Month: February 2018

February 20, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
In the 18th Century, mine developers felt obliged to provide housing for their workforce in the local area, quite a contrast to the 21st Century where the LLTNPA is happy to leave all to the market with predictable consequences

Both our National Parks have two statutory objectives which incorporate the term ‘sustainable’:

  • “to promote the sustainable use of natural resources”, and
  • “to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities”. 

As I revealed last week (see here), while the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has adopted a policy on mining which states there should be NO mining in the National Park except where this is in the national interest and accepts that there is NO national interest at stake at Cononish,  nevertheless its staff (code senior management team) are recommending that policy should be ignored because of the alleged LOCAL economic benefits the gold mine could bring to the area.

The old LLTNPA Board fell for these arguments when it approved the planning application that has now expired.  It should not do so again.  This post takes a critical look at the social and economic benefits which it is claimed that the Cononish goldmine will bring  to the local area and ends by proposing an alternative way forward.

 

Socio-economic impact study

Scotgold have not produced a new socio-economic impact study but simply updated the jobs figures from a 2011 study on the socio-economic impact of the mine they commissioned from David Bell at Stirling University (see here).    David Bell may be an eminent economist but that report in my view simply provides the evidence of the dangers of academics being paid to do work by Developers:

“Under present conditions in the gold market, it is extremely unlikely that the mine would not be viable during its expected lifetime”

That key conclusion of the 2011 Report turns out to have been badly wrong, the mine that was approved has not been viable and none of the report’s predicted economic benefits have happened.  This is why the LLTNPA is being presented with a planning application whose main  purpose is to reduce costs, namely those required to construct a tailings dam (which would require a large amount of capital up front) and to return a high proportion of the tailings to the mine once mining had finished.

While the LLTNPA openly admit that the socio-economic report is badly out of date, the Committee Report provides no critical analysis of the findings of that report (which helped convince the Board to approve previous planning application) in the light of experience and provide no other analysis of the social  and economic impacts.  Indeed there is NO impact of the SOCIAL impacts of the proposed development either in David Bell’s old report or the Committee Report.  The LLTNPA has simply failed to look at this and assumed that new jobs are all that matters.

 

How many and what type of jobs would the gold mine create?

The heading “Socio-economic impacts” is totally misleading as there is NO analysis of the social impacts of the proposed development and very little about the economic impacts except for the number of jobs created.

The jobs sound great don’t they, 62 over 10 years or 37 over 17 years, and the average salaries appear to have increased?  Except that:

  • the jobs benefits are entirely dependant on the mine staying in production.  It might not because the plan now is to extract the richest ore first and if Scotgold don’t have to return tailings to the mine they could now abandon it at any time.
  • the increased average salary – and no explanation is given for why this figure has increased – means that those at Cononish appear to have been brought into line with the average salaries in English mines which was £30,600 in 2011.
  • Scotgold have used average and NOT median salaries.  Their Chief Exec currently receives £100k and will no doubt get more if planning is approved, there will be other high salaries paid for expert mining jobs and all of that will be offset  by lower salaries paid to manual labourers and security guards.  These may be slightly better paid than those in the local tourist industry but Scotgold and the LLTNPA are keeping coy about the exact figures.   Whether these will be adequate compensation for the working conditions (working down a dusty mine, with chemicals or outdoors) is another matter.
Data on traffic generated by the mine suggest that a fair number of the jobs will be driving vehicles outside the mine

Scotgold gives very little information about the types of jobs that will be created but of the 62 a number will not be located locally at all.  Those include the jobs created by the processing of the concentrate – which will take place outside Scotland – and, most likely, the people employed in transporting that concentrate to the processing plant (which might be abroad).

 

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation data for an area slightly wider than the four local census zones. Employment Deprived includes people on Incapacity Benefit etc who are unable to work for health reasons.

That still leaves a significant number of jobs which will be based around the mine – 50 say. The Committee Report says NOTHING about the availability of labour locally to fill those jobs, whether skilled or unskilled.   Despite the claim apprenticeships will be created, it is very unlikely any of the 14 skilled jobs on higher salaries will be filled from people locally or indeed from anywhere else in the National Park.   Of the unskilled jobs which will be created, the 2011 Census shows that in the four areas closest to the goldmine (from Bridge of Orchy to the ends of Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart) there were 387 people living of whom 12 were unemployed.  Even if those 12 people all do gain employment at the mine that means that 38 people will need to be brought in from outside to fill the jobs.

Now, David Bell’s report argued that Cononish Goldmine would create better paid jobs than the local tourist industry with the implication being that local people might move from the tourist industry into the goldmine.  That might happen of course in certain cases but the consequence will be the same, someone will still need to come in from outside to fill the vacant low paid tourist job.

Jobs therefore will need to be filled by outsiders and this could happen in two ways.  Either people will need to commute from places like Fort William, Callander or Balloch – how does this fit with the LLTNPA’s commitment to promote sustainable travel? – or they will need to try and find somewhere to live locally.

 

The implications of the proposed gold mine for housing

The LLTNPA Committee Report, like the David Bell report before, is silent on the question of where the people filling the jobs at the goldmine will stay.  I have done a check on Zoopla, and at present there appear to be two properties for sale and none for rent within about fifteen miles of the mine.   Its not difficult to imagine that the current owners of the houses for sale might receive a windfall from the sale of their property if the mine goes ahead as the higher paid managers desperately look for somewhere to live locally.   Its possible too that owners of some housing rented out as holiday accommodation may decide they will make more money by renting out that housing to mine workers – although that would create a loss to the tourist economy which has never been evaluated.   There is, however, so little housing in the area, that its unlikely many of the 50 or so new workers could be accommodated locally.

For the lower paid jobs, commuting is unlikely to be affordable, and the predictable consequence is that much of the workforce is likely to end up living in caravans (though not on site, as the one thing planning officials are recommending is that NO caravans should be allowed in Cononish Glen).   It is equally predictable that of the people living in Scotland who aspire to live in the Highlands most will not want to stay in caravans.   The consequence will be that a large proportion of the workforce are likely to be transitory migrants, just like in the tourist industry.

If the LLTNPA had fulfilled its duty to promote sustainable social and economic development properly it would have considered the housing issues associated with the gold mine not just in the Committee Report but in the Local Development Plan which was adopted a year ago:

The Mixed Use development for Tyndrum does not include provision for a single house

However, the Local Development Plan contains NO proposals for new housing in Tyndrum, the nearest settlement to Cononish, or wider Strathfillan.  Even the Earls of Breadalbane in the 18th Century ensured cottages were provided for the people they removed from the land, forcing them to work in the lead mine – you can still see some of these at Clifton, though others such as at Newton (top pic) have now gone.

The Development Plan proposed 6 new homes at Willowbrae

While the Development Plan does provide for some new housing at Crianlarich, it gives no indication of whether these will be affordable or available to the proposed workforce at Cononish.  It appears therefore that in developing the Local Development Plan the LLTNPA paid no regard to the social and economic consequences of the goldmine going ahead.  So much for sustainable communities.

 

The LLTNPA’s evaluation of SUSTAINABLE social and economic development

In the light of the above, consider Park’s staff evaluation of the social and economic impacts:

£80m sounds fantastic until you do the sums.  Assume the average wage of the locally based jobs is still £32,500, assume 50 jobs for ten years and, discounting tax, the economic impact of the jobs created is £32,500 x 50 x 10 = £16,250,000 ie less than a quarter claimed in the Committee Report or just over £1.5m each year.  The £80m of course covers cost of capital equipment, processing of ore off site, the cost of the three HGVs and the supplies they bring in each day.  It also covered the cost of constructing the tailings dam and restoring the tailings to the mine both of which would have created more employment locally:  as a consequence its totally irresponsible of the Committee Report to quote the old figure of £80m.

The planner’s evaluation of the gold mine against its statutory objective – there is no mention of the word sustainable in the conclusion as underlined

The failure of LLTNPA senior management to properly scrutinise or challenge the claimed contribution of the Cononish gold mine is a serious error.    What’s more, the Committee Report fails to explain how this gold mine could be described as sustainable economically.   I am not surprised:  the Park last year promoted their Head of Planning to a new role of “Director of Rural Development and Planning”.  The title says it all.  The job is to promote development, whether sustainable or not, as is is all too evident in this Committee Report.

Here are some questions then which the Board should be demanding answers to:

  • In what sense can short-term jobs, most of which are likely to be filled by people from outside the area, be described as sustainable?
  • How is Scotgold proposing to transport their workers to the site (apart from the minibus shuttle up the track from the enlarged carpark at Dalrigh) and to ensure that decent accommodation is available for them.
  • If further gold mines are proposed in future, what it the long-term plan to enable a mining workforce to settle in the National Park permanently and would this be compatible with the National Park’s objectives?
  • And, most important of all, what are the alternatives which would better meet the National Park’s statutory objectives.

The lack of any critical evaluation of the alleged social and economic benefits of the Cononish gold mine reflects, I believe, the neo-liberal approach that the LLTNPA has taken to almost everything it does in  the National Park.   The market will provide – manna from heaven.  Rich people, such as Nathaniel Le Roux the controlling share holder of Scotgold, backing developments should be welcomed into the National Park with open arms as benefactors whatever their actual contribution, whatever the cost to local communites and whatever the cost to the natural environment.

 

What needs to happen

I would hope the Board will be brave enough next week to reject the new planning application for the Cononish gold mine on the grounds that its economic benefits have been grossly exaggerated, the social costs will be considerable and that no element of the proposal can be described as sustainable.

However, the LLTNPA Board cannot do this in isolation and it should therefore at the same time commit to developing an alternative economic strategy for the National Park based on its four statutory objectives.     This should start with the question of how the LLTNPA could help create locally based jobs which do not involved destroying the National Park’s special qualities.  The first step, for example, in developing an alternative to the gold mine would be to consider how to create 12 jobs for the people unemployed locally at say £32,500 a year.  With on-costs of 20% that comes to £468k a year.

That sounds a lot of money until you consider the huge income landowners and financiers are receiving from the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart.   The net income from the proposed scheme at Ben More farm, for example, was estimated at over £75k a year (see here) and that is without taking account the inflated cost of repaying loans to the city.

There are therefore clear alternatives but for these to happen we need land reform.   Instead of avoiding this issue as they have done, our National Parks should be at the forefront of engaging with local people and other interested parties to make this happen and to develop land-use strategies which benefit local communities, enhance the natural environment and promote its enjoyment.   Until they do this, sustainable economic development will never happen in our National Parks and the LLTNPA will continue to attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

February 19, 2018 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The track above the Clova Hotel as photographed in June 2017. The faint horizontal line across the hill above the arrow marks the pipeline connecting two hydro intakes and is not a constructed track as I had thought though used by All Terrain Vehicles. The black arrow indicates the top section of the buried pipeline.

Two weeks ago, when I was in Glen Clova, I went to take a closer look at some of the tracks I had seen while doing a round of the Glen Prosen skyline (see here).  This post takes a further look at what has been happening.  None of the five tracks featured here appears on the OS Map used on either the Cairngorms National Park Authority or Angus Council Planning Portals:

If you zoom in further on the map to the level that shows planning applications, there are none at all for these tracks or for the new bothy by Loch Wharral at the top of Track 2.  While it is arguable that Track 4 was constructed for forestry purposes, and therefore did not need any type of planning permission before the introduction of Prior Notification system in 2014, in my view all the other tracks should have required full planning permission.  Whatever the legal position,in my view an extremely fine area of landscape within a National Park has been trashed in a very short period of time without any public debate and without the consent of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  What even more appalling is that, apart from Track 1, there is very little the Cairngorms National Park Authority can do about it.

 

Track 1 – Track above Clova Hotel

Track viewed from Loch Brandy path above hotel – Photo Credit Helen Todd, Scottish LINK hill tracks group

I had wrongly thought (see top photo) that this track had been created in order to construct the hydro scheme above the Glen Clova Hotel.  (The consent for the hydro scheme was given to Clova Farms Ltd who appear to be owned by the same people who own the Clova Hotel).    No track was consented for that scheme because construction of the two hydro intakes was to be by helicopter and while vehicles were used, the CNPA has kindly confirmed to me in the last two weeks that the track was constructed afterwards and negotiations are still taking place with the landowner.

Track viewed from slopes of Ben Tirran

The track is highly visible from all directions and because of this the CNPA should insist that it is removed.  While not built to construct the hydro scheme above the Glen Clova Hotel , it is very clear that it is being used to access the first intake:

Erosion caused by ATVs driving from the top of the constructed track to the first hydro intake.

 

It also appears to be being used for the purpose of rearing game birds:

Overturned feeder and pheasants – there were two feeders by the plantation accessed by an ATV track leading off the main track

The fact that its extremely poorly designed and constructed is in a sense irrelevant as it shouldn’t ever have been constructed in the first place because of its landscape impact.  The poor construction, however, adds to the impression that whoever constructed this track does not care about the landscape:

Large area, purpose unknown, at start of track
Poorly constructed ditch and abandoned? section of pipe
As well as being highly prominent, sections of the track are far too steep and will erode
While the upper part of the track was under snow, there was still evidence of very poor construction

 

 

 

 

 

The lack of care is also evident in the construction of the first hydro intake:

 

The original intake screen for the hydro – its a tiny intake and I suspect dries up in summer  – has already been replaced but instead of removing the old red screen its been left dumped on the site.

The line of the pipeline is marked by our footprints.

Besides being poorly designed – you can make out a bright “Lomond” blue pipe and concrete lid to pipe access – we walked by several sections of abandoned pipe.   I don’t know if the Cairngorms National Park Authority have visited the intakes but they need to order a clear-up.

 

If the Glen Clova Hotel tries to justify the new track as being needed to access this intake, in my view the response should be simple, an intake of this tiny size should NEVER justify permanent new hill tracks.    I believe this track is a real test for the CNPA and the presumption set out in the National Park Partnership Plan that there should be no new hill tracks.  The challenge will be how to get the landowner to restore the track and, if the CNPA do not believe they have sufficient powers to do this, they should say so now while the Planning Bill is going through the Scottish Parliament.

 

Track 2 to Loch Wharral

Top of Track 2 which ends at Loch Wharral

 

I did not walk along Track 2 which follows the line of the old path up to Loch Wharral and a newly constructed bothy but even under snow you could see it forms a prominent way across the moor.

The track to Loch Wharral, the tiny whitish spot at the end of the track and on the bottom of the coire is the bothy – photo June 2016

This track is on the Rottal estate, which has been responsible for creating several further tracks outside the National Park Boundary (which runs up Ben Tirran, the hill on the right).   According to the Cairngorms National Park Authority the track had been created by 2012 at latest while the bothy – there had been a ruin here before apparently though its not on my old map – was built sometime between 2008 and 2014.  Neither had planning permission.

The problem is our planning law, as set out in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 and Scottish Government Planning Circular 10/2009 which set out the rules on Planning Enforcement:

 

TIME LIMITS ON ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Breaches with a 4-Year Time Limit

10. Where a breach of planning control consists of the carrying out of any form of ‘operational development’ without planning permission, section 124(1) provides that enforcement action may only be taken within 4 years of the date on which the operations were ‘substantially completed’. This provision extends to building, engineering, mining and other operations in, on, over or under the land.

 

Hill tracks are classified as operational developments and, since this track had been created by 2012, the CNPA would have had to initiate enforcement action at least two years ago to be able to remove it.   While I can understand there is a need for time limits on enforcement action for some types of  case, the whole system seems based on the assumption that planning authorities are aware of breaches of planning requirements and have chosen to do nothing about it.  Given cuts in the numbers of planning staff, such assumptions are no longer justifiable.

 

In the case of National Parks though, when a landowner undertakes a development without planning permission that has a serious impact on its special qualities such landscape, conservation or recreational enjoyment, then I am not sure there should be any time limits to when enforcement action could take place.  The expectation should be that all developments require planning permission and no-one should get away with it.   I would have hoped that the CNPA might have made this case when responding to the Planning Bill (see here) and in my view it is an example of the type of change to our planning law which is needed to make enforcement more effective.

There is still a question of whether the Rottal Estate could be required to submit a retrospective planning application for the Loch Wharral bothy.

Track 3 – Rough Craig

The track over Rough Craigs, the ridge on the near side of Glen Clova, from west slopes of Ben Tirran

According to the CNPA, the track over Rough Craig had also been constructed by 2012 and is therefore outside planning enforcement time limits.  Following as it does the crest of the ridge and being built up above the surrounding moor it forms another very prominent landscape scar.

The northern end of the Rough Craigs track close to the estate boundary, and electric fence, where it terminates.

Track 4

Photo June 2017

I did not have time to visit Track 4 which is highly prominent when you are driving up Glen Clova and from a distance.    While significantly shorter than other tracks, this track is a good demonstration of the impact “forest” tracks can have when crossing open ground and why all forest tracks should require full planning permission.  I have no information of when this track was constructed but unless its been since December 2014, when the Prior Notification was introduced, the CNPA is very unlikely to be able to take any enforcement action.

 

Track 5

Photo Credit George Allan, LINK Hill track campaign

Across the glen, on the west side of the river, north of the hotel, behind a plantation so not visible from the road, there is yet another track which George Allan told me about. Again I have not visited but George reported it to the CNPA and it apparently pre-dates the Prior Notification system, so yet again no action can be taken, although in terms of construction its the most shocking of all the tracks:

Photo Credit George Allan

Our National Parks also need new powers to ensure that older hill tracks, which could not now be removed even if the law changes, are of a good standard of design and construction.

And, just in case you think that’s it………..

Earthworks opposite Glen Clova Hotel

Here is a photo of work currently going on in the glen.   There have been historic issues in Glen Clova with landforms being altered without appropriate permissions and this has been reported to the CNPA.  We will see what happens but if you see earthworks or earth moving equipment in the National Park report it!

 

What needs to be done

What has been happening in one short section of one glen in the Cairngorms National Park over (say) the last ten years should in my view be a national scandal.   Unfortunately, its not the only example and the landscape in Drumochter has been similarly trashed.    The basic issue is that landowners believe and act as if they can do whatever they want on their land without any consideration of the public interest even though their land is in a National Park.    This issue is unlikely to be fully addressed without far more extensive land reform.

While the CNPA took their eye off the ball for far too long, they have acknowledged this and are now taking steps both to monitor hill tracks and to initiate enforcement action where they have the powers to do so.  The enforcement process is painfully slow and because of this its not possible to tell whether the CNPA have sufficient powers to ensure the unlawful tracks on the Cluny Estate (see here) and above the Clova Hotel are removed and the land fully restored.

While the Scottish Government repeats ad nauseum the need to speed up planning applications – and judges our Planning Authorities on this – it has so far has taken no interest in trying to speed up enforcement process.  It should do so, and if our National Parks and other Planning Authorities need new powers to do this, they should be given this in the Planning Bill.  Indefinite periods to take enforcement action against developments which harm landscape or conservation would be a good start.

February 17, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Story from the Herald 16th February – who placed it?

Until a couple of days ago, there was NO information on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority website about Board or Committee Meetings this year, no dates, nothing.  I had written to the LLTNPA about this a couple of weeks ago, only to be reminded that the October 2017 Board Meeting had agreed dates for all Board and Committee meetings in 2018 but because it was possible some of the dates might change as a result of a current review of governance,  nothing had been published on the LLTNPA website.   This is unacceptable.

 

Back in October a Planning and Access Committee meeting had been scheduled for 30th January but there was nothing on the LLTNPA website to say it had been cancelled.   And then, out of the blue, on the 15th the meeting date for a Special Board Meeting on Cononish appeared (together with the date of the March Board meeting) while the Committee papers were made public on the planning portal.

There are now two 2018 Board meeting dates advertised on the LLTNPA website: there is still not a single date for the Planning and Access Committee, Audit Committee, Local Review Body or Local Access Forum advertised

Such lack of transparency is practically unknown in other public authorities, a couple of clicks on google and you can find meeting dates for any Council, as the elected Councillors on the Board should well know (see here for Stirling).    The first challenge of the governance review ordered by Board Convener James Stuart should be how to change the senior staff management team so they start acting like public servants rather than unaccountable bureaucrats.

 

What’s going on with the Cononish Planning application is more serious however.    Its not clear who released the story the Herald – unusually no-one is quoted – but it appears to have been timed to coincide with the papers appearing on the Park website.   If it was the LLTNPA, it suggest they have already in effect taken the decision but if it was Scotgold, the timing suggests they were tipped off by Park staff when to contact the media.   After the Owen McKee scandal, in which the LLTNPA tried to cover up that Owen McKee the Convener of the Planning Committee had been trading in Scotgold shares (see here for example), one might have thought that Park staff would have done everything to ensure the LLTNPA was seen to be squeaky clean.

 

Either this media announcement was done with Board approval – in which case we are back to the bad old days of Linda McKay’s convenorship where the LLTNPA in effect took decisions at secret pre-meetings held before public Board Meetings –  or staff appear to be trying to pre-empt any proper scrutiny or debate about their recommendations.  I suspect the latter and, if so, the Board needs to hold staff to account and remind them its Board Members, not staff, who takes the decisions in such cases.

The assessment of the new Cononish Gold Mine Planning Application

In 2011 the LLTNPA reversed its opposition to a gold mine at Cononish and a planning application was subsequently approved in 2012.   Nothing significant then happened until 2014-15 when the LLTNPA agreed to a Section 42 variation and extended that permission for a further three years.   That permission ran out on 6th February 2018, ie just over a week ago, and means that the current application is the only one on the table.  Scotgold had previously advised its shareholders that if the new application, which is primarily driven by a need to reduce costs to enable the development to go ahead, was refused it could revert to the existing one.   That is no longer the case.

 

This is important because through much of the 72 page Committee Report and in many of the 210 accompanying documents (see here) the argument is that the new application is better than the old one and hence should be approved.  To me it rather begs the question of how a National Park Authority could have ever approved the old scheme if the impact on the landscape was worse and the risk of collapse of the tailings management dam was higher as is stated in the report?  This application needs to decided on its merits.

 

While the final part of the Committee Report does provide an assessment of the scheme against the LLTNPA’s Development Plan, the National Park Partnership Plan and the statutory objectives of our National Parks, in my view this is far from objective.  Here is how the first Local Development Plan policy is evaluated:

So the mine is acceptable because Cononish could be said be a derelict site!   I thought it had been designated as a Wild Land Area!!     Leaving aside the fact that the current operation and area of “dereliction” only covers a tiny proportion of the proposed site, the developer was required to take out bonds to guarantee restoration of the existing site once operations finished.   If the current planning permission was refused, the site would be restored and would not be derelict at all!    So, the conclusion that the proposal “can be said to comply with EDP2” is wrong.

 

Or how about the evaluation in the Committee Report of the mine against the Local Development Plan’s Mineral Extraction Policy 1 which states:

‘New mineral extraction sites shall only [my highlight]  be supported where the material to be extracted is required to facilitate the enhancement and maintenance of the National Park’s built environment or, where it can be demonstrated that there is an overriding national interest and there is no reasonable alternative source outwith the National Park.’

The assessment is 9.27 is quite correct and should mean the development should be refused.    Instead, para 9.27, gives a number of dubious reasons why Park staff believe the mine should go ahead, none of which override a policy which basically says there should be no gold or other mines in the National Park except for reasons of national interest.

 

After these examples (and there are many more), you will not be surprised to read that despite also finding that:

“During the construction, operational and decommissioning phases of the mine, years 1-17, this development will be contrary to the Local Development Plan as it will not safeguard, protect or enhance the Landscape, Visual Amenity, Wild Land, Special Qualities, Recreation and Access”

the final recommendation is that the application should be approved, albeit with no less than 57 conditions.   Senior Park staff have therefore failed to ensure that the Cononish gold mine application has been evaluated objectively against the LLTNPA’s own policies.   I don’t know why this is the case but the failures in logic are so glaring that it appears something else is going on.

 

What needs to happen

I hope that Board Members read the Committee Report and accompanying papers properly and are not put off by the huge volume of information.  If they do so, they should appreciate that reasoning of officers is seriously flawed in a number of places and their recommendations open to legal challenge on a number of grounds.  Reasons enough to reject the application.

 

I will consider the new Cononish proposal’s compatibility with the conservation objectives of the National Park in my next post.

February 15, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Track above Allt Coire Fhar, Drumochter – a convenient way to access col between Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich but which replaced a former stalker’s path and was extended further last year, apparently without planning permission. Note the width and the eroding banks on the right which add to the scar.

The Scottish Government’s Planning Bill and the CNPA response

In December, the Scottish Government published its Planning Bill and this is now going through Parliament and will be considered this month by the Local Government Committee.    While in the Memorandum  accompanying the Planning Bill the Scottish Government clearly states “The purpose of planning is to guide how land should be used to meet the needs of society”  our planning system is currently focussed on where and how development should take place rather than how all land should be managed.  While there are some good things in the Planning Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament, it reflects and indeed consolidates that development bias, containing no new measures to protect the environment or determine how land in the countryside is managed.

 

The gaping hole in the Bill is landownership and what happens when a landowner decides to manage land which does not “meet the needs of society”.    For example, while the Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham has accepted there is a need to review how grouse moors are managed and set up a Review Group to do this – whose remit is ALL about land-use – there is absolutely nothing in the Planning Bill which would enable Planning Authorities to influence, let alone control, how grouse moors might be managed in future.    While that presents a problem for many of our Planning Authorities,  it poses specific challenges for our National Park Authority whose primary purpose relates to the management of land within their areas.

 

Historically, our planning system’s approach to environmental protection in the countryside has been limited to the  designation of protected areas, from National Scenic Areas to Special Areas of Conservation.  These offer some “protection” against certain types of development.  The Planning Bill contains no new measures to strengthen or extend existing protection and indeed contains one measure which is likely to do the opposite:  the proposal to replace Simplified Planning Zones with Simplified Development Zones will remove the current statutory restriction on such zones being located in National Scenic Area or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (see here for excellent SPICE briefing on the Bill).

 

While the John Muir Trust is thankfully campaigning for the Scottish Government to add clauses to the Bill which would increase the protection offered to wild land (see here for lobby of parliament)  that appears to be it at present.    There is nothing in the Planning Bill to suggest that the Scottish Government has any idea how our European designated sites could or should change with Brexit looming.  This is important because the European Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation have become far more important and carry far more weight in the decisions our Planning Authorities make than our home spun designations such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Scenic Area or, dare I say it, National Park.

 

The Planning Bill is therefore a lost opportunity when it comes to the environment including the challenges faced by our National Park Authorities, which have responsibility for development plans on the one hand and for conserving landscape and natural heritage on the other. There is nothing, for example, in the Planning Bill which would enable or help the Cairngorms National Park Authority to achieve its aspiration to enhance the environment at the landscape scale.  It was disappointing therefore to read the CNPA’s draft response to the Planning Bill which was considered at its January Planning Committee (see here).   Staff accepted the format of the consultation – I appreciate they are hard pressed and probably did not have much time to consider this – which avoided all the big gaps in the Bill outlined above and failed to use the opportunity to articulate and provide more evidence of the very real challenges they are facing:

 

 

No suggestion here as to how the planning system could be developed to influence land-use within the National Park “to meet the needs of society”.

 

While the CNPA did strongly support some of the proposals in the Bill, I am surprised given what has been going on in the National Park they do not make more of them:

Given their experience of hill tracks for example does the CNPA really think the proposals in the Bill to strengthen enforcement are enough?   Why did they not supply all the evidence they had presented to the Board at their December meeting on the need for better enforcement (see here)?    In the case of the Cluny Hill track in Glen Banchor, for example (see below), do CNPA staff believe the proposed new enforcement powers would have resulted in this track having been restored by now?  If yes, it would have been good to know why, but if no, surely the CNPA should have suggested what further powers they need?

So, what would the CNPA need to charge to recover the costs of enforcing the proper re-instatement of the Glen Bruar hydro scheme (see below) for example?    Again, like enforcement powers, we do not know whether or not CNPA staff believe the new charging flexibility would cover costs.

 

Its possible of course that the CNPA planning committee strengthened the response and at least the CNPA response was considered by Committee.  There has been no Planning Committee meeting in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and its impossible to tell if they have responded to the consultation or not.

 

The proposals in the CNPA’s Main Issues Report affecting land-use in the countryside – hill tracks

This narrow approach to development planning, which accepts the current ruling ethos that planning should primarily be about controlling development rather than wider land-use,  is reflected in the CNPA’s Main Issues Report which is out for consultation until the beginning of March (see here) .  While its positive that two out of the ten main issues identified for the new Local Development Plan are ostensibly about land-use, the section on Natura Sites is reduced to a consideration of how to protect Capercaillie ( I will come back to this in a future post).  I will consider here the section on hill tracks.

The new hill track at Glen Banchor above Newtonmore is already being seriously eroded. Photo Credit Dave Morris

I welcomed the commitment in the CNPA’s National Park Partnership Plan published last year that there should be a presumption against new hill tracks in open moorland areas but I do not believe the discussion in the Main Issues Report goes nearly far enough.

The claim that the current policy on landscape “has been used effectively to control and mitigate the impact of new hill tracks in cases where they require planning permission” is in my view not true.  For example, the CNPA is taking enforcement action against the unlawful Cluny Estate track (see here) and has spent a considerable time ensuring that the Glen Bruar hydro track met planning requirements (see here) and that is without considering all the tracks which have been created for moorland management but which estates claimed were for agricultural and forestry purposes and so did not need planning permission.   The analysis fails to consider the serious deficiencies in the Prior Notification system or the very real problems the CNPA faces in proving that a hill track is not for agricultural or forestry purposes.

Photo taken end January 2018 – Photo Credit Dave Morris

Is the hill track at Glen Banchor, for example, which goes through moorland an agricultural track because the newly constructed section leads to a pen used for sheep dog trials?

The problem is the proposed Development Plan policy strengthening, while well intentioned, is poorly worded and likely to be totally ineffective.  To illustrate this consider the 10 miles of new track over moorland in Glen Feshie which the CNPA decided last year did not need planning permission and could be dealt with under the Prior Notification system because part of the purpose of the new tracks was to plant new forestry (see here). Is the CNPA now saying that such tracks, which I argued might be justified but should have been properly considered through the planning process, would not be allowed?  I suspect not.  So when will open moorland be treated as moorland?  Will anyone who says they propose to plant a few trees or keep a few sheep as mops for the ticks which affect grouse be still able to do what they want?

The quagmire created by off road use of vehicles above the Glen Banchor track – Photo Credit Dave Morris January 2018

An even greater problem is that the policy says nothing about use of vehicles off road which eventually becomes so bad that it is used to justify the creation of new tracks.  You cannot deal with track issues without considering how vehicles are then used when they come to the end of tracks.

 

And the Main Issues Report says nothing at all about how the CNPA might strengthen requirements about how tracks are designed, whether these be new tracks or upgrades of existing ones.

 

What needs to happen

While I welcome the desire of the CNPA to stop the proliferation of hill tracks, if they are to be successful in this, they need to develop and extend their proposal that there should be a presumption against new tracks in open moorland areas.  For example, the CNPA could:

  • Use planning powers to ensure that where tracks are consented in other areas, conditions are attached preventing vehicles using such tracks to access open country
  • Develop guidance, in partnership with recreational organisations and conservation minded landowners, on the off-track use of vehicles and consider the development of byelaws in future to control such use of vehicles
  • Set obligatory minimum standards for tracks and where tracks did not meet these standards no “upgrades” would be allowed.  For example, SNH recommends a maximum angle of 14% for hill tracks because any more than this the track erodes.   The CNPA should no longer tolerate poorly constructed tracks.

I also believe that the CNPA needs to consult on and articulate clear criteria about when they would be prepared  to consider tracks in moorland areas, for example to enable forest restoration, otherwise they will risk undermining their new policy proposal before its even adopted.  I will explain why in a further post on Glen Feshie.

February 8, 2018 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The volume of material allowed to be stored in the tailings stacks it is proposed to create below the Cononish gold mine (to the right of the dark specks on left) will impact on their size and number. Under snow, you could barely see the bags of tailings currently stored below the mine.

Following my post on what is going on behind the scenes at Scotgold Resources (see here),  this post will take a further  look at the landscape and wild land impacts of their proposals for storing waste extracted from the mine and their response to the objections made by myself and Mountaineering Scotland (see here).   The more “technical” issues, relating to the design and restoration of the proposed tailings stacks, will be picked up in a further post.

 

Scotgold want to increase the volume of waste that can be left outside the mine

In early posts on the new planning application (see here for example) and in my objection to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority about that application, I expressed concern that Scotgold Resources was wanting to dump far more spoil outwith the mine than the 400,000 tonnes which had been previously agreed.   Scotgold’s response in December was in my view less than clear and tried to divert attention to the form of the tailings stacks rather than their volume.   Earlier this month, however, they produced a further document comparing the volume of the materials in the original and in the new application (see here).   I suspect this was as a result of a request from the responsible Planning Officer, well done them!    The document shows that I was right to claim that Scotgold want the LLTNPA to approve plans which would result in far MORE material being dumped outwith the mine than was previously agreed.

The new proposal is to store spoil in ten tailings stacks rather than single large tailings dam which would have required the Allt Eas Anie – of ice climbing fame – to be diverted and a large amount of material from the floor of the glen (the earthfill in the table below ) to be bulldozed to form the dam. Here are the two tables, merged to make comparison easier:

Original Proposal – New proposal
Dam Stacks
Tonnage Volume (m3) Tonnage Volume (m3)
earthfill not specified 130,273 n/a n/a
rockfill not specified 33,403 172,332 86,166
filters not specified 6,000 n/a n/a
tailings 400,000 296,296 552,779 345,487
subtotal ? 465,972 725,111 431,653
Re-circulation pond
earthfill 10,000
Plant Bund
27,670 19,602
Allt Eas Anie Diversion
earth -38,100
rock -6,900
Fill (alteration above existing landform) 503,642 451,255
Cut (alteration below existing landform) -45,000 0

If you set aside the earthfill, what the table  shows is that Scotgold want to increase greatly the amount of rock (from 33,403 to 86,166m3)  and tailings (from 296,296 to 345,487m3) extracted out of the mine.   This also has the effect of signficantly increasing the area of ground affected:

 

“The operational disturbance now relates to 451,255m3, while at restoration this total alteration to landform is 9% larger by volume.”

 

The point here is that whatever the merits of tailings stacks over a single tailings dam, there would need to be fewer tailings stacks affecting a smaller area of ground (or alternatively the size of the tailings stacks could be reduced)  if the LLTNPA retained their original condition that the amount of material that could be left outside the mine could not exceed 400,000 tonnes.  Indeed, on Scotgold’s figures in the table above, that would mean 325,000 tonnes of waste being returned to the mine – which would almost halve the number of tailings stacks required!   That really would be an improvement on the original proposal!!   That is the last thing Scotgold wants, however, which is why they have been less than clear about their proposals up till now.

Part of the reason is cost, its expensive to return waste to mines, although that of course would create far more local jobs, which was one of the main justifications for a gold mine in the National Park in the first place.  Also, the creation of a tailings dam requires capital expenditure up front – the dam has to be created first (hence the 130,273m3 of earthfill in the table above) – while the cost of creating the proposed tailings heaps would be spread across the life of the mine.

It appears another reason for the change though is that Scotgold want to be able to extend the mine in future if more gold is discovered:

Slide presented to Scotgold AGM in November 2017

What the schematic plan shows is that potentially there is more gold down there beyond that which has been granted permission to mine at present.    Scotgold would be unable to extract this “extra gold” if tailings had to be returned to the mine, as is required at present.  It appears therefore that Scotgold wish to be in a position where they could submit a further planning application in future to extend the size of the goldmine – and this in turn could result in even more tailings stacks!   The potential cumulative impact of the LLTNPA agreeing to any increase in the amount of tailings stored outside the mine is therefore immense.  The LLTNPA and the public need to realise that what is driving the tailings stack proposals is less a concern for the landscape but the financial interests of Scotgold’s main shareholder, Nathaniel Le Roux.

The wider implications beyond Cononish are also significant:

 

The Cononish mineralisation remains open at depth down plunge and to the west along strike. There is therefore potential to add to the resource by further extensional drilling.
In addition to the currently defined Mineral Resources, Scotgold believes that there is additional resource development potential close to the Cononish mine, subject to appropriate and successful further work. Extensive gold-in-soil anomalies, mineralisation associated with outcrops and trenching and geophysical anomalies close to the current resource clearly warrant further follow up. In addition, there are indications that other reefs are present in the area too. At this stage, such indications are highly conceptual and there is no guarantee that further exploration will define additional Mineral Resources.

 

So, Scotgold is potentially wanting to develop not just the existing mine at Cononish but further mines close by.

The green line on the schematic map is the National Park boundary

 

“Based on the resulting prospectivity map, the study identified a series of high priority targets, with 6 targets being located within a 2.5 km radius of Cononish, including 2 targets outside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (LLTNP). A further 5 targets have been identified within the studied area, all of which are outside the LLTNP. Close to the Cononish deposit, Coire Nan Sionnach and Kilbridge are highlighted as highly prospective, along with two further parallel anomalies between the Cononish deposit and Coire Nan Sionnach.”

So, besides Cononish, Scotgold has identified 4 further “high priority targets” close by within the National Park and  five more high priority targets just over the boundary.   How many tailings stacks is that going to produce?

 

The landscape impact of the proposed planning application

“It must however also be noted that while the total volume is of the same order of magnitude, and a slight increase, the current proposal for tailings placement is far superior in relation to the ultimate landform and its landscape fit.”

New photo montage of tailings heaps from the north. The edge of each heap is outlined in red and barely visible.

The documents in the Environmental Statement Addendum added to the LLTNPA planning portal in December include further photo montages, requested by the LLTNPA (to their credit), of how the ten tailings heap may look from different angles.  Seen from above the size of the heaps is flattened and the photomontage assumes that each heap will fully re-vegetate.  There are a number of factors to doubt this, which Bill Stephen will come back to in another piece, but they include the toxic materials in the tailings (think of the all of the bare ground below the Tyndrum Lead mine, bare 170 years later) and the erosive power of rainfall.  If bare or even half bare the mounds would look totally different, even from the angle in the photo-montage.

Why do our public authorities believe that the tailings stacks will revegetate successfully when the evidence from the Tyndrum Lead Mine is that the waste is still not revegetating 200 years later?

In terms of landscape impact, in my view the LLTNPA should be asking the developers to prepare photomontages of what the area could look like if the plans to create a new moraine field don’t work.  It should also be asking for photomontages of what the site will look like from close up (images of what the moraine field will look like from ground level are conspicuously lacking), e.g to a climber approaching the Eas Anie.

Perhaps the LLTNPA has requested this but unfortunately at present they are refusing to publish the report from their Landscape Adviser about the potential landscape impacts of the development and how they could be mitigated.  In my view, its in the public interest that the LLTNPA makes such reports publically available at the earliest opportunity as it would enable further debate and comments about the proposals.

Gold mines and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – a wider perspective

The blue lines demarcate areas licensed by the Crown Estate for exploration

What the Scotgold Map of “Near Mine Potential” demonstrates is what a huge mistake the Loch Lomond National Park Authority made when, under the convenership of the Linda McKay, it reversed its previous opposition to a gold mine within the National Park and consented to Cononish.  According to the map and other information on the Scotgold  website there are richer gold deposits outwith the National Park which would make far more sense to develop from a commercial perspective (and which incidentally could have met the demands of the local community for jobs).  However, because Cononish had been prospected first, that is where the developers first submitted planning applications.  If the LLTNPA had drawn the line they should have drawn – mining is incompatible with our National Park’s statutory objectives –  the developers would have had to focus on the high priority areas outwith the National Park boundary.

Instead, the LLTNPA potentially faces years of applications and proposals for new developments and waste heaps.

 

The Crown Estate and the destruction of the landscape

While the Crown Estate has tried to promote a positive image at Tomintoul, most people will not be aware that without its consent, the Cononish gold mine could never have happened.  Gold mines, and the exploration for gold, are controlled by the Crown Estate Commissioners who in 2012 granted an unconditional lease to Scotgold for Cononish.  Now would be a good time to ask why the Crown Estate was granting licenses and leases for gold mine in National Parks as, in 2016, in the Scotland Act they became accountable to the Scottish Parliament (one of the main recommendations of the Smith Commission).  Indeed there is currently a Bill going through Parliament which aims “to:

  • reform the duties of the managers of Scottish Crown Estate assets;
  • provide legal powers for the transfer and delegation of management of Scottish Crown Estate assets to bodies other than Crown Estate Scotland;
  • create a national framework which ensures local communities, local authorities and industries can benefit

The Scottish Crown Estate Bill seeks to achieve these aims by changing the duty managers to manage assets on a purely commercial basis and allowing them to take into account wider social, economic and environmental factors when making management decisions.”

An ideal opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to make it clear that gold mines and other such developments licensed by the crown are NOT compatible with the conservation objectives of National Parks and there should be a presumption against any new such licences or leases in National Parks.

For the record the Scotgold 2017 Annual Report stated it had, in addition to Cononish, made the following Mines Royal Options Agreements with Crown Estates Commissioners:

  • Glen Orchy: Location – counties of Perth and Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Glen Lyon: Location – counties of Perth and Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Inverliever: Location – counties of Dunbarton, Argyll and Perth, Scotland UK
  • Knapdale: Location – county of Argyll, Scotland UK
  • Ochils: Location – county of Clackmannan, Perth, Kinross and Stirling, Scotland UK

Plenty there to provoke debate in the Scottish Parliament.

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA has a means to prevent the scenario of ever more goldmines being proposed within the National Park  and that is to insist that the current planning application is revised so that waste is returned to the mine and the amount stored outside the mine does not exceed the 400,000 tonnes originally agreed.  This would have the added benefit of enabling the size and/or number of the proposed tailings stacks to be reduced – which in landscape terms would be an improvement on the application it has already consented.

In doing this, the LLTNPA could make it clear that it has a duty to consider the potential cumulative impacts of further tailings stacks within the National Park and a duty (having conceded that one mine is acceptable) to ensure the landscape impact is as small as possible.   It could probably go further and insist that the more profit the mine makes, the more waste should be returned to it (thus creating more jobs and protecting the landscape).

The Scottish Parliament could help strengthen our National Parks by removing the discretion of the Crown Estates Commissioners to grant gold mine and other licenses in protected areas such as National Parks.  In my view such decisions should only be taken by the Scottish Parliament and only in the most exceptional circumstances.

February 7, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The Visitor Centre at the head of Glen Clova run by the Angus glens Ranger Service

Last weekend was the first time I had visited Glen Clova for several years.  The public road up the glen terminates  at a Forestry Commission (paying) car park and visitor centre. In contrast to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, which has installed gates across car parks which it then locks, the public are allowed to park vehicles here overnight.   I was pleased too to find the disabled toilet at the Visitor Centre is accessible to visitors 24 hours 365 days a year (for how the LLTNPA operates its toilets see here).  The basic infrastructure to support visitors is therefore in place and north of the car park there is a great flat area with picnic tables.

However, other things are going badly wrong and, just like in areas of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the overwhelming impression for anyone bothering to read the signs – and I am now an inveterate reader of such signs – is No! You can’t do that.  This post takes a look at the legal basis and implications of all the NO signs.

The last time I had stayed in Glen Clova, to go rock climbing on Red Craig, we had slept in my climbing partner’s van.  The Forestry Commission is now apparently trying to ban this – as it has done on so many of its car parks across Scotland.  It appears however as yet to have put no byelaws in place to make the ban here enforceable.   If you ignore the signs therefore the most the FCS could do at present is try to seek an interdict to stop a person doing this again.  Whatever the legalities, there is no justification at all for the Forestry Commission to try and stop people staying overnight here.   For anyone wanting to visit Glen Clova in a campervan there are very few places to stop off on the road apart from the Glen Clova hotel and a car park for hillwalkers on the Rottal Estate.  The Glen Clova/Glen Doll Forest carpark is easily the best place to stay and yet the Forestry Commission wants to ban this.  So much for it supporting tourism and enabling people to enjoy the great outdoors.

There are a plethora of no parking signs alongside the public road before the car park – each flash of white on the embankment tells people there is no parking here.

In order to prevent people trying to avoid the charges for using the carpark or stopping off in campervans overnight, there are half a dozen no parking signs at the road end claiming it is needed for turning when there is a large car park where most vehicles could turn.  The legal basis for these signs is also unclear:  the public road is not a clearway and you have a legal right to stop overnight on the road network unless a traffic regulation order has been put in place that says otherwise.  Of course it would be much better if people used the car park but the inevitable consequence of car park charges and trying to ban overnight stays there is people will try and stay elsewhere.

As for camping, the field behind this sign and beside the river used to be used as an informal campsite.  I know because I camped here many years ago.  Ignore the nonsense of the field being needed as an overflow carpark in the middle of winter.   The sign is contrary to access rights.  The nearest accommodation is Scott Lodge, operated by the Boy’s Brigade on the other side of the river, hardly a residence, and I find it hard to believe that either they or the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club, which has a hut nearby, would object to camping here.   There are no other residences nearby.  As for the claim that camping is not allowed because the field is close to the road this is wrong legally: you have the right to camp anywhere you have access rights.

Now I am not claiming here that this field is the best or most suitable place for camping hereabouts – I personally believe the flat area by the river north of the car park, beyond the picnic tables (sorry no photos) is more suitable and would be preferred by most people wanting to stop off overnight in tents (its also closer to the  toilet).   The signs however say that no camping is allowed there either.  Instead there is this:

 

 

 

This sign appears designed to mislead in respect of camping and access rights.  Our public authorities have first tried to persuade people that the right to camp under access rights was intended only to apply to people camping well away from the road, a practice which is now often termed “wild camping”.  While the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has been the public authority which has most forcefully tried to convince people of this, other public authorities have tried to sell the same message.  But the FCS in Glen Doll and Glen Clova has now gone a step further intrying to direct people to “designated short stay wild camping sites”.   The implication of course is that in areas which are not designated, you should not “wild camp”.  Accept this, and that’s the right to camp under our access legislation totally undermined.

I am not against the Forestry Commission pointing people to areas that might be good for camping within their landholdings but this is NOT what is happening at the head of Glen Clova.  FCS is trying to stop people camping on any of the good sites by the river near the road end and instead trying to force people to camp in the old quarry or other areas further afield.  The closest good camping place to the road end they recommend is 1km away, despite there being several good flat areas for camping within sight of the car park.   The solution of course is for FCS and other partners to provide a basic campsite somewhere by the river at the head of the Glen not too far from the car park.  That would be a welcome facility which most campers would be welcome.  For campervanners, the existing car park provides an ideal base.

As final confirmation that our public authorities do not understand access rights and are mis-using the Scottish Outdoor Access Code consider this sign (approved by SNH, Angus Council and FCS):

Access rights do not cover motorised vehicles, which almost certainly covers drones, and there is no reference in our access legislation to drone flying or anything similar. Its safe to conclude therefore that flying drones is a leisure activity, like angling, which is not included in access rights.  To claim therefore that the activity “often” contravenes the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is totally misleading.  The SOAC is guidance about how to undertake activities which come under access rights NOT on how to undertake activities which are excluded.  Even worse is then to try and claim that because drone flying is “often” (whatever that means) incompatible with other activities, it should NEVER take place.  This is flawed logic.

Our public authorities should not therefore be referring to SOAC to try and dissuade people from flying drones and they have no powers under the access legislation to stop such activities.  What they could have said is that drone flying is not covered by access rights.  However, if they really want to stop people flying drones on land, they need to resort to other legislation.   FCS, Angus Council and SNH all have powers to regulate activities that fall outwith access rights by byelaws under other legislation and they should be able to use those powers rather than abusing our access legislation.

I am not claiming here that drone flying cannot cause problems for recreational users and indeed interfere with the enjoyment of access rights – drones buzzing above your head is irritating at the  best of time and at worst, for example if you are climbing, can be positively dangerous.   Drone flying may therefore need to be regulated but you cannot do so under our access legislation and this seems an appropriate matter for the civil aviation authority.

Near the first sign was a second similarly worded sign from Balmoral Estate.  It appears Balmoral have adopted this sign on the advice of the three public authorities.  My guess is that it may be the existence of the royal residence over the hill which has led to the attempt to stop drone flying in Glen Clova.  If so this just reinforces the point, our access legislation is not an appropriate means either to try and secure the safety of the royal family or the general population, for example at airports.

What needs to happen

On the positive side none of the signs at the head of Glen Clova with their various misguided attempts to manage visitors have been endorsed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   As the responsible Access Authority they are therefore in a good position to step in,  engage with wider stakeholders and help sort out the whole mess.  This should include removal of all misleading signs and the creation of a basic campsite/recommended camping area close to the road end.

Meantime local SNH and FCS staff could usefully seek advice from their headquarter staff before adding their names to signage in future while FCS  nationally needs to review its policy of trying to stop overnight stays in its carparks by campervans.    We need public authorities operating in National Parks to exemplify best, not practice – that was what the National Park Plan was supposed to be all about.

February 6, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
A sign no more. This sign must have been up for at least a month before I reported it in December.

On 19th January I received a very welcome email from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Access Team updating me on signs I had reported to the National Park Authority for contravening the access legislation over the last two and a half years.  I will explain why this is the first communication I have had from them about signage below, but first the good news.

The high powered rifles signs Keep Out signs by Ardlui , which I had reported to Simon Jones the LLTNPA’s Director of Conservation in December (see here), have been removed.   Ramblers Scotland told me they had not seen such signs since the passing of the Land Reform Act in 2003!   The signs were clearly contrary to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and to the legal duty which landowners have under Clause 3 of the Land Reform Act to manage land responsibly in respect to access:

“It is the duty of every owner of land in respect of which access rights are exercisable—

(a)to use and manage the land; and

(b)otherwise to conduct the ownership of it,

in a way which, as respects those rights, is responsible.”

So, well done the Access Team!

 

The Access Team also reported that they had investigated the signs on a gate by Cononish, well outside the current boundary of the gold mine, and that they had been informed these had been removed.  I had reported the signs to Simon Jones in January but others, such as Ramblers Scotland, had highlighted their existence on social media last year, so the investigation may not have been quite so rapid as it appears.  Whatever the case, again well done to the Access Team!

Unlawful sign telling people to keep out of a field at Edinample, Loch Earn
Unlawful no camping sign at south east corner Loch Lubnaig

The Access Team also informed me they would log and investigate two further access problems, at Edinample and Loch Earn, which I had reported to Simon Jones at the beginning of January and would provide updates on these cases in due course.  All of this is great stuff and exactly how it should be.

 

A change for the better

The reason this was the first communication I have had from the Access Team on signage for over two years is that they had been banned from speaking to me for this time.  How do I know?

Well in 2016, as a result of a number of actions by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which appeared designed to prevent me from publicising what was going on in the National Park, I made a subject access request under the Data Protection Act asking for copies of ALL the information the Park held on me.   Besides finding that the LLTNPA’s large “communications” team were tracking me through Google Alerts, that the Chief Executive Gordon Watson knew I was an active member of my local community organisation in Glasgow and that there had been a certain amount of denigratory tittle tattle in emails between Board Members,  I also received this:

From: Claire Travis [Visitor Operations Manager]

Sent: 09 November 2015 09:18

To: Kenny Auld [member of Access Team];

Subject: FW: FOI 2015-050 request for information please Importance: High

Hi

The most recent Kempe email is being treated as an FOI. All contact from him from now on will be treated as such. Thanks

Claire

This was effectively an instruction to staff in the access team to stop all communication TO  me and to treat every communication FROM me as a Freedom of Information Request.   Reporting of access problems of course is NOT an information request and cannot be responded to as such and the consequence was that even if Simon Jones did pass down the issues I reported to him, his staff were NOT allowed to tell me what was going on.

The reason I believe this ban on communicating me has been lifted is because I have started to copy the new LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, into all emails I send to the LLTNPA senior management team.  James Stuart is a decent man who is committed to openness and it appears he has now intervened and told his senior management they should allow staff communicate to me (and indeed other members of the public) as happens in other public authorities as used to happen in the LLTNPA.

For, in May 2015, when I first started reporting access issues to the LLTNPA (see here for list) I received a very positive response from Claire Travis.  Indeed, Claire fed back to me – well before Parkswatch was created -that the access team had agreed with the landowner at Auchengavin that the sign directing people to cross a deer fence had been removed:

At Auchengavin above Luss there was a sign telling people to take a route around the settlement rather than the track by the houses.

 

There had been a path of sorts around the settlement at Auchengavin but it had been destroyed by ploughing of the land to plant trees and the deer fencing had consequently made access very difficult.

Claire Travis also fed back to me that the poor access signage at Ben An, caused by the forest operations there, was being addressed and the No Camping Signs on the south Loch Earn Rd were being investigated.   By November 2015, however, she had been banned from communicating with me – I am not surprised that she subsequently left the LLTNPA.  It must have been very difficult for LLTNPA staff to work under the regime of former Convener Linda McKay and current Chief Executive Gordon Watson.

My reports of the No Camping signs of course caused a difficulty for the LLTNPA which wanted to ban all roadside camping.  I reported the south Loch Earn signs well before the camping byelaws came into effect and, although they are now within a camping management zone, they are still unlawful because they imply camping is not allowed at any time of year when the camping byelaw ban extends from 1st March to the end of September.   In April 2017 I had another go at getting the LLTNPA to remove these signs when I reported them again to Simon Jones, Director of Conservation.  I received no acknowledgement so six months later I raised this again in October and got this reply:

Dear Mr Kempe

With regard to your original email dated 21st April 2017, I note that no request
for a response was requested at the time and therefore none was forthcoming...... 
..........................................

Simon Jones
Director of Conservation & Visitor Operations

It took a further three months of further fruitless correspondence – Simon Jones failed even to acknowledge my reporting of the High Velocity Rifles in use sign – before James Stuart had all the evidence he needed to justify his intervening.

The Access Team, in their email of 19th January, kindly provided me with an update on the Loch Earn signs stating they were an “ongoing case”.   I suspect its not their fault that two and a half years after originally reporting these signs (which incidentally the LLTNPA Ranger service pass almost every day) its still ongoing.   My suspicion is that they were told to treat this case as very low priority but now the LLTNPA has agreed to be more transparent about this I hope the access team will be allowed to get on and do the job which they were set up to do.

 

The Access Team have also told me that the unlawful signage on the Invertrossachs Rd opposite the camping permit area there (see here) is an ongoing case. This is the first time the LLTNPA has provided me with any feedback about this and again most welcome.

The sad thing about all of this is the Access Team in their email of 19th January felt they needed to apologise to me for the lack of communication on their part.   I wrote back and said I knew the lack of communication was not their fault and they had no reason to apologise.  They, I have reason to believe, are good people.  The apology should have come from the senior management of the LLTNPA.

While I have highlighted the failures of Simon Jones, the Director of Conservation, to respond to reports of access problems in this post, that is because he is the senior manager directly responsible.  When he was first appointed, however, he did communicate for a short time.  I know because I have other emails. This then changed and my best guess is that this was because he was then ordered not to by his Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, the person who is ultimately responsible for how the LLTNPA is run.  It is very good to see that the Convener, James Stuart, now appears to be holding his Chief Executive to account and I hope that will help senior managers like Simon Jones to change the way they treat people who are legitimately concerned about how the LLTNPA is being managed.

 

What needs to happen

While it is fantastic that LLTNPA access staff are now being allowed to communicate about access issues, they now need to be allowed to address these as was intended under the Land Reform Act.   Specifically the LLTNPA needs to demonstrate that outside of the camping byelaw permit areas and periods it will give its access team all the resources they need to remove no camping signs and address other issues.

In order to hold the LLTNPA to account and empower the Access Team to do their job, far more people need to report signs which breach the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in the National Park to accessteam@lochlomond-trossachs.org.    If you care about access rights, please report signs and send copies of correspondence to parkswatch or Ramblers Scotland or Mountaineering Scotland.  Once reported, other people can follow up with the LLTNPA and ensure the Local Access Forum is aware of the issues.

If people do not stand up for their rights they will I believe be eroded. One of the factors that contributed to the creation of the camping byelaws was that the LLTNPA, based on its experience, did not believe there was a strong access lobby who would oppose their proposals.  I believe they got that badly wrong and the camping byelaws are a millstone which will eventually sink the LLTNPA in the glacial trench of Loch Lomond.   Meantime, the more pressure that can be brought on the LLTNPA to start properly addressing other access issues the better.   If you see a Park Ranger, go and ask them what access problems exist on their patch and what they have done about them.

February 5, 2018 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Moraine and the cliffs in Coire Fee 3rd Feb, a middling day.   Gully B is most prominent white line centre, Gully A behind ridge on left.

I was alerted to Scottish Natural Heritage’s consultation on the Corrie Fee National Nature Reserve “We want to hear your views on our proposed management and any additional ideas you would like us to consider”  through Mountaineering Scotland news (see here).   The consultation (see here for draft management plan and excellent history) is open until the end of February and, because I was staying at the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club’s brilliant Hut in Glen Clova at the weekend,  I took a look myself as part of a day out (Look C Gully was not there, B Gully was marginal so we wandered up Gully A).  This post looks at some the implications of the Coire Fee consultation for how the wider Cairngorms National Park is managed.  I hope others may feel inspired to respond to NNR@snh.gov.uk.

Coire Fee NNR is the hatched area marked by the bird symbol between the Foresty Commission owned forest in Glen Doll and the high plateau of Mayar

Corrie Fee is a gem of a coire.   Approaching from Glen Doll you ascend through forest and suddenly, just after the NNR sign you emerge on the top of what was once a terminal moraine for the coire glacier.   Below the coire floor is covered by smaller hummocky moraine while ahead are the crags, famous for their Alpine plants and ice climbing.   The NNR is very small, only 164 hectares of land, and is owned by SNH having been purchased from the Forestry Commission  It is as a consequence sandwiched between forestry below and deer “forest”/grouse moor above.

It was however formerly part of the much much wider Caenlochan NNR which was created in 1961 and covered 3639 hectares of land all the way over to Caenlochan at the head of Glen Isla.  This was de-registered in 2003, the year the Cairngorms National Park was created, because:

 

“Almost all of the Caenlochan NNR was owned by private landowners and managed as commercial sporting estates. After considerable discussion and further assessment SNH decided that three of the four (new) essential attributes of a NNR (primacy of nature, security of tenure and best practice management) could not be met.”

 

I have to confess, to my shame, that I was a party to that decision, having been appointed to the Main Board of SNH that year.  I now believe that this was a terrible mistake which helped undermine the conservation potential of our National Parks.   I will reflect on what went wrong and what is still going wrong  – we have moved from designating NNRs to re-designating them, most recently at Mar Lodge estate in November 2017 – in a future post on the history of NNRs in our National Parks.   In respect of Coire Fee, however, I was somewhat relieved  to find today on checking my old SNH Board Papers for September 2003, that alongside the recommendation to de-designate Caenlochan and retain Corrie Fee as a NNR  I had scribbled “Can you just protect that bit from overgrazing?”.  I cannot recall the answer and its not recorded in the minutes but I believe it was and still is the right question.

 

The implications of fencing Corrie Fee

Access into the fenced exclosure below the crags in Corrie Fee – Look C gully is the line to the right of the stile while Gully A starts far left.
The fence along the plateau above Coire Fee – the stile is well situated for climbers topping out from B or Look C gullies.

SNH history of the NNR, the story of Coire Fee, explains some of what is wrong with the fence:

 

A fence was erected in 1991, reduced to an area of around 60 ha in Corrie Sharroch, due to practicalities and cost.    While every effort was made to select a fence line that allowed access and was not too obtrusive scenically, an exclosure is not an ideal solution because as well as impacting on landscape and recreational use, some grazing is needed to stop grassland areas from becoming too rank which may hinder the regeneration of willows and other plants.

 

While the fence has not kept deer out – we saw deer footprints in the snow under B Gully – it probably excludes larger mammals, such as foxes, from the NNR.   This reduces the extent to which the NNR is a place where nature has primacy but, as importantly, gives the wrong message to landowners, that fencing is an appropriate way to manage open hill land.

Fencing between Green Hill and Ben Tirran east side of Glen Clova 4th February. The tight meshed fencing in background appeared designed to limit mountain hare movements. The electric fencing was in a poor state of repair and not functioning.

While SNH continues to enclose land with fences, albeit for the best of intentions – the rare Alpine plants in Coire Fee have recovered as a result of a reduction in grazing pressure – its very hard for either SNH or the Cairngorms National Park Authority to object to fences close by or to make a case that all new fencing should require National Park approval.  We saw a good example of terrible fencing the next day (above).

While the wider Caenlochan area is still designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area for birds and Special Area of Conservation for plants the action being taken there to reduce deer numbers has not been sufficient to enable SNH to recommend removal of the Corrie Fee fence:

 

Our top priority is to manage the internationally important rare montane habitats and associated arctic-alpine plants found in Corrie Fee NNR. To do this we need to ensure that the fenced exclosure in Corrie Sharroch allows low herbivore grazing pressure to be maintained. The impacts from deer are being addressed across Caenlochan SAC as part of a Deer (Scotland) Act Section 7 agreement, with the primary object to achieve favourable condition of all the Natura Habitats and SSSI features of the area. The reduced grazing pressure since the last reserve plan has successfully resulted in both an increased diversity of plant species and increased extent of habitats sensitive to grazing pressures. For example, tall herb communities and Yellow Oxytropis are both benefitting from management. Rare habitats and species of restricted distribution such as Mountain Willow Scrub, Alpine Milk-Vetch and Purple Colt’s Foot may require more intervention to increase their abundance in the NNR. We would like to work with partners at the landscape scale, in order to investigate opportunities to increase biodiversity in the wider area around Corrie Fee. This may include felled areas of forest in Glen Doll.

 

To put it another way, Coire Fee is a gem which is regaining its shine but still surrounded by dross.

I don’t doubt the desire of SNH staff to work with partners at the landscape scale but the draft management plan contains NO proposals for how this should happen.  This is little different to the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose National Park Partnership Plan, agreed last year, set out a vision for conservation at the landscape scale but was short on any effective means to achieve this.  The problem is exactly the same as when I was on the Board of SNH in 2003: there are still no effective means for ensuring landowners co-operate with conservation objectives such as reducing deer numbers to allow vegetation to recover, whether in NNRs or in a National Park.

The draft SNH management plan though does propose one suggestion which I believe needs to be strongly supported:

Consider intentional supplementary feeding for eagles etc by leaving occasional deer carcasses

This is a brave suggestion because, when other organisations have tried to do this like John Muir Trust on Knoydart, there has been an outcry in the press (see here) which deliberately plays on the British public’s love for animals.  SNH  are undestandably being far more cautious than JMT.   They are only proposing to leave the occasional deer carcase in place (a very sensible thing to do given the difficulty of extracting dead deer from the steep slopes below the crags)  rather than the sort of mass culls which might enable the deer fence to be removed completely.  Still, this could help set a precedent which could be applicable to areas of wild land where it is very difficult to extract deer carcases.  I believe that if we want both to reduce deer numbers and protect the landscape from a proliferation of hill tracks, we need to win the argument that some deer carcases should be left where shot.

I would, however, suggesting rewording the proposal slightly:

 

“As part of the management of deer numbers, where deer are culled in areas difficult to access, carcases may be left in situ which would have the benefit of providing food for other animals, including golden eagles”.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Scottish Gamekeepers Assocation and neighbouring landowning interests object on the back of their objections to the JMT culls.  Given the mass culls of mountain hares in the eastern Cairngorms and the history of dumping these animals in stink pits, such objections will be open to charges of hypocrisy.   The last thing landowning interests will want, however, given much of their land management practices are designed around removing the food sources of anything that might prey on red grouse,  is anything that could help restore golden eagle numbers in the eastern Cairngorms.

 

The Coire Fee NNR and the Forestry Commission

Below Coire Fee, in Glen Doll, commercial forest currently predominates although the Forestry Commission is making some attempts to restructure this in favour of native trees and open areas at the top of the plantation which could allow  space for alpine plants and willow scrub to recolonise:

Forestry Commission plantation on the slopes of the Scorrie, viewed from the track up to Coire Fee. The lines on the hillside are piles of felled logs and the open slopes could eventually be colonised by willow scrub spreading out from the NNR.

There are NO concrete proposals from the Forestry Commission about how they could help expand the NNR’s at a landscape scale despite all the land they own in Glen Doll.  I am not surprised because a consequence of austerity is that every public authority defends its own budgets and as a result partnership working has become less and less effective – despite the exhortations to the contrary.  I would therefore like to propose a practical measure which could be achieved for little cost.

A section of the path up the moraine slopes into Coire Fee. While mainly Scots pine, there are significant numbers of non-native trees – and the photo shows how some are self-seeding beside the path.

The forest track up to Coire Fee ends at a turning area and above that a wide path heads more steeply up moraine to the edge of the forest.  The end of the forestry track marks both a landscape boundary, with a transition to large scale moraine, and an ecological boundary as beyond it native trees predominate.  So why not extend the northern boundary of the NNR downhill over the moraine to the end of track?

All that the Forestry Commission would need to do then is remove the non-native trees from the moraine slopes and  let nature take its course.  The potential to create the sort of open wooded moraine landscapes encountered elsewhere in Europe is huge and it could eventually help promote a gradual transition from Scots Pine dominated native woodland to montane will scrub which is so lacking in Scotland.  It would fit with the aspiration of the proposed management plan that:

 

Distinct moraine flutes from the last time ice flowed, some 12,000 years ago, can be glimpsed from the woodland path in Glen Doll on the way up to Corrie Fee [so why not include these in the NNR?]. The altitudinal range in the NNR is important and its rich diversity of upland and sub-montane habitats with associated species is maintained through sustainable deer and woodland management as well as restoration projects of the montane willows [so why not extend this lower down?].

 

So why is there no consideration of this in the draft management plan?

 

What needs to happen?

SNH’s public consultations on its NNR management plans provide a great opportunity to re-think how land is managed in our National Parks to help further the objectives of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   What is needed is more public debate about how the objectives of our National Nature Reserves could be applied to wider areas within our National Parks and for our public authorities to be brave enough (as I wasn’t in 2003) to make specific proposals for how these might be achieved.   In respect of Corrie Fee here are some suggestions:

  •  Both SNH and the CNPA should state how far numbers of deer need to reduce to on neighbouring estates before the Corrie Fee fence can be removed.  They should then be using the compulsory powers they have to achieve this.
  • The CNPA, FCS and conservation organsations should strongly support the SNH proposal that occasionally leaving deer carcases on the hill is a  positive way forward for deer management
  • The CNPA should be calling on FCS to commit to extending the NNR further downhill into the Glen Doll Forest and SNH should start negotiations with FCS about how this could be made to happen.
February 2, 2018 Nick Kempe 1 comment
This new track on the Dalnacardoch Estate, which was created to construct the Beauly Denny pipeline runs through the Drumochter Hills Special Area of Conservation.   All the original assessments and planning consents for the Beauly Denny stated that there should be NO new tracks created in European protected areas.  I am still trying to find out HOW the decision was changed (more soon!) but it appears this track could have only be allowed to remain if the landowners wanted it.    Another case of individual landowner interests taking precedence over national policy.

Further evidence of the political power of landowners in our National Parks was revealed yesterday when Kate Forbes, the SNH MSP  for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, held a reception for the Gift of Grouse http://www.giftofgrouse.com/ at the Scottish Parliament.    This was preceded by an excellent post from Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) lambasting the claims from the Gift of Grouse organisation that grouse provide healthy and sustainable food and providing links to comments and research from Andy Wightman, MSP.    The persecution of raptors such as hen harrier and golden eagle on grouse moors is now well known and the eastern part of the constitutency which Kate Forbes represents is not only in the Cairngorms National Park, it is something of a raptor persecution hotspot (see here).     Getting a National Park MSP to host this event therefore was something of a coup for landowning interests – unless of course Kate Forbes told those attending the reception that the Cairngorms National Park Authority should be taking a lead role in correcting the ills of the grouse industry.

 

There have been two other recent stories covered by Raptor Persecution UK which illustrate the political power and influence grouse moor owners have over our National Parks – and we need to remember that National Parks are places where, legally, conservation is meant to come first.

The first was how the Moorland Association blocked a draft press release from the Peak District National Park in England on the results of the Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative which basically showed it had been a complete failure (see here)).  The significance of the Report was that it showed that the voluntary measures which the grouse moor industry repeatedly claim are the way forward do not work.   As a consequence of the Moorland Association’s actions the findings of the report received very little publicity.  I hope the CNPA Board formally consider the findings of that Report and its implications for the voluntary measures they are pursuing with landowning interests in the Cairngorms at present as set out in the National Park Partnership Plan agenda for action on Moorland Management.

The second news story was the Countryfile programme on Sunday evening (see here from 7.01 and 30 mins 30 secs) which filmed a hare cull in the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park and is well worth watching if you have not done so.  The estates that took part in the programme presumably did so because they thought they could persuade the public with images of dead hares being placed in refrigerators for consumption rather than dumped in stink pits.    Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here) reported a huge backlash on social media which was even picked up by the Daily Mail (see here) – a sign that grouse moor interests got this badly wrong.  The presenter was far more sensitive to public opinion than either the gamekeepers or scientists discussing research about hare numbers and summed this up really well when they stated that shooting  hares to create a habitat to shoot something else might seem hard to swallow.

The only shame was that the programme did not ask some more questions:

  • how mountain hare culling fits with the conservation objectives of the National Park?
  • how does hare culling, which removes the favourite food of golden eagles, fit with the lack of eagles in the eastern Cairngorms
  • how does the claim that grouse moors support rural employment fit with the abandonment of many of the remaining houses left on grouse moors and would not other forms of land-use create more rural jobs?
  • what did the estates concerned think of the east Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, the Cairngorm National Park Authoirty’s  preferred means to address moorland management issues?  (Raptor Persecution Scotland pointed out that keepers from the Edinglassie and Candacraigs estates were present on the programme and neither is part of the east Cairngorms Moorland Partnership).

These stories illustrate where we are at present in terms of grouse moor management in our National Parks.  Grouse Moor interests still have the political power which means they can still block anything which threatens their interests and in effect have prevented the CNPA from taking any meaningful action to change the way grouse moors are managed in the National Park.  However, like many interests with too much power (and there are interesting connections between grouse moors and bankers not least in the case of RBS where Fred Goodwin’s idea of a management development day was to go grouse shooting at huge expense) they have become divorced from public opinion. The ideas of the people who ultimately control what happens in our National Parks in respect to grouse moors are no longer the ruling ideas and in that lies hope for change.

The implications of this are that the CNPA and politicians like Kate Forbes risk alienating public support unless they start to address the issues.  I don’t believe the public will allow the Scottish Government’s review of grouse moor management – which has taken a lamentably long time to get off the ground (another example no doubt of the political power of landowners) – to become yet another talking shop.