Month: August 2017

August 16, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
An Camas Mor visualisation from 2008 re-submitted February 2017.  ACM is in the Cairngorm National Scenic Area.

On Friday the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee will consider a revised planning application for An Camus Mor (see here), the proposed new town across the Spey from Aviemore. (Click here for link to the Park’s planning portal and all 236 documents associated with the application). The main change proposed by the the application is to vary planning condition 1, which restricted the development to 630 houses (out of a potential 1500)  until the impact of this initial phase of the development on landscape and ecology had been completed.   Instead the applicants, An Camas Mor Limited Liability Partnership, the development vehicle of the landowner, Johnnie Grant of Rothiemurchus, are proposing a phased approach.

 

The abandonment of the precautionary approach

 

There is no explanation, from either the applicant or the Park about why the planning application needs to be varied.   The applicant’s letter 2017_0086_DET-SECTION_42_COVER_LETTER-100124269 claims that “The proposed change to condition 1 is essential to facilitate appropriate phasing of the development as the Design Team moves towards implementation of the development” without explaining why.  The Park’s Committee Report repeats this claim without explaining what it means.

 

The Committee report then fails to consider the proposed changes in relation to the precautionary principle or the National Park’s statutory objectives, which state that when their is a conflict between any of the Park’s statutory objectives, in this case sustainable economic development and conservation, conservation should come first.    That there is a conflict is clear from para 24 of the Committee Report:

 

SNH advise that the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on:
a) The Capercaillie qualifying interest of Cairngorms SPA (Special Protection Area for birds), Abernethy Forest SPA, Kinveachy Forest SPA, Anagach Woods SPA and Craigmore Wood SPA;
b) The acidic scree, alpine and subalpine heath, blanket bog, dry heath, wet heath, plants in crevices on acid rocks, and otter qualifying interests of Cairngorms SAC; and
c) The otter, Atlantic salmon, fresh water pearl mussel, and sea lamprey qualifying
interests of River Spey SAC.

 

Under the original condition,  if the development of this site had a larger impact than was being predicted or could be mitigated – and the whole site is basically surrounded by protected sites, including those important to the Capercaillie which once again is close to extinction in Scotland – it could be halted.   Johnnie Grant is now effectively asking for this limit on the development to be waived and the Park’s officers, in recommending the application is approved, are agreeing with him.  Its difficult to see any justification for this in conservation terms.

 

So why is this happening?  The most likely explanation is that the proposed change is being driven by financiers who will want guaranteed returns.  As a result of the infrastructure costs associated with developing the site (building new roads, relocating wildlife etc), it is likely that it will only be when house numbers reach a certain figure – probably over 630 – that the profit will really start rolling in.   Hence the reason for this application.    The financiers want to remove the risk that the development will not be highly profitable and the main risk of this happening in Planning Condition 1.   Money, it appears,  is more important than conservation in our National Parks.

 

Had the National Park officers been recommending that the development be reviewed and potentially halted at each phase of the development, that would have strengthened the precautionary approach, but unfortunately that is not what is being proposed.  Once the go-ahead is given for the whole development, and the block plan for the proposed housing has already been approved, it will become impossible to stop, whatever the evidence of impacts on the natural heritage.  In effect under a phased plan all the CNPA will be able to do is comment on matters of detail, not the wider impacts of the development.

The environmental impact of the proposed development and the implications for access rights

The main new document associated with the proposal is a 240 page Habitat Regulations Appraisal (HRA) dated 20th June, but which was only made public on Monday when it was uploaded to the CNPA planning portal, and which was drafted by CNPA staff with support from SNH (Appendix 4 of the Committee Report).

 

The HRA starts out by stating that the An Camus Mor Development will have a “likely significant effect” on no less than seven protected European sites:  Abernethy Forest Special Protection Area (SPAs protect  birds); Anagach Woods SPA; Cairngorms SPA; Craigmore Wood SPA; Kinveachy Forest SPA; Cairngorms SAC (Special Area of Conservation – protects things other than birds); River Spey SAC.       Basically the reason for this is 1500 new households at An Camus Mor will go out into the neighbouring countryside, which happens to be these protected areas, to do everything from walking dogs to mountain biking (and the people likely to be attracted to live at An Camas Mor, like Aviemore, are likely to be more active than most of the population).

 

The Habitats Regulations Appraisal however says that these impacts can be mitigated.  While there is a huge amount of detail (much of which is highly debateable in the report) In a nutshell what it is saying is that the CNPA and developer can compensate for additional recreational impacts from a larger resident population around Aviemore by reducing existing recreational impacts.  The outcomes required to mitigate for An Camus Mor and the measures that will be needed to make this happen are set out for each part of each protected area (hence the length of the document).   While the Habitat Regulations Appraisal at one place suggest these outcomes only apply to An Camus Mor residents there is no way of course of differentiating between local residents and visitors and, as phrased, most of the outcomes will affect everyone.  Here is the example for Inshriach, which is not exactly next door to An Camas Mor:

What this is saying is that in order to compensate for An Camas Mor, access rights will be restricted, so off path recreational facilties will stop and both residents and visitors will have to keep to “promoted existing routes”.   This is far more draconian than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park byelaws and if implemented would in effect end access rights in large parts of the Cairngorms National Park.  Worryingly, the document even states that byelaws are a measure of last resort.   So, the CNPA is in effect proposing to sacrifice access rights to enable An Camas Mor to go ahead.   This is a national scandal and should not be being decided by the Planning Committee of the National Park.

 

There are all sorts of other implications for access to, as is clear from the measures proposed for Glenmore:

 

 

What this in effect says is that in order to enable the An Camas Mor development to go ahead existing car parks will be reduced in size or blocked off completely, certain access routes will be blocked off, particularly for mountain bikers etc etc.   Just how this fits with the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, which was agreed less than a year ago, in unclear.    And similar measures are proposed for much of the rest of Speyside.   The implications for recreation and tourism are huge and yet there has been no public consultation.   There needs to be and the Planning Committee should refuse to take a decision until there has been full public consultation on the CNPA’s Habitats Regulations Appraisal otherwise it will be digging a very very deep hole for itself.    I am confident that if consultation did take place on the proposed mitigation measures, the proposals will collapse.

 

So, what is the explanation for  what is going on?

 

In 2014 the Scottish Government paid Johnnie Grant £7.2m for part of the Rothiemurchus estate in a secret deal (see here).    The question as to why Johnnie Grant needed to sell this land, or why the Government needed to purchase it when it was not at any risk, has never been answered.  One possible explanation is that Johnnie Grant needed to raise funds to help finance the An Camas Mor development.  If even an element of this £7.2 has been or is going to be spent on An Camas Mor, the Scottish Government has already been effectively helping to finance the development.

 

Whatever the case, there is a statement in the applicant’s letter that since the original planning application it has had:

 

Discussions with the Scottish Government and its advisors around advancing the design
and planning process in order to get to a point where Infrastructure Loan Funding for exceptional external infrastructure can be released for this project.

 

This appears to indicate that the Scottish Government is fully behind this application.    It would take a very strong National Park Board to reject the Scottish Government’s wishes and the suspicion has to be that both senior staff and Board have not approached this according to matters of principle, but rather are doing what they have been told to do.  To repeat, because of the implications for access of their proposed mitigation measures, they are digging a very deep hole for themselves.

Osprey on post at centre ACM, June 2016 which it was still using in August 2016. Photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

The suspicion of a stitch-up is re-inforced by the failure of the Committee Report to consider more up to date information on the wildlife to be found on the An Camas Mor site.  The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, who have been looking at the wildlife on the site for some time and discovered a number of species not reported in the original planning application (see here for brilliant photos of the wildlife), have been asking the Park for updated environmental surveys for some time.   Earlier this week, the CNPA at last added a survey on badgers to the planning portal but at the same time redacted most of the content.  Presumably someone doesn’t want the public to know how many badgers may be affected by the development because badgers are likely to arouse more public support than bugs.

 

More importantly, the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group had been asking for a copy of the Habitats Regulations Assessment for weeks.  The CNPA refused to provide this, on the grounds they planned to publish this,  which they eventually did this Monday – despite the massive implications for access rights.   The CNPA apparently expects the BSCG and Cairngorms Campaign, both of  have both asked to address the Committee on Friday, to be able to assimilate and respond to this 240 page document in four days.  That’s not right, although this situation has been partly mitigated – excuse me using that term – because SNH, to their credit, did agree to release the information.

 

Why the secrecy? I had expected better of the CNPA.  And what is the CNPA scared about?     I hope I have provided enough information here for some Board Members to start asking some searching questions.

 

The level of support for the proposals

 

Despite a sustained local campaign to raise support for the proposal – see the ACM leaflet May 2017  which was delivered to every house in the Aviemore area – there were only 12 general expressions of support for the revised An Camas Mor planning application. “Of those supporting, nine were from individuals (eight from Aviemore and one from Pitlochry) and the remainder werefrom Visit Scotland, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Aviemore Sports Centre”    This compares to 23 general objections of which “16 were from individuals (from Aviemore, Kingussie, Nethy Bridge, Aboyne, Bettyhill, Broughty Ferry, Comrie, Ellon, Dunblane, Glasgow, Inverness, Limekilns in Fife, East Molesey in Surrey, Kendal and Wirral in Merseyside). The remainder were from the North East Mountain Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Campaign for National Parks, The Cairngorms Campaign, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.”

 

This is hardly an indication of high levels of support for the proposals, a factor which usually influences the politicians.   Part of the reason why may be because people working in Aviemore who currently don’t have suitable housing are not convinced that An Camas Mor will meet their housing needs.  When they learn it may affect their access rights too – and there is a much higher proportion of people who mountain bike in Aviemore than the rest of the country – they might actually start to oppose the whole development.   I hate to say this, but it looks like someone in the CNPA has reached the same conclusion, which is why the Habitats Regulation Appraisal has only been published at the last minute (I am happy to give the Park a right of reply on parkswatch to explain their position).

 

The wider picture

 

The big question is why, having created National Parks to protect parts of Scotland which are particularly important for conservation and recreation, are they in a position where much of their time and resources is devoted to developing new towns, leisure developments like Flamingo Land and inappropriate developments up mountains?.  Surely our National Parks were created to do things differently?

 

I can understand our politicians wanting to create jobs and build better places for people to live – I think this is necessary too – but to do this in the same old ways, basically giving land over developers to produce yet more inappropriate developments, shows a complete lack of imaginative thinking or ideas of how to promote sustainable economic development.      Both our National Parks need an alternative economic strategy, and to pioneer new paths to sustainable economic development.

 

Added to the inappropriateness of developments such as An Camas Mor, is the fact that its located adjacent to Glenmore, the place most under pressure in the whole of the Cairngorms National Park.  Why then is the CNPA directing development to the very area that can least support it?   There are plenty of other places, such as Dalwhinnie and Laggan, which could sustain further development and if developed would help spread visitor load.    Instead, the implications for all those who currently enjoy visiting Glenmore is that in order to offset the impact of more people living locally (and cycling or walking their dog in Glenmore) new visitor management measures will be introduced which will have a drastic impact on access rights.   This means this development has implications for the whole recreation community, including people who go to Glenmore to enjoy wildlife.

 

The big test for the CNPA on Friday is whether it will put the needs of the developer and the wishes of politicians before  its duty to promote conservation and public enjoyment of the countryside.

August 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

One of the priority actions under the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan was to develop long-term Land Management Plans across the National Park, an objective that everyone with an interest in land-use and landscape should support.   Interested to understand what progress had been made, I asked the LLTNPA for copies of all plans that been agreed and in June the LLTNPA informed me (see here) that plans had been agreed with 18 private businesses “which equates to 29% of all privately owned land in the National Park”  – exceeding their 25% target.  However, they refused to release any of the Plans that had been agreed on the grounds they were commercially sensitive.  To me, this seemed bizarre, surely how land is being managed in our National Parks is a matter of public interest and should be public?

 

I therefore asked for a review of this decision EIR 2017-043 Review request and this week received a response, EIR REVIEW 2017-043 Response estate plans.  This claims that these land management are so full of commercially sensitive information – which can be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act in certain circumstances – that they cannot be released.   The implications of the Park’s claims for Land Reform and land-use management are profound.   What the Park is in effect saying is that because the plans contain commercially sensitive information they will not release the information these plans contain relating to the Park’s statutory objectives to conserve the landscape and wildlife, promote public enjoyment of the countryside and sustainable use of resources.  Among other things the following would now appear, according to the Park, to be state secrets:

  • agreements made with landowners to manage deer numbers and reduce the impact of deer grazing on the environment
  • agreements made with landowners to improve recreational infrastructure, such as car parks or campsites
  • agreements made with landowners about how land could be managed to reduce the risk of flooding
  • plans to protect vulnerable species or to control predator
  • plans for future developments, such as hydro schemes

In effect the Park is claiming that agreements it makes with landowners on how land should be managed are secret and not a matter of public interest.   This is totally wrong and contradicts National policy.

 

The Scottish policy position

 

Last year the Scottish Government issued a revised Land-use strategy for Scotland 2016-21 http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505253.pdf  under the title “Getting the best from our land” – note the “our”.   Here are some relevant extracts:

 

a) Under “Principles Land Use” “People should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future.”

How can people, including local communities, contribute to land-use decisions in the National Park if information about land-use is secret?

 

b) Under “Our Vision” “A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.”

How can we know if decision the Park is making with landowners about land-use are delivering “improved and enduring benefits” if these decisions are secret?

 

c) The Land Use Strategy also supports the three underpinning principles in A Stronger Scotland, The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16.  The third of these is “making sure that we encourage and facilitate participation by everyone in the debates and decisions that matter to them most, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds”

How does the LLTNPA’s secret agreement with landowners support this objective?

 

d) Under “Our Objectives”  “Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.”
How do secret management plans enable more people to positively influence land-use?
e)  “Our Objective to maximise the opportunities for land to deliver multiple economic, environmental and social benefits is still valid and at the heart of this second Land Use Strategy.
In 2011 we published an information note on Applying an Ecosystems Approach to Land Use…………(which)….. “summarised the three key steps which are important when using an ecosystems approach, these are:
• considering natural systems;
• taking account of the services that ecosystems provide; and
• involving people.”
How does keeping management plans secret involve people?

f) 2.5 Land Use and Communities “We are all part of a community. A community can be based on its location (for example,people who live, work or use an area) or common interest (for example, the business community, sports or heritage groups). Both need to be at the heart of decisions about  land use because land is at the core of our communities. It provides places for us to live, work, and enjoy recreation………………When people can influence what happens in their community and contribute to delivering change, there can be many benefits. Pride in the local community can increase, people may be more inclined to go outdoors and be active, or have the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables and eat more healthily. All of these things improve people’s physical health, mental wellbeing and overall quality of life.   It has also been shown that most people feel that they should be involved in local land use decisions beyond the rights already provided by the statutory planning system; this is why we need to encourage better connections between communities and the land.”

So according to the Scottish Government involving people should be central to land-use – except in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park it would appear.  The LLTNPA is not only failing to consult on land-use decisions, its keeping information about the basis of those decisions secret.  And our National Parks are supposed to demonstrate best practice!     Its worth noting here that the Cairngorms National Park Authority does publish estate management plans.  While they are far from perfect, in fact in many cases so general as to be meaningless, at least what the CNPA is doing is public and provides a basis for debate.   It appears that the LLTNPA would prefer that not to happen.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that at some level the LLTNPA has in effect been taken over and is being run for landowner and business interests rather than the public interest.

Land management plans and freedom of information

The Park makes two interesting statements in its Review Response refusing to make land management plans public.

The first is that “there is commercially sensitive information throughout the documents, such information is not discretely held within one part of the document. The plans also contain copies of reports provided by third party consultants on the viability of businesses and future plans.”   Now, while I am sceptical about how far landowners have provided commercially sensitive information to the National Park, if there is indeed commercial information inserted throughout the plans, the obvious solution – apart from redacting the commercially sensitive information which would be a lot of work – is to redesign the plans so that business information is held in a separate document which would not need to be made public.   This would make it easy to publish plans which set out the agreements made  with landowners – e.g deer numbers, extent of woodland restoration, plans for new paths – without the financial information that underpins the delivery of this.   Having said this, where work is to be financed through public funds, I see no reason why this information should not be public.  Its should be in the public interest, for example, to know what Forestry Commission Scotland intends to grant aid.

The second is the LLTNPA’s statement  that “the ILMPs have been put together with businesses within the National Park on the understanding that this information is not shared publically (sic)”.   My understanding of Freedom of Information law is that this is totally wrong: public authorities cannot get round the Freedom of Information Act by making private agreement with landowners or anyone else that the information will not be public.   That is why in every public tender and contract clauses are included which state that any information provided is subject to the provisions of Freedom of Information law.   The LLTNPA statement suggests once again that its being driven by landowning and business interests, not the public interest.

What needs to happen

While I will appeal to the Information Commissioner – the National Park cannot be allowed to drive a cart and horses through our Freedom of Information legislation – this is a matter that the LLTNPA Board need to address.   I believe they need to:

  • Require staff to re-design estate management plans so that information that is legitimately confidential is separated out from decisions that are being made about land-use
  • Consider how to consult and involve the public in the development of land management plans as per Scotland’s Land-use Strategy
  • Commit to publishing all plans that have been agreed so far as soon as possible
August 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
On Day 2 on the Alta Via 2, one of the great walking trails of the world, we met three path workers, one with a pick axe and the other two with shovels, employed by the Puez Odle Nature Park, conducting routine path maintenance. In three weeks in the Dolomites I came across two other teams of pathworkers doing path maintenance, something which is unimagineable in Scotland. Local jobs for local people.

I have just returned from the Dolomites to find extensive media coverage on how Scotland is failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to support visitors.  On Skye, there are claims that the island has reached the limit in terms of the number of visitors it can sustain (see here), while in Orkney suggestions of a tourist tax (see here) on luxury cruise liners to fund infrastructure have been predictably dismissed under the neo-liberal mantra that all tax is bad.    I suspect most Italians would be astonished by the way these debates are framed in Scotland.   The evidence on the ground from the Dolomites is that far more money is being invested in tourism infrastructure than in Scotland and there are far more visitors, with consequent benefits both to people and to the economy.   We saw signs saying tourism in the Dolomites is worth £50bn a year and, while this is considerably boosted by downhill skiing, it dwarfs the latest figure for tourism spend in Scotland of £8.9bn.   In this post I will consider how investment in footpaths in Scotland compares to the Dolomites.

 

Back in July, in a very welcome article in the Scotsman (see here) Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, raised the need to think about how we pay for paths in our National Parks.   This in my view is exactly what our National parks should be doing – instead of pretending all is rosy and that they are managing on ever decreasing budgets – they should be articulating a new vision for the future and how this could be funded, which could then incidentally be adopted by other places like Skye and Orkney.

 

Unfortunately the heading of the article (which was no doubt inserted by a sub-editor)  – “freedom to roam is a costly business” – reflects the prevailing negative stance towards access in Scotland by the establishment, which sees everything in terms of cost not opportunity.    In fact, the amounts Grant Moir referred to are tiny.  So, the CNPA has spent £10m on paths in 15 years – that’s just £666k a year – and requires at least £500k a year to maintain paths.   Compare that to the £3bn that the Scottish Government has committed to pay for the dualling of 80 miles of the A9.   If just 1% of that – £30m – were spent on paths along the A9 corridor over the next ten years the CNPA and neighbouring local authorities would be awash with money to spend on paths.  Instead, the CNPA at present has to rely on Heritage Lottery funding, the £3.2m awarded in 2015 over 5 years for the Mountains and People project which covers both our National Parks.

 

Paths in the Dolomites

 

The path network in the Dolomites is far more extensive than what we have in Scotland and this is partly for historical reasons.

Military path in the Belluna National Park

 

Most people are probably aware that the Dolomites was the setting for major battles in the first world war in which 750,000 Italians died and which saw an extensive network of paths/tracks and via ferrata constructed high up in the mountains.    These now form the base for the mountain path network.   By contrast our own military roads, with a few notable exceptions such as along the West Highland Way, tend, because of their location along the floors of straths, to have become part of the trunk road network.

Path in woods above Predazzo – still used to extract timber.

The Dolomites also, however, have far more paths lower down.   I was based for a time in a lovely small town called Predazzo which is surrounded by forest.   I had no map to the area but no need of one.  Whatever way I left the town – and I did four runs in four different directions – I came across a multitude of path options.   The paths in the woods appear to exist because local people have worked the forests for centuries – the commune that runs Predazzo is 800 years old – a contrast to Scotland where people were cleared from the land and few paths were needed for work purposes, the main exception to this being our fine stalking paths.  These are thin on the ground however in comparison to the historic path legacy in the Dolomites.

Mule track onto Pale San Martino, reputedly constructed by a Count so his disabled daughter could experience the amazing scenery

The Dolomites, and indeed many other places in Europe including England, have had a head start over Scotland in terms of path infrastructure.   This was recognised in the discussions which led to our access legislation which identified a need for a more extensive path network: hence the provisions of the Land Reform Act about the creation of core path networks.   Unfortunately due to neo-liberal thinking, in which it is held a self-evident truth that nothing should be provided for free, and austerity the aspirations for a comprehensive path network have never been delivered (despite the efforts of many good people).     Instead our National Parks and other access authorities are left scrabbling for money.   This is quite a contrast to what I saw in the Dolomites.

Path, held together by logs, up scree slope south of Mulaz Hut – the nature of the ground in the Dolomites means that many paths would not exist without human ingenuity and engineering
An additional expense in Italy is the protection of paths with cabling – we have no equivalent in Scotland – but the creation and maintenance of such paths requires investment
A constructed log path from Rifugio Firenze/Regensburger Hut leads up this gully onto the Stevia plateau

While in the Dolomites I stayed in the Firenze Hut twice, the first as part of the Alta Via 2 when I walked up this path.   On my second visit to climb we found it closed, part of the path had been swept away in a great storm.    However, unlike the Cairngorms where – as Grant Moir states – people are still trying to find money to repair the damage from the great floods on Deeside, signs had gone up immediately saying what had happened and there was evidence the path was being repaired.   What I think this demonstrates is that path maintenance is a priority in Italy in a way that is unthinkable in Scotland.

Evidence of recent maintenance work could be seen along many paths: here a drainage hole has been created in order to create a sump for water running off a path

So why is this?  Part of the explanation I think lies in the power to make decisions and budgets to implement them being far more devolved than in Scotland.  In most of the huts we stayed in we paid a small tourism tax which is used to fund infrastructure locally.   Behind this though is a general appreciation that people want to experience the fantastic landscape of the Dolomites and what this requires is for people to be able to get out into those landscapes in the way they want.

Walkers coming off the lift from the summit of the Sas de Pordoi to walk over the Sella Plateau.  Many walk from here over to the summit of Piz Boe one of the 3000m peaks in the Dolomites and a superb viewpoint. The photo  illustrates the sheer numbers of people walking in the Dolomites and while the rocky terrain here can support these numbers, it also provides an illustration of the potential impact on the Cairngorm environment were the funicular ever to cease to be a closed system.

One of the best ways to do this is by providing paths.     This is backed by some interesting research (see here) which shows that satisfaction with the landscape is the biggest single factor influencing tourism spend:

 

 

 

 

A warning to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who are allowing much of the landscape of the National Park to be trashed through the creation of unnecessary new and poorly constructed forestry and hydro tracks.  What they should be focussing on is the creation of a quality path network.

An example of our failure to invest from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

The contrast between Scotland and the Dolomites is illustrated by these photos from Arrochar, which I received from reader Stephen Pimley, on arriving back in Glasgow.   Its only a tiny section of path, funded by multiple agencies, but I believe it tells an important tale.

 

Photo credit Stephen Pimley

 

Here is the problem in Stephen’s own words:  “I see tourists standing in a state of puzzlement in front of the overgrown brambles and conifer hedge.  They stand at the side of the road and move on………………I have raised a work request on the Argyll and Bute council but previous requests have been ignored.   Hopefully the fact that there are multiple ‘partners’ involved won’t lead to one of those desperate “its not my job!” situations”.

Photo Credit Stephen Pimley

The basic problem is that there is almost no money available for basic path maintenance.   Most of the paths through dense vegetation like this in the Dolomites are strimmed to keep them clear for walkers.   By contrast our public authorities seem to expect that volunteers should do this and, while there is a very active and committed group of volunteers in Arrochar – where the Community Council has been long trying to improve the local amenity of the area and without whom its doubtful whether any of the attempts to clear up the beach at the head of Loch Long would have happened – I have been informed most of these volunteers are now in their seventies.     They should not be having to do this.

 

Is it really too much to aspire for that there should be one part-time footpath maintenance worker available to every community in the National Park?    This would help keep young people in the villages, as happens in Italy.  It could even provide all the pathwork trainees on the Mountains and People project jobs in the longer term.   Instead, what is happening in our National Parks, is that pathwork is funded by one source of temporary funding after another rather than being treated as a core function of National Parks.

What needs to happen

  • I would like to see our National Parks learn and compare themselves to places in other countries, whether National Parks or not (only a small proportion of the Dolomites are designated as National Parks).
  • Grant Moir was right, a permanent solution to how we invest in paths in National Parks – and elsewhere in Scotland – needs to be found.   Both our National Parks should be taking a lead on this and this should include consideration of what investment needs to take place to enable Scotland to catch up in terms of path provision as well as how paths can be maintained.    Both our National Parks have made tentative steps in this direction but they should be using the evidence from places like the Dolomites to articulate a far more comprehensive vision.
August 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have been in the Dolomites a couple of weeks and had been hoping to write some posts about what Scotland National Parks could learn from Italy.  The photo tells a tale.  The Dolomites are almost completely free of litter.  This road, to the Sella Pass and a major through route is closed on Wednesdays 9-4pm except to bikes and buses (there are lots and they are cheap).   And everywhere there is provision for visitors.  And the Sella Pass is not even in a National Park

 

However I have been limited to trying to manage parkswatch through my phone (apologies for time taken to approve comments) and having a scheduled posts before leaving Scotland I am now going to take a break for a week or so as posting from a phone when out of the mountains is too laborious.

 

My thanks to all parkswatch regular readers and the many many people who have supplied information and photos over the last year.

August 2, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

This is the fifth in a series of articles about forestry in the National Park near where I live (see here)

The impact of windthrow

Forest ride obstructed by windfall.

 

The value of the trees relative to the difficulty of extraction and the dangers posed by windblown trees makes harvesting from areas like this problematic. In what seems to an amazing piece of ‘double talk’ these areas are to be retained as ‘amenity’ woodland.

 

During preceding forestry cycles, clear linear gaps were left between blocks of woodland. They are referred to as ‘rides’. Techniques of felling and extraction have become more mechanized so these no longer seem to be necessary, so current replanting is denser and without any equivalent means of access.

 

During previous cycles, the forest rides were an important means of informal access, to the open hillside above.

Managing woodland open space for wildlife – according to Forestry.gov.uk

What is a ride?

For the purpose of this document a ride is a linear open space within a wood derived from the need for access. Rides may have a hard surfaced track making up part of the width or more commonly are unsurfaced. The ride is usually made up of several zones. Most commonly ride consist of a central grass zone with a mixed herbaceous and shrub zone on one side or both sides.

 

The benefit of managed rides and open spaces

Sensitive management of open habitats introduces greater habitat diversity.

This encourages a larger range of species, adding diversity and additional interest for all types of recreation and sporting activities. Many species make use of the edge habitats for feeding due to higher herb layer productivity and larger invertebrate populations. A greater number of species inhabit the first 10metres of any woodland edge or ride edge than inhabit the remainder of the woodland’

 

Rides commonly became invaded by rhododendrons, fallen branches and wind blow, but it was possible to find a way through or around obstructions.

 

Obstructed water course, in a deep gully, where Rhododendron will reinvade. The debris has accumulated over decades, and demonstrates how little is done to develop the amenity value of the forest estate. Areas like this are not really suitable for modern mechanized clear fell and extraction methods.

Obstructed scenic water course

I have experience of impenetrable natural woodland, from trying to access open hillside in Canada, Brazil, Japan and Patagonia. This sort of scene seems natural, but it is within 300 m from a public road, and five minutes from my home. In the midst of a State managed forestry plantation, in a National Park, in an area designated as amenity woodland.

 

“[A woodland managed primarily for amenity rather than for timber, often with public access for outdoor pursuits such as walking, mountain biking and orienteering, or alternatively managed for game.]”

 

It could be a very scenic, all age and abilities walk, that would economically enhance the visitor experience.  Investment in such projects, during the 1980’s, gave employment, if only temporary and seasonal, and restored access to Pucks Glen, now one of the visitor attractions of Cowal.

Pucks Glen path.
Attractive exposure of rock revealing underlying geology

Created in the 19th Century, completely blocked by accumulating wind blow in the mid 20th Century, cleared and restored, by young local unemployed supervised by foresters during Y.O.P. schemes of the 1980’s

Impenetrable nature of the forest floor, replicated throughout the woodland close to habitation. Nobody, except the fit and determined, are likely to enter the forest, but anybody not used, or unable, to walk off tarmac roads is unlikely to try. Neighbors seldom venture into the forest, if at all, they are too fearful of getting lost or slipping and injuring themselves.

 

The underfoot conditions and obstructions distorts visitor feed-back, by eliciting from visitors requests for tracks to enable them to enter the woodland. I suspect this does not mean artificial, over engineered circular tracks, with deep boggy side drains and overgrown banks, but ‘brashed’ [side branches removed to above head height] woodland and clear forest floors in the immediate vicinity of parking places and scenic areas. This would allow people to go for a wander through the woods.

 

Clearing the forest floor and making it more accessible would probably be cheaper, and keep people more permanently employed, than creating circular tracks, which are difficult to get off, and are then not maintained.

 

Acidification of aquifers.

 

It was established in Scandinavia some time ago that acidification of the aquifers draining into lakes and rivers, arising from planting conifers close to the banks of streams, eventually resulted in the decline of fish stocks. The acid flushes resulting from heavy rain washing through foliage and forest floor litter, causes fish eggs to become toughened resulting in failure to hatch.

 

This has been recognized, but not acted on except at the headwaters of some tributories to major streams and rivers draining into waters popular with anglers. Little has been done locally, so angling seems to be less and less popular as there are so few fish. Migratory fish like salmon and sea trout have disappeared from the River Finart [other factors may have contributed to this such as netting the migratory fish as they swim up the coast].

 

A small experiment in restoration

An attempt to clear historic wind blow, to improve the quality of water contributing to a garden pond, which is so acid nothing seems to live, and toad and frog spawn never hatches. The effort has apparently improved the situation, as this year for the first time in thirty years, mallards visited the pond and found something to eat!   Note improved bio diversity along cleared stream edge.

Clearing the stream of debris and obstructions permitting the flow speed to increase, deepening the stream bed, lowering the water table and dried out the surrounding area, which is no longer an acid sphagnum bog. This improved the water quality of the pond, and improved bio diversity of the banks of the stream. It also restored access to the woodland.

 

The experiment convinced me that the manner in which forestry operations are carried out fundamentally damages the micro environment and degrades the full potential bio diversity. It is not necessary to watch a program about loss of habitat in some equatorial forest, it is happening in the artificial wet desert on our doorstep.

 

Post script

Current forestry practice has abandoned any activity that might encourage informal access within the woodland, between cycles of planting, thinning and clear fell. Access to the actual woodland, and possibilities of finding a way through it to the hillside above, has deteriorated.

 

Woodland in the immediate vicinity of habitation, or surrounding visitor attractions and facilities, described as ‘amenity’ woodland is virtually inaccessible and uninviting. Little if any attention is paid to the potential for informal active outdoor recreation.

 

View south from sandy bay to Ardentinny village

In many localities, the bio diversity is artificially restricted, and access possibilities of any description deteriorating, and in no way compensated for by walking along industrial forestry road infrastructure, from which it is difficult to escape.

 

The dense forestry is treated as a scenic back drop for visitors, rather than an opportunity to encourage recreational activity!