Category: Loch Lomond and Trossachs

September 20, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Just what we want to see in the National Park, hill tracks so broad that people can walk five abreast! One reason why the Loch Lomond National Park Authority is dysfunctional at present is its marketing department appears unaware of the Park’s own policies – hill tracks where they exist should be quadbike width – and produces glossy brochures without reference to its own staff.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board Meeting on Monday (see here for papers) was far more open than meetings in the past but showed the Board still has a considerable way to go.   The fundamental issue is that most Board Members appear to have little idea of why they are there.  It was telling that under Matters Arising, there was not a single question about where the Board goes now the Scottish Government has rejected its suggestion the Board be reduced in size (see here).  This was an ideal opportunity to continue the discussion from the last Board meeting about the function of Board Members but ostensibly the matter is now being treated as closed.

 

Among the welcome signs of change at Monday’s meeting were:

  • The meeting time was changed to the morning which meant there was no time for the secret pre-meetings which used to take place under previous convener Linda McKay.
  • As a consequence there was more public debate, including on issues where Board Members previously appear to have been gagged.  For example, questions were asked about why plans for the National Park’s properties at Balloch, the Gateway Centre, and Luss Visitor Centre were so far behind schedule.  Even the financial consequences were touched on, both losses and costs, and while Chief Executive Gordon Watson was very reticient in his response, the good thing is more Board Members seem prepared to discuss these issues in the open.  I hope this creates an opportunity for the Board Members representing those local communities to engage with them on what is going on.
  • James Stuart, the new convener, reported to the Board he had spent a lot of time meeting stakeholders, including people who disagreed with what the National Park had been doing, and made it very clear he thought such engagement essential.  He even pointed to Ross MacBeath and myself in the audience and said he had had a constructive meeting with the two of us and Dave Morris on camping!  He reported on a meeting with SNH who were keen to develop far closer working – there has been a stand-off over the last few years where the Park has tried to do things itself without using expertise of SNH, for example on how to engage with recreational users, which contributed to the camping byelaw disaster – and the long delayed meeting with the Cairngorms National Park Authority is now going ahead.   The message was that James Stuart really does want the LLTNPA to work in partnership not isolation.   There was no rush from Board Members volunteering to get involved in this although my view is if the National Park is to change course, other Board Members need to start engaging too and means different people need to take on different roles.

 

While the meeting was conducted in a far more open manner than in the past two local people,  commented on the lack of meaningful discussion.   (Its well worth reading Trevor Scott’s account of the meeting (see here) on the Balloch Responds Facebook Page).  They were amazed when we told them the meeting was a considerable improvement to what used to happen!.    I think though they identified the main problem with the meeting:  the Board was not being asked to take any meaningful decisions and as result the meeting was over in under two hours.

 

This was despite  two very important matters being on the table, the “Your Park” progress report and the National Park Partnership Plan.   The way the reports on these subjects were drafted though suggests that it staff, not the Board, who are at present taking the decisions.

 

The camping plan and camping byelaws

Board Members were not invited to take any decisions about the Your Park plan, instead an update report (see here) was presented:   a  report for Ministers on the first year operation of the byelaws will be brought to the December meeting for approval.    I will analyse in further posts (see here for issues with the data presented in the report) the content of the paper including the Park’s failure to deliver additional campsites and the serious problems with the permit areas (all of which were glossed over)  and here focus on the Board reaction to the paper.

 

The first good news was that Colin Bayes, who chairs the LLTNPA delivery group (of Board Members and senior staff), announced that after meeting Ross MacBeath, Dave Morris and myself he had been out to see most of the permit zones with staff and Board vice-convener Willie Nisbet.  He acknowledged that there were some serious issues and that these are now being addressed. A positive development although it would have been good if staff could have been as open about this in their paper. Its possible that its as a consequence of Colin’s visit that some camping permit areas have now been removed from the booking system.

 

Also positive was Billy Ronald’s question – first time I have heard him speak – asking why anglers cannot buy a camping permit in local shops along with their fishing permit?  The answer from staff was that if the Park allowed paper permits to be issued by local shops, they could not control numbers and as a consequence more people might end up camping in a specific permit area  than Park staff have deemed sustainable.   No Board Member thought to follow this up by questioning the justification for stopping anglers from camping in the places traditionally used for fishing but which are outside the new permit zones or by asking staff how they decide what numbers are sustainable.

 

Most significant though was the statement from former Councillor James Robb,  that the clarification that the Park had “overreached its powers” – his phrase, not mine –   in trying to ban campervans from laybys was useful.   Now the Park has never publicly admitted this although it appears from Cllr Robb’s comment that it has briefed Board Members.   There was no single reference to campervans or the LLTNPA overreaching its powers in the update paper.  Indeed the LLTNPA has refused to clarify with parkswatch whether campervans are still included in the byelaws outside of laybys and if so where (see here).    It appears that the LLTNPA is still trying to cover up the extent of the campervan fiasco, including how they and Scottish Ministers approved camping byelaws which were legally unenforceable.  More importantly, they have not started to grapple with the question of fairness: if there are now no or limited controls on campervans and caravans, what is the justification for continuing with the byelaws?  I would suggest that this is the fundamental question that needs to addressed in the report to Scottish Ministers.

 

Councillor Robb also asked staff members to take him through the process of referrals to the Procurator Fiscal (7 people have now been referred for prosecution).   This was a very good question – one which the Park have refused to answer under Freedom of Information claiming it would interfere with law enforcement – and I was not surprised when staff failed to respond.   Cllr Robb then tried to talk through the process himself and asked whether when a person refuses to apply for a permit when camping in a permit area, they are then issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice?   This was a clanger of immense proportions.   Gordon Watson  had to explain to him there are NO Fixed Penalty Notices (which can only be used for civil offences) under the camping byelaws.   Here was one Board Member who had approved the camping byelaws without apparently appreciating that they would criminalise people (fines of £500 and a criminal record).    After 13 secret meetings to develop the byelaws, I find it staggering that staff had not properly briefed Board Members on this.  This points to the fundamental issue, there has been no-one on the Board with sufficient knowledge and understanding to ask basic questions like “is it really right we criminalise people simply for not being in possession of a camping permit?”.

 

There was evidence that other Board Members still have their heads in the sand.   Petra Biberbach, the convener of the planning and access committee, commented that she thought the data in the update paper was excellent.     Neither she or any other  Board Members thought to ask about what negative feedback there had been to the camping byelaws and what data existed on this?   This is despite it being clear that changes to the permit zones for example have resulted from complaints and public criticism.    Former Councillor and retiring Board Member Bob Ellis went further and said he was very heartened by the report, had only had positive feedback from campers (its good he is speaking to campers but those he has engaged appear to be a completely different subset of campers than those I have talked to), thought the report showed the camping byelaws were a great success and was proud to have been part of it.

 

To be fair to other Board Members, they did not follow this valedictory speech.  I think some of them are beginning to realise that the camping byelaws have been far from a success (no-one dared ask about the numbers of people who ignore the permit system) and that the delivery of proper new camping places is far harder than they ever envisaged.  This was reflected in several comments to the effect that “we are learning all the time”.   The prevailing assumption on the Board though still seems to be that as long as they keep throwing resources into various management measures, eventually they will be able to control all campers and make the byelaws work.  Maybe the new members coming onto the Board will be able to take a more critical look at what has actually been happening.

 

The draft National Park Partnership Plan

The development of the NPPP is well behind schedule, a reflection of the resources which have been devoted to Your Park and the significant number of staff who have left the National Park Authority.  The NPPP paper  presented the responses to the flawed consultation on the plan (see here) without saying how the Park would respond to these but that a revised plan would be presented at the December meeting for approval.

 

Colin Bayes, who is open and on the ball, pointed his finger at the issue when he asked staff what process would be used to decide how all the comments received would be fed into the final plan?  Gordon Watson’s response that the National Park Authority needed to be realistic about what it can achieve avoided the question but to his credit, David McCowan, another Board Member who is willing to be critical (he has consistently raised the Park’s failure to deal with litter) then asked that staff should record a response to every single comment received, including that resources weren’t available to deliver it.  Brilliant!   I think staff had assumed they could decide how to respond to comments without telling anyone.   A little bit of accountability at last.

 

In the main though this was an opportunity missed.  What staff should have done is brought to Board Members key issues for discussion based on the responses that had been received.  The Board could then have given a steer about how the Park should respond.   However, unlike in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which based the whole of its consultation on its Partnership Plan on big issues it wanted to address, LLTNPA have avoided any mention of issues like the plague.  Instead, the LLTNPA consultation was based on visions and outcomes that were so broad as to be meaningless and which contained almost nothing about what partners would contribute.

 

Extract from consultation responses paper

This extract shows that a significantly higher proportion of organisations supported the draft NPPP than individuals.  In fact most of the critical comments come from individuals.   The reason for this is that the LLTNPA, through the NPPP, is not asking its public sector partners to do anything further than what is already planned.  What a relief given austerity induced budget cuts!   It suits their narrow self-interests to sign up quick and not think about really needs to be done to make this a National Park worthy of the name.   Fundamental challenges, such as how to change the industrial forestry that has wrecked Cowal, are simply avoided.

 

Even so, its noticeable how certain key public sector partners have failed to respond.   Cllr George Freeman lamented the failure of his own Council, many of the community councils and of the community trusts (which are supposed to be a key means of attracting investment to the National Park) to respond.   He was right to do so.  The LLTNPA are supposed to be working with Argyll and Bute Council to tackle litter but there is obviously no strategic liaison about this.    Later on in the meeting we heard that at Luss part of the litter problem is that Argyll and Bute are responsible for the car park, the LLTNPA for the grassy areas around it and Luss Estates for the shop and no-one can agree who is responsible for what.   My jaw dropped, but the reason for this is now fairly clear, Argyll and Bute are simply not engaging:  their new Councillors on the Board should just get stuck in and bang some heads together.

 

Hazel Sorrell, former councillor for West Dunbartonshire whom I have never heard speak at a Board Meeting (in two years), did not take the opportunity to mention the failure of her own Council to respond.  Perhaps she and they preferred not to draw attention to Flamingo Land? (the delivery of the Riverside site development being one of the few concrete actions named in the plan).

 

What these examples illustrate is not just the complete ineffectiveness of councillors on the LLTNPA at present but also that these councillors council potentially have a crucial role in enabling effective joint work between the LLTNPA and Councils.   With five new council members, the Board has a great opportunity to look at how they could improve partnership working with local authorities.

 

The most positive aspect of the NPPP paper was the Appendix with all the consultation responses (453 pages worth).  In the Your Park consultation  the responses were only made public through Freedom of Information and, as far as I am aware, Board Members were never allowed to see what people had actually said.  While at the meeting not a single Board Member referred to these responses – the sheer number are daunting – many of them have some very interesting things to say about where the National Park is going wrong and suggestions for how it could improve which I will cover in future posts.  Board members should be advised to read them and use the feedback to make a NPPP worthy of the name.

September 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

In the paper on the camping byelaws presented at the June LLTNPA Board Meeting, it was reported that:

“86% of people said that they would be quite likely or very likely to recommend staying over in a camping/motorhome permit area”

and

“82% of people found it easy or very easy to find their permit area”.  

 

Board Members treated this as a “killer fact” for, if such a high percentage of people filling in the permit feedback survey are so happy to recommend staying in a permit area, that suggests they have accepted the removal of access rights by the Park and think the permit zones a reasonable replacement.    Both these figures are repeated (its strange that the the percentage rate has not altered at all despite the number of returned surveys increasing from 431 to 1066) in the Your Park Update (see here)  to the September Board meeting tomorrow.  This post argues it is essential that the Board subject these figures to critical scrutiny rather than accept, as they did at the last meeting, that they prove all is well.

 

Having visited the majority of the camping permit areas (many of which have been featured on parkswatch) and to have found them underwater, overrun with brambles, without any flat areas for camping etc etc I found it quite frankly incredible that 86% of people returning survey forms had said they would recommend staying in a camping or campervan permit home area.   So, I asked for the data under Freedom of Information and received it in the form of two Pdf files, one giving the total bookings for each permit area EIR 2017-055 Appendix A Permit Area Bookings 1Mar17 to 26Jun17 and the other giving the breakdown of survey responses EIR 2017-055 Appendix B Permit Area Feedback 1Mar17 to 26Jun17.   By separating the data in this way, the Park has made it much harder for anyone to do an independent proper overall analysis of the data.   However, to demonstrate there is a serious issue with the data – which the Park Board needs to explain – I will compare feedback responses from what I regard as one of the worst permit areas, Coilessan Glen, with one of the best, Invertrossachs Rd on the south side of Loch Venachar.

 

Which is best – Coilessan or Invertrossachs Rd permit area?

 

My assumption, and I think it is reasonable because its how Trip Advisor and other accommodation websites work, is that you would expect a variation in how people rate different permit areas, with some scoring much more highly than others.    In camping terms you would expect people to rate this:

Most of the area on the west shore of the Loch Long south of Ardgarten which makes up the Coilessan permit area looks like this
There are two or three small open areas at Coilessan but they are all sloping, even more though than it appears in this photograph
The dryest and flattest area I could find at Coilessan appeared to have been used for camping – it would have been hard to pitch a tent in a way to avoid sleeping on tree roots

differently to this:

The largest flat grassy area at Invertrossachs Drive, which I visited on the day of the last Board Meeting in Callander, had been clearly used by campers
It also appeared some people had camped on the beach at Invertrossachs Drive. Unlike many of the permit zones there are places on the beach which are flat and sandy, ie suitable for pitching tents. Note another patch of grassy sward left side of photo.

Now Invertrossachs Rd permit area is far from perfect (there are places in the zone where it would be very hard to camp) but I hope I have shown enough to demonstrate why I think it is a much better place to camp than Coilessan Glen.    Encapsulated in words, rather than pictures, I would point to the outlook/scenery (its hard to see much from out of the conifer forest at Coilessan), the vegetation (open native woodland at Invertrossachs) and the availability of dry flat grassy places to pitch a tent.  And its not just me that thinks this: I spoke to someone doing maintenance work near the Coilessan site who told me he had heard there had been complaints about the site (and also about the history of anti-social behaviour there).

 

The message from the feedback data supplied by the LLTNPA however gives a very different message:

According to the LLTNPA people rated Coilessan (90% favourable) far more highly than Invertrossachs Drive (71% favourable). (NB By the June Board meeting 55 people had camped at Coilessan (Loch Long) with 10 submitting feedback forms while 66 had camped Invertrossachs Drive so the level of use appears broadly comparable).

 

What is the explanation for people rating Coilessan more highly than Invertrossachs Rd?

I have been able to come up with a number of explanations for this, including:

  • I am completely unrepresentative of campers and most campers really don’t care about the scenery or having a flat, grassy area to camp, all they are interested in is getting high on drugs and alcohol.    Now, I would have to say Coilessan scores well on that count.  Unlike most of the other permit areas its well away from the public road (so is difficult to police) and been the scene of difficulties in the past (which is why the camping management zone was extended south down Loch Long).  While the photo tells a tale, people who are too intoxicated to notice what they are camping on are, I suspect, highly unlikely to take the time to fill in a survey form:
    One part of the Coilessan camping permit zone is site to half a dozen half burned out tree stumps but had nowhere you could have pitched a tent. If people party here, its in the open, or rather under the trees and you don’t need a permit for that.

     

  • Some other site specific factor explains why people did not like Invertrossachs Rd so much (its one of most lowly rated of all permit areas).   One possible such explanation is the unlawful restriction of access rights on the south side of the road (photo below), which Park Rangers must see every day while conduct permit checking trips.  Its probably not the sign that bothers people but rather than the fence which makes it much harder to go into the woods to have a crap.  Perhaps campers are actually far more responsible than the LLTNPA has tried to suggest and rate camping areas by the availability of places to “go”?
These signs contravene our access rights and the sign about shooting being in progress is a lie for all but a few hours of the year.  Welcome to the brave new world of the countryside, where your every move is caught on camera.  LLTNPA Rangers must pass this sign every day as part of their policing of the camping management zones – its not unreasonable to ask what have they done about it?
  • Grassy camping areas have become irrelevant with airbeds.  Perhaps, but air beds slide on  sloping ground and not much use at Coilessan or on many of the sloping pebbly beaches, as at Firkin Point.
  • The data has somehow been corrupted:  for example, perhaps the system was initially tested by someone entering test data for each permit site and who ticked the box “very likely” to recommend the permit areas to others and then forgot to remove all this data.  That might help explain the generally high level of positive feedback to the survey but would not explain why a poor site rated more highly than a good one.
  • The Invertrossachs Rd feedback data is correct, its the Coilessan data which is wildly wrong – that I could believe!   Invertrossachs Rd is one of better places to camp (despite no access to toilets, no bins and limited parking) and 75% favourable is credible for this site.  Its the other ratings that are not.

    Litter which campers had collected – there was an airbed at top of bag – but was abandoned, presumably because there were no bins to put it in.
  • The data has somehow been influenced, for example, Rangers on their rounds when talking to people ask those who are positive about the zones to fill in the survey form.
  • And lastly, the figures have been made up (and by someone who knew so little about camping they did not think to consider people might rate different camping places differently)

I don’t think any of these explanations, apart from the last two, can account for the differences in feedback received for Coilessan and Invertrossachs although elements of each might play a role in understanding why people might rate camping zones as they do.

 

Its worth stressing here that the issue is NOT just about one camping permit area.  Firkin Point Zone D  (see here)  which other campers have told me they thought was terrible and where I challenged Board Members to come camping, received a 100% very likely to recommend rating (only two campers made the return).   Meanwhile, Inveruglas, which up until June was covered in brambles and has hardly anywhere flat to camp received a 90% “very likely to recommend” rating.   There are many other examples.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Board needs to ask staff to explain the statistics reported from the feedback survey forms and in particular why there appears to be no relationship between “positive” responses and what the permit zones are like to camp in.  If staff are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, the Board should commission an independent investigation for why people are apparently rating terrible places to camp so highly and commit to finding a credible explanation for its statistics with a view to developing an independent and objective feedback mechanism.

 

The wider issue is the one I referred to last week, how does the LLTNPA rediscover its sense of purpose?   (see here)   To provide proper critical scrutiny, the LLTNPA Board needs get out more.  It would be interesting to know how many of the Park’s Board Members would, after camping in some of the permit zones featured on parkswatch, recommend the experience to the public.  If the Board got out more – preferably accompanied by people with varying points of view so they learned rather than seeing what they want to see – I think they might also question some other aspects not just of the Your Park update paper (which is basically an attempt to sell the camping byelaws as a success and which I will analyse further in another post), but other papers being presented to the meeting tomorrow (Monday).

September 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Extract from paper on “Matters Arising” for Board Meeting 18th September, the decision as recorded in the minutes on the left

An extraordinary discussion took place at the end of the June Board meeting of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority in which Councillor James Robb, one of several councillors who will be leaving the Board this Autumn (see here),  proposed that the number of Board Members should be cut.  The reason for the proposal basically was that he felt there was very little for Board members to do, consequently the Board could operate with far fewer members  and cutting numbers would save money.

 

There followed a very open discussion – which would never have taken place in public under the aegis of the previous convener Linda McKay (all credit to new convener James Stuart) – in which basically Board numbers agreed with the proposal (it was clear during the discussion that Cllr Robb had discussed the proposal with some of the other councillors on the Board).   Hence the decision of the meeting, recorded in the minute, to approach the Minister and ask for a suspension of new appointments until numbers on the Board could be reviewed.

 

Unsurprisingly the proposal has been rejected by the Scottish Government. Our National Park legislation requires the Board to be composed of three types of members, those appointed by Ministers, those nominated by local authorities and directly elected members and the numbers of the three categories of Board Member to balance.   While reducing numbers of councillors and Ministerial nominees on the Board would be relatively simple, reducing the number of directly elected members would require electoral boundaries to be completely withdrawn, a complex business.  Also, I suspect the Scottish Government wants to avoid opening up the possibility of any debate in the Scottish Parliament about new or existing National Parks which would be created if the existing legislation was to be amended.

 

While I welcomed the open discussion and the honesty of Board Members – its not many people who voluntarily vote to make the posts they are leaving redundant – what was depressing was that not a single Board Member made a case for keeping Board Members, based not just on what they do at present but on what they could and should be doing.    It appeared from the discussion that Board Members feel they serve no useful purpose.

 

Now I can understand why that might have happened.  First, when Mike Cantlay was chair and Fiona Logan was Chief Executive, Board Members were  firmly told they were not to get involved in operational matters.   So Board Members who knew about footpaths, were told not to support staff on this and those that knew about conservation were told to keep clear of that while those simply with an interest in their area were also told to keep at arms length.    The reason for having Board Members with expertise or democratically elected and nominated Board Members disappeared.

 

Second, to keep Board Members occupied, Mike Cantlay and Fiona Logan then introduced the practice of monthly briefing sessions and seminars as a  way for Board Members to earn their £200 a day.  These meetings, rather than helping Board Members to speak freely, actually became a way of controlling them and under the next convener Linda McKay were turned into secret decision making forums which among other things developed the camping byelaws.   The National Park Board became increasingly autocratic and the result has been Board Members have been left unable to see a role for themselves.

 

What is very sad though is that Board Members have become so neutered that even under the new more open regime of James Stuart they cannot see a useful role for themselves.    I believe there are plenty of opportunities for the Board both to start showing leadership and also to start putting proper governance arrangements in place.  I think this should be based around a number of  areas of activity:

  1. Board Members should know what is happening on the ground and being done in their name.    This means them getting out to see everything from the hydro tracks that are destroying the National Park landscape to the inappropriate areas designated as “camping permit zones”.  This would enable them to make informed inputs into policy development and to scrutinise papers properly.   The current Board is totally failing to do this,  is  disconnected from what is happening on the ground and as a result cannot do its job properly.
  2. Elected Board Members, both councillors and those directly elected,  should be engaging with the local communities they serve and helping to articulate community concerns and aspirations.  That they are failing to do so I think was epitomised by the case of former Councillor Fergus Wood, who was resoundly defeated in the last election, in no small part because he had pressed ahead with a proposal for a campsite without consulting local people.  The same elected representatives for Strathard totally failed to listen to the concerns of the local community about the size of the Loch Chon campsite.  When push comes to shove, the democratically elected representatives have always listened to their Chief Executive before the communities they serve.   The large democratic deficit in the National Park needs to be closed and that will take time and effort.
  3. Board Members should be engaging with national recreational and conservation interests – the people with expertise in the Park’s statutory objectives to promote public enjoyment and conservation.  Had they been doing so I don’t think we would have ended up with  the camping byelaws or the land management practices which still dominate much of the National Park and are destroying its conservation value (whether intensive forestry with clearfell or overgrazing by sheep and deer).  Again, this will take time and effort.
  4. Board Members should be taking a leadership role to ensure effective partnership working with other public sector organisations.  I find it amazing that Councillor Members, having called a year ago for more effective working with local authorities to address litter (noted again in the minutes as an issue) do not appear to have done anything to assist with this process.   They appear to have no idea of how to do this and to have lost sight of the reason they form a third of the membership is to ensure effective joint work with their councils.  If the structures aren’t there, its their job to create them and they need to start doing so.   However, the issue of effective co-ordination goes far beyond local authorities.  The Board needs to have members meeting and networked with other public authorities such as the Forestry Commission, SNH  and SEPA and to have links with delivery organisations like Sustrans and Transport Scotland .   If they started doing so, the National Park might have a chance of delivering a partnership plan which made a real difference, instead of each sector just carrying on as it is managing what is left of ever decreasing public sector budgets.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Board Meeting next week has any discussion in public about creating a meaningful role for Board Members.  It appear from the fact that senior staff have marked this matter arising as “Closed” that they don’t want this to happen.

 

 

September 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Looking from the pole which marks the centre of the proposed new town at an An Camas Mor towards the Lairig Ghru

Anyone who tries to understand human affairs from a global perspective will have probably greeted  last week’s announcement that a poll of readers of the Rough Guides had found Scotland to be the most beautiful country in the world with a deep shrug.

 

It is of course just a piece of marketing based on a very selective sample of people who are able to travel and choose to visit certain countries.   That Scotland came out top beating Canada, New Zealand and South Africa says a lot.  This was a poll of people from the English speaking world with what appear to be anglo-saxon perspectives.   A month ago I was in the Dolomites, where its not hard to find marketing blurb claiming that the Dolomites are indeed the most beautiful place in the world.  I wonder how many Italians were included in this poll?       And what about he mass of humanity who live in the third world, often much closer to the natural environment than we do, but whose experience of beauty is being destroyed by logging companies, mines and agricultural plantations which also displace them from the land.

 

Polls like this are not just an indulgence which should be accepted with a shrug.  They feed a racist view of the world, where we rarely stop long enough to consider what people from elsewhere and who are not like us may think, and which is blind to what capitalism is doing in our name to other parts of the world.  They also feed a privileged view of Scotland, which treats a few unspoiled land and city scapes (from Skye to Edinburgh) as epitomising the country and is blind to the many far from beautiful places where people actually live, with all the impact that has for health and human happiness.   Social injustice, which is everywhere and growing, is never beautiful.

 

Even if we ignore, like the tourists, the ugly bits of Scotland, objectively, how can you compare the best bits, the beauty that lies in our hills, lochs and western seaboard with the high mountains of the Himalaya or the deserts of Australia or the savannah in Africa?   People can only answer questions about what they know about.   I love Scotland but then its the landscape of home.   If you polled everyone in the world about what was the most beautiful country I am pretty certain China, having the most people, would come out top and Scotland, being small, would come out way down the list.  That’s not much use to Visit Scotland though, in their mission to promote Scotland, so the hype and privileged world view that goes with it will continue.

 

Polls like this also ignore the reality that across the world humans are destroying the natural environment and natural beauty at ever increasing rates and although “peak” destruction in Scotland took place something like 200 years ago, it is continuing with the say-so, nay encouragement, of those in power.    The Herald in its coverage of the story  (see here) gave a wonderful illustration of the complacency of the current Scottish Government:

 

“A Scottish Government spokeswoman said its policies ensure developments are sited at appropriate locations”.  

 

Really?  It seems to me that only someone who had never visited An Camas Mor (photo above) or was blinded by business, greed and profit could ever say that.

 

And that is my greatest concerns about this poll, it lets those in power off the hook and will undermine our National Parks, which were set up to protect the landscape and find more sustainable ways for humans to relate to nature.  The thinking goes like this……..

 

….if Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world, then:

  • people cannot be really concerned about the proliferation of hydro tracks which has destroyed the landscape of Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart for example with the blessing of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority
  • surely, with so much beauty, we can easily afford to lose a few areas in our National Parks to development, whether to the An Camas Mor new town, Flamingo Land at Balloch or Natural Retreats at Cairngorm
  • people cannot be really concerned about how our landscapes are treated on a day to day basis, whether by Highlands and Islands Entrerprise at Cairngorm or grouse moor owners……….in fact, perhaps our landowners are right, its these land management practices which make the country beautiful
  • why on earth did parkswatch make a fuss about the beech trees on Inchtavannach being felled in the name of science?   This poll came after that felling and all the other destruction covered in the last 18 months and that doesn’t seem to have altered people’s perceptions of Scotland.
  • this just shows that people aren’t very concerned about the visual impact of blanket conifer afforestation and subsequent clearfelling by the Forestry Commission so we can just let these practices continue in the National Park

 

The point that our politicians and powers that be must not be allowed to forget is that, whatever Scotland’s position in the world, our National Parks have, since their creation, presided over a further degradation of the landscapes they were set up to protect.  What we need is not international opinion polls, which simply provide an excuse for our National Parks to continue as they are present, but a real change in direction which puts landscape and social justice first.

September 7, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
BEFORE photo credit Stephen Pimley
AFTER   photo credit Duncan MacLachlan Arrochar & Tarbet Community Development Trust
Following my post on lessons for path investment from the Dolomites I am pleased to report that the short link path to the Three Lochs Way at Arrochar has been cleared of vegetation by the West Dunbartonshire Community Payback Team.    Well done to them and to the volunteers who asked them to help!
Photo credits Duncan MacLachlan
That the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority needs to work with all interests to develop a proper strategy for footpath maintenance in the National Park is illustrated by these photos which were sent to me by Duncan Maclachan of the Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust.   While the path by the church has been cleared, the surface of the Three Lochs Way above it has been eroded away by the recent rain and now needs urgent maintenance and possibly an alternative design to prevent small stones and gravel being flushed off into the water course in future.
The Three Lochs Way is an important recreational resource which runs from Balloch to Inveruglas and is “managed and maintained by the voluntary efforts of members of Helensburgh & District Access Trust” http://threelochsway.co.uk/.  It was their Secretary who contacted the Community Payback Team to clear the path by Arrochar church. While they have been very good at raising money – a credit to all those involved –  this requires constant effort and those volunteers will now have to try and find a way to repair the latest damage to the link path.
It may be a surprise to readers to learn that although much of the Three Lochs Way passes through the National Park, it gets no funding currently from the  LLTNPA for maintenance purposes (although the upper section of the link path was originally completely funded by the National Park):

Our Funding Partners

Love Loch LomondFriends of Loch Lomond & The TrossachsRound TableLEADERScottish GovernmentLuss Estates Logo

Moreover, nor is the Three Lochs Way or the local Community at Arrochar able to call on anyone from the LLTNPA to assess and advise what work needs to be done on path maintenance either in this case or more generally.   Local councils employ road specialists, but our National Park Authorities don’t employ path specialists despite the critical role that paths play in public enjoyment of the countryside.   Instead, the NPAs  rely on the Outdoor Access Trust (formerly the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust) which provides professional consultancy services which local communities and volunteers would need to pay for.
This is not just a problem for Arrochar, its a problem faced by local communities across out National Park.   The Wildcat Trail at Newtonmore, for example, faces similar challenges.  What is happening that due to a lack of resources our National Park Authorities, while saying all the right words about local community initiatives, are not providing the infrastructure necessary to support these properly.
Local communities have responded by trying to find their own solutions.  At Arrochar and a number of other places in our National Parks this is through the development of local community hydro schemes http://arrocharhydro.coop/.     While this could offer a potential source of funds for pathwork in future, it seems to me wrong that the LLTNPA appears to be leaving this all to local communities (at least the Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority has flagged up the need for proper resources).  The LLTNPA has a statutory responsibility to promote public enjoyment of the countryside and this means that it has overall responsibility for ensuring the path network is fit for purpose and properly maintained.   Addressing these issues should be one of the key priorities of the next National Park Partnership Plan.
There are various models for doing this.   I am not against either volunteers having key roles – we need stronger local democracy and people who serve on community councils all do so in a voluntary capacity and should be able to take more decisions – and there is also a place for Community Payback Schemes, training schemes for unemployed people etc.   However, this needs to be underpinned by a professional resource, with the expertise both to design and construct paths according to the highest standards and through funding being available.  Its the responsibility of our National Park Authorities to ensure these resources are in place.
September 1, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Hydro construction track in Glen Affric, a National Scenic Area and Special Area of Conservation because of the Caledonian pine forest. No designation at present can stop a hydro scheme and in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park not a single area has been designated as important enough for there to be a presumption against hydro developments.

While the impact of windfarms on landscape make front page news – the latest being the predictable decision by the Courts to uphold the Scottish Government’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach scheme in Sutherland  (see here) – hydro schemes rarely receive any coverage at all.   For a long time, most people who care about the landscape, appear to have been blinded to their impacts.  Hydro sounds such a good thing it must be.   More and more people I meet and talk to however are now beginning to believe the evidence of their eyes, particularly the blighting of the landscape with new tracks.

Looking south from Aonach Shasuinn, May 2017

Parkswatch has been highlighting the destructive impact that hydro schemes have been having in our National Parks and, after my post on Ledcharrie http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2017/08/31/whats-gone-wrong-ledcharrie-hydro-scheme/ its seems an appropriate time to inform readers how they can help monitor and document what is going on.  This is important because our politicians and decision makers will I am afraid put the wishes of landowners and developers first unless they are confronted with evidence they cannot ignore (and remember most decision makers hardly visit the hills and have probably never walked round a hydro scheme).

 

Following my walk with Members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme (see here) I have been working with them to develop a hydro scheme reporting form. The idea is to assemble information about hydro schemes, the good, the poor and the unacceptable, which can then be analysed and used by the Mountaineering Council and others.   Munro Society Members have now visited three hydro schemes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which I had not seen and sent me their report forms.

 

The Inverlochlarig hydro scheme

To give an example of how the form can help, here is an example for Inverlochlarig, in the heart of Rob Roy country.  Its well worth reading and I found it incredibly informative.   When working on the form we had not thought of inserting photos into it – reporters don’t need to do this – but Derek Sime had the good idea and in my view they  illustrate his  report brilliantly.

 

While no two people are likely to have the same response to a hydro scheme, whether they see it on the ground or recorded in a form, its good to be able to give publicity to what I think is a good hydro scheme in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (there are others).  The intake is discrete, the pipeline hard to detect and because an existing track was used for most of the construction, without any widening, there has been little further landscape impact, even from the tops of the hills.  The hydro scheme is not perfect though and the report form records some oversteep banks which are not revegetating, a short section of new track which is too broad and some abandoned pipes, still there three years after the scheme was completed.   I hope the LLTNPA will address these outstanding issues and have agreed with the Munro Society to send the form to the them but overall I agree with Derek, this appears an exemplary scheme.

I will cover other reports of hydro schemes from the Munro Society in due course.  Meantime…………

If you want to get involved…………….

The Munro Society is looking for more volunteers to report on hydro schemes across Scotland.  They have a list of schemes they have prioritised for reports and if you would like to help with these, you can contact them through their website – just put in the subject line Hydro Scheme survey.   There is nothing though to stop people reporting on schemes they come across in the hills and if want to do so there is a blank report form Hydro scheme survey v3.  You can return this to the Munro Society or if the scheme is in a National Park you can send it to nickkempe@parkswatchscotland.co.uk  (we have agreed to share information about schemes in our National Parks).      Don’t worry if you cannot fill in all the form, or only fill in part of it – even partial information will help the Munro Society prioritise sites for full surveys.  And photographs are as important, if not more important than words………….

 

The form that we have created came about because of the walk I did with members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme.  We realised we needed to do something to capture information on the impact of hydro scheme and I am sure this will evolve over time.  Learning what to look out for though is greatly helped by walking round schemes with other people.  I am hoping to arrange another such walk, probably in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in the next month or two.  If you would be interested in this, please contact me at the parkswatch email with your contact details and indicating which day/s of the week are most suitable for you.

August 31, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A example of the destruction created by the Ledcharrie track. The slope above the track is too steep and the spoil has been dumped below it without any sign of re-landscaping. The contractor had removed all equipment from the site indicating the Developer, Glen Hydro Development Ltd,  saw this as the “finished product”.

Following my visit to the Ledcharrie Hydro Scheme in Glen Dochart with members of the Munro Society (see here),  I made an information request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to find out what they were doing to address deficiencies in the development, particularly the  damage to the landscape that has been created by the new hill track.    The LLTNPA’s initial response to my request was to refuse to give me ANY information apart from the dates of monitoring visits,  claiming that they had not signed off all the works and provision of information could prejudice future enforcement action  EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie.   I treated this, as with so many responses from the LLTNPA, with a degree of scepticism, because I am unaware that they have ever taken enforcement action against hydro tracks, despite the large number of inappropriate and poorly restored tracks which now blight the National Park.

 

Leaving that aside, refusing to make public information that the developer was legally obliged to provide as a condition of the planning consent was in my view completely unjustifiable and I asked for a Review.  The LLTNPA has now backtracked  EIR REVIEW 2017-050 Response Ledcharrie hydro scheme and at the beginning of August sent me no less than 45 documents on a CD.  This post considers what the information tells us about how the LLTNPA  is “managing” the impact of hydro developments on the landscape of the National Park.

 

The information required as a condition of the planning consent

 

The Planning Consent which the Park’s officers agreed in December 2013 included 18 conditions, each of which required the Developer, Glen Hydro Ltd acting on behalf of Auchclyne Estates, to submit further information for approval before the development could go ahead.   This information includes assessments required (eg wildlife surveys), more detailed plans (eg for the powerhouse and track construction), standards governing the work and reporting arrangements.  Similar information and conditions are required for most planning consents for hydro developments.    In my view all such information should be public – people should have a right to know what has been agreed between planning authorities and developers – and it appears that the LLTNPA now agrees.  Over half the documents on the CD relate to the plans, reports and proposals the Developer had made to fulfil these conditions.

 

Unfortunately the information is not properly indexed by the LLTNPA and they have not told me whether they are still withholding information about the fulfilment of some of the conditions.  But, as far as I can tell from what has been supplied, Glen Hydro Developments did supply information on each of the 18 planning conditions.  The file sizes are large but the content is summarised in the chart on pages 6-12  here.

 

What is far less easy to see is what documentation was agreed by the LLTNPA.   Some conditions, including the first, to produce a  Construction Method Statement, were clearly approved Condition 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9_20150827_Discharge of conditions. For others its very hard to tell.  For example, in relation to condition 12 on the design of the powerhouse, the Developer appears to have done everything the Park had asked Condition 12_20160314_Agent to NPA but there is no final sign off the from the LLTNPA.   Another example is that the Developer clearly stated that they would include information on several of the conditions (2,4,14) in the all important Construction Method Statement, but in approving this document (see above) the LLTNPA did not clearly say whether those other conditions contained in it were also discharged.

 

In my view our National Parks, which are meant to be beacons of good practice, should  be publishing information about the discharge of planning conditions on their planning portals so its readily available.   This should include both the information supplied by the Developer and the documents from our National Parks signing it off, the two clearly referenced.   This would empower the public and avoid the need for need for endless information requests.  The LLTNPA’s current stance however is it doesn’t make this information public because it doesn’t have to legally – so much for being a beacon of good practice!    In fact if the LLTNPA made these documents public, I think it would improve their practice because where approvals are unclear, as at Ledcharrie, they would be challenged.   This would also help Developers who are left in a difficult position when they are not clear about what has been approved either.   Its worth noting that Glen Hydro developments appears to have taken a far more systematic approach to the provision of information needed to disharge planning conditions – judging by their chart – than the LLTNPA.

 

What the information tells us about planning standards and protection of our landscape

Much of the documentation supplied by Glen Hydro and approved by the LLTNPA is excellent, for example it shows that lots of care is taken to ensure that walkers are informed of alternative routes and is a credit both to National Park staff and to developers.  However, what the EIR response also shows is that standards and documentation are much better developed in some areas than others.  So, the planners, whose stock in trade is new buildings, took huge amounts of care about the design of the powerhouse (see link to condition 12 above).  They also, because of environmental regulations, require very detailed information about the potential impacts on protected nature sites (informed by advice from SNH and their own ecological staff which is included in committee reports) and how these will be mitigated.  They also took great care with any aspect of the environment regulated by SEPA (hence all the plans to prevent stop silt filtering into watercourses).  All this shows that regulation and rules do work.

 

Ironically, because this is what the National Park was set up to protect, what the planners are not so good at is protecting the landscape, and more specifically the impact of new hill tracks.  Ledcharrie shows the problems were created even before planning consent was granted.  Here is what the Committee Report said:

 

  • “Effects on Landscape Character: There would be no significant adverse effects on the site landscape, published landscape character types and the designated National Park are predicted after construction is complete.”

and

  • the topography will screen the intakes, the pipe route will be restored, the track returned to its original state and the tailrace and powerhouse be assimilated in the landscape.
A section of the old track, it had almost disappeared into the landscape – the new track is on far right
And here’s how it looked when I visited with members of the Munro Society

Wishful thinking does not make things happen.  This weakness is carried through into the Construction Method Statement approved by the LLTNPA (see here).  The section headed Access Track is brief to the extreme, in contrast to other sections, and mainly about silt:

What the EIR Response shows is that in discharging this condition the LLTNPA agreed a far broader track than was reported in the the Planning Report and mentioned in my original post:

 

“A permanent track from the powerhouse to the primary intake (surfaced with local crushed stone and about 2 metres in width).”

 

In agreeing to a 3m broad track the LLTNPA also ignored its own good practice guidance which Gordon Watson, the Park’s Chief Executive stated should mean tracks are 2m broad except on bends where they may be 2.5m broad.   No wonder the Park did not want this information to be made public!

 

The Construction Method Statement did contain some further information on track construction and restoration under a section on Landscape Mitigation measures:

The second track, like the ground over the pipe, has been completely restored and generally well done

The problem is this is not a proper Construction Method Statement.  It says nothing about the angle of the track – key to future erosion (SNH tracks recommends a maximum angle of 14 degrees), the design of culverts or the angle of verges all of which have contributed to the adverse impact this track is having on the landscape:

While this section of track has been narrowed the section of bank on the left is too steep, the edge of the ditch crudely done and its too steep – you can see how it was already washing out before it bends left

Where the Construction Method Statement is stronger is the restoration of soil and ground vegetation:

I believe this helps confirm my analysis.   The LLTNPA has been good at ensuring that ground above pipelines has been restored well.  In this case the techniques for ensuring such restoration have also been applied to tracks.  The problem however is that if you get the track construction wrong (angle of slope, cutting through banks etc) that is much much harder to restore than land above a pipeline.

 

The lesson I think that the FOI material tells us is that the LLTNPA (and indeed other planning authorities) need to pay far more attention to the specification of tracks and use this to inform whether tracks should become permanent or not.

 

 

Following on from that, if its not possible to create a track which does not meet all the requirements of SNH’s excellent guidance on hill track construction, that should be an indication to our planning authorities, that these construction tracks should only be temporary and be fully restored, just like the pipelines.

The monitoring of the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro and enforcement of planning conditions

The LLTNPA has not given me a single document about enforcement of the planning conditions, claiming this might prejudice future enforcement action.  While this might be the case in some circumstances – for example legal advice – one would hope that the Developer would have been told by the LLTNPA which conditions it has so far failed to meet.  If so, its hard to see how provision such information could prejudice enforcement action.  If the Developer knows the concerns of the LLTNPA, why shouldn’t the public?    I suspect the reason for refusing this information is that if it became public more evidence would become available about the LLTNPA’s failure to enforce planning conditions.   This is far too systematic to be the fault of staff who I believe have neither the time or the expertise necessary to monitor these schemes properly.

 

Instead, staff depend on is Monitoring Reports and work from the “independent” Ecological Clerk of Works (who is contracted by the Developer and who is therefore dependent on the Developer to get paid).   The other suite of documents in the EIR response are 19 Monitoring Reports from the Ecological Clerk of Works (some of which cover several visits).

 

While these monitoring reports contain good things  – the reports show for example that the Ecological Clerk of Works  consistently identified issues with silt traps and actioned these – and many interesting photos,  I believe they also help explain why the hydro track at Ledcharrie is the mess it is.  The problems are illustrated early on:

Photo from report of site visits in August  2015 at initial stage of construction

This photo shows that turves were not being stored as had been specified in the Construction Method Statement – one layer deep and the right way up – but instead have been dumped in a heap.  The Ecological Clerk of Works makes no comment on this by the picture and no mention in the body of their report.

 

To their credit, the LLTNPA planning officer identified this as an issue.  We only know this not from information recorded by the LLTNPA but because its mentioned in the next suite of monitoring reports from the Ecological Clerk of works (ECOW)  which includes this:

Having asked why the turf had not been stored correctly, the member of the planning team  apparently then accepted the claim by the ECOW that the turf could not be stored successfully for long periods.  This is garbage.  Why did the Construction Method Statement say that turf would be stored in this way if it couldn’t?   Actually, I have just seen an example on the Ralia estate (which I will cover in due course) where turf was stored successfully for over three years.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA appear to have accepted this claim, instead of challenging the ECOW and the Developer, and this helps explain much of the more restoration work alongside the track.

Bare ground all along the track results from the failure of the LLTNPA to enforce the planning condition that all turf be retained and stored properly.

Its worth having a look at the report  (20151007_Condition 18_Monitoring Report_Sep 2015. which has nteresting photos but bear in mind its right from the start of the works and only covers certain issues.  A couple of the photos show oversteep banksides, the ones that are now have such an adverse impact on the landscape as they are too steep to be restored.   Again there is no comment from the ECOW.  That’s maybe not their fault – their primary remit after all was for ecology, not landscape – but its a serious problem the LLTNPA needs to address.

 

The lessons that need to be learned from the information released by the LLTNPA on Ledcharrie hydro and what needs to change

The documents released by the LLTNPA tell us nothing about what the Park is doing to redress the damage caused by the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro, but they do tell us a lot about what is going wrong and I strongly suspect a similar tale could be told for many other hydro schemes in the National Park.

  • Far too little attention is given to the way track to hydro schemes are constructed in the planning process prior to work starting.  I think at the very least all proposal for tracks should have a specification which covers every aspect of SNH Guidance on the Design of Hill tracks (see here) and our National Parks and other planning authorities should evaluate proposals against that guidance
  • It appears that at present planning staff do not have the expertise necessary to ensure high standards of track construction nor are they able to call on this expertise from elsewhere (as they can with other specialist areas).  Our National Parks need to address this skills gap.
  • Unfortunately, it also appears that the Ecological Clerks of Works  lack expertise in this area too and its imperative that if our National Parks continue to get Developers their own practice that they engage people with the right skills.  That might mean a specialist track consultant.
  • The problem for both our National Parks and developers is that there is little evidence that there are currently people involved in hill track construction with the expertise to ensure tracks are designed to high standards and also to advertise where permanent tracks would have a deleterious impact on the landscape.  One solution would be for our National Parks and developers to engage people involved in footpath design to carry out this work.  In general the standards that are applied to footpath design are far far higher than those applied to hill tracks.  This might help provide permanent jobs to the people currently being trained as footpath workers in our National Park.
  • The biggest failure of all though is a lack of will.  There appears to be no ethos in the LLTNPA which encourages staff to take action when they identify things that are going wrong, secure in the knowledge that they will be backed to the hilt by their Managers and the Board.  Instead there is a development free for all which is undermining the entire credibility of the National Park Authority and will in the long-term destroy tourism, as its the landscape which is the reason why people visit our National Parks in the first place.    Then, when the results of this free for all are made public, suddenly the LLTNPA says it is considering enforcement action.    If action had been taken at the beginning of the construction at Ledcharrie, most of the issues could have been prevented.
  • As a start to rectifying these planning deficiencies, the LLTNPA should now commission an independent audit of a selection of hydro developments in the National Park causing public concerns.  This should analyse in how many cases the LLTNPA has approved tracks which breach its own best practice guidance and ask for recommendations about how this could be prevented in future.
  • In order to show a collective determination to tackle these issues, I think that the LLTNPA should no longer delegate decisions about hydro schemes to staff.  Like in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, all decisions about hydro schemes should be taken in public at the Planning Committee.
August 25, 2017 Mary Jack 1 comment

By Mary Jack

Photo credit M M Jack

History

Perhaps one of the best travel books ever written about Scotland is The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968] by W.H.Murray. Early on he touches on Loch Lomond:

 

The banks of Loch Lomond are clothed by deciduous woods. Oak, beech, chestnut, larch, and birch predominate … That the banks of Loch Lomond have remained so long free from the forester’s axe and from impairment by tourist development appears well-nigh mira­culous. Their preservation has been due to the rule of enlightened landowners, principally the Colquhouns of Luss, who have sacrificed personal profit.

 

All this changed in 2015 when a heritage organisation was accused of carrying out ‘wanton vandalism’ on the island of Inchtavannach on Loch Lomond.   Scottish Natural heritage is said to have poisoned hundreds of beech trees, some of which were 300 years old.

 

Luss Estates, who own the island, said SNH had entered into an agreement with the tenant of Inchtavannach in 2013 to remove rhododendron from the island.   That agreement also provided for the mature beech trees to be felled gradually over a five year period. But it is said SNH had decided to ring-bark and poison the beeches instead.

 

At the time Sir Malcolm Colquhoun was quoted as saying “I simply cannot understand why the supposed guardian of our natural heritage has killed off these wonderful trees for no apparent reason.”    SNH were reported as stating they “didn’t appreciate” the effect this would have on the landscape.     You can read more at:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/landowner-scottish-natural-heritage-poisoned-my-trees-1-3829391

lussestates.co.uk/news/beech-trees-poisoned-inchtavannach-island

So why were the 300 year old beech trees killed?

The agreement between SNH and the tenant apparently included measures to remove “non-native” beech and this was included in the Management Statement InchtavannachSSIsite808-doc3 for the island which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.   While SNH claimed the beech trees were non-native, elsewhere it had written:

“The importance of a wood for biodiversity is closely related to its age. In Scotland, Ancient Woodland is defined as land that is currently wooded and has been continually wooded, at least since 1750”     (History and ancient woodlands – Scottish Natural Heritage)

 

Moreover, according to the Woodland Trust (what does native and non-native mean?):

The term native is used for any species that has made its way to the UK naturally, not intentionally or accidentally introduced by humans. In terms of trees and plants, these are species that recolonised the land when the glaciers melted after the last ice age and before the UK was disconnected from mainland Europe.

 

While according to Forestry Commission Scotland (What are Scotlands native woodlands?) http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/

Ancient woodlands usually have a high value for natural and cultural heritage  because of their long history of continuous woodland cover. Ancient and semi-natural woods (i.e. those where the current stands appear to be naturally regenerated rather than planted) are the woodland category that generally has the highest biodiversity value.

Native tree species are those which arrived naturally in Scotland without direct human assistance as far as we can tell. Most of our native tree and shrub species colonised Scotland after the last Ice Age (which ended roughly 9,000 years ago), with seeds dispersed by wind, water, and animals.

Although not native to Scotland, the beech – or Fagus sylvatica in Latin – is a common tree across much of Europe. It’s thought beech trees arrived on our shores during the Bronze Age.

 

Conflicting or what??   So ancient woodland sites are important to conserve but need to be cleansed of beech trees which have been there for 300 years?

And now we have been told ………………..beech trees are native to Scotland after all, scientists discover

 

According to research announced on 4 July 2017:

Beech trees should be considered native to Scotland – despite a long-running debate over their national identity, researchers at the University of Stirling and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) report. The team examined the DNA of more than 800 beech trees at 42 locations across Great Britain and made direct comparisons with trees growing on mainland Europe.

The study – funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – shows almost all of the beeches growing in Great Britain the researchers tested, are derived from native populations and, as a result, could not have been planted from abroad.

Professor Alistair Jump, of the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy, said: “The beech tree has been experiencing an identity crisis in Scotland. Evidence shows that the European beech was mainly confined to the south-east of England after the last Ice Age. However, this tree now occurs throughout Scotland and has been considered ‘not native’ by many land managers.

“This tree can colonise ancient woodland in Scotland, and is sometimes removed because it poses a threat to the persistence of other native species. Our study shows that beech should be considered native throughout Great Britain, including Scotland.”
See: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-beech-trees-native-scotland-scientists.html#jCp

 

The research, entitled ‘Understanding the legacy of widespread population translocations on the post-glacial genetic structure of the European beech’, is published in the Journal of Biogeography.

The current position and questions that now need to be answered

Felled beech trees on the island of Inchtavannach, L Lomond, can be seen along most of the west shore. Photo Credit MM Jack

A great many of the poisoned beech trees are still standing in 2017 (Aug) whilst some have been felled and a few shredded and left lying, making the view of the island from land and water unsightly to say the least . It is devastating to see all these once beautiful, healthy trees dead and abandoned.

 

If beech trees now belong in Scotland, the destruction on Inchtavannach,  looks even more scandalous.

 

Here are some questions the public authorities concerned, SNH, the National Park Authority and Forestry Commission should answer:

  • Do you agree that the poisoning and subsequent felling of beech trees on Inchtavannach was a terrible mistake?
  • Was anyone in your agency aware of the research being conducted at Stirling University and that beech trees might, after all, be classified as native?
  • Were the NPA, as the Planning Authority (with the power to create Tree Protection Orders), consulted about the beech trees on Inchtavannach and if so, did they sanction the removal of the trees?
  • Did SNH have a felling licence from Forestry Commission Scotland, to remove the mature trees, or was the poisoning a way round the need for that?
  • Why were all the trees dealt with in one fell swoop (pardon the pun) rather than over the five year period as agreed?
  • Was felling/shredding/removal just too expensive given that they are on an island

 

Whatever the answers, what has happened on Inchtavannach smacks of complete and utter incompetence.

The role of the National Park Authority

The foremost statutory duty of the National Park Authority is the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the area.  Clearly, they should have been involved in the Inchtavannach decision.

 

Moreover, one of the objectives of the National Park Plan 2012-17 is:

Forest design that is sympathetic to the Park’s landscapes, designated sites and ecosystems. This includes restoring Planted Ancient Woodland sites and where appropriate,increases the area of the National Park under continuous cover forest management.

 

How does what happened at Inchtavannach fit with that objective?

 

And, according to the Forestry Commission :- ‘Planning authorities are public bodies who are subject to the biodiversity duty in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, which requires all public bodies to further biodiversity where it is relevant to their functions. Development planning and management take account of native woodlands as priority habitats under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.’

 

So how was the poisoning of the Inchtavannach beech trees able to take place in a National Park?   One suspects that, had the public been consulted, commonsense or an intuitive understanding of how the Inchtavannach beech trees added to the landscape would have prevailed over scientific dogma, dogma which has now been shown to be false.

August 23, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The start of the cycle lanes on the west side of Milton Buchanan – there is a similar layout on the east of the village.

Most visitors to Balmaha and beyond this summer will have probably been struck by the new cycle lanes through Milton of Buchanan.     I use a bike to get around Glasgow, campaign in the area I live for more cycle lanes and when driving try to be as “cycle friendly” as possible.     Coming into Milton of Buchanan therefore I tried to avoid the cycle lane but the space left between the lane and the central line is far too narrow for a car.

Photo showing how the space left for cars is too narrow to allow them to pass with the inevitable consequence they swerve into the cycle lanes.

Then, just a little further on, the centre road marking disappears completely and the road narrows to one lane,  far too narrow to allow two cars to pass.  Any car determined to respect the cycle lanes risks would run into cars coming from the other direction head on.   The consequence is every car I saw had either to swerve in and out of the cycle lanes or simply ignored the cycle lane completely.   This is not the drivers’ fault, its the consequence of extremely poor design and provides ammunition to the petrol heads who believe all cycling provision is a denial of their right to drive their car wherever they want.

 

The local community and the local police force appear to share this view:

Extract from the draft minute of the June meeting of Buchanan Community Council

 

Now I have been aware from the organisational updates given to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board meetings that there were plans to create a cycle path between Drymen and Balmaha.  I have been unable to find any information about these plans on either the LLTNPA, the Stirling Council or Sustrans websites, but that may because I have searched in the wrong places.  Its not clear what consultation has taken place but I suspect that if any meaningful consultation had taken place about Milton of Buchanan, the poor design would have been avoided.    Consultation however tends to go by the wayside when people have limited budgets and performance targets to meet.

 

I happen to have walked along the entire B837 between Balmaha and Drymen – which is marked as a core path on the LLTNPA’s core path plan.   While there is a pavement along most of the road, its very narrow in some places and in others disappears completely, sometimes on bends where this a verge less than a foot wide and where its hard for cars to see you.  Not a good walking experience, even on the section between Milton and Buchanan and Balmaha which is marked on OS Maps as an official alternative to the main West Highland Way.  So much for “destination Scotland”.

One of the better sections of pavement which forms part of the West Highland Way snapped from the car – its not wide enough for cyclists and pedestrians to pass

The plan for Sustrans to install a cycle path therefore appeared to me a good one in principle which  could benefit both cyclists and walkers, both visitors and local residents, and improve current provision.

 

The challenge however is that the B837 is narrow and bordered by (attractive) hedges, not atypical for a country road.   To accommodate cars, cyclists and walkers you either need to widen it, which would require significant investment including the costs of purchasing land bordering the road, or restrict cars.    In effect, an attempt to restrict cars has been made at Milton of Buchanan but in a way that is extremely poorly designed and so both ineffective and dangerous.  If there were far fewer cars, the road markings at Milton of Buchanan might just about be made to work (if priority was given to cars coming from one way).  The only way to make this happen though would be to restrict traffic to Balmaha to local residents and commercial vehicles, introduce a frequent year round bus service for visitors along with new car parking capacity at Drymen.  While this could fit with the proposal to close the road to Rowardennan (see here) I cannot see this happening in the near future.  The proposed cycle path along the B837 and the section created at Milton of Buchanan therefore needs a re-think.

 

An alternative to the current road markings at Milton of Buchanan would be to create a segregated path shared by cyclists and pedestrians along one side of the road.  In my view that would be better than the current set up.  Its easier and safer for cyclists to share a lane with pedestrians than with cars and indeed the first photo in this post shows the assumption is that cyclists should use the pavement outside the village.

Main street in Predazzo, Val de Fiemme. A temporary dedicated segregated cycle route has been created by placing large flower boxes down the middle of the road. (A permanent segregated cycle route runs round the village and connects it to neighbouring villages).

In the Dolomites I saw lots of evidence of how to do things differently, ideas we could apply to Scotland.    In the Dolomites there appeared to be far more emphasis on segregated cycle routes, ranging from temporary arrangements to dedicated paths.

The cycle route which runs along the Val di Fassa and Val de Fiemme. It was well-used by both cyclists and pedestrians – I reckoned at least one cyclist every minute. Note how there is room for cyclists and pedestrians to pass.

Great work of course has been done in Scotland on developing dedicated cycle routes through the National Cycle Route network but we appear to be well behind Italy.

 

It seems to me that if there is not space to create segregated cycle lanes and a decent path along the B837 consideration should be given to following the Italians and developing an alternative route.  There is already an extensive and under-promoted path network between the B837 and the River Endrick, some of which have been designated as core paths  (see here).    The problem is it does not join up to create alternative through routes.    It could do.

This extract from the LLTNPA core path map shows there is a track from High Mains Farm (south of Milton of Buchanan) which joins the B837 just west of Milton of Buchanan. At present it crosses two burns by ford, which have stopped me on the one occasion I have tried to walk it. Add a couple of bridges though and upgrade the path and you could create a segregated cycle route.

 

 

 

 

I am not here trying to provide a definitive answer to how we improve cycle path/lane provision in the National Park or even at Milton of Buchanan, only to illustrate that we need to think more creatively and thoroughly about how existing provision should be improved.  In my view that process should be led by the National Park Authority.   Unfortunately it appears that rather than co-ordinating new provision and ensuring there is consultation with appropriate bodies, from the local community to the Ramblers Associations and organisations like Go Bike, the LLTNPA are leaving this to others.   That partly accounts I think for the daft road markings at Milton of Buchanan.

 

One of the priorities in the draft National Park Partnership plan, “Visitor Experience 1”  is “Ensuring that the National Park Core Paths are reviewed and fit for purpose” while another, Visitor Experience 2 commits the LLTNPA to “Promoting the use and improvement of the National Walking and Cycling Network including new active travel linkages between communities as well as routes facilitating active travel into the Park and better linkages with existing transport hubs and routes.”     The cycle lanes at Milton of Buchanan provide a graphic illustration of why this is needed.    However, if the LLTNPA is to become an effective public authority which leads on developing good practice for outdoor recreation and active travel it will need to allocate resources to do this.    In my view it could do so easily if its Board decided that instead of fruitlessly devoting most of its resources to chasing away campers it re-focussed on how it could provide the infrastructure necessary to support visitors.

August 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The road from Balmaha to Rowardennan was like this much of the way, stop/start as cars squeezed past each other.

On Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of a break in the tropical storms which have been battering  Scotland, we went for a walk up Ben Lomond, a hill that everyone from the west of Scotland who is able to do so should walk up at least once in their lifetimes.   I walk, run or ski it most years.   The drive from Balmaha to Rowardennan required patience because of the volume of traffic.   It probably took us twice the time to drive it as it does in winter.

The Forestry Commission carpark at Rowardennan was full to overflowing. With all the official places full people were parking on the verges

We met all sorts: small groups of middle aged men with strong Glaswegian accents, a couple of Asian families, backpackers taking a diversion from the West Highland Way, students, a person with a learning disability, Dutch tourists, some younger teenagers who must have been still at school, a Sikh……….we heard probably a dozen different languages.   The number and diversity of people visiting Rowardennan and walking up Ben Lomond is a great thing.  It should be the people’s hill.

 

The infrastructure though is creaking under the numbers and needs a re-think…………………in fact its needed a re-think ever since the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was created.

 

In the Dolomites and indeed in many other valleys in the Alps where small roads finish in a dead-end without much space for parking – as at Rowardennan – they do things differently.

Track between Gardeccia and Vajolet Huts

The main access to the Catinaccio group, off the Val di Fassa, is via this valley.   The road up to the Gardeccia is closed to private cars.    The valley is extremely popular – it leads up the famous Vajolet towers (where we climbed), offers great walking and a number of via ferrata – but people either walk up (rare), get a ski lift and then contour round into the valley or use the shuttle bus service from Pera.

Shuttle buses with Catinaccio group behind

The shuttle bus service operates from 7am to 6pm from the end of May until mid-October.   It took about 20 minutes and cost 10 Euros return, including the cost of leaving our car for three days.   It was extremely well used – we were concerned when we turned up at 7am whether we would get on the two buses waiting at the bottom – but coming back saw over half a dozen buses taking people up and down the route and waited just five minutes for our bus to fill and set off.

The parking provided for those using the Gardeccia shuttle bus

The road closure and shuttle bus service solves the problem of where people would park up the valley, takes the stress out of driving along the narrow road up to Gardeccia, provides jobs and is more environmentally friendly than people taking cars.   This is not the only side valley off the Val di Fassa where such services exist (see here for list).   So why don’t we do this in Scotland?   We could start  places like Rowardennan.

 

In fact, one of the action points of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 was:

“Consideration to be given to shuttle bus service provision from Drymen to Rowardennan.”

The new signs that have been put up on almost every free post along the Rowardennan Rd since Stirling Council assumed responsibility for parking enforcement in May.

This has not been progressed.  Instead, the focus has been on the expensive water bus service and  there has been an obsession with trying to control car parking:  in particular how to enforce the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan.

 

This has had the unfortunate effect of making much of east Loch Lomond inaccessible for people wanting to do short walks along the West Highland Way.  Apart from the public carparks at Milarrochy, Sallochy and Rowardennan, there is nowhere to stop.   Fine for fitter walkers, but for lots of people it means many of the joys of east Loch Lomond are now beyond reach.

 

A shuttle bus service would enable far more people to do shorter walks along east Loch Lomond, letting people walk between points of their choice.  It would also make Ben Lomond far more accessible – something like 50% of the adult population of Glasgow do not have access to a car and effectively have no way of reaching, Ben Lomond, what should be the people’s hill.

 

The Buchanan Community Partnership and recreation management on east Loch Lomond

 

Unfortunately, not only does the LLTNPA appear to be doing nothing to address this situation, it and Stirling Council appears to be about to make this worse.   The issue at stake is the management of the carpark at Balmaha.

 

There have been calls from people in Balmaha that the community  should be able to benefit from the car park there for some time.    There is a very interesting record of how the proposal has developed – given by Kevin Lilburn recorded in the minute of the May meeting of the Buchanan Community Council (see here).   Basically the proposal had been that money raised from the car park should be split between Stirling Council, the LLTNPA and an organisation called the Buchanan Community Partnership.  The plan which was eventually agreed was that Stirling Council would lease the car park which they still own for 3 years to the LLTNPA who would introduce parking charges through their  newly procured Automatic Number Plate Recognition charging system.     The LLTNPA would take on the burdens of running the carpark and after costs would share income with the community.  The vehicle proposed to do this was the Buchanan Community Partnership

 

The BCP had been set up in 2003 to enable the local community to access and manage funds.  It appears responsible for initiating the negotiations that car parking charges should be introduced at Balmaha and part of the money from this used to benefit the local community.  The BCP has, according to Kevin Lilburn’s report to the Community Council  – information reinforced by its accounts – been in “suspended animation” for a number of years.    This is interesting as Kevin Lilburn is a Director of the Buchanan Community Partnership and information obtained under FOI FOI 2015 002 Response – Copy show that he represented that body on the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management stakeholder group, the body which is supposed to co-ordinate the implementation of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan (which now appears defunct) and indeed that he appears to have chaired meetings.     Although in theory open to anyone from the local community to join, there is other information to indicate the BCP was hardly a democratic organisation.   Information from companies house  (see here) states it is controlled by one person, Joseph Twaddle its Secretary, who had been secretary of the Community Council before he resigned.   The May minutes of the Buchanan Community Council record that “The view was expressed that the current BCC membership knew nothing about BCP meetings from the former Secretary”.  

 

All this though now appears about to become history.   According to the draft minutes of the Buchanan Community Council meeting in June  the Buchanan Community Partnership is about to be wound up and instead there are plans that a new organisation, the East Loch Lomond Community Trust, will receive the funds.

 

14) AOCB
KL advised that the Buchanan Community Partnership (BCP) board had decided to start a process that aimed to wind up the BCP. This had implications for the “community” share of the revenue that might result from the proposed introduction of parking charges at the Balmaha car park. He understood that the recently formed East Loch Lomond Community Trust might now have an involvement.

It was proposed & agreed that the Chair should write to the NP expressing our deep concern at the situation.

 

Reading between the lines of the minutes, it looks as though one shadowy organisation, the BCP, has been replaced by one that is even more shadowy.  Moreover,  there has been no communication from the ELLCT and the Community Council, the organisation which represents people locally.   Information on the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator’s website shows that the ELLCT was incorporated in October 2016 and sets out it general objectives but does not provide the names of the trustees or say what area it covers.  The only other public information that is available about the ELLCT is it appears to have registered for Just Giving.      You cannot therefore see who is controlling the organisation let alone what it intends to do.  Perhaps the National Park knows?

 

What needs to happen

  • The LLTNPA  should make all information it holds on the east Loch Lomond Community Trust public and explain why it appears happy to divert funds to an organisation which appears accountable to no-one
  • The LLTNPA needs to create an integrated vehicle management plan for the area.   Charging for carparks has all sorts of implications for recreation management, including the viability of a shuttle bus service to Rowardennan.   We bought our 10 euro return ticket in Italy and it covered carparking for three days.  The car park at Balmaha is not big enough to cope with the extra car parking capacity that would be needed to support a shuttle bus service but income from it could be used to kick start such a service.   The LLTNPA in giving away funds to an unaccountable group is reducing the likelihood of transport systems, which exist everywhere on the continent, being developed in the National Park.
  • At the National level, it appears that the law regarding community councils needs to change (the minutes show the reason these trusts and companies are being set up are because of legal limitations as to what community councils can do).   Now community councils are not perfect, they can easily be taken over, but as the saga on east Loch Lomond shows, the alternatives, companies or trusts accountable to no-one can be even worse.

 

And for any reader, who thinks I am being too radical, in Italy they are prepared to close to private vehicles not only dead-end roads, but major through routes.

Looking down onto a section of the road over the Sella Pass on a Wednesday. Note the cyclists.

The road over the Sella Pass, between the Val di Fassa and Val Gardena is closed between 9am and 4pm every Wednesday, except to buses and cyclists.    Imagine us doing  something as radical in Scotland?   What the closure does is enable hundred of cyclists to enjoy the challenge without having to think about traffic, which includes not just car but lots of motorbikes.   The Rowardennan Rd is a nightmare to cycle at present.   A shuttle bus service might make it a pleasure to cycle again with additional recreational benefits – and help promote a circular route on car free routes from Balloch to Rowardennan, across to Tarbert on a ferry and then back down to Balloch along the west Loch Lomond cycle path.    That would be a National Park which, like Italy, put outdoor recreation at the centre of how it manages the countryside.

August 18, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Photo from Luss Gathering Facebook page 2017 (it took place Saturday1st July) – count the tents and shelters!

The Luss Gathering takes place each year on Luss playing fields which now form part of the west Loch Lomond camping management zone.   Since last year the camping management byelaws have made it a criminal offence to erect a tent in a camping management zone without explicit authorisation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.   Mostly such authorisation is granted through the camping permit system the Park has created but this only allows tents to be put up in specified permit areas.   Luss is not one of them, no doubt because some local residents had blamed camping for all the problems of anti-social behaviour the village was experiencing and so no camping under permit is allowed close by.

 

The other way permission to put up a tent can be obtained is to apply for an one-off exemption to put up a tent or tents.   Decisions about such exemptions are, under the Park’s procedures supposed to be advertised on the Park’s weekly planning list which I have been monitoring for some time now.    Most of the applications are from Duke of Edinburgh and Scout Groups, with hard-pressed voluntary Scout Leaders and teachers,  no longer able to organise expeditions which stay overnight in the camping management zones without the Park’s permission.   The bureaucracy and additional workload is signficant and I feel for the (mainly youth) groups involved.  They were, just like other responsible campers, never part of any problem – indeed being supervised, the chances of such expeditions causing any damage were minimal – but nevertheless the Park has required them to apply for permission to camp.

 

I tend to recall applications from other bodies for exemption from the camping byelaws – that from the Loch Ard Sailing club comes to mind – but don’t remember seeing one for the Luss Highland Games.    I have double-checked all planning applications decided for the Luss and Arden Community Council since April on the Park’s planning portal and cannot find any appllcation to exempt the Luss Gathering either.  I am thus reasonably certain that the Luss Gathering did not apply for and were not granted permission to pitch the tents that feature on the photo above.   If I am correct,  all those responsible in putting up these tents have committed a criminal offence.   Ridiculous I know, as common sense tells us that these people have done no wrong.

 

But neither has Mr Trout, the angler who is being prosecuted simply because he broke the byelaws for doing what he has done for years (see here), just like the people who organise the Luss Gathering.  Neither has done any wrong.  Mr Trout told me that the police officer employed by the National Park, PC Barr, when cautioning him, had told him the law is the law and has to be enforced.  It would be interesting to know how many events PC Barr or other police officers have attended over the summer – I cannot believe that there was no police presence at the Luss Gathering – and what action they have taken.  My guess is none but I would be more than happy to publish information from the police or the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong..

 

The camping byelaws are daft but since during the Your Park consultation both Luss Estates and  members of the local community in Luss strongly supported them, there is an argument they should be made to live by the rules they have created for everyone else.   I would prefer it if they now joined those of us who believe the camping byelaws were never justified, are completely unfair and a complete waste of resources and call publicly for them to be dropped at the earliest opportunity.

 

Meantime, there was a helpful reminder of the real problems which the National Park Authority should have been addressing at Luss in this letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday.   It is significant that it is from someone who is in the tourism industry.   The new National Park Partnership Plan needs to completely change the focus of what the Park is doing, from wasting money and resources on trying to chase off responsible campers to the provision of the basic infrastructure the Park needs.

 

 

 

August 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Scottish policy position

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Land management plans and freedom of information

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

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

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

What needs to happen

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Paths in the Dolomites

 

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

Military path in the Belluna National Park

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

Photo credit Stephen Pimley

 

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

Photo Credit Stephen Pimley

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

 

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

What needs to happen

  • I would like to see our National Parks learn and compare themselves to places in other countries, whether National Parks or not (only a small proportion of the Dolomites are designated as National Parks).
  • Grant Moir was right, a permanent solution to how we invest in paths in National Parks – and elsewhere in Scotland – needs to be found.   Both our National Parks should be taking a lead on this and this should include consideration of what investment needs to take place to enable Scotland to catch up in terms of path provision as well as how paths can be maintained.    Both our National Parks have made tentative steps in this direction but they should be using the evidence from places like the Dolomites to articulate a far more comprehensive vision.
August 2, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

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

The impact of windthrow

Forest ride obstructed by windfall.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

What is a ride?

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

 

The benefit of managed rides and open spaces

Sensitive management of open habitats introduces greater habitat diversity.

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

 

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

 

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

Obstructed scenic water course

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

 

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

 

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

Pucks Glen path.
Attractive exposure of rock revealing underlying geology

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Acidification of aquifers.

 

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

 

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

 

A small experiment in restoration

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

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

 

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

 

Post script

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

 

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

 

View south from sandy bay to Ardentinny village

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

 

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

July 31, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Temporary toilets at Linn of Dee carpark July 2017

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

Pretty no, but effective yes.  These toilets had been brought in because the composting toilets – I know your Chief Executive will say, “I could have told you so” – did not work.   I don’t know why they had gone wrong but what I do know is that National Trust for Scotland, which is under severe financial pressure, appears able to prioritise basic facilities for visitors.   If they can do this, why can’t you?    All your visitor surveys have said there are insufficient public toilets in the National Park.   A hundred portaloos would be a start.   Visitors might even then  be happy to pay a small car parking charge, as they do at Linn of Dee.

July 26, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Abandoned campsite at Firbush Point, Loch Tay just outside the National Park, 30th May                      Photo Credit Stephen Campbell

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

It was stated at your June Board Meeting that there was evidence that fewer campsites are being abandoned in the National Park since the byelaws came into force.   The Your Park consultation never analysed how many campers abandoned tents – my guesstimate is 1%  – so I am not sure what data you have on which to base this claim, but even if the byelaws have had an effect, they may just be displacing this problem elsewhere to Councils who have far fewer resources than you do to clear up the mess.   We don’t ban driving in one area, just because some drivers toss litter out of the window, so why are you trying to ban campers from specific areas because of the actions of the few?

July 25, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The view from the National Park boundary on the bealach between Beinn Odhar and Beinn a’Chaisteil looking north down Glen Coralan, part of the Auch Estate.        Photo Credit Jane Meek 14th May

 

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

What would the poet of these hills, Duncan Ban MacIntyre, who decried the destruction brought by sheep have thought of this?

My old OS map shows only the track on the right, the new tracks appear to have been created as part of one of the Auch hydro schemes.    Your Renewables Policy Guidance talks about influencing windfarm location and design outwith the National Park boundary but say nothing about hydro developments beyond the boundary.  Isn’t it time you did so?  Or are you worried other planning authorities might refer to the new network of tracks in Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart which you have approved and question what example you are setting as a National Park?

 

July 25, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Open fishing shelter. Mr Trout’s dog can be seen to right of stove. He is a joiner and brings his wood for the stove.

The “enforcement” of the camping byelaws

 

Over the last couple of months its become clear that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s Ranger service are not referring anyone to the Procurator Fiscal for breach of the byelaws.  On the one hand this is because the byelaws are almost impossible to enforce against campervans, on the other because current  parkspin is that the National Park is not against campers.   If the Park were to refer a camper, camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, to the Procurator Fiscal that would be a public relations disaster.    The  LLTNPA therefore appear to have agreed to leave referrals to the PF to the police, including the police officer seconded to the Park and whom they employ.

 

The good news about this therefore is that if campers simply ignore the permit zones and go camping, there appears little immediate risk of prosecution.  The worst that is likely to happen is the Rangers will threaten to call the police and if the police do come out – they normally have better things to do than harassing innocent campers – there is some evidence that they are likely to give you another chance to leave.    For the confident overnight camper therefore there are indications that the camping byelaws have lost their bite.    The LLTNPA though is relying on the fear factor – the fear of a £500 fine and criminal record – to deter campers.  Once this goes, the byelaws will be close to collapse.

 

Anglers and the byelaws

 

The position of anglers however is very different because they tend to stay in one spot for day after day. In fact the whole camping byelaw system appears to have been designed to prevent people from fishing in the way they used to, pitching a tent on the loch shores for a few nights or more.  To illustrate this I will consider the case of an angler, who I will call Mr Trout,  because that is his passion, who has been summonsed to appear in Court for allegedly occupying a shelter in breach of the camping byelaws.

 

The byelaws make it an offence to:

 

Mr Trout has been fishing on Loch Earn for 15 years and when I say fishing, we are talking about serious fishing, where he stays up all night (because that is the best time to catch ferox trout) through wind and rain for a period of several weeks each year.  Its what he did on his holidays and he has been going from the 15th March each year.   It sounds just as tough as being tied to a belay in winter and waiting while your mate negotiates their way inch by inch up the next pitch.   Anyway, what he used to do, with the agreement of the estate who sold him the fishing permit, was pitch his tent close to the shore and retreat there to keep warm overnight and then sleep in the day.  It also meant he could keep an eye on his (expensive) tent while fishing.

 

The place he wants to fish – he has been going to the same place for 15 years – is not in a permit zone but, even if it was, that would be little help to him because he fishes for at least a week at a time and the permits create a new offence of returning to a permit zone after three nights (the wording makes it an offence for you to walk back into the zone after the third night, in other words the LLTNPA have criminalised access and not just camping).  Further, when he asked the LLTNPA, they told him they could not guarantee the safety of his tent when it was unattended.  This does not surprise me but splitting people from their tents is just another petty and stupid consequence of the byelaws.

 

This impact on anglers was well put by Drummond Estates, which own the north shore of Loch Earn where Mr Trout fishes, in their response to the Your Park consultation, a response with the LLTNPA ignored:

Mr Trout’s response to the camping byelaws

This year, instead of camping where he normally did, Mr Trout found a place to pitch his tent just outside the camping management zone which was hidden from general view.  He was able to go there during the day to sleep.   Inconvenient, but just about manageable because the camping management zone along Loch Earn is quite narrow.    His difficulty, however, was how to keep himself, and his dog which accompanied him on all his trips, warm at night while fishing.    Unlike some other anglers he does not have a van – and one of the anomalies of the byelaws is if he had a van and been able to drive it onto the beach below, he could have quite lawfully sheltered in that (the offence is to go to sleep in a van off the road network).

 

After discussion with Rangers he was told it was acceptable to put up an open shelter so that is what he did:

When is a shelter not a shelter? The Rangers very sensibly said this was acceptable.

However, this was of limited use in the rain and wind and he then put up a shelter, the sort of shelter which, if used by fisheries scientists working at night, might be called personal protective equipment (see top photo).    Many fishermen have such shelters and prior to the byelaws would retreat to these while fully clothed to get warm.   The camping byelaws made this an offence – its an offence to occupy a shelter.  That provision of the byelaws was  specifically targetted at anglers, as they form the vast majority of people who shelters rather than tents. Hence the response from Drummond Estates to the camping byelaw consultation.

Mr Trout cleared up the site every morning after using it (its his saw and bag in background)

In early April, Mr Trout came to the attention of the Park’s police officer, PC Barr.   Unlike the Rangers, who had been prepared to be flexible, the Park’s police officer was not, told him the shelter had to be removed and, according to Mr Trout, suggested he buy an open sided umbrella (which is allowed under the byelaws).   That’s not much use for keeping people or a dog warm.  The police then came back the next night and charged him for occupying a shelter.

 

Now, you might think, Mr Trout was given a warning – and the fact he was suggests the risk of people who stay only one night being charged is very low – so he got what he deserved.

 

I see it another way.  Mr Trout was standing up for his right to fish, for the rights of all anglers, and if found guilty, the rights of a whole section of the population to enjoy their activity (which they pay for) will have been removed.  That the police are pursuing people like this seems to me a complete waste of police resources.   Indeed, one wonders if the police would ever pursue cases like this unless one of their number, PC Barr, was employed by the National Park Authority.    Anglers are, pardon the phrase, sitting ducks when faced with people determined to enforce the byelaws.

 

The LLTNPA appears to be prejudiced against anglers.  What they have done is lumped together two groups of people, serious anglers who care about and are extremely knowledgeable about the countryside (they have to be to catch fish) and groups of people who may have fishing rods but whose main intention is to party.  I have talked to a water bailiff about this who says the people who have fishing permits are not the problem.  They often, like Mr Trout, visit the same places year after year and have good relationships with the bailiffs (who are also fisherman).  By contrast the people who leave rubbish and party and come under anti-social behaviour legislation are unlikely to have fishing permits.  The Park though, instead of joining forces with the water bailiffs  – and unlike Rangers water bailiffs have significant powers, include powers of arrest  – has ignored.

 

Instead of prosecuting responsible anglers, or anyone else who camps according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for that matter, the Park should have been engaging with those people and using them as allies to tackle the few people who do behave irresponsibly.   Mr Trout is due to go to court in August and it will be interesting to see what happens.   The outcome will have wide significance for everyone who wants to be able to enjoy the countryside responsibly.   Apart from the specifics of the case, prosecuting responsible anglers is I believe in breach of the Park’s statutory duty to promote public enjoyment and understanding of the countyside.

July 21, 2017 Nick Halls 2 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Argyll Forest part of the National Park where I live (see here).

Sligrachan Hill and Beinn Ruadh from the North West across Lock Eck, showing how Sligrachan Hill is cut off by forestry. The forestry continues round into Glen Finart on the far side of the hill.

Recently, as a stage in forestry operations, fencing seems to have proliferated. In the past fencing was usually used to exclude stock from the forest, as sheep purportedly damaged trees, but benefited from using the trees as shelter during bad weather. Apparently, sheep able to shelter in the forests maintain their weight and are more robust at lambing time, increasing the probability of raising twins.

 

When I first arrived in Ardentinny, there was an ongoing squabble between local sheep farmers and the Forestry Commission about maintaining fencing.  Outdoor instructors were caught in the cross fire as scapegoats, accused of damaging fencing by both parties. In practice, wherever fences were crossed regularly styles were constructed, but in many cases fencing was old and decayed.

 

After the great storm in 1968, the issue evaporated as Forestry trees were blown over destroying stock enclosures, throughout the forestry estate. I assume the Forestry Commission was liable because it was forestry trees that did the damage!

 

Ordinary stock fencing does not impede access very much, it’s annoying but not insurmountable, and can usually be negotiated without damage as long as a fence is in reasonable condition. Informal styles can be erected.  Now it seems that as stock rearing declines the beasts to be excluded are deer and people.

 

There seemed to be a resident Red deer and Roe deer population [often interbreeding with non-native Sika deer] but there was also long range migration of Red deer during bad winters.  For years, the local Red deer population migrated from pasture to pasture virtually unobstructed. They were informally described as ‘bed and breakfast’ deer as they lived in the woods and grazed on open hillsides.   Due to this way of life they were often bigger than the deer on stalking estates, and more akin to the forest deer of Europe. It was once suggested that there were two species, one a forest species and the other an upland, open hillside species [a distinction might have arisen due to interbreeding with Sika deer].

 

This seems to suggest that fencing, whether to keep deer out of forests or on an open stalking estate, has an impact on the condition of beasts, and interbreeding with a dilution of the pure bred native species. Bread and breakfast deer tend to do well, and the open hillside deer often fail to survive severe winters, underweight and starving, especially in over stocked localities from which they have difficulty migrating.

 

Recently I have seen far fewer Red deer, and those observed seem to be single deer rather than part of a group. The red deer population may have been culled.

 

I recall being told how important ‘wildlife corridors’ are to maintaining wildlife populations and bio diversity.

 

‘A wildlife corridor is a link of wildlife habitat, generally native vegetation, which joins two or more larger areas of similar wildlife habitat. Corridors are critical for the maintenance of ecological processes including allowing for the movement of animals and the continuation of viable populations’ ‘separated by human activities or structures [such as, roads, development, or logging].’

 

The increasing use of deer fencing to parcel out areas of forest or rough grazing effectively reduces access to much of the land, particularly the open hill, for both man and beast.  I seem to recall the aspiration of the Forestry Commission in Scotland was once a fenceless forest estate.

 

The bealach between Glen Finart and Loch Eck side is called the Larach [presumably because there was once a homestead or shieling on the Larach Hill].   High ground connects the open hillsides of Sligrachan Hill with the open hillside above Cnoc Madaidh, during two cycles of forestry activity it remained, intentionally or otherwise, a ‘corridor’ for deer migrating to the open hillside to the north, and back to the more sheltered forestry edge, which is sheltered from the prevailing westerly gales.

 

The public road and forestry access roads did not constitute significant obstructions to deer movement as traffic is light during the day and almost absent at night.   The following photographs, all taken from public or forestry roads, show how the corridor has been obstructed by deer fencing,

 

This fencing is to protect an area of natural regeneration or planting with native trees, but it has only two access points. I am not sure how effective it is for excluding deer, as I have observed deer clear such fencing from the uphill side by an almost standing jump, but it certainly excludes me from whichever direction I approach it.

 

Informal crossing is obviously difficult, but extended lengths of fencing with no robust straining posts implies attempts to cross by climbing over is likely to damage the fence.

 

 

The grazing pressure does seem greater outside the fence but it effectively excludes access by humans. It also makes one wonder whether, if the habitat inside the fence needs to be protected at this stage, how natural the regeneration will be if it will eventually have to survive grazing by deer.   It seems incoherent to try to create an ecological community, that will eventually include deer, by initially excluding them from it!     I seem to recall that such fencing is to be removed, but have not noticed any sign of older fencing around more mature forest planting being removed.

 

Other examples in the same area, probably less than a square kilometre.

Recently created deer fencing, replacing decayed stock fence.

This very new deer fencing replaces a stock fence, it’s not clear why if a stock fence has sufficed for half a century or more. It is not immediately obvious whether it is to keep deer in or out, but it encloses a big area that used to be part of an orienteering map, used for National Competitions.

 

The enclosed area used to be informally called the ‘Park’, and used for seasonal grazing of sheep gathered from the hillside between Glen Finart and Loch Goil, and farmed jointly by farmers from the same family at Sligrachan and Carrick.

Camouflaged fencing, quite deep within recently planted woodland

This fencing excludes access to very closely planted Scots Pine. I am not conversant with its original purpose, but one would imagine it is about time it was removed.  I am not sure why planting has to be so close, but presume it must be so that ‘survival of the fittest’ allows some trees to ‘reach for the sky’ growing straight and thin, with few side branches, while others are shaded out and die off. In the Sitka plantations, such dead and dying trees are not thinned, but fall and further obstruct access.

 

Looking at this hillside, compared with nearby remnants of mature Scots Pine groves [on the sky line], it seems likely that as many as two thirds of the trees will never reach ‘economic’ maturity, and substantial mortality will occur to get a viable crop of similar sized trees. If such a high proportion of trees are going to die or be thinned, one wonders why bother to fence it as beasts are unlikely to do the equivalent amount of damage. There seems no obvious difference between the grazing pressure within and outside the fencing, one would imagine that the economic value of the eventual crop will be similar, inside and outside the fencing.

Note lack of any sign of forestry rides, which used to exist in this area in previous forestry cycles.

I am not sure why this fence was emplaced, but it excludes access directly from the road, but more significantly obstructs access to the road for someone coming off the hill, on a winter’s day in poor light. Circumnavigating it might add a kilometre or more of additional travel.

 

The combination of impenetrable forest and deer fencing could pose a serious hazard for an unwary visitor, descending from Beinn Ruadh via Sligrachan Hill, by increasing the risk of being benighted, injury and exhaustion/exposure. Such obstructions are not shown on a GPS or OS 1:50,000 map.

 

Post script

Soon the poseur, ‘survivalists’, given unwarranted promotion by the media, who have encouraged much of the egregious recreational behavior witnessed today, e.g. campfires, disposable BBQ’s, fragile folding seats, and semi disposable popup tents, will be recommending naïve urban adventurers to carry a bush knife and wire cutters, with their multi tools, folding saws and GPS.

 

‘The leave no sign, do no damage, and pass as if you have never been’ philosophy has been undermined by a marketing operation and commercial imperative to turn outdoor recreation equipment into a mass consumer market at considerable cost to the environment.

 

Between 1965 and 2000, thousands of children journeyed through the area and camped, during expeditions from the formerly numerous outdoor education establishments – they left so little ‘sign’ they might never have existed. A similar thing could be said of the School camps, summer camps for children organized by churches and Scout Groups who used the area from the 1930’s onwards. It is equally true of youngsters currently involved in Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions, who are now restricted to Forest Roads and manufactured paths, rather than being ‘impelled’ into an experience of wild countryside.

 

Little wonder visitors may think they can arrive in a car, walk ten steps and have a wilderness experience, but this lack of real connection is fabricated by a progressive removal of possibilities to do anything much more adventurous, than ‘Park & Pitch’.   Already over used and abused sites do not encourage respect, but confirm urban values and an expectation that it is somebody else’s responsibility to tidy them up after use. This is evident at the Duck Bay picnic area.

 

I am persuaded that influences are interactive; distorted media presentations of outdoor experience that are hard to distinguish from marketing, sales of useless fragile outdoor equipment, restriction of access causing concentrated use of ‘honey pot’ sites, destructive behavior by people unused to handling themselves in the countryside and land managers deciding to exclude them from their land.

 

This is re-inforced by the disinclination of the operators of caravan and chalet parks, developed on the site of former camping grounds, to cater for campers at all.  The result is ‘exclusion’ of temporary visitors of all descriptions, with a reduction of ‘visitor experience’ to an urbanized familiarity, against a back drop of hills, forests and lochs.

 

This discourages access to the NP, other than day visits, by people barely able to afford a social rent, or who are saving for a deposit for a first home, or intermittently have to resort to food banks, but favors ‘exclusivity’ for second home owners [a residential caravan apparently costs about £39,000, plus site rental and Council Tax].

 

I feel this is not what a National Park should be all about!

July 19, 2017 Bruce Biddulph 12 comments

By Bruce Biddulph, local resident of Balloch and amateur historian

Mackinnon Wood                                                                                       Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Whilst we await the first views of any precise plans that the developer has for Balloch’s Drumkinnon Woods and the west bank of the River Leven (see here) and (see here for example), we can only guess and fear what these will be.

Drumkinnon Woods is the green upside down horse-shoe shaped piece of land in the middle of the map

What does not seem to be an outlandish concern however is the question of access and what will happen to areas of this large parcel of land, which will also be linked to the lands around the old Woodbank Hotel, formerly the medieval estate of Stuckroger.

It may be helpful in this vacuum to pause and consider the history of this area, as the commonly accepted belief is that all of this land is a result of industrial decay, which of course means that the justification for Scottish Enterprise’s plans is “anything is better than dereliction”.

The wood is rich in plantlife, a sign of its age Photo Credit Bruce Biddulph

Even among locals there is the persistent idea that this is simply waste ground where trees have took root. That is true in the riverside area beside the Leven, for here sat the railway sidings up until the 1950s and the railway to the pier itself was uprooted back in the 1980s.

However in the middle of this swathe of land from the Leven to Woodbank is Drumkinnon Wood.

Drumkinnon Wood has kept its boundaries by and large since the early 18th Century and was a wooded area with fields surrounding it in the 1700s. This much is easily gleaned from maps of those times.

The popular misconception, one that has permitted SE to even think about selling off the woods to a private developer, is that these trees only grew from the ruins of the former British Silk Dyeing Co factory as well as the destruction of the sandy bay itself by quarrying for sand in the middle of the 20th Century.

However true that may be it is not true that the wood itself was a product of these two 20th Century disruptions to the once beautiful and idyllic lands of Drumkinnon.

Where the factory stood is more or less where houses stand now. The perimeter of the wood between the factory and the quarrying of sand was fixed and follows the line of the access road that was expanded during the infilling of the ‘pits’ left by the sand-mining and the creation of Lomond Shores.

In short, the factory was demolished and houses were built on its site, whilst the scarred remains of the sand pits were turned into a deep lagoon and Lomond Shores. Between the two lies and forever did lie since the 1800s, the Drumkinnon Wood. Both the factory and the extensive sand mining were products of the 20th Century.

The development of the Lomond Shores project included the woods and paths were created through them for residents and vistors to the new ‘attraction’ alike. Since then the old wood has been a firm favourite with dog walkers, families showing their children the wonders of nature and for anyone who simply enjoys a stroll in the woods. Unlike Balloch Park the wood does not suffer from huge amounts of visitors and retains a sense of ‘the wild’ that the Park cannot always deliver or obvious and even welcome reasons, as it is so well used and loved.

 

 

Like the Fisherwood which sits between the railway and the Leven further down, Drumkinnon is a survivor of 19th and 20th Century upheaval.

It and the much diminished sandy beach are the last remnants of what was once a beauty spot with a history of common involvement that survives to this day.

Handing these two remnants of Drumkinnon that have came through the years still with us and being passed into the hands of a profit-making corporation is a prospect that should alarm all of us.

Having put signs up at the edge of the wood saying “no camping”, one of Scottish Enterprise’s ideas for the development of Drumkinnon Wood is to provide glamping pods

At the very least we need assurances that the developers are not given carte blanche to do as they wish, and the untold history of Drumkinnon is an omission that should shame a public body such as Scottish Enterprise who have done little to find out what the property itself is all about except as “derelict land”.

This has poisoned public opinion against the woods themselves as they are seen merely as painful reminders of a lost factory that was the source of stable employment in Balloch since 1930.

It is imperative that we recognise this is a distortion of our history and leaves Drumkinnon Wood in a position it does not deserve and we the people should be ashamed for permitting the sale of a wood to a private developer. There is adequate land for developments elsewhere in the immediate area that at present are poor fields of little apparent value, having themselves been disrupted by the building of the by-pass, perhaps these should be looked to as possible sites for hotels and restaurants and whatever else the developers and SE have in mind, instead of the destruction, however minimal, of a wood that is at least two centuries old and has loyal visitors to it young and old today.

The moorings along the Leven from the Riverside site

There are other issues here, such as mooring rights in the Leven as well as the sandy beach itself, which appears to be zoned for the developer’s use as well. That these three areas are areas that have been enjoyed by locals and vistors freely, in some cases for centuries, with no need of deep pockets, perhaps we have to ask if we are looking here at another form of Highland Clearance. It seems as is the case with the priorities of the LLTNPA, that upmarket middle income earners are preferred to people with little or no income in this National Park of ours.

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Zone C Firkin Point

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!

Zone B is more sloping than it appears and the only vaguely flat area is at the top

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.

July 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The black line marks the approximate line of the proposed construction track which the developer wishes to be retained permanently seen from the upper slopes of the walkers path from Benmore farm to the summit of Benmore

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.

View of the intake from north west shoulder Ben More.

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

The map shows – more accurately than my amateur attempt in the top photo! – the two sections of new track, the powerhouse, the location of the pipeline and the intakes

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.

Part of the Allt Essan hydro scheme on the north side of Glen Dochart – powerhouse centre

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.

Forestry track Creag a Phuirt

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.

A very rough indication of location of track and intakes. The four intakes are situated on burns which flow into the two plantations (the central burn is not part of the scheme).

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?

Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: 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.

Application Summary
Address: Benmore Farm Crianlarich Stirling FK20 8QS
Proposal: Construction of a run of river hydropower scheme
Case Officer: Julie Gray

 

Comments Details
Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: 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
July 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A road to nowhere? How would anyone know that this road led to the former Tarbert Isle campervan area and still existing tent permit area? There are no signs

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 signage – now redundant – only appears when you reach the edge of the so-called permit area

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.

The campervan permit places at Firkin Point are in the no parking area – which raises more legal questions than I care to cover here!

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.

July 10, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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”.

July 7, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls,  resident of Ardentinny

Cleared rhododendron Glen Finart                                                                               All photos by the author

This is the third in a sequence of reports (see here) and (here) on the impact of Forestry Commission Scotland practices in the Argyll Forest Park, which forms the south western part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

 

Rhododendron ponticum, an invasive species, was apparently introduced to the area by the Victorians, to provide shelter for game birds. DNA analysis suggests that most if not all invasive bushes originate from the Iberian Peninsula. Rhododendron ponticum seems to be a hybrid species, particularly suited to acidic soils in areas of high humidity.

 

It has been shown to reduce the number of earthworms, birds and plants, but also the regenerative capacity of a site. In fact, where I live, there seems to be no wildlife at all.

Slope from which rhododendron branches from a sequence of cutting campaigns have been cleared and burned, illustrating the lack of regeneration

Eradication of non-native invasive species, Rhododendron ponticum.

Racks of cut rhododendron, left in banks obstructing access, note the regrowth in the background, as it appears that no follow up spraying has taken place.

Wild Park 2020, the National Park’s plan for nature conservation, included measures to eradicate non-native species one of which is:

 

Management to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum, from 50% of the National Forest Estate within the National Park has been put in place and clearance programmes are underway and on schedule for completion

 

Nothing wrong with the objective, its the way its being done which is the problem.   When I asked, I was informed that burning the cuttings was not an option due to the fire hazard to the trees, and chipping would be too expensive. It was asserted racks of branches would soon decay, and in the interim, would harbor wild life. I have seen no evidence of either happening.

This has been described by visitors as a dark impenetrable wet desert.

The racks of recent rhododendron cuttings, overlay two layers from previous campaigns of cuttings, separated by about a decade each. Note the regeneration of rhododendron through the cuttings, making it difficult to spray the regrowth effectively. In another decade, the area will be as bad as ever, but even more impenetrable!

 

Note also the relative sparsity of the surviving trees.  One would have imagined that the rhododendron cuttings could have been burned and stumps exposed to be treated, by spraying with a herbicide.

One can only come to the conclusion that the process is so poorly implemented and ‘quality’ checked, that public money is being wasted year after year, and no consideration at all is given to recreational use of the Forest estate.

The outlook from this area is spectacular.

Before the most recent campaign of cutting I had never explored the area, had no idea how interesting and varied it is, and was inspired to clear paths through obstructions in order to make access possible for neighbors, particularly visiting children.   However, these are just ‘desire lines’ and it is Forestry policy that such informal routes will not be conserved.

 

The linguistics are interesting and bluntly affirm that what the public might ‘desire’ is sacrificial if it inconveniences forestry operations. It treats local residents and visitors with contempt.

 

I no longer accept this order of precedence, not in a National Park and on land held and managed in trust for the public, by a body whose founding objectives included sustaining the rural population and encouraging recreational use if the forest estate.

 

In a country trying to promote active lifestyles, plagued by obesity and heart disease, where children seldom have access to places where they can explore, gain self-confidence and become self-reliant in their own countryside, it makes no sense.

 

It speaks to a lack of coordination of public policy and/or lack of accountability of a public body, both to its original constitutional purpose and the public interest.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority was set up to promote and enable public access, for visitors and local people.  It appears to have  ignored the impact of FCS “conservation practices”, whether these are achieving their objectives and their impact  on the public’s right to enjoy the outdoors.   A new objective should be added to the new draft National Park Partnership Plan, that FCS should to develop new and more effective ways to clear invasive species such as rhododendron and engage with local people and recreational organisations to re-establish access in the Argyll Forest Park.