkspin is that the National Park is not against campers.   If the Park were to refer a camper, camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, to the Procurator Fiscal that would be a public relations disaster.    The  LLTNPA therefore appear to have agreed to leave referrals to the PF to the police, including the police officer seconded to the Park and whom they employ.

 

The good news about this therefore is that if campers simply ignore the permit zones and go camping, there appears little immediate risk of prosecution.  The worst that is likely to happen is the Rangers will threaten to call the police and if the police do come out – they normally have better things to do than harassing innocent campers – there is some evidence that they are likely to give you another chance to leave.    For the confident overnight camper therefore there are indications that the camping byelaws have lost their bite.    The LLTNPA though is relying on the fear factor – the fear of a £500 fine and criminal record – to deter campers.  Once this goes, the byelaws will be close to collapse.

 

Anglers and the byelaws

 

The position of anglers however is very different because they tend to stay in one spot for day after day. In fact the whole camping byelaw system appears to have been designed to prevent people from fishing in the way they used to, pitching a tent on the loch shores for a few nights or more.  To illustrate this I will consider the case of an angler, who I will call Mr Trout,  because that is his passion, who has been summonsed to appear in Court for allegedly occupying a shelter in breach of the camping byelaws.

 

The byelaws make it an offence to:

 

Mr Trout has been fishing on Loch Earn for 15 years and when I say fishing, we are talking about serious fishing, where he stays up all night (because that is the best time to catch ferox trout) through wind and rain for a period of several weeks each year.  Its what he did on his holidays and he has been going from the 15th March each year.   It sounds just as tough as being tied to a belay in winter and waiting while your mate negotiates their way inch by inch up the next pitch.   Anyway, what he used to do, with the agreement of the estate who sold him the fishing permit, was pitch his tent close to the shore and retreat there to keep warm overnight and then sleep in the day.  It also meant he could keep an eye on his (expensive) tent while fishing.

 

The place he wants to fish – he has been going to the same place for 15 years – is not in a permit zone but, even if it was, that would be little help to him because he fishes for at least a week at a time and the permits create a new offence of returning to a permit zone after three nights (the wording makes it an offence for you to walk back into the zone after the third night, in other words the LLTNPA have criminalised access and not just camping).  Further, when he asked the LLTNPA, they told him they could not guarantee the safety of his tent when it was unattended.  This does not surprise me but splitting people from their tents is just another petty and stupid consequence of the byelaws.

 

This impact on anglers was well put by Drummond Estates, which own the north shore of Loch Earn where Mr Trout fishes, in their response to the Your Park consultation, a response with the LLTNPA ignored:

Mr Trout’s response to the camping byelaws

This year, instead of camping where he normally did, Mr Trout found a place to pitch his tent just outside the camping management zone which was hidden from general view.  He was able to go there during the day to sleep.   Inconvenient, but just about manageable because the camping management zone along Loch Earn is quite narrow.    His difficulty, however, was how to keep himself, and his dog which accompanied him on all his trips, warm at night while fishing.    Unlike some other anglers he does not have a van – and one of the anomalies of the byelaws is if he had a van and been able to drive it onto the beach below, he could have quite lawfully sheltered in that (the offence is to go to sleep in a van off the road network).

 

After discussion with Rangers he was told it was acceptable to put up an open shelter so that is what he did:

When is a shelter not a shelter? The Rangers very sensibly said this was acceptable.

However, this was of limited use in the rain and wind and he then put up a shelter, the sort of shelter which, if used by fisheries scientists working at night, might be called personal protective equipment (see top photo).    Many fishermen have such shelters and prior to the byelaws would retreat to these while fully clothed to get warm.   The camping byelaws made this an offence – its an offence to occupy a shelter.  That provision of the byelaws was  specifically targetted at anglers, as they form the vast majority of people who shelters rather than tents. Hence the response from Drummond Estates to the camping byelaw consultation.

Mr Trout cleared up the site every morning after using it (its his saw and bag in background)

In early April, Mr Trout came to the attention of the Park’s police officer, PC Barr.   Unlike the Rangers, who had been prepared to be flexible, the Park’s police officer was not, told him the shelter had to be removed and, according to Mr Trout, suggested he buy an open sided umbrella (which is allowed under the byelaws).   That’s not much use for keeping people or a dog warm.  The police then came back the next night and charged him for occupying a shelter.

 

Now, you might think, Mr Trout was given a warning – and the fact he was suggests the risk of people who stay only one night being charged is very low – so he got what he deserved.

 

I see it another way.  Mr Trout was standing up for his right to fish, for the rights of all anglers, and if found guilty, the rights of a whole section of the population to enjoy their activity (which they pay for) will have been removed.  That the police are pursuing people like this seems to me a complete waste of police resources.   Indeed, one wonders if the police would ever pursue cases like this unless one of their number, PC Barr, was employed by the National Park Authority.    Anglers are, pardon the phrase, sitting ducks when faced with people determined to enforce the byelaws.

 

The LLTNPA appears to be prejudiced against anglers.  What they have done is lumped together two groups of people, serious anglers who care about and are extremely knowledgeable about the countryside (they have to be to catch fish) and groups of people who may have fishing rods but whose main intention is to party.  I have talked to a water bailiff about this who says the people who have fishing permits are not the problem.  They often, like Mr Trout, visit the same places year after year and have good relationships with the bailiffs (who are also fisherman).  By contrast the people who leave rubbish and party and come under anti-social behaviour legislation are unlikely to have fishing permits.  The Park though, instead of joining forces with the water bailiffs  – and unlike Rangers water bailiffs have significant powers, include powers of arrest  – has ignored.

 

Instead of prosecuting responsible anglers, or anyone else who camps according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for that matter, the Park should have been engaging with those people and using them as allies to tackle the few people who do behave irresponsibly.   Mr Trout is due to go to court in August and it will be interesting to see what happens.   The outcome will have wide significance for everyone who wants to be able to enjoy the countryside responsibly.   Apart from the specifics of the case, prosecuting responsible anglers is I believe in breach of the Park’s statutory duty to promote public enjoyment and understanding of the countyside.

July 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

I had come over Carn na Drochaide and Carn Liath – crossing the track which runs up the fairy glen it is true – to be faced with the track which runs up to and across the Bealach Dearg, high under the western face of Culardoch.  Besides the grouse, it services a scientific research station on the bealach (visible where the track bends left).   The National Park has stated it wishes to stop track development in our hills, a welcome step, but I think it needs to go one step beyond, follow the example of the National Trust for Scotland on Beinn a Bhuird and start to identify tracks that should be removed to re-wild our landscape.   The Culardoch track would be high on my list but why not ask other people what they think?

July 21, 2017 Nick Halls 2 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Argyll Forest part of the National Park where I live (see here).

Sligrachan Hill and Beinn Ruadh from the North West across Lock Eck, showing how Sligrachan Hill is cut off by forestry. The forestry continues round into Glen Finart on the far side of the hill.

Recently, as a stage in forestry operations, fencing seems to have proliferated. In the past fencing was usually used to exclude stock from the forest, as sheep purportedly damaged trees, but benefited from using the trees as shelter during bad weather. Apparently, sheep able to shelter in the forests maintain their weight and are more robust at lambing time, increasing the probability of raising twins.

 

When I first arrived in Ardentinny, there was an ongoing squabble between local sheep farmers and the Forestry Commission about maintaining fencing.  Outdoor instructors were caught in the cross fire as scapegoats, accused of damaging fencing by both parties. In practice, wherever fences were crossed regularly styles were constructed, but in many cases fencing was old and decayed.

 

After the great storm in 1968, the issue evaporated as Forestry trees were blown over destroying stock enclosures, throughout the forestry estate. I assume the Forestry Commission was liable because it was forestry trees that did the damage!

 

Ordinary stock fencing does not impede access very much, it’s annoying but not insurmountable, and can usually be negotiated without damage as long as a fence is in reasonable condition. Informal styles can be erected.  Now it seems that as stock rearing declines the beasts to be excluded are deer and people.

 

There seemed to be a resident Red deer and Roe deer population [often interbreeding with non-native Sika deer] but there was also long range migration of Red deer during bad winters.  For years, the local Red deer population migrated from pasture to pasture virtually unobstructed. They were informally described as ‘bed and breakfast’ deer as they lived in the woods and grazed on open hillsides.   Due to this way of life they were often bigger than the deer on stalking estates, and more akin to the forest deer of Europe. It was once suggested that there were two species, one a forest species and the other an upland, open hillside species [a distinction might have arisen due to interbreeding with Sika deer].

 

This seems to suggest that fencing, whether to keep deer out of forests or on an open stalking estate, has an impact on the condition of beasts, and interbreeding with a dilution of the pure bred native species. Bread and breakfast deer tend to do well, and the open hillside deer often fail to survive severe winters, underweight and starving, especially in over stocked localities from which they have difficulty migrating.

 

Recently I have seen far fewer Red deer, and those observed seem to be single deer rather than part of a group. The red deer population may have been culled.

 

I recall being told how important ‘wildlife corridors’ are to maintaining wildlife populations and bio diversity.

 

‘A wildlife corridor is a link of wildlife habitat, generally native vegetation, which joins two or more larger areas of similar wildlife habitat. Corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of viable populations’ ‘separated by human activities or structures [such as, roads, development, or logging].’

 

The increasing use of deer fencing to parcel out areas of forest or rough grazing effectively reduces access to much of the land, particularly the open hill, for both man and beast.  I seem to recall the aspiration of the Forestry Commission in Scotland was once a fenceless forest estate.

 

The bealach between Glen Finart and Loch Eck side is called the Larach [presumably because there was once a homestead or shieling on the Larach Hill].   High ground connects the open hillsides of Sligrachan Hill with the open hillside above Cnoc Madaidh, during two cycles of forestry activity it remained, intentionally or otherwise, a ‘corridor’ for deer migrating to the open hillside to the north, and back to the more sheltered forestry edge, which is sheltered from the prevailing westerly gales.

 

The public road and forestry access roads did not constitute significant obstructions to deer movement as traffic is light during the day and almost absent at night.   The following photographs, all taken from public or forestry roads, show how the corridor has been obstructed by deer fencing,

 

This fencing is to protect an area of natural regeneration or planting with native trees, but it has only two access points. I am not sure how effective it is for excluding deer, as I have observed deer clear such fencing from the uphill side by an almost standing jump, but it certainly excludes me from whichever direction I approach it.

 

Informal crossing is obviously difficult, but extended lengths of fencing with no robust straining posts implies attempts to cross by climbing over is likely to damage the fence.

 

 

The grazing pressure does seem greater outside the fence but it effectively excludes access by humans. It also makes one wonder whether, if the habitat inside the fence needs to be protected at this stage, how natural the regeneration will be if it will eventually have to survive grazing by deer.   It seems incoherent to try to create an ecological community, that will eventually include deer, by initially excluding them from it!     I seem to recall that such fencing is to be removed, but have not noticed any sign of older fencing around more mature forest planting being removed.

 

Other examples in the same area, probably less than a square kilometre.

Recently created deer fencing, replacing decayed stock fence.

This very new deer fencing replaces a stock fence, it’s not clear why if a stock fence has sufficed for half a century or more. It is not immediately obvious whether it is to keep deer in or out, but it encloses a big area that used to be part of an orienteering map, used for National Competitions.

 

The enclosed area used to be informally called the ‘Park’, and used for seasonal grazing of sheep gathered from the hillside between Glen Finart and Loch Goil, and farmed jointly by farmers from the same family at Sligrachan and Carrick.

Camouflaged fencing, quite deep within recently planted woodland

This fencing excludes access to very closely planted Scots Pine. I am not conversant with its original purpose, but one would imagine it is about time it was removed.  I am not sure why planting has to be so close, but presume it must be so that ‘survival of the fittest’ allows some trees to ‘reach for the sky’ growing straight and thin, with few side branches, while others are shaded out and die off. In the Sitka plantations, such dead and dying trees are not thinned, but fall and further obstruct access.

 

Looking at this hillside, compared with nearby remnants of mature Scots Pine groves [on the sky line], it seems likely that as many as two thirds of the trees will never reach ‘economic’ maturity, and substantial mortality will occur to get a viable crop of similar sized trees. If such a high proportion of trees are going to die or be thinned, one wonders why bother to fence it as beasts are unlikely to do the equivalent amount of damage. There seems no obvious difference between the grazing pressure within and outside the fencing, one would imagine that the economic value of the eventual crop will be similar, inside and outside the fencing.

Note lack of any sign of forestry rides, which used to exist in this area in previous forestry cycles.

I am not sure why this fence was emplaced, but it excludes access directly from the road, but more significantly obstructs access to the road for someone coming off the hill, on a winter’s day in poor light. Circumnavigating it might add a kilometre or more of additional travel.

 

The combination of impenetrable forest and deer fencing could pose a serious hazard for an unwary visitor, descending from Beinn Ruadh via Sligrachan Hill, by increasing the risk of being benighted, injury and exhaustion/exposure. Such obstructions are not shown on a GPS or OS 1:50,000 map.

 

Post script

Soon the poseur, ‘survivalists’, given unwarranted promotion by the media, who have encouraged much of the egregious recreational behavior witnessed today, e.g. campfires, disposable BBQ’s, fragile folding seats, and semi disposable popup tents, will be recommending naïve urban adventurers to carry a bush knife and wire cutters, with their multi tools, folding saws and GPS.

 

‘The leave no sign, do no damage, and pass as if you have never been’ philosophy has been undermined by a marketing operation and commercial imperative to turn outdoor recreation equipment into a mass consumer market at considerable cost to the environment.

 

Between 1965 and 2000, thousands of children journeyed through the area and camped, during expeditions from the formerly numerous outdoor education establishments – they left so little ‘sign’ they might never have existed. A similar thing could be said of the School camps, summer camps for children organized by churches and Scout Groups who used the area from the 1930’s onwards. It is equally true of youngsters currently involved in Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions, who are now restricted to Forest Roads and manufactured paths, rather than being ‘impelled’ into an experience of wild countryside.

 

Little wonder visitors may think they can arrive in a car, walk ten steps and have a wilderness experience, but this lack of real connection is fabricated by a progressive removal of possibilities to do anything much more adventurous, than ‘Park & Pitch’.   Already over used and abused sites do not encourage respect, but confirm urban values and an expectation that it is somebody else’s responsibility to tidy them up after use. This is evident at the Duck Bay picnic area.

 

I am persuaded that influences are interactive; distorted media presentations of outdoor experience that are hard to distinguish from marketing, sales of useless fragile outdoor equipment, restriction of access causing concentrated use of ‘honey pot’ sites, destructive behavior by people unused to handling themselves in the countryside and land managers deciding to exclude them from their land.

 

This is re-inforced by the disinclination of the operators of caravan and chalet parks, developed on the site of former camping grounds, to cater for campers at all.  The result is ‘exclusion’ of temporary visitors of all descriptions, with a reduction of ‘visitor experience’ to an urbanized familiarity, against a back drop of hills, forests and lochs.

 

This discourages access to the NP, other than day visits, by people barely able to afford a social rent, or who are saving for a deposit for a first home, or intermittently have to resort to food banks, but favors ‘exclusivity’ for second home owners [a residential caravan apparently costs about £39,000, plus site rental and Council Tax].

 

I feel this is not what a National Park should be all about!

July 20, 2017 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

An on the spot report by Mechelle Rafferty

This is another report from real park users, in this case Michelle and the crew who have taken the time to record their experiences with LLTNP Camping provision at Loch Chon.  I think it’s safe to say from Mechelles comments and by the looks on the kids faces that it was a very enjoyable three days for all,  tents, water, fire, woods and canoes in a wonderful loch side location, the perfect combination for a great weekend in the park.

Mechelle goes onto describe other site attributes at the start of the video, and visits pitch 21, the jewel in the crown, representing what park users expect from camping pitches in the park.and what the National Park Authority should be delivering as their world class visitor experience.

 

An original loch side pitch at Loch Chon, Pitch 21 is used for groups and you are allowed to pitch 2 tents on this site
Pitch 21, the best pitch on the site, original loch shore location and holds 2 tents

As Mechelle says, it’s the only pitch you are allowed 2 tents, although it would seem some just ignore that rule.   See T&Cs here

Wither a larger family group or just on your own the site has something suitable for all..  There is of course one caveat, you have to book the right pitch, where a considerable number of pitches are just not up to the required standard  yet, and some even unusable so to avoid disappointment read on.

Again I thank Mechelle for her great report and I have extracted some still images from the video to make the details of each pitch easier to evaluate.  I have avoided adding too many additional comments and have tried to transcribe only those made by Mechelle in the video.  So it remains a true on the spot report..

 

“Taps still not working” “general area at car park  “Sparkling water supplied”

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO START SLIDE SHOW!

 

Pitch 1 – Video Counter  13:16

“Pitch 1 is a swamp”   “would not want to pitch on that”

 

 

Pitches 2 and 3 not reviewed

 

Pitch 4 – Video Counter 12:58

“They look campable”

“Looks all right”

 

Pitch 5 – Video Counter 12.33

Same as 4,

 

Pitches 6 and 7 not reviewed

 

Pitch 8 – Video Counter 11.55

Of disabled pitches 8 and 9 in general: !maybe they are out the question, ….they are level, ……but I personally wouldn’t personally want to camp on it”

“Pitch number 8 is flat, nice but right on the walkway, swampy(surrounding)” “Plastic surface”

 

 

Pitch 9  – Video Counter10:30

“I assume grass still has to grow” Hard plastic surface on disabled pitch 9

!they are level, but I personally wouldn’t personally want to camp on it”

 

Entrance to disabled pitch 9  “But look, would you really want to camp on that”

 

Pitch 10 – Video Counter 11.02

“Swampy, if you’re looking at the map, better to come and see pitches first”

“Never ever book pitch 10, unless you want to be waterlogged, …..swampy”

Water course running down beside pitch 8 feeding into pitch 10

 

Pitch 11  see Video Counter 14:27  –  “Alright but really, really bumpy”

“Party Tent, They had stopped by 5 in the morning, ……shouting between tents and flashing torches, still going on at 2 am, …..noise last night from that particular tent was quite bad”

No Image

 

 

Pitch 12 see Video Counter 14:28

” Don’t know how you could actually pitch on it”,

“unless you had a tiny 1 or 2 man tent”, ” it’s not even, even to walk on, really bumpy”

 

 

 

 

Pitch 13 Video Counter 15:10

“Bumpy”, “like they’ve just took a strimmer and cut it back”

 

Pitch 14  Video Counter  16:06

“It’s alright, it would fit our tent at least, quite flat”

 

Pitch 15  Video Counter 16:20

” Tiny, not very grassy and a bit dark, they’re not bad!”

 

Pitch 16  –  Video Counter  18:18

“Pitch 16 That’s alright….  not bad ….  a bit muddy”

 

 

 

Pitch 17  Video Counter  18:50

“That’s just a mess,”  That’s depressing”

[Ross]Official Pitch 17 at end of path is unsuitable, continuously wet and bramble filled.
[Ross] As Mechelle points out Possibly a new but smaller area being cleared further down the slope

Pitch 18 Video Counter 19:25

“Nice, not too muddy”, “18’s alright, 18’s fine”

 

Pitch 19 Video Counter 21:07

there’s no’ a bit of grass, there’s holes, you could maybe get a tent on there, but for a big tent your snookered”.

 

Pitch 20  Video Counter 20:28

“All tree roots, it’s not even flat, it’s on a slope, quite a bad one, a wee tiny tent, you could maybe get away with”.

 

Pitch 21  Video Counter  22:06

This is a nice big pitch, It’s perfect with a your ain wee bit to the loch

New logs cut from tree behind?

 

[Ross]Pitch 21 up there with the best camping in the park, and typical of so many loch shore sites that have been removed from access, with possibly another 6 pitches of different sizes of this standard going unused at this site alone……. See Video for all comments and other views of this pitch.

Pitch 22 Video Counter 21:30

“That’s Fine! and recommended

Pitch 23 also fine and recommended not shown

 

Pitch 24 Fine and recommended —

 

Pitch 25  Video Counter  17:14

 

Nice and close to the loch with path directly from pitch.

 

[Ross]Standing water to the LH edge of the pitch limits it’s size,

 

Pitch 26  Video Counter 16:54

“Looks alright, nice and level at least”

Muddy entrance to Pitch 26

 

All photo & video  credits to Mechelle Rafferty

So Check out the full video for a walk through and some other observations.

July 19, 2017 Bruce Biddulph 9 comments

By Bruce Biddulph, local resident of Balloch and amateur historian

Mackinnon Wood                                                                                       Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Whilst we await the first views of any precise plans that the developer has for Balloch’s Drumkinnon Woods and the west bank of the River Leven (see here) and (see here for example), we can only guess and fear what these will be.

Drumkinnon Woods is the green upside down horse-shoe shaped piece of land in the middle of the map

What does not seem to be an outlandish concern however is the question of access and what will happen to areas of this large parcel of land, which will also be linked to the lands around the old Woodbank Hotel, formerly the medieval estate of Stuckroger.

It may be helpful in this vacuum to pause and consider the history of this area, as the commonly accepted belief is that all of this land is a result of industrial decay, which of course means that the justification for Scottish Enterprise’s plans is “anything is better than dereliction”.

The wood is rich in plantlife, a sign of its age Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Even among locals there is the persistent idea that this is simply waste ground where trees have took root. That is true in the riverside area beside the Leven, for here sat the railway sidings up until the 1950s and the railway to the pier itself was uprooted back in the 1980s.

However in the middle of this swathe of land from the Leven to Woodbank is Drumkinnon Wood.

Drumkinnon Wood has kept its boundaries by and large since the early 18th Century and was a wooded area with fields surrounding it in the 1700s. This much is easily gleaned from maps of those times.

The popular misconception, one that has permitted SE to even think about selling off the woods to a private developer, is that these trees only grew from the ruins of the former British Silk Dyeing Co factory as well as the destruction of the sandy bay itself by quarrying for sand in the middle of the 20th Century.

However true that may be it is not true that the wood itself was a product of these two 20th Century disruptions to the once beautiful and idyllic lands of Drumkinnon.

Where the factory stood is more or less where houses stand now. The perimeter of the wood between the factory and the quarrying of sand was fixed and follows the line of the access road that was expanded during the infilling of the ‘pits’ left by the sand-mining and the creation of Lomond Shores.

In short, the factory was demolished and houses were built on its site, whilst the scarred remains of the sand pits were turned into a deep lagoon and Lomond Shores. Between the two lies and forever did lie since the 1800s, the Drumkinnon Wood. Both the factory and the extensive sand mining were products of the 20th Century.

The development of the Lomond Shores project included the woods and paths were created through them for residents and vistors to the new ‘attraction’ alike. Since then the old wood has been a firm favourite with dog walkers, families showing their children the wonders of nature and for anyone who simply enjoys a stroll in the woods. Unlike Balloch Park the wood does not suffer from huge amounts of visitors and retains a sense of ‘the wild’ that the Park cannot always deliver or obvious and even welcome reasons, as it is so well used and loved.

 

 

Like the Fisherwood which sits between the railway and the Leven further down, Drumkinnon is a survivor of 19th and 20th Century upheaval.

It and the much diminished sandy beach are the last remnants of what was once a beauty spot with a history of common involvement that survives to this day.

Handing these two remnants of Drumkinnon that have came through the years still with us and being passed into the hands of a profit-making corporation is a prospect that should alarm all of us.

Having put signs up at the edge of the wood saying “no camping”, one of Scottish Enterprise’s ideas for the development of Drumkinnon Wood is to provide glamping pods

At the very least we need assurances that the developers are not given carte blanche to do as they wish, and the untold history of Drumkinnon is an omission that should shame a public body such as Scottish Enterprise who have done little to find out what the property itself is all about except as “derelict land”.

This has poisoned public opinion against the woods themselves as they are seen merely as painful reminders of a lost factory that was the source of stable employment in Balloch since 1930.

It is imperative that we recognise this is a distortion of our history and leaves Drumkinnon Wood in a position it does not deserve and we the people should be ashamed for permitting the sale of a wood to a private developer. There is adequate land for developments elsewhere in the immediate area that at present are poor fields of little apparent value, having themselves been disrupted by the building of the by-pass, perhaps these should be looked to as possible sites for hotels and restaurants and whatever else the developers and SE have in mind, instead of the destruction, however minimal, of a wood that is at least two centuries old and has loyal visitors to it young and old today.

The moorings along the Leven from the Riverside site

There are other issues here, such as mooring rights in the Leven as well as the sandy beach itself, which appears to be zoned for the developer’s use as well. That these three areas are areas that have been enjoyed by locals and vistors freely, in some cases for centuries, with no need of deep pockets, perhaps we have to ask if we are looking here at another form of Highland Clearance. It seems as is the case with the priorities of the LLTNPA, that upmarket middle income earners are preferred to people with little or no income in this National Park of ours.

July 19, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ladder trap for crows 7th July north west of Loch Builg, Meall Gaineaimh, outlier of Ben Avon behind

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

Loch Builg and the eastern flanks of Ben Avon are remote country for those arriving on foot, three hours or so from a public road.  Despite the network of estate tracks I was surprised to see this trap, at the end of the track above Loch Builg ,and on the hillside above upturned turves sprinkled with medicated grit.   Please read Susan Matthew’s fine piece in the recent issue of the Cairngorms Campaigner, the newsletter of the Cairngorms Campaign,  about a walk through a wildlife desert on the flanks of Ben Avon.  The explanation is in the photo.  Every animal that might prey on or affect grouse is destroyed, while heather is the only plant that counts. If the core of the Cairngorms cannot be wild, a sanctuary for wildlife and devoid of human artefacts, where else could be?

July 18, 2017 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

Loch Chon now coming into the high season and the old adage springs to mind, never time to do it right but always time to do it over as the National Park give it another go with pitch surfaces.

Though the majority of these issues have been in the public eye for some months the Park Authority and their planning team have failed to take action. I have reproduced a complaint asking for enforcement action to be taken against the Park Authority, which I am told will be investigated after the holidays,  Meantime the Park Authority have at last sprung into action correcting as many of the pitch issues, a predictable reaction and the first sign of any progress for some time. The relative success of some of these modifications are the subject of another review due on Thursday 20th July ’17.


 

Dear Planning Enforcement Officer / Head of Planning

Our ref: snpa17/041 16/07/17

Complaint regarding handling of the camping development at Loch Chon

It is disappointing that by the end of June, 4 months after the opening of the development at Loch Chon 2016_0151 that Planning Authority has not carried out a site inspection of the £350,000+ development in a sensitive ancient woodland that has received so much bad publicity. Add to that the fact the Board has made a site visit before the 13th March and the Building Control certificate was issued on the 31st of march presumably with involvement of the Applicant constituting a second site visit which surely must have raised the concerns from those who are members of the Park Authority and also in the Planning Committee.

It is clear there are major failings with the development, and a I believe a number of these are attributed to failings of your own planning office in not providing suitable scrutiny of the application and it’s subsequent delivery. Many of these failings were highlighted as likely outcomes by members of the public and other organisations during the consultation process but the planning committee assured us they were satisfied the applicants proposal was sound and that the outcome would be as detailed in the application and supporting presentation. It is clear this is not the case.

I have listed here a series of breaches of the planning consent that you have granted Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority.

These planning contraventions and issues are not limited to this list and so I request you take up an enforcement stance to pursue the applicant, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, and force them to complete the works and other obligations agreed to in the planning consent and make good any contraventions of said consent to an acceptable standard especially in respect of the provision of a safe water supply, the stated number of viable camping pitches and the removal of unauthorised structures, restoration work, and by removal of contamination from the environment within an acceptable time frame.

I would also have expected a test certificate of some sort to show the biological safety of the water supply when it comes on line and the soil system especially as it flows into the loch where park users are swimming and boiling for cooking.

It is clear this restoration work will be difficult as the park authority did not properly retain vegetation removed from the site during path construction works as agreed as primary requirement for granting the consent in the first instance. This is a gross contravention of the terms of consent, leaving a large area to the side of path and road works without restoration.

Further, poor or no control by the Ecological Clerk of Works, has allowed vehicular traffic to roam across the sensitive ecology of the hillside damaging the vegetation and possibly interfering with the flow of water down the slope. The Clerk of Works has failed to control the contractor and it would seem feedback the necessary documentations to make and agree all the material changes at this site which appear to have been carried out without planning oversight. It really raises the question of the attendance of a Clerk of Works on site when these decisions were being made.

Another very worrying event is the removal of public parking spaces from the site after planning was originally consented. This raises some serious ethical questions as to how this change was affected as a Non Material Variation where it clearly affects access rights for the public to the entire site and Loch Chon beyond. This needs to be investigated as it has subverted the terms of the publicly agreed planning consent allowing the applicant to achieve their original aim of excluding public access without further public consultation. The Planning Authority are complicit in this act and it and it is clearly designed to enable the applicant to make the transition from a public utility to a privately run campsite in the future by removing public access at this time. This act also interferes with access rights, by denying vehicle access to previously public areas you are thwarting the public’s right to roam.

Issues arising

1. The bin store sited at the RHS the Ranger Base and Store does not appear on any of the plans for the site and is therefore a breach of planning consent. In addition as it is such a large structure it should not be considered an Non Material Variation as it has a major impact on the efficacy of the site and it’s rural and natural aspect. It seems almost inconceivable that the final purpose of this structure is a bin store and it appears to the casual onlooker that the National Park authority intends to re-task this structure for another purpose. It should therefore be removed and an investigation into it’s erection should commence as a matter of public concern.

2. The containers used for the Rangers Base and the water purification plant do not correspond with the engineering drawings in respect to the size and finish to the end elevations shown in your documentation.

In both instances the doors fitted are taller than those specified which in turn has prevented fitting a wooden facing above them as specified.
In the case of the Ranger Base Store end the door fitted is larger and of a different design with locking bars on the surface which are totally unsuitable as a solution in this sensitive site.

The wood cladding to the exterior of the containers do not conform to the engineering drawings, the posts and concrete ground supports have not been fitted with the cladding being applied to the container surface directly, this contravenes the design specification and the resultant aspect is an industrial container which has no place in this sensitive area.

3. The wood cladding to the exterior of the containers does not conform to the engineering drawings, the posts and concrete ground supports have not been fitted and the cladding has instead be applied to the container surface, this contravenes the design specification and the resultant aspect is an industrial container which has no place in this sensitive area.

The permanent nature that was presented in the original drawings and at the planning consultation meeting have been subverted by removing the concrete embedded posts which suggests the Park Authority as the applicant again have intentionally deceived the planning authority and have an intention to move, remove or in some way alter these structures and have pre-empted that requirement by violating the terms of the planning consent.

This requires investigation. If it is the intention to remove these structures from their position on site and deny access to the public out-with the management season this should have been made clear on the application, in any case the reason for this variation should be established.
It is also strange why the planning authority approved drawings from the applicant which only showed one end elevation, this is highly irregular and also requires explanation.

4. The logs to the side of the Ranger base have prevented proper landscaping of the area underneath and their eventual removal will cause further disruption to the ecosystem, they are an eyesore and should be removed immediately and the area regraded to allow vegetation recovery to continue unhindered.

5. The grading of the ground to provide a low angle rise to the edge of the containers at door entry points has not been carried out at the store, the rangers base and the plant room.

6. The ground works on the site remain unfinished in a number of respects:

a. The seeding of bare soils and restoration works have not been (started ?) completed across the development and the changes at pitches 8 and 9 should have demanded seeding of the soil pitch surface, soil being an unacceptable medium for pitching tents. Path edges, large area adjacent to ranger base and car park surrounds are being left to self seed which is failing and the seeding schedule agreed should be carried out immediately.

Undocumented changes to pitch surfaces comprising aggregate and sand have been created without consent, this sand finish is an abomination, wet or dry, this grit sticks to feet and hands to be carried into the tent causing discomfort and nuisance. It may be possible to mitigate where seeding with grass would bind the sand together and provide the required surface finish.

On walk around, overspill of hardcore at corners and junctions of the road/path network is evident in many locations, nature has overtaken and hidden the less serious instances allowing the applicant to get away without restoring the original vegetation, but there remains many areas of concern that require remedial action. It is not sufficient just to allow the self seeding of natural grasses to eventually mask the building material contamination the planning consent called for proactive restoration using reserved material and seeding and a general level of care to ensure building materials did not contaminate the site. This requirement has just not been met.

Of course the stated reseeding schedule in the planning application is not without risk and I would expect the planning department and the applicant are well aware that the colour and nature of the recommended seed mix for restoration will not match the natural vegetation in this area perhaps exacerbating the problem. This of course is why the retention of the vegetation removed from paths and other works were so important to the successful restoration of this project and the failure of the planning department to ensure that was done has left ecological damage that may never return to it’s original state. The applicant should take stock of the environmental damage they have caused.

 

On the Path leading to pitch one, there has been no attempt to clear away the hardcore contamination of the surrounding vegetation and no seeding has taken place. No restoration of vegetation along many areas of path and the 4th image shows a failed attempt to remove a hardcore pile dumped on vegetation where a succession of attempts using machines for removal have made matters worse.

Bridge
The bridge solution is a mess. Hardcore is falling into the stream through very poor containment. The expansion of the path at the junction to an unacceptable width with hardcore marring the natural ground and vegetation cover without attempted restoration.
The protruding pipe of the culvert should have a natural stone surround wall in a development such as this. The solution provided is not suitable for a flagship development in a National Park where even a pub in Tyndrum can provide a stone faced wall to a piped culvert.

The nature of this slope down to the river is an unnecessary hazard, it would be far better with a retaining wall and a vertical drop to the river where danger is apparent, this solution it invites children to play on what is effectively a scree slope and once a slip begins the outcome is inevitable.

Attempts at restoring vegetation over this hardcore has been made since this image was taken it is a piecemeal approach an as can be seen from the other side, where no attempt has been made to grade in the edges of the road and vegetation as required and no seeding.
The other side of the bridge has similar issues with attempted soil and vegetation replacement, how successful this will be, depends on the on going availability of water to the root system which may be an issue in dry weather. Monitoring of this area should continue to ensure the applicant provides a suitable long term solution should this restoration attempt fail.

Restoration to damage caused by relocation of pitches
Restoration works to areas damaged by LLTNPA through agreed and non agreed changes

have not been completed using the vegetation that should have been retained for such purposes. Paths and pitches positioned wrongly and subsequently removed have not been restored to their former condition.

Pitch 10, the original stub path has been removed and not restored leaving this water filled hole contaminated with hardcore.

Pitch 12 the original stub path has been removed and not restored leaving a hole and some hardcore in the environment.

d. Areas of cross contamination where building materials have been dumped in the environment and left exposed, e.g. just uphill from the bridge on the toilet block side, these materials should never have been left on site and should be removed prior to proper restoration and seeding.

e. The use of grit (course sand consistency) as a pitch surface over quartz pebble was never and should not have been agreed, it’s an abomination in a campsite and has been used by the applicant to hide material problems. It has been deposited over peat/moss wet areas, steep slopes and bramble patches to mask the underlying issues Pitches 6, 14, 15 and 19 are affected and the resultant mess in the ecosystem is unacceptable environmental destruction and a horrible visitor experience as a paid for pitch surface which in all cases should be grass..

 

f. The finish to the roads is abysmal, and it would appear they do not conform to what is detailed in the original specification, there is an expectation another material would provide the final finish over the hardcore base. It is also reasonable to expect a new road would not be pot holed and have 1” to 4″ hardcore strewn over the road way and spreading on to the grass verges. There has been no attempt to restore the exploratory hole dug down to the water pipe which can be seen just above centre on the RHS image.

g. The slope between the bridge and the water purification building has had sand/grit, used for pitch surfaces and path infill dumped to the side of the road together with other materials.
The extraneous building material appear in a number of locations on site and it is clear the applicant is just waiting for nature to grow over them instead of removing them as per terms of the planning consent to prevent cross contamination in a sensitive area. This contamination should never have taken place if the Ecological Clerk of Works had been present to monitor the work.

 

6. The documentation from SEPA which has been removed from the idox system for public viewing stated that the paths between the road and pitch one should be flush with the surrounding terrain the paths created by LLTNPA are not flush in all places, where hardcore has been laid on top on the existing vegetation with and without a membrane, this is in breach of the planning consent and the recommendations from SEPA regarding interference with drainage of the flood plain. I would think it is also highly undesirable to use woodchips, a floating material, in a flood plain.

7. Transverse Paths created on the hill side are floating in wet weather having been laid over peat or moss substrate, these paths should have been dug out at the affected areas and consolidated to provide a firm surface. The arrows show position on this image, at the other corner of the path where it turns down hill the same spongy surface exists. The top section of the path loop at pitch 18, 19 and 20 swinging back down towards pitch 17 is affected in places.

The central arrow in this image shows a channel created by the appicant in peat. This should be in filled to stop a new water course being created. The Applicant has destroyed the moss ecosystem in a large triangle from the bridge to the tree in the foreground and failed to restore the surface leaving grasses to encroach on what should be moss. The eco system here has been irreversibly destroyed.

Going further along this transverse path it is clear the path has interfered with the flow of water down the slope the ground immediately uphill from the path is wetter and in rainy weather fills with water which eventually overflows the barrier formed by the path crossing it in a number of locations.

There is also a spongy area on the path just down hill from the corner that according to planning consent should be corrected. The path where it turns back downhill is particularly affected, water crosses the path and flows down it’s side until it finds an easier route down into pitch 17 where it maintains the permanent wet aspect of this pitch. (see appendix A) Even before the path was created the location of pitch 17 was fed from the water coming downhill in a natural water course, the path has merely created a second route for water delivery.

This image also demonstrates the cross contamination of hardcore onto the surrounding ecology.

8. Many of the pitches remain poor quality, and while a few will respond to continuous hard strimming they are still hampered by a poor site on slopes.  Others have flaws which are caused by their positions in water courses [10, 17], or beside standing water [26] and/or dense vegetation . The light touch proposed by the applicant is a nonsense and no more than an excuse for doing little or nothing. These plants affecting pitches are voracious and require severe methods of control where brambles will grow 3 inches in a day it is obvious that removal is the only real option, the park have not chosen to to go down that route and have tried instead to cover over with sand and aggregate.

The last problem with the site is the size of pitches, The applicants own research shows demand for camping is predominantly from families requiring pitches to handle family sized tents and area around the tent to allow occupants to relax, sit and cook in the area with a fire-pan a safe distance from the tent the pitch size at this site does not reflect the demand

The planning department have failed to regulate the design of these pitches allowing the applicant to place a dot on a map clearly without first surveying the land properly resulting in the majority of pitches being created on sloping sites, small constrained areas, water logged sites and sites of dense vegetation including brambles. This failure is responsible for the large number of pitch problems at this development but more importantly it has allowed the applicant to mislead the public and stakeholders that this hillside location was suitable for creating camping provision in the first place.

The selection of slopes for pitches is not acceptable above a few degrees as anyone sleeping on a mat will side down the slope, the small size of pitches makes it impossible to fit a tent in some cases never mind align the tent to the slope, effectively making the pitch unusable. There are also other considerations when camping that are impacted by pitch size, in poor weather the longitudinal axis of the tent should be aligned with wind direction and the door placed to the lea side, this is not possible to accomplish on a small oblong pitch and is important in exposed sites such as Loch Chon.

Because proper confirmation of each pitch layout was not sought by the planning department, the Park Authority have sized pitches based on the footprint of a tent and failed to consider that a tent requires approximately 4 times that area to accommodate guy lines alone and then an absolute minimum of 4 times that combined area again to accommodate the occupants and the area for cooking, seating, relaxing and a fire pan at a safe distance from the tent.

At the public planing meetings to discuss the nature of the site the applicant misled the public into believing this site would be in the same class as Sallocy. The nature of the site could never support this comparison as the original pitches on the shore of Loch Chon were specifically excluded so the site could support day visitors on the shore locations. On March 1st 2017, the only pitch on the entire site that is acceptable without any issues was pitch 21 on a shore location which pre existed the development. The applicants fantasy that suitable pitch surfaces would be achieved by simply “scraping” the area has been born out as unachievable. Any attempts to scrape out with the intention to level a slope would result a water sump and so it never was a reasonable solution but one that was pursued to overcome objections at the planning stage.

a. Many of these ancient and natural woods on the west coast of Scotland are technically temperate rain forests due to the high rainfall, While previous developments at Loch Chon have disturbed the nature of the site it still did not and does not lend it’self for campsite conversion on the scale implemented, more than 3 times larger than the site previously handled.

It is clear that the popular areas of the park previously used, have been selected by park users on the basis of their suitability for camping, flat, level, grass covered and loch side locals usually on fluvial plains which are on the whole drier than the surrounding wooded areas. The applicants decision to exclude the existing loch side pitches from camping (except pitch 21) presumably to maintain an area for day visitors to use, and then exclude day visitors from parking by changing the agreed consent is a travesty leaving 8 – 10 pitches on site that are basically unusable and another number not up to the stated “Internationally-renowned National Park Experience”

b. Further, as you should now be aware, pitches cannot be created in a single season and together these are the primary failures in understanding camping in the park. Good sites are created by nature and found by campers and then naturalised over time by constant use in popular loch shore locations, nothing less will do. As far as forest locations are concerned they are few and far between where rainforest and commercial forests do not provide viable camping as a rule.

9. The lighting bulkheads do not comply with the dark skies initiative I would have thought that would have been a prerequisite for all lighting in the park but more especially in a location away from other light contamination where the benefits of such fittings would make a real difference.

The lighting has been recessed into the wood cladding since this image was taken but that has no material effect on light pollution of the sky and hillside opposite.

10. The Toilet block water supply has not been fully operational since the site opened on the 1st March 2017 on the very small number of days the site had toilets and wash hand basins operating at the same time as the drinking water supply were hampered by very low pressure where even the timed shut off on the drinking water taps would not activate.

The applicants camping booking system states the site has no drinking water, although currently
the drinking water for this site is supplied via 330ml plastic bottles issued free to park users. This is unacceptable and so far the applicant has failed to explain why they are not taking steps to correct the error with the water intake pipe and reposition it further upstream with a suitable reservoir. Their are also reports that sparkling water has been supplied in error.

This is a very serious breach in planning consent and raises a lot of of other issues of health and safety where the water supply is so tenuous. Effective dish washing cannot take place in the trough provided using 330 ml bottles of water.

Intake Port.
The original drawings which you have removed from your system showed the water intake upstream from it’s current location as shown here, it is clear that this was the intended position due to pipe clips and small rock built dam.
Due to a failure of the planning department to insist on construction drawings detailing the construction of the necessary reservoir or header tank, or the selection of a suitable natural alternative, to guarantee a sufficient head of water to operate the system, the applicant was not constrained. Their contractor fitted the intake pipe, in good faith, at a location that was later to prove unsuitable as the water level in the stream dropped in dry weather leaving the intake above the water level. This was however the location agreed in the planning consent and it would seem no proper evaluation or calculations of the technical requirements for the intake were carried out to support this location, not least the need to be underwater.

The diagram illustrates the issue

The Park Authority then went ahead and made further changes without consent or informing the planning authority it would seem, as the absence of documents in the idox system suggests.

The new location for the intake port is under the culvert, I would think a wholly unsuitable location due to it interfering with the requirement to have a smooth unimpeded surface in the culvert to stop build up of debris.

The resultant head of water has been reduced by a meter or so exacerbating the situation where this reservoir needs to be placed upstream to increase water pressure.

The interference of water flow in a culvert is also undesirable and is surly a matter for SEPA where the inevitable build up of debris behind the dam will cause problems.

The moving of the intake pipe downhill is in breach of planning consents as an NMV would not be adequate to cover a change requiring calculations and of water heads and pressures at the output of the sterilisation system.
Of course there is the complication of the inspection chamber and tank close to the Ranger base and questions to whether or not that is a sealed chamber, The uses of the pump that was reportedly retrofitted should have overcome any head issues but seemingly has not. It’s time the applicant made the issues public and gave timescales for reparations.

 

11. Other structures are appearing on site, this one in the form of communal seating area close to pitch

12. this areas look to be constructed by Park Rangers and are a contravention of the planning consent.

Pitch 12 on the other hand is so small there is no space for a family tent and seating in the same area. It’s concerning with one of the main justifications for creating management zones being fire rings that the Park Authority are permitting fires in the eco system.

That is not to say that a communal seating area is not desirable, in a properly planned camping site. This provision should be a feature at every pitch and that is certainly true of the pitches here at Loch Chon where many have no room for occupants or even seating and cooking nearby.

That said, it should have been the subject of proper planning consent. The Park Authority obviously believe planning requirements do not apply to their projects and proceed to do what ever they wish without challenge. Pitches 8, 9, 10, 12 14, 15 are modified and/or relocated and for the most part to small to contain tents and occupants comfortably for their intended use, 8 and 9 being disabled pitches.

The use of woodchips was the subject of much concern and we can now see it being carried by feet from the paths across the pitch sites and the ecosystem beyond. The rediculous “postage stamp” bark paths to pitches 4, 5, 12 and others serve no purpose and should be removed.

That is a summary of the problems and issues at this site.

A number of pitch issues were included in the original communication. These have not been reproduced here.

What I require to happen to resolve my complaint.

The Planning Authority should take up and enforcement position and ensure the applicant complies with the original planning consent in all respects. Particularly with a view to removing structures, especially the bin store, and others that do not form part of the original planning consent and restoration of the ecosystem to it’s original state.

The Planning Department should investigate and explain how with all the checks and balances alluded to in the planning application including oversight of an environmental Clerk of Works, that this poor outcome and environmental damage was permitted to continue without feedback, and agreements from the Clerk of Works were not a feature of the development as was clearly stated as a requirement in the consents.

They should also explain and/or investigate the following:

1. Removal of parking spaces after the agreed consent and public debate.
2. Failure to visit the site and enforce the contraventions from planning consent.
3. Failure to insist on a hydrology report for the stream.
4. Failure to insist the applicant provided detailed drawings with all elevations for the containers and in particular the details of the position and nature of the the water intake including calculations of water pressure achievable.
5. Failure to insist on details of pitch locations, slope, vegetation and size suitable to take tents their occupants and equipment, this after all being the primary purpose of the development.
6. Failure to monitor the progress on site at a stage where intervention would have prevented many of the issues we now have at the end of the project.
7. Failure to monitor the storage of restoration vegetation and the reinstatement of the site.
8. Failure to enforce breaches in planning consent where the Applicant is LLTNPA.

The Planning department have consented to a 26 pitch camping site a Loch Chon and the applicant has not delivered 26 pitches that are viable for camping upon.

The planning department should enforce the provision of 26 viable pitches together with the necessary drinking water supply as a mater of urgency as we are entering the peak season and paying customers have no dish washing facilities and drinking water from 330 ml bottles. The Park Authority has stated on their booking system that drinking water is not available and that in itself that should precipitate closure of the site.

A report on tree removal and damage cannot be carried out at this time as the tree protection plan has been removed from the idox system.

The planning authority should immediately reverse it’s decision to hide documentation on the idox system preventing public scrutiny of LLTNPA projects so hiding any failure to concur with it’s planning consents. The agreement of consent is only the start of the project not the end these inconsistances seem to favour Park Authority Projects.

Further the planning department should identify the creation date of documents so clarity of the audit trail can be established and monitored and documents should have this information in their meta data. The use of a “date posted” is it would seem the date the documents are made visible to the public it is meaningless in the audit trail as the documents are retrospectively uploaded.
All of these anomalies present a ethical problems in the planning system where the true nature of dates and documentary evidence of the planning procedure are being intentionally obfuscated.

This is a breach of your own standards of openness and transparency and it precipitates the question why are documents relating to LLTNPA hidden when it is of great public interest to ensure there is a viable and demonstrable separation between the applicant and the planning authority. This is clearly not the case where the applicant is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Thanking You

Yours faithfully

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Zone C Firkin Point

Last week, following Rob Edwards’ article and my coverage of the collapse of the camping byelaws (see here) I was asked to do an interview for BBC Alba news.   Quite a privilege since I speak not a word of Gaelic, although I have a passing knowledge of Gaelic place names.    It should appear sometime after 8pm on Monday (sorry I will not be able to give the link because I will be out the country).

 

I showed the reporter, Iain MacDiarmaid, three of the camping zones at Firkin Point.  Iain had camped before and there was no need for me to try putting my tent up on the pebbly beach called Zone C.  A lovely Asian family who visit here quite often then came up to us and within two minutes had said the beach is often underwater.  Great place to picnic though!

Zone B is more sloping than it appears and the only vaguely flat area is at the top

There was a tent pitched at the top of Zone B, so I asked the people who were sitting at the top bench if it was their tent and whether they had a permit   I could not have hoped for a better response.  The man said this was the only campable pitch at Firkin but was sloping and pointed to the boggy ground at the entrance of his tent.   He then said if you think the Zone C beach is bad, try camping at Zone D before explaining how he was from Balloch and all this National Park was intent on doing was stopping local people from doing things they had always enjoyed in the places they wanted.  Unfortunately, he declined to appear on camera – it would have made a far better interview than anything I have done but he did make my job a lot lot easier.

 

There are some lessons here I think for the Park Board.   If they got out and talked to real people, the people who love the area and whose idea of happiness is to be enjoying the lochside, whether in the tent or having a picnic, they would soon realise that there was something very very wrong with the Board Report at the last meeting which said 85% of people would recommend camping in a permit area.  It simply doesn’t fit with what people are saying.  What’s more if they just went and took a look for themselves they would realise much of the spin which is being issued on their behalf couldn’t be true either.

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The black line marks the approximate line of the proposed construction track which the developer wishes to be retained permanently seen from the upper slopes of the walkers path from Benmore farm to the summit of Benmore

On 7th July, an application for a new hydro scheme on the slopes of Ben More by Crianlarich, one of the highest and best known Munros, was validated on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Portal  (see here) (or if the link does not work go to http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/planning/planning-applications/find-an-application/ and search for application Ref 2017/0119/DET or on Benmore farm).    On Friday I went to have a look and have now submitted an objection to the application as currently proposed (appended to end of this post).  This post is about why the new Benmore farm proposals are very different to the hydro scheme on Benmore burn which was completed  last year and why  I have objected.  I hope people reading this will be encouraged to consider doing so too (its easy to do, just look up the application and go to the comments tab which allows people to support, object or comment on an application).   The application is open for comments until 28th July.

 

The Benmore burn hydro scheme

This hydro scheme, which became operational in 2016, is one of the best I have seen in the National Park.

View of the intake from north west shoulder Ben More.

The “track” marks the line of the buried pipeline but generally the vegetation is recovering well. The burn was diverted to build the intake dam and the vegetation on the ground above the diversion channel has already recovered to the extent you would not know it was there.

The construction track was along the line of the pipeline and was removed completely. The ground is recovering well. The existing hill track – bottom right – was not used for the construction although it runs round the hill not far from the intake.

One thing I really liked about the intake was that instead of the normal concrete retaining wall, the development has embedded boulders in concrete.   This creates a far more natural form.  You can also see the browner rock below the intake which appears to mark the former “normal” flow levels of the burn.  The hydro schemes are having a significant impact on river flows which will affect their ecology.    I don’t believe we really know yet what the permanent impacts might be.

When you approach the intake though the most obvious feature is the metal fencing – contrary to Park guidance on use of natural materials (but is it really necessary?) –  and the Lomond blue pipe.  Its a shame that the left side of the intake has not been finished like the right had side but it does show, I think, what can be done.   Well done somebody!

The recovery of the ground above the pipeline and construction track is not as good as it might have been because vehicles have been driven over land which is far too wet to support them.

It was good too to see that the dyke through which the 7m wide construction track had been taken had been narrowed (a contrast to the Falloch and Ledcharrie (see here) tracks) and restored to a high standard.  It is possible to construct things of beauty in the hills!   I must say I am not sure about the gate, even if its not used by vehicles its likely to encourage – and there were a fair few boot marks – a more direct walking route up the glen over what is very wet ground.     So, some reservations, but generally this is a high quality scheme with very little snagging left to do – if only all schemes in the National Park were like this!

The new proposal

The map shows – more accurately than my amateur attempt in the top photo! – the two sections of new track, the powerhouse, the location of the pipeline and the intakes

What prompted me to visit the location the scheme was the proposal to retain the new access tracks.    Having removed the construction tracks to the intake in the Benmore Burn scheme, I wanted to understand why Benmore Farm were proposing to retain the construction tracks to the new intakes.   Part of me reckons that this is because since 2013, when the first scheme was approved, the LLTNPA as Planning Authority have moved from a position of assuming tracks should be removed to allowing them to remain everywhere.

Part of the Allt Essan hydro scheme on the north side of Glen Dochart – powerhouse centre

So, if other people are getting away with it, why should Benmore Farm follow best practice?     That’s why people need to take a stand.   The proliferation of hill tracks is destroying the landscape in the National Park – and indeed across Scotland – and those who care about the landscape need to put a stop to this.

 

The Design Statement gives two reasons for keeping the track, the first to help the shepherd/ess, the second to “provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsairean”.   The second claim is nonsense.   Anyone wanting to walk up the Sron would normally do so from the north east side of Ben More, not from Benmore farm, and in any case walkers don’t need a 2m wide track (for that is what it is proposed to retain) which stops half way across the hillside.   In relation to the first, shepherding is being cut like everything else and shepherds are under pressure to do more in less time.  However, the Design Statement states the cost of scheme is approx £530,000 and annual revenue estimated at c£75k and the scheme to operate for 100 years.    In other words it could make over £6m profit in its lifetime, ample to pay for reinstatement of track and to pay the shepherd to walk up to the intakes occasionally

Having visited the site I have become more concerned.  The construction track will cut across the hillside from just after the top of the last zigzag on the existing track to just above the top of the plantation.  This is steep ground.   It means cutting a great bench into the hillside.  There are diagrams illustrating this in the application but no indication of how long each steep cross section will be:

The applicants state that they will set out in the Construction Method Statement which would follow approval being given to this scheme how this track will be constructed.   I don’t think the Park should accept this.  The landscape impact of tracks across steeper slopes is all too evident on the other side of Benmore Glen.

Forestry track Creag a Phuirt

There are huge challenges as to how to store the soil and rock excavated to create a track across steep ground and then restore them.   I am concerned one reason why the developer may be  proposing to retain the track is they know it will be very difficult to restore such ground.

 

This is not just a landscape issue.  The top section of new track and intakes are within the Ben More Site of Special Scientific Interest and all works affecting the soils and vegetation are what are known as operations requiring consent – for complete list of Ben More  SSSI ORCS site190-doc28.   That is an additional reason to be concerned about the upper access track.

A very rough indication of location of track and intakes. The four intakes are situated on burns which flow into the two plantations (the central burn is not part of the scheme).

While four intakes are proposed, and the plan states they will be small, there are no photomontages in the landscape assessment of how they may look like in the landscape.   This seems to me to be a failure. The landscape assessment says the intakes will not be seen from the summit of Ben More, but that is because its just over the brow of the steep slope, they are likely to be visible for much of the way up both the north east and north west shoulders of Ben More.    The current plan is for concrete intakes – no mention of incorporating stone as was done on Ben More burn.  Another step backwards.

 

Why its important to comment on this scheme

I started to look at hydro scheme planning applications after most of them had been approved and what is striking is that I have not yet come across a single objection to an application – not even the heart of Glen Affric!     Ordinary people have just assumed hydro is good while our public agencies, including the National Park Authorities, are under pressure from the Scottish Government to do nothing which gets in the way of the hydro gold rush (most of the financial benefits of which end up in the City of London and nowhere near the people struggling to make ends meet in the Highlands).  If no-one objects, our planning authorities, who are under great pressures, simply approve what is put in front of them.   We are now reaping the consequences of poorly conceived and poorly executed hydro schemes across Scotland.

 

Its time therefore to make a stand and what better place than in a National Park which is supposed to have special regard to our landscape and wildlife.    I am not against hydro schemes but this must not be at the expense of the landscape and at the very least, in this scheme, the construction track should be fully restored but I think the Park as Planning Authority should be seeking more information about how the track could be constructed and then restored on this ground.   A copy of my objection is pasted below.

 

NB My objection should appear on the Park’s website BUT a previous comment on this scheme, dated 4th July (also appended), which pointed out that there was no mention on that date of this proposal affecting a SSSI, has not been published, although that omission has been rectified.   Instead I was told:  “Please be assured however that I am aware of the constraints on the site and all relevant consultees were consulted when the application was validated.”   I guess if the LLTNPA  had published my comment, someone might have used their failure to list the “constraints” affecting the site as a reason to invalidate the application, or maybe the just don’t like it when parkswatch picks up on mistakes?

Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: Unlike the recently completed hydro scheme on Benmore Farm where the construction track was removed, in this case the applicant wishes to retain it which would have an adverse impact on the landscape of Glen Dochart. The justification for keeping the track is it would help the shepherd and provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsaireana – actually walkers wanting to walk up the Sron do this from the north east and with £75k a year income the farm has plenty of money to employ the shepherd/ess to be a little longer on the hill. There is no proper assessment of retaining this track – eg no photomontage – which would be highly visible from slopes below Ben More summit. It is important therefore that the LLTNPA adheres to its policy guidance on renewables and insists if this hydro goes ahead the track is restored.
There are other issues with the scheme though: there are views from the summit down the north slopes of Ben More to the intakes (and to proposed track) and, while relatively small, they may be visible from above. Impact should be properly evaluated and could be reduced if intakes clad in natural stone (instead of plain concrete as proposed). In order not to impact on the landscape these schemes need to be as near to proper run of river schemes, with small intakes, as possible. In addition, the line of the construction track is across what is a steep hillside – as depicted in steepest cross section. For a construction track to be created here will require major engineering which is likely to be very challenging to restore (both to restore the materials which have been removed and then replace them). The Developer is suggesting this should be dealt with by Construction Method Statement post planning permission, I believe the Park needs to be confident the land can be fully restored before granting any consent.

 

Comments were submitted at 11:52 PM on 04 Jul 2017 from Mr Nick Kempe.

Application Summary
Address: Benmore Farm Crianlarich Stirling FK20 8QS
Proposal: Construction of a run of river hydropower scheme
Case Officer: Julie Gray

 

Comments Details
Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: There are no constraints listed against this application at present although the upper pipe and track appear to be within the Ben More SSSI. Could you please confirm whether this is case or not? Among Operations Requiring Consent for the SSSI are alterations of watercourses and construction of new tracks and drainage both of which are included in these proposals
July 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A road to nowhere? How would anyone know that this road led to the former Tarbert Isle campervan area and still existing tent permit area? There are no signs

Following my posts on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here)  this week I took a look at the Tarbet Isle permit area.   This is one of the areas where the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has refunded campervanners who had purchased permits – an admission that they had done so unlawfully.

The signage – now redundant – only appears when you reach the edge of the so-called permit area

The first thing that strikes you about the area is there is no signage to it (see photo above) from the main road.   If you  are travelling north along the A82 from Tarbet, you might just notice the track up to the left, but there is nothing to tell the anyone who has heard of the byelaws and knows that the Park is trying to force people to stay in permit areas, that you could stay – or have stayed in the case of campervanners – without fear of prosecution.    In fact there is no signage to any of the permit areas along the A82.   While that was a failure in terms of the byelaws, its a welcome failure as if people don’t know where the permit areas are, its almost impossible to stop them from stopping off somewhere else.  Its a failure the Park would be best not trying to remedy, otherwise its likely to waste yet more money on signs, such as that at Tarbet Isle, which then become redundant (left).

At least at Tarbet Isle the former gates across the track have been removed.   Why Forestry Commission Scotland has no gates at Tarbet Isle but has gates and locks them at Forest Drive is a mystery.    Perhaps its to prevent a right of passage being created?   You only have a right under the byelaws to sleep overnight on roads where there is a right of passage.

The former campervan permit area, where you can now once more stay for free, is hardly inspiring, the sort of high quality experience the Park says it wants to promote for visitors, but its ok.  Its big pluses are its flat and being slightly above the road its much quieter than by the lochshores.   There are no views and no facilities and some people might feel a bit vulnerable here.

I suspect most campervanners, like most people, would prefer to stop off by the loch shore even because it is noisier because it has great views and the bumpy shoreline is very interesting.  It feels like you are in a National Park – the campervan permit area could have been almost anywhere.

The map of the permit area (close up above) shows the former campervan permit area by a dotted red line, the wider permit areas in dark green and the flatter part of the permit area in light green.  The path by the sign, marks the boundary, and shosw just how steep and tree covered much of the permit area is.   Why the Park spent lots of money delimiting wider permit areas where it is absolutely impossible to camp I am not sure.   Maybe though this wider area is where people can sleep in hammocks slung between trees without committing an offence so long as they pay £3 for the privilege?

 

Its a good five minute walk through the permit area before you reach anywhere you could possibly consider camping.   That’s not much good for cycle tourers or canoeists, worried about being prosecuted for camping by the road or on the lochshores.  The woodland was lovely in the sun but sloping and covered in vegetation, again unsuitable for camping

There was one obvious camping area, which had been used by campers, and where some kind person – possibly from FCS – had left a couple of logs.   Highly commendable.  There was no obvious source of water though and so to me, while its good the potential for camping up in the woods here is being advertised, this should not be seen as compensation for banning  people from camping on the lochshores.   I am awaiting the breakdown of the Park’s statistics (which show numbers of tents booked on West Loch Lomond but not by permit area) but I suspect the demand for camping here will not be high.

What is the justification for the remaining campervan permit areas?

The LLTNPA and FCS need to explain why they still trying to charge campervans for staying at Forest Drive – indeed they have increased the number of permits for campervans there – while dropping permits at Tarbet Isle.

The LLTNPA also needs to explain why its now saying campervans can stop off in the parking area at the end of the short forest road at Tarbert Isle but to do so without a permit at the similar turning area at Firkin Point is still according to them a criminal offence.

The campervan permit places at Firkin Point are in the no parking area – which raises more legal questions than I care to cover here!

Tarbet Isle provides more evidence, as if more was needed, that the legal basis for the decisions made by LLTNPA staff need to be made public.

July 13, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Destruction around the Corrimulzie intake. On first viewing this, I had assumed all the destruction had been caused by the construction of the hydro intake but the rocks in foreground, which partly envelope the bases of the two birch trees, were deposited by flood water during Storm Frank which devastated Deeside.

The Corriemulzie community hydro scheme  http://braemarhydro.org.uk/scheme/, just west of Braemar on the road to Linn of Dee, provides an interesting case of how developments can go badly wrong despite the best intentions of the main players.  I first visited this scheme, which became operational last summer, in September 2016 and was horrified by what I saw.   Subsequent research and correspondence with the Cairngorms National Park Authority established the situation was a little more complex than it appeared and both the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro were taking action to rectify the damage that had been caused by the contractors and design failings.  I have therefore delayed blogging about it but a check up visit last weekend (its a ten minute walk from the road and well worth a visit if in the area), on the way to a stravaig through the eastern Cairngorms, showed that remedial measures have only had a limited impact.  I think its time therefore to publicise what appears to have gone wrong and what lessons could be learned for the future.

The old intake dam has been infilled with flood debris. You can just see old intake pipe centre left.

Historically there was a hydro scheme on the Corriemulzie burn which supplied power to Mar Lodge.

View of powerhouse from Linn of Quoich July 2017

The new powerhouse sits by site of former powerhouse although the track to it, down from the Braemar to Linn of Dee Road, is new.   In my view – and I realise this is just a matter of opinion – the wider landscape impact of the track is not a major issue.  I did not revisit the track though last September there were both good things and bad about how the land around it had been restored.

In design terms the power house is well located, close to bank and trees, and the turning area for vehicles is small.  All positives.  The ground above the pipeline had recovered quickly, with evidence of turfs having been stored and replaced.   Incredible care needs to be taken with removal of turf and topsoil if all the surface area is to be re-covered in restoration and in this area there was not enough to use on the banks (bare patch left) though I suspect this has recovered by now.

The track has been less well done, with large boulders left on the surface of what had previously been a grassy field.  The bank on the right though is at a sufficiently low angle to recover quickly and a good example of track design.

The Corriemulzie hydro intake area

The main problem with the Corriemulzie scheme is around the main intake.  It was not pristine prior to the hydro and the hill track and vehicle use had caused some needless damage.

The hydro scheme and burn is just to the left. Note the steep bank down to the track.

 

The planning however was a chance to restore past damage and the intake was intended to look like this:

 

Photomontage from CNPA Planning Committee report which approved the scheme in December 2013

If this had been delivered, I would be congratulating Braemar Community Hydro and the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose landscape adviser had said “the location of intake is a small but very scenic a ‘gem’ of a location” and recommended the utmost care.

 

Unfortunately, what has happened is completely different to what was intended.

In order to build the dam the burn needed to be diverted through a channel created through the (true right) bank above the intake.  The intake as it appeared in September 2016.

 

The bank as it appeared in September 2016

And this is an overview of how the area looks now:

The fundamental issues here are:

  • there has been no effective restoration of the bank along the burn;
  • the bank on the hill was excavated and is far too steep to be restored;
  • the track and turning area are far too wide.

While  there had been obvious attempts at amelioration since September 2016 these have not in my view addressed the fundamental issues.

Four strips of fabric had been applied to the oversteep bank to reduce erosion but this has had no impact.   There is no sign of vegetation re-establishing itself and the problems have been increased by deer (you can see hoof marks between 2nd and 3rd strips) walking down the slope.

 

View across burn above intake

There has been “compensatory” tree planting but no attempt to restore vegetation to the bank of the burn.   This should have been done months ago at the beginning of the growing season.

A new signboard has been erected by the intake.   The line of pylons is rather ironic given CNPA’s opposition to the Beauly Denny and I wonder what Prince Charles, who opened the scheme, and talks so much about architectural standards and traditional landscapes thought about the destruction.  Its as if, though, everyone at the official opening had their eyes shut.

 

Despite the atrocious finishing along the bank and track, this photos shows some good things about the scheme.  You can just see the pipe from the second hydro running below the bridge – you won’t see it unless you look out for it – and the CNPA told the developer there was no need to erect fencing around the intake.  I agree.     All that good design though counts for little if the destruction round about is not addressed.

 

So what has gone wrong?

 

I have tried since the weekend to look through planning documents.  There are pages of them, one document submitted by Braemar Community Hydro is over 200 pages long, and seems to cover everything except a description of the detailed work that was planned to construct the main intake.    The CNPA landscape adviser drew attention to this in an appendix to the Committee Report and recommended further detailed plans were required before planning consent was given.   The Committee however gave approval on condition these documents were produced but unfortunately these documents, if they were produced, are not on the CNPA website.    It is possible therefore that the CNPA allowed this development to go ahead without a proper landscape plan for the intake area.    If so, that in effect allowed the contractor to do what they wanted in the intake area and undermined all the other efforts staff had made to ensure this scheme was of the highest standard possible.  One small mistake can have huge consequences.

 

However, I don’t think all the emphasis should be on paperwork, which is beyond the capacity of any  community organisation to deliver and which means they have to put themselves in the hands of consultants.   I suspect if there was a hole in the paperwork, Braemar Community Hydro did not appreciate this either.

 

A fundamental problem with the proliferation of hydro schemes is that monitoring their construction is not being properly resourced.  I think if there had been someone properly qualified on site, the bank on the hillside would never have been excavated because it would have been only too obvious it could not be restored properly.   The problem is our National Parks rely on developers appointing an Ecological Clerk of Works to do the supervision and these people are beholden to the developer/contractor who pay their wages – they are therefore not independent.   It may also be the case – given the many failures to restore construction tracks – that they don’t have the right skills.

The ground above the pipeline to the second intake has not bee restored well and will, as a result, take a much longer time to recover than it should have with increased erosion.

A related  issue is that both our National Parks only appear to start proper monitoring once construction is almost complete.  Here is what CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir told me in January:

 

“CNPA staff noted various breaches at the site in April 2016 during a routine monitoring visit.  The agent was immediately contacted by phone to express concern and also contacted in writing.  CNPA staff and the agent for the development met on site in May 2016 to discuss how to reinstate or mitigate the unauthorised or unsatisfactory works.  The agent provided an initial written programme of reinstatement works in June 2016 which the CNPA did not consider satisfactory”

 

What a commendable response and the contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who treat everything as a Freedom of Information Request is striking.   The problem though is once the construction has gone wrong, and created unnecessary damage, this becomes very difficult and very expensive to put right.  Our National Parks need to try and find a way of preventing problems rather than detecting them after the event.

The small second intake, the pipe runs to the right of the blocks of trees which have been planted.

Lots of tree planting should not be seen as compensation for poor ground restoration work.

What needs to happen

 

I hope this post has demonstrated that the way the planning system operates at present, even when our National Parks’ have taken considerable and commendable efforts with hydro developments, they can go badly wrong.

 

The focus of the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro needs to be around addressing the landscape damage around the first intake.   I think that to remedy the damage will require considerable expertise and require money.  If the contractor cannot be made liable, it means the shareholders for the hydro, who were expecting a 5-8% return (there is interesting information on the finances on the community hydro website), Mar Estate which is charging rent (and was responsible for previous damage in the area) and the community may have to wait for their return.  It seems to people that all the people who were going to gain from this development have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not at the expense of the landscape.   Success would then be being able to promote this as being a nice place to go for a walk again – a “small gem” in the National Park – as it was in the past.

 

In terms of planning system failures, it seems to me these are twofold.  First, not nearly enough emphasis is put on the landscape impact of construction prior to planning approval.   Planning applications consider the wider impact on the landscape but not the more localised impact.  Its hard to see the Corriemulzie intake from any distance but the local impact is huge.   Our National Parks should be exemplars of good practice in this respect but they generally approve hydro schemes in principle without detailed Construction Method Statements.  Then, once a scheme is approved in principle, its much harder for staff to influence and its probably less of a priority, because they are judged on the time it takes from planning application to approval.    None of this is the fault of planning staff, its the system and that needs to change.

 

Second, the focus of monitoring needs to shift from the end stage of the construction to the beginning and be independent of both developer and contractor.    This would prevent problems arising.  For example, if our National Parks were ensuring all vegetation was properly removed and stored before pipelines were dug or tracks created or broadened, restoration would then be far more effective.

 

For this to happen though, our National Parks, like all our public authorities, need to be properly resourced.

 

Lastly,  it would be good, given what I see as their good intentions, if the CNPA, Braemar Community Hydro and the other main players had a proper discussion, a post mortem if you like, about what lessons might be learned and then publicised this so they could be used to inform the development of hydro schemes, both community and commercial, in future.

July 11, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my post on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here), Rob Edwards’ excellent article in the Sunday Herald (I have an interest!) prompted an interesting piece http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2017/07/10/wild-land/ from Mike Small which is well worth reading:

 

“Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing”

 

What has been happening in the National Park though is more than a shambles, its been a deliberate attempt to exclude people from an area which was made a National Park in order to enable people, primarily from the Glasgow conurbation and many of whom have little money, to enjoy the countryside.   That was an old socialist aspiration.  Its not a coincidence that the same post-war Labour Government that created the NHS also passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.     The camping byelaws, which are only part of a much wider attempt to make the National Park a socially exclusive zone, are now unravelling partly due to incompetence but also because, thankfully, other public authorities have respected people’s rights.  In this case the key right is that of people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on the road network.

 

The LLTNPA’s record on developing the byelaws and the right to stay overnight in vehicles

 

Rob Edwards obtained from the Park a very interesting explanation for its U-turn on campervans, which once again demonstrates the rotten governance that has been at the heart of how the byelaws have been developed.

 

“The park authority pointed out that caravaners staying weeks or months on two old stretches of road by Loch Earn had damaged the park’s unique environment.  “Our clear legal advice was that they weren’t part of the formal road network and that the issue could be addressed with bylaws” said the authority’s chief executive, Gordon Watson”.

 

I was surprised at this claim because if Gordon Watson or the Park’s lawyer had asked Transport Scotland – the body responsible for the trunk road network  –  they would have known that the laybys on the A85 along the north side of the Loch Earn were part of the formal road network and therefore under the byelaws as approved by the LLTNPA Board and Minister, people could sleep there in vehicles.     Transport Scotland provided me with a list of all trunk road laybys LL&T National Park Lay-Bys they were responsible for in December 2016.  Here is the extract for the A85 along the north shore of Long Earn:

While I have not converted the references from eastings and northings to grid references I am fairly confident they include all the laybys along Loch Earn where encampments used to take place

Maybe, however, the Park’s lawyer knew something Transport Scotland didn’t?   Its quite clear though that other LLTNPA staff did not know either because, as late as summer 2016, a year after the byelaws were approved by the Board in April 2015, staff were asking Transport Scotland which laybys were part of the formal road network:

(You can read the full correspondence – I am grateful to Transport Scotland for co-operating with my FOI request – here, here and here)

Note, how Carlo DEmidio, the senior manager appointed to improve the Park’s project management (and who has since left the Park) did not know either which laybys were official – perhaps he did not have access to the legal advice provided to his Chief Executive? – and his statement “We just need something that we can use to justify our position when it comes to enforcement and signage”.   That does not sound like a Park Authority following legal advice, that sounds more like a Park Authority hell bent on banning campervans whatever the legal advice.

 

Unfortunately, it may be very difficult to find out the truth on this because legal advice is privileged and exempt from Freedom of Information rules.  Whatever the legal advice the Board had prior to approving the byelaws, once Park staff found out that the laybys on North Loch Earn were part of the public roads network, they should have advised the Board.

 

Instead what appears to have happened is that Park staff, without reference to the Board or apparently the Scottish Government (see here), changed the wording of the camping byelaws.  Now under English Law, significant changes to byelaws would normally require further public consultation before going back to the Board for approval but in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park none of this happened.     In my view that leaves the legality of the entire byelaws open to question but they key point here is the changes, which were significant, made it even more difficult for the Park to ban people from staying overnight in vehicles.

 

This is because the original version of the byelaws only allowed people to sleep overnight in vehicles on public roads:

 

(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:

(a) they have been authorised to do so by the Authority under byelaw 12; or

(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads

authority.

 

The key term here is “public road” which was defined to mean:

 

“(i) a road or any part thereof which a roads authority has a duty to maintain; (ii) a layby bounded partly by the outer edge of any such road; or (iii) any public car park provided by or on behalf of a roads authority. “  

 

You can see from this why it was so important to work out which laybys on north Loch Earn among other places were part of the public roads network and which not.

 

In the version of the byelaws which was published in November 2016, however, just over three months before they were implemented, the terms “public road” and “roads authority” had been dropped and replaced by the term “road”.   This was defined to mean “a road for the purposes of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984” and this inadvertently  changed the whole scope of the exemption in the byelaws which allowed people to sleep in vehicles.   This is because under the Roads Traffic Scotland Act  a road is defined to mean any road over which there is a right of passage, private or public.    It gave campervans a legal right under the byelaws to stay on anything that looked like a road (such as forest tracks), including its verge, in the camping management zones.  Hence why the Park has refunded people who bought permits not just on the public road network at Loch Earn, but also in permit areas created on what appears to be a private road at Tarbert.

 

What needs to be done

 

The Park in its response to Rob Edwards was trying to hide behind legal advice in order to defend its unlawful attempt to charge people in campervans for staying overnight on the road network but also to save face with local communities:  I am sure St Fillans Community Council will be dismayed.  Having been told the byelaws could prevent encampments in laybys, its now clear they did not know what they were talking about and that the whole justification for the byelaws has been a con.

 

Its worse than that though.   Perhaps Park staff could explain on what legal advice they had decided to allow caravans to stop off overnight in laybys in the camping management zones while still trying to ban campervans?  The definition of “vehicle” remained unchanged between the two versions of the camping byelaws and clearly included campervans: ” “vehicle” means a mechanically-propelled vehicle or a vehicle designed or adapted for towing by a mechanically-propelled vehicle”.  I doubt any lawyer would have made a distinction between campervans and caravans and my conclusion is the staff having been making up the implementation of the byelaws as they go along. Acting beyond their powers.  Dave Morris, for it was he, was right to call for Scottish Ministers to investigate.

 

The LLTNPA Board now needs to issue a clear statement of whether the camping byelaws still apply to people sleeping in vehicles and if so, in what circumstances people could be prosecuted.   My own view is that they should clearly state that no-one who is abiding by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whether in a campervan or tent, will be prosecuted.  As importantly the Board also needs to  re-affirm that a primary purpose of the National Park is to enable people to enjoy the countryside and that overnight stays in tents and campervans are an essential part of this right.  It should then get on with providing the facilities that campervanners and caravanners need rather than wasting more resources enforcing the unenforceable.

July 10, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Following my posts on the Ledcharrie (see here), Coilessan  (see here) Glen Clova and Glen Prosen (see here) and (see here) hill tracks I contacted the heads of planning in both National Park Authorities to find out what they were doing about this.  The responses could not have been more different.   The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority treating my request under Freedom of Information, delaying their response and then refusing to divulge information.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority answering my questions and promising to make information on their planning portal.

 

The LLTNPA response to Ledcharrie

On 11th June (see here) I asked Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning (and copied in the Park’s Convener of Planning Petra Biberbach) for all the information required by the Park’s Decision Notice approving the Ledcharrie scheme in principle , the dates of monitoring visits and any correspondence/information about enforcement.  On Friday, I received  this unsigned refusal EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie from someone, they have not put their name to the letter, claiming to be a Governance Manager.

 

The  LLTNPA’s reason for refusing the information, would if accepted, represent a massive step back for the planning system:

 

The documentation submitted by the developer to comply with conditions set out in the planning decision has been withheld from release under R10(5)(b) of the EIR’s as the information relates to live operational activities which are currently being monitored by the Park Authority. Not all conditions have been discharged.

 

Section R10 (5) b of the Environmental Information Regulations reads:

 

(5) A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially–

(b) the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of any public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;

 

The Park is in effect is claiming that to make public any information required by a Decision Notice could interfere with the course of justice – presumably a reference to potential enforcement action.   Leave aside the fact that the LLTNPA has almost never taken enforcement action, this is complete and utter rubbish.  The Decision Notice of 2015 required the Developer to provide lots of further information including construction methods for all aspects of the scheme, detailed landscape mitigation and restoration techniques, a turve protection plan, a peat protection plan, a raptor survey, etc before any work started.  A commendable list.   If these had all been supplied as required and approved by the Park Authority there is no reason at all why they should not be made public, as they form part of the approval, nothing to do with enforcement.  That is a separate matter which comes afterwards as is about whether the Developer kept to the conditions that had been agreed.   Indeed making such documents public would have enabled interested parties to judge for themselves whether the conditions had been adhered to and report potential breaches to the Park.

 

If the Developer had not provided all the information required – and the Park has refused even to say whether the Developer has or hasn’t done this –  the Park should not have allowed construction to go ahead.   What the Park appears to be saying is that none of the detailed specifications for developments should be made public until the file is closed (once monitoring is complete).   This makes the Park as Planning Authority almost totally unaccountable and would be a retrograde step for the planning system.

 

The Coilessan track

 

In response to my questions on the Coilessan track on 28th June (see here), and in particular whether Forestry Commission Scotland had told the Park about this under the Prior Notification System, I have had an email from Stuart Mearns saying I should get a response by 26th July.   That’s almost a month but at least Mr Mearns responded himself rather than passing straight on to the Park’s Secrecy Department.

 

The CNPA’s response to information requests on enforcement and hill tracks

 

The contrast to the CNPA’s response to my emails on the Glen Prosen and Glen Clova tracks could not be greater.  Here are some extracts from Gavin Miles, Head of Planning’s emails:

 

We are looking at the Glen Prosen Hydro tracks. The CMS [construction method statement] etc should be uploaded to our public access planning pages this week or next. If there’s anything that doesn’t get uploaded we’ll let you know and will send it to you in the formal FOI/Environmental Information Request response format.

 

If the CNPA can add Construction Method Statements to their planning portal so the public can see what has been agreed in cases where enforcement action is possible, so can the LLTNPA.  Well done the CNPA for being transparent!

 

Just to make things slightly easier for us to identify on the maps and aerial photography, it would be helpful if you could send an image of the map that shows the bits you walked or are concerned about if they don’t appear to you to be part of a consent or application.

 

It gives you confidence when the Planning Authority asks for further information about exact locations (I had sent them photos and a general description of where I had walked).   My mate who I was running with told me afterwards that if you use Strava, it not only plots your entire course, it can give the exact location for photos – a useful tip for anyone wanting to report on hill tracks.

 

The CMS we have for the Clova Hydro scheme will be uploaded to the public access planning pages. Just to be clear, we haven’t taken any enforcement action against the Clova track at this point. The Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) is a fact-finding notice.

 

Honesty about what the CNPA is doing.  Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA who want to keep everything secret.

 

A comparision between the two National Parks

 

The CNPA  is far from perfect and I have criticised its planning department in a number of posts, particularly the way they handled the Shieling Hill Track at Cairngorm and also their decision to stop recording planning meetings, which in my view was a retrograde step.   I believe that as a National Park Authority they could do better but at present they are a country mile ahead of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.    Their Partnership Plan includes a presumption against new hill tracks, the LLTNPA draft plan says nothing.  They are prepared to be open about what they are doing (at least some of the time), the LLTNPA reveals nothing unless its forced to.   They are trying to put more information on the planning portal, the LLTNPA has been removing information post-decision saying the law does not require such information to be published.

 

One might not always agree with the CNPA but it is possible to have a dialogue.  The LLTNPA does not do dialogue:  if you don’t agree with them, you get shut out of processes.

 

The explanation for this difference is not just about differences in staff (and who knows what pressure Stuart Mearns is under from his Chief Executive Gordon Watson), it is I believe about Board Members.   Petra Biberbach was on the Scottish Government’s independent review of the planning system which included these statements:

 

“Consistency and transparency of information are central to the reputation and smooth running of the development management system.”   

 

“The increasing use of social media and online portals is in our view a more resource efficient and effective way of communicating casework with the wider public.”

 

So, why has she apparently done nothing to make the LLTNPA as planning authority more transparent?

 

Contrast this with Cllr Bill Lobban who is on the CNPA Board and was Highland Council Convener of Planning;  he criticised the CNPA for not recording planning meetings as webcasts and argued that Councils were better placed to fulfil the planning function.  In other words there are people on the CNPA Board who keep staff on their toes.

 

What needs to happen

 

I hope the refusal of LLTNPA staff to provide information about the Ledcharrie Scheme does not have to go to the Information Commissioner for Decision and that Petra Biberbach as convener of the Planning Committee, insists the Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson instructs staff to make the information public as recommended in the independent review of planning report which she co-authored “Empowering planning to deliver great places”.

July 7, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls,  resident of Ardentinny

Cleared rhododendron Glen Finart                                                                               All photos by the author

This is the third in a sequence of reports (see here) and (here) on the impact of Forestry Commission Scotland practices in the Argyll Forest Park, which forms the south western part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

 

Rhododendron ponticum, an invasive species, was apparently introduced to the area by the Victorians, to provide shelter for game birds. DNA analysis suggests that most if not all invasive bushes originate from the Iberian Peninsula. Rhododendron ponticum seems to be a hybrid species, particularly suited to acidic soils in areas of high humidity.

 

It has been shown to reduce the number of earthworms, birds and plants, but also the regenerative capacity of a site. In fact, where I live, there seems to be no wildlife at all.

Slope from which rhododendron branches from a sequence of cutting campaigns have been cleared and burned, illustrating the lack of regeneration

Eradication of non-native invasive species, Rhododendron ponticum.

Racks of cut rhododendron, left in banks obstructing access, note the regrowth in the background, as it appears that no follow up spraying has taken place.

Wild Park 2020, the National Park’s plan for nature conservation, included measures to eradicate non-native species one of which is:

 

Management to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum, from 50% of the National Forest Estate within the National Park has been put in place and clearance programmes are underway and on schedule for completion

 

Nothing wrong with the objective, its the way its being done which is the problem.   When I asked, I was informed that burning the cuttings was not an option due to the fire hazard to the trees, and chipping would be too expensive. It was asserted racks of branches would soon decay, and in the interim, would harbor wild life. I have seen no evidence of either happening.

This has been described by visitors as a dark impenetrable wet desert.

The racks of recent rhododendron cuttings, overlay two layers from previous campaigns of cuttings, separated by about a decade each. Note the regeneration of rhododendron through the cuttings, making it difficult to spray the regrowth effectively. In another decade, the area will be as bad as ever, but even more impenetrable!

 

Note also the relative sparsity of the surviving trees.  One would have imagined that the rhododendron cuttings could have been burned and stumps exposed to be treated, by spraying with a herbicide.

One can only come to the conclusion that the process is so poorly implemented and ‘quality’ checked, that public money is being wasted year after year, and no consideration at all is given to recreational use of the Forest estate.

The outlook from this area is spectacular.

Before the most recent campaign of cutting I had never explored the area, had no idea how interesting and varied it is, and was inspired to clear paths through obstructions in order to make access possible for neighbors, particularly visiting children.   However, these are just ‘desire lines’ and it is Forestry policy that such informal routes will not be conserved.

 

The linguistics are interesting and bluntly affirm that what the public might ‘desire’ is sacrificial if it inconveniences forestry operations. It treats local residents and visitors with contempt.

 

I no longer accept this order of precedence, not in a National Park and on land held and managed in trust for the public, by a body whose founding objectives included sustaining the rural population and encouraging recreational use if the forest estate.

 

In a country trying to promote active lifestyles, plagued by obesity and heart disease, where children seldom have access to places where they can explore, gain self-confidence and become self-reliant in their own countryside, it makes no sense.

 

It speaks to a lack of coordination of public policy and/or lack of accountability of a public body, both to its original constitutional purpose and the public interest.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority was set up to promote and enable public access, for visitors and local people.  It appears to have  ignored the impact of FCS “conservation practices”, whether these are achieving their objectives and their impact  on the public’s right to enjoy the outdoors.   A new objective should be added to the new draft National Park Partnership Plan, that FCS should to develop new and more effective ways to clear invasive species such as rhododendron and engage with local people and recreational organisations to re-establish access in the Argyll Forest Park.

July 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The Fiacaill t-bar dump in 2016
The Fiacaill t-bar dump in July 2017
Image from Save Cairngorm Facebook Page

Over the last fifteen months Parkswatch has highlighted the lack of maintenance and rubbish at Cairngorm, one of the worst examples being the dump at the former Fiacaill T-Bar.  This was originally justified as a temporary holding area for old fence posts which were supposed to be removed in the winter season but never were.  Instead, Natural Retreats started to burn fence posts in skips on the mountain (left) and added materials to the dump.

 

With Natural Retreats seemingly immune to any adverse publicity, Save the Ciste group  activist George Paton wrote to Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 21st June pointing out the temporary dump had been growing for 18 months and that “if little Johnny was injured or worse” they would ultimately be held responsible.   Here is the response:

 

30th June

Dear Mr Paton

Your email of 21 June 2017 to my colleague Keith Bryers, has been passed on to me, as HIE’s Customer Service Improvement Manager, for response.

Health and safety within the Cairngorm Estate is, naturally, of paramount importance, both for HIE as landowner, and CML [Caingorm Mountain Ltd] as operator of the visitor facilities.  HIE staff meet CML regularly to monitor performance on a broad range of operational issues, including safety.

With regard to your specific concerns about the present conditions in the Fiacaill T Bar area, our understanding is that this location is being used temporarily to store materials while current maintenance works are progressing.   We have already discussed this issue with CML and will raise it again, both to be assured on health and safety matters, and to ensure that the area is tidied as soon as is practicable.

 

Playing the Health and Safety card appears to have worked because in the last few days (see photos above) Natural Retreats has started to  clear the Fiacaill T-bar area.  Well done George, it shows how activists can make a difference.

 

The downside is that at present it appears the only way to get HIE to act at Cairngorm is threaten them with Health and Safety.  The test in this case will be whether, having tidied up the site and made it “safe”, HIE stop Natural Retreats using it as a dump and get them to remove the concrete plinth which formed part of the t-bar structure.   I have my doubts. HIE, like many other public authorities, is far more interested in large new capital vanity projects than in restoring sites affected by past developments or in basic maintenance.  What Cairngorm needs first and foremost is some attention to basics and all the evidence shows this is not happening.

 

Natural Retreats’ failure to develop an environmental plan or standards for Cairngorm

 

Last year, after parkswatch drew attention to the lack of any proper environmental management plan at Cairngorm (see here) CNPA staff wrote to Natural Retreats urging that they develop a set of standards for operating at Cairngorm.    This request was repeated by the CNPA Convener of Planning, Eleanor Mackintosh, in a letter (see here – thanks to George Paton who obtained it through FOI) to Natural Retreats dated 14/2/17:

 

“I would also urge you to develop some simple, best-practice management standards for your operations that you can consistently apply to your own works or those undertaken by contractors”.

 

Actually, there is no need for Natural Retreats to develop new best practice standards, because these already exist.  What they should have been doing, in consultation with conservation and recreational interests, is to review and update standards for the management of ski areas which were developed back in the 1980s (see here) as well as those developed during the construction of the funicular.   It has suited HIE to forget this history, the lessons from the past and, if there is one thing CNPA should be doing at present, its to demand that these lessons are incorporated into new standards.

 

Where Eleanor Mackintosh got it wrong, I believe, was to suggest to Natural Retreats that the management standards should be “simple”.   Cairngorm is a complex mountain environment and the examples of best practice that have been developed over time range from the simple to the highly complex depending on what is proposed.  To apply best practice standards consistently and appropriately would require the types of skill and expertise which are sadly lacking among managers at both at Natural Retreats and HIE.

 

The crumbling environs of the Day Lodge

Clearing up the Fiacaill dump takes very little effort or money, it could all be done in a day.  That it has taken so long tells you something about the way Cairngorm is being managed.  Its not just the natural environment that is being mismanaged though, the state of the buildings at Cairngorm tells a similar story, as these recent photos from around the Day Lodge show.

Before Natural Retreats bought Cairngorm Mountain Ltd from HIE, they were paid a sum, which I understand was c£600k, to cover delapidation works to buildings.  A sad indictment of HIE’s failure to maintain the buildings at Cairngorm during the period 2008-2014 when it had direct control.  This money appears to have been either insufficient or has not been spent by Natural Retreats as intended.

The failure to carry out basic maintenance and repairs is a UK wide phenomenon.  The powers that be, in both public and private sectors, would prefer to let buildings collapse and then build new ones, rather than spend any money on maintenance.   Money spent on maintenance though not only improves amenity – what message do these photos give to visitors to Cairngorm? – it helps create local jobs.   Natural Retreats appears though to have no interest in investing in the things that matter at Cairngorm but would rather be involved in grandiose new projects financed by the public sector.

Under the terms of HIE’s lease, Natural Retreats are supposed to maintain buildings in a reasonable state of repair and has to contribute to both a Buildings Sinking Fund and Asset Replacement Fund.  It would be in the public interest that Natural Retreats’ contributions to these funds (they were supposed to pay £11k to the ARF in March 2016 and £27k in March 2017) and expenditure from them are made public – I will ask!

How long before a visitor trips on this edge and sues Natural Retreats?

I suspect Natural Retreats will only maintain the built environment around the Day Lodge when forced to do so for health and safety reasons – if I was their  insurers I would be upping their premiums.    It shouldn’t need health and safety though for basic maintenance and care of buildings to take place at Cairngorm, it just needs an owner and operator that cares about the place.    Unfortunately all the evidence shows that neither HIE or Natural Retreats care and, while activists need to press for improvements at Cairngorm, the only long-term solution is for the land to be taken away from HIE and transferred to an organisation that does have the interests of the mountain and the people at its heart.

July 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
The Park has now admitted its attempts to charge campervans at Loch Earn North were unlawful. Earlier in the year (see here), the Park was insisting that campervans required a permit to stay the night when caravans could stay free
The email sent to campervanners stating that their permit fees would be refunded

Following its new release last week (see here) announcing that it was no longer going to apply the camping byelaws to campervans and caravans in laybys, the  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has accepted it acted unlawfully by  trying to charge campervans for staying overnight on the road network by offering refunds to those who bought permits (see left).

 

Its not a direct admission – the “Due to operational changes” at the start of the email had a lawyer friend choking over their porridge – but that its an admission is clear from the liability section in the Terms and Conditions which the Park issues with every permit:

In the event that the Park Authority has any liability to you in contract, delict (including negligence) or otherwise in relation to your use of a permit or pitch or otherwise, it is limited to the amount of the booking paid to the Park Authority only
.
To the fullest extent permissible in law, the Park Authority does not accept and shall not have any liability or responsibility of whatever nature for any damage, loss, injury, claim, expense, cost or liability of whatever nature and howsoever arising, whether to person or property, which you may suffer or incur within or as a consequence of the use of the permit area or pitch.

 

This liability clause was developed after parkswatch suggested that campers who purchased permits and then found the camping permit areas uncampable should claim compensation.   It was an attempt by the LLTNPA to avoid and limit liability.   The converse of this is that the re-imbursement of permit fees is a clear admission of liability, the LLTNPA has acted outwith their powers or as Dave Morris put it in a fine letter to the Herald this week “acting unlawfully by extracting payment for camping permits in some laybys or falsely claiming it would be a criminal offence to stop off in other laybys”.

 

You will note NO apology has been issued to the people who have been wrongly charged.  The only time I have know this Park Authority to apologise was when it was forced to do so by the Information Commissioner for failing to declare all the information it held about 10 of the 13 secret Board Meetings which developed the byelaws Compliance with Decision Notice 209-2016 Response letter.   My advice to any campervanner who has been wrongly charged is to submit a complaint about this and take this to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if necessary.

 

The wider impact of the unlawful application of the byelaws

The LLTNPA has only admitted responsibility in cases where it wrongly charged campervanners for permits.  It has said nothing to all the campervanners who may have heard about the byelaws and been deterred from visiting the Park (the camping strategy only created 20 permit places for campervans in the whole of the National Park and while this was increased slightly it was way below what was needed).   It has said nothing to all the campervanners who stopped off in laybys anyway but whose stay was marred by the fear of potential criminal prosecution.

 

The LLTNPA has also tried to hide the truth from Local Communities and stakeholders in the “Your Park Update” its Director of Conservation, Simon Jones, issued on 30th June June Community Council Update.   Its worth reading the extract for another lesson in our the Park Authority is trying to use parkspin and parkspeak to conceal the truth:

Contrast this with the Park’s news release on 26/1/16 announcing that the byelaws “will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans”.   The LLTNPA had used this claim to win local support for the byelaws (which many local communities in fairness were sceptical about) and then used the claim of high levels of local support to persuade politicians that the camping byelaws were needed and justified.  That whole edifice has now collapsed.

 

The third bullet says it all, camping byelaws are not needed to deal with encampment or anti-social behaviour, both are matters for the police.

 

“As our communities know…..” – how patronising is that?  The St Fillans Community were, for over ten years, asking for action to be taken over encampments in laybys and nothing happened.  Indeed the LLTNPA had even failed to record encampments so these could be reported to the police (I know because I asked under FOI and the Park said it collected no information on encampments).  Nothing appears to have changed: its still not offering to monitor laybys for encampments although its Rangers pass these laybys every day on patrol and are in a much better position than either local communities and the police to collect and record this information as a basis for police action.    This LLTNPA had its eyes and ears closed and appears incapable of working in partnership with other organisations.

 

The campervan byelaw debacle is a serious case of public maladministration.   The LLTNPA have a duty to hold the Park’s Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, to account and a full public apology is required.

 

The legal questions that remain

 

The LLTNPA has not re-imbursed all campervanners for the permits they purchased.   People who bought permits to stay at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive are not being re-imbursed and the Park is still trying to charge people for permits in these areas.  I think they need to explain publicly the legal basis for this decision.

This sign, at the start of the road to Firkin Point, claimed there was no right of passage between 7pm and 7am. It has now been removed following questions I asked about the Park’s right to remove a public right of passage: another example of the Park acting ultra vires.

Under the byelaws, its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle (which legally includes a  caravan, campervan or car) if this is on a road.   A road is defined as having the same meaning as in the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.  This means that under the byelaws, as approved, people can sleep overnight in vehicles  all public roads and private roads over which there is a right of passage and on the associated verges and laybys (as the legal definition of a road includes its verge).    This is the reason why the Park has had to backtrack on trying to charge people for staying on the public road network.

The campervan permit area at Inveruglas is at the edge of what appears to be a road through the site. Why then do people not have a right to stay here overnight for free?
The new signs at Firkin, Forest Drive and Inveruglas.

What is the difference though between Tarbert Isle, where the Park is reimbursing campervanners for purchasing permits, and nearby Inveruglas or Firkin Point, where they are still trying to extract payments from campervanners?

The permit area at Tarbert Isle was at the end of a private road, just like Firkin Point (see above).   Moreover,  the LLTNPA has now replaced the signs at Firkin, Inveruglas and Forest Drive saying there was no right of passage for vehicles there between 7am and 7pm with the sign on the left.  The Park therefore has retreated from its claim there was no right of vehicular passage in these places but is still trying to charge people when, if there is a vehicular right of passage, people can stay for free.

 

The problem for the LLTNPA is unless its hiding the information it appears it does not know where vehicular rights of passage exist and where they don’t   EIR 2017-029 Response and EIR 2017-030 Review Response private roads.  (I say “unless its hiding the information” because the review failed to answer my question:  “to confirm whether the LLTNPA holds any information relating to whether or not there is a public right of passage on any private road within the National Park boundary and if so to provide this to me.” – I will appeal).   Unless it can show there is no vehicular right of passage it would still appear to be acting unlawfully in trying to force campervans to apply for permits at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive.

 

What needs to be done to sort out this mess?

 

Instead of trying to charge people in vehicles for staying overnight on its land – which in effect is what its trying to do at Inveruglas and Firkin Point and is part of a much wider attempt to charge anyone stopping off in its car parks – the LLTNPA should only charge where it provides proper facilities.  It would be fine for example for it to charge campervans to stay at the Loch Chon campsite – though at present the Park is still trying to ban campervans from staying there, a completely senseless decision – because there are toilets, places to wash and bins.    The problem is its trying to charge Campervans (and campers) for staying at Inveruglas where there are no facilities outside shop opening hours and at Firkin Point where these is a toilet but nothing else and that toilet was closed for the month of March.

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do is open up the toilets at both Firkin and Inveruglas 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, make drinking water available and preferably add chemical disposal points.    There would then be a clear justification for charging campervans in these places.  The same would apply once proper facilities are provided at Forest Drive or anywhere else.     The problem is the LLTNPA appears to have no plans to do this – there was nothing about improving infrastructure for campervans in the National Park Partnership Plan consultation which closed on Monday (see here).

 

Exactly the same arguments apply to charging campers.   If there are no facilities, there should be no charges.  The Park’s statement in its update to local communities that “camping permit areas for tents adjacent to some loch shore laybys are unaffected” is morally indefensible.

 

I am confident that the whole byelaw edifice will collapse in due course.  There was never any justification for them and Gordon Watson’s claim they were needed to control numbers of visitors has been exposed as false now that the LLTNPA is no longer trying to control campervan numbers.  The LLTNPA Board will, if it has any sense, apologise for the mess created under the “leadership” of former convener Linda McKay and instruct its staff to change direction now.

July 4, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The new track runs round the head of Glen Prosen – here looking towards Bawhelps

During a round of the Glen Prosen watershed 10 days ago, I came across a bulldozed track on the plateau at the head of the Glen which appears to be just inside the boundary of the Glen Isla Estate and therefore created by that estate.    The lack of vegetation on the surface – on what is a relatively fertile soil – and the state of the turves which have been piled by the track suggest the track is relatively recent.   There is nothing about this track on the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portal and it therefore would appear to have been constructed without planning permission.

The new hydro tracks in Glen Prosen viewed from Mayar. The boundary of Wild Land Area 16 is at Kilbo, centre right, where the track meets a burn flowing in from the right

I had not realised when blogging about the Glen Clova and Glen Prosen hydro tracks (see here)  that the head of Glen Prosen was within Wild Land Area 16 “Lochnagar and Mount Keen”.   There is a presumption against development in wild land areas – even more reason, if more were needed, for the CNPA to taken enforcement action and ensure the “temporary” hydro access tracks are removed.

Glen Prosen runs parallel and left of Glen Clova. Most of the new track across the plateau appears to be in Wild Land Area 16.
View to Dun Hillocks from east of the Mayar Burn. Lochnagar is on the right.

After crossing Driesh and Mayar, we met the track near the Mayar Burn.  While I was tempted to follow the northern section towards Dun Hillocks and Finalty Hill, I was not sure my legs would take it (first longer run of the year!).   It was difficult to see how far the track goes because of the rolling nature of the landscape here which is well described in the Wild Land Statement (see here) which was published last year:

 

At a broad level, the landform tends to be convex, limiting visibility up and down slopes. This means that, from the hill tops, neighbouring glens are screened and there is a horizontal emphasis of open views directed over successive tiers of ridges and tops extending far into the distance and contributing to a sense of awe.

 

What is clear is that it penetrates well into the Wild Land area 16.  I couldn’t tell either if it enters the Lochnagar and Deeside National Scenic Area, the boundary of which runs in a straight line between Mayar and Finalty Hill  (any information on this, particularly photos, would be welcome).

The plateau, the head of the Mayar burn is the lower ground on far right of photo, the track just to the left of the photo.  While the grouse butt is well disguised, it indicates that this track was created for “sporting” purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.

The creation of the track has removed much of the challenge of navigating across what was a featureless area of plateau.  If you have ever tried to walk between Tom Buidhe and Mayar in the mist you will know what I mean.   This quality of the plateau, so important to adventure, is also well described in the Wild Land statement:

 

Despite a mixed composition of hills and undulations, the simplicity of the landform and land cover at a broad level means individual peaks do not tend to stand out and it can be difficult to estimate vertical scale or distance within the landscape. This makes navigation challenging upon the hills and plateaux, especially in low cloud, thus increasing risk.

Looking towards South Craig at head of Glen Prosen.  The track is intermittent in the sense that it is a mixture of track eroded by regular vehicular use and new sections where the turf has been completely removed.

Because its intermittent, although the constructed sections predominate, its possible that the track was not created all at once but over time.

View across track to Mayar.  The creation of drainage channels adds to the mess and impact on vegetation.

The track has been created by a digger scraping off the turf and dumping it by the side of the new track.  The positive thing about this is it should make restoration of the track quite simple.  All the estate would have to do is replace the turves and soil onto the bare surface.

 

Intermittent section of track up Bawhelps

The older vehicle erosion shows that its not just constructed tracks which are the problem – its vehicle use.  The CNPA should be addressing the issue of vehicular use on higher ground.    A start would be to restrict the type of vehicles that can be used, ban heavier vehicles like landrovers and just allow quad bikes which are much lighter and, if used carefully, cause much less damage to vegetation.  This could be done through the creation of conservation byelaws.

Looking southwest from Bawhelps, Badundun Hill and Mount Blair in distance.  The track comes up to Bawhelps over Midhill from Glen Isla.

We didn’t follow the track over Mid Hill and so did not ascertain where it started (again photos would be welcome) but it appears most of it lies within the Cairngorms National Park boundary.

View along new spur to track which runs south east along Broom Hill, Craigie Thieves behind.

There is a short spur to the track down Broom Hill, which unlike other sections of track has been created by importing aggregate and dumping it on top of vegetation.  This section of track will be much harder to restore.

The spur then turns into a vehicle eroded track before ending completely before the bealach between Broom Hill and Craigie Thieves

Had I not stopped to take photos, we would have made fast time from the Mayar Burn to the bealach with Craigie Thieves.  After that, the going was much slower and although the hills were much lower, they provided a wilder experience even after we had crossed out of the National Park.

Looking towards Eskielawn outside the National Park boundary.

Although there was a fence, the absence of track made a huge difference to the experience,  altogether wilder and hard on the legs, and not just because I was forced to play the role of aged deerhound trying to keep within sight of my mate!

 

Until, that is, we came to this monstrosity on the Hill of Adenaich, well outside the CNPA boundary, and the responsibility of Angus Council to fix.     Sadly, whether these tracks are created or not appears to have very little to do with the Planning Authority, its all determined by the landowner: most create tracks, some don’t.  It would be good though if our National Parks became exemplars of good practice and the CNPA by its actions inspires Angus Council also to take action.

 

What needs to happen

 

I have reported the track featured here to the CNPA, asked them to confirm whether they were aware of it not and stated that it appears to have been constructed for sporting purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.    In my view the track should be removed.   The CNPA in their new Partnership Plan, to their credit, have stated that there will be a presumption against new hill tracks within upland areas in the National Park.  This one enters a Wild Land area to boot so there is every reason for them to take action.   If the CNPA act fast, much of the damage could  be restored quite quickly (because the turves removed to create the track are still usable) so I would urge them to do so.

 

Whether the Glen Isla estate, which straddles the National Park Boundary, will co-operate remains to be seen.   While the Glen Isla estate appears on the CNPA map of estates which lie within the National Park (see here) there is no estate management plan.  The CNPA initiative to get estates to publish management plans was a good one but has been ignored by many landowners.  In my view the publication of management plans for all estates within the National Park should be compulsory and such plans should include maps of all existing tracks (and where they end) as well as a statement from each estate about what vehicles they use off track.  This would it much easier for the CNPA to take enforcement action in cases like this.

July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Are the symbols for the National Outcomes the LLTNPA claim to be delivering useful?

The third and final section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Partnership Plan (the official consultation (see here) closes today) is entitled “Rural Development”.  The statutory objective of the National Park is rather different, to promote sustainable use of natural resources and sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.  Its quite possible to have rural development which does not achieve either of these aims, whether this is continuation of unsustainable land uses or new development such as the Cononish Goldmine.

 

The LLTNPA’s vision

The Park’s vision for rural development is infused with neo-liberal values and thought processes:

 

“In the National Park businesses and communities thrive and people live and work sustainably in a high quality environment”

 

Implicit in this vision is that development is dependent on business, there is no mention of the role of the public sector despite the fact that Forestry Commission Scotland, a public authority, is the largest landowner in the National Park.   There is no vision at all about what the public sector, including the National Park Authority – whose staff incidentally are paid far more than most people who work in the National Park (a good thing, reasonable pay) – have to play in sustainable rural development.   Significant amounts of research is undertaken in the National Park – for example by the SRUC’s research station in Strathfillan – but this, like other evidence is simply ignored.    I would suggest that any consideration of sustainable economic development that does not put the public sector at the heart of the vision is meaningless, its simply a charter for business.

 

There is no recognition either that the interests of business owners and local communities may not be the same.    So, the LLTNPA’s main focus is on tourism businesses which may deliver good returns to their owners but are dependent – perhaps exploit would be a better word – a low paid workforce who earn so little they cannot afford to live in the National Park.   There is no discussion of what is basically a rentier economy, which is based on the provision of tourist accommodation (all those chalet parks) or the financial subsidies paid for by the public for hydro power which are flowing to the City of London.  Most of the income generated within the area provides no benefit to the National Park or the people who still manage to live there.   In the Cairngorms National Park Authority Plan there was at least implicit recognition of this in the statistics which demonstrated average pay in the Cairngorms National Park was well below the Scottish average.  The LLTNPA plan is devoid of evidence and the only indication that this might be an issue is a reference to the total population and population of working age in the National Park declining.

 

The vision also says nothing about sustainable development.  The vision is of people working IN a high quality environment, which just happens to be there, there is no recognition this natural environment has been moulded by people andthere is NOTHING about sustainable land-use.  This fits with the conservation and land-use section of the plan (see here) which similarly has no vision or plan for how land-use could become more sustainable.  The natural qualities of the National Park are simply there to be used: the  “Park’s unique environment and special qualities provide many opportunities for economic growth and diversification.”     I couldn’t find a single proposal about how land-use or wider economy could be diversified in this section of the plan – its all being left to the private sector, the miracles of the market.

 

The complacency of the LLTNPA and its unwillingness to look at the real issues is staggering:

 

“Overall, our rural economy in the Park is performing well with growth in accommodation, outdoor recreation, infrastructure improvements, and food and drink offering over recent years. We have also seen a notable rise in development activity, particularly in renewables, housing and tourism investment. However, we are still facing significant challenges for the rural economy of the National Park.”

 

If the economy of the Park was really thriving one would expect there to be an increase in population, not a decrease.  There is no proper analysis of what the challenges are or that the economy in the Park is benefitting the few, not the many.

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities

 

The very first action point under Rural Development shows the Park’s true priorities:

 

“Delivery of the key sites and infrastructure in Arrochar, Balloch and Callander, as well as villages identified as Placemaking Priorities identified in LIVE Park, the National Park’s Local Development Plan”.

 

This is parkspeak for the delivery of Flamingo Land at Balloch (see here) and the development of the torpedo site at Arrochar (see here).  Neither has anything to do with sustainable economic development.

 

The other main development priority appears to be hydro schemes – the number of new hydro schemes being a measure of success.  Nowhere in the plan is there any indication of the impacts of such schemes on landscape or river catchments.

 

Almost all the other action points either re-inforce the Park’s development plan, are so vague as to be meaningless or miss the point.

 

Outcome 1 is basically a repeat of the Local Development, which (apart from the Flamingo Land and Torpedo site) is about matters such as enhancing the environment in existing settlements.

 

Outcome 2 is about providing support for business, from improving broadband to provision of workshop space – there is not a proposal in it about how the Park could help businesses based on the National Park’s special qualities (eg timber businesses) or how the LLTNPA could use its purchasing power to assist local businesses (e.g it has purchased shipping containers for toilets rather than commissioning local businesses to provide buildings fitting for the local environment).    The Park says it wants to increase the number of business start up when the reality is that a few businesses are actually increasing their grip on the economy in the National Park particularly in the tourism sector  (see here).

 

Outcome 3 sees the answer to population decline as training young people and getting more affordable housing provision.   Actually, its investment in the economy that creates jobs and the problem in the LLTNPA is that while there has been investment (eg construction of hydro schemes) this has been short-term and generates very few long-term paid jobs.   Requiring a proportion of new housing to be “affordable” will do nothing to address the basic issue.

 

Outcome 4 is about empowerment of local communities.  There is no mention of the Park’s track record on this (when it matters, they have consistently ignored view of local communities (e.g giving the go-ahead for new housing by the LLTNPA HQ in Balloch and ignoring the Strathard Community Council’s concerns about the size of the Loch Chon campsite).   As with the CNPA Partnership Plan there is no mention of supporting those communities to take over control of land, which is the main resource in the National Park, not even in areas where the FCS is the main landowner.  Until our National Parks grapple with Land Reform, claims to be empowering local communities should be taken with a large dose of salt.

 

What needs to be done

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for rural development in the National Park:

 

  1. The public sector and public sector investment needs to be put at the centre of sustainable rural development but everything the public sector does (from new roads to land-use) should be tailored to the National Park’s conservation and recreational objectives.
  2. There should be no place for large scale tourist developments which destroy the special qualities of the Park (Flamingo Land) and the focus within tourism should be on improving pay and conditions (including living conditions) of those who work in the sector.
  3. The National Park Plan should be driving forward changes in land-use from large scale intensive conifer forestry, sheep farming and hunting to alternative uses.    This could start with the Forestry Estate and the production of a plan to change the way the Argyll Forest Park is managed, so landscape and biodiversity are put first, and new community models of forestry which would create new jobs locally.
July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Apologies to readers but due to problems with internet connectivity I was not able to get this post on (or next on rural development) out last week as intended.   The consultation on the National Park Partnership Plan (see here) closes today.

 

The LLTNPA’s visitor priorities are wrong

 

The second section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) is titled Visitor Experience.  I hate the term (it was also used by the Cairngorms National Park Authority) because its being used to change what National Parks should be about.  Instead of enabling people to enjoy the landscape for itself, and being free to do so, our National Park Authorities now appear to believe their role is about giving people an experience – often it seems something to be paid for – whether or not that experience has anything to do with outdoors.  This is a distortion of our National Park’s statutory objective in respect to visitors which is “to promote understanding and enjoyment, including enjoyment in the form of recreation, of the special qualities of the area by the public”.   Note the statutory objective relates to “the special qualities” of the National Park, not to the promotion of developments such as Natural Retreats or Flamingo Land.    Many of the failures of the LLTNPA and draft NPPP result from a departure from that statutory objective.

 

A good example is VE3, which is about the visitor economy:

 

“Businesses and organisations in the Park have taken great strides in adapting and innovating to better provide for the dynamic and ever changing tourism demand. The accommodation offering has seen many positive investments while the quality of food and drink has improved significantly. We have seen a strong increase in the number of people coming to the National Park for food and drink, up from 15% in 2011 to 44% in 2015. There has also been a rise in visitors using of self-catering, managed campsites and hotels from 2011 to 2015.”

 

Ignore the fact that there are now fewer places to camp in the National Park than ever before, ignore the failure of the NPPP to consider low pay and precarious jobs in the tourism industry, the LLTNPA appears to see promoting food and drink as important, if not more so, than enabling people to enjoy the Great Outdoors (and is it really credible that the numbers of people visiting the National Park is up from 15% to 44%?).   The photo in this section, (left) speakers louder than words.

 

Tourism, whether appropriate or not, has become a substitute for sustainable economic development (the third statutory objective of the LLTNPA and subject of my last post on the NPPP).   This is the wrong starting point.   As the NPPP states, the vast majority of visitors to the National Park are day visitors from the Clyde conurbation.    Those people – I am one of them –  and overnight visitors visit primarily to enjoy the scenery and undertake recreational activities such as walking, cycling, boating or fishing.  We may of course spend some money – many hillwalkers for example enjoy a meal or a drink at the end of the day and this helps explain the success of enterprises like Real Foods at Tyndrum, while other people enjoy sitting out in pleasant surroundings (hence the success of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha?)  – but for most people this is a consequence of their visit, not a reason for it.

 

What appears to be happening though – and the Visitor Experience framework and the NPPP is an attempt to promote this further – is that the LLTNPA is prioritising the small minority of high spend visitors over the mass of people who visit the National Park:

 

“Our visitor profile has traditionally been characterised by high numbers of predominantly day visits that coincide with good weather. Historically this has meant a highly seasonal, weather dependent visitor economy that can give us very high volume visitor pressures in some of the most popular areas of the Park. These pressures can affect the quality of environment, visitor experience, economy and community life.”

 

Note how the LLTNPA claims that the high number of visitors on a few days of the year affects “the Visitor Experience”.  This is a version of the same old chestnut that there are too many people on the hill – the presence of other walkers destroys the experience.  Its elitist and the solution is obvious:  if you don’t like other people go somewhere else when its busy.    I am sure I am not the only person who avoids west Loch Lomond on public holidays but the large numbers of visitors at these times is an opportunity for the people who visit (to promote their own physical and mental wellbeing).    The LLTNPA however appears to see numbers as a problem rather than a challenge and so is trying to restrict visitors through the camping byelaws (300 places under the permit system instead of maximum counts of 850 tents previously), gating off and reducing the size of car parks (e.g on Loch Venachar) and introducing charges for visiting (car park charges, toilet charges etc).  There is no attempt to analyse the implications some of which are touched on the in the Strategic Environemental Assessment:

 

“the new more stringent visitor management measures may erode certain personal freedoms (population and human health), negatively impacting the image of the National Park.”

 

Instead of attacking access rights, the LLTNPA should be addressing the shortfall in infrastructure  needed to support visitors, at both peak and non-peak periods.  This includes addressing the shortfall in  basic facilities which parkswatch has covered many times in the last year, particularly litter bins and toilets (no mention in the NPPP that this comes out as top need in all visitor surveys in the National Park), as well as more challenging improvements such as to transport infrastructure as recommended in the LLTNPA’s own Strategic Environment Assessment:

 

the vast majority of visitor journeys to the Park continue to be made by car. There remains a need to promote public transport options and encourage visitors to travel by alternative modes. There are also opportunities to make travel to and within the Park “part of the experience” (e.g. linking longer distance cycle routes to public transport, investing in the seasonal waterbus service).”

The only improvement to public transport mentioned in the NPPP is the waterbus.    While the CNPA are committed to improving public transport in Glenmore, the LLTNPA has no plans to encourage the provision of public transport to Rowardennan, despite Ben Lomond being completely inaccessible to the large proportion of people who reside in the Clyde conurbation who don’t have a car.   This should be a national scandal.

 

Parkspin

 

The Visitor Experience section is peppered with parkspin, which is made possible from the lack of evidence in the plan and the failure to review progress in the previous plan (see here). This is a post-truth neo-liberal world full of soundbites and where evidence doesn’t count.  Here are a few examples:

 

  • “focus on raising the level of ambition, to ensure that the quality of visitor experience in the National Park is truly world class.”

Comment: actually, what most visitors want the National Park to do is provide basic facilities such as toilets and ensure litter is picked up.  The scenery doesn’t need ambition, it needs practical protection (there is no consideration of how all the new hydro tracks in the National Park contribute to the world class visitor experience).

 

  • “Boating and fishing continue to be popular and the availability of boating facilities (publicly-accessible piers, pontoons and moorings) continues to fall short of demand”. (VE2)

Comment: this is the same National Park that shut the Milarochy Launching pad without consultation just a few months ago.

 

  • “The West Highland Line offers an outstanding rail experience but opportunities to come here via local stations are currently under-promoted” (VE3).

Comment: last year (see here) the LLTNPA failed to respond to the reduction in cycle places on trains on the West Highland Line. Perhaps its now seen the light?   The West Highland Line though needs more than promotion for people to use it.  A timetable that worked for day visitors and a bus link for hillwalkers to the Arrochar Alps would be a start.

 

  • “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites. This approach has achieved transformational improvements to East Loch Lomond and parts of The Trossachs through the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan.”(VE4).

Comment: the reality is that there has been some (not much) public investment, much of which has been wasted (for example £150k to date on camping management signs), the toilets the Park operates are closed for much of the year and most of the excellent proposals in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan have been dropped (eg for new toilets, camping areas, litter bins and wood piles for people to use) without any public explanation.

  • “There is scope for us to further develop the role of the National Park to engage with a wider range of groups in society and support recreational enjoyment, responsible behaviour and stronger appreciation of the need to look after the environment.” (VE5)

Comment: the reality is the LLTNPA has a long history of failing to engage with recreational groups, who have been excluded from decision making processes. There is not a single proposal in the plan about how recreational and landscape interests could be given a real say in how the Park is run.

 

Commentary on Visitor Experience Outcomes and actions

VE1  Recreation opportunities

This heading is misleading, the content is about path provision.   There are outdoor recreational opportunities everywhere, the issue is what infrastructure is needed to support this.   There are some good practical proposals in this section – unlike most other sections of the plan –  which are about what the LLTNPA will do over the next five years to improve the path network.      Whether the investment is enough, however, is not considered – its not nearly enough – and all the financing is dependent on other bodies.

 

In my view what the plan should have done is evaluate the recreational infrastructure – is it sufficient to meet demand, what state is it in? – and then set out a case for what resources are needed.    The Mountains for People project is great but it only tackles a small number of paths predominantly on publicly owned land.  What is the LLTNPA going to do to address path erosion on other hills?   Do the existing state management plans, which the LLTNPA has refused to release under FOI, contain any plans for paths?  (see here) The NPPP gives a nod to the problem “finding long term solutions to ensure the existing network is maintained and promoted to a high standard”  but contains no ideas let alone any proposals for how this might be addressed.   How about a bed night tax as is common in the French National Parks?   A small levy on overnight visitors would go a long way, as would car park charges if they were spent on paths rather than on trying to restrict access.

 

The absence of any context  makes it hard to interpret the commitment to review core paths.  Does the LLTNPA think these are sufficient or insufficient?  We are given no idea.   There should be a clear aspiration to increase the core path network.

 

VE2 Water based recreation

 

This section lacks any concrete proposals.     The spin, “Ensuring larger lochs are managed to support and facilitate both water craft and other recreational uses  while maximising safety for all users” is contradicted by the the reality which includes the Milarrochy slipway on east Loch Lomond has been closed on spurious health and safety grounds (see here),  the former access point for canoes at Loch Chon has been blocked off and the Loch Venachar Quay which was gifted to the people of Callander to enjoy boating (and which happens to be adjacent to Venachar House, home of former convener Linda Mackay) has been planted with trees.  There is no analysis of why numbers of boats on Loch Lomond have dropped – the water byelaws are asserted to be a success – and no practical proposals to make access to the water easier.  Instead the LLTNPA is focussing on supporting high profile mass events, such as swimming, which depend on volunteers from the boating community for stewarding.    The Loch Lomond Association, which represents all water users on the Loch, is not included as a stakeholder – that says it all!   The development of a meaningful plan should have started with the people who use the lochs (just as plans for camping should have started with the people who camp).

 

VE3 on tourism businesses

 

Priority action 1 says it all:  “Encouraging and supporting new and established tourism businesses to innovate and collaborate to  capitalise on growth markets………………”.    The section then goes on to talk about “recreation activity offerings” and “accommodation offerings” and states the LLTNPA wishes to encourage private sector and other investment in facilitiies for motorhomes and lower cost accommodation.   Nowhere does the Park set out what provision it sees as being needed or what investment might be required.   That is another abdication of responsibility.  The LLTNPA however apparently would prefer to leave not just delivery of facilities but also their planning to the market.   Why have a NPPP or a National Park Authority if you don’t believe in planning?

VE4 Visitor Management

 

This section states its about popular areas and management of visitor pressures but again is not based on any analysis. Its proposals show that the LLTNPA has learned nothing in the last two years from the criticisms of the camping byelaws.

 

The first priority action, which is the Park’s way of saying that it wants the camping byelaws to continue, is both meaningless and now defunct after the LLTNPA’s decision that it can no longer limit the number of campervans/motorhomes (see here): “Ensuring that the Camping Management Zones (WestLoch Lomond, Trossachs , Trossachs North and East Loch Lomond) support improvements to the environment and visitor experience through providing for sustainable levels of camping and motorhome use alongside other visitor activities.in the camping management zones

 

The second priority action “Agreeing an approach to ensuring the sustainable and responsible use of the Loch Lomond islands” is code for extending the camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond islands which the Board has already agreed in principle to look at. No evidence is provided to show that there is a problem that needs addressing and the failure of the LLTNPA to be open about this is another indictment of how it operates.

 

On the third priority action, while its a step forward that the LLTNPA has recognised the litter at the head of Loch Long as a problem that needs addressing (but if this, why not the litter along the A82 or fly tipping?), the inclusion of this action point under a section dealing with visitor management is incomprehensible. The litter at the head of Loch Long is not created by tourists but comes from the Clyde.  The Park’s reference to “innovative solutions” is devoid of content and therefore meaningless – what’s needed are resources to clear up the mess.

 

The fourth priority on developing parking and traffic management measures appears to be “code” for the further introduction of car parking charges. There is nothing in the consultation asking what people think about this – another indication that this is not a proper consultation at all.

 

VE5 Diversity of visitors

 

The actions in this section are again in my view meaningless. While the LLTNPA recognises that getting outdoors is good for people’s health and also its difficult for many people in the Clyde conurbation to get to the National Park, there is no analysis of how its existing visitor management measures have impacted on this (the camping bylaws hit the poorest most) and not a single proposal for how the LLTNPA could make the National Park more accessible  (A contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority who, for example, recognised there are issues about who accesses outdoor education).    The Park’s plan is to engage with health boards – is this really going to sort out the mess it has created?    If the Park really wanted to encourage people it would not have constructed its new campsite at Loch Chon, only accessible by car. The LLTNPA claims the National Park offers a range of quality outdoor learning experiences, again with any analysis. The reality is that outdoor education provision has been hit hard by the cuts while organised groups like Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Scouts (which are working hard to welcome a wider range of young people) now face the bureaucratic rigmarole of having to apply for exemptions to the camping permit system.   Judging by the number of such exemptions, most are voting with their feet.

 

What the LLTNPA needs to do

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for promoting understanding and recreation which depends on the National Park’s special qualities:

 

  1. The LLTNPA needs to re-write its plan  so it focuses on outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside, not “the visitor experience” and base this on proper evidence and an analysis of what it has/has not achieved since it was created.
  2. The LLTNPA needs fundamentally to change its approach to visitor management from seeing visitors as a problem to recognising the right of people to enjoy the countryside.  This means dropping the existing camping byelaws and the proposals to extend them to the Loch Lomond islands and reversing other measures designed to reduce visitor numbers (such as removing gates from car parks)
  3. The LLTNPA needs to get back to basics in terms of recreational provision, developing a plan describing what infrastructure is needed from litter bins and toilets to new paths and improved public transport.   This should set out what can be funded from existing sources (there is money to invest, for example from Forestry Commission Scotland, through various land management grants or even from hydro schemes) and what additional investment is needed