Loch Builg and the eastern flanks of Ben Avon are remote country for those arriving on foot, three hours or so from a public road. Despite the network of estate tracks I was surprised to see this trap, at the end of the track above Loch Builg ,and on the hillside above upturned turves sprinkled with medicated grit. Please read Susan Matthew’s fine piece in the recent issue of the Cairngorms Campaigner, the newsletter of the Cairngorms Campaign, about a walk through a wildlife desert on the flanks of Ben Avon. The explanation is in the photo. Every animal that might prey on or affect grouse is destroyed, while heather is the only plant that counts. If the core of the Cairngorms cannot be wild, a sanctuary for wildlife and devoid of human artefacts, where else could be?
Last week, following Rob Edwards’ article and my coverage of the collapse of the camping byelaws (see here) I was asked to do an interview for BBC Alba news. Quite a privilege since I speak not a word of Gaelic, although I have a passing knowledge of Gaelic place names. It should appear sometime after 8pm on Monday (sorry I will not be able to give the link because I will be out the country).
I showed the reporter, Iain MacDiarmaid, three of the camping zones at Firkin Point. Iain had camped before and there was no need for me to try putting my tent up on the pebbly beach called Zone C. A lovely Asian family who visit here quite often then came up to us and within two minutes had said the beach is often underwater. Great place to picnic though!
There was a tent pitched at the top of Zone B, so I asked the people who were sitting at the top bench if it was their tent and whether they had a permit I could not have hoped for a better response. The man said this was the only campable pitch at Firkin but was sloping and pointed to the boggy ground at the entrance of his tent. He then said if you think the Zone C beach is bad, try camping at Zone D before explaining how he was from Balloch and all this National Park was intent on doing was stopping local people from doing things they had always enjoyed in the places they wanted. Unfortunately, he declined to appear on camera – it would have made a far better interview than anything I have done but he did make my job a lot lot easier.
There are some lessons here I think for the Park Board. If they got out and talked to real people, the people who love the area and whose idea of happiness is to be enjoying the lochside, whether in the tent or having a picnic, they would soon realise that there was something very very wrong with the Board Report at the last meeting which said 85% of people would recommend camping in a permit area. It simply doesn’t fit with what people are saying. What’s more if they just went and took a look for themselves they would realise much of the spin which is being issued on their behalf couldn’t be true either.
On 7th July, an application for a new hydro scheme on the slopes of Ben More by Crianlarich, one of the highest and best known Munros, was validated on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Portal (see here) (or if the link does not work go to http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/planning/planning-applications/find-an-application/ and search for application Ref 2017/0119/DET or on Benmore farm). On Friday I went to have a look and have now submitted an objection to the application as currently proposed (appended to end of this post). This post is about why the new Benmore farm proposals are very different to the hydro scheme on Benmore burn which was completed last year and why I have objected. I hope people reading this will be encouraged to consider doing so too (its easy to do, just look up the application and go to the comments tab which allows people to support, object or comment on an application). The application is open for comments until 28th July.
The Benmore burn hydro scheme
This hydro scheme, which became operational in 2016, is one of the best I have seen in the National Park.
The “track” marks the line of the buried pipeline but generally the vegetation is recovering well. The burn was diverted to build the intake dam and the vegetation on the ground above the diversion channel has already recovered to the extent you would not know it was there.
The construction track was along the line of the pipeline and was removed completely. The ground is recovering well. The existing hill track – bottom right – was not used for the construction although it runs round the hill not far from the intake.
One thing I really liked about the intake was that instead of the normal concrete retaining wall, the development has embedded boulders in concrete. This creates a far more natural form. You can also see the browner rock below the intake which appears to mark the former “normal” flow levels of the burn. The hydro schemes are having a significant impact on river flows which will affect their ecology. I don’t believe we really know yet what the permanent impacts might be.
When you approach the intake though the most obvious feature is the metal fencing – contrary to Park guidance on use of natural materials (but is it really necessary?) – and the Lomond blue pipe. Its a shame that the left side of the intake has not been finished like the right had side but it does show, I think, what can be done. Well done somebody!
The recovery of the ground above the pipeline and construction track is not as good as it might have been because vehicles have been driven over land which is far too wet to support them.
It was good too to see that the dyke through which the 7m wide construction track had been taken had been narrowed (a contrast to the Falloch and Ledcharrie (see here) tracks) and restored to a high standard. It is possible to construct things of beauty in the hills! I must say I am not sure about the gate, even if its not used by vehicles its likely to encourage – and there were a fair few boot marks – a more direct walking route up the glen over what is very wet ground. So, some reservations, but generally this is a high quality scheme with very little snagging left to do – if only all schemes in the National Park were like this!
The new proposal
What prompted me to visit the location the scheme was the proposal to retain the new access tracks. Having removed the construction tracks to the intake in the Benmore Burn scheme, I wanted to understand why Benmore Farm were proposing to retain the construction tracks to the new intakes. Part of me reckons that this is because since 2013, when the first scheme was approved, the LLTNPA as Planning Authority have moved from a position of assuming tracks should be removed to allowing them to remain everywhere.
So, if other people are getting away with it, why should Benmore Farm follow best practice? That’s why people need to take a stand. The proliferation of hill tracks is destroying the landscape in the National Park – and indeed across Scotland – and those who care about the landscape need to put a stop to this.
The Design Statement gives two reasons for keeping the track, the first to help the shepherd/ess, the second to “provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsairean”. The second claim is nonsense. Anyone wanting to walk up the Sron would normally do so from the north east side of Ben More, not from Benmore farm, and in any case walkers don’t need a 2m wide track (for that is what it is proposed to retain) which stops half way across the hillside. In relation to the first, shepherding is being cut like everything else and shepherds are under pressure to do more in less time. However, the Design Statement states the cost of scheme is approx £530,000 and annual revenue estimated at c£75k and the scheme to operate for 100 years. In other words it could make over £6m profit in its lifetime, ample to pay for reinstatement of track and to pay the shepherd to walk up to the intakes occasionally
Having visited the site I have become more concerned. The construction track will cut across the hillside from just after the top of the last zigzag on the existing track to just above the top of the plantation. This is steep ground. It means cutting a great bench into the hillside. There are diagrams illustrating this in the application but no indication of how long each steep cross section will be:
The applicants state that they will set out in the Construction Method Statement which would follow approval being given to this scheme how this track will be constructed. I don’t think the Park should accept this. The landscape impact of tracks across steeper slopes is all too evident on the other side of Benmore Glen.
There are huge challenges as to how to store the soil and rock excavated to create a track across steep ground and then restore them. I am concerned one reason why the developer may be proposing to retain the track is they know it will be very difficult to restore such ground.
This is not just a landscape issue. The top section of new track and intakes are within the Ben More Site of Special Scientific Interest and all works affecting the soils and vegetation are what are known as operations requiring consent – for complete list of Ben More SSSI ORCS site190-doc28. That is an additional reason to be concerned about the upper access track.
While four intakes are proposed, and the plan states they will be small, there are no photomontages in the landscape assessment of how they may look like in the landscape. This seems to me to be a failure. The landscape assessment says the intakes will not be seen from the summit of Ben More, but that is because its just over the brow of the steep slope, they are likely to be visible for much of the way up both the north east and north west shoulders of Ben More. The current plan is for concrete intakes – no mention of incorporating stone as was done on Ben More burn. Another step backwards.
Why its important to comment on this scheme
I started to look at hydro scheme planning applications after most of them had been approved and what is striking is that I have not yet come across a single objection to an application – not even the heart of Glen Affric! Ordinary people have just assumed hydro is good while our public agencies, including the National Park Authorities, are under pressure from the Scottish Government to do nothing which gets in the way of the hydro gold rush (most of the financial benefits of which end up in the City of London and nowhere near the people struggling to make ends meet in the Highlands). If no-one objects, our planning authorities, who are under great pressures, simply approve what is put in front of them. We are now reaping the consequences of poorly conceived and poorly executed hydro schemes across Scotland.
Its time therefore to make a stand and what better place than in a National Park which is supposed to have special regard to our landscape and wildlife. I am not against hydro schemes but this must not be at the expense of the landscape and at the very least, in this scheme, the construction track should be fully restored but I think the Park as Planning Authority should be seeking more information about how the track could be constructed and then restored on this ground. A copy of my objection is pasted below.
NB My objection should appear on the Park’s website BUT a previous comment on this scheme, dated 4th July (also appended), which pointed out that there was no mention on that date of this proposal affecting a SSSI, has not been published, although that omission has been rectified. Instead I was told: “Please be assured however that I am aware of the constraints on the site and all relevant consultees were consulted when the application was validated.” I guess if the LLTNPA had published my comment, someone might have used their failure to list the “constraints” affecting the site as a reason to invalidate the application, or maybe the just don’t like it when parkswatch picks up on mistakes?
Member of Public
Customer objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Unlike the recently completed hydro scheme on Benmore Farm where the construction track was removed, in this case the applicant wishes to retain it which would have an adverse impact on the landscape of Glen Dochart. The justification for keeping the track is it would help the shepherd and provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsaireana – actually walkers wanting to walk up the Sron do this from the north east and with £75k a year income the farm has plenty of money to employ the shepherd/ess to be a little longer on the hill. There is no proper assessment of retaining this track – eg no photomontage – which would be highly visible from slopes below Ben More summit. It is important therefore that the LLTNPA adheres to its policy guidance on renewables and insists if this hydro goes ahead the track is restored.
There are other issues with the scheme though: there are views from the summit down the north slopes of Ben More to the intakes (and to proposed track) and, while relatively small, they may be visible from above. Impact should be properly evaluated and could be reduced if intakes clad in natural stone (instead of plain concrete as proposed). In order not to impact on the landscape these schemes need to be as near to proper run of river schemes, with small intakes, as possible. In addition, the line of the construction track is across what is a steep hillside – as depicted in steepest cross section. For a construction track to be created here will require major engineering which is likely to be very challenging to restore (both to restore the materials which have been removed and then replace them). The Developer is suggesting this should be dealt with by Construction Method Statement post planning permission, I believe the Park needs to be confident the land can be fully restored before granting any consent.
Comments were submitted at 11:52 PM on 04 Jul 2017 from Mr Nick Kempe.
Benmore Farm Crianlarich Stirling FK20 8QS
Construction of a run of river hydropower scheme
Member of Public
Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
There are no constraints listed against this application at present although the upper pipe and track appear to be within the Ben More SSSI. Could you please confirm whether this is case or not? Among Operations Requiring Consent for the SSSI are alterations of watercourses and construction of new tracks and drainage both of which are included in these proposals
Following my posts on the unlawful application of the camping byelaws to campervans (see here) this week I took a look at the Tarbet Isle permit area. This is one of the areas where the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has refunded campervanners who had purchased permits – an admission that they had done so unlawfully.
The first thing that strikes you about the area is there is no signage to it (see photo above) from the main road. If you are travelling north along the A82 from Tarbet, you might just notice the track up to the left, but there is nothing to tell the anyone who has heard of the byelaws and knows that the Park is trying to force people to stay in permit areas, that you could stay – or have stayed in the case of campervanners – without fear of prosecution. In fact there is no signage to any of the permit areas along the A82. While that was a failure in terms of the byelaws, its a welcome failure as if people don’t know where the permit areas are, its almost impossible to stop them from stopping off somewhere else. Its a failure the Park would be best not trying to remedy, otherwise its likely to waste yet more money on signs, such as that at Tarbet Isle, which then become redundant (left).
At least at Tarbet Isle the former gates across the track have been removed. Why Forestry Commission Scotland has no gates at Tarbet Isle but has gates and locks them at Forest Drive is a mystery. Perhaps its to prevent a right of passage being created? You only have a right under the byelaws to sleep overnight on roads where there is a right of passage.
The former campervan permit area, where you can now once more stay for free, is hardly inspiring, the sort of high quality experience the Park says it wants to promote for visitors, but its ok. Its big pluses are its flat and being slightly above the road its much quieter than by the lochshores. There are no views and no facilities and some people might feel a bit vulnerable here.
I suspect most campervanners, like most people, would prefer to stop off by the loch shore even because it is noisier because it has great views and the bumpy shoreline is very interesting. It feels like you are in a National Park – the campervan permit area could have been almost anywhere.
The map of the permit area (close up above) shows the former campervan permit area by a dotted red line, the wider permit areas in dark green and the flatter part of the permit area in light green. The path by the sign, marks the boundary, and shosw just how steep and tree covered much of the permit area is. Why the Park spent lots of money delimiting wider permit areas where it is absolutely impossible to camp I am not sure. Maybe though this wider area is where people can sleep in hammocks slung between trees without committing an offence so long as they pay £3 for the privilege?
Its a good five minute walk through the permit area before you reach anywhere you could possibly consider camping. That’s not much good for cycle tourers or canoeists, worried about being prosecuted for camping by the road or on the lochshores. The woodland was lovely in the sun but sloping and covered in vegetation, again unsuitable for camping
There was one obvious camping area, which had been used by campers, and where some kind person – possibly from FCS – had left a couple of logs. Highly commendable. There was no obvious source of water though and so to me, while its good the potential for camping up in the woods here is being advertised, this should not be seen as compensation for banning people from camping on the lochshores. I am awaiting the breakdown of the Park’s statistics (which show numbers of tents booked on West Loch Lomond but not by permit area) but I suspect the demand for camping here will not be high.
What is the justification for the remaining campervan permit areas?
The LLTNPA and FCS need to explain why they still trying to charge campervans for staying at Forest Drive – indeed they have increased the number of permits for campervans there – while dropping permits at Tarbet Isle.
The LLTNPA also needs to explain why its now saying campervans can stop off in the parking area at the end of the short forest road at Tarbert Isle but to do so without a permit at the similar turning area at Firkin Point is still according to them a criminal offence.
Tarbet Isle provides more evidence, as if more was needed, that the legal basis for the decisions made by LLTNPA staff need to be made public.
The Corriemulzie community hydro scheme http://braemarhydro.org.uk/scheme/, just west of Braemar on the road to Linn of Dee, provides an interesting case of how developments can go badly wrong despite the best intentions of the main players. I first visited this scheme, which became operational last summer, in September 2016 and was horrified by what I saw. Subsequent research and correspondence with the Cairngorms National Park Authority established the situation was a little more complex than it appeared and both the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro were taking action to rectify the damage that had been caused by the contractors and design failings. I have therefore delayed blogging about it but a check up visit last weekend (its a ten minute walk from the road and well worth a visit if in the area), on the way to a stravaig through the eastern Cairngorms, showed that remedial measures have only had a limited impact. I think its time therefore to publicise what appears to have gone wrong and what lessons could be learned for the future.
Historically there was a hydro scheme on the Corriemulzie burn which supplied power to Mar Lodge.
The new powerhouse sits by site of former powerhouse although the track to it, down from the Braemar to Linn of Dee Road, is new. In my view – and I realise this is just a matter of opinion – the wider landscape impact of the track is not a major issue. I did not revisit the track though last September there were both good things and bad about how the land around it had been restored.
In design terms the power house is well located, close to bank and trees, and the turning area for vehicles is small. All positives. The ground above the pipeline had recovered quickly, with evidence of turfs having been stored and replaced. Incredible care needs to be taken with removal of turf and topsoil if all the surface area is to be re-covered in restoration and in this area there was not enough to use on the banks (bare patch left) though I suspect this has recovered by now.
The track has been less well done, with large boulders left on the surface of what had previously been a grassy field. The bank on the right though is at a sufficiently low angle to recover quickly and a good example of track design.
The Corriemulzie hydro intake area
The main problem with the Corriemulzie scheme is around the main intake. It was not pristine prior to the hydro and the hill track and vehicle use had caused some needless damage.
The planning however was a chance to restore past damage and the intake was intended to look like this:
If this had been delivered, I would be congratulating Braemar Community Hydro and the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose landscape adviser had said “the location of intake is a small but very scenic a ‘gem’ of a location” and recommended the utmost care.
Unfortunately, what has happened is completely different to what was intended.
And this is an overview of how the area looks now:
The fundamental issues here are:
there has been no effective restoration of the bank along the burn;
the bank on the hill was excavated and is far too steep to be restored;
the track and turning area are far too wide.
While there had been obvious attempts at amelioration since September 2016 these have not in my view addressed the fundamental issues.
Four strips of fabric had been applied to the oversteep bank to reduce erosion but this has had no impact. There is no sign of vegetation re-establishing itself and the problems have been increased by deer (you can see hoof marks between 2nd and 3rd strips) walking down the slope.
There has been “compensatory” tree planting but no attempt to restore vegetation to the bank of the burn. This should have been done months ago at the beginning of the growing season.
A new signboard has been erected by the intake. The line of pylons is rather ironic given CNPA’s opposition to the Beauly Denny and I wonder what Prince Charles, who opened the scheme, and talks so much about architectural standards and traditional landscapes thought about the destruction. Its as if, though, everyone at the official opening had their eyes shut.
Despite the atrocious finishing along the bank and track, this photos shows some good things about the scheme. You can just see the pipe from the second hydro running below the bridge – you won’t see it unless you look out for it – and the CNPA told the developer there was no need to erect fencing around the intake. I agree. All that good design though counts for little if the destruction round about is not addressed.
So what has gone wrong?
I have tried since the weekend to look through planning documents. There are pages of them, one document submitted by Braemar Community Hydro is over 200 pages long, and seems to cover everything except a description of the detailed work that was planned to construct the main intake. The CNPA landscape adviser drew attention to this in an appendix to the Committee Report and recommended further detailed plans were required before planning consent was given. The Committee however gave approval on condition these documents were produced but unfortunately these documents, if they were produced, are not on the CNPA website. It is possible therefore that the CNPA allowed this development to go ahead without a proper landscape plan for the intake area. If so, that in effect allowed the contractor to do what they wanted in the intake area and undermined all the other efforts staff had made to ensure this scheme was of the highest standard possible. One small mistake can have huge consequences.
However, I don’t think all the emphasis should be on paperwork, which is beyond the capacity of any community organisation to deliver and which means they have to put themselves in the hands of consultants. I suspect if there was a hole in the paperwork, Braemar Community Hydro did not appreciate this either.
A fundamental problem with the proliferation of hydro schemes is that monitoring their construction is not being properly resourced. I think if there had been someone properly qualified on site, the bank on the hillside would never have been excavated because it would have been only too obvious it could not be restored properly. The problem is our National Parks rely on developers appointing an Ecological Clerk of Works to do the supervision and these people are beholden to the developer/contractor who pay their wages – they are therefore not independent. It may also be the case – given the many failures to restore construction tracks – that they don’t have the right skills.
A related issue is that both our National Parks only appear to start proper monitoring once construction is almost complete. Here is what CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir told me in January:
“CNPA staff noted various breaches at the site in April 2016 during a routine monitoring visit. The agent was immediately contacted by phone to express concern and also contacted in writing. CNPA staff and the agent for the development met on site in May 2016 to discuss how to reinstate or mitigate the unauthorised or unsatisfactory works. The agent provided an initial written programme of reinstatement works in June 2016 which the CNPA did not consider satisfactory”
What a commendable response and the contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who treat everything as a Freedom of Information Request is striking. The problem though is once the construction has gone wrong, and created unnecessary damage, this becomes very difficult and very expensive to put right. Our National Parks need to try and find a way of preventing problems rather than detecting them after the event.
Lots of tree planting should not be seen as compensation for poor ground restoration work.
What needs to happen
I hope this post has demonstrated that the way the planning system operates at present, even when our National Parks’ have taken considerable and commendable efforts with hydro developments, they can go badly wrong.
The focus of the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro needs to be around addressing the landscape damage around the first intake. I think that to remedy the damage will require considerable expertise and require money. If the contractor cannot be made liable, it means the shareholders for the hydro, who were expecting a 5-8% return (there is interesting information on the finances on the community hydro website), Mar Estate which is charging rent (and was responsible for previous damage in the area) and the community may have to wait for their return. It seems to people that all the people who were going to gain from this development have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not at the expense of the landscape. Success would then be being able to promote this as being a nice place to go for a walk again – a “small gem” in the National Park – as it was in the past.
In terms of planning system failures, it seems to me these are twofold. First, not nearly enough emphasis is put on the landscape impact of construction prior to planning approval. Planning applications consider the wider impact on the landscape but not the more localised impact. Its hard to see the Corriemulzie intake from any distance but the local impact is huge. Our National Parks should be exemplars of good practice in this respect but they generally approve hydro schemes in principle without detailed Construction Method Statements. Then, once a scheme is approved in principle, its much harder for staff to influence and its probably less of a priority, because they are judged on the time it takes from planning application to approval. None of this is the fault of planning staff, its the system and that needs to change.
Second, the focus of monitoring needs to shift from the end stage of the construction to the beginning and be independent of both developer and contractor. This would prevent problems arising. For example, if our National Parks were ensuring all vegetation was properly removed and stored before pipelines were dug or tracks created or broadened, restoration would then be far more effective.
For this to happen though, our National Parks, like all our public authorities, need to be properly resourced.
Lastly, it would be good, given what I see as their good intentions, if the CNPA, Braemar Community Hydro and the other main players had a proper discussion, a post mortem if you like, about what lessons might be learned and then publicised this so they could be used to inform the development of hydro schemes, both community and commercial, in future.
“Scotland’s divorce from nature is intimately connected to its divorce from land. But whilst we struggle to overcome the engrained iniquity of land ownership we can do something about access to land. From the country that gave the world John Muir the shambles of the national park is pretty depressing”
What has been happening in the National Park though is more than a shambles, its been a deliberate attempt to exclude people from an area which was made a National Park in order to enable people, primarily from the Glasgow conurbation and many of whom have little money, to enjoy the countryside. That was an old socialist aspiration. Its not a coincidence that the same post-war Labour Government that created the NHS also passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The camping byelaws, which are only part of a much wider attempt to make the National Park a socially exclusive zone, are now unravelling partly due to incompetence but also because, thankfully, other public authorities have respected people’s rights. In this case the key right is that of people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on the road network.
The LLTNPA’s record on developing the byelaws and the right to stay overnight in vehicles
Rob Edwards obtained from the Park a very interesting explanation for its U-turn on campervans, which once again demonstrates the rotten governance that has been at the heart of how the byelaws have been developed.
“The park authority pointed out that caravaners staying weeks or months on two old stretches of road by Loch Earn had damaged the park’s unique environment. “Our clear legal advice was that they weren’t part of the formal road network and that the issue could be addressed with bylaws” said the authority’s chief executive, Gordon Watson”.
I was surprised at this claim because if Gordon Watson or the Park’s lawyer had asked Transport Scotland – the body responsible for the trunk road network – they would have known that the laybys on the A85 along the north side of the Loch Earn were part of the formal road network and therefore under the byelaws as approved by the LLTNPA Board and Minister, people could sleep there in vehicles. Transport Scotland provided me with a list of all trunk road laybys LL&T National Park Lay-Bys they were responsible for in December 2016. Here is the extract for the A85 along the north shore of Long Earn:
Maybe, however, the Park’s lawyer knew something Transport Scotland didn’t? Its quite clear though that other LLTNPA staff did not know either because, as late as summer 2016, a year after the byelaws were approved by the Board in April 2015, staff were asking Transport Scotland which laybys were part of the formal road network:
(You can read the full correspondence – I am grateful to Transport Scotland for co-operating with my FOI request – here, here and here)
Note, how Carlo DEmidio, the senior manager appointed to improve the Park’s project management (and who has since left the Park) did not know either which laybys were official – perhaps he did not have access to the legal advice provided to his Chief Executive? – and his statement “We just need something that we can use to justify our position when it comes to enforcement and signage”. That does not sound like a Park Authority following legal advice, that sounds more like a Park Authority hell bent on banning campervans whatever the legal advice.
Unfortunately, it may be very difficult to find out the truth on this because legal advice is privileged and exempt from Freedom of Information rules. Whatever the legal advice the Board had prior to approving the byelaws, once Park staff found out that the laybys on North Loch Earn were part of the public roads network, they should have advised the Board.
Instead what appears to have happened is that Park staff, without reference to the Board or apparently the Scottish Government (see here), changed the wording of the camping byelaws. Now under English Law, significant changes to byelaws would normally require further public consultation before going back to the Board for approval but in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park none of this happened. In my view that leaves the legality of the entire byelaws open to question but they key point here is the changes, which were significant, made it even more difficult for the Park to ban people from staying overnight in vehicles.
This is because the original version of the byelaws only allowed people to sleep overnight in vehicles on public roads:
(7) No person shall sleep overnight in a stationary vehicle within a Management Zone unless:
(a) they have been authorised to do so by the Authority under byelaw 12; or
(b) the vehicle is on a public road and such activity is not prohibited by the relevant roads
The key term here is “public road” which was defined to mean:
“(i) a road or any part thereof which a roads authority has a duty to maintain; (ii) a layby bounded partly by the outer edge of any such road; or (iii) any public car park provided by or on behalf of a roads authority. “
You can see from this why it was so important to work out which laybys on north Loch Earn among other places were part of the public roads network and which not.
In the version of the byelaws which was published in November 2016, however, just over three months before they were implemented, the terms “public road” and “roads authority” had been dropped and replaced by the term “road”. This was defined to mean “a road for the purposes of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984” and this inadvertently changed the whole scope of the exemption in the byelaws which allowed people to sleep in vehicles. This is because under the Roads Traffic Scotland Act a road is defined to mean any road over which there is a right of passage, private or public. It gave campervans a legal right under the byelaws to stay on anything that looked like a road (such as forest tracks), including its verge, in the camping management zones. Hence why the Park has refunded people who bought permits not just on the public road network at Loch Earn, but also in permit areas created on what appears to be a private road at Tarbert.
What needs to be done
The Park in its response to Rob Edwards was trying to hide behind legal advice in order to defend its unlawful attempt to charge people in campervans for staying overnight on the road network but also to save face with local communities: I am sure St Fillans Community Council will be dismayed. Having been told the byelaws could prevent encampments in laybys, its now clear they did not know what they were talking about and that the whole justification for the byelaws has been a con.
Its worse than that though. Perhaps Park staff could explain on what legal advice they had decided to allow caravans to stop off overnight in laybys in the camping management zones while still trying to ban campervans? The definition of “vehicle” remained unchanged between the two versions of the camping byelaws and clearly included campervans: ” “vehicle” means a mechanically-propelled vehicle or a vehicle designed or adapted for towing by a mechanically-propelled vehicle”. I doubt any lawyer would have made a distinction between campervans and caravans and my conclusion is the staff having been making up the implementation of the byelaws as they go along. Acting beyond their powers. Dave Morris, for it was he, was right to call for Scottish Ministers to investigate.
The LLTNPA Board now needs to issue a clear statement of whether the camping byelaws still apply to people sleeping in vehicles and if so, in what circumstances people could be prosecuted. My own view is that they should clearly state that no-one who is abiding by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whether in a campervan or tent, will be prosecuted. As importantly the Board also needs to re-affirm that a primary purpose of the National Park is to enable people to enjoy the countryside and that overnight stays in tents and campervans are an essential part of this right. It should then get on with providing the facilities that campervanners and caravanners need rather than wasting more resources enforcing the unenforceable.
Following my posts on the Ledcharrie (see here), Coilessan (see here) Glen Clova and Glen Prosen (see here) and (see here) hill tracks I contacted the heads of planning in both National Park Authorities to find out what they were doing about this. The responses could not have been more different. The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority treating my request under Freedom of Information, delaying their response and then refusing to divulge information. The Cairngorms National Park Authority answering my questions and promising to make information on their planning portal.
The LLTNPA response to Ledcharrie
On 11th June (see here) I asked Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning (and copied in the Park’s Convener of Planning Petra Biberbach) for all the information required by the Park’s Decision Notice approving the Ledcharrie scheme in principle , the dates of monitoring visits and any correspondence/information about enforcement. On Friday, I received this unsigned refusal EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie from someone, they have not put their name to the letter, claiming to be a Governance Manager.
The LLTNPA’s reason for refusing the information, would if accepted, represent a massive step back for the planning system:
The documentation submitted by the developer to comply with conditions set out in the planning decision has been withheld from release under R10(5)(b) of the EIR’s as the information relates to live operational activities which are currently being monitored by the Park Authority. Not all conditions have been discharged.
Section R10 (5) b of the Environmental Information Regulations reads:
(5) A Scottish public authority may refuse to make environmental information available to the extent that its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially–
(b) the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of any public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature;
The Park is in effect is claiming that to make public any information required by a Decision Notice could interfere with the course of justice – presumably a reference to potential enforcement action. Leave aside the fact that the LLTNPA has almost never taken enforcement action, this is complete and utter rubbish. The Decision Notice of 2015 required the Developer to provide lots of further information including construction methods for all aspects of the scheme, detailed landscape mitigation and restoration techniques, a turve protection plan, a peat protection plan, a raptor survey, etc before any work started. A commendable list. If these had all been supplied as required and approved by the Park Authority there is no reason at all why they should not be made public, as they form part of the approval, nothing to do with enforcement. That is a separate matter which comes afterwards as is about whether the Developer kept to the conditions that had been agreed. Indeed making such documents public would have enabled interested parties to judge for themselves whether the conditions had been adhered to and report potential breaches to the Park.
If the Developer had not provided all the information required – and the Park has refused even to say whether the Developer has or hasn’t done this – the Park should not have allowed construction to go ahead. What the Park appears to be saying is that none of the detailed specifications for developments should be made public until the file is closed (once monitoring is complete). This makes the Park as Planning Authority almost totally unaccountable and would be a retrograde step for the planning system.
The Coilessan track
In response to my questions on the Coilessan track on 28th June (see here), and in particular whether Forestry Commission Scotland had told the Park about this under the Prior Notification System, I have had an email from Stuart Mearns saying I should get a response by 26th July. That’s almost a month but at least Mr Mearns responded himself rather than passing straight on to the Park’s Secrecy Department.
The CNPA’s response to information requests on enforcement and hill tracks
The contrast to the CNPA’s response to my emails on the Glen Prosen and Glen Clova tracks could not be greater. Here are some extracts from Gavin Miles, Head of Planning’s emails:
We are looking at the Glen Prosen Hydro tracks. The CMS [construction method statement] etc should be uploaded to our public access planning pages this week or next. If there’s anything that doesn’t get uploaded we’ll let you know and will send it to you in the formal FOI/Environmental Information Request response format.
If the CNPA can add Construction Method Statements to their planning portal so the public can see what has been agreed in cases where enforcement action is possible, so can the LLTNPA. Well done the CNPA for being transparent!
Just to make things slightly easier for us to identify on the maps and aerial photography, it would be helpful if you could send an image of the map that shows the bits you walked or are concerned about if they don’t appear to you to be part of a consent or application.
It gives you confidence when the Planning Authority asks for further information about exact locations (I had sent them photos and a general description of where I had walked). My mate who I was running with told me afterwards that if you use Strava, it not only plots your entire course, it can give the exact location for photos – a useful tip for anyone wanting to report on hill tracks.
The CMS we have for the Clova Hydro scheme will be uploaded to the public access planning pages. Just to be clear, we haven’t taken any enforcement action against the Clova track at this point. The Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) is a fact-finding notice.
Honesty about what the CNPA is doing. Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA who want to keep everything secret.
A comparision between the two National Parks
The CNPA is far from perfect and I have criticised its planning department in a number of posts, particularly the way they handled the Shieling Hill Track at Cairngorm and also their decision to stop recording planning meetings, which in my view was a retrograde step. I believe that as a National Park Authority they could do better but at present they are a country mile ahead of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority. Their Partnership Plan includes a presumption against new hill tracks, the LLTNPA draft plan says nothing. They are prepared to be open about what they are doing (at least some of the time), the LLTNPA reveals nothing unless its forced to. They are trying to put more information on the planning portal, the LLTNPA has been removing information post-decision saying the law does not require such information to be published.
One might not always agree with the CNPA but it is possible to have a dialogue. The LLTNPA does not do dialogue: if you don’t agree with them, you get shut out of processes.
The explanation for this difference is not just about differences in staff (and who knows what pressure Stuart Mearns is under from his Chief Executive Gordon Watson), it is I believe about Board Members. Petra Biberbach was on the Scottish Government’s independent review of the planning system which included these statements:
“Consistency and transparency of information are central to the reputation and smooth running of the development management system.”
“The increasing use of social media and online portals is in our view a more resource efficient and effective way of communicating casework with the wider public.”
So, why has she apparently done nothing to make the LLTNPA as planning authority more transparent?
Contrast this with Cllr Bill Lobban who is on the CNPA Board and was Highland Council Convener of Planning; he criticised the CNPA for not recording planning meetings as webcasts and argued that Councils were better placed to fulfil the planning function. In other words there are people on the CNPA Board who keep staff on their toes.
What needs to happen
I hope the refusal of LLTNPA staff to provide information about the Ledcharrie Scheme does not have to go to the Information Commissioner for Decision and that Petra Biberbach as convener of the Planning Committee, insists the Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson instructs staff to make the information public as recommended in the independent review of planning report which she co-authored “Empowering planning to deliver great places”.
Over the last fifteen months Parkswatch has highlighted the lack of maintenance and rubbish at Cairngorm, one of the worst examples being the dump at the former Fiacaill T-Bar. This was originally justified as a temporary holding area for old fence posts which were supposed to be removed in the winter season but never were. Instead, Natural Retreats started to burn fence posts in skips on the mountain (left) and added materials to the dump.
With Natural Retreats seemingly immune to any adverse publicity, Save the Ciste group activist George Paton wrote to Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 21st June pointing out the temporary dump had been growing for 18 months and that “if little Johnny was injured or worse” they would ultimately be held responsible. Here is the response:
Dear Mr Paton
Your email of 21 June 2017 to my colleague Keith Bryers, has been passed on to me, as HIE’s Customer Service Improvement Manager, for response.
Health and safety within the Cairngorm Estate is, naturally, of paramount importance, both for HIE as landowner, and CML [Caingorm Mountain Ltd] as operator of the visitor facilities. HIE staff meet CML regularly to monitor performance on a broad range of operational issues, including safety.
With regard to your specific concerns about the present conditions in the Fiacaill T Bar area, our understanding is that this location is being used temporarily to store materials while current maintenance works are progressing. We have already discussed this issue with CML and will raise it again, both to be assured on health and safety matters, and to ensure that the area is tidied as soon as is practicable.
Playing the Health and Safety card appears to have worked because in the last few days (see photos above) Natural Retreats has started to clear the Fiacaill T-bar area. Well done George, it shows how activists can make a difference.
The downside is that at present it appears the only way to get HIE to act at Cairngorm is threaten them with Health and Safety. The test in this case will be whether, having tidied up the site and made it “safe”, HIE stop Natural Retreats using it as a dump and get them to remove the concrete plinth which formed part of the t-bar structure. I have my doubts. HIE, like many other public authorities, is far more interested in large new capital vanity projects than in restoring sites affected by past developments or in basic maintenance. What Cairngorm needs first and foremost is some attention to basics and all the evidence shows this is not happening.
Natural Retreats’ failure to develop an environmental plan or standards for Cairngorm
Last year, after parkswatch drew attention to the lack of any proper environmental management plan at Cairngorm (see here) CNPA staff wrote to Natural Retreats urging that they develop a set of standards for operating at Cairngorm. This request was repeated by the CNPA Convener of Planning, Eleanor Mackintosh, in a letter (see here – thanks to George Paton who obtained it through FOI) to Natural Retreats dated 14/2/17:
“I would also urge you to develop some simple, best-practice management standards for your operations that you can consistently apply to your own works or those undertaken by contractors”.
Actually, there is no need for Natural Retreats to develop new best practice standards, because these already exist. What they should have been doing, in consultation with conservation and recreational interests, is to review and update standards for the management of ski areas which were developed back in the 1980s (see here) as well as those developed during the construction of the funicular. It has suited HIE to forget this history, the lessons from the past and, if there is one thing CNPA should be doing at present, its to demand that these lessons are incorporated into new standards.
Where Eleanor Mackintosh got it wrong, I believe, was to suggest to Natural Retreats that the management standards should be “simple”. Cairngorm is a complex mountain environment and the examples of best practice that have been developed over time range from the simple to the highly complex depending on what is proposed. To apply best practice standards consistently and appropriately would require the types of skill and expertise which are sadly lacking among managers at both at Natural Retreats and HIE.
The crumbling environs of the Day Lodge
Clearing up the Fiacaill dump takes very little effort or money, it could all be done in a day. That it has taken so long tells you something about the way Cairngorm is being managed. Its not just the natural environment that is being mismanaged though, the state of the buildings at Cairngorm tells a similar story, as these recent photos from around the Day Lodge show.
Before Natural Retreats bought Cairngorm Mountain Ltd from HIE, they were paid a sum, which I understand was c£600k, to cover delapidation works to buildings. A sad indictment of HIE’s failure to maintain the buildings at Cairngorm during the period 2008-2014 when it had direct control. This money appears to have been either insufficient or has not been spent by Natural Retreats as intended.
The failure to carry out basic maintenance and repairs is a UK wide phenomenon. The powers that be, in both public and private sectors, would prefer to let buildings collapse and then build new ones, rather than spend any money on maintenance. Money spent on maintenance though not only improves amenity – what message do these photos give to visitors to Cairngorm? – it helps create local jobs. Natural Retreats appears though to have no interest in investing in the things that matter at Cairngorm but would rather be involved in grandiose new projects financed by the public sector.
Under the terms of HIE’s lease, Natural Retreats are supposed to maintain buildings in a reasonable state of repair and has to contribute to both a Buildings Sinking Fund and Asset Replacement Fund. It would be in the public interest that Natural Retreats’ contributions to these funds (they were supposed to pay £11k to the ARF in March 2016 and £27k in March 2017) and expenditure from them are made public – I will ask!
I suspect Natural Retreats will only maintain the built environment around the Day Lodge when forced to do so for health and safety reasons – if I was their insurers I would be upping their premiums. It shouldn’t need health and safety though for basic maintenance and care of buildings to take place at Cairngorm, it just needs an owner and operator that cares about the place. Unfortunately all the evidence shows that neither HIE or Natural Retreats care and, while activists need to press for improvements at Cairngorm, the only long-term solution is for the land to be taken away from HIE and transferred to an organisation that does have the interests of the mountain and the people at its heart.
Following its new release last week (see here) announcing that it was no longer going to apply the camping byelaws to campervans and caravans in laybys, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has accepted it acted unlawfully by trying to charge campervans for staying overnight on the road network by offering refunds to those who bought permits (see left).
Its not a direct admission – the “Due to operational changes” at the start of the email had a lawyer friend choking over their porridge – but that its an admission is clear from the liability section in the Terms and Conditions which the Park issues with every permit:
In the event that the Park Authority has any liability to you in contract, delict (including negligence) or otherwise in relation to your use of a permit or pitch or otherwise, it is limited to the amount of the booking paid to the Park Authority only
To the fullest extent permissible in law, the Park Authority does not accept and shall not have any liability or responsibility of whatever nature for any damage, loss, injury, claim, expense, cost or liability of whatever nature and howsoever arising, whether to person or property, which you may suffer or incur within or as a consequence of the use of the permit area or pitch.
This liability clause was developed after parkswatch suggested that campers who purchased permits and then found the camping permit areas uncampable should claim compensation. It was an attempt by the LLTNPA to avoid and limit liability. The converse of this is that the re-imbursement of permit fees is a clear admission of liability, the LLTNPA has acted outwith their powers or as Dave Morris put it in a fine letter to the Herald this week “acting unlawfully by extracting payment for camping permits in some laybys or falsely claiming it would be a criminal offence to stop off in other laybys”.
You will note NO apology has been issued to the people who have been wrongly charged. The only time I have know this Park Authority to apologise was when it was forced to do so by the Information Commissioner for failing to declare all the information it held about 10 of the 13 secret Board Meetings which developed the byelaws Compliance with Decision Notice 209-2016 Response letter. My advice to any campervanner who has been wrongly charged is to submit a complaint about this and take this to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if necessary.
The wider impact of the unlawful application of the byelaws
The LLTNPA has only admitted responsibility in cases where it wrongly charged campervanners for permits. It has said nothing to all the campervanners who may have heard about the byelaws and been deterred from visiting the Park (the camping strategy only created 20 permit places for campervans in the whole of the National Park and while this was increased slightly it was way below what was needed). It has said nothing to all the campervanners who stopped off in laybys anyway but whose stay was marred by the fear of potential criminal prosecution.
The LLTNPA has also tried to hide the truth from Local Communities and stakeholders in the “Your Park Update” its Director of Conservation, Simon Jones, issued on 30th June June Community Council Update. Its worth reading the extract for another lesson in our the Park Authority is trying to use parkspin and parkspeak to conceal the truth:
Contrast this with the Park’s news release on 26/1/16 announcing that the byelaws “will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans”. The LLTNPA had used this claim to win local support for the byelaws (which many local communities in fairness were sceptical about) and then used the claim of high levels of local support to persuade politicians that the camping byelaws were needed and justified. That whole edifice has now collapsed.
The third bullet says it all, camping byelaws are not needed to deal with encampment or anti-social behaviour, both are matters for the police.
“As our communities know…..” – how patronising is that? The St Fillans Community were, for over ten years, asking for action to be taken over encampments in laybys and nothing happened. Indeed the LLTNPA had even failed to record encampments so these could be reported to the police (I know because I asked under FOI and the Park said it collected no information on encampments). Nothing appears to have changed: its still not offering to monitor laybys for encampments although its Rangers pass these laybys every day on patrol and are in a much better position than either local communities and the police to collect and record this information as a basis for police action. This LLTNPA had its eyes and ears closed and appears incapable of working in partnership with other organisations.
The campervan byelaw debacle is a serious case of public maladministration. The LLTNPA have a duty to hold the Park’s Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, to account and a full public apology is required.
The legal questions that remain
The LLTNPA has not re-imbursed all campervanners for the permits they purchased. People who bought permits to stay at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive are not being re-imbursed and the Park is still trying to charge people for permits in these areas. I think they need to explain publicly the legal basis for this decision.
Under the byelaws, its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle (which legally includes a caravan, campervan or car) if this is on a road. A road is defined as having the same meaning as in the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984. This means that under the byelaws, as approved, people can sleep overnight in vehicles all public roads and private roads over which there is a right of passage and on the associated verges and laybys (as the legal definition of a road includes its verge). This is the reason why the Park has had to backtrack on trying to charge people for staying on the public road network.
What is the difference though between Tarbert Isle, where the Park is reimbursing campervanners for purchasing permits, and nearby Inveruglas or Firkin Point, where they are still trying to extract payments from campervanners?
The permit area at Tarbert Isle was at the end of a private road, just like Firkin Point (see above). Moreover, the LLTNPA has now replaced the signs at Firkin, Inveruglas and Forest Drive saying there was no right of passage for vehicles there between 7am and 7pm with the sign on the left. The Park therefore has retreated from its claim there was no right of vehicular passage in these places but is still trying to charge people when, if there is a vehicular right of passage, people can stay for free.
The problem for the LLTNPA is unless its hiding the information it appears it does not know where vehicular rights of passage exist and where they don’t EIR 2017-029 Response and EIR 2017-030 Review Response private roads. (I say “unless its hiding the information” because the review failed to answer my question: “to confirm whether the LLTNPA holds any information relating to whether or not there is a public right of passage on any private road within the National Park boundary and if so to provide this to me.” – I will appeal). Unless it can show there is no vehicular right of passage it would still appear to be acting unlawfully in trying to force campervans to apply for permits at Firkin Point, Inveruglas and Forest Drive.
What needs to be done to sort out this mess?
Instead of trying to charge people in vehicles for staying overnight on its land – which in effect is what its trying to do at Inveruglas and Firkin Point and is part of a much wider attempt to charge anyone stopping off in its car parks – the LLTNPA should only charge where it provides proper facilities. It would be fine for example for it to charge campervans to stay at the Loch Chon campsite – though at present the Park is still trying to ban campervans from staying there, a completely senseless decision – because there are toilets, places to wash and bins. The problem is its trying to charge Campervans (and campers) for staying at Inveruglas where there are no facilities outside shop opening hours and at Firkin Point where these is a toilet but nothing else and that toilet was closed for the month of March.
What the LLTNPA needs to do is open up the toilets at both Firkin and Inveruglas 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, make drinking water available and preferably add chemical disposal points. There would then be a clear justification for charging campervans in these places. The same would apply once proper facilities are provided at Forest Drive or anywhere else. The problem is the LLTNPA appears to have no plans to do this – there was nothing about improving infrastructure for campervans in the National Park Partnership Plan consultation which closed on Monday (see here).
Exactly the same arguments apply to charging campers. If there are no facilities, there should be no charges. The Park’s statement in its update to local communities that “camping permit areas for tents adjacent to some loch shore laybys are unaffected” is morally indefensible.
I am confident that the whole byelaw edifice will collapse in due course. There was never any justification for them and Gordon Watson’s claim they were needed to control numbers of visitors has been exposed as false now that the LLTNPA is no longer trying to control campervan numbers. The LLTNPA Board will, if it has any sense, apologise for the mess created under the “leadership” of former convener Linda McKay and instruct its staff to change direction now.
During a round of the Glen Prosen watershed 10 days ago, I came across a bulldozed track on the plateau at the head of the Glen which appears to be just inside the boundary of the Glen Isla Estate and therefore created by that estate. The lack of vegetation on the surface – on what is a relatively fertile soil – and the state of the turves which have been piled by the track suggest the track is relatively recent. There is nothing about this track on the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portal and it therefore would appear to have been constructed without planning permission.
I had not realised when blogging about the Glen Clova and Glen Prosen hydro tracks (see here) that the head of Glen Prosen was within Wild Land Area 16 “Lochnagar and Mount Keen”. There is a presumption against development in wild land areas – even more reason, if more were needed, for the CNPA to taken enforcement action and ensure the “temporary” hydro access tracks are removed.
After crossing Driesh and Mayar, we met the track near the Mayar Burn. While I was tempted to follow the northern section towards Dun Hillocks and Finalty Hill, I was not sure my legs would take it (first longer run of the year!). It was difficult to see how far the track goes because of the rolling nature of the landscape here which is well described in the Wild Land Statement (see here) which was published last year:
At a broad level, the landform tends to be convex, limiting visibility up and down slopes. This means that, from the hill tops, neighbouring glens are screened and there is a horizontal emphasis of open views directed over successive tiers of ridges and tops extending far into the distance and contributing to a sense of awe.
What is clear is that it penetrates well into the Wild Land area 16. I couldn’t tell either if it enters the Lochnagar and Deeside National Scenic Area, the boundary of which runs in a straight line between Mayar and Finalty Hill (any information on this, particularly photos, would be welcome).
The creation of the track has removed much of the challenge of navigating across what was a featureless area of plateau. If you have ever tried to walk between Tom Buidhe and Mayar in the mist you will know what I mean. This quality of the plateau, so important to adventure, is also well described in the Wild Land statement:
Despite a mixed composition of hills and undulations, the simplicity of the landform and land cover at a broad level means individual peaks do not tend to stand out and it can be difficult to estimate vertical scale or distance within the landscape. This makes navigation challenging upon the hills and plateaux, especially in low cloud, thus increasing risk.
Because its intermittent, although the constructed sections predominate, its possible that the track was not created all at once but over time.
The track has been created by a digger scraping off the turf and dumping it by the side of the new track. The positive thing about this is it should make restoration of the track quite simple. All the estate would have to do is replace the turves and soil onto the bare surface.
The older vehicle erosion shows that its not just constructed tracks which are the problem – its vehicle use. The CNPA should be addressing the issue of vehicular use on higher ground. A start would be to restrict the type of vehicles that can be used, ban heavier vehicles like landrovers and just allow quad bikes which are much lighter and, if used carefully, cause much less damage to vegetation. This could be done through the creation of conservation byelaws.
We didn’t follow the track over Mid Hill and so did not ascertain where it started (again photos would be welcome) but it appears most of it lies within the Cairngorms National Park boundary.
There is a short spur to the track down Broom Hill, which unlike other sections of track has been created by importing aggregate and dumping it on top of vegetation. This section of track will be much harder to restore.
Had I not stopped to take photos, we would have made fast time from the Mayar Burn to the bealach with Craigie Thieves. After that, the going was much slower and although the hills were much lower, they provided a wilder experience even after we had crossed out of the National Park.
Although there was a fence, the absence of track made a huge difference to the experience, altogether wilder and hard on the legs, and not just because I was forced to play the role of aged deerhound trying to keep within sight of my mate!
Until, that is, we came to this monstrosity on the Hill of Adenaich, well outside the CNPA boundary, and the responsibility of Angus Council to fix. Sadly, whether these tracks are created or not appears to have very little to do with the Planning Authority, its all determined by the landowner: most create tracks, some don’t. It would be good though if our National Parks became exemplars of good practice and the CNPA by its actions inspires Angus Council also to take action.
What needs to happen
I have reported the track featured here to the CNPA, asked them to confirm whether they were aware of it not and stated that it appears to have been constructed for sporting purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission. In my view the track should be removed. The CNPA in their new Partnership Plan, to their credit, have stated that there will be a presumption against new hill tracks within upland areas in the National Park. This one enters a Wild Land area to boot so there is every reason for them to take action. If the CNPA act fast, much of the damage could be restored quite quickly (because the turves removed to create the track are still usable) so I would urge them to do so.
Whether the Glen Isla estate, which straddles the National Park Boundary, will co-operate remains to be seen. While the Glen Isla estate appears on the CNPA map of estates which lie within the National Park (see here) there is no estate management plan. The CNPA initiative to get estates to publish management plans was a good one but has been ignored by many landowners. In my view the publication of management plans for all estates within the National Park should be compulsory and such plans should include maps of all existing tracks (and where they end) as well as a statement from each estate about what vehicles they use off track. This would it much easier for the CNPA to take enforcement action in cases like this.
The third and final section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Partnership Plan (the official consultation (see here) closes today) is entitled “Rural Development”. The statutory objective of the National Park is rather different, to promote sustainable use of natural resources and sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities. Its quite possible to have rural development which does not achieve either of these aims, whether this is continuation of unsustainable land uses or new development such as the Cononish Goldmine.
The LLTNPA’s vision
The Park’s vision for rural development is infused with neo-liberal values and thought processes:
“In the National Park businesses and communities thrive and people live and work sustainably in a high quality environment”
Implicit in this vision is that development is dependent on business, there is no mention of the role of the public sector despite the fact that Forestry Commission Scotland, a public authority, is the largest landowner in the National Park. There is no vision at all about what the public sector, including the National Park Authority – whose staff incidentally are paid far more than most people who work in the National Park (a good thing, reasonable pay) – have to play in sustainable rural development. Significant amounts of research is undertaken in the National Park – for example by the SRUC’s research station in Strathfillan – but this, like other evidence is simply ignored. I would suggest that any consideration of sustainable economic development that does not put the public sector at the heart of the vision is meaningless, its simply a charter for business.
There is no recognition either that the interests of business owners and local communities may not be the same. So, the LLTNPA’s main focus is on tourism businesses which may deliver good returns to their owners but are dependent – perhaps exploit would be a better word – a low paid workforce who earn so little they cannot afford to live in the National Park. There is no discussion of what is basically a rentier economy, which is based on the provision of tourist accommodation (all those chalet parks) or the financial subsidies paid for by the public for hydro power which are flowing to the City of London. Most of the income generated within the area provides no benefit to the National Park or the people who still manage to live there. In the Cairngorms National Park Authority Plan there was at least implicit recognition of this in the statistics which demonstrated average pay in the Cairngorms National Park was well below the Scottish average. The LLTNPA plan is devoid of evidence and the only indication that this might be an issue is a reference to the total population and population of working age in the National Park declining.
The vision also says nothing about sustainable development. The vision is of people working IN a high quality environment, which just happens to be there, there is no recognition this natural environment has been moulded by people andthere is NOTHING about sustainable land-use. This fits with the conservation and land-use section of the plan (see here) which similarly has no vision or plan for how land-use could become more sustainable. The natural qualities of the National Park are simply there to be used: the “Park’s unique environment and special qualities provide many opportunities for economic growth and diversification.” I couldn’t find a single proposal about how land-use or wider economy could be diversified in this section of the plan – its all being left to the private sector, the miracles of the market.
The complacency of the LLTNPA and its unwillingness to look at the real issues is staggering:
“Overall, our rural economy in the Park is performing well with growth in accommodation, outdoor recreation, infrastructure improvements, and food and drink offering over recent years. We have also seen a notable rise in development activity, particularly in renewables, housing and tourism investment. However, we are still facing significant challenges for the rural economy of the National Park.”
If the economy of the Park was really thriving one would expect there to be an increase in population, not a decrease. There is no proper analysis of what the challenges are or that the economy in the Park is benefitting the few, not the many.
The LLTNPA’s priorities
The very first action point under Rural Development shows the Park’s true priorities:
“Delivery of the key sites and infrastructure in Arrochar, Balloch and Callander, as well as villages identified as Placemaking Priorities identified in LIVE Park, the National Park’s Local Development Plan”.
This is parkspeak for the delivery of Flamingo Land at Balloch (see here) and the development of the torpedo site at Arrochar (see here). Neither has anything to do with sustainable economic development.
The other main development priority appears to be hydro schemes – the number of new hydro schemes being a measure of success. Nowhere in the plan is there any indication of the impacts of such schemes on landscape or river catchments.
Almost all the other action points either re-inforce the Park’s development plan, are so vague as to be meaningless or miss the point.
Outcome 1 is basically a repeat of the Local Development, which (apart from the Flamingo Land and Torpedo site) is about matters such as enhancing the environment in existing settlements.
Outcome 2 is about providing support for business, from improving broadband to provision of workshop space – there is not a proposal in it about how the Park could help businesses based on the National Park’s special qualities (eg timber businesses) or how the LLTNPA could use its purchasing power to assist local businesses (e.g it has purchased shipping containers for toilets rather than commissioning local businesses to provide buildings fitting for the local environment). The Park says it wants to increase the number of business start up when the reality is that a few businesses are actually increasing their grip on the economy in the National Park particularly in the tourism sector (see here).
Outcome 3 sees the answer to population decline as training young people and getting more affordable housing provision. Actually, its investment in the economy that creates jobs and the problem in the LLTNPA is that while there has been investment (eg construction of hydro schemes) this has been short-term and generates very few long-term paid jobs. Requiring a proportion of new housing to be “affordable” will do nothing to address the basic issue.
Outcome 4 is about empowerment of local communities. There is no mention of the Park’s track record on this (when it matters, they have consistently ignored view of local communities (e.g giving the go-ahead for new housing by the LLTNPA HQ in Balloch and ignoring the Strathard Community Council’s concerns about the size of the Loch Chon campsite). As with the CNPA Partnership Plan there is no mention of supporting those communities to take over control of land, which is the main resource in the National Park, not even in areas where the FCS is the main landowner. Until our National Parks grapple with Land Reform, claims to be empowering local communities should be taken with a large dose of salt.
What needs to be done
Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for rural development in the National Park:
The public sector and public sector investment needs to be put at the centre of sustainable rural development but everything the public sector does (from new roads to land-use) should be tailored to the National Park’s conservation and recreational objectives.
There should be no place for large scale tourist developments which destroy the special qualities of the Park (Flamingo Land) and the focus within tourism should be on improving pay and conditions (including living conditions) of those who work in the sector.
The National Park Plan should be driving forward changes in land-use from large scale intensive conifer forestry, sheep farming and hunting to alternative uses. This could start with the Forestry Estate and the production of a plan to change the way the Argyll Forest Park is managed, so landscape and biodiversity are put first, and new community models of forestry which would create new jobs locally.
Apologies to readers but due to problems with internet connectivity I was not able to get this post on (or next on rural development) out last week as intended. The consultation on the National Park Partnership Plan (see here) closes today.
The LLTNPA’s visitor priorities are wrong
The second section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) is titled Visitor Experience. I hate the term (it was also used by the Cairngorms National Park Authority) because its being used to change what National Parks should be about. Instead of enabling people to enjoy the landscape for itself, and being free to do so, our National Park Authorities now appear to believe their role is about giving people an experience – often it seems something to be paid for – whether or not that experience has anything to do with outdoors. This is a distortion of our National Park’s statutory objective in respect to visitors which is “to promote understanding and enjoyment, including enjoyment in the form of recreation, of the special qualities of the area by the public”. Note the statutory objective relates to “the special qualities” of the National Park, not to the promotion of developments such as Natural Retreats or Flamingo Land. Many of the failures of the LLTNPA and draft NPPP result from a departure from that statutory objective.
A good example is VE3, which is about the visitor economy:
“Businesses and organisations in the Park have taken great strides in adapting and innovating to better provide for the dynamic and ever changing tourism demand. The accommodation offering has seen many positive investments while the quality of food and drink has improved significantly. We have seen a strong increase in the number of people coming to the National Park for food and drink, up from 15% in 2011 to 44% in 2015. There has also been a rise in visitors using of self-catering, managed campsites and hotels from 2011 to 2015.”
Ignore the fact that there are now fewer places to camp in the National Park than ever before, ignore the failure of the NPPP to consider low pay and precarious jobs in the tourism industry, the LLTNPA appears to see promoting food and drink as important, if not more so, than enabling people to enjoy the Great Outdoors (and is it really credible that the numbers of people visiting the National Park is up from 15% to 44%?). The photo in this section, (left) speakers louder than words.
Tourism, whether appropriate or not, has become a substitute for sustainable economic development (the third statutory objective of the LLTNPA and subject of my last post on the NPPP). This is the wrong starting point. As the NPPP states, the vast majority of visitors to the National Park are day visitors from the Clyde conurbation. Those people – I am one of them – and overnight visitors visit primarily to enjoy the scenery and undertake recreational activities such as walking, cycling, boating or fishing. We may of course spend some money – many hillwalkers for example enjoy a meal or a drink at the end of the day and this helps explain the success of enterprises like Real Foods at Tyndrum, while other people enjoy sitting out in pleasant surroundings (hence the success of the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha?) – but for most people this is a consequence of their visit, not a reason for it.
What appears to be happening though – and the Visitor Experience framework and the NPPP is an attempt to promote this further – is that the LLTNPA is prioritising the small minority of high spend visitors over the mass of people who visit the National Park:
“Our visitor profile has traditionally been characterised by high numbers of predominantly day visits that coincide with good weather. Historically this has meant a highly seasonal, weather dependent visitor economy that can give us very high volume visitor pressures in some of the most popular areas of the Park. These pressures can affect the quality of environment, visitor experience, economy and community life.”
Note how the LLTNPA claims that the high number of visitors on a few days of the year affects “the Visitor Experience”. This is a version of the same old chestnut that there are too many people on the hill – the presence of other walkers destroys the experience. Its elitist and the solution is obvious: if you don’t like other people go somewhere else when its busy. I am sure I am not the only person who avoids west Loch Lomond on public holidays but the large numbers of visitors at these times is an opportunity for the people who visit (to promote their own physical and mental wellbeing). The LLTNPA however appears to see numbers as a problem rather than a challenge and so is trying to restrict visitors through the camping byelaws (300 places under the permit system instead of maximum counts of 850 tents previously), gating off and reducing the size of car parks (e.g on Loch Venachar) and introducing charges for visiting (car park charges, toilet charges etc). There is no attempt to analyse the implications some of which are touched on the in the Strategic Environemental Assessment:
“the new more stringent visitor management measures may erode certain personal freedoms (population and human health), negatively impacting the image of the National Park.”
Instead of attacking access rights, the LLTNPA should be addressing the shortfall in infrastructure needed to support visitors, at both peak and non-peak periods. This includes addressing the shortfall in basic facilities which parkswatch has covered many times in the last year, particularly litter bins and toilets (no mention in the NPPP that this comes out as top need in all visitor surveys in the National Park), as well as more challenging improvements such as to transport infrastructure as recommended in the LLTNPA’s own Strategic Environment Assessment:
“the vast majority of visitor journeys to the Park continue to be made by car. There remains a need to promote public transport options and encourage visitors to travel by alternative modes. There are also opportunities to make travel to and within the Park “part of the experience” (e.g. linking longer distance cycle routes to public transport, investing in the seasonal waterbus service).”
The only improvement to public transport mentioned in the NPPP is the waterbus. While the CNPA are committed to improving public transport in Glenmore, the LLTNPA has no plans to encourage the provision of public transport to Rowardennan, despite Ben Lomond being completely inaccessible to the large proportion of people who reside in the Clyde conurbation who don’t have a car. This should be a national scandal.
The Visitor Experience section is peppered with parkspin, which is made possible from the lack of evidence in the plan and the failure to review progress in the previous plan (see here). This is a post-truth neo-liberal world full of soundbites and where evidence doesn’t count. Here are a few examples:
“focus on raising the level of ambition, to ensure that the quality of visitor experience in the National Park is truly world class.”
Comment: actually, what most visitors want the National Park to do is provide basic facilities such as toilets and ensure litter is picked up. The scenery doesn’t need ambition, it needs practical protection (there is no consideration of how all the new hydro tracks in the National Park contribute to the world class visitor experience).
“Boating and fishing continue to be popular and the availability of boating facilities (publicly-accessible piers, pontoons and moorings) continues to fall short of demand”. (VE2)
Comment: this is the same National Park that shut the Milarochy Launching pad without consultation just a few months ago.
“The West Highland Line offers an outstanding rail experience but opportunities to come here via local stations are currently under-promoted” (VE3).
Comment: last year (see here) the LLTNPA failed to respond to the reduction in cycle places on trains on the West Highland Line. Perhaps its now seen the light? The West Highland Line though needs more than promotion for people to use it. A timetable that worked for day visitors and a bus link for hillwalkers to the Arrochar Alps would be a start.
“Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites. This approach has achieved transformational improvements to East Loch Lomond and parts of The Trossachs through the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan.”(VE4).
Comment: the reality is that there has been some (not much) public investment, much of which has been wasted (for example £150k to date on camping management signs), the toilets the Park operates are closed for much of the year and most of the excellent proposals in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan have been dropped (eg for new toilets, camping areas, litter bins and wood piles for people to use) without any public explanation.
“There is scope for us to further develop the role of the National Park to engage with a wider range of groups in society and support recreational enjoyment, responsible behaviour and stronger appreciation of the need to look after the environment.” (VE5)
Comment: the reality is the LLTNPA has a long history of failing to engage with recreational groups, who have been excluded from decision making processes. There is not a single proposal in the plan about how recreational and landscape interests could be given a real say in how the Park is run.
Commentary on Visitor Experience Outcomes and actions
VE1 Recreation opportunities
This heading is misleading, the content is about path provision. There are outdoor recreational opportunities everywhere, the issue is what infrastructure is needed to support this. There are some good practical proposals in this section – unlike most other sections of the plan – which are about what the LLTNPA will do over the next five years to improve the path network. Whether the investment is enough, however, is not considered – its not nearly enough – and all the financing is dependent on other bodies.
In my view what the plan should have done is evaluate the recreational infrastructure – is it sufficient to meet demand, what state is it in? – and then set out a case for what resources are needed. The Mountains for People project is great but it only tackles a small number of paths predominantly on publicly owned land. What is the LLTNPA going to do to address path erosion on other hills? Do the existing state management plans, which the LLTNPA has refused to release under FOI, contain any plans for paths? (see here) The NPPP gives a nod to the problem “finding long term solutions to ensure the existing network is maintained and promoted to a high standard” but contains no ideas let alone any proposals for how this might be addressed. How about a bed night tax as is common in the French National Parks? A small levy on overnight visitors would go a long way, as would car park charges if they were spent on paths rather than on trying to restrict access.
The absence of any context makes it hard to interpret the commitment to review core paths. Does the LLTNPA think these are sufficient or insufficient? We are given no idea. There should be a clear aspiration to increase the core path network.
VE2 Water based recreation
This section lacks any concrete proposals. The spin, “Ensuring larger lochs are managed to support and facilitate both water craft and other recreational uses while maximising safety for all users” is contradicted by the the reality which includes the Milarrochy slipway on east Loch Lomond has been closed on spurious health and safety grounds (see here), the former access point for canoes at Loch Chon has been blocked off and the Loch Venachar Quay which was gifted to the people of Callander to enjoy boating (and which happens to be adjacent to Venachar House, home of former convener Linda Mackay) has been planted with trees. There is no analysis of why numbers of boats on Loch Lomond have dropped – the water byelaws are asserted to be a success – and no practical proposals to make access to the water easier. Instead the LLTNPA is focussing on supporting high profile mass events, such as swimming, which depend on volunteers from the boating community for stewarding. The Loch Lomond Association, which represents all water users on the Loch, is not included as a stakeholder – that says it all! The development of a meaningful plan should have started with the people who use the lochs (just as plans for camping should have started with the people who camp).
VE3 on tourism businesses
Priority action 1 says it all: “Encouraging and supporting new and established tourism businesses to innovate and collaborate to capitalise on growth markets………………”. The section then goes on to talk about “recreation activity offerings” and “accommodation offerings” and states the LLTNPA wishes to encourage private sector and other investment in facilitiies for motorhomes and lower cost accommodation. Nowhere does the Park set out what provision it sees as being needed or what investment might be required. That is another abdication of responsibility. The LLTNPA however apparently would prefer to leave not just delivery of facilities but also their planning to the market. Why have a NPPP or a National Park Authority if you don’t believe in planning?
VE4 Visitor Management
This section states its about popular areas and management of visitor pressures but again is not based on any analysis. Its proposals show that the LLTNPA has learned nothing in the last two years from the criticisms of the camping byelaws.
The first priority action, which is the Park’s way of saying that it wants the camping byelaws to continue, is both meaningless and now defunct after the LLTNPA’s decision that it can no longer limit the number of campervans/motorhomes (see here): “Ensuring that the Camping Management Zones (WestLoch Lomond, Trossachs , Trossachs North and East Loch Lomond) support improvements to the environment and visitor experience through providing for sustainable levels of camping and motorhome use alongside other visitor activities.in the camping management zones
The second priority action “Agreeing an approach to ensuring the sustainable and responsible use of the Loch Lomond islands” is code for extending the camping byelaws to the Loch Lomond islands which the Board has already agreed in principle to look at. No evidence is provided to show that there is a problem that needs addressing and the failure of the LLTNPA to be open about this is another indictment of how it operates.
On the third priority action, while its a step forward that the LLTNPA has recognised the litter at the head of Loch Long as a problem that needs addressing (but if this, why not the litter along the A82 or fly tipping?), the inclusion of this action point under a section dealing with visitor management is incomprehensible. The litter at the head of Loch Long is not created by tourists but comes from the Clyde. The Park’s reference to “innovative solutions” is devoid of content and therefore meaningless – what’s needed are resources to clear up the mess.
The fourth priority on developing parking and traffic management measures appears to be “code” for the further introduction of car parking charges. There is nothing in the consultation asking what people think about this – another indication that this is not a proper consultation at all.
VE5 Diversity of visitors
The actions in this section are again in my view meaningless. While the LLTNPA recognises that getting outdoors is good for people’s health and also its difficult for many people in the Clyde conurbation to get to the National Park, there is no analysis of how its existing visitor management measures have impacted on this (the camping bylaws hit the poorest most) and not a single proposal for how the LLTNPA could make the National Park more accessible (A contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority who, for example, recognised there are issues about who accesses outdoor education). The Park’s plan is to engage with health boards – is this really going to sort out the mess it has created? If the Park really wanted to encourage people it would not have constructed its new campsite at Loch Chon, only accessible by car. The LLTNPA claims the National Park offers a range of quality outdoor learning experiences, again with any analysis. The reality is that outdoor education provision has been hit hard by the cuts while organised groups like Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Scouts (which are working hard to welcome a wider range of young people) now face the bureaucratic rigmarole of having to apply for exemptions to the camping permit system. Judging by the number of such exemptions, most are voting with their feet.
What the LLTNPA needs to do
Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for promoting understanding and recreation which depends on the National Park’s special qualities:
The LLTNPA needs to re-write its plan so it focuses on outdoor recreation and enjoyment of the countryside, not “the visitor experience” and base this on proper evidence and an analysis of what it has/has not achieved since it was created.
The LLTNPA needs fundamentally to change its approach to visitor management from seeing visitors as a problem to recognising the right of people to enjoy the countryside. This means dropping the existing camping byelaws and the proposals to extend them to the Loch Lomond islands and reversing other measures designed to reduce visitor numbers (such as removing gates from car parks)
The LLTNPA needs to get back to basics in terms of recreational provision, developing a plan describing what infrastructure is needed from litter bins and toilets to new paths and improved public transport. This should set out what can be funded from existing sources (there is money to invest, for example from Forestry Commission Scotland, through various land management grants or even from hydro schemes) and what additional investment is needed
In a news release yesterday (see here) the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority claimed to have reflected on the first four months of the camping byelaws. The Park used a survey, which purportedly shows positive feedback from people booking permits and unsubstantiated claims from the Chair of St Fillans Community Council about the difference the byelaws had made, to conceal the key announcement: the Park has in effect ceased trying to apply the camping byelaws to campervans and caravans.
So, if you are in a campervan or caravan you need no longer fear prosecution and a criminal record if you stop overnight on the loch shores unlike people staying in tents. This raises some fundamental issues about the justification for the byelaws: if there is no longer any need to limit the numbers of campervans, what is the justification for limiting numbers of campers?
The camping byelaws and vehicles
When announcing the Minister’s approval of the camping byelaws on 26/1/16the LLTNPA news release stated: “They will also prevent inappropriate use of public laybys as encampments by caravans and campervans”. This turns out to have been a lie. A number of us had tried to advise the LLTNPA that one of the many reasons byelaws were not needed was that encampments could be dealt with under existing laws. It appears that at long last the Park agrees: “Police Scotland will use roads legislation to deal with unlawful encampments and irresponsible use of motor vehicles in laybys.”
I had wondered why the Your Park Report (see here) to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board on 19th June made not a single mention of campervans and caravans and also why not a single Board Member asked about the serious issues with enforcement raised on parkswatch (see here). The reason I believe is that the LLTNPA had already decided it was unable to enforce the byelaws against caravans and campervans, as predicted on parkswatch, (see here) but did not want this information made public. The news release, in the Park’s usual fashion, is a re-write of history and distorts the truth:
Going back over a number of years, some lochshore laybys have had issues with encampments of motorhomes and caravans creating negative impacts, damaging the environment and preventing access for other visitors. [Comment: preventing encampments was one of the main justifications for the byelaws even though powers already existing to deal with this e.g under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act]
Ongoing discussions on how best to manage these issues have agreed that Police Scotland will use roads legislation to deal with unlawful encampments and irresponsible use of motor vehicles in laybys. People with campervans and motorhomes can use lochshore laybys to stop and rest (including sleeping overnight if necessary),[Comment: and, if they want to] but encampment on a road (including laybys) is an offence under road traffic legislation and will be managed by Police Scotland accordingly, in cooperation with land owners. Camping permit areas for tents adjacent to some lochshore laybys are unaffected. [Comment: having resolved the anomaly where the LLTNPA were allowing caravans to stop for free but requiring permits from campervans both can now stop for free and sit inside away from the midges watching poor campers who are charged for the privilege].
As a result the National Park Authority will no longer provide permits for motorhomes to stay in laybys but will focus on continuing to provide great locations for overnight motorhome stays at key off-road visitor areas around the National Park. [Comment: the LLTNPA website now says these are Three Lochs Forest Drive, Inveruglas and Firkin Point].
The news release raises a number of further questions:
Who decided that the byelaws and permit system would no longer be applied to campervans in laybys (by the way if you have been charged for the privilege, ask for your money back)? Surely such an important decision should have been taken by the Board at their meeting on Monday 19th June. Did the Board take this decision in secret or has it been decided by staff?
What power does the Park have to remove vehicular rights of passage between 7am and 7pm from places like Inveruglas and Firkin Point? If the LLTNPA don’t have the power to remove vehicular rights of passage, caravans and campervans can still spend the night on the roads to these places without purchasing a permit. This is because under the byelaws its not an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road (public or private) and the legal definition of a road of course includes verges as well as laybys). It appears the Park is still trying to enforce charges for campervans in three places contrary to the Road Traffic Act.
How much money has the Park wasted on trying to prevent campervans exercising their legal right to spend the night on part of the road network (eg printed information, the signs in laybys stating motorhomes required a permit, legal advice, the motorhome terms and conditions)? According to the management accounts at the Board Meeting expenditure on signage for the byelaws in 2016-17 was £154,095 (original budget £100,000).
The News Release does not go as far as saying that the LLTNPA will never enforce the camping byelaws against campervanners or caravans (its focus is on laybys) because if it did so, I suspect campers could challenge the Park in Court for selective application of the byelaws. (This is what I had asked to speak to the Board about on 19th June (see here) but agreed to defer pending a meeting with the Convenor James Stuart). Despite this, I believe the camping byelaws are dead in the water as far as campervans and caravans are concerned. The reason for this is that not only did the LLTNPA and Scottish Government fail to consider Road Traffic Legislation when drafting the byelaws, more importantly they failed to consider the people living in caravans in camping management zones who serviced tourist businesses. This, I believe, explains why LLTNPA staff decided not to enforce the byelaws against caravans and, after staff took that decision – what legal right did they have to do this? – attempts to apply the byelaws against campervans was doomed.
The alleged positive feedback from people applying for permits
The LLTNPA news release claim that between 1st March to 26th June 2017 approximately 2270 camping or motorhome permits have been booked, 492 people completed the LLTNPA feedback survey on the permit system and of these 85% would recommend staying in one of the new permit areas and 92% found it easy to buy a permit. The LLTNPA Board was very impressed with this feedback, which was reported to their meeting, commending the high response rate and interpreting the result to mean the byelaws were going very well.
Unfortunately the Board failed to ask some basic questions which are not addressed in either the paper put to them or the news release. The first is about the numbers of people booking permit. As Ramblers Scotland pointed out yestereday on Grough (see here) 2270 permits “equates to a combined total of 19 permits a day for motorhomes and tents” out of over 300 allegedly available. The RA could also have hightlighted that the 2270 permits appears to include both bookings in advance and bookings for the campsites included in the permit system. The total number suggests therefore that either people are deserting the Park in droves or ignoring the permit system. The Park, if it was honest, would have published a comparison with previous numbers of campers recorded on the loch shores. In fact this should be part of the basic data the Park provides as a basis for any future evaluation of the byelaws.
The second question to be asked is about the feedback. The Park needs to explain how 85% of respondents would recommend staying in a permit area when most of the permit areas are uncampable or terrible for camping (see here)or (see here). and no-one in their right mind would recommend them to anybody.
One possible explanation for the majority of permit holders being prepared to recommend permit areas for camping is that people are only booking permits for a small number of the better permit areas. There are a handful:
This explanation is more plausible if Sallochy, on the West Highland Way, is as I suspect included in the returns. It alone could probably explain the response. Its in very high demand and provides excellent camping provision. Just what the LLTNPA needs but has failed to deliver elsewhere. Its in the public interest therefore that the LLTNPA should make public its data and in particular the number of feedback surveys completed for each survey area. If it turns out that positive surveys have been completed for some of the very poor permit areas, the Park has some answering to do on just how people could recommend such terrible places for camping. If not, the Park Board should be asking why people are not returning survey forms for those areas.
After visiting the Coilessan permit zone (top photo) a couple of weeks ago I stopped to talked to a Forestry Worker. He agreed the Coilessan zone was a very poor place for camping, told me some people had been camping there and also that they had been very disappointed. I am sure he was right. Why is this sort of information not being fed to the LLTNPA Board?
Quote from Chair of St Fillans Community Council
The news release ends with Richard Graham, Chair of St Fillan’s Community Council, “The thing that has struck me most since the byelaws were introduced is the lack of damage, graffiti and litter. These are less evident and it also seems to be less congested.
“People who said they would never come back because of antisocial behaviour are coming back. I speak to fishermen who are delighted with the byelaws because they are experiencing less trouble on Loch Earn.
“Families are also coming back to picnic spots that they had just stopped coming to. In our community we are actively encouraging people to come and enjoy the area so this is amazing to see.”
Ignore the propaganda about families coming back – what about the families who used to camp and still do on the south Loch Earn road? – and the complete lack of evidence for these assertions, the Park (and Mr Graham if he was aware of how his quote would be used) are shameless. Yes, there was a problem on the north Loch Earn road – of encampments (which St Fillans Community Council had rightly complained about for years) – but its action by Drummond Estates that has dealt with this, NOT the byelaws and to claim otherwise is to distort the truth. If it was the byelaws that had made the difference on North Loch Earn, the LLTNPA would hardly now be announcing it was no longer going to enforce them.
What the news release fails to mention
As always with the LLTNPA, what is not said is as significant as what is:
there is no mention of how many people have been referred to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of the byelaws (by the end of May there has been at least five, at least one of which involved the LLTNPA’s own police officer Paul Barr)
there is no analysis or attempt to collect feedback from anglers (the group worst affected by the byelaws) and what its like now trying to fish in poor weather or overnight when shelters are banned
there is no mention that the LLTNPA has decided not to apply the byelaws to Park residents allowing people to camp in their own gardens (though the byelaws made this a criminal offence)
there is nothing about how much money has been wasted
I believe this news release is a damage limitation exercise. The Park was losing its reputation and damaging tourism so its abandoned trying to control campervans and appears to be trying to refocus its efforts purely on campers. The unfairness of this is manifest. People who can afford campervans can stop by the roadsides, people who sleep in tents (who tend to be poorer) can’t. Its called social exclusion, its bad for people’s health (being outdoors is a great contributor to good health), its damaging tourism (particularly angling related businesses) and is undermining what were previously world class access rights.
What people who care about access rights need to do now is respond to the National Park Partnership Plan (my next post will be on recreation) and call upon the LLTNPA to conduct a proper review of what remains of the camping byelaws, engaging recreational interests, with a view to developing alternatives. People also need to object most strongly to the LLTNPA’s coded proposals to introduce new visitor management measures, i.e to extend the byelaws, to the Loch Lomond islands.
A week before taking action against the Cluny Estate track (see here) the Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a planning contravention notice against the owners of the Glen Clova estate for failing to remove the temporary hydro construction track behind the hotel. This is another very significant action from the CNPA and should be welcomed by all who care about the landscape. First, because the CNPA approved the hydro scheme on the basis that the track should be temporary – its permanent access tracks which cause the greatest landscape impact with hydro schemes – so well done to the CNPA for putting the landscape before profit. Second, because the CNPA are now prepared to enforce the conditions of the original planning application, unlike the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who caved in to the Glen Falloch Estate when they applied to make the temporary construction tracks there permanent (see here).
My thanks to Jojo Neff, who has been monitoring hill tracks and passed on some photos (above). Dismayed by what these showed, on Saturday I took the opportunity to have a look myself as part of a run round the Glen Prosen watershed. In the course of that I came across another temporary hydro track at the head of Glen Prosen which has also not yet been re-instated.
The track is visible from many points along the 8km ridge between Coremachy and Driesh. I was too far away – and without binoculars – to be able to tell if the horizontal scar across the hillside is still a track (would welcome information on this) or has been re-instated but to a very poor standard. The uphill section of the track is far more prominent than the lower part of the footpath to Loch Brandy.
The planning application was approved by the CNPA planning committee in 2010. There is no information on the CNPA planning portal at present following the decision letter. As a result there is almost no information about the construction track. All I could find was a reference to “temporary access tracks” in the Committee Report and this map which shows the pipeline, not a track, and indicates therefore there was no proposal for a permanent track:
The Decision Letter from the CNPA required the developer to produce a Construction Method Statement, which would have provided information about where the temporary access track was to be sited and how it was to be constructed and the ground then re-instated, but this information is not public. Nor is there any information on the planning portal about when the work started, when it was “completed” or subsequent correspondence between the CNPA and the Developer. I will ask for all this information under FOI but in my view the CNPA’s reasons for taking action should be public (and should not be limited to a one line entry on their Planning Enforcement Register). It would also be in the public interest to know just how long negotiations had been going on before the CNPA decided to take enforcement action.
The owner of the land and developer of the hydro scheme appears to be Hugh Niven, who runs the Glen Clova Hotel, the Glen Clova farm – which has been supplying Albert Bartlett with potatoes for over 25 years (see here) – and Pitlivie Farm, near Carnoustie in Angus. This according to information on the internet is the site of one of Scotland largest agricultural roof mounted PV installations. An interest in renewables then.
Mr Niven had a run in with Angus Council Planning in Glen Clova just before the Cairngorms National Park was created. In 2000 (see here) Angus Council initiated enforcement action against Mr Niven because he had created a new loch in the Glen without planning permission and there were sufficient safety concerns about the earthworks that the public road was closed for a time. Two years later Mr Niven applied for, and was granted, retrospective planning permission for the works (see here).
There are lessons for this for the CNPA. First, this is not the first occasion Hugh Niven has ignored planning law. In this he is not unusual – many landowners still see planning authorities as imposing unwelcome restrictions on their ability to manage land any way they wish. Second, back in 2000 it appears that Hugh Niven argued that what he had done was justifiable and the risk is that he will now do so again which will lead to years of wrangling. While the creation of a loch might have been acceptable on landscape grounds, the permanent retention of this track is not and the CNPA therefore needs to avoid drawn into negotiations about how this scar could be ameliorated and take a stand. This track needs to be removed and like the Cluny track, is therefore a fundamental test for the CNPA. They deserve the support of everyone who cares about the landscape in our National Parks.
As in the Cluny case, it appears that the developer does not lack resources: the latest accounts for Clova Estate Farm Ltd doesn’t show income (because they are abbreviated accounts – a fundamental issue in terms of business transparency) but does show the business has total net assets of £8,037,710. Hugh Niven therefore has the resources to pay for the re-instatement of the hydro construction track.
Glen Prosen hydro track
After completing the ridge on the west side of Glen Clova to Mayar and after coming across a new bulldozed track on the plateau leading from Bawhelps to Dun Hillocks (which I will cover in another post) the head of Glen Prosen is scarred by new tracks and clearfell north west of Kilbo.
On returning home I checked the planning report from 2013 which made clear that the construction tracks would be temporary: “Beyond the powerhouse there will be a temporary access road for construction to reach both intakes.” Again well done to the CNPA for putting landscape before profit.
The Committee Report also concluded:
Landscape and Visual Effects 40. The landscape impacts of this proposal are minor, given the scale of the development and the location in the upper Glen Prosen. Conditions relating to the construction phase of the development have been proposed to minimise any short term impact. In addition, the set of mitigation measures proposed are likely to have a positive impact on the development site in the long term.
The trouble is at present the landscape impact is anything but minor, as the photos show, and this is mainly because the construction tracks have not been removed, although the clearfell has added to the destruction. There were no signs of machinery on site and it appears therefore that the Glen Prosen estate, like the Glen Clova estate, thinks the work is finished and simply hopes to avoid the expense of re-instating these tracks. It will be much easier for the CNPA to take action if they show resolution in addressing the Glen Clova track. The message to landowners will be then loud and clear: you cannot afford to ignoring the planning rules in the National Park.
This post looks at the Conservation and Land Management section of the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) which is out for consultation until 3rd July (see here). It argues that the Outcomes (above) in the draft NPPP are devoid of meaningful content, considers some the reasons for this and outlines some alternative proposals which might go some way to realising the statutory conservation objectives for the National Park.
Call me old fashioned but I don’t see why the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park needs a vision for conservation – “An internationally renowned landscape where nature, heritage, land and water are valued, managed and enhanced to provide multiple benefits for people and nature” – when it has a statutory is duty a) “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area. The statutory duty to my mind is much simpler and clearer, the vision just marketing speak.
Indeed, the draft National Park Partnership Plan is far more like a marketing brochure than a serious plan. This makes submission of meaningful comments very difficult. Feel good phrases such as “iconic wildlife”, “haven for nature”, “stunning and varied wildlife”, “vital stocks of natural capital” are peppered throughout the document. The reality is rather different, but you need to go to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to find this out:
The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures
Three river and 12 loch waterbodies in the Park still fail to achieve “good” status in line with Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives.
The Park has 25 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to pressures from Invasive Non-Native Species.
In other words progress during the period of the 2012-2017 Plan has not been what one might have expected in a National Park. Instead of trying to learn from this and set out actions to address the issues, the LLTNPA is trying to bury failures under the table and to conceal its lack of a clear plan with marketing speak. There is no need to take my word for it, the problems are clearly spelled out in the SEA:
The main weakness of the new plan over the extant plan is its lack of specificity combined
with its with its very strategic nature: given limited resources and the framing of the priorities in the draft plan, it is unclear how intervention will be prioritised. For example, in the extant NPPP [2012-17], waterbody restoration and natural flood management measures are focussed in the Forth and Tay catchments. The new plan does not appear to include any such prioritisation and it is unclear if there will be sufficient resources to deliver the ambitious waterbody restoration measures across all catchments during the plan period. This key weakness is likely to be addressed by using the new NPPP as a discussion document to formalise arrangements and agreements with partner organisations on an individual basis (e.g. using individual partnership agreements as per the extant NPPP). However, it would be preferable if resource availability (and constraint) is articulated clearly in the plan document to help manage expectations;
Or, to put it another way, the NPPP outcomes are so “strategic” as to be meaningless, the LLTNPA has failed to consider resource issues and is planning to agree actions in secret with partner bodies once the consultation is over. It appears that all the failures in accountability which took place with the development of the camping byelaws (developed in 13 secret Board Meetings) will now apply to conservation.
Economic interests are being put before conservation
This failure in governance – about how plans should be developed – conceals a skewing of the National Park’s conservation objectives towards economic interests (in spite of the duty of the LLTNPA, under the Sandford principle and section 9.6 of the National Park (Scotland) Act to put conservation first). The best example is the beginning of the conservation section where the LLTNPA outlines the main threats to the “natural environment” the Park faces:
Impacts on freshwater and marine water bodies from problems such as pollution from surrounding land uses [ e.g algal blooms in Loch Lomond];
Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in some upland and woodland areas, leading to reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores [the 27 sites according to the SEA];
The spread of invasive non-native species which displace our rich native wildlife; [we are given no indication of how much progress has been made tackling this over last 5 years]
The impacts of climate change leading to warmer, wetter weather patterns and a subsequent
increase in flood events, major landslides and rapid shifts in natural ecosystems.
Omitted from this list are the many threats to the landscape of the National Park which is being destroyed by “developments”: Flamingo Land, the Cononish Goldmine, transport routes and over 40 hydro schemes with all their associated tracks.
In the world of parkspeak however all these developments will be classed as successes. The reason? One of the measures of success is “Planning & Development: The percentage of the Park and/or number of sites with landscape mitigation schemes”. The developments in the photos above have all been “mitigated” by the Park as Planning Authority – an “unmitigated bloody disaster” would be a more accurate description of what the LLTNPA is allowing to happen.
Many of these developments also impact on the ecology of the National Park. For example, despite all the fine words about water catchment planning and flood prevention there is NO consideration of the impact of the 40 plus hydo schemes being developed in the National Park on flooding (send the water through a pipe and it will descend the hill far more quickly than in a river) or the ecology of rivers.
A more specific example is conservation Priority 11 which says the LLTNPA will “Support for land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Whole Farm and Whole Estate Management Plans”. This is the same LLTNPA which, while claiming 28% of the National Park is now covered by such plans, has recently refused to make them public on the grounds they are commercially sensitive(see here). If this is not putting commercial before conservation interests, I am not sure what is.
The few specific “conservation” objectives are not about conservation at all
While there are very few specific conservation objectives in the NPPP, those that do exist are clearly driven by other agendas
Conservation Priority 4 Supporting projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes particularly along major transport routes and around settlements and also that better meet the different travel mode needs of visitors, communities and businesses. Priorities include: – Implementing a strategically planned and designed upgrade to the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan;
-Continuing to review landslip management measures on the A83 at The Rest and Be Thankful.
Landscape conservation has been reduced to ensuring that people can enjoy the view from the road. There is no consideration on the impact of those roads (visual, noise etc):
It is important that we ensure that key areas of the Park where people experience the inspiring vistas found here are recognised and enhanced. This means that key transport routes, such as trunk roads and the West Highland railway line, along with the settlements in the Park, continue to provide good lines of sight to the stunning views of the iconic landscapes found here.
Biodiversity in the National Park
The new NPPP actually represents a considerable step backwards from Wild Park 2020 (see here), the LLTNPA’s biodiversity action plan, which is not even referred to in the NPPP. The vision set out in Wild Park (P11), which is about restoring upland and lowland habitats, enriching food chains (to increase numbers of top predators) woodland re-structuring etc, is worth reading – a far clearer and coherent vision than in the NPPP. That should have been the NPPP starting point.
Wild Park contained 90 specific actions, which were due to be reviewed in 2017 – “the Delivery and Monitoring Group will undertake a mid-term review in 2017 of progress overall on the projects and programmes in Wild Park 2020” . There is no mention in the NPPP about what has happened to that when it should have been central to developing the new plan. Part of the problem is the LLTNPA has taken very little interest in conservation over the last three years – there are hardly any papers to the Board on conservation issues as all its focus and the Park’s resources have been devoted to camping management.
The weakness in Wild Park was that while it included many excellent projects, these were mostly limited to small geographical areas and many were located on land owned by NGOs (eg a significant proportion of all the projects were located on NTS land at Ben Lomond and the Woodland Trust property in Glen Finglas). There was nothing on a landscape scale and very few contributions from Forestry Commission Scotland, by far the largest landowner in the National Park. The draft NPPP claims (under conservation outcome 1) to want to see conservation on a landscape scale but contains no proposals about how to do this apart from setting up a network of partnerships. This begs the question of why these partnerships will now work when we know over the last 15 years similar “partnerships” have failed to address the main land management issues which affect landscape scale conservation in the National Park, overgrazing and blanket conifer afforestation.
What needs to happen – biodiversity
First, the LLTNPA needs to have some ambition. On a landscape scale this should include a commitment to a significant increase increase in the proportion of forestry in the National Park which is managed in more sustainable ways. The SEA describes this as “there is an opportunity and interest in increasing the amount of woodland under continuous cover forestry (CCF) systems. This would reduce the amount of clear fell and associated soil erosion and landscape impacts”. So, instead of failing to mention the Argyll Forest Park, why is the LLTNPA not pressing the FCS to change the way it manages forestry there? How about aiming to convert 50% of that forest to continuous cover forestry systems over the next 10 years?
And on a species level, there is no mention of beavers in either the NPPP or SEA. Amazing the lack of join up:
Wild Park described one indicator of success in 25 years time would be that “The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.” The LLTNPA should bring that forward and actively support beaver re-introduction projects now.
Second, there needs to be some far more specific plans (which the Park should have consulted on as part of the NPPP to guage public support) which are both geographical and theme based. Here are some examples:
So, what exactly is the plan for the Great Trossachs Forest, now Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve, which is mainly owned by NGOs? (You would have no idea from the NPPP).
How is the LLNPA going to reduce overgrazing?
What about working to extend the Caledonian pine forest remnants in Glen Falloch (which would also hide some of the landscape scars created by hydro tracks)?
What does the LLTNPA intend to do to address the widespread persecution of species such as foxes in the National Park?
What can the National Park do to address the collapse of fish stocks in certain lochs or the threats to species such as arctic charr (whose population in Loch Earn is under threat from vendace).
I hope that people and organisations responding to the consultation will add to this list and demand that the LLTNPA comes up with a proper plan for the next five years and argue for the resources necessary to deliver such objectives.
What needs to happen – landscape
First, the LLTNPA needs to start putting landscape before development and state this clearly in the plan. There should be no more goldmines, large tourist developments (whether Flamingo Land or on the torpedo site at Arrochar) and improvements to transport infrastructure (which are needed) should not be at the expense of the landscape. Tunnelling the A82 along Loch Lomond – which has been discounted by Transport Scotland as too costly – should be put back on the agenda.
Second, I would like to see the LLTNPA have a bit of ambition and make an explicit commitment to restoring historic damage to landscapes. What about burying powerlines as is happening in English National Parks (there is one small initiative at present in the LLTNP)? How about restoring damage to the two wild land areas on either side of Glen Falloch, particularly the old hydro infrastructure south of Ben Lui, the largest area of wild land in the National Park?
The LLTNPA Board should also commit to a complete review of how it has managed the impact – “mitigated” – the construction of hydro schemes, engaging the people and organisations who have an interest in this. The big issue here is the hydro construction tracks, which the LLTNPA now allows to remain in place, and which have had a massive deleterious affect on the more open landscapes in the National Park. The LLTNPA’s starting point in the new NPPP is that there should be a presumption against any new tracks in the uplands and therefore that all hydro construction tracks should be removed in future. There should be a review of the tracks which have been agreed over the last five years and a plan developed on how these could be removed (the hydro scheme owners, many of whom are based in the city, are not short of cash and could afford to do this – that would be a demonstration of real partnership working).
Finally, as part of any plan to restructure conifer forests in the National Park, the LLTNPA also needs to develop new landscape standards for Forestry which should include matters such as track construction and felling. There should be a presumption against clearfell.
What needs to happen – resources
Just like the Cairngorms NPPP, the LLTNPA NPPP makes no mention of resource issues. Instead, the underlying assumption behind the plan is neo-liberal. The state should not provide – in this case the National Park cannot expect any further resources – and the priority of government is to enable business to do business, which (according to the theory) will all some benefits to trickle down to the National Park.
This is totally wrong. We need a proper plan which sets out what needs to be done, how much this will cost and how this will be funded. The Scottish Government could of course and probably would say “no” but things are changing politically and proper financing of conservation (and well paid rural jobs) are key to the third part of the NPPP which is about rural development.
On the longest day, the Cairngorms National Park Authority initiated enforcement action against the Cluny Estate for the unlawful track up Carn Leth Choin at the head of Glen Banchor (see here).
This is extremely welcome. In March the CNPA had written to me stating that they had been in discussions with the estate about restoring the track voluntarily but if the estate failed to do this the CNPA would take enforcement action (see here). The addition to the register indicates the estate is refusing to do this and the CNPA have been as good as their word. They deserve support from everyone who cares about our National Parks for initiating this action and will, I suspect, need ongoing support through what is likely to be a long and complex process. Its not easy to bring recalcitrant landowners to heal while removing tracks is not easy. It has been been done in the cases of a handful of hydro schemes, but these have been lower down the hill. The only time a track has been removed on high ground was when the National Trust for Scotland removed the bulldozed track on Beinn a Bhuird. This took place over a number of years, being completed in 2001, and took both significant investment and expertise.
Still, the Cluny Estate appears to be owned by the Qatari Royal Family (see here) who, even if they are under lots of pressure at present due to the blockade from their neighbours, are not short of a bob or two. There is no reason therefore why the restoration should not be to the highest possible standard. While they are about it perhaps the Qatari Royal Family, if its indeed they who own the Cluny estate, should also pay for the restoration of the lower part of the track which was constructed at an earlier date and is, I understand, outside the current enforcement action.
The significance of this action by the CNPA is far wider than just this hill track. In my view the Planning System in our National Parks (and indeed Scotland) has fallen into disrepute because enforcement action is hardly ever taken. The emphasis has been on co-operating with people who, like the owners of the Cluny estate or Natural Retreats on Cairngorm, appear to have no respect for the planning system, drag out processes of negotiation for years and do anything they can to avoid doing what is right. This therefore needs to be seen as a shot across the bows of all landowners in the National Park (its not the only one, as I will demonstrate in a future post). The CNPA need to see it through. I believe it will only take a couple of enforcement cases, where landowners learn what the costs of ignoring the planning systems are likely to be, and the whole attitude of landowners and their advisers to planning will change.
This is therefore a crucial test for the National Park and they should be congratulated for their new approach.
This afternoon, following the debate last week (see here), there is motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for an independent inquiry into the way the Scottish Parliament deals with Information Requests:
That the Parliament condemns the Scottish Government’s poor performance in responding to freedom of information requests; calls for an independent inquiry into the way that it deals with these, and agrees to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.
This issue should transcend party politics (the motion is being proposed by Tory MSP Edward Mountain). To me, the motion does not go far enough and the inquiry should include all public authorities.
There is an amendment to the motion from Joe Fitzpatrick (SNP) which I also think is also very welcomes:
“insert at end “, and welcomes commitments by the Scottish Government to adopt a policy of pro-actively publishing all material released under FOI to ensure that it is as widely available as possible.”
This provision too should be applied to ALL public authorities. As evidence for this, so far this year the LLTNPA has published just two pieces of information it has supplied under Freedom of Information or the Environmental Information Regulations (see here). The LLTNPA responds to most information requests under the EIRs and so far this year I know there have been at least 43 requests for information under the Environmental Information Regulations as each are numbered (see here for latest). 2 out of 43 means the LLTNPA publishes less than 5% of all information responses. I have written to Joe Fitzpatrick suggesting that it should be obligatory on all public authorities to publish all responses.
The latest response from the LLTNPA, which followed my request for the Park to make public the management plans it had agreed with estate owners, raises another issue about how public authorities are circumventing Freedom of Information – by refusing to release them on grounds of commercial sensitivity or confidentiality.
Central to the purpose of our National Parks is the way land is managed and it is right that our National Park Authorities work with landowners to improve this. That a National Park Authority is, however, refusing to make public what it has agreed with individual landowners about how their land should be managed is, I suggest, a matter for serious public concern. Just why the National Park needs – or why private estates would supply the National Park with – commercial information I am not sure but the simple answer is for the LLTNPA to remove the commercial information from the estate plans it has agreed and make them public. The Cairngorms National Park Authority publishes estate management plans on its website http://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/land-management/estate-management/ so why can’t Scotland’s other National Park?
The LLTNPA has also recently refused to release monitoring data for the Cononish goldmine on grounds of commercial confidentiality EIR 2017-041 Response cononish. This raises equally serious issues. What the LLTNPA appears to be saying is that it won’t make public information which would show the extent to which developers are abiding by planning conditions.
In a post on Monday (see here) I originally suggested that as well as the photo on the front cover of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs draft Annual Report being unrepresentative, it might have been taken from outwith an area where camping was allowed. I was wrong and I apologise for this. The LLTNPA photo was taken from Suie Field permit area and the post has been corrected.
I am very grateful to Nick Halls for checking this. His photos show that while I was wrong to question where the Park’s photo had been taken, the way the LLTNPA photo has been framed portrays what is a small patch of ground in a certain way, (which is partly why I did not recognise it).
The LLTNPA photo does not show is relationship between the patch of ground in the photo – which looks great – and the surrounding area. The photo above, without tent, provides what I would argue is a more accurate depiction of the reality. A tangle of vegetation now covers much of Suie field (seen here on right) – which makes camping impossible over much of the area, leaving a couple of small patches of grass sward suitable for tents at the edge of the beach. There is no need to take my word on this, the Park website currently provides photos giving very different views of Suie Field (see here – click on photos under Suie Field) although you might not realise from these how bumpy the tufted grass areas are for camping purposes. The photo on the front page of the Annual Report does not at present feature in that portrayal of Suie field, possibly because at the time those photos were taken, the patch depicted in the Annual Report had been recently flooded and looked rather different.
There is a serious issue here about how photos are being used by the LLTNPA to try and persuade people to accept its world view. The dozens of photos of abandoned tents, often of the same abandoned campsite taken from different angles, which the LLTNPA used to persuade people to agree to access rights being curtailed, framed the whole camping byelaw debate. The LLTNPA is now using its media team to try and convince the public that its camping friendly and is doing all it can to welcome campers. That’s not true, as I hope posts on camping permit areas over the last few months have shown. Its vitally important though that in countering Park propaganda, its critics don’t use the same tactics and acknowledge and correct mistakes. Hence my apology.
The official consultation on the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) 2018-23 closes on Monday 3rd July. The NPPP is the key document governing what the LLTNPA is supposed to do over the next five years so its important people respond. In this post I will take an overview of the consultation documents and then, in three further posts, will consider the three themes in the consultation, Conservation and Land Management, Rural Development and Visitor Experience, which broadly mirror the National Park’s statutory objectives. I hope people with an interest in our National Parks will respond to the consultation and that these posts may inform those responses. Its easy to be cynical about consultations, and I believe the LLTNPA consultation demonstrates just how hollowed out consultation processes have become, but public pressure does work. A good example is the pledge which was added to the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan to eliminate raptor persecution over the next five years. Pressure needs to be exerted on the LLTNPA to radically up its game.
Where is the review of the current NPPP?
A rational starting point for developing any new plan should be a review of existing plans, covering matters such as successes, failures and consideration as to what needs to change. The current NPPP, 2012-17, was initially reviewed on an annual basis, at a meeting chaired by the Environment Minister. The Reviews are available on the LLTNPA website NPPPlan but you will never come across these if you go straight to the consultation pages and there is no mention of them in the consultation documents nor is there any explanation of why the last one was in 2014. Had the reviews been undertaken as originally intended, the information from them could have been fed into the new planning process. Instead, publicly at least, there is a huge hole.
What the last review in 2014 does show is that the LLTNPA was facing certain serious issues and was lacking data on critical issues.
Note how the LLTNPA classed a drop in percentage of designated conservation sites in favourable conditions with an “equals” symbol, meaning there was nothing to worry about. And, were the LLTNPA to have collected data on % of visitors satisfied with cleanliness of the countryside I suspect there would have been a massive drop from 86%. This raises the question about whether the LLTNPA is now simply operating in a post-truth environment, that its not collecting and reporting data because it would not support its marketing hype. Other measures from 2013-14 were even worse: a drop in the percentage of new affordable housing from a baseline of 75% to 43% and a drop in new business start ups.
Where is the consultation on the issues the LLTNPA is facing?
The consultation documents do not ask people to consider the issues the National Park faces, quite a contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority consultation which was based around “The Big 9” issues they had identified. The only place that there is any consideration of the issues is in the Strategic Environment Assessment which most people won’t read as nowhere in the consultation does it suggest this might be worth reading. I can see why, because the SEA explains how the consultation should have been undertaken:
“the dynamic assessment of environmental objectives / targets with
trends data can help to identify emerging environmental issues that should ideally be
addressed early on.”
It then goes on to highlight “the most critical environmental issues (problems and opportunities) that should be considered in the development of the NPPP 2018-2023”. Nowhere does the LLTNPA explain how these issues have informed the development of the NPPP, indeed its not clear they have been considered at all.
Its well worth looking at Appendix 3 to the SEA to see how the LLTNPA is actually doing. Here is an example:
And here’s another: “The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures.”
So we have a draft NPPP which makes almost no mention of the serious issues the NPPP faces. This is a fundamental failing, nay a dereliction of duty – the plan has no foundations.
An outcomes based plan
Instead of considering the evidence and what issues it faces the draft NPPP starts and ends with a consideration of outcomes. It appears that what is driving this is the Scottish Government’s National Outcome framework.
While our National Parks can contribute to some national outcomes, actually that’s not their primary purpose, which is to meet their statutory objectives. The Plan though, instead of considering how it can meet those statutory objectives, is full of meaningless claims to be contributing to certain outcomes.
Near the top of each section in the plan there is this graphic – a graphic illustration of priorities. While the civil servants must be slavering all this does is make the LLTNPA look like a meaningless pawn controlled by central government.
The outcomes themselves, are very worthy – it would be hard to object to any of them – but so broad as to be meaningless.
If they were meaningful the LLTNPA should be able to explain the extent to which the outcomes are being met at present. They have made no attempt to do so. The problem is the first two consultation questions are devoted to asking people if they agree with these very broad statements:
Its unlikely any people will disagree. The Park has then identified a number of priorities for each outcome without any analysis of why that priority makes sense and again the priority is so broadly defined its rarely possible to tell what if anything the LLTNPA and its partners are planning to do:
The danger is that anyone who agrees with the priorities as proposed will be treated by the LLTNPA as agreeing to whatever actions they have or have not planned to do. It is amazing that under the conservation of landscape priority the only two actions are actually about altering, one might say “destroying”, the natural landscape.
The secret and biased consultation process
The draft plan does not explain how its been developed or how priorities might have been selected. To know this you need to read the LLTNPA’s Annual Report approved by its Board this week:
“The close of the year saw the Board approve our new draft National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23 for consultation following a hugely positive workshop with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss important issues and potential priorities. This presented an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the current plan.
To this end, a comprehensive discussion paper was developed and a day-long event was held for partners that have a role to play in the delivery of the new Plan”
So why is the comprehensive discussion paper not public and why has the LLTNPA not told the public what it believes these achievements were? (I have asked for these to be made public immediately).
What I do know is that the LLTNPA selected the invitees to the consultation meeting very carefully and the range of “stakeholders” was limited: recreational and other organisations were not invited to the main workshop though there was a later briefing. No wonder the NPPP gives no consideration to issues like the destruction of landscape and failures in conservation in the National Park.
Nowhere in the NPPP are the organisations which represent people who visit the National Park treated as partners or even key stakeholders. A fundamental failing – although of course the glossy brochure is full of photos of the people such organisations represent.
How does the NPPP fit with other Strategies and Policies?
Unlike the Cairngorms NPPP, which attempted to describe how their NPPP fitted with out plans that had been agreed for the area, the LLTNPA makes almost no mention of other local plans or targets and how they might feed into the NPPP. There are references to national plans and strategies, but generally this is again at a very high level and so broad as to be meaningless.
Part of the issue is that the LLTNPA has far fewer plans and strategies than the CNPA and those that it does have tend to be focussed on developments (Callander and Balloch). It does though have a biodiversity plan, Wild Park 2012 (see here) with lots of detailed actions and targets. How this fits with the NPPP, how its informed priorities and whether the LLTNPA is committed to a new biodversity action plan is unclear.
The draft NPPP would have us believe it is joined up to everything when the reality is it appears joined up to almost nothing and practically empty of real commitments from either the LLTNPA or the organisations it has identified as its partners.
Not all of this is the fault of the LLTNPA, much comes down to austerity – our public authorities are no longer being allowed to plan to do things which could improve everyone’s lives. But in my view our National Park Authorities out loud about resources, not just for themselves but for other partners, if any of its statutory objectives are to be achieved.
What needs to happen
People and organisations need to put pressure on the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government. A good start would be to respond to the NPPP objecting to the failure by the LLTNPA to review progress under the existing NPPP, consider the multitude of information about what is actually going on in the Park and the serious issues it faces. People should then use that reality to inform what issues they would like the LLTNPA to address in the new plan.
The LLTNPA needs to ensure that the new NPPP is based on a proper analysis of the evidence it holds and needs to take a critical look at how its being doing in relation to its statutory objectives.
I will cover the detail of this in posts over the next 10 days.
Following the downpour at Cairngorm (see here and left) the photo above taken last week shows the impact of such flood events. While Natural Retreats and HIE’s recent mismanagement of Cairngorm has contributed to this, the problems go back much longer and the large car parks for example contribute to the rate that water runs off the hill. The motor car (which most people including this writer rely on for transport much of the time) has been central to the unsustainable development of Cairngorm ever since the ski road was constructed. As part of the Cairngorm masterplan (see here) Natural Retreats included a section on transport. The analysis and proposals in it are far more sensible than the Ptarmigan re-development or installation of snowflex artificial ski slopes above the Coire Cas carpark but do they offer a way forward?
Natural Retreats’s brief summary of the transport situation at Cairngorm, if you read past the marketing speak, is pretty damning:
Poor public transport, no imaginative solutions such as those used in the Alps (where school buses are used to transport people up valleys in the holidays), no bike or ski racks, a lack of path connections. So what are Natural Retreats’ solutions?
While there are some good ideas here the package has a whiff of self-interest. The short-term proposals should be easy to do, as they are all minor improvements, but could be read as a smokescreen for implementing parking charges at Cairngorm (which is one of HIE’s objectives). There is no information about how they, or more importantly the medium and long term proposals, could be financed despite the owner of Natural Retreats, David Michael Gorton, being extraordinarily rich – but then the way his companies are operating currently at Cairngorm is to take money out of the area rather than invest in it. Its not surprising therefore that the proposals such as hybrid buses, which the owner of Natural Retreats could afford to pay for now, have been scheduled as “Medium to Long Term”. There is no indication that he is going to invest anything that does not guarantee large immediate returns (like car park charges) or will not rely on the public sector to pay for everything while NR take the profit.
The proposals have been developed without any consultation. Under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy, approved last year, Natural Retreats were supposed to be part of a Cairngorm & Glenmore Transport Working Group involving Highland Council, HITRANS, Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. Its not even clear whether this group has ever met let alone been and its telling that Natural Retreat’s refer to a slightly different group of stakeholders in the transport section of the masterplan including “the Glenmore Masterplan” (is this the same as the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy?), the CNPA, Cairngorms Connected and Active Cairngorms. In other words HIE’s and NR’s proposals don’t appear joined up with the plan developed by the CNPA. There are a couple of specific examples of this.
NR’s proposals make no reference to the action point in the Glenmore Strategy that there should be a “Feasibility study for improved public transport and park and ride approach”. So, does Natural Retreats support a feasibility study or not and will it contribute to the cost?
There is also no reference to the proposal for a new cycle route up to Cairngorm, the cycle link, as set out in the map below:
On the other hand, HIE and NR have plucked out of a hat a new proposal for a “tourism train like that seen at Chamonix or York”. I am a fan of the Chamonix train – its free if you are staying in the valley – but to treat a back of a fag packet idea as a proposal without any consultation or working with other people on how it will be financed tells you everything you need to know about how NR and HIE operate.
What needs to happen
While some of NR’s proposals could support the objective of the Glenmore Strategy that, there should be “Improvements to transport and access infrastructure will increase public transport and non-motorised access to the area from Aviemore and beyond; and walking and cycling within the area”, they are unlikely to “Make a significant change in the way people access the area to increase the proportion of non-car access” because of the way they have been “developed”. Natural Retreats needs to start consulting the local community, business, visitors, conservation organisations and other stakeholders and to support structures set up in the National Park before it does anything else.
The photo on the cover of the draft LLTNPA annual report, to be considered at the Board Meeting today, shows just the sort of places people would like to camp. Short turf by the loch shores where they can fish or paddle and which is exposed to the breeze – good for keeping the midges at bay. The problem is that the LLTNPA has provided hardly a single place which matches this vision under its permit scheme. Instead the permit areas are in conifer forest (eg Forest Drive), on sloping pebbly beaches (e.g Firkin Point) or in boggy ill drained fields (e.g North Loch Venachar). Indeed in its new campsite at Loch Chon the LLTNPA has deliberately stopped people camping by the loch shore.
The photo in the annual report misrepresents the truth, because its not representative of what the Park is about. It also appears to be a lie. The tent appears posed for the camera. No-one is camping here. A Park official appears to have put the tent up for the cameras. And the location? It is on the west shore of Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond behind. [NB this section has been updated since original post]. Having visited Suie Field a couple of times the photo bore almost no resemblance to what I had witnessed there, which was a lumpy field and some bare ground down by the shore:
I therefore wrongly assumed it could not have been taken from Suie field and that the photo must have been taken either at the mouth of the Douglas Water at Inverbeg or at Culag where camping is only allowed on the beach in which case I said Park staff would have been guilty of an Orwellian distortion of the facts. It turns out I got this wrong, for which I apologise. The photo is taken from Suie Field and if you look very carefully on far mid-left of the photo you can just see the point at Inverbeg. I am very grateful to Nick Halls who has been out to all three locations to check and has confirmed that there is indeed now an area that matches that on which the tent is photographed at Suie Field.
It did not look like that in March or April though. Two things have happened. First the area is, when the Loch is high, underwater as is evidenced by a tidemark above the sward on which the tent was pitched. Second, since the water has receded there has been a vigorous growth of grass.
That same vigorous growth has affected the area above the bank which, though lumpy before, is now almost uncampable. Nick reports that there are a couple of places where vegetation has been kept down by people regularly pitching tents there. The rest is a jungle.
So, while I was wrong about the location of the photo, I was right to say it is not representative of areas where camping is allowed in the National Park or even of Suie Field.
[end of update]
This matters, because Annual Reports are meant to be about good governance and have consequences. Board Members see the pictures presented by staff and think all is well. It matters too because the Report will land on the desk of the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who knows the Park has being doing very little apart the camping laws, will see the photo, and think “isn’t this fantastic”, completely unaware about how she is being manipulated.
Deputation to the LLTNPA Board
It was precisely because there is such a mismatch between the speak and spin put out by senior Park staff and reality, that I had asked to lead a deputation to the Board today. I had asked to speak to them all the evidence that has been published on Parkswatch about the camping permit areas and the selective application of the camping byelaws. I think the Board need to deal with truth, not spin.
On Friday however we withdrew the request for a deputation (for the timebeing) after James Stuart, the new LLTNPA convener, agreed to a meeting. The Park procedures are such that the Board needs to consider a request for a deputation at the start of the meeting and there was no guarantee I and the others on the deputation would have been heard. (Our request appeared on the agenda as “Deputation” – without giving the public any indication of what this matter about). We think its therefore better to try talking first, something the new convener has committed to doing – a contrast to the previous convener Linda McKay.
The downside is that I am not sure any LLTNPA Board Member this afternoon will be sufficiently informed this afternoon to question either the Annual Report or the update on Your Park which is again full of parkspin and parkspeak. We will see!
Back in March, hillwalker Rod McLeod, wrote an excellent report (see here) on Walk Highland about new track work he came across in Coilessan Glen, west of Loch Long, in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The glen is an important recreational route, being taken by the Cowal Way, and has recently become even more popular since Cnoc an Coinnich, the hill south of the Brack, was promoted to Corbett status.
Forestry Commission Scotland owns the land and also promote a cycle ride here:
Ardgartan shore and Coilessan Glen
Cycling – 6.9 miles / 11.0 km
Forest rides, loch shore and a fun descent back to the start.
Start by following the trail south towards the farm at Coilessan and round by the loch shore – you might just glimpse otters here. Then it’s a climb through red and roe deer’s territory in the shadow of Cnoc Coinnich before heading back down Coilessan Glen. Take a breather on the way to admire the view over Loch Long towards the Clyde!”
You might think therefore FCS would have an interest in improving the landscape and amenity in the area. The Argyll Forest Park is the oldest in Britain, created in 1935 and in its blurb the FCS exhort people to “Discover this beautiful, tree-cloaked corner of Scotland to walk, ride and relax in Britain’s oldest forest park.”
Instead FCS has upgraded part of the existing track network in Coilessan Glen by dumping aggregate on the earlier track. There is no planning application on the Loch Lomond and National Park Planning portal and the LINK Hill track group (see here) was not aware of the track through the prior notification system. While its possible the LINK hill track group missed the notification, its also possible that because this was an “upgrade” to an existing track the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority did not have to be notified (I will try and find out).
A sizeable new quarry has been created to source the new material for the track (the boulders in the middle ground are large) and gives some idea of how much aggregrate has been dumped on top of the existing tracks. In my view this should have required planning permission in the National Park.
The quality of the finishing – there was no evidence that machines are still on site or that the work is not regarded as complete – is extremely poor. It might be more accurate to say non-existent in places. Its does not appear likely that the FCS will try and extract trees up this corner so what is the argument for leaving it like this, apart from cost? This should not be acceptable in a National Park, whatever the commercial imperatives to extract timber.
The Dukes Path has been spared the upgrading work so far and gives an idea of what the tracks looked like previously. The silt trap is to catch the silt that is being washed down from the new track just above. The crushed schist forms a very fine material which is likely to continue to wash out of the new track surface for some time.
The lack of care for the landscape at the micro level is demonstrated not just by the abandoned pipe and decapitated cone but by the spoil heap at the side of the “new” track. The lack of care at the landscape level is demonstrated by the conifer replanting either side of the Dukes Path. This was one of the few sections of the Dukes Path where the walker is not hemmed in by forest on either side but but instead of using the felling as an opportunity to create a more diverse landscape, the replanting will have obscured the view completely in another 20 years.
This photo also illustrates difference between repairing a track surface compared to the upgrading work at Coilessan (below). The bare bank on left appears to date from original construction.
The history of a lack of care here is also demonstrated by the spoil to the left of the new track which has partly revegetated. It may date from earlier tree felling. Material from the new track will erode down the hillside.
The surface of the track is now firmer than two months ago, when Rod McLeod took his photos, and appears to have consolidated to an extent. I passed the Duke of Edinburgh Group shortly after taking this photo and asked them to rate the track and the walking experience. “Terrible” was the response.
Is this the way we would be treating what was a fine section of burn?
Compare the size of the former track on left with the upgraded one. Are bends this size really necessary?
In order to widen the track, further excavation of banks and ditches has been undertaken in places. The vegetated area bottom right represents former bank, a section behind appears to have been scraped bank behind that vegetated. I could see not evidence that any attempt had been made to store and replace turf over excavated areas, even in places such as this where there are native trees behind which one would hope will be left in place during the felling. The LLTNPA rightly requires vegetation to be restored in hydro track construction – even if it does not happen much of the time – and similar standards should be applied to forest track construction.
Will FCS do anything to improve this once the trees are extracted?
They have done very little to improve this section where felling is complete and indeed appears to have pre-dated the track. So, if the new track was not need for felling (top left) why is it needed now? Forest tracks have become larger and larger to accommodate bigger, heavier vehicles – just as in hydro track construction. The bigger the machines we use to work in the countryside, the bigger the tracks and the impact on landscape.
The contrast between the footpath construction in the upper part of the Glen and the track are quite stark. How can the FCS apply such difference standards? My 1980 1:50,000 map shows just a footpath, no track, up the Glen but now there is only a path in the upper part. A relief.
You can hardly see this plastic culvert under the path.
The care taken with the path contrast with the final section of the new track which finishes not far above.
The felling and replanting in background (slopes of Brack) all took place without this track “upgrade” demonstrating that there was no need for works of anything like the extent of those that have been undertaken.
How does this compare with the FCS blurb: “Ardgartan (meaning the High Garden in Gaelic) is at the heart of an area of vast natural beauty. The forest of Sitka and Norway spruce is an ideal habitat for red squirrel, roe deer, buzzards and owls. Mixed woodland along the many small rivers and burns is home to otters, kingfishers and bats.”
Even in the dense part of the forest, the upgraded track is visible from afar.
What needs to happen
The FCS needs to apply consistent standards of practice and up its game in our National Parks. In places, such as on east Loch Lomond, its doing some fantastic work to remedy past mistakes, in others, like here, it appears nothing has changed.
The LLTNPA meantime needs to start focussing on stopping any further destruction of landscape quality in the National Park through track construction, whether hydro schemes or forestry. In my view landscape protection and enhancement should be the number one priority in the new National Park partnership plan – instead of visitor management. Its not visitors that are destroying the landscape – their impacts are temporary – but how the land is managed. If the LLTNPA does not act, the very reason why people visit the National Park will disappear.
The LLTNPA and FCS need to start working together on these issues and start engaging the public about the quality of the “visitor experience” in conifer forests and how this might be improved.
The agenda for the Cairngorms National Park Authority meeting last Friday (see here) was brief: Chief Exec’s Report, Corporate Performance, Risk and Mountain Hares. While I was not at the meeting and cannot report what was decided, there were some positive signs in the papers.
The paper on Mountain Hares appears to have been in response to to One Kind’s current campaign calling for a ban on hare culls in the National Park- the CNPA has received 450 postcards – and coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland, the press and Parkswatch (see here) on hare persecution. While the paper is brief and mostly factual – the CNPA has no idea of how many hares are slaughtered in the National Park – the final paragraphs at the end signal a welcome step in the right direction:
13. The cull of any species should be justified on sound environmental or economic reasons that are in the public interest. In the case of deer, culls are justified on the grounds that they allow the restoration of depleted habitat and in the longer term lead to a healthier environment and consequently a healthier herd. Hare culls similarly, may be necessary in some locations e.g. to allow woodland regeneration or to prevent damage to planted trees. The CNPA have concerns about the public interest justification and scale of culling for the primary purpose of tick control.
The clear message is CNPA staff do not think culls for tick control – hares are alleged to pass on ticks which carry the louping ill virus to grouse – are justified. The paper contains no proposals to address this although the National Park could, if they wanted to, stop culls through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes. I hope they will propose they could pilot this as part of the Scottish Government’s Review of Grouse Moor management.
14. CNPA accept that culling of hares may be justified and necessary in some circumstances but we do not advocate large-scale culls unless there is clear evidence to demonstrate extremely high densities which are causing significant problems.
Unfortunately there is no reference to why hare numbers may sometimes reach such high numbers – the answer is in good part because of an absence of predators, particularly golden eagles, in the National Park.
15. The CNPA want to see greater transparency on what level of culling is taking place in
the Cairngorms and the reasons for culling. Mountain hares are an important species
in the Cairngorms and we want to ensure healthy populations across their natural
While no actions are proposed in the paper, the logic in the report suggests that the CNPA will have to take action in the near future, not just on hares but to protect other species. If the cull of any species needs to be justified on environmental or economic grounds – and remember the Sandford Principle means conservation comes before the CNPA’s other statutory objectives, including sustainable economic development – then besides hare, the CNPA needs to look at all the other species that are killed in the National Park including corvids, raptors and mustelids. Moreover, if there needs to be transparency on the number of hares being killed, but if hares, as the CNPA acknowledges, then why not other creatures? The CNPA could deal with both of these issues by creating byelaws to replace the general license (which allows certain animals to be killed without permission) with specific licenses where culls could be justified on environmental grounds and required landowners to report on species populations as part of this..
Under the Chief Executive’s report there is a very brief paragraph which was given coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland yesterday (see here):
The idea is is try and find a solution to the problem of satellite tags being destroyed when raptors have been unlawfully killed and data about their final whereabouts therefore being lost. This initiative was not included in the Government’s recent announcement of a package of measures to address Raptor Persecution and I assume therefore its come from SNH and the CNPA. If so, that is again welcome. Our public authorities should be able to act independently of the Scottish Government.
Like Raptor Persecution Scotland I think the initiative is well-intentioned but I don’t think it will cause too much concern to the people who are unlawfully killing raptors. Even if you could establish the exact position of a raptor before it died, and therefore the landowner who was likely responsible, it would not prove who did it. To convict someone of a criminal offence, the evidence needs to be beyond reasonable doubt. An estate has two gamekeepers, how do you prove which one did it? Its because of this that I think the Scottish Government’s attempt to improve enforcement of the criminal law won’t make much difference.
While its worth trying to improve information about where and when raptors disappear, where new thinking is really required is on what other measures, apart from the criminal law, would deter raptor persecution. I would suggest that the removal of the right to hunt, which could be done on the balance of probabilities (rather than requiring evidence to be beyond reasonable doubt as in the criminal law) would hit the people who allow this persecution to continue where it hurts. It would remove both the enjoyment they get from hunting and the income this brings in. Its likely to be a far more effective deterrent than the criminal law. Unfortunately, I think it will take a lot more public pressure before that happens.
It was good to see the Board Papers highlighting that limited resources, which result from the imposition of austerity, pose serious constraints on the CNPA’s ability to deliver on their plan let alone undertake new initiatives. Instead of our National Parks pretending like other public authorities they can make austerity work, we need organisations which are open about the impact of cuts and can articulate what they could do – and what differences this would make to visitors, residents and wildlife – if they had the money. The CNPA appears to be more open about this than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which continues to present itself as perfect in every respect (but then maybe that’s because it has too much money, as demonstrated by the large resources wasted on trying to implement the camping byelaws).
Nature conservation targets
What the figures from the Corporate Performance report tell us is that the CNPA is failing in its nature conservation objectives. The percentage of designated features has gone up from 79% to 81% but is way below the 90% target for next year. If this had been due to dates of monitoring visits, I would have expected the report to clearly stated this. Instead, the accompanying report says that this reflects “the national position”. How shocking is that? What it tells you is our National Parks appear to have been making no real difference to nature conservation.
That’s not entirely true of course, there is plenty of evidence to show from raptor persecution, that a significant number of landowners in the Cairngorms won’t co-operate with Nature Conservation so, while CNPA staff may have been trying very very hard, its made relatively little difference. This is an argument for a different approach, which puts land reform at the heart of the vision for our National Parks and how they should operate.
An insight into the political challenge
“An MSP survey carried out in December shows 100% have heard of the Cairngorms National Park and a third say they know a fair amount or know it well. A little under half (43%) are favourable towards the Cairngorms National Park with 51% claiming to be neutral. Both national parks are held in strong regard at the Parliament, stronger than may be expected given the level of awareness compared to other organisations.”
I found this extract from the corporate performance report pretty shocking: only 43% of MSPs are favourable to the Cairngorms National Park (the target was 50%). Since we know that the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens are in favour of more National Parks, its hard to avoid the conclusion that the majority of SNP MSPs (who avoided the debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks (see here) don’t like the existing ones either. If that is so, it goes a long way to explaining the lack of resources.
Our MSPs really do need to start seeing our National Parks as a means of doing things differently, particularly the way we manage the land.
The debate on the failure of our Freedom of Information laws in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon on a motion proposed by the Labour (Corbyn supporting) MSP Neil Findlay, following pressure from journalists and the recently retired Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew is very welcome (see last business of day). Here’s the latest evidence from the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority of why its needed:
“Please provide me with any information the LLTNPA holds about the secret Board Briefing sessions held on the Cononish goldmine on 13/12/2010 and 20/06/2011”
The Park Authority does not hold secret Board Briefing sessions. Accordingly I have to advise under S10(4)(a) of the EIRs that this information is not held for sessions as you describe. However, informal Board Business sessions are held in private which are for officers to have time with Board members to help develop strategy by providing opportunities for informal input before formal officer recommendations are presented for decision at our Board meetings, which are held in public.
Its 1984 and this is parkspeak. Secret Board meetings (they are not advertised and you can only find out what could have happened at them by Freedom of Information requests such as I made) are described as “private business sessions” by public officials who won’t put their names to the letters send out. What a load of tosh. This public authority held 13 secret meetings to develop the camping byelaws compared to the two held in public.
The information extracts in the response to my information request provided as an appendix EIR 2017-041 Informal Board Meeting Agenda + Cononish Actions rather gives the game away. Back in 2010 soon after the Park under Mike Cantlay – he has just been appointed chair of SNH, one of the few remaining public bodies which does appear committed to transparency – introduced the practice of holding Board Meetings in secret, they were called “Informal Board Meetings”. Besides Cononish, the agenda shows that the LLTNPA discussed Local Access Forum Membership, school closures, the A82 upgrade consultation. These are all matters, like the camping byelaws, that should have been discussed in public – in fact there are dozens of such matters over the last 7 years FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing session.
At least back in 2010 the LLTNPA kept a record of what it was deciding, although they have only provided me with the extract about Cononish. At some point they stopped taking any record of what was discussed or decided, which is precisely one of the points of concern highlighted in the motion to the Scottish Parliament, that the Scottish Government is “not recording or taking minutes of meetings”.
The role of the Scottish Government in National Park decision making
For over two years now I have been trying to understand the role of the Scottish Government in the development of the camping byelaws. We know they had an important role because Linda McKay, the retired convener, in her letter to Aileen McLeod recommending the byelaws stated:
In 2013, our previous Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, while visiting East Loch Lomond to see the changes and meet residents, partners and local businesses, encouraged us to bring forward a comprehensive set of proposals for those other areas in the Park blighted by these problems.
What I haven’t been able to find out is whether Mr Wheelhouse was set up – in other words the Park deliberately misled him that it was the camping byelaws which had led to the improvement on east Loch Lomond (rather than a package of measures) – or whether it was Mr Wheelhouse who took the initiative. What does seem clear though is that the go-ahead – and remember this was just soon after the Land Reform Review Group had concluded there was no need to change our access laws – the important decision, was made outside any formal decision-making structures. This is no different to how Donald Trump takes decisions.
I won’t bore readers with an attempt to recount my attempts over two years to extract information from Scottish Government officials about the Scottish Government role in the process. What I have learned is that they hold no information about how important decisions are made Mr Kempe FOI (November) Response February 2017. A good example is east Loch Lomond where they confirmed (in response to my question 9) they hold no information about the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws apart from the document supplied by the LLTNPA. In other words not one official has put in writing any comment or recorded any view or asked for information from any other body about the the alleged success of the byelaws on east Loch Lomond DESPITE the reported interest of the Minister at the time. Or maybe that’s BECAUSE the Minister in effect took the decision on the hoof and if the Scottish Government had recorded any written information this would have exposed them to legal challenge.
A current example concerns the Scottish Government’s role in the repeal of the old east Loch Lomond byelaws in favour of the new byelaws (see here) The Scottish Government has told me FoI (6 Mar2017) repeal of byelaws response they hold nothing in writing about this but, purely by chance apparently, “a more general point on legal mechanisms for revoking byelaws emerged in discussion”. The Scottish Government then want us to believe that, quite independently of the LLTNPA, which just so happened to need to revoke the east Loch Lomond byelaws, they sought legal advice on how to revoke byelaws and needless to say, because legal advice is exempt from FOI, they won’t make anything public. I have put in a review request asking for the reasons for that legal advice. However, where it comes to questions about application and enforcement of laws that criminalise people, my own view is that such information should be made public. The criminal law should be made by the people, not something done to the people.
These FOI examples are part of a much bigger problem about secrecy and lack of accountability, not just in our National Parks or the Scottish Government, but across public authorities. The Trump approach to decision making has been flourishing in Scotland for some time, its just that unlike Trump our public authorities have not wanted to advertise the fact. I hope the debate in the Scottish Parliament leads to some actions to put this right.
I have appended the motion, which is worth reading:
Leading Journalists Criticise the Scottish Government over FOISA
That the Parliament notes with great concern the letter from whom it understands are 23 prominent Scottish journalists to the selection panel for the appointment of the Scottish Information Commissioner, which was published on 1 June 2017 by The Ferret and Common Space and details what they argue are the failures of the Scottish Government and its agencies in relation to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA); understands that it suggests that the application of FOISA by ministers and officials is questionable at best and, at worst, implies a culture and practice of secrecy and cover up, including, it believes, through routinely avoiding sharing information, often through not recording or taking minutes of meetings that are attended by ministers or senior civil servants; considers that this flies in the face of what it sees as the Scottish Government’s much-vaunted assessment of itself as open and transparent, including through the Open Government Partnership Scottish National Action Plan and its role as one of 15 pioneer members of the Open Government Partnership’s inaugural International Subnational Government Programme and legislation such as the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011; understands that the Scottish Government introduced its Record Management Plan to comply with the 2011 Act; notes the view that the journalists’ criticism of FOISA shows that it is time to have a review of whether the legislation remains robust or has been diminished, whether it should be extended and strengthened and whether elements of it are still appropriate, such as the level set for the cost exemption, whereby the Scottish Government may refuse to provide information if the cost of doing so exceeds £600, a figure that hasn’t been updated since FOISA came into force, and further notes the view that, by doing so, this would ensure that people in Lothian and across the country who use their freedom of information rights could be confident that FOISA would be improved and applied in a way that was consistent with the spirit intended when the law was established.
While looking at the Ledcharrie Hydro last Tuesday (see Sunday’s post), members of the Munro Society asked me whether I knew of any well-designed and executed hydro schemes in our National Parks which they could refer to comparison purposes. My immediate response was the Loch Gynack schemes at Kingussie. Asked why? The intakes have been well located and there is very little new access track but the real learning point is that construction methods have been far more sensitive than is normally the case in hydro schemes.
I have been been meaning to blog about them since visiting in February so thanks to the Munro Society for the prompt. There are three schemes on the River Gynack: I will consider the lower two here and the upper one in a further post. While the lower two are atypical, being small, located in woodland and being built on the sites of historic hydro schemes which had fallen into disuse, they still demonstrate.
Gynack Scheme 1 – Kingussie Community Development Company
The Community Scheme is tiny, 15 KW, and I almost walked past it after parking by the golf club to walk up the river Gynack – a good sign. The idea behind the scheme was to raise money for the local community and it has been built on a section of river which previously was used to provide hydro electricity back in the 1920s, on land more recently gifted to the community for that purpose. Unlike many hydro planning applications, including the upper Gynack Schemes, the Community Development Company provided a full overview of the scheme in one document, including why an earlier scheme approved in 2011 for an Archimedes Screw had been abandoned (see here). It includes photos of how the area looked previously.
The intake weir has been constructed against the old 1920s intake. The key thing to note is its a true run of river scheme. There has been no significant damming of the river and as a result the intake structure has a very low profile, unlike many of the hydro intakes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which have raised water levels and are taller structures as a consequence. There are still exposed section of concrete at the intake, but this is far less than usual and although they have not been faced with natural stone, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, to its credit did require:
“Details of the final finish of all concrete work which shall reflect the requirement to encourage natural weathering and colonisation by algae. (e.g. use of textured formwork) Details for any protective fencing, and railings.”
This is probably the worst view of the scheme but positive features include: the edge of the pipe where it exits the dam (top left) has been finished in stone; the work to stabilise the river bed below this has been done by embedding rounded boulders in concrete mirroring the loose boulders in the river bed; and vegetation has been replaced around the rip rap bouldering that has been used to reconstruct the bank.
The power house has been constructed just 4m below the intake on a beautiful section of river by the former powerhouse (a remnant of the old pipe can be seen between the tree and powerhouse and there was a concrete base here previously). It is however tucked away and hard to see from above and the finishing, apart from the brick is good. The line of the pipe to the powerhouse is marked by the boulders on the bank on the left. In summer, when the trees are in full leaf, it would be even easier to miss.
Gynack Scheme 2
The mid-Gynack scheme has been constructed by the Pitmain Estate and runs from Loch Gynack to near the top of the golf course. Again its atypical because there was a scheme here constructed in the 1920s to provide electricity to the estate. Loch Gynack was dammed at that time and the old dam had fallen into disrepair and was leaking. The new dam has not raised water levels.
The profile of the new dam is low, and hardly visible from any distance, but close up the finishing is not good, with concrete wing walls which would be better faced with natural stone and metal railings contrasting with the wooden railings used in the Community Hydro. Why cannot our National Parks enforce a consistent approach which maximises use of natural materials?
However, and this is a big positive, the use of rip rap bouldering is minimal and may even revegetate in due course. Even better, I had not checked the line of the buried pipe beforehand, but could not see where it went, a sign of very successful restoration.
Lower down, I believe the pipeline runs under the track, although its been done so well it I cannot say this with certainty. The track however has already blended into the landscape, unlike most of the tracks featured on parkswatch. Positive features include: the edges of the track are vegetated and there was no sign of spoil spilling down the bank on left; the track is narrow, forcing vehicles to keep to the same line; and as a consequence the centre of the track is revegetating. This track, while going nowhere (its a dead end) provides a good walking experience.
Another photo demonstrating how good the restoration of vegetation has been. The line of the buried pipe that leaves the powerhouse can be seen, mainly due to the lack of rushes, but there is no bare ground at all. The contractor must have saved all the turf removed to bury the pipe and has then replaced it. This is something very rarely seen in hydro developments where failure to store and re-use turves is usually all too evident. The whole is only marred by the blue penstock.
The tailrace has also been well finished and the concrete around the pipe is almost invisible while again the rip rap bouldering between the tailrace and the river has been kept to a minimum. The landscape and ecological issue here is not the hydro scheme, or how it has been constructed, but rather earlier attempts to engineer the River Gynack which can carry huge volumes of water and threatens Kingussie. As part of river engineering, a separate planning application has been approved to construct a flood overflow channel from higher up the river down into Loch Gynack which I will consider in a post on the Upper Gynack hydro scheme. Here, the consequence of the river engineering is to narrow what once would have served as a flood plain, and the construction of a powerhouse here reduces the likelihood that will ever be reversed.
Above the intake, the River Gynack has been extensively engineered and you can see older engineering attempts to contain the river left and newer right.
Lessons and differences between our National Parks
I will consider what our National Parks can learn from all three Gynack hydro schemes in my next post on the upper Gynack scheme.
Meantime, its worth reflecting that while the Cairngorms National Park Authority, unlike the Loch Lomond NPA, does not have specific planning guidance on renewable energy developments (and might therefore be seen to be behind the LLTNPA), its planning committee consider all hydro planning applications (unlike the LLTNPA which delegates these decisions to staff). I believe that this makes a big difference, particularly in areas where Board Members live, where they have to be able to explain and account for these schemes to local communities who, as in the Gynack Schemes, may walk by the hydro on a daily basis. Landowners know this too and are incentivised to follow the highest standards. By contrast the LLTNPA staff who have been delegated powers to decide most hydro schemes are remote from everyone who has an interest in them and are unaccountable. As a consequence their Supplementary Planning Guidance has been all too easy to ignore (as in Glen Falloch).
The CNPA has had hydro disasters of course, including Glen Bruar (see here) and Corriemulzie by Braemar. The Bruar scheme though in a sense reinforces the point because its so remote there is no local residents, apart from estate employees to care about it – this reinforces the need for our National Parks to include as Board Members outdoor recreationists and ecologists who care about what happens in wild land. Meanwhile at Corriemulzie (which I will cover in due course) the local community has recognised things have gone wrong (its a community hydro) and are co-operating with the CNPA to try and restore the damage.