Month: December 2017

December 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Game bird rearing by General Wade’s military road north east of Luibleathan which appears to be on the Ralia Estate (its hard to tell exact boundaries from map) Photo July 2016

The £500 fine for a man who mistakenly shot a buzzard on a pheasant shoot raises some interesting questions about shooting in our National Parks.

The incident took place on the Ralia/North Drumochter estate – an estate in two parts – although its not clear which from the newspaper report.   While I have seen evidence of intensive pheasant rearing on the Ralia part of the estate (above) I have also seen buzzards on several occasions in and around the policy woodlands by North Drumochter Lodge (photo below), most recently in November.

Looking north west along the North Drumochter Lodge policy woodlands and A9 shelter belt towards Dalwhinnie

Aside from red grouse, I have seen very little bird or other wildlife on the North Drumochter Estate apart the Lodge buzzards and red deer (although I did see a Greater Spotted Woodpecker last time I was there).  What I have seen (see here) are lots of corvid and other traps.

Trap by Allt Beul an Sporain west of Balsporran Cottages

Such traps can catch buzzards.  That one can see buzzards quite easily on North Drumochter suggests that the Ralia/North Drumochter Estate tolerates or perhaps even likes them (releasing them from traps?) and it was quite possibly the estate that reported the man who shot the buzzard to the police.   Imagine a responsible keeper before a pheasant shoot briefing the shooting party and telling them to watch out for other birds who then realises one of their clients has ignored their instructions.    They would not just be very annoyed, they would also want to protect their reputation. Hence perhaps the report to the police.

Whether or not this is what actually happened, it should have.  It seems wrong that not even in our National Parks is there a requirement for shooters to be able to correctly identify what they are shooting, have the self-control not to shoot unless they are 100% certain their target is legitimate and have the skill to do so.    This is relevant to the long awaited review of grouse moor management:  any shooting license  should be dependant on shooters being properly briefed and trained and, where they are not and incidents such as this happen, the shooting license should be lost.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority could take a clear lead here by developing a code of good practice for shooting in the National Park.

While there is still some deliberate persecution of buzzards, the persecution that once confined them to the North West corner of Scotland has ended and allowed them to re-colonise the rest of the British Isles.   (I regularly see and hear buzzards in Pollok Park in Glasgow).   What this illustrates is that is that while in general shooting interests perceive some raptors, notably hen harrier and golden eagle, as threats others are tolerated and what is tolerated has changed over time.

Pheasants v grouse

In 2014 the Cairngorms National Park Authority with Scottish Land and Estates commissioned a report on the Social, Economic and Environmental Contribution of Landowners to the National Park (available here).   The research was in the form of a survey and there were 52 responses in all.  The the returns on shooting make interesting reading.

Extract from research commissioned by CNPA and Scottish Land and Estates in 2014

Now, not every landowner returned the survey and there may be problems with accuracy of the return (estates might not want to reveal their true income) but I was struck that pheasant shooting appears to bring in more income than driven and walked up grouse shooting combined.   If income was what mattered estates would be focussing on pheasant/partridge shooting – and one might have thought the animals that predate on pheasants –  rather than grouse.

 

What’s more, pheasant/partridge shooting not only provides more days shooting than driven grouse shooting, in terms of land-use it takes place over a much smaller area than grouse shooting.  As a consequence it produces far more income per hectare and – I would hazard – the costs per hectare are also a lot less.  No need to install lots of tracks and grouse butts.   Rearing pheasants, from an income perspective, appears far more rational than rearing grouse.

This, however, ignores the value of land which at present is driven by exclusivity rather than say ecological worth.  Landed estates are  valued by the number of deer or brace of grouse to be found on them because shooting red deer and red grouse has more social cachet than shooting, say, pheasants.  You can see some of this in the estate returns above:  the number of days pheasant shooting retained for family/personal use is 32 out of 396, less than 10%.    The number of driven days grouse shooting reserved for family/own use is 65 out of 230 or over 25%.  It appears that one is valued far more highly by owners than the other.

The converse to this is that any threat to what gives an estate its social cachet is a risk not just to the owner’s ability to enjoy what is so exclusive, it also threatens to undermine the price of the land and therefore their wealth.  The consequence is that hen harriers, which are perceived as a fundamental threat to red grouse, are being persecuted to extinction, whereas buzzards – which occasionally will take red grouse (they are generalist predators who prey on what they can catch) – are tolerated.

What pheasant shooting shows is that even from a fields sports perspective there are more productive forms of land-use than intensive grouse moor management:  planting or enable regeneration of woodland would enable more pheasants to be reared, which in return would allow greater revenue returns from the land.   The problem is land values and land-use are not decided rationally but by the tastes and culture of an elite and at present their focus is on grouse.  Until this is tackled raptors which commonly prey on grouse will be persecuted and others, which do not or do so only occasionally will be tolerated.

I don’t think the Cairngorms National Park Authority will be tackle the culture of the landed elite by persuasion.  As a consequence, whenever a raptor crime takes places in the National Park, they need not just to discuss this with the landowners concerned – and I hope they meet North Drumochter to establish exactly what happened – they should be considering what changes they could introduce to regulate shooting.

December 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 5 comments
Extract from Review of National Park Partnership Plan 2013-14

I have been trying since the summer to obtain copies of the “Land Management Plans” which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park claim to have agreed with certain landowners (my appeal is with the Scottish Information Commissioner).  The content of these plans seems to me important for understanding how far the LLTNPA are getting landowners to manage their land according to the National Park’s statutory objectives.    A couple of months ago however I realised that the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan for 2013-14 (extract above) claimed the pilot phase of these plans had been evaluated.   I assumed from this statement that there would be some sort of evaluation report of these management plans, which might even say what progress had been made in achieving National Park objectives, and so submitted another information request.  I received this response a month ago:

This  appears to confirm that the pilot was evaluated BUT the information provided  EIR 2017-071 evaluation land management plans Appendix A  consists of extracts of reports given to the National Park’s Delivery Group (which oversees progress against plans) and reference to Board updates.  There is nothing that remotely resembles an evaluation.  The nearest any extract gets to this is one which says “lessons have been learned” but without saying what!

I wrote to the Park’s Director of Conservation last week and asked if an evaluation report existed, yes or no, and so far have not had an answer.  LLTNPA senior staff appear to find such questions, which are about truth, not spin and marketing, difficult to answer.  Meantime, staff appear to have mislead both the Board – not the fault of the current Conservation Director, it was before his time – and the Minister.

Our Public Authorities talk a lot about values but when listing these, I cannot recall “truth” ever being mentioned.  Yet a commitment to truth should arguably underpin everything else our National Parks do.  Unfortunately, as with other Public Authorities, our National Parks have been under pressure to reduce spending while telling the world everything is going wonderfully and they can keep doing better on less.  Its been very hard in these circumstances for Boards to retain a clear eye on the truth.  What starts as spin and omissions, eventually becomes totally detached from reality and ends up a lie – little different to Donald Trump but said more nicely. The claim in the Review of the National Park Partnership Plan to have evaluated the land management plans pilots – exactly what the LLTNPA should have been doing by the way – is just one example.

While I can understand how things might have gone wrong in this way – I have been there myself – this is no longer about isolated instances (the Review Report for Ministers on the Camping Byelaws (see here) is a case in point).    I am not sure how far Board Members appreciate this – there is far too little questioning of senior staff – or how the LLTNPA is losing its reputation for probity, but they need to start putting truth and facts back at the centre of everything the LLTNPA does.

Meantime, the Information Response does reveal the names of the handful of landholdings with whom  Land Management Plans were agreed, Portnellan, Benmore Farm, Loch Dochart and Inverlochlarig (which form a geographical block) bloand that a contractor was appointed to provide them with advice on renewables.  That raises some interesting questions about what advice the LLTNPA was giving on the landscape impact of hydro tracks – which it acknowledged at the last Board Meeting was an issue – and is even more reason the information in the land management plans should be made public.

December 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
This photo has been used to illustrate what the Park thinks protecting landscape, wildness and tranquillity is all about. What a disaster!  And more of the same is promised!    In my view any National Park worth its salt would have insisted this section of A82 upgrade, replacing the old single road at the traffic traffic lights, should have been tunnelled through the hillside to come out behind pulpit rock. To add human  insult to the injury inflicted on the natural environment, there is no path alongside the road and no safe place for cars of people who want to visit pulpit rock. to pull off and park.

The National Park Partnership Plan is supposed to be the most important document governing what happens in our National Park, setting out not just what our National Park Authorities do but also the commitments made by their partners, from public authorities to private landowners.  It was considered at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Meeting today, a meeting I missed.  Its one of the democratic deficits in our National Park that if you cannot attend in person, its very hard to find out if there was any debate worth of the name – though the Park, under its new convenor James Stuart, is trying to get minutes and papers for meetings out earlier.

As austerity has bitten further, its become harder and harder however for public authorities to plan for the future and instead the main function of management now appears to be to ensure the books balance whenever the next round of cuts is announced.    Its not particularly surprising, therefore, to find the following judgement in the Strategic Environmental Assessment which accompanied the NPPP being considered by the LLTNPA Board today (see here for all papers):

“a key weakness of the new plan over the old plan is its lack of specific implementation detail”.

The LLTNPA and their Public Authority partners appear reluctant to commit to doing anything in the future.  Five years plans have as a consequence become something of a farce.  Large amounts of consultation and effort – for what?.

While since my posts  on the DRAFT NPPP (see here for example), the LLTNPA has made some improvementsto the plan (e.g there is a commitment to develop a woodland strategy and a target to increase the proportion of people getting to the National Park by other means than cars) if you look past the pretty photos and graphics, there is still no ambition.  The proposed outcomes remain more or less unchanged and are mostly difficult to disagree with, even if the purple prose occasionally overreaches itself and  becomes ridiculous (e.g the Park statement from the cutting above that says it will support projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes and then cites the works on the Rest and Be Thankful and proposed A82 upgrade as examples of this).  Most of the outcomes however contain no clear commitments to action and are as a consequence vague aspirations rather than outcomes.   It is almost impossible to work out from the Plan what the LLTNPA and their partners actually propose to do.

 

The LLTNPA’s indicators of success

A good sense of this is  given by the LLTNPA’s choice of key performance indicators:

Commentary

  • 2000 hectares of woodland expansion sounds good until you look at the area of the National Park, 1,865 square kilometres or 186,500 hectares.   That’s an increase of just of 1%,  almost all of it already accounted for by work already planned in the Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve.
  • The target to increase the percent of protected nature sites in favourable condition from 76% to 80% is woeful  – here we have a National Park that appears to think its acceptable for protected natura sites to remain in unfavourable condition indefinitely.   This is simply not good enough but tackling this would mean tackling landowners and that is something this National Park won’t do.
  • The commitment to 25% of all new Homes being affordable,  means the LLTNPA wants 95 new affordable homes over the next five years.   Affordable is not the same as social housing.  This target will do almost nothing to help younger people move back into the Park – the LLTNPA is concerned about the ageing population – or enable people working in the tourist industry to obtain somewhere secure to live.
  • The target to increase the proportion of the public reporting a good quality experience is vague and meaningless.  Elsewhere the Park talks about the importance of SMART targets and then doesn’t include them in its plan.
  • The number of young people the LLTNPA wish to have an outdoor learning experience in the National Park, 2500, is truly pathetic (think 1.5m people  living Clyde Conurbation, that’s about 1% of school age children.  When I was on the Board of SNH in the discussions leading up to the creation of the National Park the aspiration was for EVERY school age child in the Glasgow conurbation to have an outdoor learning experience in the National Park.

And so on…………………………..

 

An alternative vision

I believe its time to call for end to this type of meaningless plan and to start developing alternatives.   Below are some ideas which could  be the starting point for an alternative vision to inspire people and give hope for the future:

  • Wildlife.  Re-introduce beavers (if they don’t make their own way from Tayside as appears increasingly likely) and develop ways to enable the public enjoy their presence (video links etc). When Michael Gove, no less, this week announced the re-introduction of beavers into the Forest of Dean, why cannot Scotland’s National Parks’ do the same?  After this, look at Lynx.
  • Wildlife. End persecution of native species, such as foxes and crows, so the National Park starts to live up to its name and the wildlife that exists is not limited to what landowners tolerate.  Enforce cross compliance between provision of public subsidies for land use and species protection.
  • Conservation.   Shift forest practice in the Argyll Forest Park from being primarily industrial, with the disastrous consequences that has – e.g all the larch are dying from pythopthera ramorum –  to being conservation based.  Get rid of the monolithic sitka plantations and replace with maixed woodland which would enhance the landscape, help wildlife and provide more local jobs.
  • Landscape enhancement.  Develop a plan to address existing blots on the landscape, including burial of existing powerlines and removing  tracks to hydro schemes.  New roads and road improvements should be tunnelled (as happens commonly in Europe).
  • Wild Land and re-wilding.   Stop developments in Wild Land Areas (Cononish gold mine) and   re-wild the area south of Ben Lui and Ben Oss, the largest area of core wild land in the National Park, by burial and removal of hydro electric infrastructure.
  • Land Ownership.  Identify all landowners in the National Park and analyse where the benefits of landownership are currently going (eg imuch ncome from many hydro schemes which the public pays for ends up in the city) and from this develop plans how land-based income streams could be re-invested in the land.
  • Land-ownership and community right to buy.  Where benefits of landownership are not being reinvested in the National Park and local communities, encourage local community buy outs/assets transfers.
  • Sustainable economic development.   Develop proposals for alternative forms of land-use which are compatible with the statutory objectives of the National Park (e.g the type of Forest initiatives promoted by Reforesting Scotland and which are conspicuously absent from the National Park.)    Stop developments, like Flamingo Land, which are not.
  • Outdoor recreation. Support/facilitate the creation of permanent jobs which support the right of people to enjoy the National Park (e.g in path construction and maintenance, pier maintenance etc).
  • Outdoor recreation and visitor management.  Focus on provision of facilities and services (including far better public transport) rather than on behaviour management.  Allow the camping byelaws to lapse at the end of the three years with the focus of camping management zones becoming the provision of infrastructure rather than trying to control people
  • Culture and history.  Promote the history and culture of the area as well as viewpoints.  For example, new cultural and history centres could be created at places like Balloch and Tyndrum, while far more attention could be given to raising awareness of the many historic sites in the National Park.
  • Re-open outdoor centres to enable the children and young people of the west of Scotland to experience something of the National Park while still at school.

Lot’s more is possible!

And in response to the argument that there is no money to do this, create it!   When Edinburgh is now seriously trying to promote a tourism tax to fund infrastructure there, why are our National Parks so far behind?   According to the National Park Plan Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is now a world class tourism destination……………so get those tourists to contribute something!  The Park has in effect taxed campers – most of whom are from the the poorest sections of society – £3 for the right to put up a tent in a grotty area, so why not  those staying in other accommodation?  The National Park should also be supporting the creation of a rural investment bank that could provide money for community buyouts and help finance new forms of economic development.

The LLTNPA’s Boards approval of a 5 Year Partnership Plan should not prevent ideas such as these from happening.  The Plan is so vague that most of the suggestions here could go ahead, if there was the will.   With our current governmental structures  imploding under neo-liberal ideology and austerity there is an opportunity for change and people need to start developing alternatives.

December 9, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Map of Flamingo Land proposal showing Drumkinnon Woods

This post takes a look at the current Flamingo Land proposal for the riverside site (reddish area above) against the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s policy for the area, as set out in various plans.   This reveals several shifts in policy in the last year.

The National Park Development Plan, approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year, included this map for Balloch.  NO development was envisaged for Drumkinnon Woods.  The Flamingo Land proposal for woodland walkways and holiday lodges in those woods is therefore contrary to the Development Plan.

Why are Flamingo Land therefore proposing to develop Drumkinnon Woods?   Well, they know the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority is under significant pressure from the Scottish Government to ensure development of the Riverside Site and certain other sites in the National Park to promote economic development.  That pressure was reflected in the DRAFT National Park Partnership Plan which contained this commitment:

The word “Delivery” is very strong and meant the LLTNPA was committing itself to complete developments in Balloch within the next five years.  It put Flamingo Land in a very strong position because, if they threatened to walk away, the LLTNPA would miss its target with all the repercussions that would have for its relationship with the Scottish Government.  It was an invitation to Flamingo Land to ignore the Development Plan.

It was a pleasant surprise therefore to see this in te revised National Park Partnership Plan to be considered by Board Members on Monday:

 

Instead of delivering key sites, the Plan now says the LLTNPA  will “support” developments.  What’s more the extract for Balloch (left) places the focus on the vision developed in the charrette (a community developed plan) and that again only proposed development for part of the Riverside site (see below).

Now the change of wording may only be because, having sat on the interview panel which selected Flamingo Land as the preferred developer, the LLTNPA might be open to legal challenge if it explicitly committed to delivering a development on the Riverside Site. It does however create the possibility for alternative plans to be developed.   A small positive step in the right direction.

The Charrette vision looks very different to Flamingo Land’s current proposal

Critics of the Flamingo Land proposals however need to appreciate that the LLTNPA has a history of fitting policy to developments (ignoring policy on wild land, landscape, nature designations to allow developments to go ahead) rather than ensuring developments fit with policy and planning objectives.   The challenge at Riverside is to ensure the LLTNPA sticks to its policy and statutory objectives.

December 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority will, at its Board Meeting on Monday, consider an “Update Report” for Scottish Ministers on the operation of the camping byelaws in their first year.  There is a cover paper (see here), the Report for Ministers (see here) and appendices (see here).  The basic line the Park has taken is they are only providing an “operational update” and its too early to evaluate the byelaws:

I disagree.  It is not too early to clearly state what has been really happening and the Board has a duty to ensure that Scottish Minister are properly informed and are fully aware of the major flaws in the camping byelaws.    This post considers the facts and issues which have been omitted from the report but starts with a critical look at some of the content, particularly that which casts new light on the people who have been affected.

The camping byelaws,  east Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way

The report to Board Members starts with a lie and an attempt to re-write history:

The lie is that the East Loch Lomond byelaws were introduced to tackle “over-use”:  there is not a single mention of overuse in the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws submitted to Ministers in 2014 Review ELL byelaws.   The reason is the ELL byelaws were introduced as part of a package of measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.  These included the creation of a clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan, byelaws banning alcohol and targetted policing and the byelaws were intended to be temporary.  The LLTNPA has never produced any  evidence to prove that it was the camping byelaws, rather than the other measures, which stopped people going for drinking parties on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond but, as soon as the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan made parking impossible, the parties became a thing of the past.  The camping byelaws could have been safely revoked but instead the LLTNPA has redefined their purpose as being about controlling numbers who camp.

90% average occupancy for camping places, given wind, rain and midges is extraordinarily high and indicates that at many times demand exceeds capacity and there is nowhere lawful for people to camp

The Update Report shows that “occupancy” rates of the permit areas on east Loch Lomond are far far higher than elsewhere in the National Park.  This is due of course to the West Highland Way, which attracts many backpackers each year, who, when they get past Drymen suddenly find their legal options for camping are severely restricted.  WHW walkers never did any harm but, like other responsible campers, have been victimised by the byelaws and now have insufficient places to camp.  The Board report brushes all this under the carpet and contains no plans to address the deficit in camping capacity or to ask WHW walkers what they think.

 

The camping byelaws and tourism

Fuller analysis of the permit data would, I suspect, show that many WHW walkers come from abroad.  16% or c1000 of the 6,129 permit booking were made by visitors from abroad and 24% by visitors from the rest of the UK.

 

What the camping permit data provides evidence of for the first time is that a high proportion of people who want to camp on the loch shores are tourists.  This has wide implications both about the message from the Park – “there are far too many campers” – which is disastrous for tourism, and for the provision of facilities.   Instead of committing to Ministers to take a proper look at this, the Update Report does a body swerve and avoids the issues.

The camping byelaws and social exclusion

The most interesting data about permits, however, is about where people had come from in Scotland.  Unsurprisingly, it shows most people come from the Glasgow conurbation, but also that:

This provides evidence, in the form of data, of what everyone with an interest in camping in the National Park has long known, that the majority of people who camp by the loch shores have lower than average incomes or, to put it another way, are working class folk from the West of Scotland.  The implication is that when the LLTNPA claims the byelaws are needed to reduce the number of campers, it is in effect saying that too many working class people from the Clyde Conurbation have been coming out to the National Park to enjoy a night out under the stars.  The LLTNPA has never looked at alternative provision for poorer people and as a result the byelaws are deeply discriminatory and socially exclusive.  We should now be able to work out the extent of that adverse impact.

The inclusion of this data was at the suggestion of the stakeholder forum and while I am delighted the Park has done the analysis in this case, it should have been far more such work and reporting to the Scottish Government on the implications.  In my view, there is now sufficient evidence for Ministers to  consider an independent Equality Impact Assessment into the effect and operation of the camping byelaws.

 

Omissions from the Update Report to Ministers

The report contains the usual parkspin and speak (one of the co-authors is head of marketing) and glosses over all the difficulties of the first season of the camping byelaws.  This is best illustrated by what has been omitted from the Report.

1). Number of campers affected

There is no data provided or comparison made between numbers camping in the areas covered by the camping management zones before the byelaws came into effect and subsequently.  The LLTNPA has lots of data on this but has failed to provide it or to undertake any analysis despite its senior staff now consistently claiming that the purpose of the byelaws is to reduce the number of campers.   What is it that the LLTNPA senior staff do not want the Minister or the public to know about something it claims is so fundamental?

My suspicion is that in part this is because this data would show that the byelaws have impacted most on poorer people and their ability to enjoy the outdoors, with all the benefits that has for physical health and mental well-being, but I suspect it would open other cans of worms.

2) Numbers camping or campervanning with a permit

There has been no attempt to compare the number of people who have applied for permits, and thus are camping lawfully, with those who have not.  Anyone who has visited the management zones will know that considerable numbers of people have continued to camp outwith permit area and the enforcement statistics give some indication of the scale: The 828 people given warnings are likely to be mostly campers because the byelaws were never enforced against caravans and were found to be unenforceable against campervans.   This number excludes campers whose names were not taken by Rangers – one can assume the more sensible Rangers just asked people to move on without taking personal details – and those who were never caught.   We also know that despite the intensive Ranger Patrols less than half of people who camped with permits saw a Ranger:

 

 

Applying these considerations to the data, suggests that a reasonable estimate of the minimum number of  tents pitched without a permit would be over 2000 (compared to 4914 that had permits) and the total may have been very much more.   A clear estimate of the people unaware or ignoring the byelaws is fundamental to any evaluation of their effectiveness and a clear methodology for doing this should have been presented to the Board now: it cannot wait till three years time.

3) Cost Benefit Analysis

The Report fails to say anything about the costs of implementing and enforcing the byelaws despite some of this information being available in the financial reports which will also be presented to the Board on Monday.  The LLTNPA has never done a cost benefit analysis and more specifically whether instead of devoting resources to policing campers it might not be more effective to provide basic infrastructure and facilities.

4) The implications of holding personal data

The LLTNPA now holds personal data on the 828 people it warned for breaching the byelaws but has said nothing about what they are doing with this data (e.g are they sharing it with the police for enforcement processes) or the civil liberty implications (how long are personal details kept on the list and for what purposes).  The Board should have considered this – and I have previously criticised them for their failure to do so – when they were considering enforcement procedures for the camping bye-laws.

5) Enforcement and campervans

The only mention the Report makes of the effective collapse of the byelaws in respect of campervans is this:

Part of the justification for the camping byelaws was to control the numbers of campervans which the LLTNPA claimed were swamping the National Park and encampments of caravans which blocked laybys for months and were a major concern to local communities.  However, all this unravelled in part because Park staff, without approval from either Board or Minister, changed the wording of the byelaws so private roads were included in the exemption which allowed motor vehicles to stop off overnight.   This in effect allowed caravans and campervans to stop off overnight anywhere on the roadsides in camping management zones and totally undermined the byelaws.    The Update Report is silent on this fiasco and fails to discuss the implications which includes the fact it cannot legally charge campervans to stop on roads.  That is why its only commitment in respect of motorhomes is worded as follows:

6) Outcome of Enforcement

The report is silent about what has happened in the 10 cases referred to the Procurator Fiscal.  The outcome of those cases is likely to say something about the fairness and enforceability of the byelaws, which is again something which should be reported to Ministers.

7) Permit feedback and Complaints

Following my post (see here) questioning the positive feedback the LLTNPA had claimed to receive about the permit system, I requested the data behind that and also on complaints made about the byelaws.   Neither are included in the Update Report – I am due to receive that information this week, under FOI, too late to analyse before the Board Meeting.  Since my original post though two complaints, which the Park had failed to answer, have been featured on parkswatch (see here) and there is a question about how many more complaints have been made received but not recorded.

There is a wider issue about how the LLTNPA records other criticisms.  The feedback I have had is the November stakeholder meeting on the camping byelaws was poorly attended.  The reason I believe is that attending such events i pointless as long as staff continue to cover-up anything that contradicts their narrative that the byelaws have been well received.

8) Impact on organised groups

The Update Report says 12 exceptions were granted to groups to camp outwith permits areas (for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions etc) but no comparison is made with the numbers of organised groups previously camping in these areas.   If the LLTNPA asked the Scouts, DofE etc,I believe they would find that their bureaucracy has driven people away and hard-pressed teachers etc simply don’t have time to go through the process, which incidentally destroys any flexibility to change plans according to weather conditions etc.  These groups have been driven out of the National Park.

9) Camping provision

In order to allow the byelaws to go ahead, the LLTNPA committed to Ministers to provide 300 new camping places (although the 300 included the existing campsites at Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig).  The Update Report is written in a way to suggest that that commitment was met:

While I am still awaiting the data behind this claim, having 300 places available online is not the same as 300 places being available on the ground.  Regular readers will know that some of the camping permit areas are uncampable (and some since abandoned) and others have been unusable at times (for example when under water).   There are strong reasons to doubt therefore that the Park’s commitment has been met in practice.  There is evidence for this in the Report:

That additional places are being recommended because at times existing places have been unusable confirms there has been a shortfall, while:

confirms that some of the permit areas on Forest Drive were unusable.  The Update Paper avoids an open discussion of the implications of this and whether the LLTNPA really did meet its commitment.  I am pretty certain the answer is “no”.  More importantly, however, looking forward the LLTNPA promised to Ministers to increase the number of places it provided after the first year.  The Report contains NO evaluation of how many such places might be required or sustainable and the only commitment the LLTNPA has made to improved camping provision is the 15 place new campsite at Loch Achray.

There is no update on plans for other which might help reduce the impact of not just campers but all visitors whether this is provision of litter bins, toilets or chemical disposal points.   In effect the Update Report suggests the LLTNPA’s Camping Development Strategy has collapsed.

 

What needs to happen

Leading on from the first two bullets in para 7.3 quoted above, the Update Report lists the following further areas for “improvement”:

These areas clearly link to some of the issues raised in this post but which are not being properly reported to Ministers.    The lack of any firm commitments is not in my view accidental.

I would love to think the LLTNPA Board on Monday would send the Senior Management Team back to work on the issues raised here and come up with a concrete set of proposals for Ministers, but I suspect that won’t happen.  To do so would require the Board to admit to Ministers the flaws in the byelaws and that the previous Board might have got it badly wrong.

Part of what might be needed therefore is an alternative report to Ministers about the efficacy and implications of the byelaws.  This would be based on data and other evidence missing from the LLTNPA report and should  make recommendations as to what should happen.

More important than this however is that politicians, particularly in the west of Scotland, need to start speaking out for their constituents and to criticise the failure of the National Park to fulfil its statutory objective to promote public enjoyment of the outdoors.  The discriminatory impact of the camping byelaws on poorer people, with all the consequences that has for their physical health and mental well-being, should be a political issue.  Whlle the Scottish Government claims it is trying to reduce health and educational inequalities, it has allowed to LLTNPA to devote considerable resources to achieving the opposite.    That needs to stop and the National Park needs to change course and do what it was set up to do, which was to enable people to enjoy the great outdoors on their doorstep.

December 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ref: NOV302727
Notice Type: 02 Contract Notice
Title: Review of Cairngorm Ski Area Uplift Infrastructure
Published: 30/11/2017
Published by: Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Deadline: 10/01/2018
Full Text: http://www.publiccontractsscotland.gov.uk/search/show/Search_View.aspx?id=NOV302727

(Notice issued by Scotland Contracts Portal)

On Friday 30th November, following the public row about their removal of old ski infrastructure from Coire na Ciste which forced the Government Minister Fergus Ewing to get involved (see here),  Highlands and Islands Enterprise issued a tender on the Scotland Contracts Portal for a “Review of Cairngorm Ski Area Uplift Infrastructure” with an allocated budget of £75-80k.

In one sense this is welcome and not before time, the obvious question being why did HIE not commission this review BEFORE removing any of the lift towers in Coire na Ciste?  The Coire na Ciste group has long argued that winter activities are crucial to Cairngorm while concerns about the neglect of winter sports by Natural Retreats has helped prompt the creation of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust.  This post considers how the commissioning of this study relates to Natural Retreats’ disastrous management of Cairngorm and the proposed bid by the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust to takeover the Cairngorm Estate from HIE.

 

The implications of Natural Retreats change of ownership

First though a crucial piece of information about the reason for Natural Retreats UK’s change of name (see here) to the UK Great Travel Company Ltd which comes from the tender documents:

In June 2014, following a public tender process to find a new operator for Cairngorm Mountain, HIE sold its shares in the operating company, CML, to Natural Assets Investments Ltd. CML is now operated by a Natural Assets subsidiary, UK Great Travel Company Ltd. CML was granted a 25-year lease (running to 2039) and entered into an operating agreement with HIE. The assets leased from HIE comprise the funicular railway and other ski-tow infrastructure, all buildings, car parks and service infrastructure. CML, as Tenant, is responsible for maintenance of all the facilities.

Natural Retreats UK had been owned by Natural Retreats LLC, based in the notoriously lax tax jurisdiction of Delaware, in the USA.  What appears to have happened is that Natural Retreats UK has now been bought by Natural Assets Investment Ltd (NAIL), the same company that owns Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, and its name changed as a consequence.  There is still nothing about this on the Companies House website which claims that the controlling interest in the UK Great Travel Company Ltd is unknown.  This is despite the fact that according to HIE that controlling interest is NAIL and its ultimate owner therefore is almost certainly David Michael Gorton, the hedge fund manager:

Companies House extract as it appeared 5th December

So now the company that provides services to CML, as well as CML itself, is owned by NAIL.  In December 2016 NAIL had net liabilities of £29,380,827.  Those liabilities are likely to have increased further through the purchase of Natural Retreats.   That has implications for both HIE and Cairngorm – the risk of the whole financial pack of cards collapsing would appear to have increased further.

 

The Review of Ski Infrastructure and Natural Retreats’ plans for Cairngorm

Its worth recalling a few claims from HIE’s news release (see here) on the sale of Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats in 2014:

  • “Natural Retreats are renowned for offering customers and guests high quality tourism based experiences in some of the most dramatic natural locations around the world.”  Comment. Most if not all of those international connections have now gone.  Its now just the UK Great Travel Company.
  • “Natural Retreats are revealing a £6.2m five-year investment plan which will secure the future of the Resort for the next 25 years.”  Comment. And how much of this has been invested to date?
  • “Alex Paterson, Chief Executive at HIE commented: “Natural Retreats has the vision, ambition and experience to enable the resort to fulfil its potential as a world-class visitor destination.Their plans include the further development of snowsports and diversification of the business into a high quality, year-round attraction.”   Comment:  if Natural Retreats had so much expertise and such great plans, just why is HIE needing to spend £80k on a new study of what to do at Cairngorm?

Seen in this context, the commissioning of this Review is in effect an admission from HIE that Natural Retreats have failed to deliver at Cairngorm.    Instead, however, of terminating their lease, HIE is paying for work that Natural Retreats should have done and indeed be doing.   To add insult to injury, the tender documents require the contractor to work closely with Natural Retreats.  So, how independent will this study be?

 

The proposed study will be neither neutral nor “independent”

The tender documentation states the study will be overseen by a steering group comprising HIE, CML/Natural Retreats and the Cairngorm Mountain Trust.   The Cairngorm Mountain Trust was almost defunct until earlier this summer when it was resuscitated, almost certainly at the prompting of HIE, as a tame vehicle to represent the local community and enable “consultation” boxes to be ticked.  Unless things have changed, the CMT have fewer than 40 members, whereas the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust now has almost 400 members all within the PH22 postcode (and that despite staff working at Cairngorm being too scared to sign up in case they lose their jobs).

The Cairngorm Mountain Trust though is not just on the steering group overseeing the work, it has been given the key role among all the stakeholders whom the contractor is required to consult:

“C, In addition to the inception meeting by the end of February, not less than 2 meetings ……………..before submission of the first draft, will be required with The Cairngorm Mountain Trust, a charitable company, who have a historic interest in the Cairngorms and can bring to bear a range of experience and who are going to be on the steering group too.”

By contrast just one meeting is required with the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust who are listed along with various skiing stakeholders both local and national,  Mountaineering Scotland and the North East Mountain Trust.   Other conservation organisations which have taken a keen interest in Cairngorm, such as the Cairngorm Campaign and Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group are omitted.  A truly independent study would be allowed to identify stakeholders and engage with them to the degree of what they have to contribute.  It appears HIE is not going to allow that to happen at Cairngorm.

An alternative approach, which might have supported local people rather than city financiers, would have been for HIE to have commissioned an independent report to explore further (much work has already been done) the viability of the options being proposed by the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust for Cairngorm.  Its significant, I believe, that HIE has chosen NOT to spend its £80k on that.

The scope of the Review and its place in wider plans for Cairngorm

One good thing is the tender shows that HIE at long last acknowledges that the funicular has been a disaster for skiing at Cairngorm:

When there is insufficient snow cover at Coire Cas car park level to allow operation of the lower Coire Cas ski- tows (Fiacaill Ridge, Car Park and Day Lodge ski-tows) the funicular is the only access to the upper mountain. This results in significant operational inefficiencies in running the funicular, notably a reduction in the hourly capacity, due to the need to make mid-station stops, queuing and customer frustration and dis-satisfaction.

Nothing is said in the tender documentation about the current status of HIE and Natural Retreats “agreed masterplan” for Cairngorm which was intended in part to retrieve the disaster created by the funicular.  That “plan”, announced earlier this year (see here), consisted of a proposed dry ski slope and upgrading the Ptarmigan Restaurant (both to be funded by HIE).   Now, you might argue that none of those “masterplan” proposals count as proper ski infrastructure, but the scope of the “Review of Ski Infrastructure” is much broader than its title suggests:

Suggest options for product diversification to enable the resort to become a more attractive year round destination. Information will be provided to the supplier on schemes which have been previously evaluated including an alpine slide, zip wire, “reduced risk” facility and mountain biking trails.

Moreover, the following clause suggests that HIE is at long last considering the development of an overall plan for Cairngorm, as required by the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy agreed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year:

It is anticipated that this review will make a very significant contribution towards a 5-10 year long-term strategy for Cairngorm ski area, which will be a separate document produced by CML and HIE and which falls outwith the scope of this review.

Unfortunately, the scope of the clause on the environment in the tender is very weak and makes no mention of evaluating environmental impacts of the options for developing or extending ski infrastructure that might be identified in the Review:

19. Environment – Consider opportunities to actively improve the natural heritage, particularly to improve regrowth of native trees to encourage additional natural retention of snow for winter sports (’natural snow barriers’).

And the tender shows that HIE remains wedded to neo-liberal ideology which holds that the only option to enable development to take place is outsourcing:

36. Comment on the business model that would be required for any proposed changes, outlining the impact on P&L, cash flow and operational requirements; outline the potential return on investment required to support commercial borrowing for redevelopment of Coire na Ciste and the period over which this may be achieved; and the practicality of securing commercial funding for a capital investment of this nature.

Just why HIE is requiring the consultants to look at “commercial” funding when it has been prepared to commit £4 million of non-commercial loans to Natural Retreats is unclear.  Alternative methods of financing are possible but to allow for that would be to allow for a community take-over.

What needs to happen

The first thing HIE needs to do is to correct some of the biases in this supposedly independent Review.   Under the procurement rules public authorities can during the tender process clarify contract requirements and HIE could use this facility to correct some of the biases created by the wording of the tender documents.   For example, the tender is open about whether further interest groups should be consulted and HIE could therefore, if they wish, add the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorm Campaign and RSPB Abernethy to the list (as each consultation has a cost) and that could strengthen the role of conservation organisations in the process.  Similarly,  HIE could indicate that because of the size of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust more meetings with them might be required.

The second thing HIE need to do is clarify publicly how this Review of Ski Infrastructure fits with the other plans floating around Cairngorm.   While the tender says the Review will inform a longer term strategy, it fails completely to say anything about the plans for a dry ski slope where the planning application was withdrawn.  I believe HIE should confirm that these proposals have been shelved until the Review Report has been produced.  If they did that this Review could help pave the way for a proper plan for Cairngorm, as was intended by the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, particularly if HIE was also prepared openly to review the way the environment has been managed at Cairngorm.

December 5, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday’s post on signage in our National Parks that contravenes access rights was published before I had read the Loch Lomond and Trossachs’s National Park’s response to an information request I had made for papers presented to the Local Access Forum this year (I received the response at the end of last week).   The photos above were in the report to the May Local Access Forum (see here) and show there are National Park staff who are keen to do the right thing. Well done them and I don’t want them to think that I was criticising them personally for all the anti-access signs you can find in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park..

 

The shame is that the LLTNPA does not get its large marketing team to publicise such good work – it might discourage other landowners from putting up signs saying “KEEP OUT HIGH VELOCITY RIFLES IN USE” –  while it has sidelined its Local Access Forum.  This post considers the issues which arise from this in a bit more detail.

Addressing access issues

One thing that struck me from the access cases covered in the LAF papers, including the Drumlean Case which went to court (and the paper on this May 17 Appeal Court ruling is excellent), is that all the actions by LLTNPA staff appear to be linked to complaints.  The implication is that unless the public complain, access and other problems are just tolerated.  This is not just an issue for National Parks, as David Lintern’s recent excellent post on Walk Highland points out (see here).  This attitude of “no complaint, no action” may explain, however, why no action has been taken against all the camping signs which have been up for years and are still unlawful under the camping byelaws.

You have a right to camp at Loch Lubnaig outwith the camping byelaw season

Either Park staff, including Rangers, don’t see these and others signs and blockages as access issues or, perhaps more likely, they are not allowed to address them without a complaint being received.  And the explanation for that is likely to be that if staff addressed issues without complaints, the National Park could be seen as being anti-landowner, whereas common sense says that this should be just about access staff doing their job.   Whatever the case, there needs to be a complete change in culture in the National Park so staff are able to proactively take up and address access issues.

When they are allowed to do so the first major problem staff face, as illustrated by the report in the LAF papers about the Auchroach case, is finding out who is responsible:

Extract report January meeting

This is not an isolated example.  In the case of the bright blue car abandoned south of Inverarnan for months(see here),  the LLTNPA claimed they could not take action because they did not know the landowner).  The camping byelaw papers also make it clear the Park sometimes does not even know who owns what bit of loch shore.    The LLTNPA,  after almost 15 years of existence, still does not know who owns significant chunks of land within the National Park.   A matter of public interest and a fundamental issue for land reform as well as one that wastes huge amounts of staff time.   One might have thought their Board would have made representations about this but instead silence or worse (the LLTNPA mad a submission to the Land Reform Review Group, which reviewed the Land Reform Act 2003,  but instead of raising such issues they made a submission  about banning roadside camping across Scotland).

Resolving access issues at present can take years.  I would like to have seen the LLTNPA in its new National Park Partnership Plan set out properly what resources (and changes to the law) are needed to secure and promote access rights in the National Park.   The draft plan going to the Board next Monday does not even mention access problems.   Instead, its contains pious statements saying how the National Park wish to encourage people (excluded groups to to visit) with absolutely awareness that everywhere you go now there are “No” signs.

Secrecy, the Local Access Forum (LAF) and the camping byelaws

The LLTNPA as an access authority has a duty to support the operation of a Local Access Forum and a statutory duty to consult it on access matters.  The LLTNPA closed down its LAF during the time when its Board was meeting in secret to develop camping byelaws (there was one meeting of the LAF a week before the formal consultation was issued by which time all had been decided).  Since the byelaws were agreed by Ministers the LAF has been resuscitated.

The LAF is now listed under the Board Committee section of the LLTNPA website (see here) and was scheduled to meet four times this year (although the website says it usually meets just twice).  Unlike other Board Committees, however, papers for meetings are not published as a matter of course.  By early Autumn this year no minutes for the 3 meetings that had taken place had appeared either, making it impossible to see what the LAF had been doing.  This was not the LAF members responsibility or fault, but the Park’s.

After I raised the matter with Park Senior Management I got this response:

We can confirm that the Local Access Forum met in January, May and August. With regards to the papers being on the website, all minutes are normally published once approved by the Forum. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, this did not happen earlier in the year, this has now been rectified and you will note that links to all minutes from previous years are available. The minutes for August will be published after they have been approved at the December meeting. Your query regarding papers has been passed to the Access team for consideration.

Now I don’t believe it either is, or should be, up to the Access Team to decide if papers to the LAF are published or not (although I suspect if the decision was up to them they would publish as it would help advertise the work they are doing).  The LLTNPA in its Publication Scheme, which was agreed with the Information Commissioner, said it would publish information on how it makes decisions: since the LAF meetings inform what decisions are taken on access, in my view papers to those meetings should be published.  The only way to get them though at present is by making an Information request, which I did.

Unfortunately, while I have obtained the papers, they are still not available on the LAF section of the website.  Nor is there any link under under the Freedom of Information section of the Park website where the LLTNPA publish some responses it has made to information requests:

Screenshot 5th December

The LLTNPA has not published A SINGLE RESPONSE TO AN INFORMATION REQUEST  since March.  By contrast, the Scottish Government has now committed to publishing ALL responses to information requests made to it as a result of cross-party political pressure.  There is NO reason why all our Public Authorities should not be doing the same.  For the record  EIR 2017-075 Response LAF shows there have been at least 75 information requests under the Environmental Information Regulations alone this year, while the screenshot above shows the Park has just published two of these.    The question is why?

My suspicion, based on the content of my information requests, is this is because  a large proportion are about access, including the operation of the camping byelaws.  If the Park published the information, it would undermine its own case that the byelaws have been going well.

The LAF minutes (now on website) and papers Jan 17 Access team update Jan 17 Generic LLTAF YP update May 17 Appeal Court ruling May 17 Access Team Update May 17 Core Paths Plan Review Aug 17 Core Paths Plan ReviewAug 17 CPP Review PaperAug 17 LLTAF CPP slides show that LAF members are trying to raise and address access issues, from car parking charges to access obstructions, even if the operation of the camping byelaws has hardly been covered.

As evidence of the ability of current LAF members to think critically this raised a smile:

Extract from minute (I don’t know PP who is a person called Paul Prescott).   Linda McKay is the previous Board Convener who erected a double height barbed wire fence round her house which has prevented people walking along the lochshore to the dam at Loch Venachar and appears to have been the force behind the byelaws.

 

The challenge LAF members face though is that if little of what they contribute is made public  they are hamstrung, and its very easy for the LLTNPA to sideline them.  A recent example comes from the Information Response I received from the LLTNPA which indicated the December meeting of the LAF has been postponed (which in turn means the minutes of the August meeting are not yet public).   As a consequence the LAF have been given no opportunity to contribute to the review of the first year of the camping byelaws or to offer comments on the implications for access rights of the report to Ministers which is to be discussed by the Board next week.

That Board paper also fails to refer to the LAF:

The review of the operation of the byelaws is being presented as a purely operational matter with no wider implications

It appears that once again the LLTNPA has excluded the LAF, a statutory consultee on access rights, from all consideration of the camping byelaws.  I believe that says it all (though I will post on the Report for Ministers later this week).   Until the LLTNPA connects with its own LAF, every recommendation or action it takes on the camping byelaws is worthless.   Meanwhile, the fact that it is the only Access Authority to have a place on the National Access Forum appears to me to be a national disgrace. (It hasn’t consulted the NAF properly about the implications of the byelaws either)

What needs to happen

Access rights need to be put at the centre of what both our National Parks do.

The LLTNPA appears to have some good staff who can take on and resolve access issues, as demonstrated by the Auchreoch case, but they need to be empowered to do so far more widely.  This will require both resources and a change in culture so that Park staff are able to start acting pro-actively.

The LAF needs to be put at the centre of what the LLTNPA does and should be doing to uphold access rights, instead of being sidelined as appears to be the case at present.  For that to work, the LAF has to be allowed to operate openly, be given resources to publicise what it does and be supported to ensure independent effective links are in place with partner organisations, particularly recreational bodies.

 

Postscript on resources and neoliberalism

I suspect the LLTNPA’s response to my concerns about secrecy covered in this post would be to say my suggestions are all very well but it has not had the resources to make information public.  As evidence for this it might cite its current advert for a one year Information Intern.

Information Intern

The advert shows that person will require a degree and be paid £16320 for a 37 hour week or £9.28 an hour.

Instead of making a coherent case to the Scottish Government about the resources it needs, the main function of the LLTNPA appears to be to manage austerity and join with other organisations in driving wages as low as possible with the excuse that nothing else can be afforded.  If the LLTNPA knew who the landowners in the National Park were and had analysed their wealth they would know this is not true.

December 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Welcome to the Moor sign at Strone – when is a welcome not a welcome? When you are asked to keep to the path. CNPA logo bottom right.

In the month or so since my post on grouse moor propaganda and our National Parks (see here), on two further outings I have come across further signs which undermine access rights and are contrary to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  What this illustrates is that such signage is a far from isolated problem and one that should be of public concern given one of the four statutory duties of our two National Parks is to promote public enjoyment of the countryside and that as Access Authorities both have a statutory duty to uphold access rights.   This post considers the issues further and makes some suggestions as to what our National Parks should be doing about this.

Another sign on the gates at Strone – apparently endorsed by the CNPA (logo top right).

 

The walker intending to walk up the Strone track by Newtonmore is faced with no less than four different signs, all saying different things!   The Welcome to the Moor signs recommends people keep to paths and tracks when possible, the large stalking sign recommends say that people can help by keeping to paths between 1st August and 20th October, while another sign (left) asks people to “stick to paths and ridgelines as much as possible”.

So, three contradictory messages – not a good start – but NONE of them reflect what was agreed in the Guidance for Land Managers on signage under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see here).

 

The SOAC Guidance for Land Managers starts with the statement “Simple, positive signs play an important role in responsible and effective access management”.  Its neither simple nor effective to plaster a gate with lots of conflicting messages but the Cairngorms National Park Authority through endorsing two signs with different access advice has effectively endorsed this complex confusing approach.

None of the messages however are compatible with the SOAC which NOWHERE tells people to keep to the path (see letter to Strathy right).    Rather, its Guidance to Land Managers asks them to focus on informing walkers and other visitors about where estate management/shooting is taking place:

“Requests to avoid particular areas should
relate to specific days as indicated in the
Access Code. “

Requests and recommendations to people to keep to paths or tracks effectively undermine this as they are suggesting that it is better for people to keep out of vast areas of the countryside at ALL times.

In relation to stalking (there is no specific guidance for grouse moor management) the Code goes on to say:

 

“Requests should apply to the minimum necessary area. This will normally be the corrie or corries in which stalking is taking place, with the presumption that access can continue along adjacent ridges. If at all possible, the specified area should not include popular paths through glens or to major summits, such as the routes identified in the SMC guides to the Munros and Corbetts…………Conversely, signs which effectively prevent access to major summits (ie. Munros or Corbetts), or make general requests to avoid high ground, are not appropriate”.

 

The logic also applies to moorland.  Signs which tell people to avoid stepping onto moorland by keeping to paths or tracks are appropriate.

What the SOAC Guidance goes on to say is that where an estate is unable to provide specific information on where stalking is taking place, signs need to offer a number of option not all of which are about keeping to paths:

“Signs of this type could, for example, indicate to hillwalkers that “when stalking is taking place, you can help by:

  • using paths;
  • following ridges, and;
  • following the main watercourse if you have to go through a corrie.”

One of the Strone signs half uses this guidance by referring to paths and ridgelines (not corries) but goes beyond it by asking people to “stick” to these routes.

So what happens when the path and ridge ends?   Access rights do not terminate at the end or even the side of the path or track.   The CNPA really needs to step in, sort this muddle out and ensure access signage in the National Park reflects what SOAC says..

Sign just beyond one of the railway underpasses south of Ardlui featured in walking guides to Ben Vorlich

The signs in the Cairngorms National Park however are nothing as compared to those in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, a number of which have been featured on parkswatch (see here for example) and most of which have to the best of my knowledge not been removed despite being reported.    I came across another such sign yesterday.  The first underpass south of the Ardlui station says the next underpass should be used to access Ben Vorlich (sorry no photo of that sign) but when you get through that underpass you are greeted by the photo above.   This type of signage was supposed to be abolished by the Land Reform Act (and I am only surprised that no-one has ripped it down – I would have done if I had not wanted to feature it here!).

The sign is not an isolated mistake, above is the sign a friend and I came across on our return having walked down the fine bumpy ridge north east of Little Hills.   I wonder if the National Park paid for the wooden access pointer sign and what they think about walkers now being told to keep out?   The landowner has completely ignored access rights and the worrying thing is they appear to believe they can get away with it.  (I will report these signs to the LLTNPA and ask them to ensure they are removed).

 

What needs to happen

Initially, the Land Reform Legislation had a very positive impact and a number of long-standing access issues (e.g. the barbed wire covered locked gate at the bridge over the River Etive and many anti-access signs were removed).  However, what has since happened is that many access officer posts have been cut under austerity – so fewer and fewer people are being paid to uphold access rights – while landowners and our public agencies have started to ignore the legislation.  There is a real risk now that access rights are undermined which is why I believe its particularly important our National Parks get it right.

I don’t believe that people visiting the countryside should tolerate signage that abuses rights and believe that,  in the absence of effective action from our access authorities, people should consider taking direct action.   Markers pens and tippex would be a start!

Our two National Park Authorities, however,  need to make an explicit commitment to address these issues.  I would like to see the LLTNPA in their new National Park Partnership Plan due to be discussed by their Board next Monday setting a target that NO signs contrary to the Land Reform Act should be evident in the National Park in two years time.  That would focus staff on getting these signs removed instead of the current dithering.

Both our National Park also claim to be trying to agree estate management plans with landowners.  An explicit part of every such plan should be access signage.  Far better than an estate puts up no signs at all – as appears to be the case at Glen Feshie – than they are allowed to put up signage that undermines access rights.

There is no mention of access at all in this sign the only one I saw in a 20 mile round of Glen Tromie looking at tracks

I have in the last month visited Glen Feshie estate twice and so far not seen a single access sign.  People might ask how do you know you are welcome there?  Having talked to Thomas McDonnell, the Conservation Manager there, I know people are welcomed by the estate and he wants to promote access.  The attitudes of the estate are, however, as I think Thomas would acknowledge, irrelevant.  You, I or anyone else has a statutory right of access to land in Scotland and I think most hillwalkers know this.  They simply ignore unlawful signs.  The problem is for the uninformed visitor who does not know their rights who comes across a sign which may start by saying “welcome” but whose content is then all about “NO” or which explicitly tries to tell people to keep out.   Better there are no signs than signs like that.

December 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Flamingo Land is proposing more buildings the height of the Drumkinnon Tower along the shoreline at Balloch and to develop Drumkinnon Woods behind

There has been a lot of community activity in Balloch since Scottish Enterprise announced Flamingo Land had been appointed developer for the Riverside Site.  You can follow this activity and thinking through a number of Facebook Groups including “Balloch Responds”, “Friends of Drumkinnon Woods” and “Alternative Balloch – A Productive United Village”.

Recently people have been using these pages to articulate alternative visions for the future, complex arguments rather than social media soundbites.  To me, this is incredibly exciting.    While much of the thinking is not explicitly about National Parks as such and its focus more about an alternative vision for the area, the relationship between people and the natural environment is central to it.  As such it is helping to develop an alternative vision for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which should be of interest to anyone who is interested in the future of our National Parks. .

Bruce Biddulph on Balloch and Tourism

Below is what Bruce Biddulph, who contributed a post on Drumkinnon Woods in the summer (see here), wrote on the “Alternative Balloch FB page” on 22nd November.  It is published with his permission.

“Here is, I believe, a fair summary of what is missing in Balloch, certainly from a visitor point of view:

History: Visitor’s receive practically no idea of Balloch’s history. In fact, none. Even although Balloch sits at the centre of Scotland’s entire history, and has a wealth of historic world class interests in this regard, little is evident to them, and it is not capitalised on. This is an area that is ripe for exploitation – and there is nothing wrong with exploiting that resource for a market value – tourists expect it.

Local Produce and Provision: Sadly Balloch’s stock has gone down over the past few decades.  More and more provision is ‘standard’. Its two hotels and the new inn are now part of groups. there is only one boatyard in the village and no sense of Balloch as an open harbour, which is perplexing to the visitor who sees the river filled with boats but no engagement for them. The supermarket dominates to the extent it has now taken in footfall and has not spread the benefits, worsened by its taking of the post office into its back wall.

Tourist mementos: Lacking. One high end gift shop. Lack of truly Balloch branded stock elsewhere. No “Scottishness” as expected by the visitor. Little in the way for the day tripper to take away or find curiousity about. Linked to lack of historical interest in village’s wider realm.

Accommodation: There may be issues with accommodation but from what I have heard it is that it is a struggle for B&B owners most the of the year Easily addressed if Balloch is made more attractive and has seasonal events created by its community of residents and businesses in co-operation with each other.

All of the above is easily achieved with no great masterplan required. Scotland has many government agencies tasked with assisting communities to grow organically and to be more sustainably productive. The missing ingredient in this is people coming forward as a community to demand their rights as a community to being enabled.

Balloch’s prime disadvantage is Lomond Shores itself. It brings people into Balloch by car, but not to Balloch village itself. Therefore people going to Lomond Shores tend largely not to go any further than the retail area and leave via their cars by the same route. There is no meaningful through route or encouragement to do so. This is why Riverside and Pier Road could have been used as extensions of Balloch village.

There is so much that is positive about Balloch it makes it the envy of all other places in the Loch Lomond area. The lack in Balloch is the community of residents and businesses working together for the common good and for the fostering of other businesses Balloch requires. The above does not even bring into the equation the sheer numbers of related business scattered in its environs and the Vale of Leven that could be accommodated in a linked up and sensitively created expansion of Balloch’s thoroughfares that enhance the village and riverside and protect its beauty and its open access to all. Alongside public realm that has at its heart the spirit of honest  provision for local and tourist alike. Balloch’s success lies in its fusion of free space, its location, and its history of largely providing what visitors want and expect. That provision is going down, its diversity is becoming threatened by homogenisation and the proposal from Flamingoland does nothing to address the main opportunities nor does it do anything whatsoever to grow a future in the hands of Balloch and Balloch-born businesses.

Friends of Drumkinnon Woods

I have not asked to republish this so have just included the link:

The Economics of Free Wild SpacesIt's a sad reflection of our times that to make a case for almost anything now,…

Posted by Friends of Drumkinnon Woods on Tuesday, November 28, 2017

 

Imagine the potential if our Public Agencies, instead of supporting large businesses, started to support local people and local businesses to develop proposals for the Riverside site based on the Park’s statutory objectives of conservation, public enjoyment, sustainable economic development and sustainable use of resources.

December 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 7 comments
The most obvious changes to the application is that the proposed sites for three pitches have been moved

Following my post on the proposed loch achray campsite, which received some well-informed comments from readers, further documents relating to the application have been uploaded to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Planning portal (see here).  The papers for the December LLTNPA Board Meeting confirm that Loch Achray is the ONLY “new” campsite development being worked on for next year.  This post considers what all this tells us about the coherence of the Park’s camping strategy which was supposed to be delivered in tandem with the camping byelaws.

The main flaws in the proposed Loch Achray campsite

My main criticism of the original application was that it included no chemical waste disposal facility – a no-brainer one might have thought when the LLTNPA and Forest Enterprise and trying to promote Forest Drive as a paying campervan destination.  Unfortunately, this has not changed and is, in my view, a fundamental omission.

Chemical disposal points do not cost much (see above) where other sewerage provision is being planned as at Loch Achray but this appears off the Park’s radar.  Its well past time that the Park started putting in place proper facilities for campervanners who do not want to stay in registered caravan sites.

The more recent planning documents for Loch Achray raise a further concern, that the LLTNPA is proposing to create ARTIFICIAL camping pitches.   In one place the papers refer to:

Camping on bark is horrible and describing it as traditional is simply “parkspeak”.  However, it appears that the current proposal is for rubber pitches on raised sand beds:

Diagram showing rubber mats held down by pins over 150mm of compacted free draining sand with a vegetated embankment round the edge to hold the sand in place

No-one from the Park appears to have asked any campers whether they like camping on artificial mats – although I guess if people were asked they might suggest their use on some of the sloping pebble beaches which the Park has designated as camping permit areas!

The grassy area east of the burn

Just why the National Park is wanting to create 9 artificial places on this beautiful grassy area where people have been camping for over 30 years is not explained.

The creation of fixed pitches here is control freakery. It appears the Park  cannot bear the thought of people being able to choose where they camp, picking a suitable spot according to the conditions.  This is contrary to the spirit of freedom to roam.   While the Park has said it wishes to develop basic campsites that promote the wild camping experience, paradoxically it appears it cannot abide anything basic and feels compelled to adopt suburban solutions for a National Park whose fundamental purpose is to enable people to enjoy nature.

While some work might be required to create the 3 camping pitches on the west side of the burn, where the land is boggy and overgrown, this could be done without rubber matting.  NO artificial pitches are needed in the largest camping area on the east side of burn.

The Park is once again, just as at Loch Chon, destroying  vegetation through the creation of formal camping pitches.  At the same time in their report to the December Board staff claim they are trying to measure vegetation recovery in places where people used to camp in order to evaluate the success of the camping byelaws.  The Park appear blind to their own hypocrisy.

The Park’s concession to wildness is that instead of creating artificial paths over the grassy area, they are prepared to let this happen naturally (see left).   There has been camping at Loch Achray for 30 years without paths developing here so why they should do so now is unclear.

Other concerns about the Loch Achray campsite

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency have objected to the planning application because of the risk of flooding.    I did wonder briefly if theartificial pitches were a response to SEPA’s objection   but there is no mention of this in the lengthy justification the Park has commissioned (two large to upload here).   I do feel sympathy for the Park about this.   Readers had pointed out the Loch Achray site was under water at the beginning of October but the report confirms this was caused by the opening of the Loch Katrine sluice gates, a rare event and manageable.  While Scottish Planning policy is to avoid placing any developments on flood plains, this campsite is supposed to provide a wild camping experience.  What’s more none of the infrastructure, apart from the artificial pitches, is located on the area that floods.  Still the Park is now having to install a paraphernalia of flood guages and warning signs to get this through the planning system.  It could have avoided many of these difficulties if the Guidance on Visitor Experience which its Planning Committee approved earlier in the week had addressed these issues (I will come back to this but it failed to do so).

The Park also now appears to be proposing the campsite is staffed 10 hours a day:

 

 

This is madness which appears driven by the need to get SEPA to withdraw their objection.  The Loch Achray site is actually much better and safer for camping than some of the camping permit areas created by the Park which are regularly underwater and unusable (e.g the beaches at Firkin Point).  The difference though is the permit areas never required planning permission.  More hyprocrisy from the LlTNPA and other agencies.  Should SEPA not have been objecting to many of the permit areas because of their flood risk?

The cost implications of this staffing are signficant.   10 hours at even £10 per hour (minimum wage plus on costs) is £100 a day.   17 places are planning and lets  the campsite does twice as well as Loch Chon, which was always too big and is more remote and whose occupancy is as follows:

Extract from report to December Board Meeting

So, 44% occupancy – call it 8 places at £7 a night.  That is £56 income.  So, if staff are here 10 hours a day that is going to leave a minimum net cost to the Park of £44 each day (setting aside all the other running costs, from power supply to vehicles for the staff concerned).  In reality it will probably be far far more than this and for what?   What the Park have not yet appreciated, because they have never done a proper cost benefit analysis of any of the Your Park proposals,  is that it would be far better use of resources to let campers supervise themselves and just service facilities (whether toilets or bins) than it is to try and police campers (which should be a matter for the police).

The response to SEPA also raises questions about when this campsite will be open:

This makes it sound as though, just like Firkin Point, the Park  toilets won’t be available for use at the start of the camping byelaw season on 1st March.  Its also unclear whether the statement that the tourist season runs till October means the campsite will close on 30th September, as Loch Chon did this year, or at the end of October.  In my view ALL the Park’s facilities such as toilets should be open year round.

To end this consideration of the Loch Achray campsite planning application on a positive note, one excellent document has been added to the Park’s planning portal: a “soft landscape” specification (see here) for revegetating and planting trees in the area around the carpark.  This was from a Sarah Barron, whom I assume is the Park’s ecologist.  Its very detailed, leaves nothing to chance and sets the sort of standard the Park should be applying to this sort of work everywhere – hydro schemes come to mind.    The Park has some excellent knowledgeable staff, the problem is that best use is not being made of their expertise.

 

What needs to happen

The concerns described here  about the design and opening times of the Loch Achray campsite could easily be sorted out if the LLTNPA had the will and consulted properly with recreational interests instead of thinking it knows best.   Given their general reluctance to do this I hope people will object to the application, the main things to object to being the lack of a chemical disposal point and the proposal to create artificial camping places.

My greatest concern however is that this is the only concrete proposal for a new camping facility in the National Park in the next year.  Now, I know that austerity is really biting but if its budget custs which are preventing the Park from doing more they should be saying this loud and clear.  They promised delivery of new camping infrastructure as part of the Your Park plan and so far have delivered very little.   There are lots of small things the Park could do, for a lot less cost than the Loch Achray Campsite, which would make a real difference.

December 1, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Its now two years since the Bruar hydro scheme opened and yet these broken sections of pipe and wrecked container have still not been removed from the glen

After my visit a few weeks ago to Glen Bruar and my post on the restoration work on the pipeline (see here), the Cairngorms National Park Authority indicated they had some further documentation about the restoration works and would place these on the planning portal.  They did so a couple of weeks ago (see here).   I found the documentation generally helpful and informative and welcome  the CNPA’s willingness to be transparent about the actions it has taken to ensure developers adhere to planning conditions.  The documentation also shows that the CNPA has been concerned about what went wrong and been taking appropriate action to remedy this.   This post will illustrate that, but also – as promised in my previous post –  provide evidence that there is still some way to go before the Bruar Hydro reaches the standard we should expect in a National Park.

 

Information on how the pipeline was restored

A section of the boulder scar which ran between the powerhouse and the intake which has not been restored.Somewhat paradoxically, what I regard as the most impressive aspect of the restoration work – the initial boulder scar was a landscape disaster (see here) – the “repair” of the land above the pipeline is least documented.  While detailed plans were improved in July to the minor intake, the two pipe bridges and the power house embankment, there is no proper specification for the restoration of the pipeline.  The documentation that has recently been added (see here), says little more than the reinstatement note from February 2016 which acknowledged the pipeline scar was an issue which would be fixed by removing some of the boulders and robbing turves from neighbouring areas.

Photo showing robbed area to right of track and restored area to left

The point here is that such work can be done well or badly and there appears to be no specification for the work.   I was interested to find out that the restoration work in this case had been done by McGowan, the same contractor who worked for Natural Retreats on the Shieling Rope tow at Cairngorm about which I had major concerns (see here). In this case they have done an excellent job – well done them!  I believe the explanation for this is that the excavations of the robbed turves are shallow and well spaced, allowing vegetation from the robbed areas to recover quickly.   The CNPA has told me long armed diggers were used by McGowan to avoid further damage to vegetation.  Great!   The work though appears to have been all done on trust and the question is what further recourse would the CNPA have if this work had not been done to such a high standard?  Indeed what recourse do they have to the developer for the further areas which still need attention?

While the primary focus of the CNPA should be on preventing the need for such restoration work to take place (and that means monitoring how developers remove turves when they dig pipelines or create new tracks so there is sufficient vegetation to re-cover the affected areas), there will be cases where this goes wrong.  Setting clear standards for how restoration work should be undertaken in such circumstances, based on what McGowan has done in Glen Bruar, would I  think be in the public interest.  All contractors would then know what was expected of them in such circumstances.

 

The quality of the hill track restoration

Apart from the final short section to the intake dam, there was already a track all the way up Glen Bruar but this was “upgraded” for construction vehicles.  This work included widening, adding further material to the surface of the track and creation of turning/laydown areas.  The intention had been that the track should be restored to how it appeared previously and this had now been done.   Its clear from the documentation that the CNPA has devoted considerable attention to the worst sections of track and this has had a positive impact.

The words in italics set out the CNPA’s concerns, the words below the photo the proposed response from the developer.

This is how the restored area looks now:

A significant improvement (although the right edge of the road has not been revegetated and is at high risk of erosion).  Other parts of the road along the glen appear to have also been narrowed with the result it is no longer a race track.

The finishing of the track however still in places leaves much to be desired:

The worst of the protruding culverts

There are a significant number of what appear to be new protruding plastic culverts along the track and there appears to rhyme or reason to what has been fully finished, partially finished and what just left:

Finished culvert with turf placed above stone
Same culvert, other side of road, protruding – why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One culvert is mentioned in the CNPA REINSTATEMENT_UPDATE_NOTE (the easiest document to read on the restoration works):

Why not any of the others?,

 

In several places the edge of the road is eroding.  It is hard to tell if the stone has been placed there for work yet unfinished or to mark the holes.

In other places dumped aggregate has not been removed and is spilling down the slopes beside the track.

The CNPA rightly asked for the pipe and storage areas to be restored:

The end result for the largest area (featured above) leaves a lot to be desired, with no evidence so far of the robbing turves technique to restore bare ground as used so successfully on the pipeline:

Same laydown area as in top photo, different angle – the pile of aggregate for filling potholes makes it look worse.

Perhaps this work has still to be done?

Poor finishing with material from the edge of the track spilling down towards the culverted burn below

In my view, there is still a significant amount of finishing work still required on the road.

External sections of pipeline

The restoration of these areas have been dealt with as Non Material Variations to the original planning application – an indication that the original plan were not perhaps as comprehensive as they should have been.

The first pipe bridge close to the power house had last year looked a total mess with the river threatening to wash the plinth away.  It is now much better:

Before
After

 

The restoration of the second exposed section of pipe plinth where it crosses a burn has been less successful.

The banks of burn below the concrete plinth which are bare and will erode contast with how the banks looked previously – heather covered. There is a very large patch of bare ground to the right.

The rip rap bouldering to protect the banks around the plinth looks a mess, there is a large patch of bare ground and the banks of the burn have not been restored with vegetation and one would have thought at risk of rapid erosion.

 

Other restoration work

The intake overflow pipes  – which were bright blue – have been painted and to my mind are far less prominent.

The CNPA has required a lot of further restoration around the top intake which you can read about in the restoration note update (see here).

A pool was created at the secondary intake to make it appear more natural.

While there has been significant improvements in revegetating ground around the top intakes, I am not sure that the work to improve the secondary intake has been successfully.  The river bed here was bouldery but the piles of boulders created to make the dam and cover up the concrete still look as though they have been bulldozed into place rather than deposited naturally.

There are also other major (first photo) and minor bits (photo above)  of clear up required.

What can be learned from this?

I suspect that CNPA staff have learned a great deal from what went wrong at Glen Bruar and all credit to them for the work they have done to try and reduce the impacts since the Hydro Scheme started to operate.   Almost all the issues they have had to tackle – and still need to tackle – stem from the work not being properly specified and supervised in the first place. Its much harder to address problems after the event rather than preventing them from arising in the first place.

The lessons from Glen Bruar therefore seem to be to be about the importance of getting high quality specifications agreed for works before they start and then monitoring these sufficiently to ensure they are adhered to.  Its almost certain our National Parks need more resources to do this.  The forthcoming planning bill should in my view include provisions for developers to pay for the costs of ensuring this happens.