Category: Loch Lomond and Trossachs

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This afternoon, following the debate last week (see here), there is motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for an independent inquiry into the way the Scottish Parliament deals with Information Requests:

That the Parliament condemns the Scottish Government’s poor performance in responding to freedom of information requests; calls for an independent inquiry into the way that it deals with these, and agrees to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

 

This issue should transcend party politics (the motion is being proposed by Tory MSP Edward Mountain).  To me, the motion does not go far enough and the inquiry should include all public authorities.

 

There is an amendment to the motion from Joe Fitzpatrick (SNP) which I also think is also very welcomes:

 

“insert at end “, and welcomes commitments by the Scottish Government to adopt a policy of pro-actively publishing all material released under FOI to ensure that it is as widely available as possible.”

 

This provision too should be applied to ALL public authorities.   As evidence for this, so far this year the LLTNPA has published just two pieces of information it has supplied under Freedom of Information or the Environmental Information Regulations (see here).    The LLTNPA responds to most information requests under the EIRs and so far this year I know there have been at least 43 requests for information under the Environmental Information Regulations as each are numbered (see here for latest).    2 out of 43 means the LLTNPA publishes less than 5% of all information responses.  I have written to Joe Fitzpatrick suggesting that it should be obligatory on all public authorities to publish all responses.

 

The latest response from the LLTNPA, which followed my request for the Park to make public the management plans it had agreed with estate owners,  raises another issue about how public authorities are circumventing Freedom of Information – by refusing to release them on grounds of commercial sensitivity or confidentiality.

 

Central to the purpose of our National Parks is the way land is managed and it is right that our National Park Authorities work with landowners to improve this.  That a National Park Authority is, however, refusing to make public what it has agreed with individual landowners about how their land should be managed  is, I suggest, a matter for serious public concern.  Just why the National Park needs – or why private estates would supply the National Park with – commercial information I am not sure  but the simple answer is for the LLTNPA to remove the commercial information from the estate plans it has agreed and make them public.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority publishes estate management plans on its website http://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/land-management/estate-management/  so why can’t Scotland’s other National Park?

 

The LLTNPA has also recently refused to release monitoring data for the Cononish goldmine  on grounds of commercial confidentiality EIR 2017-041 Response cononish.   This raises equally serious issues.  What the LLTNPA appears to be saying is that it won’t make public information which would show the extent to which developers are abiding by planning conditions.

 

This is not just an issue with the National Park.  Its part of a much wider neo-liberal agenda to liberate private companies from the constraints of law and regulation.  Aditya Chakrabortty put this extremely well in a fine article in the Guardian yesterday https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/20/engels-britain-murders-poor-grenfell-tower:  

 

Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism“.

 

It would be hard to find a better description for how the LLTNPA is operating at present.

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In a post on Monday (see here) I originally suggested that as well as the photo on the front cover of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs draft Annual Report being unrepresentative, it might have been taken from outwith an area where camping was allowed.  I was wrong and I apologise for this.  The LLTNPA photo was taken from Suie Field permit area and the post has been corrected.

Photo taken at nightfall 19th June of patch of ground featured on front cover of Annual Report. The fire place on left of grass sward also appears in photo of annual report behind and left of tent.       Photo Credit Nick Halls

 

I am very grateful to Nick Halls for checking this.  His photos show that while I was wrong to question where the Park’s photo had been taken, the way the LLTNPA photo has been framed portrays what is a small patch of ground in a certain way,  (which is partly why I did not recognise it).

Photo credit Nick Halls

The LLTNPA photo does not show is relationship between the patch of ground in the photo – which looks great – and the surrounding area.   The photo above, without tent, provides what I would argue is a more accurate depiction of the reality.  A tangle of vegetation now covers much of Suie field (seen here on right) – which makes camping impossible over much of the area, leaving a couple of small patches of grass sward suitable for tents at the edge of the beach.   There is no need to take my word on this, the Park website currently provides photos giving very different views of Suie Field  (see here – click on photos under Suie Field)  although you might not realise from these how bumpy the tufted grass areas are for camping purposes.   The photo on the front page of the Annual Report does not at present feature in that portrayal of Suie field, possibly because at the time those photos were taken, the patch depicted in the Annual Report had been recently flooded and looked rather different.

 

There is a serious issue here about how photos are being used by the LLTNPA to try and persuade people to accept its world view.    The dozens of photos of abandoned tents, often of the same abandoned campsite taken from different angles, which the LLTNPA used to persuade people to agree to access rights being curtailed, framed the whole camping byelaw debate.   The LLTNPA is now using its media team to try and convince the public that its camping friendly and is doing all it can to welcome campers.    That’s not true, as I hope posts on camping permit areas over the last few months have shown.   Its vitally important though that in countering Park propaganda, its critics don’t use the same tactics and acknowledge and correct mistakes.  Hence my apology.

June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The official consultation on the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) 2018-23 closes on Monday 3rd July.  The NPPP is the key document governing what the LLTNPA is supposed to do over the next five years so its important people respond.   In this post I will take an overview of the consultation documents and then, in three further posts, will consider the three themes in the consultation, Conservation and Land Management, Rural Development and Visitor Experience, which broadly mirror the National Park’s statutory objectives.     I hope people with an interest in our National Parks will respond to the consultation and that these posts may inform those responses.    Its easy to be cynical about consultations, and I believe the LLTNPA consultation  demonstrates just how hollowed out consultation processes have become, but public pressure does work.   A good example is the pledge which was added to the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan to eliminate raptor persecution over the next five years.  Pressure needs to be exerted on the LLTNPA to radically up its game.

 

Where is the review of the current NPPP?

 

A rational starting point for developing any new plan should be a review of existing plans, covering matters such as successes, failures and consideration as to what needs to change.    The current NPPP,  2012-17, was initially reviewed on an annual basis, at a meeting chaired by the Environment Minister.     The Reviews are available on the LLTNPA website NPPPlan but you will never come across these if you go straight to the consultation pages and  there is no mention of them in the consultation documents nor is there any explanation of why the last one was in 2014.  Had the reviews been undertaken as originally intended, the information from them could have been fed into the new planning process.   Instead, publicly at least, there is a huge hole.

 

What the last review in 2014 does show is that the LLTNPA was facing certain serious issues and was lacking data on critical issues.

Extract from NPPP Review

Note how the LLTNPA classed a drop in percentage of designated conservation sites in favourable conditions with an “equals” symbol, meaning there was nothing to worry about.  And, were the LLTNPA to have collected data on % of visitors satisfied with cleanliness of the countryside I suspect there would have been a massive drop from 86%.   This raises the question about whether the LLTNPA is now simply operating in a post-truth environment, that its not collecting and reporting data because it would not support its marketing hype.  Other measures from 2013-14 were even worse:  a drop in the percentage of new affordable housing from a baseline of 75% to 43% and a drop in new business start ups.

 

Where is the consultation on the issues the LLTNPA is facing?

 

The consultation documents do not ask people to consider the issues the National Park faces, quite a contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority consultation which was based around “The Big 9” issues they had identified.   The only place that there is any  consideration of the issues is in the Strategic Environment Assessment which most people won’t read as nowhere in the consultation does it suggest this might be worth reading.  I can see why, because the SEA  explains how the consultation should have been undertaken:

 

“the dynamic assessment of environmental objectives / targets with
trends data can help to identify emerging environmental issues that should ideally be
addressed early on.”

 

It then goes on to highlight “the most critical environmental issues (problems and opportunities) that should be considered in the development of the NPPP 2018-2023”.   Nowhere does the LLTNPA explain how these issues have informed the development of the NPPP, indeed its not clear they have been considered at all.
Its well worth looking at Appendix 3 to the SEA to see how the LLTNPA is actually doing.  Here is an example:
And here’s another:   “The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures.”
So we have a draft NPPP which makes almost no mention of the serious issues the NPPP faces.  This is a fundamental failing, nay a dereliction of duty – the plan has no foundations.

An outcomes based plan

 

Instead of considering the evidence and what issues it faces the draft NPPP starts and ends with a consideration of outcomes.   It appears that what is driving this is the Scottish Government’s National Outcome framework.

If our National Parks really have a “significant contribution” to “making our Education system world class”, why then is there no commitment to re-open outdoor education centres throughout the National Park?

While our National Parks can contribute to some national outcomes, actually that’s not their primary purpose, which is to meet their statutory objectives.  The Plan though, instead of considering how it can meet those statutory objectives, is full of meaningless claims to be contributing to certain outcomes.

Near the top of each section in the plan there is this graphic – a graphic illustration of priorities.  While the civil servants must be slavering all this does is make the LLTNPA look like a meaningless pawn controlled by central government.
The outcomes themselves,  are very worthy – it would be hard to object to any of them – but so broad as to be meaningless.
Conservation outcomes from the NPPP
If they were meaningful the LLTNPA should be able to explain the extent to which the outcomes are being met at present.    They have made no attempt to do so.   The problem is the first two  consultation questions are devoted to asking people if they agree with these very broad statements:
Its unlikely any people will disagree.   The Park has then identified a number of priorities for each outcome without any analysis of why that priority makes sense and again the priority is so broadly defined its rarely possible to tell what if anything the LLTNPA and its partners are planning to do:
Extract from conservation priorities. In this slide only under priority 4 does the LLTNPA give an indication of what might be going to happen.
The danger is that anyone who agrees with the priorities as proposed will be treated by the LLTNPA as agreeing to whatever actions they have or have not planned to do.  It is amazing that under the conservation of landscape priority the only two actions are actually about altering, one might say “destroying”,  the natural landscape.

The secret and biased consultation process

The draft plan does not explain how its been developed or how priorities might have been selected.  To know this you need to read the LLTNPA’s Annual Report approved by its Board this week:

“The close of the year saw the Board approve our new draft National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23  for consultation following a hugely positive workshop with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss important issues and potential priorities. This presented an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the current plan.

 

To this end, a comprehensive discussion paper was developed and a day-long event was held for partners that have a role to play in the delivery of the new Plan”

 

So why is the comprehensive discussion paper not public and why has the LLTNPA not told the public what it believes these achievements were?   (I have asked for these to be made public immediately).

 

What I do know is that the LLTNPA selected the invitees to the consultation meeting very carefully and the range of “stakeholders” was limited:   recreational and other organisations were not invited to the main workshop though there was a later briefing.    No wonder the NPPP gives no consideration to issues like the destruction of landscape and failures in conservation in the National Park.

 

Nowhere in the NPPP are the organisations which represent people who visit the National Park treated as partners or even key stakeholders.  A fundamental failing – although of course the glossy brochure is full of photos of the people such organisations represent.

How does the NPPP fit with other Strategies and Policies?

 

Unlike the Cairngorms NPPP, which attempted to describe how their NPPP fitted with out plans that had been agreed for the area,  the LLTNPA makes almost no mention of other local plans or targets and how they might feed into the NPPP.   There are references to national plans and strategies, but generally this is again at a very high level and so broad as to be meaningless.

 

Part of the issue is that the LLTNPA has far fewer plans and strategies than the CNPA and those that it does have tend to be focussed on developments (Callander and Balloch).   It does though have a biodiversity plan, Wild Park 2012 (see here) with lots of detailed actions and targets.  How this fits with the NPPP, how its informed priorities and whether the LLTNPA is committed to a new biodversity action plan is unclear.

 

The draft NPPP would have us believe it is joined up to everything when the reality is it appears joined up to almost nothing and practically empty of real commitments from either the LLTNPA or the organisations it has identified as its partners.

 

Not all of this is the fault of the LLTNPA, much comes down to austerity – our public authorities are no longer being allowed to plan to do things which could improve everyone’s lives.   But in my view our National Park Authorities out loud about resources,  not just for themselves but for other partners, if any of its statutory objectives are to be achieved.

 

What needs to happen

 

People and organisations need to put pressure on the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government.   A good start would be to respond to the NPPP objecting to the failure by the LLTNPA to review progress under the existing NPPP, consider the multitude of information about what is actually going on in the Park and the serious issues it faces.  People should then use that reality to inform what issues they  would like the LLTNPA to address in the new plan.

 

The LLTNPA needs to ensure that the new NPPP is based on a proper analysis of the evidence it holds and needs to take a critical look at how its being doing in relation to its statutory objectives.

 

I will cover the detail of this in posts over the next 10 days.

June 19, 2017 Nick Halls 3 comments

 By Nick Halls (resident of Ardentinny)

This is the first of a sequence of reports focused on access around Glen Finart in the Argyll Forest Park, which is part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

The path was a traditional route, and Right of Way, that has existed since at least the 1940’s, but possibly much longer.

An indication of the permanence and investment in the route, possibly dating back to when the bay was a camp used for training Beach Commandos, and subsequently by Forestry Workers recruited from the unemployed of Glasgow.

This can hardly be regarded as a dispensible‘desire line’ that does not need to be preserved if it causes inconvenience to felling operations.

The track is signposted, part of the core path network, and is the route from the bay carpark to Loch Goil, following the shore of Loch Long. It joins two communities.

 

The pedestrian sections  are scenic, and relatively non-strenuous. It is a popular and historically important ‘transhumance’ route, that used to connect farms and holdings, now disappeared due to forestry operations.

The path ascends through pleasant natural woodland, and is well established but not over engineered and badly aligned as is the current practice. It has the gradient of a route that was used for carrying goods and probably used by pack animals.

Then this! Despite years of use and in an area of heavy rain, with almost no maintenance, it shows almost no sign of erosion. The resilience of the path testifies to the poor understanding of those responsible for aligning and constructing recreational paths today.

Leading to this. Over the years, I have cleared the path on a number of occasions of wind blow, minor obstructions arising from the growth of commercial forestry, and encroaching Rhododendron, but clearing this would be a monumental task.

 

And, to add insult to injury, this!

 

Needless to remark nothing has been done to clear the path, presumably its open for access, but users will need to clear the route and re-establish a viable track, as if it were merely a ‘desire line’.

 

There is no indication that the path will be reinstated, just that access will be restored, if one can find one’s way.

The obliterated path runs up the shoulder between the two burns above the end northern end of the beach.

The scenic impact of the clearfell, with the progressive degradation of the landscape quality by the patchwork of ‘industrial’ forestry operations, that will continue as the cycle progresses. Scenes like this are very unusual in other Western European National Parks.

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, as Access Authority, at the very least needs to ensure Forestry Commission Scotland restores this path.

June 19, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The photo on the cover of the draft LLTNPA annual report, to be considered at the Board Meeting today, shows just the sort of places people would like to camp.   Short turf by the loch shores where they can fish or paddle and which is exposed to the breeze – good for keeping the midges at bay.  The problem is that the LLTNPA has provided hardly a single place which matches this vision under its permit scheme.  Instead the permit areas are in conifer forest (eg Forest Drive), on sloping pebbly beaches (e.g Firkin Point) or in boggy ill drained fields (e.g North Loch Venachar).   Indeed in its new campsite at Loch Chon the LLTNPA has deliberately stopped people camping by the loch shore.

 

The photo in the annual report misrepresents the truth, because its not representative of what the Park is about.  It also appears to be a lie.   The tent appears posed for the camera.  No-one is camping here.  A Park official appears to have put the tent up for the cameras.   And the location?  It is on the west shore of Loch Lomond, with Ben Lomond behind.  [NB this section has been updated since original post].  Having visited Suie Field a couple of times the photo bore almost no resemblance to what I had witnessed there, which was a lumpy field and some bare ground down by the shore:

 

I therefore wrongly assumed it could not have been taken from Suie field and that the photo must have been taken either at the mouth of the Douglas Water at Inverbeg or at Culag where camping is only allowed on the beach in which case I said Park staff would have been guilty of an Orwellian distortion of the facts.   It turns out I got this wrong, for which I apologise.  The photo is taken from Suie Field and if you look very carefully on far mid-left of the photo you can just see the point at Inverbeg.  I am very grateful to Nick Halls who has been out to all three locations to check and has confirmed that there is indeed now an area that matches that on which the tent is photographed at Suie Field.

 

It did not look like that in March or April though.  Two things have happened.  First the area is, when the Loch is high, underwater as is evidenced by a tidemark above the sward on which the tent was pitched.  Second, since the water has receded there has been a vigorous growth of grass.

 

That same vigorous growth has affected the area above the bank which, though lumpy before, is now almost uncampable.   Nick reports that there are a couple of places where vegetation has been kept down by people regularly pitching tents there.   The rest is a jungle.

 

So, while I was wrong about the location of the photo, I was right to say it is not representative of areas where camping is allowed in the National Park or even of Suie Field.

[end of update]

 

This matters, because Annual Reports are meant to be about good governance and have consequences.   Board Members see the pictures presented by staff and think all is well.  It matters too because the Report will land on the desk of the Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, who knows the Park has being doing very little apart the camping laws, will see the photo, and think “isn’t this  fantastic”, completely unaware about how she is being manipulated.

 

 

Deputation to the LLTNPA Board

The Coilessan permit area is far more typical and this is probably the best place to camp there, sloping ground, tree roots and all. Most of the permit area looks like the slope behind.

It was precisely because there is such a mismatch between the speak and spin put out by senior Park staff and reality, that I had asked to lead a deputation to the Board today.  I had asked to speak to them all the evidence that has been published on Parkswatch about the camping permit areas and the selective application of the camping byelaws.    I think the Board need to deal with truth, not spin.

 

On Friday however we withdrew the request for a deputation (for the timebeing) after James Stuart, the new LLTNPA convener, agreed to a meeting.  The Park procedures are such that the Board needs to consider a request for a deputation at the start of the meeting and there was no guarantee I and the others on the deputation would have been heard.  (Our request appeared on the agenda as “Deputation” – without giving the public any indication of what this matter about).    We think its therefore better to try talking first, something the new convener has committed to doing –  a contrast to the previous convener Linda McKay.

 

The downside is that I am not sure any LLTNPA Board Member this afternoon will be sufficiently informed this afternoon to question either the Annual Report or the update on Your Park which is again full of parkspin and parkspeak.   We will see!

June 18, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Coilessan Glen. Glen Douglas nuclear weapons store is scar in distance on far side Loch Long.

Back in March, hillwalker Rod McLeod, wrote an excellent report (see here) on Walk Highland about new track work he came across in Coilessan Glen,  west of Loch Long, in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   The glen is an important recreational route, being taken by the Cowal Way, and has recently become even more popular since Cnoc an Coinnich, the hill south of the Brack, was promoted to Corbett status.

 

Forestry Commission Scotland owns the land and also promote a cycle ride here:

You might think therefore FCS would have an interest in improving the landscape and amenity in the area.  The Argyll Forest Park is the oldest in Britain, created in 1935 and in its blurb the FCS exhort people to  “Discover this beautiful, tree-cloaked corner of Scotland to walk, ride and relax in Britain’s oldest forest park.”

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The upgraded track below the “Dukes Path”, the Coilessan burn is just beyond the Duke of Edinburgh Group centre right and the Brack behind

Instead  FCS has upgraded part of the existing track network in Coilessan Glen by dumping aggregate on the earlier track.  There is no planning application on the Loch Lomond and National Park Planning portal and the LINK Hill track group (see here) was not aware of the track through the prior notification system.   While its possible the LINK hill track group missed the notification, its also possible that because this was an “upgrade” to an existing track the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority did not have to be notified (I will try and find out).

A sizeable new quarry has been created to source the new material for the track (the boulders in the middle ground are large) and gives some idea of how much aggregrate has been dumped on top of the existing tracks.  In my view this should have required planning permission in the National Park.

The quality of the finishing – there was no evidence that machines are still  on site or that the work is not regarded as complete – is extremely poor.  It might be more accurate to say non-existent in places.   Its does not appear likely that the FCS will try and extract trees up this corner so what is the argument for leaving it like this, apart from cost?   This should not be acceptable in a National Park, whatever the commercial imperatives to extract timber.

The Dukes path looking north. The turn off to lower track is just beyond the transit, while that to the upper track is just behind the viewer.

The Dukes Path has been spared the upgrading work so far and gives an idea of what the tracks looked like previously.   The silt trap is to catch the silt that is being washed down from the new track just above.   The crushed schist forms a very fine material which is likely to continue to wash out of the new track surface for some time.

The Dukes path and Loch Long from start of the track as it heads up the glen

The lack of care for the landscape at the micro level is demonstrated not just by the abandoned pipe and decapitated cone but by the spoil heap at the side of the “new” track.   The lack of care at the landscape level is demonstrated by the conifer replanting either side of the Dukes Path.   This was one of the few sections of the Dukes Path where the walker is not hemmed in by forest on either side but but instead of using the felling as an opportunity to create a more diverse landscape, the replanting will have obscured the view completely in another 20 years.

Section of Cat Craigs track north of Coilessan which offers no views.

This photo also illustrates difference between repairing a track surface compared to the upgrading work at Coilessan (below). The bare bank on left appears to date from original construction.

The history of a lack of care here is also demonstrated by the spoil to the left of the new track which has partly revegetated.  It may date from earlier tree felling.  Material from the new track will erode down the hillside.

The surface of the track is now firmer than two months ago, when Rod McLeod took his photos, and appears to have consolidated to an extent.   I passed the Duke of Edinburgh Group shortly after taking this photo and asked them to rate the track and the walking experience.  “Terrible” was the response.

Is this the way we would be treating what was a fine section of burn?

Compare the size of the former track on left with the upgraded one.  Are bends this size really necessary?

In order to widen the track, further excavation of banks and ditches has been undertaken in places.   The vegetated area bottom right represents former bank, a section behind appears to have been scraped bank behind that vegetated.   I could see not evidence that any attempt had been made to store and replace turf over excavated areas, even in places such as this where there are native trees behind which one would hope will be left in place during the felling.   The LLTNPA rightly requires vegetation to be restored in hydro track construction – even if it does not happen much of the time – and similar standards should be applied to forest track construction.

 

 

Will FCS do anything to improve this once the trees are extracted?

They have done very little to improve this section where felling is complete and indeed appears to have pre-dated the track.  So, if the new track was not need for felling (top left) why is it needed now? Forest tracks have become larger and larger to accommodate bigger, heavier vehicles – just as in hydro track construction.  The bigger the machines we use to work in the countryside, the bigger the tracks and the impact on landscape.

The contrast between the footpath construction in the upper part of the Glen and the track are quite stark.  How can the FCS apply such difference standards?  My 1980 1:50,000 map shows just a footpath, no track, up the Glen but now there is only a path in the upper part.  A relief.

 

You can hardly see this plastic culvert under the path.

The care taken with the path contrast with the final section of the new track which finishes not far above.

 

The felling and replanting in background (slopes of Brack) all took place without this track “upgrade” demonstrating that there was no need for works of anything like the extent of those that have been undertaken.

Looking down Coilessan Glen – footpath in trees on right

How does this compare with the FCS blurb:   “Ardgartan (meaning the High Garden in Gaelic) is at the heart of an area of vast natural beauty. The forest of Sitka and Norway spruce is an ideal habitat for red squirrel, roe deer, buzzards and owls. Mixed woodland along the many small rivers and burns is home to otters, kingfishers and bats.”

Lower sections of Coilessan Glen track from the Brack, Long Long behind

Even in the dense part of the forest, the upgraded track is visible from afar.

What needs to happen

The FCS needs to apply consistent standards of practice and up its game in our National Parks.  In places, such as on east Loch Lomond, its doing some fantastic work to remedy past mistakes, in others, like here, it appears nothing has changed.

 

The LLTNPA meantime needs to start focussing on stopping any further destruction of landscape quality in the National Park through track construction, whether hydro schemes or forestry.    In my view landscape protection and enhancement should be the  number one priority in the new National Park partnership plan – instead of visitor management.   Its not visitors that are destroying the landscape – their impacts are temporary – but how the land is managed.  If the LLTNPA does not act, the very reason why people visit the National Park will disappear.

 

The LLTNPA and FCS need to start working together on these issues and start engaging the public about the quality of the “visitor experience” in conifer forests and how this might be improved.

June 16, 2017 Nick Halls No comments exist

By Nick  Halls

Remains of fly tipped mattress, Cuilag

As a resident of Ardentinny, I routinely travel between Ardentinny and Glasgow by road.   I make it a practice of stopping on Loch Lomond side to visit the camping places, for which permits are required, at Suie Field and Cuilag, situated on the shore between Inverbeg and Luss.

 

Access to both camping areas is from laybys off the A 82 [T] road, which follows the line of the Old Military Road, sometimes directly on it. There are a number of places where the old road still exists, used as laybys or closed for vehicles and used as part of the cycle and pedestrian way. They are often loops taking cars away from the side of the main A 82.

 

In respect of the management and conservation of the National Park environment, I monitor the litter and refuse left, the ‘long stay’ caravans and mobile homes, the litter and soiling left by heavy goods vehicles parked up overnight and the state of the camping places. I chat to campers, and people using caravans and mobile homes.

 

In the past, my approach and engagement in conversation seemed welcome, and taken as just a part of a Scottish experience, garrulous, old locals coming up and talking rubbish. I do this partly to entertain but also to gather ‘intelligence’ about strangers, as is the country way.

 

In previous reports, I have expressed concern about the ubiquitous litter problem, fly tipping in parking places, the state of camping sites and a failure of the part of the NP Authority to tidy camping places, maintain safe and cleared access and to generally make the places for which people have to pay welcoming and worth the money.

 

Overgrown path Suie field – photo Nick Kempe

The path, from the lay-by, used for access to Suie Field beach is still overgrown, with historic litter strewn amongst the undergrowth, with trip hazards, and the beach and camping sites usually show signs of litter – it is obvious to me that the responsibility for the squalor is shared between campers and day visitors, both of whom have a penchant for fires, and eating food with a lot of packaging, and leaving plastic bottles.

 

Judging from the position of litter everybody using the location contributes to the litter, and many use the locality as a toilet.

 

In the past I have seen mattresses, garden rubbish and soft furnishing dumped on the shore of the Loch from this lay by – they are difficult to photograph due to the steepness of the bank, and my infirmity. They can sometimes remain for 6 months or more.

 

It is not clear to me who has the legal responsibility for removing the rubbish, Argyll & Bute Council, the NP Authority, the land owner or Transport Scotland as the organisation tasked with managing trunk roads.   What is clear to me is that the NP Authority, if it has any integrity, has at least a moral responsibility to maintain the amenity of the NP for which it is responsible. I cannot believe Park Rangers do not see what I see!

 

A new issue addressed in this report is how Camping Management arrangements are souring relations between visitors and residents.

 

The latest evidence from Cuilag

The sign indicating the camping area, showing the path to the beach, and the parking place and big burn that goes underneath the main road in a culvert, draining onto the beach.

I have reported previously on the squalor, garbage and fly tipping evident at the car park, from which the camping places on the beach at Cuilag are accessed.    I have attempted to stimulate action to clear up the car park, enhance the landscaping and clear the rubbish from the burn. I visit it at least fortnightly to assess if ‘feed-back’ from the public results in any action.

 

During a visit on 06/06/2017, I took up to date photographs of the fly tipping and visited the beach, it was coarse weather, following the pleasant spring.

 

 

The initial tipping is garden rubbish, the subsequent tipping seems to be household waste, some might have been added by either; campers, day visitors after a picnic, passers by or by people staying in caravans or mobile homes.   Without a forensic examination, it would be hard to know.

 

I avoid taking photographs that include, tents, cars, caravans or mobile homes, especially if they are occupied, because it is an invasion of privacy and also because showing the category of those present suggests that they are responsible [as was done while assembling the propaganda evidence to scapegoat campers]. In all drama presence is assumed to be evidence of guilt!

 

While taking photographs, the resident of a caravan present on site, stormed out shouting and screaming for me to ‘f… off’, assuming I guess, that I was gathering evidence of their responsibility. There was a threat of violence!   Having lived in Glasgow this was not outside my experience, but the show of aggression is very unusual in the countryside.   What struck me was that they asserted the rubbish was nothing to with them, it had been left by campers. Indeed, I could accept that some of it might have been, but garden waste and what looked like nappies were unlikely to originate from campers, of the type who might use Cuilag beach in unpleasant weather.

 

I visited the beach, by the degraded muddy path, which is eroding into a gully by drainage from the parking place, which is washing minor litter down to the beach. It is a ‘trip and slip’ hazard for visitors carrying camping equipment and picnic materials.

 

There were no campers or picnickers because the weather was vile, and the level of the Loch rising, inundating the preferred camping location. Along the back of the beach was a line of litter, concentrated where I assume people picnicked, during the preceding good weather, because a lot of it was heavy alloy used for disposable BBQ.s and BBQ food containers, and there were signs of places where they had been used.

 

My conclusion is that the accumulation of litter is contributed to by all and sundry, but the ‘sign’ that made it seem acceptable is fly tipping that had nothing to do with visitors. Evidence for this surrounds the parking place, slightly camouflaged by spring growth.

Accumulated tip obscured in summer by undergrowth.

 

I took a look at the bed of the burn, it confirmed what I have observed elsewhere, that nearly every accessible culvert, bridge and drain, seem to be used as convenient garbage disposal points.

 

The burn has been almost completely obstructed with garbage, the majority of which is garden waste, which is being washed down onto the beach and into the Loch.   It seems very unlikely that the majority of this rubbish is dumped by visitors, but an urban visitor might assume if a place looks like a dump it probably is a dump, and might add to it.

 

The garbage (above) has been dumped from the cycle way onto ground above the culvert shown in previous photograph.  The amount does not suggest that it originates from visitors, and implies local knowledge.

 

To validate the observation above, a picture of tractor tyres dumped in a drain in Glen Finart. The most casual observation would confirm that this sort of dumping is ubiquitous throughout the Scottish countryside, and very long lasting. These tyres could have been dumped before the creation of the National Park, by a contractor during the last clear fell, decades ago.

 

Responsibility for sorting out the mess

 

When I knocked on the caravan door to explain my purpose, I was confronted by anger, lack of understanding of the issues which concerned me, and a feeling that they were being accused falsely of being responsible for the state of the car park. It took me some time to calm them down and persuade them that I did not believe they were responsible, but the Local, NP and Roads Authority jointly shared responsibility for garbage collection and maintaining the amenity of a beauty spot.

 

The response was to blame me, because there is no garbage receptacle of any description into which to put rubbish, pointing out that it might be alright for me, [I drive a van] but they only had a crowded car and had no way of removing rubbish. There is some validity in both these observations.

 

“Take your litter home” may be responsible behavior but when some of the flytipping appears from local residents, is it really practical for either day visitors or mobile campers?  The evidence suggests people dump stuff because there is nowhere to put the garbage.

 

The evidence of Duck Bay, is that the garbage disposal facilities are insufficient, because they are usually over flowing after a nice weekend, and relative to the amount in and around bins, the amount left lying by picnic tables is relative minor, however unsightly it may be.

 

Placing a skip in carparks where fly tipping and litter is a problem, would at least enable anybody to place litter in a receptacle, whatever its origins, and permit a speedy and routine tidy up.   The cost of such provision would still come from the public purse, whichever Authority were to take responsibility – to which everybody contributes in one way or another.  If the cost fell on a Local Authority it would be met from taxation harvested from the whole population, not just Council Tax payers.   No cost of a public service is met solely by the resident of the NP, least of all the cost of NP Authority itself which is funded also entirely by grant from central Government.

 

The lack of positive action suggests that each authority operates in isolation, without any coordination, and there is no ‘buy in’ to NP Policy which seems to be developed in a ‘silo’. There just seems to be a reciprocal denial of responsibility from those who have a duty to sort this out.

 

I assumed that the creation of the NP would produce an authority to coordinate the activities of all public bodies, commercial interests, resident and visitors, to conserve the valuable qualities of the Loch Lomond and Trossach National Park and enhance them for all concerned; not to foster discontent between residents and visitors, and animosity between categories of visitors, by scapegoating some and catering for others, with no over-arching policy.

 

Everything I observe is redolent of incoherent ‘ad hoc’ activity, with no plan or strategy, in a culture of blame and denial, identifying scapegoats, and shifting responsibility. Other reports suggest the authorities are incapable of taking effective enforcement action, even against a tiny minority of campers!

 

The situation is quite shocking, probably very expensive, and exposes an NP Authority that is just not up to the job.  There is a serious risk that in the current political, social and economic turmoil the suggestion will be made to do away with National Parks. Now, I would be ambivalent about supporting such a proposal!     I would support public condemnation of those involved in the Governance of the LL & T NP, and designating them as unfit for public office.

June 15, 2017 Ross MacBeath No comments exist

ON THE SPOT REPORT

Destruction of the environment continues unabated at accessible popular locations where Rangers are just not in attendance – how is this able to take place at Loch Earn?

 

Criminal damage to loch side trees. two trunks felled.
1. Criminal behaviour continues unabated, with byelaws failing to make any difference.

 

Thank to Mechelle Rafferty for her permission to reproduce her experience as an “On the Spot Report”

Another great example of responsible leave no trace camping at a popular spot on Loch Earn with the now familiar tales of paying visitors having endure the accruing mess left by others and again having to clear up the mess of other non paying litter louts.

Report begins: 3rd June 2017 Loch Earn


 

They were nice enough, two of them, asked if we had a permit. I said no and that we’d only just seen the signs and no internet signal, which was true. So the other one said “I can help with that” and asked if we would be willing to purchase one. So I said yes. One of them gave me his phone and put me through to register details as they can only take card payment, not cash.

 

 

 

To be fair, they were nice enough and only doing their job, one was taking lots of notes and some pictures of further along the shore, as I said we’d went to one shore to camp just along, and one side had rave music blaring from a tent, and another had loads of guys fishing, shouting and swearing and swigging out of cans so we moved on.
It didn’t take long to register details and when I eventually got a signal they email a copy of your permit and advise you screenshot it in case there is no signal.
The following night,(Sunday) we were going to camp elsewhere but decided to go back to Loch Earn, different shore, so I just phoned up for a permit just in case, and again was done in two minutes.

 

Rangers claim lack of manpower is to blame, that was highlighted to the NP before byelaws were brought in to force.

 

I just wish they never caught me half asleep as I wanted to ask things like, what if we book a permit in future, turn up and it’s full of non permit holders, as no one came round on the Friday, Sunday or Monday, or the last time we were there, and what if there’s mess left after we leave the place clean, although I told them I always take before, during and after pics and videos anyway, and what about the day trippers, who were leaving rubbish, building fires and just leaving them etc, and chopping down and burning live trees?

 

So I’ll be more aware should they come round again. I don’t grudge the £3 per tent, it’s the principle of it.

 

I did ask if anyone had had the £500 fine, but as it’s new, not so far although folk refusing to give details or buy a permit and they openly said they don’t have the manpower to police it.

 

 

Here’s some of the mess at all three shores, A, B AND C before we left on Monday, plus we had to tidy up some too. The first two are two of our “leave no trace” pics.

 

Here’s a wee video of our story about the permits and rangers at Loch Earn and our leave no trace at the end. There’s a bit music in it that suits the neds so due to copyright might not play on a mobile device. I always take before, during and after pics of every single camp

 

 


Report Ends

Thanks Mechelle for that very interesting report it makes a lot of very important points and equally raises many questions that need to be answered.

Additional observations by Ross MacBeath

The threat of criminal charges is ruining the Visitor Experience

 

Both Mechelle’s and the views expressed in the previous posts demonstrates that visitors feel threatened by the ever present possibility of prosecution for littering and environmental damage they are not responsible for creating, so much so they feel compelled to take “before and after” photographs from their visit as evidence.

 

 

June 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This entry on the Risk Register made me smile, because its an acknowledgement that CNPA is taking social media like Parkswatch into account, but illustrates concern about the wrong thing. The risk should be whether the CNPA is delivering the objectives for which it was set up. If it delivers these, it will earn a good reputation.

The agenda for the Cairngorms National Park Authority meeting last Friday (see here) was brief: Chief Exec’s Report, Corporate Performance, Risk and Mountain Hares.   While I was not at the meeting and cannot report what was decided, there were some positive signs in the  papers.

 

Mountain Hares

The paper on Mountain Hares appears to have been in response to to One Kind’s current campaign calling for a ban on hare culls in the National Park- the CNPA has received 450 postcards  –  and coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland, the press and Parkswatch (see here) on hare persecution.  While the paper is brief and mostly factual – the CNPA has no idea of how many hares are slaughtered in the National Park – the final paragraphs at the end signal a welcome step in the right direction:

 

13. The cull of any species should be justified on sound environmental or economic reasons that are in the public interest.   In the case of deer, culls are justified on the grounds that they allow the restoration of depleted habitat and in the longer term lead to a healthier environment and consequently a healthier herd.   Hare culls similarly, may be necessary in some locations e.g. to allow woodland regeneration or  to prevent damage to planted trees.  The CNPA have concerns about the public interest justification and scale of culling for the primary purpose of tick control.
The clear message is CNPA staff do not think culls for tick control – hares are alleged to pass on ticks which carry the louping ill virus to grouse – are justified.    The paper contains no proposals to address this although the National Park could, if they wanted to, stop culls through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes.  I hope they will propose they could pilot this as part of the Scottish Government’s Review of Grouse Moor management.
 
14. CNPA accept that culling of hares may be justified and necessary in some circumstances but we do not advocate large-scale culls unless there is clear evidence to demonstrate  extremely high densities which are causing significant problems.
Unfortunately there is no reference to why hare numbers may sometimes reach such high numbers – the answer is in good part because of an absence of predators, particularly golden eagles, in the National Park.
15. The CNPA want to see greater transparency on what level of culling is taking place in
the Cairngorms and the reasons for culling. Mountain hares are an important species
in the Cairngorms and we want to ensure healthy populations across their natural
range.

 

While no actions are proposed in the paper,  the logic in the report suggests that the CNPA will have to take action in the near future, not just on hares but to protect other species.  If the cull of any species needs to be justified on environmental or economic grounds – and remember the Sandford Principle means conservation comes before the CNPA’s other statutory objectives, including sustainable economic development –  then besides hare, the CNPA needs to look at all the other species that are killed in the National Park including corvids, raptors and mustelids.    Moreover, if there needs to be transparency on the number of hares being killed, but if hares, as the CNPA acknowledges, then why not other creatures?     The CNPA could deal with both of these issues by creating byelaws to replace the general license (which allows certain animals to be killed without permission) with specific licenses where culls could be justified on environmental grounds and required landowners to report on species populations as part of this..

 

Raptor tagging

 

Under the Chief Executive’s report there is a very brief paragraph which was given coverage by Raptor Persecution Scotland yesterday (see here):

 

Civtech – The CNPA & SNH have launched a Civtech challenge on raptor persecution. Details at   http://ow.ly/BR1V30c4bo5
The idea is is try and find a solution to the problem of satellite tags being destroyed when raptors have been unlawfully killed and data about their final whereabouts therefore being lost.  This initiative was not included in the Government’s recent announcement of a package of measures to address Raptor Persecution and I assume therefore its come from SNH and the CNPA.  If so, that is again welcome.  Our public authorities should be able to act independently of the Scottish Government.
Like Raptor Persecution Scotland I think the initiative is well-intentioned but I don’t think it will cause too much concern to the people who are unlawfully killing raptors.  Even if you could establish the exact position of a raptor before it died, and therefore the landowner who was likely responsible, it would not prove who did it.  To convict someone of a criminal offence, the evidence needs to be beyond reasonable doubt.  An estate has two gamekeepers, how do you prove which one did it?  Its because of this that I think the Scottish Government’s attempt to improve enforcement of the criminal law won’t make much difference.
While its worth trying to improve information about where and when raptors disappear, where new thinking is really required is on what other measures, apart from the criminal law, would deter raptor persecution.    I would suggest that the removal of the right to hunt, which could be done on the balance of probabilities (rather than requiring evidence to be beyond reasonable doubt as in the criminal law) would hit the people who allow this persecution to continue where it hurts.  It would remove both the enjoyment they get from hunting and the income this brings in.  Its likely to be a far more effective deterrent than the criminal law.     Unfortunately, I think it will take a lot more public pressure before that happens.

Resources

One of a number of risks in the CNPA risk register which relate to limited resources

It was good to see the Board Papers highlighting that limited resources, which result from the imposition of austerity,  pose serious constraints on the CNPA’s ability to deliver on their plan let alone undertake new initiatives.  Instead of our National Parks pretending like other public authorities they can make austerity work, we need organisations which are open about the impact of cuts and can articulate what they could do – and what differences this would make to visitors, residents and wildlife – if they had the money.    The CNPA appears to be more open about this than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which continues to present itself as perfect in every respect (but then maybe that’s because it has too much money, as demonstrated by the large resources wasted on trying to implement the camping byelaws).

 

Nature conservation targets

What the figures from the Corporate Performance report tell us is that the CNPA is failing in its nature conservation objectives.  The percentage of designated features has gone up from 79% to 81% but is way below the 90% target for next year.   If this had been due to dates of monitoring visits, I would have expected the report to clearly stated this.  Instead, the accompanying report says that this reflects “the national position”.  How shocking is that?    What it tells you is our National Parks appear to have been making no real difference to nature conservation.
That’s not entirely true of course, there is plenty of evidence to show from raptor persecution, that a significant number of landowners in the Cairngorms won’t co-operate with Nature Conservation so, while CNPA staff may have been trying very very hard, its made relatively little difference.   This is an argument for a different approach, which puts land reform at the heart of the vision for our National Parks and how they should operate.

An insight into the political challenge

 

“An MSP survey carried out in December shows 100% have heard of the Cairngorms National Park and a third say they know a fair amount or know it well. A little under half (43%) are favourable towards the Cairngorms National Park with 51% claiming to be neutral. Both national parks are held in strong regard at the Parliament, stronger than may be expected given the level of awareness compared to other organisations.”
I found this extract from the corporate performance report pretty shocking: only 43% of MSPs are favourable to the Cairngorms National Park (the target was 50%).    Since we know that the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens are in favour of more National Parks, its hard to avoid the conclusion that the majority of SNP MSPs (who avoided the debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks (see here) don’t like the existing ones either.   If that is so, it goes a long way to explaining the lack of resources.
Our MSPs really do need to start seeing our National Parks as a means of doing things differently, particularly the way we manage the land.
June 13, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The debate on the failure of our Freedom of Information laws in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon on a motion proposed by the Labour (Corbyn supporting) MSP Neil Findlay, following pressure from journalists and the recently retired Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew is very welcome (see last business of day).  Here’s the latest evidence from the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority of why its needed:
 
“Please provide me with any information the LLTNPA holds about the secret Board Briefing sessions held on the Cononish goldmine on 13/12/2010 and 20/06/2011”

The Park Authority does not hold secret Board Briefing sessions. Accordingly I have to advise under S10(4)(a) of the EIRs that this information is not held for sessions as you describe.   However, informal Board Business sessions are held in private which are for officers to have time with Board members to help develop strategy by providing opportunities for informal input before formal officer recommendations are presented for decision at our Board meetings, which are held in public. 
Its 1984 and this is parkspeak.  Secret Board meetings (they are not advertised and you can only find out what could have happened at them by Freedom of Information requests such as I made) are described as “private business sessions”  by public officials who won’t put their names to the letters send out.  What a load of tosh.  This public authority held 13 secret meetings to develop the camping byelaws compared to the two held in public.
The information extracts in the response to my information request provided as an appendix EIR 2017-041 Informal Board Meeting Agenda + Cononish Actions rather gives the game away.   Back in 2010 soon after the Park under Mike Cantlay – he has just been appointed chair of SNH, one of the few remaining public bodies which does appear committed to transparency  – introduced the practice of holding Board Meetings in secret, they were called “Informal Board Meetings”.  Besides Cononish, the agenda shows that the LLTNPA discussed Local Access Forum Membership, school closures, the A82 upgrade consultation.   These are all matters, like the camping byelaws, that should have been discussed in public – in fact there are dozens of such matters over the last 7 years FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing session.
At least back in 2010 the LLTNPA kept a record of what it was deciding, although they have only provided me with the extract about Cononish.  At some point they stopped taking any record of what was discussed or decided, which is precisely one of the points of concern highlighted in the motion to the Scottish Parliament, that the Scottish Government is “not recording or taking minutes of meetings”.    

The role of the Scottish Government in National Park decision making

For over two years now I have been trying to understand the role of the Scottish Government in the development of the camping byelaws.  We know they had an important role because Linda McKay, the retired convener, in her letter to Aileen McLeod recommending the byelaws stated:
In 2013, our previous Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, while visiting East Loch Lomond to see the changes and meet residents, partners and local businesses, encouraged us to bring forward a comprehensive set of proposals for those other areas in the Park blighted by these problems.
What I haven’t been able to find out is whether Mr Wheelhouse was set up – in other words the Park deliberately misled him that it was the camping byelaws which had led to the improvement on east Loch Lomond (rather than a package of measures) – or whether it was Mr Wheelhouse who took the initiative.   What does seem clear though is that the go-ahead – and remember this was just soon after the Land Reform Review Group had concluded there was no need to change our access laws – the important decision, was made outside any formal decision-making structures.    This is no different to how Donald Trump takes decisions.
I won’t bore readers with an attempt to recount my attempts over two years to extract information from Scottish Government officials about the Scottish Government role in the process.   What I have learned is that they hold no information about how important decisions are made Mr Kempe FOI (November) Response February 2017.   A good example is east Loch Lomond where they confirmed (in response to my question 9) they hold no information about the Review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws apart from the document supplied by the LLTNPA.   In other words not one official has put in writing any comment or recorded any view or asked for information from any other body about the the alleged success of the byelaws on east Loch Lomond DESPITE the reported interest of the Minister at the time.  Or maybe that’s BECAUSE the Minister in effect took the decision on the hoof and if the Scottish Government had recorded any written information this would have exposed them to legal challenge.
A current example concerns the Scottish Government’s role in the repeal of the old east Loch Lomond byelaws in favour of the new byelaws  (see here)   The Scottish Government has told me FoI (6 Mar2017) repeal of byelaws response  they hold nothing in writing about this but, purely by chance apparently,  “a more general point on legal mechanisms for revoking byelaws emerged in discussion”.  The Scottish Government then want us to believe that, quite independently of the LLTNPA,  which just so happened to need to revoke the east Loch Lomond byelaws, they sought legal advice on how to revoke byelaws and needless to say, because legal advice is exempt from FOI, they won’t make anything public.  I have put in a review request asking for the reasons for that legal advice.   However, where it comes to questions about application and enforcement of laws that criminalise people, my own view is that such information should be made public.  The criminal law should be made by the people, not something done to the people.

These FOI examples are part of a much bigger problem about secrecy and lack of accountability, not just in our National Parks or the Scottish Government, but across public authorities.   The  Trump approach to decision making has been flourishing in Scotland for some time, its just that unlike Trump our public authorities have not wanted to advertise the fact.    I hope the debate in the Scottish Parliament leads to some actions to put this right.

 

I have appended the motion, which is worth reading:

 

Leading Journalists Criticise the Scottish Government over FOISA

That the Parliament notes with great concern the letter from whom it understands are 23 prominent Scottish journalists to the selection panel for the appointment of the Scottish Information Commissioner, which was published on 1 June 2017 by The Ferret and Common Space and details what they argue are the failures of the Scottish Government and its agencies in relation to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA); understands that it suggests that the application of FOISA by ministers and officials is questionable at best and, at worst, implies a culture and practice of secrecy and cover up, including, it believes, through routinely avoiding sharing information, often through not recording or taking minutes of meetings that are attended by ministers or senior civil servants; considers that this flies in the face of what it sees as the Scottish Government’s much-vaunted assessment of itself as open and transparent, including through the Open Government Partnership Scottish National Action Plan and its role as one of 15 pioneer members of the Open Government Partnership’s inaugural International Subnational Government Programme and legislation such as the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011; understands that the Scottish Government introduced its Record Management Plan to comply with the 2011 Act; notes the view that the journalists’ criticism of FOISA shows that it is time to have a review of whether the legislation remains robust or has been diminished, whether it should be extended and strengthened and whether elements of it are still appropriate, such as the level set for the cost exemption, whereby the Scottish Government may refuse to provide information if the cost of doing so exceeds £600, a figure that hasn’t been updated since FOISA came into force, and further notes the view that, by doing so, this would ensure that people in Lothian and across the country who use their freedom of information rights could be confident that FOISA would be improved and applied in a way that was consistent with the spirit intended when the law was established.

 

June 12, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

While looking at the Ledcharrie Hydro last Tuesday (see Sunday’s post), members of the Munro Society asked me whether I knew of any well-designed and executed hydro schemes in our National Parks which they could refer to comparison purposes.    My immediate response was the Loch Gynack schemes at Kingussie. Asked why?   The intakes have been well located and there is very little new access track but the real learning point is that construction methods  have been far more sensitive than is normally the case in hydro schemes.

 

I have been been meaning to blog about them since visiting in February so thanks to the Munro Society for the prompt.    There are three schemes on the River Gynack: I will consider the lower two here and the upper one in a further post.  While the lower two are atypical, being small, located in woodland and being built on the sites of historic hydro schemes which had fallen into disuse, they still demonstrate.

Gynack Scheme 1 – Kingussie Community Development Company

The Community Scheme is tiny, 15 KW, and I almost walked past it after parking by the golf club to walk up the river Gynack – a good sign.  The idea behind the scheme was to raise money for the local community and it has been built on a section of river which previously was used to provide hydro electricity back in the 1920s, on land more recently gifted to the community for that purpose.    Unlike many hydro planning applications, including the upper Gynack Schemes, the Community Development Company provided a full overview of the scheme in one document, including why an earlier scheme approved in 2011 for an Archimedes Screw had been abandoned (see here).   It includes photos of how the area looked previously.

View from footbridge over Gynack

The intake weir has been constructed against the old 1920s intake.   The key thing to note is its a true run of river scheme.  There has been no significant damming of the river and as a result the intake structure has a very low profile, unlike many of the hydro intakes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which have raised water levels and are taller structures as a consequence.   There are still exposed section of concrete at the intake, but this is far less than usual and although they have not been faced with natural stone, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, to its credit did require:

 

“Details of the final finish of all concrete work which shall reflect the requirement to encourage natural weathering and colonisation by algae. (e.g. use of textured formwork) Details for any protective fencing, and railings.”

The line of the pipe, viewed from close to the intake, runs behind the line of the wall on the right.

This is probably the worst view of the scheme but positive features include: the edge of the pipe where it exits the dam (top left) has been finished in stone;  the work to stabilise the river bed below this has been done by embedding rounded boulders in concrete mirroring the loose boulders in the river bed; and vegetation has been replaced around the rip rap bouldering that has been used to reconstruct the bank.

The section of former pipe

The power house has been constructed just 4m below the intake on a beautiful section of river by the former powerhouse (a remnant of the old pipe can be seen between the tree and powerhouse and there was a concrete base here previously).  It is however tucked away and hard to see from above and the finishing, apart from the brick is good.  The line of the pipe to the powerhouse is marked by the boulders on the bank on the left.  In summer, when the trees are in full leaf, it would be even easier to miss.

Gynack Scheme 2

 

The mid-Gynack scheme has been constructed by the Pitmain Estate and runs from Loch Gynack to near the top of the golf course.   Again its atypical because there was a scheme here constructed in the 1920s to provide electricity to the estate.   Loch Gynack was dammed at that time and the old dam had fallen into disrepair and was leaking.  The new dam has not raised water levels.

The profile of the new dam is low, and hardly visible from any distance, but close up the finishing is not good, with concrete wing walls which would be better faced with natural stone and metal railings contrasting with the wooden railings used in the Community Hydro.  Why cannot our National Parks enforce a consistent approach which maximises use of natural materials?

Close up of rip rap bouldering below the intake

However, and this is a big positive, the use of rip rap bouldering is minimal and may even revegetate in due course.  Even better, I had not checked the line of the buried pipe beforehand, but could not see where it went, a sign of very successful restoration.

Lower down, I believe the pipeline runs under the track, although its been done so well it I cannot say this with certainty.   The track however has already blended into the landscape, unlike most of the tracks featured on parkswatch.  Positive features include:  the edges of the track are vegetated and there was no sign of spoil spilling down the bank on left;  the track is narrow, forcing vehicles to keep to the same line;  and as a consequence the centre of the track is revegetating.    This track, while going nowhere (its a dead end) provides a good walking experience.

 

 

Close up of penstock

Another photo demonstrating how good the restoration of vegetation has been.  The line of the buried pipe that leaves the powerhouse can be seen, mainly due to the lack of rushes, but there is no bare ground at all.  The contractor must have saved all the turf removed to bury the pipe and has then replaced it.   This is something very rarely seen in hydro developments where failure to store and re-use turves is usually all too evident.  The whole is only marred by the blue penstock.

 

View from east side River Gynack of tailrace and powerhouse.  The rip rap bouldering along the river preceded the hydro scheme.

The tailrace has also been well finished and the concrete around the pipe is almost invisible while again the rip rap bouldering between the tailrace and the river has been kept to a minimum.   The landscape and ecological issue here is not the hydro scheme, or how it has been constructed, but rather earlier attempts to engineer the River Gynack which can carry huge volumes of water and threatens Kingussie.   As part of river engineering, a separate planning application has been approved to construct a flood overflow channel from higher up the river down into Loch Gynack which I will consider in a post on the Upper Gynack hydro scheme.   Here, the consequence of the river engineering is to narrow what once would have served as a flood plain, and the construction of a powerhouse here reduces the likelihood that will ever be reversed.

 

Above the intake, the River Gynack has been extensively engineered and you can see older engineering attempts to contain the river left and newer right.

 

Lessons and differences between our National Parks

 

I will consider what our National Parks can learn from all three Gynack hydro schemes in my next post on the upper Gynack scheme.

 

Meantime, its worth reflecting that while the Cairngorms National Park Authority, unlike the Loch Lomond NPA, does not have specific planning guidance on renewable energy developments (and might therefore be seen to be behind the LLTNPA), its planning committee consider all hydro planning applications (unlike the LLTNPA which delegates these decisions to staff).   I believe that this makes a big difference, particularly in areas where Board Members live, where they have to be able to explain and account for these schemes to local communities who, as in the Gynack Schemes, may walk by the hydro on a daily basis.   Landowners know this too and are incentivised to follow the highest standards.    By contrast the LLTNPA staff who have been delegated powers to decide most hydro schemes are remote from everyone who has an interest in them and are unaccountable.   As a consequence their Supplementary Planning Guidance has been all too easy to ignore (as in Glen Falloch).

 

The CNPA has had hydro disasters of course, including Glen Bruar (see here) and Corriemulzie by Braemar.   The Bruar scheme though in a sense reinforces the point because its so remote there is no local residents, apart from estate employees to care about it – this reinforces the need for our National Parks to include as Board Members outdoor recreationists and ecologists who care about what happens in wild land.   Meanwhile at Corriemulzie (which I will cover in due course) the local community has recognised things have gone wrong (its a community hydro) and are co-operating with the CNPA to try and restore the damage.

June 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 5 comments
People were generally positive about the design of the powerhouse, liking the use of natural materials, and little concerned about its impact on the landscape, unlike the scar on the right of the track.

Over the last couple of years, concerns in the outdoor community about the impact of hydro schemes has increased significantly and on Tuesday I went out with 6 members of the Munro Society http://www.themunrosociety.com/ to share knowledge and views on the ground.    The Munro Society’s first objective is “To provide an informed and valued body of opinion on matters affecting the Munros and Scotland’s mountain landscape”  and as part of this they have decided to survey the impact of hydro schemes.   We went to the recently completed – or should that be compleated? – Ledcharrie hydro in Glen Dochart on what was a pretty wet day.

Looking uphill from the same position. The line of trees marks the former Callander – Crianlarich railway.

There was no machinery left of site, which is an indication that the developer, Glen Hydro Development Ltd, believes the work is finished.  While I had seen plenty of hydro tracks with oversteep batter sides (banks)  – which is contrary to the Loch Lomond and Trossach’s National Park Authority’s Supplementary  Guidance on Renewables (see here) – I had not seen mounds of earth, as on the right.  The way the land lies here, they are totally out of place and have changed the landscape.    These things should matter in a National park.

 

Afterwards, I checked the planning application.

The diagram left shows the mounds of earth on the right of the track were supposed to be temporary.  Why then are they still there?

 

The width of the new track is in places extraordinarily wide, as the double gates illustrate.   Double gates have also been left in place at the Glen Falloch Hydro Scheme.   One way the LLTNPA could help ensure tracks are narrower is by requiring all double gates to be replaced by single gates after construction has finished.

 

The LLTNPA’s Supplementary Planning Guidance actually recommends tracks are not even one gate wide:

 

Where tracks are to be retained, especially in locations which are sensitive in terms of landscape impact, they should be restored from the specification required for construction vehicles and be reduced in width to the minimum required for ongoing quad bike (or similar) access.
The LLTNPA’s Chief Executive subsequently clarified in a letter to Mountaineering Scotland that this should mean tracks are no more than 2m wide, which would allow for a vegetated central strip, except on uphill sections and bends where he has stated 2.5m is acceptable.

At Ledcharrie  the planning documentation confirms this approach:

 

“Permanent access tracks will be restored to their original condition upon completion of the works. Temporary access tracks will be removed and the surrounding ground reinstated upon completion”.

and

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

Now I think this is extremely welcome.     Two metres is quite wide enough for a landrover or quad bike and would force vehicles to follow the same line along a track, allowing vegetation to establish in the middle of the track.   Talking with members of the Munro Society they agreed.   Maybe we need a compulsory National Standard for hill tracks in Scotland.  The problem at Ledcharrie however is that almost everywhere the planning documentation for the track, and the LLTNPA’s own standards, have been ignored.

The tape measure here is extended to its maximum, 3m.   The width of the track is close to 6m and there has been no attempt to restore the banks on either side creating a 9m broad scar up the hill.  This should be totally unacceptable anywhere, let alone in a National Park, which says it believes uphill sections of track should just be 2.5m wide.

Not all the track restoration is as bad and there is short section above the double gate (above) where it almost meets the 2m specification and there has been a reasonable attempt to restore the land to its original condition.  Why here but not elsewhere is a question worth asking?  It seems totally arbitrary.

 

Even here, though, all is not as it should be.   On the left bank the developer appears to have run out of peat to place on top of the bouldery soil.  The Planning documentation required a:

 

management plan for the whole site shall be submitted and approved by the Planning Authority. This shall include details of:

  • The storage and management of the different habitat types and turves of different sizes and depths; and
  • Coding of habitats to ensure habitat turves are reinstated in the correct areas

 

Unfortunately the LLTNPA does not generally add documents required in a planning consent to the planning portal so its impossible for the public to see plan for retention of turves was agreed.  The photos show however that whatever happened, insufficient care was taken in removing and restoring turves, with the result that large areas of ground have been left bare.

Impact of pipeline (left) compared to track

The planning consent also included a specific requirement that:

 

Turves should be reinstated over the pipeline as soon as possible to ensure maximum restoration.

The photo (above) shows this never happened – the problem is the LLTNPA is not monitoring its planning requirements on an ongoing basis through construction with the result they are ignored.   While this is a failure, in landscape terms, the Munro Society members were generally agreed that the main landscape concern is the track because the vegetation above the pipe, although not restored properly, is likely to recover quite quickly.

 

 

The Munro Society team had between them been up almost every 30m bump in Scotland and besides the hill chat, one of the pleasures of going out with them was hearing what such experienced hill goers thought about various aspects of the hydro development.  I have rarely seen a constructed stone culvert in the LLTNPA hydro schemes as above.  They approved.   While the track at Ledcharrie is far too broad, increasing its impact on the landscape, almost every culvert pipe had been properly finished, (unlike the Glen Falloch schemes).  Just why contractors are good at one thing or in one area but then fail totally in others is another question that needs to be asked.  I suspect the problem is a lack of monitoring from the LTNPA to ensure consistent high standards.  If the problem is lack of resources to do this, the answer is simple: re-direct resources away from chasing innocent campers and direct them to protecting our landscape.   The impact of even the most irresponsible of campers is temporary, the impact of these track is, in human timescales, permanent.

Just upstream of the culvert though, Stuart Logan, Munro Society President spotted that this.  No-one present thought that lining stream beds with concrete is acceptable (this was the first time I had seen this).    How could this happen in a National Park?

The track above the culvert was also very poor, not only far too wide, but it had been lined with blocks which appear to have been created by the developer blasting through rock bands where the soil was shallow.  The end result looked more appropriate for a quarry than a National Park.

 

Another thing I had not seen was the use of netting in an attempt to hold soil in place at the edge of a track.  Here the netting has totally failed and filled with material that has slumped down the slope, a consequence of the bank/edge of the batter being too steep.   On the top right you can see how soil and rock, which could have been used to help reduce the angle of the slope, has been left dumped on top of vegetation.

On the downside of the track, below the scar in the photo above, the material excavated to create the track had been dumped on vegetation and no attempt has been made to restore this.  The drainage ditch is a later addition bu,t instead of using the new turves to help restore the ground elsewhere, they had been left scattered on the neighbouring ground (large turf centre)

 

We had a good discussion about the main intake on the Ledcharrie burn.  There was general agreement that the intake was well located being tucked below the level of the banks and surrounding ground and would not be visible from afar.    There was debate about whether the rip rap embankment, in this case partially embedded in concrete, could have been designed better.   I asked people about the concrete dam walls, pointing out the LLTNPA’s Supplementary Guidance suggests these could be faced in stone, although I had never seen this.  Someone pointed out there was plenty of material available to do this from the old dyke behind the intake (centre of photo).  So why not?

We then walked down the track a bit before heading up to the second intake which I had only realised was there because of the disturbed ground above the pipe.  You could not see it from below and some of those present had doubts about whether there was a second intake – a really good sign!   Again the visual impact of the intake itself was not significant in landscape terms, although the concrete walls could have been faced with stone.

 

The main difference in impact between the two intakes came down to the access track.

 

The first intake is hardly visible from 100m away except for the access track and turning area. (The burn slanting right to left has been diverted so it now enters the Ledcharrie burn above the intake. Another restoration failure can be seen centre far side of river – a patch of bare ground created because turves and topsoil were not properly stored).

 

The second, and more minor intake, has no access track and the ground has been completely restored and to a higher standard than that on either side of the track below.   The line of the pipe and temporary construction track will probably have disappeared within a couple of years.   Everyone thought this was great, its how hydro schemes should be.

 

This then raised the question of why access tracks are needed.  I explained that the main reason  to access the intakes is to clear them of vegetation.  This can be done by a person with a rake.  This raised the question of why, if maintenance staff are expected to walk to the second intake, couldn’t they also walk to the first intake?

 

This is what the LLTNPA’s Supplementary Guidance says should happen:

 
It is expected that any new access tracks required for the construction will be fully restored unless there is overwhelming reason why they should be retained for the operational phase of the development.
The problem is that LLTNPA have not followed their own guidance.  Had they done so and the track been removed, or restored to the condition of the old path/track which runs up the glen and then over to Balquhidder by Kirkton Glen (photo below), there was agreement that this hydro would have been quite acceptable.
The old track over to Kirkton Glen is a “core path”  – quite a contrast to the new track to the main Ledcharrie intake.  The loose stones in the foreground are “spill” from the recent construction works.

 

There was a good discussion too about how many people used the old path and whether footfall would increase as a result of the new track (we were passed by one walker).  While people were generally appalled by the standard of construction of the track, there was a recognition that in terms of both landscape value and recreational use, this was not one of the most outstanding areas of the National Park.   While we didn’t reach a definitive conclusion, there was a feeling that if the track could be restored to an acceptable standard, then leaving it in place in this instance was just about acceptable.

 

The problem though is the message that the LLTNPA is giving to developers.  Glen Hydro Development Ltd is part of a suite of companies, all with the same Directors but split into separate companies (which both limits liabilities but means that only limited financial information is available as small companies are exempt from producing full accounts).   Adam Luke Milner, besides being a Director of Glen Hydro Ledcharrie,  is Director of 19 further companies, mostly hydro schemes, including ones at Kinlochewe, Chesthill, Fassfern, Glen Dessary, Loch Eil and Corrimony Farm.  Richard Haworth is also a Director of most of these companies.    If developers can get away with unacceptable standards in a National Park, they will try and get away with poor standards anywhere.  Ledcharrie is yet another indication that making money, rather than care of the environment, is the main motivation of the people financing and benefitting from hydro developments.

 

An added complication at Ledcharrie, and a number of other Glen Hydro companies, is that on 1st March 2017 a Jan Tosnar was appointed Director and now appears to have a controlling financial interest in these companies (50-75%) through parallel companies called Renfin Ledcharrie, Renfin Chesthill etc based in Czechoslovakia.    What appears to have happened is first the farmer/landowner agreed with a developer they could develop a hydro (for a rent) but then these schemes have changed hands and most of the profit is now not just being channelled out of the area, but out of the country.    In other words these hydro schemes will create little economic benefit for the area but are leaving a permanent impact on the landscape.   Our National Parks should be exposing these issues and engaging with local communities and recreational organisations to devise better alternatives.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • I would like to see our National Park Authorities engage with people who care about the landscape about hydro schemes, both about where they might be acceptable but also in developing standards for how they are constructed and restored and thinking about how economic benefits could be retained in the local area.  I know the Cairngorms National Park Authority has met with the Link Hill Tracks group, its time the LLTNPA started a similar engagement with a view to strengthening how it implements and enforces its Supplementary Planning Guidance.   I would suggest a day out with members of organisations such as the Munro Society would be a good place to start.
  • At Ledcharrie, the LLTNPA needs to make public what plans it actually agreed following the granting of planning permission and then enforce them.

How you can help

 

Munro Society volunteers are starting to monitor hydro schemes across Scotland and will feed the results of their surveys to Mountaineering Scotland who has agreed to take up issues with Planning Authorities.    This is a huge task  and they are looking for more volunteers.   If you could help or have photos of hydro schemes outwith the National Parks please contact them athttp://www.themunrosociety.com/contact-us:

 

I have agreed to co-ordinate surveys within our National Parks, so if you have photos or time to contribute to that please contact Nick.kempe@parkswatchscotland.co.uk

June 10, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Recreational media are now taking a far more critical view of the camping byelaws

Reading and watching some of the excellent social media during the election campaign, like many I suspect, I found it hard to reconcile all that critical thinking – reminiscent of the independence campaign – with what the opinion polls were saying.  I had concluded Thursday that the traditional media, mostly controlled by the rich and powerful whose interests require that “There is No Alternative”, had won the day and that even the BBC’s coverage of alternative views, which generally improves in election campaigns due to rules on election bias, had not resulted in  a shift in public opinion.  I was wrong.     It gives me hope that parkswatchscotland and other social media could help change our National Parks as part of a much broader movement for change in all areas of life.

The LLTNPA’s attempt to control the way we think

 

Attempts to control of the way we think, extends to all areas of life, including National Parks.  The relentless attempts of a significant proportion of national newspapers to denigrate migrants, the indy ref campaign or Jeremy Corbyn say, during the election campaign are, in my view, little different from the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority’s attempts to denigrate campers.  The LLTNPA uses many of the techniques used by the Sun and Daily Mail:

 

  • telling photos (dozens of photos of abandoned tents, though many of these are the same abandoned site from different angles)
  • ignoring data (the LLTNPA did not use its own data collected by Rangers on numbers of campers)
  • falsifying statistics (the LLTNPA fiddled the result of the Your Park consultation by re-classifying some supporters of extra campsites as supporters of byelaws)
  • quotes from alleged victims to create support (human faeces found on a doorstep was blamed on campers)
  • smearing/discrediting opponents (Gordon Watson, now the Park’s Chief Executive, tried to discredit former Chief Inspector of the Police, Kevin Findlater, when he questioned the need for byelaws based on his experience of addressing the problems on east Loch Lomond by bringing up quotes from the past).

 

In terms justification for their actions, there is even a parallel between Teresa May’s endless repetition of “strong and stable” and Gordon Watson, who for the last six months, has been incanting “there are too many campers…………………”.

 

The LLTNPA, like many other establishment organisations, employs a disproportionately large media machine to carry out all this work.     Out of 135 staff employed in March 2016 eight are in “communications” while it also pays the Big Partnership to liaise with the traditional media.   The job of these people is to feed biased information into the traditional media, which then tend to regurgitate it uncritically (a situation not helped in newspapers by cuts in staff numbers)  and promote the Park’s propaganda on social media.  For a time this was very successful.   During the consultation on the camping byelaws most of media printed uncritically shock horror images of campers circulated by the National Park with no critical comment.  While there were a few honourable exceptions to this, most of the critical coverage was in form of one-off articles, and it was left to the letters page of the Herald to provide a forum to promote alternative views.   It was as a consequence my experience of having failed to get sustained critical coverage of the LLTNPA in the traditional media (not just camping, but secrecy, the follow up to the Owen McKee scandal) that I was prompted to set up parkswatchscotland and broaden its scope to cover the Cairngorms.

 

One reason for the lack of critical media coverage, which I did not appreciate at the time, was that whenever critical coverage of the byelaws appears, the LLTNPA media squad complains about biased coverage. I have heard on good authority that following Patrick Barkham’s excellent piece (see here) the LLTNPA made a complaint to the Guardian.    A recent example of this (see left) is the LLTNPA getting a right of reply to David Lintern’s article in The Great Outdoors.   The LLTNPA also appear to be trying to shut down critical coverage in social media.   For a few short time a new facebook page appeared (https://www.facebook.com/lochlomondnationalpark) with satirical photomontages of destroyers in Park livery patrolling Loch Lomond looking for campers. The page has now gone and the only reason I can think of is the threat of legal action from the LLTNPA, either against FB or the person who put it up.

 

A specific reason for the lack of critical media coverage on camping is that the LLTNPA raised such a fury of righteous indignation about abandoned tents  that almost no-one dared question the basis or rationality of their proposals.  So you want camping to continue, despite all those wrecked tents or turd on the doorstep – what sort of person are you?   (The parallel being that if you voted against restriction of civil liberties as a means of “fighting” terrorism, you must be like a terrorist).    This was most effective in silencing the recreational organisations who did not want to be seen to defend irresponsible campers.

 

The CNPA

 

The Cairngorms National Park Authority, while still far from fulfilling its original purpose, is far less guilty of spin and speak than the LLTNPA.  While not beyond criticism in that regard – for example it has tried to stop Board Members from speaking out and recently stopped recording its planning meetings – but has generally has been far more open in the way it operates than the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and far less guilty of Parkspin.    Its also helped that one local paper, the Strathy, has been prepared to encourage debate about what the National Park does in a way rarely seen within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

 

The development of a critical media

 

There are welcome signs now, however, that things are changing and both the recreational organisations and recreational media are speaking out.  While Mountaineering Scotland has given good coverage to its concerns about the byelaws, its significant that in May its Chief Executive, David Gibson wrote what I think is a damning criticism (see above), while the LLA magazine (left), is even more outspoken and has treated the Park’s attempt to justify their cleansing of people from the Park with derision.

 

On the social media side, David Lintern, the brave outdoor journalist, who deliberately broke the byelaws, had an article published on UK Hillwalking on Wednesday (see here) which has been read over 7000 times.  Compare this to the latest propaganda video from the LLTNPA on its Facebook Page (see here),  which justifies permits on the grounds that you have the “comfort of knowing you have booked your pitch” – what on a stony lochshore?  (see here) – which has been viewed just 3,500 times and has received a number of critical comments. In fact anything now posted by the LLTNPA on social media now tends to attract critical responses.

 

There is still a long way to go.   The LLTNPA FB page has over 14500 likes, compared to Parkswatchscotland’s FB Page’s 230 likes – a massive difference – but I take comfort that parkswatchscotland received over 40,000 hits the day Nick Halls’ article, also titled “Camping confusion in the Park” appeared.  Again this dwarfs the number of people who watched the Park’s camping propaganda video.

 

Day Number of visits Pages Hits Bandwidth
01 Jun 2017 866 3,114 21,070 2.67 GB
02 Jun 2017 634 2,675 14,430 1.24 GB
03 Jun 2017 969 2,621 20,410 1.44 GB
04 Jun 2017 552 2,610 11,708 1.14 GB
05 Jun 2017 3,225 7,211 40,757 3.42 GB
06 Jun 2017 992 3,818 17,324 1.79 GB
07 Jun 2017 536 4,025 18,613 2.33 GB
08 Jun 2017 769 3,082 16,686 1.81 GB
09 Jun 2017 399 2,692 11,221 1.95 G

The two days with over 20,000 hits saw publication of posts on the artificial ski slope at Cairngorm and the Strangled Hare.

I suspect a good 2-3 minute video exposing either the LLTNPA’s approach to camping or Flamingo Land or what the CNPA is allowing to happen at Cairngorm could attract 100,000 views or more – anyone up for this?

 

Where next?

 

Far more people now appear now engaged with the critical opposition to what is going on in our National Parks.   Parkswatch is pleased to have played a role in that but I would hope now that on various issues, from the involvement of big business in trashing our landscape to access rights,  we can take that critical opposition to another level and change our National Parks so they start fulfilling their original purpose.

 

The challenge of changing our National Parks, is part of the challenge of how we change society, and both need an informed, concerned and active public.

 

 

 

 

June 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Its positive that the Scottish Government response to golden eagle persecution involves consideration of mountain hares – which as my post on Saturday showed are not just killed on grouse moors

Last week the Scottish Government, in response to SNH’s research into the disappearance of satellite tagged eagles (see here) which showed almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, announced some new measures to protect Scotland’s birds of prey (see here).   Many of the eagles which disappeared did so in or around the Cairngorms National Park (with one in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park)  – (see here for excellent map from Raptor Persecution Scotland)  –  and one of the measures announced is specific to the Cairngorms.   While I can understand why RSPB Scotland and Raptor Persecution Scotland welcomed the measures – after the recent abandonment of a number of prosecutions any action from the Scottish Government is a relief – I think people should be sceptical about the proposals.

 

On the plus side:

 

  • The Scottish Government has pledged to “Immediately review all available legal measures which could be used to target geographical areas of concern”.   Since one of the main geographical areas of concern is the Cairngorms National Park,  this review should  include all the measures that could be adopted by National Parks under their existing powers (see here).   This should include a permit system for hunting, use of the planning system (e.g to stop the creation of yet more “persecution tracks” on grouse moors) and cross compliance (so estates where raptors disappear should cease to receive any public subsidies or financial assistance from our National Parks.
  • Also positive was the announcement that the “expert group” that will be set up will not just look at eagle persecution but “managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law” and this will include “the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls”.    The expert group should also be tasked explicitly with looking at the impact of hill tracks and control of other predators, such as crow and stoat.

On the negative side:

 

  • The Scottish Government ruled out “giving the Scottish SPCA more investigative powers, in light of legal advice”.  Its in the public interest this legal advice should be made public.
  • But then, strangely, it has decided to pilot special constables in the Cairngorms National Park in order to “Increase resources for the detection and investigation of wildlife crime”.  This was not a new announcement, it has previously been included in the Cairngorms National Park Plan which explains why it was warmly welcomed by Grant Moir in his response to the Government (though to be fair to him he did condemn raptor persecution absolutely (see here)). It appears unlikely to achieve anything.  If the SSPCA, which has professional staff, cannot be given powers equivalent to the police, what will volunteers achieve?   What’s  the CNPA going to do when when the lairds ask all their tenants to enrol as special constables – another case of self-policing? And will the CNPA allow Raptor Monitoring Workers and members of RSPB staff enrol as special constables?    Its hard to see how this can work. In any case the proposal misses the point:  the idea that special constables will be able to patrol miles of grouse moor is farcical and  the employment of even 100 special constables is unlikely to lead to the recovery of any “disappeared” satellite tagged golden eagle and even if they do detect more crime, what we know from what’s happened over the last few months is that the landowners aren’t prosecuted anyway (see here).     It would be far more effective for the CNPA to stop funding landowners to employ Rangers, employ Rangers directly and use them to enforce hunting byelaws.
  • The proposal to “Examine how best to protect the valuable role of gamekeepers in rural Scotland” is a farcical.   The Scottish Government might as well have announced how can we continue to exterminate wildlife in Scotland, because that is what Gamekeepers are employed to do.  Now I am not against Gamekeepers as people, they usually work in very difficult circumstances, in precarious employment which depends on their success at increasing grouse numbers.  What we need though is to look at how we create new and different types of job in the countryside which Gamekeepers could move into:  the National Park, which is tasked with promoting sustainable economic development, should be a the forefront of this.

In the category, too early to tell:

  • Whether the expert group is any more than yet another talking shop (the Moorland Forum existed for years) will depend on whether Roseanna Cunningham tasks it with achieving real change.  There is a precedent for her to follow, the National Access Forum, (on which I sat) and which was a talking shop until Lord Sewell tasked us with developing proposals within six months which would result in better access rights and told the landowners if they didn’t agree, the Labour Government would legislate anyway.   Unfortunately, the Scottish Government at present appears to have ruled out primary legislation when I believe the threat of national hunting legislation would concentrate minds as it did with access.
  • “Commission research into the costs and benefits of large shooting estates to Scotland’s economy and biodiversity.”  There is already a large amount of research into grouse moors and its unclear what more research the Government believes is needed.  In my view there is a gap and that is looking at the alternatives, in other words the cost of grouse moors, both economically and ecologically, compared to other ways the land could be used.

 

Wildlife persecution and our National Parks

Muirburn on Ardvorlich Estate, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

While wildlife persecution is a far more obviously a problem in the Cairngorms than in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, it goes on in both National Parks.   I have commented on Parkswatch before that its much easier to see a fox in urban Glasgow than it is in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

 

In considering wildlife persecution – and that includes the actions announced by the Scottish Government last week – whatever standards and rules are adopted, they should be higher and better enforced in our National Parks than the rest of Scotland.  What this should mean is that animals that may be lawfully culled elsewhere – such as crows and stoats – should be protected in our National Parks and cease to be treated as vermin.   Protecting wildlife, so all can experience it, should be a fundamental part of what our National Parks are about.  Our National Parks are a long long way from that.

 

It appears that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority don’t even recognise there could be a problem.  In its draft National Park Partnership Plan out for consultation (see here) there are references to “rich”, “varied” and “iconic” wildlife, with scarcely a mention of what this wildlife is and no mention of what is missing due to habitat degradation  (conifer plantations and overgrazed hills) or wildlife persecution.   There is no reference to the fact many upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the National Park are in unfavourable condition and what could be done about it.   There is one reference to  “important populations” of species such as golden eagles and Atlantic Salmon and that is it:   there is no explanation about whether the number of breeding eagles in the National Park are what one would expect and not a single reference to raptor or wildlife persecution.    The conservation purpose of the LLTNPA appears to be limited to keeping campers away from loch shores (which were once far more intensively used) and tackling a few invasive species rather than doing anything positive for wildlife or habitats.

 

While I have been critical of the CNPA, it is miles ahead of the LLTNPA in the priority it gives to conservation in general and wildlife persecution in particular.   The most important thing is it recognises there is a problem “The satellite tagging reviews findings are deeply worrying” and also that it has pledged in its National Park Plan (see here) “to eliminate raptor persecution”.   In the original draft plan the commitment was to improve raptor populations, which was hopelessly vague, and in my view the revised plan is significantly stronger.  The problem is the means that the CNPA is proposing to address raptor persecution – such as special constables and working with landowners in the east of the Park – are not strong enough to work.    It now though has an opportunity:   the Scottish Government announcement in effect gives permission to the CNPA to launch a public consultation on all the legal measures it could adopt to eliminate raptor persecution including byelaws, use of the planning system and cross-compliance.   The CNPA should take the opportunity and get on and do this (while the LLTNPA would be well advised to follow in their footsteps).

June 5, 2017 Nick Halls 4 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

The LLA has given extensive coverage to the impact of the byelaws on Loch Lomond in its annual review available online (http://lochlomondassociation.co.uk/LLA17WEB%20-%20Rev1.pdf)

The changing landscape of the National Park

 

I monitor the evolution of the Bye Laws and the incoherent manner of the implementation, by means of observation, talking to campers, visiting designated sites, reports contributed by ‘Parkswatchscotland’, and articles in magazines of Representative bodies of the physical activities in which I engage, which include camping associated with watersports and terrestrial activities.

 

I supported the creation of a National Park and worked to have Argyll Forest Park included.  I have lived in the area of the LL&T National Park since 1969 and experienced nearly half a century of change, much of which has degraded the environment, depopulated communities of young people, reduced indigenous economic activity and local job opportunities. Not all of which lies at the door of the NP Authority, but it has done little to either slow or reverse the processes, despite the objectives of the NP. In fact, the NP Authority seems to reinforce the destructive impacts from which I imagined it would protect the area.

 

I observe daily the destructive impacts of motorists, near roadside camping, day visitors and egregious behavior of residents. I live amongst the land management practices of farmers, estates and Forestry Commission Scotland(FCS) and observe the degradation of the scenic quality of the National Park with dismay.

Conifer afforestation cutting off access to the hills and taking over former habitations that once provided places to camp – photo Nick Kempe
Deer fence and gate, Stob an Fhainne, north of Loch Arklet    Photo Nick Kempe

I have also noted the restriction of pleasurable free access, arising reversion of farmland to scrub and the ‘clear fell’ practices of FCS, encroachment of invasive non-native species, and enclosures designed to exclude deer. The hills are almost inaccessible other than by over used ‘popular’ routes – creating obvious landscape scars.

 

 

 

I am an ‘immigrant’ to the area but note with concern the progressive emigration of the indigenous population, for education, employment and improved life chances. My son who attended Dunoon Grammar, has only one or two school friends left in the area – he is now working in Canada. The indigenous population is progressively concentrated in suburban localities, while much of the more desirable property is used as either second or holiday homes or occupied by elderly retired incomers.

 

I believed naively the creation of a National Park would mitigate the damaging impacts arising from residents, land managers and visitors. I have been profoundly disappointed.

 

I have concluded the Governance of the National Park Board exemplifies the manner in which established vested interests, that actually have their ‘hands on the levers of power’ in Scotland, operate to secure influence by attaining appointments on the Boards of arms-length government agencies, that purport to serve the wider public interest, and then betray ‘people’s’ trust by subverting them in their own interest.

 

The eradication of space for camping from the National Park

 

It seems incredible that charging for camping, and by extension access, for a legal recreational activity in a National Park could ever have received endorsement by an SNP Minister of the Scottish Government. It discredits the very existence of the Scottish Parliament – and devalues the legislation it passes.   Justifications presented in support of Bye Laws were flimsy at best, but could be presented as blatant misrepresentation to secure a predetermined outcome.

 

Provision for any sort of camping has been eradicated from the area progressively from the time I first arrived in 1969 – as camping sites evolved into first caravan parks then chalet developments – both much more intrusive than temporary camping. As confirmed by reference to OS and Bartholomew Tourist maps published prior to 1989.

Ribbon chalet/caravan development Ardgoil with conifer afforestation blocking access to hillside above – Photo Nick Kempe

These concentrated seasonal residential eyesores impose more pressure on public infrastructure, particularly sewerage and waste disposal, than any number of transient campers. They also degrade the natural qualities of the NP by a progressive urbanization, and pollute the aquatic environment surreptitiously – the shores of Loch Long, Loch Goil & Loch Lomond reveal plenty of evidence – fly tipping, cotton buds, toilet paper & sanitary towels are not dropped by shipping!

The enclosure of Loch Shores – Loch Lubnaig Photo Nick Kempe

 

 

Significantly, under current legislative conditions, land that was once accessible has been converted into curtilage by close spaced semi-permanent temporary residences – a surreptitious usurping of what was once a ‘common good’ into exclusive compounds.

 

 

The architecture of these developments contrast with the vernacular building style, stimulating images of beach front caravan sites of a coastal resort or over-crowded chalet developments in an alpine resort. They fundamentally erode the integrity of the ‘uniquely  Scottish’ nature of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs, so admired by artists of the 19th and 20th Century.

Painting of Ben Lomond from shore at Balloch, Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow Uni – a great illustration of the philistine destruction implied by Flamingoland

 

Overgrown former entrance Suie Field – photo Nick Kempe

When I first arrived ‘wild’ camping was easy, but progressively every spit and exploitable piece of lower land has been either privatized, trashed by industrial forestry practice or over grown by non-native invasive species, such as Japanese Knot weed, Rhododendron, not to mention windfall, bracken & scrub.

 

A contributing factor has been decline in cattle & sheep farming, so formerly grazed areas are now overgrown. Suie Field and Cuilag exemplifies this feature, where the residual preferred camping options are now on the shingle beach.

 

The current situation is that there are very few accessible spaces to camp, and those that remain are intensively used by day visitors and campers. Progressive ‘privatization’ of accessible spaces and increased use of private cars for short visits to the NP have concentrated use, but the services to accommodate the use have not been provided.

 

All of this has been made explicit by numerous reports, press comment and user groups. It is not a recent ‘discovery’, it is as plain as the ever-lengthening noses on the faces of spokesmen for the NP Authority.

The bins originally proposed for the north Loch Venachar car parks included recycling facilities but LLTNPA staff cut bin provision and toilets from the original plans contained in the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan Photo Nick Kempe

Many former informal sites have been converted into car parks/picnic sites – in favour of motorist and day visitors, at many of them camping is frowned upon. This exemplifies considerable public investment for one category of visitors at the expense of low cost provision for another. The necessary infrastructure for such concentrated use by day visitors has not been provided, such as bins, garbage disposal and toilets. There is no coherent provision to accommodate the requirements of visitors of any sort.

 

North Loch Venachar, where informal campsites were proposed just 5 years ago in 2012 were redesigned to make camping difficult before the camping byelaws banned camping here completely and instead there are permit places in a muddy field on the other side of the road. Photo Nick Kempe

It escapes me as to why picnic tables proliferate, while being less than essential, while nice camping spots are eradicated. What ideology of visitor management validates this preference?

 

Evidence indicates campers are to be progressively driven from the Camping Management Zones and LL & T NP more generally.

 

The real problems faced by the National Park

Fly tipping of garden and other waste at Cuilag – unlikely to have been done by visitors – photo credit Nick Halls

The actual problems the NP has to confront are not ‘visitors’ but egregious land management practice, rural decay and the reversion of uneconomic farmland to marsh and scrub and fly tipping by residents. This ignores the vast tracks of land rendered inaccessible by industrial forestry practice, within which were farm towns with improved walled enclosures, charcoal burners platforms & hut platforms – reasonably drained and near water. All of which used to provide opportunities for camping.

 

This destruction of amenity is substantiated by pictorial evidence supporting reports – but to designate this sort of terrain as desirable camping locations, and charge for using it, is incomprehensible. There must be issues arising from Trades Description and Fraud legislation.

 

I cannot understand why Scottish Sports Association has not put pressure on both Sport Scotland and Ministers to review the operation of the Boards of both NPAs? The lack of consultation with representative bodies for sports and recreational activities is itself a disgrace, [except sporting estates] but the complete indifference to representations from bodies of all categories of users of the NP’s in preference to a spineless subservience to the interests of landowners/managers and influential residents surely cannot be tolerated any longer.   Particularly so, as private interests seem to be obscured by the practice of holding unrecorded ‘pre-agenda’ meetings to ensure outcomes of subsequent Public Meetings, during which interests of Board Members are not declared or recorded.

The newly “restored” hydro track to the top of the Eagle Falls, Glen Falloch. The original planning permission by the Board required the track to be removed but this was overturned by staff

Specific concerns arise in the case of hydro works in Glen Falloch, unrestricted construction of intrusive estate infrastructure on wild land, appallingly unaesthetic commercial forestry practice, and to top it all the, proposals for ‘Flamingo land’, as if a Scottish National Park is the equivalent of Center Parks or a Funfair, or in the case of Lomond Shores, Blackpool!

The LLTNPA want to develop the shoreline on right into Flamingo Land, Ben Lomond left – photo credit Nick Halls

It makes one wonder if the Board/Authority can distinguish between a Regional Park recovered from an industrial wasteland in the midst of a conurbation and conserving an iconic area of wild land, the history of which underpins the Scottish national identity.

 

I note the CV of James Stuart, it will be of interest to see whether he is just another ‘safe pair of hands’ appointed to protect vested interest, or whether he can change the culture of the LL & T NP Board. It will also be interesting to see whether the new councillors serving the constituencies within the NP boundaries, will treat the NPA as just another local authority and a vehicle for promoting their electoral interests.
Whatever emerges I fear it will not enhance the reputation of NP’s in Scotland, or enhance the environmental quality of the land for which the NP Board have planning responsibility. It will demonstrate how Scotland is ‘actually’ governed, and how little real concern exists for a ‘Fairer and more Equal’ Scottish Society.

 

Attitudes of Park staff

 

Recently, I was informed by a Ranger that the bye laws were necessary to exclude ‘travellers’ from the NP [by which I assume he meant Tinkers/Gypsies] who annually made a mess of camping places – to co-opt my sympathy on the assumption that I would naturally agree that such lower order socio-economic scum should not be allowed use the NP, or upset the largely middle class ‘blow ins’ who have replaced the indigenous population. There is no evidence whatever that the mess left by visitors both day and overnight can be attributed to any particular sector of society, other than highly subjective guesswork. There is ample evidence that the fly tipping, of which there are examples everywhere, is the responsibility of residents.

 

He also mentioned that tidying up the NP, by exclusion of campers, was an imperative because foreign visitors, particularly those traversing the West Highland Way, remarked on the quality of the Scottish Scenery but bemoaned the litter everywhere. This underlines the lack of a litter management strategy, but hardly validates the exclusion from preferred camping sites nowhere near the West Highland Way.

 

It is hard not to conclude that training of NP personnel involves reinforcement of social prejudice, that evidence they see every day must throw open to question.

 

Politics and the national interest

 

In the context of the lead up to an election in which constitutional issues will be influential, opinion about the detail of the ‘actual’ governance of Scotland is relevant.
It is appropriate to comment on abuse of position and influence and disregard for Scottish Law, in pursuit of objectives that reinforce social exclusion and private interest at the expense of the ‘common good’.

 

There is such dissonance between political pronouncements and the reality that it raises concern that Ministers of the Scottish Government consciously collude or are out of touch!  One wonders whether civil servants, parliamentary secretaries and constituency workers, who presumably monitor the press and other media, are keeping Ministers properly informed – or colluding in misrepresentation and abuse of power and due process – because they are in sympathy with it!


This raises the issue of ‘who actually governs Scotland’ and whether the declared social aspiration of the SNP  is being subverted or are just hollow. Strong & Stable [actually indecisive and floppy] versus Fighting for Scotland’s interests [actually weak and ineffective] while incapable of implementing any change worthy of notice, and presiding over socially regressive initiatives reinforcing the least palatable aspects of the Scottish social scene, of which they seem blissfully unaware.


The Governance of the NP Authorities and the accountability of senior officers is the issue under consideration, but the devious unaccountable nature of HIE, SNH, MOD, SEPA, FCS & the landowning interests with which they apparently closely identify is also becoming explicit.


The question has to be asked, ‘who disinterestedly speaks for the actual benefit of the majority of Scottish people’, and whether their voice should be heard?   The evidence seems to suggest that democratically organized representative bodies, charities and voluntary undertakings are treated with contempt.

June 2, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Caravan and campervans on Loch Earn, the campervan neeeded a permit, the caravan stayed for free

This morning a reader posted a comment on parkswatch (see here) saying he was a happy laddie because he had just been informed that the camping byelaws don’t apply to campervans on Loch Earn – at least for a temporary period.  If so, its hard to see how the camping byelaws can be applied to campervans anywhere despite the Park’s most recent attempts to do so (see here) and if the LLTNPA is no longer trying to stop campervans and caravans, what justification can there be for the LLTNPA to enforce the byelaws against tents?    That would be totally unjust.

 

The background to this is the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority had been applying the camping byelaws to campervans but not caravans on Loch Earn (see here)  despite having claimed that a primary purpose of the camping byelaws was to stop caravans stopping off in laybys over the summer.    More recently the LLTNPA had put up signs claiming there was no right of passage for campervans over certain roads in the National Park between 7am and 7pm – an action I believe was unlawful.  I sent this email  to the LLTNPA Chief Executive, Gordon Watson, who is responsible for this farce on 31st (copying in the Minister, Chief Executive of Transport Scotland and others):

 

Dear Mr Watson,

I would be grateful if you could confirm under what legal power the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has to stop public rights of passage over roads between 7am and 7pm as in the attached notice (the attached photo was from Inveruglas) and, should there be such a power, what process the National Park Authority has used to put this in place.   I would be grateful if you could respond to this question by return.

I note that in EIR 2017-030 dated 7th April (attached) that in response to my question:

“I would also be grateful if you could confirm to me what private roads exist in the National Park where the LLTNPA is certain that there are no public rights of passage (and therefore where campervaners could potentially be prosecuted).”

Your Governance Manager stated in response that:

“The Park Authority does not hold information about all of the private roads within the National Park, where there are no public rights of passage. Accordingly, as this information is not held by the Park Authority, the exception under Regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs has been applied by the Park Authority to your request”.

This gave the impression that the LLTNPA held NO information on private roads where there was NO public right of passage, in which case It seems extraordinary therefore that,  you could have followed any appropriate  legal process in respect to the roads where you have erected signs.  However, I believe your response may have deliberately avoided answering my question through the insertion of the word “all” before “of the private roads” to give it a different meaning.    I would therefore ask you to confirm whether the LLTNPA holds any information relating to whether or not there is a public right of passage on any private road within the National Park boundary and if so to provide this to me.  If so, I believe you should have provided me with this information within the timescales of the original information request and you should NOT treat this as a new request.

I would also now like to make a new information request, a list of all locations within the National Park where the Park has erected notices such as those in the attached photo indicating there is no public right of passage, all information relating to the erection and enforcement of such notices, briefings to staff about their purpose.  In EIR 2017-030 your Governance Manager, presumably Amanda Aikman, stated at that time you had issued no instruction to your Rangers about the application of the camping byelaws on private roads and for the avoidance of doubt, my information request includes any written information relating to the briefing of Rangers as well as communications with other agencies, such as the Roads Authority or Police Scotland.

Yours Sincerely,

Nick Kempe

I have not had a reply of course – though I asked for one by return – but it looks as if the Park Rangers have been told they have no legal grounds to take action against campervans staying overnight on a road (including its verge).

 

I trust that the LLTNPA Board will now agree to my request to lead a deputation to their next meeting on their failure to provide sufficient camping places and selective application of the byelaws with a view to dropping the the byelaws completely.

Note: this post was updated 3rd June, as I had made factual error, it was not a Ranger who advised byelaws were being applied to Loch Earn but another Park official and this exemption may only have been intended as a temporary measure.  If so, this is even worse: the Park would be changing where and how the byelaws apply on an almost daily basis.  Time for a judicial review!

June 1, 2017 Ross MacBeath 4 comments
By Ross MacBeath

Camping provision without parking spaces, pitches you can’t find never mind camp on, and camping permit zones comprising bogs, scrub, briar, rough heath and felled forest all add to the growing list of failures in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s claim to have provided  new camping places, not just in Forest Drive but Park wide (as illustrated in Nick Kempe’s post yesterday on Firkin Point)

 

Then consider if Forest Drive is suitable at all as a location for 72  of the 300 camping pitches the Park promised to provide when the gates are locked at 4 pm and don’t open again until  9 am the following morning.   In effect none of these pitches are available to anyone who has not taken an extra half or full days leave on the first day of their holiday or weekend.

 

This is repeated at Loch Chon and other gated sites where the very few toilets available in the Park are locked when Rangers go home in the evening if there have  been no bookings.  This can be as early as 4pm,  forcing all visitors to go in the bushes, a criminal offense if they are not in possession of a trowel.

** Currently  26 Forest Drive  pitches are missing from the booking system!

 

Forest Drive Zone L, replacing a desirable loch shore as a place to camp

 

In past years, before access rights,  the Forestry Commission provided an excellent permit zone for a number of tents just opposite what is now Permit Zone L

The grassy loch shore was perfect for camping and suitable for families and multiple groups.  A small portion of it is shown here.

 

That is all gone as far as camping is concerned – camping along the shore is now banned, though there is a bay for a motorhome on the shore side of the road, and has been replaced by a zone located within the forest.

 

The First view of Zone L is not really encouraging with rough ground and slopes

The LLTNPA claimed 9 places were available to camp here from 1st March.

Damage to sign perhaps by some disgruntelled visitor who was mis sold this site

 

Large areas of debris cover the forest floor, steep slopes and rough ground with thick vegetation, all make this area unsuitable for camping. As hard to believe as it might be, this is a accurate description of the entire zone ‘L’

It would appear already that some disgruntled visitor has taken offence at being duped by the LLTNPA into paying for this site and took it out on the sign.

 Click here to review the full image set

Misleading maps, poor parking provision and no where to go

 

The map shows a large camping area which one might have thought offers plenty of places to camp but this bears no resemblance to the truth. The 9 pitches claimed simply do not exist, and the motor home space at the parking opposite takes up to 8 meters of the lay by, allowing space for a further 2 cars, 3 at a push if one noses in off road.

The shore frontage here is popular with Forest Drive day visitors and fishermen so it and the layby fills up quickly.  Quite where the additional 9 cars that campers require are going to park is a mystery..

 

Apart from lack of parking at this site, if nine camping groups ever did book permits, forced to come here by the National Park, they would be driven onto the lochshores as the camping zone itself  provides no incentive to remain in forest after perhaps an initial exploration or search for somewhere to go to the toilet.

 

New disruption to the forest is likely to worsen if operations continue

 

Vehicular entry into forest from track above zone The start of what promises to be a disruptive forestry operation Selective felling means vehicular access to all areas required

Click images to zoom and enter gallery

 

The tracks are an unsightly muddy mess that can be crossed with care you would not really want to get this mess on your feet before entering your tent.

 

While the forestry felling operations are a noisy and destructive intrusion when in progress, they are not really any cause for concern at Zone ‘L’, other than the aftermath of churned up ground, felled wood and trimmings cumulatively denying access to the zone over time as well as other multiple issues with the site:

 

Forest floors in commercial forests are not suitable locations for camping

 

This zone, being part of an active forest, is affected by the usual rotating pattern of felling,  self seeding and natural regeneration which takes place over many years.  This has resulted in a rough inaccessible forest floor across the entire area, often hazardous and strewn with debris from the tree felling and trimming operations.

 

Tree trimmings deny access and interfere with tent pitching The natural reclimation of the previous debris results in and uneven floor Trimming of self seeded growith results in unusable and quite hazerdous areas

 

Hill side locations often hold little camping pitch gems, but not this one

 

Being a hill side location above the loch means the area is predominantly sloping northwards meaning any sun entering has to filter through the canopy  The slopes themselves are unsuitably steep with the areas below them generally wetter with standing water and mosses due to run off from the slopes.

 

Entire slope along the length of forest drive is too steep for camping The zone is undulating and slopes in the zone mossy wet areas below The west border od the zone is the river with steep inaccessable banks

Click on images to zoom

 

Again the question of why these areas are included in a camping zone can only be explained by the Park’s  need to deceive the public and other stakeholders into believing that they have delivered sizable camping provision when in fact the total size of the permit zones in general is much much larger than the miniscule areas in the zones which are suitable for pitching tents (and in this particular zone, which the Park claims provides for 9 tents, has nowhere suitable).

 

Flatter areas are unsuitable with standing water or dense vegetation

 

The slope levels out a bit towards the forestry track, the southerly border of the zone. with some more areas just to the top of the slope from forest drive.

 

Sections of the level floor have self seeded and are inaccessable Typical flatter area where mosses and wet areas abound Flatter areas by the track are exposed to light where bracken and thick grasses can florish

 

The now familiar red paint ring around trees marking them to be retained for self seeding while others are harvested.  This is a very successful method of forest growth and much of the forest floor has self seeded with the result they are unsuitable for tents.  This, in combination with wet mosses and other thick vegetation where sunlight penetrates the forest canopy, make the greater zone unsuitable for access, never mind camping.

 

Mosse, standing water and ouht ground unsuitable for camping Rough round and debris prevent pitching tents It's just impossible to camp in this zone, in seasom it will be a midge ridden hell hole

 

Standing water and shade makes this an ideal breading environment for midges, the dense vegetation, high humidity and detritus from trees provides insulation for the overwintering of midge larvae and nymphs ensuring a thriving population the following summer.

 

Popular loch shore locations are “popular” because of the short grasses and sunny aspects which in themselves give some some relief from the midge during warm sunny or windy days, especially where tree cover is minimal. But the main reason they are so popular is because they are pleasant places to spend a weekend,  particularly if you want to do no more than throw a Frisbee, run around the tent with the kids or cool off in the loch.

 

I love forests, even commercial forests such as this.  To me they are as interesting as they are beautiful.  What’s more there are many locations throughout the country where forest camping can be enjoyed on a dry flat forest floor with a carpet of leaf or pine needles, with great views or in sunny clearings.  This is just not one of them.

 

The LLTNPA’s war against visitors continues

 

It seems the LLTNPA have continued to wage war against visitors by providing the most atrocious areas for pitching tents available in the National Park, claiming they match the camping zone selection criteria.  This zone matches a few:

 

  1. It’s Forestry Commission Land so it’s available,
  2. It has no adverse impact on the environment as it’s a commercial forest
  3. It has fishing close by as a recreational activity

 

It matches no other criteria.  In fact the National Park don’t even list “suitability for camping” as a prerequisite for choosing a site and that fact is aptly demonstrated by Zone L.

 

There are no suitable areas in this entire zone that would constitute a worthwhile camping experience.  The evidence here (and at Loch Chon (see here)) gives the lie to the latest propaganda video from the LLTNPA which tries to portray itself as pro-camping and doing positive things for campers. The LLTNPA appear to think by inventing their new term the “wild camping experience”, to further muddy the waters for Ministers, then by reclassifying abysmal provision as some sort of innovative wild challenge, that the public will accept what they are offering as an alternative to camping on the loch shores.  That is just not going to happen.. Taken together with their failure to create new parking spaces for the 14 or so cars that could use this site speaks volumes for the LLTNPA’s contempt for paying customers.

 

In the end it’s not just Forest Drive that’s going to suffer, though the Forestry Commission Scotland  is in danger of losing it’s reputation built up over the past 40 years.  The Forest Drive permit area is starting to damage the reputation of our National Parks System and the Scottish Tourist industry itself.

 

It’s high time Sports Scotland, Visit Scotland and Scottish National Heritage intervened and stopped the rot.

 

What the National Park Authority needs to do!

 

Remove the zone as it stands from the booking system and let people camp once more in the original camping zone on the loch shore opposite provided by the Forestry Commission where the old signs are still in place. This has space for 3 or 4 tents to camp comfortably but needs further parking to allow campers, day visitors and fishermen to enjoy the loch shore.

 

Original permit zone provoded by the Forestry Commission

May 31, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
General view of the shoreline along zone D where the Park claims that 9 tents can be pitched under its permit system

Last Thursday I wrote to Park Convener James Stuart asking to lead a deputation to the next Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting on Monday 19th June about the Park’s selective application of the camping byelaws (see here) and failure to provide the 300 “new” camping places they had promised the Scottish Government.  Its a brief letter (see here), at the end of which I have offered to take to James Stuart to have a look for himself.    On Friday, I discovered he would not have to travel far from the Park HQ to see for himself clear evidence that someone in his staff team has been telling lies about the number of camping places and of the Park’s failure to provide basic infrastructure for visitors.

 

Firkin Point Zones C and D

 

Having previously blogged on Firkin Point (see here),  I visited again on the way to Colonsay specifically to take a look at Zone D, which I had not visited before.  The Park claimed that 9 places were available on 1st March under their permit scheme EIR 2017-035 Camping provision.

 

The claim that Zone D has facilities should be taken with a pinch of salt, and not just because the toilet “facilities” were closed until 1st April.

Zone D is approximately 400m long so if you were camped at far end of zone that’s a 1200m walk to the toilet.  The Park’s website claims that Zone D is 700m from the toilet, which sounds better than 800m on the sign.

 

 

The so called “camping permit”  zone itself is very narrow, sandwiched between the old road and the loch.  It mostly comprises a steep and vegetated bank and sloping pebbly beaches, neither of which are any good for camping.  There are also ice scoured rock slabs and two patches of mostly sloping and uneven turf.

There is very little flat ground in the turfy area near the start of the zone. There is a log pile to the left of the tree.

The few flat places suitable for pitching a tent are very small.   Probably the best is at  the start of the 400m zone.

 

There is no further turf where you could pitch a tent until the far end of the zone.  The main part of the zone comprises pebbly beaches with rocky areas in-between.

There was nowhere on first beach suitable for pitching a tent. Note how the wet area extends halfway up the beach.
The second beach is longer and again sloping.  The “tideline” of debris marking previous high water marks can be clearly seen 2/3 way up the beach.

Since it claims 9 places were available on 1st March in this zone, the Park clearly expects people to pitch tents on sloping pebbly beaches such as this.  I challenge their Board Members to come out and spend a night in a tent on this beach to judge for themselves whether this is possible.  On 1st March however it wouldn’t have been possible even for the most desperate of campers  because the water level in the loch was much higher and all the beaches here would have been underwater.

The third pebbly beach offered probably the best beach possibility for camping for someone with a pop-up tent.   Like all the beaches, useless for most campers.

 

The other area of turf is at the far end of the zone.  It is narrow and mostly sloping.    It would be just about possible to pitch two single person tents here, on the path to the bench, and camp in reasonable comfort.

 

 

In total therefore Zone D allows for three tents to be pitched on turf and, if the water of the loch is low enough, for a couple of pop-up tents to be placed on the flatter areas of the generally sloping beaches.   That’s five places in all at best against the 9 the LLTNPA claim to have “provided” here.  Its worth noting that if you take a look at the information on the Park’s permit system, there is NOTHING to tell the prospective camper about the very real challenges of camping in the nine “places” which are still advertised as being available here.    A case of breach of the Trades Description Act.

 

I re-iterate my challenge to James Stuart:

Prove the LLTNPA’s claim to have provided 9 camping places in Zone D by spending a night here with members of your Board   To make the challenge easier for you, since I don’t believe many of your Board Members or senior staff camp at the best of times, and to provide independent proof you have done this, I suggest you bring three other members of your Board and senior staff team (or the Minister for the Environment Roseanna Cunningham if you so wish).   I will invite 5 recreational people – well known campers such as Cameron McNeish and Chris Townsend – and representatives from recreational organisations to join in, all of whom have experience of camping in difficult conditions and you can here what they have to say.  (And, just in case, I will suggest to them they bring bivvy bags so we can sleep out under the stars should it prove impossible to pitch a tent on one of the sloping beaches)

 

Meantime, unless and until James Stuart can prove me wrong, I maintain that the LLTNPA has lied about its camping provision in Zone D of Firkin Point, just as it has done on Forest Drive.  James Stuart takes action to correct these failures – rising to my challenge would provide proof of good intentions – and unless he and the rest of the LLTNPA Board do this, the Scottish Government needs to start holding them to account.

 

There’s plenty else wrong at Firkin Point

 

Arriving at the first camping area in Zone D, I was met by this bagged rubbish, which could have been left by campers but it could also have been left by anglers out for the day.  There are no litter bins, despite this being described as a “permit zone with facilities”.  What happens is what happens across the Park:  most people (whether day visitors, local residents flytipping or campers)  bag their rubbish and then leave it.  While I wish people wouldn’t do this, that is the reality the Park needs to address.    Since there is no-one whose job is to collect litter – Park Rangers who check this site daily for rogue campers without permits just walk by – the bags remain, an open invitation to wild animals, which then scatter the contents.  (The chopped branch by the way came from a log pile described above – if the Park provided this, that would have been a step forward).

Since my last visit, this sign had gone up next to one of the motorhome permit signs in the Firkin Pt parking area, a sign which illustrates the failure of the LLTNPA.   What the Park should be doing is investing in basic facilities such as chemical disposal points – it provides none at present.  Instead its wasting money policing campers.

 

Written across the entrance to the motorhome permit area are these road markings.  Talk about contradictory messages!

 

Several signs have gone up in the Firkin Point parking area which claim that there is no right of passage between 7pm and 7am.  These are an attempt to stop campervans staying here for free (you have a right to stay overnight in a vehicles on a public road).  The signs do not say under what power the LLTNPA is trying to do so.  I don’t believe they have such powers and are acting ultra vires.  This is a National Park out of control.   James Stuart, the new Convener, needs to rise to the challenge and start holding his staff to account and I hope too he agrees to a deputation coming to speak to the next Board meeting so these issues can be discussed in public.

May 30, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

 

A year after Parkswatch first started to cover the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch and highlighted thefailure of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to follow its own best practice guidance  (see here) that penstock and other materials should wherever possible be in colours that blend into the natural environment, the penstock above the A82 has been painted.    A belated well done to the planners!

 

The improvement though, to my mind highlights the light concrete which holds the penstock in place and will take years to weather.  Why can’t the LLTNPA also get Falloch Estates to face the concrete with natural materials as per its own Guidance?

 

I had asked the LLTNPA what is was going to do about the penstock last year and received this non-committal answer which failed even to admit that anything had gone wrong:

 

Its good therefore the LLTNPA has implicitly recognised that blue penstock are not good enough but it  has a long way to go in Glen Falloch if all the penstock are to be painted.  While the Eas Eonan hydro pipe is buried below this penstock, it then emerges to cross the River Falloch and the penstock there is still bright blue.  Not visible from the A82  but highly visible from the West Highland Way.

Penstock crossing Falloch between two metal girders – photo taken from just below A82

I also noticed driving up the A82 that the blue penstock crossing the Alt Chuilinn (and part of that scheme) is still  bright Lomond blue – the pipe (photo left) should have been placed underneath the bridge but again the LLTNPA ignored its own guidance.   I think its fair to say therefore that the makeover of the penstock  has only just started.   That it has taken a year to get this far demonstrates a lack of will but the basic problem is the LLTNPA has allowed the Glen Falloch schemes to be developed with inadequate specifications in place (blue penstock that needed painting should have never been allowed) and then has not been properly monitored.

 

There is a real risk the Park will run out of time to ensure the schemes meet its own Guidance – it has three years to ensure the planning conditions are met – as has happened with the award winning Allt Fionn scheme (which I visited on Friday and will cover in future post).

May 26, 2017 Ross MacBeath 3 comments

By Ross MacBeath

Loch Chon infrastructure

Driving along the B829 where trees are coming into full boom after the recent rain, the greater area of natural woodlands has greened up with mosses and other vegetation moving into their main growing season. Nowhere is this more obvious that at the Loch Chon site where easy access to the ancient woodland has been opened up with the campsite paths.  Here nature is fighting back after the trauma of machinery driving  unchecked over the hillside (see here) but even she can’t erase the scar of sterile (perhaps treated) forest bark at the approach to almost every camping pitch in the site.  An act of wanton environmental damage inflicted for no good reason in this sensitive eco-system.

 

 

On arriving at the gate, happy to see it open after previous experiences, we were met with an unfinished road surface.  At least I hope it’s unfinished with it’s uneven potholed surface, strewn with loose hardcore.

 

Expectations dashed by first impressions

 

The good news is the bin store is complete, the bad news is its a 2.7 metre high structure which dominates the vista.  It doesn’t even have a maze to hide the 6 or so bins now in place, remaining in full view from the car park opposite.   This is bin overkill, even if the Park’s projected 90% occupancy of the campsite should ever prove to be true, its too high, and an unnecessary intrusion in this natural setting.

 

Ranger Base and non compliant bin store
This image was taken 10th April 2017, Note:green bins now in store, 13/05/2017

It would  have made so much more sense to position the bins beside the toilets (rather than the office), where they would be more convenient for campsite users, but campers have never been a priority in this development.

 

Perhaps it’s more important for the refuse collectors to save the additional few hundred metres drive than to hide this monstrosity out of the way.  It’s a disastrous first impression of the site and is not what was discussed at preliminary meetings with the local community.

 

The bin store is not on the plans – a Breach of Planning Consent?

Following the granting of planning permission,  National Park planning staff granted a Non Material Variation to the plans.  Neither the original plans or the letter mention a bin store or any other structure at this location – the document NMV decision letter final refers.


The ‘S’ on the plan indicates the location of the Ranger Base/Store container.

 

 

Well there you have it.   The National Park Authority have breached their own planning consent while as the Planning Authority, they have so far failed to any take enforcement action.  In fact I have found out that the Planning Authority have not even made a compliance check on this planning application.  A surprising oversight for a £350k plus project which is a sensitive development in ancient woodland.

It seems the Park Authority also grant themselves special dispensation when it comes to planning compliance.

 

Containers!   Plunging our National Parks into mediocrity

 

Next door to the bins, the Ranger Base as it is affectionately known, is just a container or, more correctly 1/2 a container, the other 1/2 being a store for fire pits, wood and other sundries.  Currently it also serves as the main drinking water supply cupboard, more of which shortly.

 

Nevertheless the Ranger Base is a home from home and surely much appreciated by the overworked rangers traveling in from afar.  What with all their new enforcement duties it must give them time to reflect on what being a Ranger is really about.  It’s reminiscent of a sales office at a housing development, probably because that’s what it was.  The Park really should give priority  to toning down the white wall and the clinical door – its as if the National Park Board, whose members apparently visited the site, have decided that rural charm has no longer any place in our National Parks.

 

The container shows it’s true nature and it’s not natural – Fail

 

The last memory of your camping experience as you leave this site is this view of the office (below),  a shipping container more at home in Tilbury docks, than a sympathetic camping development.  It’s another one in the eye for the National Park’s Marketing Department.

 

 

It’s another breach in planning consent – Fail

This end elevation in the photo above is very different to the elevation shown in the engineering drawings for this container contained in the plans.  It did seem odd at the time the planning department allowed a drawing to be approved on their system that showed only one end elevation, not both, a very unusual situation.  What was not shown  is what we see here, a considerably larger and obtrusive industrialised door. The more cynical among us could be forgiven for believing this omission from the plans was not accidental.

 

Other apparent breaches of the planning consent in respect of the containers include: the construction method of the cladding, which is not mounted as shown in the plans; the omission of the concrete embedded posts from all containers on the site; and the hardcore which has not been graded to form a rise in ground to door level.

 

Site uncompleted – Fail

 

What is wrong with the Park Authority?    It would seem they lack the commitment to finish anything to do with this project and it is the local community and park users that have to put up with the mediocre result.

 

Why are the logs in the image above still lying on site, they interfere with the vegetation regrowth and will result in another bare patch when removed?  If they must be stored, do it on hard standing, better still in the Forestry Commission car park along the road.

 

Many of the pitches remain unusable, or just too small with slope remaining a problem as does wet or rough ground.

 

Talking of bare patches it would seem that reseeding work with the specified seed mix has not taken place, this should have been completed before the start of the growing season and should be carried out immediately to provide effective restoration in this season.

 

The use of containers sets a low tone for the whole development  – Fail

 

The design of this development is just not in keeping with the ethos of National Parks.  The LLTNPA really should take a leaf out of the Forestry Commission’s book when it comes to designing quality facilities.

 

Toilets

 

Compare the toilet block in Forest Drive which, when you see it, looks right to the abysmal containers at Loch Chon which have poor visual appeal and lower the tone of an otherwise beautiful woodland setting. It’s depressing to see Scottish Tourism dragged down on the world stage.

 

Forestry Commission – Shelter & Charm LLTNPA  – Containers, no shelter no charm

The Forestry Commission’s rustic solution to toilet blocks, shown on the left hand image was the preferred style choice at Strathard community meetings and what most people would wish to see in our National Park, in stark contrast to the “industrial” containers the Park Authority favours. It’s time the Park Authority started listening to its Partners instead of running roughshod over them.

 

The Park Authority’s  choice shows a lack of commitment to the success of this project.  The temporary nature of the installation means it can be moved to another site if required, or taken away in the winter,  a fact alluded to at the community consultations by Gordon Watson their Chief Executive.   This has been given precedence over all other design requirements with dire consequences.

 

The toilet blocks are containers like the ranger station, with high security metal doors to each “cell” opening in direct view of the car park opposite, offering no privacy to users. This is surely a breach of regulations.

 

No shelter for toilets queues in wet and windy weather  – Fail

 

Then the Park Authority’s failure to provide anything in the way of shelter is a serious design fault.  No consideration has been given to the needs of visitors who find themselves caught in the rain when all toilets are occupied, with nowhere to take cover.  Getting soaked  to the skin is difficult to recover from when camping and should be avoided.  At very least a canopy should have been provided across a widened gap between the two containers but of course what was really required was some forethought and a custom designed visitor toilet block with some visitor friendly features instead of this minimalist offering.

 

One camper remarked in its defence, “it’s not too bad” and that sums up the aspirations of the current National Park Board for new developments, “Not too Bad”.  Sadly at this site,  they’re often failing to achieve even that.

 

Dark Skies a Project to which the Park Authority just pays lip service – Fail

 

The inappropriate plastic bulkhead light fittings have been chosen with no consideration of the specification laid out in International Dark-Sky Association guidelines that the National Park claim to be promoting (see here).   The Park Authority are failing to make capital of this ideal site located away from any light pollution except for that of their own making.

 

Since the toilet block image (above) was taken, the fittings have been recessed into the wood cladding but still fail to comply with the dark skies requirement.  Light fittings should shade upward light emissions while other light output should be directed downwards by internal reflectors not flooding the hill side opposite and sky as is the case here.

 

Water Supply

The National Parks Chief Chief Executive Gordon Watson continues to preside over the issuing of false information in connection with the availability of drinking water at Loch Chon and the completion status of the site.

This statement is currently posted on the LLTNP blog By on
(see here under the section “Teething Issues”)

 

“Teething issues

Of course, with any new system or facility there will always be snagging issues. At our new Loch Chon campsite, the running water was unavailable for a few days after opening due to a temporary problem with the new connection. We immediately put in place contingency plans for anyone still wishing to camp so that they still had water and toilets at all times. The connection problem was fixed and the hot and cold water is up and running”

 

Then he assures us further down the post

 

“The most important thing is that we are responding quickly to any issues that arise and despite these snags”

 

Clearly the National Park Authority are failing to correct issues in good time.

 

 

Bottled water for drinking and dish washing? – Water supply faulty – Fail.

The National Park Authority first of all claimed the water supply had been working with just a short period out of action, but evidence collected on our many visits show that to be untrue.

The Park have now changed their story to say the contractor provided an external water supply during the period since opening.   On the  6 occasions I have personally visited since the site opened,  on 4 visits there was no drinking water and on 3 no water in the toilets. On another two occasions where a a local resident attended, there was no drinking water.  In total this represents 2 months without a contractor supply and 6 weeks without drinking water.

 

Incredibly on my 6th visit water was being supplied in plastic bottles – which raises the question once more, why?  (see here for recent history of the water issue)

 

In any case to recap on the real problem,  With a reported £100,000 spend, even before planning consent, the hydrology of the stream they chose to use as the water supply should have been monitored over the previous year’s cycle to identify any periods where the stream levels were low or dried up before selecting it as a source. The question needs to asked why would the planning department grant permission for a campsite without a guaranteed water supply?  It’s beyond comprehension.  In fact when you look at the plans, there is no detail of the water intake design or specification for the size of the header tank, reservoir or pool that would be a requirement  for a successful water supply. The upshot has been there is only a trickle of water in the stream in dry spells which goes a long way to explaining the intermittent nature of water supply.

 

 

After each visit I have made, I have pointed out the short comings to the Park who have then modified the installation to mitigate each issue but as of yet have failed to take on board what is required to be done.  After the dry spell at the beginning of May 2017, the water level dropped so low air could be drawn into the intake pipe.  The Park has responded by creating a slightly more substantial dam using sandbags instead of the the pebbles and rocks of the last one.  This is getting them through by the skin of their teeth, providing  unfiltered water for the toilets and wash hand basins but has not provided the solution to the drinking water problem.

I think SEPA should have something to say about interfering with culverts in this way.

 

Intake pipe without strainer – Fail

 

The intake pipe remains open to the flow of water which poses serious risks for debris to enter the system with potential for blockages (see Solution here).

 

The sandbag issue aside, the problem with the water supply is even more serious, it’s a design fault which the Park Authority have been aware of from before the 1st March 2017 but for reasons known only to them have failed to correct. The problem is simple, the intake pipe being below the bridge is effectively underground and the level between the intake and outlet at the taps is too small for water to flow as this diagram explains.

 

Diagram showing principle of water head expaiming pressure loss in system

 

The solution is equally simple,  assuming everything else is equal and no damage has been done to the plant through running it without a water feed.  Raise the intake pipe level by moving it higher.  There is a natural reservoir just upstream at the base of a waterfall, in the form of a pool which provides a natural header tank, something that’s required for all such installations to ensure as continuous supply.  They could of courses go one better and take the feed from above the waterfall giving even more gain in elevation and therefore water pressure.   Campers will just have to wait with baited breath and struggle without effective dish washing using instead 330 ml bottles of water to somehow fill the massive trough of a sink. With no reliable water supply for over three months, questions need to be asked what are the Park Board going to do about it and why have the planning department not enforced this requirement?  What other campsites are allowed to operate without running water?

 

Drawings missing from the Planning Portal

 

Inexplicably a header tank was never a feature of the Park Authorities design.  In fact there is no design for any water supply intake.  There was a reference to the intake location on a previously available drawing which has been removed from the remaining document set (18 documents) on their planning portal, another instance of lack of transparency in this project and indeed with many other Park projects.

 

A new screening fence has been fitted behind the toilets – success!

The protruding tops of sewerage works and other toilet related plumbing is now screened from view hiding the surface installation of inspections chambers which should have been hidden below ground in the first place.

 

Disabled pitches the ongoing saga

 

Disabled Pitch Update – dirt pitch surfaces are not acceptable – Continued Fail

 

Disabled pitches are part of another key Park Authority project promoting access for disabled users to National Park facilities.  Our original post (see here) highlighted the disgraceful  pitches that were provided for disabled access.  This obviously caused alarm bells to ring and improvements were made almost immediately, but how the originals were ever deemed suitable by Park Board members when they visited the site, says something about the Board’s attention to detail or, some might say, total disinterest in the provision of adequate disabled facilities.

 

Dirt surface of disabled pitch 8 very unplesant in the rain
Disabled Pitch 8 13/05/2017, barely able to contain a 3 man tent with unconstrained edges posing hazards

 

The original state of pitch 8, promoted for disabled use together with pitch 9 due to their accessibility  for toilets and car park was disgraceful. (See Video Here)   They were built in a water course cut out from a bramble patch on a wet and muddy area prone to flooding. This modified pitch has been created over the top of that area by building it up on a hardcore plinth with soil covering a hexagonal geo-membrane and provides a marked improvement on the old effort in many ways but fails in an important number of others.

Fail 1:In building up this pitch the edges of the soil  should have been constrained to stop any further spread out over the surrounding vegetation.  Soil spread is already evident through exposure of the plastic mesh which is creating a trip hazard.  Further, the edge of the pitch drops off rapidly close to the tent entrance and again poses a real risk of tripping or falling down the slope.

 

Fail 2 – as with so many other pitches  in this development, this pitch is just too small, for disabled users, some of whom may need a larger tent for access or to take a wheelchair or other aids inside. Here we see a 3 man tent pushed to the back and side edges of the pitch so it will fit and still leave room to get in and out. With table and chairs filling the remainder of the pitch, the fire pan and additional seating have had to go on the path on the other side of the tent.  This is effectively the largest tent this pitch will take and even then it is cramped.  This makes the pitch useless for a larger tent suitable for families.

 

Fail 3 – This tent has been erected without the use of guy lines which has only been possible because its a self supporting tent.  Of course not using guy lines is unusual as they are important for the stability of the tent structure and a necessity in the wind where damage to the tent and poles can occur if not tensioned properly with the possibility of the tent being blown away.   Fitting guy lines at this pitch is problematic due to the hard core path to the side and front of the tent and the area to the back of the tent is the diverted water course making pegging out difficult if not impossible at times.
The other issue of course is that guy lines impede the movement of people around the pitch particularly in  the case of a disabled user with a wheel chair.or requiring assistance to get in and out of the tent  So the small size of this pitch is of serious concern and brings into questions it’s suitability as a easy access pitch pitch.for disabled users.

 

Fail 4: It is now well over a month since this “improved pitch surface” was provided to pitches 8 and 9 and they have not been seeded with the recommended seed mix stated in the planning application, This pitch should have a grass surface not dirt.  The occupants of the tent in the above image explained heavy rain over night and early morning  wet the dirt surface resulting in it being carried into the tent on muddy foot wear.

 

Pitch 9 as the second pitch assigned for disabled and easy access and is only a little better.

 

Pitch 9l It'sdirty hard surface remains unseeded and unsuitable for use

 

Other than the fact it’s is easier to peg out guy lines as it sits back from the path.  The dirt surface remains a problem carrying a muddy mess into the sleeping area in wet weather but has also compressed below the level of the Geo-membrane leaving an unsuitably hard surface for pitching a tent.

 

Perforation of the tent base is likely while the resultant surface is also very uncomfortable making it both painful to kneel on this surface and creating a risk of physical injury.

 

As before the pitch is too small for anything more than a three man tent.mitigated some what by the fact there is other ground around for occupants..

 

This path also fails to comply with the planning consent, the aggregate should not be spread over vegetation and it should be be bounded by a seeded, graded soil bank to allow it to blend in with the land scape.

 

What needs to be done.

  • As a matter of urgency the planning enforcement team need to visit this site and make the applicant comply with the planning consent.
  • Complete snagging – the snagging list is sizable.
  • Correct water supply as a matter of urgency. The Park Authority need look no further than this simple solution at the Cononish Goldmine supply.  A solution they and the planning authority should be aware of as they sanctioned it.SImple but effective header tank - Cononish Goldmine Simple Strainer Solution - Cononish Goldmine supplyNote also the strainer on the end of the pipe another fiendishly simple solution, a copper stopper pipe with some nail holes.  A strainer requires to be fitted at Loch Chon site to avoid future supply failures.
  • Urgently correct surface issues on disabled pitches and seed with grass
  • Pitch size needs to be increased at many pitches and some surfaces constrained – disabled pitches 8 and 9 are a priority.
  • Where pitch size cannot be increased due to poor site selection, an auxiliary area beside the pitch should be created so campsite users can sit and cook by their tents.
    This would probably require a new planning application and not be a Non Material Variation
  • Remove unsuitable pitches from the booking system
  • Change booking system and include pitch descriptions and photographs, especially in connection with the size of tent and the number occupants the pitch can accommodate.
  • Complete seeding process so recovery of damaged areas can be achieved this season
  • Rethink the use of sand as a pitch surface, it’s ridiculous and gets carried into the tent.
  • Paths constructed on spongy ground.needs to be dug out and consolidated as per the statement in the planning consent.- 3 locations identified so far.
  • Paths need to be brought  up to the specification of the planning consent with respect to edge grading and restoration of edges through seeding.
May 25, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Caravan parked west Loch Lomond May 2017

Over the last month, a number of  examples have come to light about the LLTNPA’s inequitable application of the byelaws, the most notable being that Park staff have been told not to apply the byelaws to people in caravans (see here).    This post will look at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Authority’s selective application of the camping byelaws which I believe is contrary to natural justice and human rights.

The LLTNPA’s continued attempt to enforce the camping byelaws against campervans

 

Regular readers will know that the byelaws make it an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle unless this is on a road.  The legal definition of a vehicle includes both campervans and caravans (more on why the LLTNPA has decided to exempt caravans below) while the legal definition of a road includes their verges and private roads over which people have a right of passage.   This means campervans do not need permits in permit areas which are part of the road system, as is the case with the laybys on north Loch Earn.    The LLTNPA has obviously taken note as yesterday I spotted this notice (below) at Inveruglas which had not been there the week before.

 

The notice demonstrates how far senior management at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Authority are out of control and making up the law as they go along.   The purpose of LLTNPA’s claim that there is “no public right of passage between 7pm and 7am” is clearly to try and stop campervan and motorhome owners claiming they do not need to a permit to stop off overnight here because it is part of the road system.    The LLTNPA however have NO legal power to suspend public rights of passage on a whim and are acting ultra vires.   They need to be held to account.  This sign in itself warrants a judicial review of the entire manner in which the LLTNPA has been implementing the byelaws.

 

Land within the camping management zones exempt from the byelaws

 

Land has also been exempted from the byelaws in an arbitrary manner.   In order to allow existing campsites within the camping management zones to continue to operate the LLTNPA and Scottish Government approved the following clause:

 

(10) These byelaws shall not apply to areas within Management Zones which have been exempted from the application of any provision of these byelaws by the Authority from time to time.

 

On 5th April I asked the LLTNPA what land they had exempted from the byelaws and, on 4th May,  received this response together with a template of an exemption letter they had sent to landowners.   The response shows the land exempt from the byelaws consists entirely of caravan/campsites confirming that the purpose of byelaw 10 was to allow formal campsites to continue to operate and the intention was not to allow camping and staying overnight in vehicles to continue elsewhere.

 

The list of exempted campsites makes interesting reading.  It fails to include at least two existing campsites:

 

 

The first is the Loch Lomond Holiday Park, between Inveruglas and Ardlui, on the west shore of Loch Lomond.   This is ironic because one of the main aims of the camping byelaws on the west shore of Loch Lomond appears to have been to try and force people to use formal campsites in order to benefit business.    Indeed the Loch Lomond Holiday Park obtained planning permission last summer for new motor home places to take advantage of the business bonanza promised by the camping byelaws – hence the sign (top right) in the photo.    Unfortunately, any motorhomer handing over their cash to Loch Lomond Holiday Park has been committing a criminal offence!

 

The second missing campsite is even more extraordinary,  the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority’s own campsite at Loch Chon.   Loch Chon, is a campsite, not a permit area.  The need for LLTNPA to exempt its own land is demonstrated by the fact that the other campsite it owns, the Cabin at Loch Lubnaig, is included in the list of sites it has exempted.    So,  people forking out £7 a night to stay at Loch Chon have been committing a criminal offence!   I trust that the LLTNPA will now issue a public apology and write to all people who have a booked a place at Loch Chon with a personal apology and providing assurances that they will not be prosecuted under the camping byelaws.

 

If you think that is bad,  the LLTNPA has also decided on a whim to exclude other land from application of the byelaws without any applications for examption at all.   Evidence for this is found in the excellent newsletter of the Buchanan Community Council, the Communicator (see here).   The May issue contained an update on the camping byelaws, the last sentence of which reads:

 

The Camping Bookings Team at the National Park have recently confirmed that as long as camping takes place within the curtilage of your home then it isn’t affected by the new Camping Management Byelaws.

The east Loch Lomond byelaws exempted land around buildings from their provisions in order to prevent local residents  from being criminalised for allowing people to camp or stop off overnight in campervans in their own gardens.   The provision was removed from the camping byelaws approved by Aileen McLeod, the hapless Scottish Government Minister responsible, and instead an exemption was introduced for landowners and their close relatives:

 

(12) These byelaws shall not apply to any: landowner; tenant; or connected person authorised by the relevant landowner or tenant using land within a Management Zone owned or leased by such landowner or tenant for any of the activities listed in these byelaws.

 

The point about this exemption is it only applies to particular people, not the land: the landowner themselves, their tenant or “connected persons” who are basically defined in the byelaws to mean the landowner’s spouse, parents or children.  Under the new byelaws therefore landowners have no power to authorise other people to camp or stay overnight in vehicles on their own land.   That means if you are resident in a camping management zone and invite people to camp in your own garden that those people would be committing a criminal offence.  YET the LLTNPA are now saying in effect no, allowing people to camp on your land will not make them criminals if this takes place within the curtilage of your property.  The LLTNPA staff have NO legal authority for doing this and again are acting ultra vires.

 

The reason why the LLTNPA is not enforcing the byelaws against caravans

 

While it is  right that the LLTNPA does not try to enforce the byelaws about caravans parked in laybys – as a caravan like a campervan is legally a vehicle and the byelaws allow people to stay overnight in vehicles on roads – any touring caravan parked off road is committing a criminal offence.

 

The issue for the National Park is that businesses house many of their employees in such caravans and, if the LLTNPA took legal action against the people occupying these caravans, there would be chaos.  Hence its decision not to apply the byelaws to caravans – perfectly sensible but it undermines the whole basis of the byelaws.  The fact though that the LLTNPA are still trying to enforce the byelaws against campervans by trying to claim there is no right of passage over certain roads exposes the byelaws as rotten to the core.

 

If the byelaws cannot be enforced equitably, they should be revoked

 

I have heard recently that the LLTNPA has now referred at least 5 cases to the Procurator Fiscal involving breach of the byelaws.   I do not know why these cases have been referred but, whatever the reasons, the PF should reject the referrals on the grounds that it would be totally unfair to take action against some people who have breached the byelaws but not others.   Justice requires the law to be enforced equitably and its clearly unjust that the LLTNPA is trying to enforce the byelaws against some people but not others.   As Martin Luther King said,   “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” .

 

Before people think I am condoning irresponsible behaviour, if the referrals to the PF include cases of antisocial behaviour, littering or damage  the PF should take action under the existing law which deal with these issues, not the camping byelaw.  If they don’t, if for example they concern people who have refused to apply for a permit or who have camped/stopped outwith a permit area they should just be dropped.

 

There is now abundant evidence that the byelaws are not being enforced on an equitable basis.   This comes as no surprise as they are fundamentally flawed, not just because of the way they have been worded (the definition of “road”, “vehicle” etc)  but because they are fundamentally misconceived.      The LLTNPA appears incapable of sorting this out, of admitting the terrible mess and inequity it has created, and as long as its allowed to remain unaccountable will continue to act ultra vires, as it has done with the latest signs, and bring the law into disrepute.

 

When is the Scottish Government going to act?  Or is a judicial review the only way to sort out this stain on Scotland’s reputation for fairness and equitable application of the law?

May 22, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Thanks to the reader who submitted this to Parkswatch

The chaos at Luss (see here) on the first weekend in May, was experienced at several other visitor hotspots in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, but most notably and predictably at Balmaha.  The LLTNPA has an opportunity to reflect on what happened when its Planning Committee considers draft Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) for Buchanan South  (see here) at its meeting today.  The SPG is also very relevant to the controversial proposed housing development in the Balmaha Plantation (see here).   This post considers whether the new SPG will help address the issues at Balmaha in a way fitting for a National Park.

 

There are strict rules on what can be included in Supplementary Planning Guidance, which can only expand on, not change Development Plans.

What the LLTNPA Development Plan, approved by the Scottish Government earlier this year,  proposed for Balmaha (see above)  was however extremely vague.   It allowed considerable scope therefore for the Supplementary Planning Guidance to draw on the Park’s policies, and explain how these would be applied to the area.

SPG map

In the event the SPG only covers three of the policies set out in the Development Plan, Housing, Economic Development and Visitor Experience.   The reason for this is not explained but the SPG  does not cover over policy areas which are very relevant to Balmaha such as Transport and Natural Environment, the village being bordered  by the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve and the Highland Boundary fault.

 

Visitors and visitor management at Balmaha

 

While Balmaha is not readily accessible, it is the easiest place to get to on the east shores of Loch Lomond and, with Conic Hill providing one of the best viewpoints in Scotland for a hill of its size and with the West Highland Way providing a walk along the loch shore, its not surprising the village is a popular tourist destination.    With a poor bus service most people arrive by car.  With just a hundred odd places in the carpark, and the road north of the village designated a clearway, its hardly surprising that cars overwhelm the village on sunny weekends and bank holidays.

The Park has recognised this in its new draft National Park Partnership Plan (above), which rightly states the “the road network can become very busy at peak times” but then in usual fashion partly blames this on visitors “problems can be exacerbated by illegal and irresponsible parking of vehicles”.  Actually, this “problem”  is what the LLTNPA was set up to address and its challenge I would suggest (its not easy) is the provision of infrastructure to support visitors, including alternative means of transport to get to popular places like Balmaha.

 

The Supplementary Planning Guidance, disappointingly, says almost nothing about this.

SPG diagram

 

There is a reference to improving water transport (light blue arrow) and the Sustrans cycle path (dark blue arrow) but nothing on how the issue of too many cars for too few car parking places with no alternatives will be addressed.  For once I agree with Gordon Watson, the LLTNPA Chief Executive, who stated to the Stirling Observer that “additional overflow” car parking places are  required.  Such provision used to be available.  A farmer opened up a field to provide for parking but was given no support to manage this – people set up tents to stay the weekend – so stopped doing so.   This is the obvious solution, one that is used successfully in England’s National Parks, and one that should be revived, but there is no mention of this in the SPG.   I suspect this is because it would require resources from the LLTNPA (such as its Rangers helping to manage traffic rather than spending time chasing away innocent campers).

 

The lack of join up with the East Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 – which the SPG interestingly refers to as “draft” even though it is published – is glaring.  That plan recognised the pattern of visitor pressure and committed to:

 

Establish a multi-agency peak period management regime that puts in place procedures for staff across organisations
 
 That commitment appears to have been abandoned.  Why?  And who decided this?
 
Meantime, the transport policies in the approved National Park Development Plan would appear not to be worth the paper they are written on:
 
 “Land will be safeguarded for, and support will be given to, the transport infrastructure proposals identified within Town or Village proposals maps”
 
 and:
 
 “Modal change from private car to more sustainable transport modes within settlements including the provision of integrated new or improved transport infrastructure,”

The SPG contains no hint of this vision, or of the aspiration of  past plans, yet alone how land might be used to achieve this.   Another opportunity to make things happen, make things better, lost.   It should not be difficult.  On the continent many places, not just National Parks, use school transport at weekends and holidays to provide public transport to rural areas for visitors.   Balmaha and east Loch Lomond is an obvious place to start given the road is not a through route.

 

The SPG contains almost nothing outdoor recreation in its broadest sense, the reason most people visit Balmaha in the first place – what the Park calls “Visitor Experience”.    This is illustrated by the Balmaha strategic principles diagram  (above) which includes nothing about how, once people have parked their cars in the car park, they leave the village.   The green lines on the diagram indicate views to the Loch should be maintained but nothing about how people might access the loch shore and the National Nature Reserve, which is supposed to be a place people can enjoy nature.  There is no obvious way to access this at present.  The thinking of the LLTNPA appears to have gone backwards since the proposal, several years ago, to create a path along the loch shore south of the village (abandoned I understand because the ground is very boggy).   To the north, the West Highland Way to Rowardennan offers brilliant walking but with no way to get back unless you are prepared to retrace your steps or go the full way and try your luck with a waterbus.    A hop on hop off shuttle bus would open up the West Highland Way for far more people to enjoy.

 

There is also nothing about the lack of camping provision, the major issue being backpackers along the West Highland Way have nowhere to stop off at the natural stopping off point of Balmaha because of the camping management zone.   This is the National Park’s welcome to walkers who come from all over the world.  The LLTNPA in response to comments on the draft Development Plan saying a campsite was needed at Balmaha, indicated that there was nothing in the Plan to prevent this:  the failure of the LLTNPA even to mention the need for a campsite in the SPG tells you I think that the LLTNPA has no intention ever of trying to make this happen.  There is an obvious place for this:  the former playing field, marked development site, within the pink circle in the diagram above and adjacent to where the West Highland Way enters the car park.

 

Developments in Balmaha

 

The focus of the Supplementary Guidance is on the LLTNPA’s Housing and Economic Development Policies which I believe confuses rather than clarifies matters:

 

New development within Balmaha should reinforce its existing development pattern and be of appropriate (generally small) scale.

 

What the LLTNPA means by “small-scale” however is not the same as what most people would understand by the term:

 

All new development should be of appropriate scale. It will be site dependant but generaIly groupings of 3-8 dwellings should be the most easy to set comfortably in more open landscape. Small groupings should be based on existing development patterns where one (generally larger) property faces onto the road, with other smaller properties behind. If there is a need for larger development (i.e. more than 5 houses) it should be divided by robust landscaping and areas of open land to reduce the impact of development

 

The Strategic Principles diagram above includes some grey lines on either side of the road (the dark blue line with arrows), increasing in density as they approach the centre of the village.    This looks like the LLTNPA is proposing to allow ribbon development either side of the road even though this was not part of the Development Plan.   This would explain why, unlike other settlements, the LLTNPA has not demarcated the village boundary.   It also could explain why the people who I understand are the two main landowners, the Duke of Montrose and Sandy Fraser of the Oak Tree Inn, responded so positively to the draft Supplementary Guidance (see here) about opportunities for development.

 

The clarifications in the Supplementary Planning Guidance that the LLTNPA will  allow more new build at Balmaha raises questions about why the Balmaha Plantation site (which is still waiting to go to Committee) ever needed to be earmarked for affordable housing.   LLTNPA’s recently approved policy on Housing in small rural developments is that  “Development on these sites should provide for 100% affordable housing”, so by allowing more housing at Balmaha, the need for affordable homes could be met without destroying what appears to be an area of ancient woodland.   Except that, in Balmaha the SPG now qualifies that Park Policy: “Some open market housing will be supported where this is demonstrated as necessary to help fund the provision of affordable housing on site.”    I expect the landowners will claim they can afford to construct very little affordable housing and that therefore the Balmaha Plantation site is still needed while very little affordable housing will be provided along the ribbon development.   The effect of the SPG therefore will be to reinforce the current trends towards social segregation of people and housing in Balmaha.

 

Setting aside the question of how else to provide affordable housing, the Balmaha plantation proposal still appears to be a glaring anomaly within the context of the Development Plan and SPG.    The SPG fails to refer to the LLTNPA’s Natural Environment policies – a chance to explain the claim, made by some, that the plantation is not really an Ancient Woodland site.  It also fails to explain how the size and density of the Balmaha Plantation proposal fits with the definition of the type of small scale development the SPG wishes to see in the area, 16 rather than 3-8 units, with density decreasing as you move away from the village centre.

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs to start joining up its various plans and to start implementing actions it proposed to do in the past but has since, without explanation, abandoned.

 

The LLTNPA needs to revive the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Group (which did not meet last year) but make this both representative  (recreational organisations were not included) and accountable (it is not clear who signed off or agreed the last plan and the LLTNPA failed to provide any resources to make it happen).

 

The LLTNPA needs to start implementing its development plan policies on a consistent basis, rather than changing them so soon after they were adopted.   If the LLTNPA won’t abide by its own planning policies, there is no reason why anyone else should.

May 20, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Thanks to Nick Halls for these photos and for information which has informed the commentary.

Southern entrance to torpedo station site 15th May               Photo Credit Nick Halls

The area around the former southern entrance to the torpedo station remains in a very poor condition with concrete barriers now replacing the plastic barriers across the broken entrance gates.

 

The gates, which were installed to prevent vehicular access to the former torpedo station following an amenity notice issued by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority  (see here) and were then broken open (see here), appear to have had very little impact.

Close up of left side of gate, there is litter everywhere and this is the side of the public road. Photo Credit Nick Halls
Photo Credit Nick Halls

Inside the gate is even worse.  There has been a fire, whether this was an attempt to burn off rubbish or burn down the gate is unclear.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

And there is yet more fly tipping down the bank.

 

Clydebank Developments, who as far as I am aware are still owners of the torpedo site, have now  had 9 months to clear up the site since the LLTNPA issued the amenity notice last year.   The problem is that no-one is monitoring the site, the developer appears to have no presence, there are now far fewer police based in rural areas and the LLTNPA has devoted all its energy to chasing innocent campers rather than fly tippers who cause far greater problems.  There is clearly no proper enforcement taking place.  The local community and National Park deserve better.

 

It was good to see the head of Loch Long, which suffers from a massive litter problem – the worst in the National park – in pristine condition 10 days earlier.  What a contrast to the torpedo site just down the road.   Local community pressure to address the marine litter problems has clearly had a positive effect.  They have been involved in clearing the litter themselves and received grant funding, which has recently finished, to pay for the litter to be removed.    The problem is there are no adequate long term budgets to address the issue and, as the March meeting of the Arrochar and Tarbert Community Council noted, while Argyll and Bute allocation of £200k to clear up litter from beaches is very welcome, the Council’s coastline is as long as France!

Photo taken 5/5/17                                                                          Nick Kempe

Another small step forward is that the LLTNPA has recognised there is a marine litter problem in its new draft Partnership Plan – the word “marine” failed to appear in the last plan at all!  This is what the new draft plan has to say about it:

 

The volume of marine litter affecting communities on Loch Long is a long-standing issue which requires innovative thinking to resolve. (P28).

“Innovative thinking” is another example of parkspeak, whose real meaning is that the LLTNPA is not proposing to spend any resources on the marine litter problem which blights the National Park over the five years of the new Partnership Plan.

 

While it would be great to be able to address the causes marine litter in the Clyde,   which would require much greater enforcement action than happens at present (yes, that word enforcement again),  when litter is washed up at the head of Loch Long it needs someone to pick it up, just like it needs someone to pick up the litter at the torpedo site or at Luss (see here) or Balmaha on busy weekends.   The problem is the LLTNPA is so obsessed with the litter left by a few irresponsible campers, it cannot see the litter problem as a whole despite all the evidence on the ground.

 

What needs to happen

 

  • The LLTNPA needs to develop a proper litter strategy, as it promised to do several years ago and has never delivered – there is no mention of this commitment in the new Partnership Plan.  Without a co-ordinated plan, its target, to see a reduction of litter in the National Park over the next five years, is meaningless and will never be met.
  • The LLTNPA also needs to start telling the truth.  In the new Partnership Plan the LLTNPA claims “Much public investment has already been targeted in raising the quality of visitor facilities in the  busiest areas improving car parks, toilets, information points, litter facilities, viewpoints and campsites”.   Yes, its spent money on carparks, viewpoints and campsites – whether this has been well spent is a separate issue – but litter facilities and toilets??   So what is the gap between what is needed and what is provided?  The Partnership Plan is completely silent.   The LLTNPA continues to avoid the real issues facing the National Park.
May 19, 2017 Ross MacBeath 9 comments

ON THE SPOT REPORT

Thank to James McCleary for his permission to reproduce his experience as an “On the Spot Report”

A great example of leave no trace camping and a good looking Spot on Loch Venachar.  This area is a natural campsite and long time favorite with campers.

Report begins: 13th May 2017 Loch Venachar North,  Camping Zone ‘B’


Well I was a good little boy and paid my permit for Loch Venachar on Saturday night. Thanks to Wattie for the suggestion and Sharon for the reminder for the permit (apologies if it wasn’t you two! 🙃).

 

However, about 20 17-23 year olds rolled up and pitched their stuff about 30 meters to the left. Apart from one visit from a crying teenage steaming girl about no one liking her they kept to their own wee patch. A bit loud as you’d expect.

 

In the morning I said ‘Mind tidy your stuff up!’
‘Aye, nae bother mate’ they said as they jumped in their cars and disappeared.

 

After a few minutes of cleaning their stuff up in the car park I went over to see what they’d left!

 

 

My wee camp in the first three pictures and their mess in the last two! Pictures make it look better than it actually was as you can’t see all the used condoms, food, and drink lying everywhere!

 

Sigh 😢

 

Not a Ranger in sight all night!


End of Report

Additional comments by Ross MacBeath and Nick Kempe

Failure to Stop Antisocial Behavior in Management Zones.

This is by no means an isolated incidence (see here)

It appears from the last two images that this group of youths have camped before.  It’s highly likely that much of the mess caused by abandoned tents and camping equipment (fly tipping) as well as environmental damage takes place in the National Park can be attributed to a few groups such as this.  It is clear to park users that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and its Rangers need to focus ALL their efforts on the groups who create most havoc and not waste time in their  “engaging” and “education” of responsible campers.  “Education” of people new to camping, who may unwittingly cause minor impacts, while unobjectionable in principle is hardly a priority until the major offenders have been stopped.

 

The early bird catches the worm!

When it became apparent the group were leaving without clearing up, park rangers and Police Scotland responded arriving on site around 10:30 ish on the Sunday to find of course those responsible for the mess already gone. Another camper had a photograph of their tent with vehicles in the background.

So what is going on, it would have been reasonable to expect a standard Ranger patrol to arrive at this site well before 10.30 am as a priority on a Sunday morning, so it seems the claims of intelligent patrolling are a sham when a twelve year old knows if he’s made a mess he should scarper before he’s found out, why can’t the Park Authority appreciate this?

 

Too much time engaging with responsible visitors not enough time patrolling

How can the LLTNPA with it’s large ranger force and new powers to report offences directly to the Procurator Fiscal, fail to stop anti-social behaviour across the Park?

It’s pretty simple:

  1. The byelaws will not deter anti-social groups unless they are likely to get caught.   The Byelaws duplicate existing laws relating to these offences and only serve to devolve powers to rangers who can directly report to the procurator fiscal with a threat of higher penalties in some cases.  If you can still turn up late evening, party, jump in a car early morning and escape authority (whether Rangers or Police) it seems nothing has changed..
  2. The rangers are spending far to much time micro managing visitors and collecting data for their ranger reports, no doubt in some misguided attempt to justify the introduction of byelaws when what they should be doing is targeting the problems.  If the LLTNPA needs to employ rangers to work after 8.30pm, when problems are most likely to occur, or early morning to catch them so be it.
  3. Instead of wasted hours checking permits of responsible park users, the LLTNPA should task Rangers to identify the tell tale signs; groups drinking; messy pitches and excessive noise are all indicators of potential problems, identify those people (its easy, photograph  the car and number plate – people without cars almost never cause problems) and make it clear to them, if there is any mess left the next day they will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.    This is what the police did on east Loch Lomond, it worked there and would be equally effective across all Management Zones.
  4. Instead of trying to ban and control responsible campers, the LLTNPA should be empowering them to help take action against anti-social visitors. The best way to change behaviour is to lead by example.  A case in point is dog fouling where over the last ten years attitudes and behaviour  of dog owners has completely changed, not due to enforcement of the law but to a change in social attitudes and it’s the attitudes of “responsible” dog walkers that have been key in this process.  They are the people on the ground most likely to see and infulence what other dog walkers were doing.  Its the same with campers.  The LLTNPA however have treated all campers as potential criminal elements and in doing so alienated their greatest potential source of support.

 

Clearly if rangers had identified the group of 20 youths at some time during their stay this criminal offence of fly tipping, which did not in fact occur until the group left in the morning, could easily have been prevented.

The Park Authority confirmed their rangers did not patrol that evening (13th May) because they were involved in another incident, They would however have caught them in the morning had their patrolling schedule started early enough. It did not, and that is the reason this particular group and so many others are free to re-offend. It’s just not good enough.

If the perpetrators were caught after the police sped off down the road after them, the fact remains LLTNPA Rangers failed to identify the issue and any success is thanks to a number of responsible campers who in fact provided the initial report of the incident with details and photographic evidence of vehicles involved. The byelaws will never succeed without the support of those the park have chosen to penalise in every conceivable way

What the Park Authority Need to Do

 

  • Abolish the camping permit system, free up Ranger time, and use patrols to identify potential problems and pre-empt
  • Set up a 24 hour response service, with the police, to respond to problems (local people and responsible campers deserve nothing less).   This could be easily paid for out of resources wasted managing permits
  • Start working with recreational organisations to identify how responsible campers could be encouraged to report problems to the LLTNPA and how people like James, who cleared up some of the mess, could be supported.  Bins for the rubbish would be a good start – its one thing to pick up someone else’s rubbish, another to take it away with you (as we are sure the LLTNPA appreciates as their ‘Rangers are not allowed to put rubbish into the backs of their vans for Health and Safety reasons).
May 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The flat headland opposite Ledard House, at the start of the southern path to Ben Venue.  Proposed campsite was to be located right of photo

That campsites can become “political” issues is demonstrated in Strathard where Fergus Wood, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Member, lost his Council seat on 4th May (see here).  On 11th May he withdrew his planning application for a new campsite by the shores of Loch Ard on Ledard Farm (see here).

 

The Interests of Board Members of the LLTNPA

 

The day before I received a very interesting letter from the LLTNPA EIR 2017-039 Response Ledard farm refusing to disclose correspondence between the National Park and Fergus Wood about this application.   The reasons cited for this are “commercial confidentiality” and data protection:

 

Correspondence in relation to pre-planning requests for advice typically includes personal information and information that in its nature relates to commercial interests of an individual or business. The provision of a pre-application advice service helps in the delivery of an effective planning system, and it is important that such advice is provided confidentially. The practice of providing confidential pre-application advice to all planning applicants as required is common place across Scottish planning authorities and prospective planning applicants engage in the pre-application advice process with a reasonable and legitimate expectation of confidentiality
.

Note how the LLTNPA avoids saying whether the application contains personal information or commercial interests in this case.   In fact, if there was personal information such as phone numbers on correspondence, normal practice is simply to redact this.  Moreover, the fact there are commercial interests behind most planning applications is not the same as saying this is “commercial” information which might be exempt under our Freedom of Information laws.   While the public may not expect every piece of correspondence they have with the National Park or other public authorities to be publicly available, Fergus Wood is not an ordinary member  of the public but a Board Member.  What should be important in terms of ethical standards in public life is there is complete transparency where Board Members make planning applications.  Indeed the Scottish Government and Cosla has issued guidance on this http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0044/00444959.pdf.  

Procedures should be conducted in a consistent and transparent manner to avoid
suspicions that councillors may have prejudiced their positions

 

While this statement was written about councillors taking the decision, rather than making an application, the principle should apply to both.  Its quite clear the LLTNPA does not understand this at all:

 

“This individual would have had no expectation that correspondence regarding a proposed business development would be released into the public domain.”

 

The problem is there has been no transparency, Fergus Wood managed to fail to declare he was a Board Member when making the application, failed to engage with people (including neighbours who objected to the application) and he paid for this locally.   Local people do not like the way this case has been handled.    I am pretty certain the Park’s response to the information request will only make them even more suspicious should Fergus Wood submit a new application once he has stepped down from the LLTNPA Board.

While the Plan for the campsite was in name Mrs F Wood, the application was in both names, and the Code of Conduct for the National Park requires members to be transparent about the interests of their spouses/partners

 

 

Context for the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite planning application

 

There is a shortage of campsites in the National Park and, as been stated in previous posts, its positive that Fergus Wood, as a Board Member, has been prepared to cater for campers, if not in his backyard at least in view of his front garden.

Ledard Farm, home of Fergus Wood, just across the B829 from the proposed campsite

The unprecedented number objections to this planning application can, I believe, be accounted for by the camping byelaws.  The Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, who rightly have long been arguing the need for new campsites across the National Park, in their letter of support for this application said they did so because it would make “a positive contribution to the Your Park Initiative”.   The problem in Strathard, however, is “Your Park”, the contorted “vision” the LLTNPA has for camping.

 

As partial compensation for the camping ban across most of the lochshores in the National Park, the LLTNPA needed to show it was doing something.  It therefore promised 300 new places to Scottish Ministers but to help meet this promised  decided with Forestry Commission Scotland to develop a campsite on Loch Chon, a little further west along Strathard, where very few people had previous camped.  The local community made representations about people being encouraged into the area without suitable infrastructure (the narrow road, supervision of the campsite etc) which the LLTNPA in its usual way said would all be addressed.    What’s become clear in the last couple of  months is that most of the re-assurances the LLTNPA made about that development are meaningless:  the Park has failed to adhere to its own planning conditions and just a couple of weeks ago I found out that the warden appointed to supervise the site had left and a Ranger was driving in each day, a one hour trip, to manage the campsite (and presumably provide the bottled water which was needed because the water supply had failed – as predicted (see here).

 

So, the context to the large number of planning objections to the Ledard Farm campsite was that local people were worried that large numbers of irresponsible campers – and the LLTNPA has spent the last three years selling a myth to local communities that campers account for all the ills in the National Park – would all end up around Kinlochard at the Loch Chon and Ledard farm campsites.  These places being where people could still camp in the National Park and far more attractive for camping than the “permit zones” on Forest Drive (see here).   Had Fergus Wood taken up local concerns about the Loch Chon proposal, and used these to inform his own proposals, he might have avoided the backlash.   Like other Board Members, however, it appears he had become complacent because all the complaints to the Scottish Government had fallen on deaf ears and he therefore believed the National Park could continue to bulldoze through whatever it liked.   He had forgotten about democracy, the unfair consequence of which in this case is only that the Tory Councillor and LLTNPA Board Member Martin Earl, who like Fergus Wood endorsed the ill-thought out Loch Chon campsite, appears to have benefitted at the SNP’s expense.

 

Merits of the objections to the Ledard Farm campsite

 

Despite this context, very few of the objections to the Ledard campsite application (see here) appeared based on NIMBYISM and most in my view were well argued.  Here are some of the main points made:

 

  • People referred to the Development plan context (which was also ignored at Loch Chon) stating that the size of the development was too large for the area
  • People pointed out that the development was on a flood plain – contrary to National Park policy
  • People argued that because of the open landscape character of the lochshore it would be much more appropriate to site a campsite on the north side of the A827.
  • People were concerned about an influx of campervans along a narrow road (a concern that is now probably unwarranted as its become clearer the LLTNPA will be unable to enforce the camping byelaws against campervans and there is little risks therefore of large numbers being driven into Strathard).
  • People were concerned about increased light pollution at night (the LLTNPA keeps promoting dark skies)

 

What the objections add up to is that this was a tourist development in the wrong place – I have to say that I tend to agree.  While in many ways the planning application was positive (provision for staff to stay on site)  it was still a development and would have introduced a high profile building close to the lochshore in a open situation:

 

 

 

There are plenty of better places for campsites in Strathard and if, as is rumoured, Fergus Wood intends to re-submit a planning application for a campsite once he has stood down from the LLTNPA Board, location will be all important.   I would hope that both recreational and local interests would welcome a campsite in the right place.

 

A wider plan for the area

 

While Fergus Wood’s proposed campsite has created massive controversy, on the other side on Ben Venue, the LLTNPA  consented on 3rd May to a small new campsite at Trossachs Pier, at the east end of Loch Katrine, just outside the camping management zone (see here for planning application).    There were just two representations against the proposal demonstrating that local communities are not against all developments, but this one is small and located in woodland.  It includes water and electric hook ups and an effluent disposal point for campervans in the car park, upgrade of public toilets to include shower/wet room, 8 low cost camping pitches and 8 camping pods.

 

The trustees of the SS Walter Scott (who include the chair of Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs, James Fraser, who like me is on the Committee of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks), who made the application, have developed the proposal from its initial concept in a short period of time and also raised the funds to build it.   This  puts the LLTNPA to shame and highlights their failure to deliver all the basic campsites they had promised to deliver in the Trossachs as part of the 5 Lochs Management Plan (which now effectively appears to have been dumped) (see here)

 

There is now the potential to develop a network of small campsites around Loch Katrine and Strathard which would enable people to make more use of the cycling and walking routes there.

Path which runs parallel to shores Loch Arklet between Inversnaid and Loch Katrine by Corriearklet

The path which was created to connect Inversnaid to Stronachlachar Pier, at the west end of Loch Katrine, is sadly unused and the camping byelaws (which takes in all the land between the path and the Loch despite the small numbers of people who ever camped here – its even more remote than Loch Chon)   make it useless for backpackers who don’t want to risk becoming criminals.  Meantime while Stronachlachar Pier is just outwith the camping management zone, campers are not welcome:

 

While this is yet another unlawful no camping sign in the National Park, the request is not unreasonable.   What is needed is a sign which directs people to a good camping spot locally.

 

If there was a small basic campsite at Stronlachar or Loch Arklet, this would create a network of  campsites in the west Trossachs (in addition to those at Trossachs Pier, Loch Chon and maybe in future Ledard Farm) which would allow lots of opportunities for short backpacking and cycle tours, for example at weekends.  In my view that is what the National Park should be about and I would hope that people in the local community would agree.

What needs to be done in Strathard?

 

The basic problem in Strathard is that the LLTNPA has tried to impose ill-thought out proposals which suit its agend but no-one else.  Fergus Wood has paid a price for that.   Strathard was never included in the 5 Lochs Management Plan but I believe what is needed first and foremost is a visitor management plan for the whole area.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA instead of building on the  work for the rest of the Trossachs started by Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Kevin Findlater, former Chief Inspector with the police and others, has let that go and has nothing to replace it.   Visitor Infrastructure and management is therefore a shambles with all resources being diverted to policing the unenforceable camping byelaws.

 

The way forward therefore is the creation of a stakeholder group for Strathard – which in my view should be independent of the Park Authority who at present cannot be trusted on anything but be supported by it (in terms of staff time and resources) – whose mission should be to develop a plan for Strathard.   Such a group needs to consider the infrastructure and other issues identified by local residents as well as wider interests.

 

I would hope that such a plan included the following as starters:

  • proposals to develop a network of small campsites linking across the area (within which any proposal for a new campsite at Ledard farm could be judged)
  • the potential to introduce public transport at weekends and holidays (using school buses) to enable some increase in visitor numbers without encouraging more traffic
  • a reduction in the number of formal pitches at Loch Chon (which would be easy to achieve since many are already being overrun by vegetation) and abandonment of the current rules banning campervans from staying in the carpark or tents from pitching by the lochshore