Large developments are, I believe, fundamentally incompatible with the whole concept of National Parks, wherever they are located across the world. National Parks are places where the natural environment should come first, not second. That’s why I, like many people, object to the An Camas Mor development in principle. We should not be building new towns in the Cairngorms, whether or not these impact on protected European sites or have implications for access by visitors (see here).
The most intensive building is proposed for the centre of the development in the areas marked red on the map below (the pole in the photos marks as I understand it the centre of the green circle on the map). The approved development proposals include buildings 3.5 storeys high. If you can see the Lairig Ghru from ground level at the centre of An Camus Mor, its quite obvious it will have a major impact on the landscape of Glenmore. Indeed, the impact of the development on the landscape was one of the reasons why the CNPA imposed the condition that the development could be halted after 630 houses had been built. The removal of that condition was the key change approved by the CNPA when it agreed to vary the original planning application this August.
After my visit to the site, I believe the map in the Committee report showing the boundary of the site and dating from 2009 is totally misleading.
Unsurprisingly, in order to sell the development, those acting on behalf of Johnnie Grant, the landowner, included plenty of illustrations from Gehl, world renowned architects, of what the built environment might look like (and numerous sustainability features) rather than showing what the new town would replace. Unfortunately very few people apart from quad bikers visit the site and experience for themselves what the developers are wanting to destroy. I think if they did, there would be an uproar. Yes, Gehl’s designs may be world-leading but these should be used for a new town somewhere else where they could be a credit to Scotland, not in a National Park. While the CNPA Board did visit the site before taking their decision, they were transported along a track by minibus – not the best way to see what it is really like.
An Camas Mor has had a variety of uses. Parts have been and still are used for grazing cattle (which probably explains open nature of woodland in photo above) and parts have been planted (with grant aid). In ecological terms however, much of the soil structure appears to be intact, which helps explain why, with trees regenerating, so much wildlife has now been recorded on the site.
Even where trees have been planted and the land ploughed, there has been regeneration, while old pines have been preserved. On my visit I saw Osprey, Red Squirrel, signs of badger and otter as well as rare funghi and various creepy crawlies (you can see excellent photos on the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group flickr album (see here)).
An Camas Mor, rewilding and the Cairngorms National Park
However, it is re-wilding. Paradoxically one of the reasons for this is the proposed new town. An Camas Mor has been left alone, allowing natural processes to take hold, while the land round about is intensively used.
The reason that the records of species found at An Camas Mor has increased is not just because there has been more recording – and part of the credit for that goes to the Badenoch and Strathspey conservation group rather than the developer – its because as a result of rewilding the wildlife on the site is improving the whole time. The longer its left, the more will be found. If the CNPA had insisted on proper surveys for the most recent application and compared these to all the species it has prioritised for protection in the National Park, it would have had lots of reasons not to agree to this development going ahead.