Category: National Parks

November 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

A few weeks ago I learned that someone had nominated me for the TGO Readers’ Award under the category Campaign or Campaigner of the year.    I am really grateful that someone appreciated parkswatchscotland sufficiently to nominate me for this.   I also think its great that TGO values campaigning and through the awards and its coverage makes more walkers aware that the outdoors is not just somewhere to enjoy but also a politically contested space.  For campaigning is politics with a small “p”.

 

I am not, however, canvassing for votes and am not interested in competing against other campaigns or campaigners.  The truth is parkswatch – and the whole outdoor movement if it can be described as such – supports most of the aims of those nominated for the TGO awards.   We need to work together.

 

And that is fundamental part of what parkswatch is about, working with other people.   While presently I write many of the posts, I have always hoped more people would do so and am particularly grateful to other contributors.   Behind the scenes however there is now a large number of people and organisations keen to promote critical debate about our National Parks in Scotland who support parkswatch in all sorts of ways:  providing information, making information requests, tipoffs about what is going on and what needs investigation, suggestions for critical analysis, drafting argument/pieces for potential use, sharing posts on social media etc.   Not only this, but people are taking action, everything from submitting complaints and contacting politicians at the individual level to working through organisations.   My thanks to each and every one of you.   I suspect similar stories could be told for the other campaign/ers nominated for the TGO awards.

 

While this gives reason to be optimistic about the future,  it is worth considering how successful all these campaigns – and the many others not nominated for the awards – have been to date.    The truth is there is a long way to go.  Yes, all the campaigns listed have had their successes but none has achieved the type of fundamental change that is needed.  So, Mend our Mountains and Fix the Fells have addressed some footpath erosion but the issue of how we get sufficient funding for path maintenance work across the British Isles remains.  Mark Avery, backed by wonderful organisations like Raptor Persecution UK and a whole network of bird recorders etc, has done a huge amount to raise awareness of raptor persecution but meantime raptors continue to be killed and disappear on grouse moors, particularly in our National Parks, with depressing regularity.  Lots of people, like Get Outside, are doing great work to try and re-connect people with nature, but poverty and the slashing of outdoor education provision as part of austerity, not to mention the camping ban in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, offsets all of this work.   JMT has done fantastic work on raising awareness of the importance of wild land, but this hasn’t prevented the Scottish Government giving the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach windfarm in a Wild Land Area in Sutherland.

 

And parkswatch is no different.  Certain changes in our National Parks over the last 18 months – from alterations to camping permit areas to restoration of hill tracks –  may be partially attributed to critical coverage on the blog.  But on the really big issues, such as land-use, whether intensive grouse moor or forest management, or major developments, such as An Camus Mor, Flamingo Land or the Cononish goldmine expansion, there is everything still to go for.

 

It would be great if next year there was a standout campaign which had achieved fundamental change, whether in Scotland or anywhere else in the British Isles.  For any such change to happen however will require change at the political level and in Scotland at present there is very little sign of this happening.

 

There is a significant contrast between the radicalism of the early days of the Scottish Parliament (the first Land Reform Act, the creation of National Parks, the Nature Conservation Act) and how it and the Scottish Government now operate (with some significant exceptions of course).  Resources that might have assisted the  implementation of that early legislation and promoted progressive change in the countryside – whether access officers, countryside rangers or staff monitoring biodiversity – have been slashed. There is very little challenge to the way the Scottish Government is micro-managing and centralising public authorities with organisations such as our National Parks and SNH  told what they can and cannot do by civil servants – with loss of even more funding the consequence of non-co-operation.   Even the simplest of decisions, such as the re-introduction of beavers, can only be taken after years of bureaucratic obfuscation.  The Scottish Government’s response to public pressure to change – such as over raptor persecution – is yet more bureaucracy, with handpicked working groups which deliberate for years and achieve nothing.  That it has taken over six months for the Scottish Government to announce the membership of the grouse moor review group tells you everything about the current failures of government.

 

I am optimistic though that this can change.  The ideological consensus behind how Scotland and the countryside, including our National Parks, should be managed is breaking down and that provides a great opportunity.    To exploit that opportunity campaigners will need to work together and see everything is connected.  So, on grouse moors for example, the way they are being managed affects not just wildlife but the landscape.  Behind this its the power of landowners which is the fundamental determinant of how land is used, whether for pylons, windfarms or intensive rearing of grouse and its only when campaigns get together and start to address these fundamental issues that we will get real change.

 

Within this context our National Parks should be demonstration sites for how things could be done differently and a measure of success for parkswatch will be when they start fulfilling that role.

October 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Extract from Glasgow Airport magazine, High Flyer, September 2017. Often the LLTNPA appears to be more a tourist agency – we have Visit Scotland to do that – than National Park, with a marketing team to match. Yes, Loch Lomond is very close to Glasgow airport , but can you get there easily by public transport? Yes, the National Park is great for camping – but why not mention the camping ban then?

Looking at the papers for the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place last Friday (see here), I was struck by the significant differences between the way it and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority operate.

 

While many (mostly retiring?) members of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have lost sight of what they might contribute to the National Park (see here),  Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Members are involved in a large number of initiatives.  Here is an extract on current CNPA involvement in Groups (27 in all):

 

While attending meetings and events of course does not necessarily make Board Members effective – and the CNPA has in my view always struggled to engage with recreational interests – this wide network of groups does influence how the Cairngorms National Park operates.  The CNPA has a raft of strategies and plans compared to the the LLTNPA and there are direct links between these groups, the existence of strategies and the National Park Partnership Plan.

 

For example,  the Cairngorms Economic Forum (one of the Group above) links to the Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015-18 and the fact that the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan considers economic issues, include low pay in the National Park.  While they are far from developing an alternative economic strategy, based on sustainable development and use (should that be re-use?) of natural resources, they do have a framework for considering the issues.    There is no equivalent in the LLTNPA.  As a consequence their draft National Park Partnership plan is much weaker on these issues and is little more than a set of aspirations (which its very hard for anyone to disagree with) without content.

 

While some networking does go on on the LLTNPA – you can see that locally elected members and councillors do attend community council meetings from the minutes of those meetings – what their Board Members are involved in is very difficult to ascertain as there is no public network of groups as with the CNPA.   Indeed groups which used to exist, like the east Loch Lomond and 5 Lochs Visitor Management Groups appear effectively to have been shut down.  Moreover, the public have no easy way to contact LLTNPA members, whereas go to the section of the CNPA website on Board Members, click on their name and there is an email.  So, if you are interested in social inclusion or Broadband in the Cairngorms National Park, you can work out who best to speak to and contact them.  I would suggest that is worth a lot.

 

The differences go further.  The CNPA has a Planning Committee, on which all Board Members sit, and an Audit and Risk Committee but it also has a Finance and Delivery and Staffing and Delivery Committees.  ALL meet in public.  Contrast this with what the LLTNPA say on their website:

 

“By law, we have two committees that are required to meet:

  • Our Planning & Access Committee meets monthly to consider certain planning applications, enforcement actions, policy papers, legal agreements and access matters.
  • And our Audit Committee meets up to four times a year to support the Accountable Officer (our CEO) in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance and associated assurance through a process of constructive challenge.”

 

The LLTNPA operate with the minimum number of Committees possible,  just as they publish the minimum amount of information they are legally obliged to (two years).

 

The LLTNPA model has, I believe, been based on neo-liberal corporate ideology that the best way to run organisations is by slimline management, which in effect means small groups of people endorsing decisions taken by the leader.  The few know best and Park structures have been designed to prevent anything getting in the way of centralised decision-making.   No wonder their Board Members no longer saw a role for themselves and proposed their own abolition.

 

Thankfully there are signs of change at the LLTNPA.  Their new convener appears to be a genuine team player, more like the captain than the manager, and the Chair of the Park’s Delivery Group, Colin Bayes, has been trying to make more public what that group does.   The logical next step is to create a finance and delivery committee which, like the CNPA, meets in public.  Having a staffing committee also says something about the preparedness of an organisation to be open – for staff should be the most important resource our National Parks have.

 

The two National Park Boards have arranged to meet in November – its been an action point for the LLTNPA for over two years – and I think that provides an ideal opportunity for LLTNPA members to rediscover a role for themselves.

 

Structures are only the start

Extract from report on last CNPA National Park Partnership Plan progress

Networking, listening, being more open is however only a start. Having discovered a role for themselves, Board Members need to help ensure our National Parks deliver far more than they do at present and where things are not working to help change direction and come up with new solutions.  The above extract illustrates the challenges facing the CNPA.  The Wildlife Estates Initiative was dominated by landowners and hunting interests and was supposed to show how the National Park would work in partnership with estates to promote wildlife in the National Park (and reduce wildlife persecution).  What the extract above shows is that even this weak initiative has failed and it provides strong evidence that the voluntary measures to promote wildlife in the new National Park Partnership Plan won’t work either.    The landed estates basically don’t care how they appear to the public.   The challenge for CNPA Board Members is to start to assert the right of the National Park to take action on these issues where voluntary measures have failed.

 

Ironically, the LLTNPA did take firm action in one area – the camping byelaws –  though I think it is significant that this is the ONLY area of work where it has been prepared to stick its neck out.  The problem has been that the LLTNPA focussed on the wrong issue – camping management rather than visitor management – and has bulldozed through the wrong solution with disastrous consequences.   I am in favour of our National Park Boards taking a stronger line but, just like when landowners fail to co-operate, they also need to recognise when they have got it wrong.  Its these type of issues where public debate should be promoted by our National Park Boards,  rather than the manipulated Your Park consultation on the byelaws or the relative silence of the CNPA on fundamental issues of land-use such as whether grouse moor management is compatible with the aims of the National Park.   Neither of our National Parks have been very good at leading such debates to date.

September 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Herald Thursday. There was a further article and leader comment on Saturday.

The debate about visitor numbers, which started this summer with reports of visitors “swamping” Skye and the North West Coast, has moved to the Outer Hebrides and the current focus is on “motorhomes”.  However, unlike in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where the numbers of visitors are treated as a problem,  in the West the increase in visitors is generally seen as a good thing.  The challenge, as Alasdair Allan the local MSP said, is that infrastructure has been unable to keep up with demand.   In suggesting that a levy be imposed on campervans to fund the infrastructure, he has opened up the debate.  The Herald, at the end of their leader on Saturday, reflecting on that debate concluded, rightly I believe:  “Getting the infrastructure right is the solution: who pays for it is the problem”.

 

What the Herald failed to say was that if our National Parks had been working and being doing the job they were set up to do, they would now be providing a model of how to do this.  Moreover, the case for further National Parks, including that mooted for Harris, would be unanswerable.

 

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing that people on Skye and in the Outer Hebrides can learn at present from our existing National Parks.  Both seem keener to ban visitors than welcome them.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority has suggested byelaws to restrict access could be used to allow the An Camas Mor development to go ahead (see here), while the constant refrain of LLTNPA  Chief Executive Gordon Watson over the last year when asked to justify the camping byelaws has been  that the numbers stopping off in campervans and tents are too great.  The LLTNPA’s original provision for campervans under their camping permit system was a measly 30 places, with not a single campervan allowed at their new Loch Chon campsite despite all the parking space there.   The LLTNPA’s attempt to limit the number of campervans has now fallen apart because of the legal right people have to sleep in vehicles by the road but this has left a policy vacuum.

 

The policy vacuum  provides an opportunity for the LLTNPA to change direction.  Instead of trying to stop and control visitors,  they should be focussing on what infrastructure is needed to support them.   There was no open discussion of this at the Board Meeting earlier this month, although a reference in the Your Park update report that staff were looking to upgrade facilities at Firkin Point and Inveruglas suggests they may now be moving in the right direction.

 

The basic elements of the infrastructure the LLTNPA needs to provide for campervans should be quite obvious – chemical disposal points, places to leave rubbish and drinking water.  When asked for a list of chemical disposal points in the National Park earlier this year, the LLTNPA knew of none outside formal campsites (see here) and could not even say which campsites had chemical disposal points.  The LLTNPA needs to start acknowledging that the lack of facilities for campervans and the lack of public information about this as a problem and also that it has the primary responsibility to sort this out.

 

The contrast in levels of understanding and understanding between the LLTNPA and  the west is striking.   Alasdair Allan MSP was able, without apparent difficultly, to identify the lack of facilities, chemical disposal points and capacity on ferries as a challenge.    Imagine what the Western Isles could have learned if the National Park had installed chemical and waste disposal points for campervans at the toilet facilities along the A82,  (Luss, Firkin, Inveruglas, Crianlarich, Tyndrum) and made these available 24 hours a day.  Imagine too what the Western Isles could have learned if the LLTNPA had used its large communications and marketing team (there are at least 8 staff) to engage with campervanners about the infrastructure they would like to see in place and then disseminated the results across Scotland?  That could have informed provision of infrastructure everywhere but instead the LLTNPA uses that team to produce glossy materials telling people what they are not allowed to do and where they cannot go.

 

To take the contrast further, tourism chiefs on the Western Isles have criticised Mr Allan’s proposals for a ferry tax on motorhomes because it might put people off visiting.  In the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park tourism businesses piled in to support the byelaws banning visitors in the mistaken belief that you could force people to use commercial sites.   Funny how all those free marketeers want to constrain choice.    A study by Outer Hebrides Tourism has found that people in motorhomes, who are not forced to go anywhere in the Western Isles, on average spend £500 per visit.  Both the tourism chiefs and Mr Allan know that the increased number of visitors in motorhomes is good, the debate is just about how to fund the infrastructure and whether tourism taxes would put off tourists.   The contrast with the LLTNPA  is that in all the papers that were developed to try and justify banning campers and campervanners, there was no tourism impact development and never once did the LLTNPA consider the impact on the local economy.  The LLTNPA should acknowledge in their report to Ministers on the byelaws in December that this was a mistake as has been their attempt to limit the numbers of tents and caravans to 300 (which was an arbitrary figure which has never been justified).

 

The final contrast between the west and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park about the infrastructure debate is the level of political involvement.   Its not just Alasdair Allan that is involved, Kate Forbes the Highland MSP has facilitated meetings on Skye with local councillors and the tourism minister to discuss what needs to be done to support visitors (see here).  In the Saturday Herald Leader of the Western Isles Council, Roddie Mackay, was quoted as saying “The council is exploring all options that could increase investment in infrastructure required as a result of the undoubted success of RET (the Road Equivalent Tariff which has reduced ferry charges) and tourism”.  Contrast this with the LLTNPA where local MSPs and councillors, including those on the LLTNPA Board, have been notable for their silence on the need for improved infrastructure and investment.

 

A recent example of this political silence came at the LLTNPA Board Meeting last week when a Board Member referred to visits from large cruise liners which come to the Clyde and then send busloads of passengers to Luss.  This was interesting – same issue as in the Hebrides – and helps to explain why visitor infrastructure at Luss is creaking.  Not one idea was proposed however on how to rise to this challenge and opportunity.  Instead, there was a bizarre discussion about how difficult it was to get agreement from Luss Estates, the Park and the local Council about who should pick up litter where around the Luss carpark.   

 

What needs to happen

Our National Parks should be aspiring to provide models of excellence for how to support visitors, not ban them, and focus the resources which they have, which are far greater than are available on the west coast, on getting infrastructure right.

 

As part of this the LLTNPA should be committing to develop a proper plan for the infrastructure needed to support campervans in the first year of the forthcoming National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23.  This should include a commitment to engage openly  people using campervans and local communities  to the right type of infrastructure and in what places.  Some of this should be easy, for example adapting existing facilities, some more challenging, for example installing new public toilets and disposal points (eg at the carpark at the foot of the Cobbler).  I will consider how this could be funded in a future post.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

August 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have been in the Dolomites a couple of weeks and had been hoping to write some posts about what Scotland National Parks could learn from Italy.  The photo tells a tale.  The Dolomites are almost completely free of litter.  This road, to the Sella Pass and a major through route is closed on Wednesdays 9-4pm except to bikes and buses (there are lots and they are cheap).   And everywhere there is provision for visitors.  And the Sella Pass is not even in a National Park

 

However I have been limited to trying to manage parkswatch through my phone (apologies for time taken to approve comments) and having a scheduled posts before leaving Scotland I am now going to take a break for a week or so as posting from a phone when out of the mountains is too laborious.

 

My thanks to all parkswatch regular readers and the many many people who have supplied information and photos over the last year.

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 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

What has been going on, and going wrong, in Scotland’s two National Parks since they were created has been a microcosm of our society as a whole and I believe reflects the current crisis in capitalism.  Increasing inequality, public authorities whose main purpose is to facilitate business interests (whether through outsourcing services or paving the way for developers), a wilful disregard for people and other species.   I have avoided mentioning the General Election since it was announced (see here) but what happens tomorrow is very important to the future of our National Parks, despite what I regard as the sterile political “debate” that has been conducted in Scotland.

 

I am a Social Worker by trade and have sometimes question how I can justify time campaigning for better National Parks when there are so many homeless people on the street and we live in one of the richest countries in the world (whether you see Scotland or Britain as your country).   I don’t however think that social justice and access to the natural environment are separate issues.   Historically some of the greatest campaigners for the countryside ( Patrick Geddes in Scotland who was both a Professor of Botany and a Professor of Sociology) were also  campaigners for social justice and its no coincidence that the post-war Labour Government created both the NHS and National Parks:

 

“the enjoyment of our leisure in the open air and the ability to leave our towns and walk on the moors and in the dales without fear of interruption are……….just as much part of positive health and well being as are the building of hospitals or insurance against sickness…….This is not just a Bill.  It is a People’s Charter……..”  

(Lewis Silkin introducing the National Park and Access to Countryside Act 1949).

The Party manifestos

 

I have taken a  look at the Scottish political party manifestos to see whether they any are making the links between social and environmental justice and have any vision for the role National Parks could play in delivering this.

 

The SNP manifesto is interesting because while it articulates a vision for social justice, including at the UK level, there is almost nothing on the environment apart from climate change and no mention of National Parks.   In my view it reads a bit like one half of the labour programme from the 1940s, albeit not fundamentally challenging the philosophical basis of neoliberalism.

 

The Scottish Labour Manifesto repeats the UK manifesto and at least recognises what is going wrong:  “The balance needs resetting: our air is polluted, our farms face an uncertain future, our fish stocks are collapsing, our oceans are used as dumping grounds, our forests, green belt, National Parks, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.”   The proposals to redress the balance are mainly focussed on improving enforcement of environmental and other laws, which though welcome, is only half the challenge.   There is little articulation of what a fairer Britain means for our landscapes.

 

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also makes no mention of National Parks and focusses mainly on the risks that the protections offered by European environmental laws could be undermined by Brexit.  The assumption is these laws are working and there is little vision for a different future (apart from a ban on the neonicotonids which are destroying bee populations).

 

The Scottish Green manifesto is brief and although the most radical makes no mention of National Parks.  Unfortunately the Party with perhaps the most potential to shift the terms of the current debate is hardly participating in the election – a missed opportunity.

 

Interestingly its the Tory manifesto which appears to offer the most holistic vision:

 

We can no longer think of economic development as a competing force against
environmental protection. Earlier this year, the Scottish Conservatives set out our
approach to environmental policy in a comprehensive policy document. The paper
included ambitious plans across seven key sections including the circular economy,
biodiversity, energy, homes and transport. In it, we have argued for the setting up of
new national parks, the introduction of a range of non-fiscal incentives for the use of
electric vehicles, new urban consolidation hubs to reduce traffic emissions or further
development of district heating networks. Our approach will provide a greener and more
sustainable Scotland for us all. We set ourselves this task because we believe it is one of
the greatest challenges of our times. It is for this generation to tackle the issue and ensure
that the next will live in a better, more productive and more sustainable world.

 

The debate on the establishment of New National Parks – Scottish Parliament: 24 May 2017

 

In the middle of the election campaign there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks, which you can see on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) .   The motion, put by the Tories,  was

 

“That the Parliament recognises the value of Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, which creates jobs, contributes to the economy and attracts millions of tourists from Galloway and West Dumfries, the rest of Scotland and the world; notes what it sees as the success of the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs national parks in conserving and enhancing the natural heritage of these areas, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to conduct a review of national parks and consider the establishment of new ones.”

 

What the Tories have recognised is that people care about the landscape and this can be good for the economy.   The debate showed however that in Scotland the whole framework for discussion for conservation and enjoyment of the countryside is being held in a resolutely neo-liberal framework, which assumes neo-liberalism and  austerity is here to stay (despite the possibility of an earthquake south of the border tomorrow which no-one could have anticipated 6 weeks ago).

 

This was summed up by the Minister of the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, at the end of the debate where she said she did not share the optimism that new National Parks could be set up with little cost and that the reality is there is less money and that the money has to come from elsewhere.   She described the silence on this from the other contributors to the debate as telling.  She went on to say that the  “costs associated with all 7 Natonal Parks (as proposed by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks of which I am a member) would run into tens of millions…………….in the current circumstances there is no likelihood of being able to assign the finance”           While she applauded the “desire to protect Scotland’s iconic landscapes”  she also stated “National Parks are just one designation that can boost economic development of an area” suggesting she sees National Parks as a means of economic development, albeit one we cannot afford.    The response from the Tories to this challenge was that new National Parks was all about getting the right Business Case but they did not challenge the austerity narrative, suggesting they agreed with Roseanna Cunningham, that the main issue is about how we spend limited resources.

 

They are not alone in this.  In Wales the Labour Government has been trying to change the law on National Parks in order to “free up” economic development (see here).  A reflection of the schism between the economic philosophy of the Corbynite UK labour party and the labour party in the devolved administrations.

 

I found the debate very disappointing.  It provided little indication at present that our politicians in Scotland are able to articulate a vision which is not entirely based on money and that National Parks matter for reasons other than our neoliberal economy (though Alison Johnstone from the Greens did make the case for National Parks protecting mountain hares).

 

I still haven’t decided how I will vote tomorrow.  The possibilities of alternative visions of society – in which National Parks could play an important role – which were around during the Independence Referendum appear to have shifted to south of the border.    I hope they remain after tomorrow as I think this could help rejuvenate visionary thinking and debate in Scotland.

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 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 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

By a happy coincidence, just as Dave Morris’ fine letter about how investment in the outdoors can benefit landscapes, people and the local economy appeared in the Herald, I received EIR 2017-037 Response Chemical Disposal points from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   From the sublime to the ridiculous – but its an indication of just how far the LLTNPA are failing to provide basic infrastructure for visitors compared to Councils who have far fewer resources.

 

If you apply for a campervan permit you have to agree to the LLTNPA’s permit terms and conditions MHome-permit-Ts-and-Cs-07.03.17.    This includes the following clause:
“Toilet waste cassettes or grey water tanks must not be emptied within the permit area other than at authorised disposal points”.
I think its fair to say anyone reading this might expect there to be a number of chemical disposal points in the National Park – hence my information request – but it turns out there is just ONE, at Loch Lubnaig, and the LLTNPA does not even know if there are any others which might be available for use by campervans.     I’d describe this as a disgrace.
I have been out and about in the National Park a number of times recently and what is blindingly obvious is the large number of campervans staying in the camping management zones, lots of people out enjoying our countryside.   The fact that the LLTNPA has created just 20 permit places for campervans across its four camping management zones is I think totally now totally irrelevant, its basically being ignored, but what does matter is there is nowhere for all those people to dispose of their waste.

 

The LLTNPA has so far completely failed to install the basic infrastructure that is needed to support people in campervans.  On West Loch Lomond, it has missed an obvious opportunity as all three of the campervan permit areas on West Loch Lomond already have public toilets (even if these are shut for much of the time year) with the infrastructure for disposal of sewerage already in place. .
At Inveruglas there are toilets at the back of the cafe which currently can only be accessed when the cafe is open.  This means they are shut for much of the year and during the evenings.
The toilets are located at the back of the building by the far window. It should not be difficult to add an external chemical disposal point outside and even better, the LLTNPA could create an external entrance allowing campers and other visitors to access the toilets when the cafe is closed.

Last week I went to check the site and the toilets could easily be made available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year through a few basic alterations to the building (which the LLTNPA owns).

Having gone out of its way to attract more visitors to the site through the Scottish Scenic Routes Initiative, the aim of which was “to enhance the visitor experience of Scotland’s landscape: by creating innovatively designed viewpoints in selected locations in areas of outstanding scenery;” the LLTNPA has done nothing  to enhance visitor facilities.    Instead its wanting to raise the amount of income it gets from the site by introducing an Automated Number Plate Recognition system (see here).   The LLTNPA spent over £8k installing the current parking ticket machines at Inveruglas (see here) – that amount of money would have gone a long way to adding, or might have even paid for, a new chemical disposal point and 24 hour entrance to the toilets.
The LLTNPA’s priorities are all wrong.   It need to devote its resources to providing for people instead of trying to control them and making money out of this.      There is some excellent advice available on how to do this for campervans – http://www.all-the-aires.com/aire_construction.shtml – and a good starting point for the LLTNPA Board at its next public meeting would be to discuss how to develop such facilities in the National Park.

The current state of the camping and campervan permit area at Inveruglas

Motorhome permit place – you can see the sign on the right behind the mound of gravel

Meanwhile, the permit places at Inveruglas share uncanny similarities with those at Forest Drive albeit in a different environment.   Is this what the LLTNPA calls a quality visitor experience?   For anyone unwise enough to book for a campervan permit, I would ask for my money back.

 

Most of the camping permit area which lies behind the campervan in the first photo looks like this – completely unfit for camping.

The LLTNPA have, however, just like at Forest Drive, strimmed an area (below) which back in March (see here) was covered in brambles.

 

Its unclear if the LLTNPA expect people to pitch tents between the trees or whether this is their attempt to improve the amenity of the site for anyone camping in the foreground.   I walked all over the site and there was space at most for two tents.  The LLTNPA has totally failed to provide the number of camping places it said it would, but far more important the way its selected and is managing those places tells you that as a body its totally unfit to manage campers or indeed any other type of visitors.

 

What needs to be done

 

The Scottish Government need to appoint someone to the LLTNPA Board who has an understanding of the basic needs of visitors and is committed to providing these.   It should also ask all current Board Members and members of their senior management team to go out and spend a night in a tent in a permit zone and report on the experience and then publish this.  It would make interesting reading.

 

The Scottish Government also need to tell the LLTNPA Board that they need to stop wasting money on policing the unenforceable and start investing that money in basic visitor infrastructure which is worthy of a National Park.

January 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

There was more on National Parks on Out of Doors on Saturday http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088flk5 including an interview with Robert Maund, former chair, and Ross Anderson current chair of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks from 36mins.  I am a member of the SCNP Executive Committee.

 

The interview focussed on the economic arguments for National Parks.   This is  because the current view of the Scottish Government is that further National Parks are unaffordable, as expressed recently in the Scottish Parliament by Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment:

 

19/12/16 SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

ORAL ANSWER

15 December 2016
Index Heading: Economy

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party):
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the establishment of a new
national park would have on tourism and conservation.

S5O-00487

Roseanna Cunningham:

While the Scottish Government recognises the important contribution our
existing National Parks make to tourism, conservation and the wider Scottish
economy, any new national parks would incur significant costs. At a time of
pressures on public finances, we do not believe that it is right to raise
expectations regarding the designation of new national parks. We will
therefore continue to focus our support on our existing Parks so that they
can continue their track record of success.


SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT

 

Now while the SCNP has produced a number of reports on National Parks, which illustrate the benefits they can bring (see here),  in my view those benefits ultimately are attributable to the power of the idea.  National Parks conjure up the idea of special places.   So, if you are visiting a country and want to see special places, there is fair chance you will choose a National Park.  If you have lots of National Parks, then you are a country really worth visiting.  Its not surprising they bring economic benefits

 

That same idea though has implications for the way the land is managed.   People don’t choose to go to National Parks because they want to visit a theme park – that’s why 33,000 odd people signed a petition against Flamingo Land within a few days – they understood, a gut response determined somewhere in the collective unconcious, but very real, that this is not what National Parks should be for.  Conversely, people instinctively understand that National Parks should be about wildlife and that there is something very wrong when our National Parks are unable to protect raptors and other species from persecution.

 

I set up Parkswatch because our National Parks weren’t living up to the idea, the ideal, and needed watching.  The reasons for this are complex, and worth analysing – indeed much of parkswatch is about why things are going so wrong in our National Parks – and Roseanna Cunningham’s claims that our two existing National Parks have “a track record of success” is in my view a long long way from the truth.      There are people I respect, who think our current National Parks have so tainted the ideal that they are opposed to any further National Parks in Scotland.   There are other people, who I also respect, who are loathe to criticise our two National Parks but who are trying to work behind the scenes to remedy their faults.   My own view, is different.  I don’t think there is anything inconsistent in using the power of the idea  to criticise our existing National Parks – and prevent the idea and ideal being eroded – and to argue that Scotland needs more National Parks.      That’s why I will be helping at the SCNP stall in the Scottish Parliament this week, putting the case for new National Parks, while continuing to criticise our existing ones.

 

What I’d say to Roseanna Cunningham, if I get to meet her, is cost should not be the primary consideration when it comes to National Parks.    What should come first is protecting land and nature for people to enjoy and the real question is does the Scottish Government wish to do that?   Not cost.   Indeed I might quote Mike Reynolds, head of the National Park Service in the  USA, who talking about landownership near the beginning of the Out of Doors programme asked if private landowners didn’t work towards National Park objectives, why wouldn’t you nationalise the land?   This from neo-liberal America.   As long as the Scottish Government does not allow National Parks to do stupid things – such as the LLTNPA spending £345k on the Loch Lomond Campsite and deploying dozens of rangers in a quasi police force to stop innocent campers camping – National Parks will repay the investment.  The Scottish Government needs to think again, both about new National Parks and how our existing National Parks have failed to deliver their potential.

December 15, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

If you have not read it, I would commend the lecture Andy Wightman gave last week on the case for a renewal of Scottish democracy.  I am not a member of any political party, the lecture does not mention National Parks but what it says is, I believe, entirely relevant to our National Parks and the issues that are covered on parkswatch, from the need for transparency to corporate power.   I was particularly struck by the following extract:

 

Parkswatch is a blog, a platform for critical thinking (and I hope debate) about National Parks but in covering issues I and other contributors have made demands and suggestions of what need to change.  Much of this has been in response to what the Parks are doing or failing to do.  Its reactive.  I think Andy is right.  Those who care about our National Parks need to scale up their engagement and to start to take initiatives.

 

While our National Park authorities continually talk about local communities, its been pretty clear where the power has been to date and there has been very little sign of bottom up initiatives.  There are though signs of change.  The best example I can think of is the Save the Ciste group, who have been developing their own plan for Cairngorm and are now openly thinking about alternative ownership and control of Cairngorm.  A major challenge to the powers that be.   I think we need lots more of that in our National Parks:

 

  • how about an alternative to Flamingo Land at Balloch instead of waiting for the developer to come up with their own proposals?
  • how about developing some alternative plans for some of the large landed estates, such as Dinnet, to restore missing species and repair the damage that has been done through the unlawful creation of bulldozed tracks?  Re-wilding plans.
  • how about some plans to restructure the blanket afforestation in the western part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park that is again devoid of wildlife.  Instead of waiting for Forestry Commission Scotland to do something, why not go for it?
  • what about communities in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park taking the previous plans for campsites there that have been abandoned by the LLTNPA and, in partnership with recreational organisations, deciding good places for campsites and then demanding the LLTNPA gives them the resources to deliver it?
  • what about alternative guidance for hydro schemes, not just design standards but about where they should be located in our National Parks?

 

Parkswatch is not an organisation but if individuals or organisations have ideas for injecting “a bit of risk, danger, excitement and creative energy” into our National Parks, please contribute them.

September 20, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
img_4883-copy
Will the great glacial trench of Loch Lomond now spill out into a Flamingo Land theme park?

A petition to the Scottish Government to stop the Flamingo Land development on the west riverside site at Balloch has been set up by George McMillan (see here).  A number of signatories have made comments which show that people care deeply about our National Parks and believe they should be about protecting the landscape and natural environment, enjoyment for all – in fact the very reasons National Parks were set up in the first place.   The LLTNPA would be wise to listen, indeed it could even harness the energy of the mass of people out there who really want out National Parks to be different, but I suspect it will carry on as it is at present, trying to please the rich and powerful, out of touch and not fit for the purpose.

 

Here’s a sample of what people are saying:

 

“These plans are preposterous. Our National Parks are few and far between as it is. There should be much greater protection for the Highlands of Scotland in particular. Loch Lomond is famous for its wild, rugged beauty and its wildlife. It should never be spoilt by building any sort of theme park here. The “theme” is entirely natural and we MUST preserve that.”  Audrey L

“You can’t even wild camp on loch lomond anymore , but flash the cash and these capitalist so and so’s can build what and where they like” Graham S

“A National Park is just that. A resource for everybody to enjoy. The attraction is the landscape – those who want something different can find it elsewhere quite easily” .Richard K

As in other countries with National Parks, their special status is to protect their natural environment and ecosysystems. They must not be commercially developed.” Tom L

“A national park is created to conserve the planet’s nature and wildlife. It is available for everyone to enjoy free walking, cycling, swimming, canoeing and being in pristine nature. What more do we want? -Why turn it into a destructive US style amusement park? And if it were for economic benefit of the local community – few of the pennies made would remain here and big bucks taken elsewhere by very few.”  Antje P

“It’s important to protect our naturally beautiful areas and especially important is to never allow private ownership or conglomerates to bypass our laws and develop our National Parks.” Ruth H

This is an appalling proposal, the aims and objectives of the National Park are being ignored – protection of environment and natural surroundings should be of greater importance than a few more low paid jobs and bog standard tourist attractions.  Rose H

I couldn’t help thinking, reading these, what the signatories would have thought of all the destruction caused by the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch.  There is simply not enough transparency about what’s going on in our National Parks and not enough democratic accountability for how they have run.

About 1500 people have added their names to the petition in the last day, after a slow start.  If only half  – and I am sure there will be a lot more – object to the planning application when its eventually submitted that could be sufficient to de-rail the whole development.

I hope the local community, many of whom are deeply worried about this proposal, can somehow find a way to harness this national energy and come up with alternative ideas for west riverside that would benefit both local people and the wider community of people who care about our National Parks.

August 27, 2016 James Fenton No comments exist

New tracks continue to be bulldozed into the hills at an alarming rate for access to forestry, livestock, shooting, windfarms, hydro dams, pylons & masts. Designation of the area as a National Park appears to make no difference, for new tracks have now recently been bulldozed into most of the side glens of Glens Falloch and Dochart within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. These are for the construction of, and subsequent access to, run-of-river hydro schemes (see previous post  by Nick Kempe)

 

Building such a track means breaking through the soil layers and disturbing the soil stratification which has built up over the previous millennia. It has been raining in Scotland since the end of the Ice Age which has caused the stratification and the leaching out of nutrients from the surface layers, and often also the development of an impermeable iron pan.

photo 1
Photo credit James Fenton

The above picture show two adjacent soil types exposed by recently bulldozed track in the LLTNP: a drier soil on the left (podsol) with bracken, showing brown layers rich in oxidised iron below; a wetter soil on the right (gley) with bog myrtle, showing grey layers of reduced iron. Both have a surface layer of organic humus.

Track ‘restoration’ can rarely recreate this soil detail so that any post-construction landscaping cannot recreate in full the original soil profile: some mixing of the different layers inevitable. Hence the restored ground represents a new habitat type in the locality, able to be colonised by plants which would not naturally be found in the locality. In effect they act as corridors for invasive species.

photo 2
Photo credit James Fenton

An example of the ‘restored’ ground associated with a hydro scheme within the LLTNP (Glen Falloch), showing a mix of the organic and mineral soil layers – and also showing a ditch liable to gully eroson. How not to do it!

photo 3
Photo credit James Fenton

Better quality track-side restoration above Glen Falloch within the LLTNP, showing how the organic layer has been reapplied over a mineral layer. However the track-bed itself will continue to be mineral soil, providing a habitat type new to the locality.

Tracks as corridors for invasive species

 

The new habitat created along tracks allows plants not native to the locality to colonise the area. The pictures below, while not taken within National Parks, illustrate what could happen to many of the new National Park tracks.

 

One of the plants which most commonly invades new tracks at lower altitudes is gorse. It also uses roadsides to colonise, for example along the full length of the road from Drumrunie to Achiltibuie in Wester Ross.

photo 4
Photo credit James Fenton

Gorse entering a new locality using a forestry track for colonisation (above picture).

photo 5
Photo credit James Fenton

Spruce colonising a track edge, illustrating how soil disturbance provides ideal conditions for tree colonisation. Tracks provide ideal seedbeds for self-seeded trees from forestry plantations. Most upgraded roads in the Highlands, including those within both the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks, now have a corridor of trees beside them owing to the ground disturbance from road construction – meaning you can no longer see the view from many roads. This will also occur along the A9 once dualled.

photo 7
Photo credit James Fenton

Scots pine colonising a track, seeded from the nearby plantation. Note that the old growth heather is relatively resistant to tree colonisation, indicating how soil disturbance from track construction creates new habitat, akin to the postglacial soil conditions in Scotland before centuries of rainfall had leached out the nutrients from the surface layers. This illustrates one reason why the landscape was more suited to tree colonisation millennia ago.

photo 8
Photo credit James Fenton

A windfarm access track built through blanket peat in the Monadhliath, the ‘restored’ area seeded with grass and being colonised by soft rush. This represents a new habitat type in this area, introducing species not found on blanket peat, and providing a route for additional species to enter.

photo 9
Photo credit James Fenton

Two plants of broom (centre) colonising a new hydro track within the Wester Ross National Scenic Area. Broom was previously unknown in this locality. It could have been brought in on contractor’s vehicles. Biosecurity of contractor’s vehicles should be a key condition of any new hill track construction.

photo 10
Photo credit James Fenton

A brassica species (yellow) colonising a new hydro track. Such brassicas would previously have been unknown in this glen.

photo 11
Photo credit James Fenton

A hydro track up the Boor Burn within the Wester Ross National Scenic Area showing very poor restoration. Note a shoot of mullein in the foreground, abundant foxgloves, and the extent of disturbed ground.

photo 12
Photo credit James Fenton

Gorse colonising the old construction site for this scheme – again introducing gorse into a new locality.

 

Other native plants which can enter ecosystems along access tracks include butterbur, coltsfoot, ragwort, thistles, rosebay willowherb and a variety of trees and shrubs.

 

Long-term threats to our National Parks

 

This whole issue of tracks acting as corridors for invasive species is rarely discussed, although it is realised in other parts of the world that habitat destruction begins with the building of roads. The long-term ecological impact of all the new tracks being built within National Parks and elsewhere remains to be seen but we should be aware of the potential issues raised here. Additionally many non-native invasive plants are currently colonising roadsides, including Indian (Himalayan) balsam, Himalayan knotweed, Japanese knotweed, montbretia, cotoneasters, garden variety lady’s mantle, rhododendron … Virtually no action is being taken on these, and we are creating suitable habitat for them also to colonise into the heart of our National Parks.

 

Note though, that vegetation colonisation can be a slow process, sometimes taking decades or centuries. Hence we will need to monitor these tracks for a long time. If nature conservation is about conserving naturalness, then tracks have the potential to compromise this. If anything, we are accelerating the rate of new track construction in our National Parks and other sensitive landscapes.

August 18, 2016 James Fenton 1 comment

James Fenton Ben GlasI was shocked recently to see what is happening in the wild areas of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Every side glen in the Glens Dochart and Falloch area now has a hydro scheme. This necessitates the construction of tracks high into the hills and the addition of dams into previously wild burns.

James Fenton Ben Glas 2
Two pictures of the upper reaches of the Ben Glas burn above Glen Falloch. Photo Credits James Fenton

It makes you wonder why we have National Parks.

 

And it is not just in National Parks that these ‘run-of-river’ hydro schemes are being built. I was even more shocked to see a track being bulldozed in the heart of the Torridon mountains up the River Grudie towards the back of Coire Mhic Fhearchair (Beinn Eighe). This was once a National Park Direction Area, and has always been seen as being of National Park quality. It also lies within a National Scenic Area and a core area of wild land.

James Fenton River Grudie
A new track snaking up the River Grudie from Loch Maree, Beinn Eighe & Liathach behind. Photo Credit James Fenton

 

There was an outcry from the mountaineering fraternity about earlier planned hydro schemes in the Torridon area: why so silent now?

 

Why cannot the various government agencies just say “No” to these injudicious schemes? Why does the government not care about the Scottish landscape? Is nowhere sacrosanct?

 

If you realise that the huge hydro schemes of the 1950s/60s produce less than 10% of all Scotland’s electricity, is it worth sacrificing the remaining wild areas for a just few more megawatts?

August 15, 2016 George Allan 2 comments
1991.05 Glen Ey
Hill Track Glen Ey, Mar Estate 1991, now in Cairngorms National Park         Photo Credit Adam Watson/NEMT

Poorly constructed and often illegal hill tracks have visually blighted many parts of the Highlands over the past decades. Recent changes in legislation have brought some measure of control to these but ongoing vigilance is needed. Although this is a Scotland wide issue, it is highly relevant to the National Parks.

 

Scottish Environment LINK hill tracks  campaign is keen for people to continue to submit photos and information about new tracks. Details of what is need and how to submit material is at- http://www.scotlink.org/work-areas/link-hill-tracks-campaign/

Photo of track Beinn a'Chait, Atholl, submitted June 2016 Photo Credit Jane Meek/ LINK
Photo of track Beinn a’Chait, Atholl, Cairngorms NP submitted June 2016 Photo Credit Jane Meek/ LINK

Legislation, in force for over a year, requires developers considering constructing tracks for agriculture or forestry purposes to notify the relevant planning authorities (Prior Notification procedures). Before the legislation, developers could construct such tracks without notifying anyone. LINK still considers that full planning consent should be required for all hill tracks but that the new system does allow a measure of democratic accountability and will lead to better constructed tracks.

hill track Lynwilg (3) Helen Todd - Copy
Poorly constructed hill track, Lynwilg, Cairngorms National Park Photo Credit Helen Todd

LINK volunteers have been monitoring all new planning applications for such tracks over the past year and comments have been made to the planning authorities in a number of cases. The following are the key issues which have emerged:

  • few problems have been identified regarding forestry tracks.
  • it is likely that some tracks claimed to be for agriculture continue to be primarily for sporting purposes with agricultural activity being limited to sheep being put on the hill as tick mops. Proving this is problematic and it is an issue which would exist even if full planning consent were required.
  • the new arrangements mean that planning authorities can now try to ensure that tracks are built to a good standard and follow the best line on the hill.
  • the new system allows third parties to comment.

LINK is continuing to monitor, hence the need for people to provide more information/photos.

LINK is also concerned that reinstatement/remedial work on the tracks created to facilitate the construction of small scale hydro projects is not being carried out well in some instances and it intends to keep an eye on the situation regarding these too.

IMG_2375 - Copy
Hydro track, Glen Falloch, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – can such destruction ever be restored successfully?                                                                                                 Photo Credit Isla Kempe

 

July 26, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Yesterday was the start of National Parks week, an annual celebration of National Parks in the UK.   The theme of National Parks week this year is adventure.  The Cairngorm National Park Authority has responded to this with a positive press release press release about celebrating National Parks, announcing a number of events and encouraging people to share ideas for adventures.   Quite a contrast to the LLTNPA whose press release http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/looking-after/national-park-visitors-encouraged-to-respect-your-park/menu-id-483.html makes no mention of adventure.

 

Instead the LLTNPA have used National Parks week to announce the implementation of their new powers to fine litterers ( see http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/11/way-forward-litter-loch-lomond-trossachs-national-park/) and a number of other initiatives to ensure everyone visiting the National Park behaves responsibly under the banner of “Respect your Park”.  Now I am not against any of these initiatives but I think the fact that the LLTNPA has simply ignored the theme of adventure, which is about people have positive experiences in our National Parks, and instead focussed in this week of all weeks telling people what they should not be doing tells us something.  If the Park started to promote adventure, this would conflict with its proposed ban on lochside camping, which is one of the most important ways people have adventures at present.   Think of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, backpacking, cycle touring, canoe touring, all activities which involve adventure.  Better then simply to ignore the adventure theme to National Parks week.

 

The LLTNPA Press release contains another interesting statement relevant to the camping byelaws from Chief Superintendent Stevie McAllister, Divisional Commander for Forth Valley and Police Scotland Lead for the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park:

 

“For the best part of a decade, officers based within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area have worked closely with the National Park to deter offences such as antisocial behaviour and identify those responsible.

“This has already proven extremely successful with crimes of this nature now significantly reduced, particularly within the East Loch Lomond and other lochshore areas and the vast majority of visitors behaving responsibly during their stay.”

 

I am delighted that Police Scotland are now publicly acknowledging that anti-social behaviour crimes are much reduced and most visitors behave responsibly in the National Park – why then did they support the proposed extension of camping byelaws?   Readers may recall that in trying to justify the camping byelaws the LTNPA continually asserted that it was camping byelaws that had led to an 81.5% reduction in ASB on east Loch Lomond, when in fact the statistic was for a wider area and represented a reduction from 27 to 5 crimes.  Police statistics showed that there had been a 42.4 reduction in ASB in the rest of the central Scotland Police division of the National Park where no camping byelaws, alcohol bans or other special measures were in place.   Well done the police but how can Stevie McAllister now continue to justify the removal of access rights from “the vast majority of visitors behaving responsibly during their stay”?
Each time the LLTNPA publishes anything on visitor management, they provide yet more evidence of  the incoherence of the proposed camping ban.   While I believe the timing of this education campaign is extremely unfortunate, with anti-social behaviour tackled, and with its new powers to tackle litter, what further justification has the Park and Ministers got for proceeding with the camping byelaws?

June 27, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The National Trust for Scotland, which owns two important properties in our National Parks, Ben Lomond and Mar Lodge, was in the news again last week because of its latest financial crisis  (Herald “NTS faces death by 1000 cuts “).   The script is wearily familiar: the need to re-organise to make ends meet and cut expenditure; modernise to attract new members and increase visitors to properties; and of course a net loss of jobs.   This is the third time this has happened in the last ten years and each time the NTS claims what they are proposing will solve the issues  as Simon Skinner, their current Chief Executive, did last week http://www.nts.org.uk/Charity/Transforming-the-National-Trust-for-Scotland/Overview/

 

I have my doubts.   When Kate Mavor, the previous Chief Executive, departed in April 2015 after 6 years the Herald carried an interview with her http://www.heraldscotland.com/life_style/homes_interiors_gardens/13211104.What_next_for_the_National_Trust_for_Scotland/ which makes interesting reading 15 months later:

 

“making the trust pay is exactly what she has done in her six years”

Is it fair to say that the trust was on the brink of ruin? “It was heading that way,” she says. “It was like putting on a huge brake to stop it careering over the edge of the cliff and because we did that, that stopped it happening. It would have gone over the edge.”

So what evidence is there to suggest that another re-organisation is any more likely to solve NTS’ problems than the last one?   I am not sure there is any.   What one can say for certain though is in each previous re-organisation the NTS has lost excellent staff and, inevitably during any re-organisation the whole focus of management is on what jobs they will get in the new structure rather than doing what needs to be done.  You can almost guarantee that this will put back any timetable for the renovation of Derry Lodge by at least two years http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/02/derry-lodge-wild-land/  but then those who promote re-organisation, a very British disease, never consider the adverse consequences, only the alleged benefits.

 

The real problem is not being discussed openly but was hinted at by Simon Skinner the new Chief Executive in the Herald:  “Mr Skinner has revealed that despite an overall rise in the popularity of Scotland’s tourist attractions, visits to Trust properties have declined by 250,000 in the past decade as many potential customers view it as “castle-owning elitists””.   Now,  I don’t think Simon Skinner is right that its perceptions of the NTS which is actually the biggest issue, its that people are excluded from NTS.   This is partly because as a result of the financial crash and austerity people simply don’t have enough money in their pockets to visit NTS properties.  To become a single member is £48 and the one-off entry fee to see the “state of the art” Culloden visitor centre is £11 for non-members.  Hence, the crash in visitor numbers over the last ten years.

 

The cost of joining NTS points to the fundamental issue.  NTS is a private membership organisation which was set up by members of Scotland’s elite to act as custodians for much of Scotland’s heritage. On the one hand the consequence of this has been that much of Scotland’s population has never had access to its cultural heritage (and NTS manages far more than just the former homes of the great and the good).  On the other hand, it has meant that the funding of its countryside properties like Ben Lomond and Mar Lodge, which are open to all, is dependent on NTS’ income from membership and legacies and that is not sufficient to keep NTS going.   With a huge backlog in building funding, there is never enough money to invest in its countryside properties including Ben Lomond and Mar Lodge or those such as Glen Coe which should be part of a National Park.    When a specific crisis happens, like the flooding on Deeside in December which caused something like £100k of damage to paths on the Mar Lodge estate, staff are left to run appeals to raise the necessary funds.

 

One solution would be for NTS to ask its members to pay more.  The problem though is that doing so would probably prompt many members (like myself) to leave and in the past the very rich in Scotland, while very happy to leave large properties to NTS, have not shown much willingness to contribute to revenue costs.  With the rich now siphoning money off to tax havens as a matter of course I cannot see that changing.   The consequence is that NTS as a membership organisation is in constant crisis.

 

I believe the solution is that the assets that are held by NTS should be treated as national assets and not those of a private organisation.  There is a citizenship argument for this, people should have a right to be able to access the country’s heritage.   This is recognised with our museums and art galleries where admission is normally free.  There is also a tourism argument.  We know that our museums are a major attraction to visitors and that large entry fees are  a deterrent (unless they are for somewhere like Edinburgh castle). Yet NTS continues to think that if only it makes its built properties attractive enough somehow they will pay.  Meanwhile the Scottish Government is ignoring the potential boost that opening up these properties might give to tourism, particularly in rural areas.   Its time that we started to talk about how NTS could become an open and accessible custodian of Scotland’s assets and what government funding might be needed to do this instead of constant attempts to re-structure to make ends meet.

 

There is a precedent for this within NTS and that is its countryside properties.   Percy Unna, whose gifts enabled NTS to purchase Glencoe, Kintail, Torridon, Goat Fell and Ben Lawers – all prime areas for National Park status – did so on the basis there should be unrestricted access to the public.   So, on the one hand NTS runs properties that are exclusive, on the other hand property that is open to all.  There has always been some tension though between these two sides of NTS, which has manifested itself in the way it has managed its countryside properties.  An example is Ben Lomond in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.  On the one hand NTS as an organisation did not protest strongly about the camping bye laws on east Loch Lomond (which extended to cover its property at Rowardennan below Ben Lomond) or about the LLTNPA’s proposed permit system.  Both are totally contrary to the Unna principles that there should be unrestricted public access to its properties.  On the other hand NTS staff two years ago offered the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority land at Rowardennan for a campsite (an offer which as far as I am aware the LLTNPA has done nothing to progress).

 

Unfortunately though, while there are and have always have been some very good people working for NTS, the overall balance of power – as hinted at by Simon Skinner in his reference to castle owning elites – is still held by those who think that the private way is the only way of doing things and to whom “social inclusion” is a foreign concept.   I am fearful therefore that the latest round of cuts will inevitably impact adversely on the countryside properties – the proposed distribution of resources between buildings and countryside in the new structure is far from clear – and on Ben Lomond and Mar Lodge in particular.

 

I believe our two National Park Authorities could play a role in developing alternative ways of managing NTS properties.  Indeed this could be part of their new Partnership Plans, about to be issued for consultation, which will set out what our National Parks propose to do over the next five years.   This needs to start by proper look with NTS about what funds are actually required to manage these properties effectively, including nature conservation/re-wilding,  recreational infrastructure  (footpath maintenance, renovation Derry Lodge,  provision of campsites) and dealing with the impacts of unforeseen events such as the flooding on Deeside this year.   There could then be a national conversation about whether we should treat these properties  as national assets – there is a precedent for this as in 1995 Ben Lomond was designated as a “National Memorial Park” – or whether they should remain entirely in the custodianship of NTS.   My own view is that I don’t believe NTS will ever be able to deliver its aspirations on its own and the current model is broken beyond repair..

 

 

June 25, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I was in the Lake District last weekend, camping in Borrowdale, where there are at least 8 campsites in the 12 kilometres south of Keswick with not a holiday chalet or caravan in site.   The contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, where the National Park Authority has granted provision for much of the far more limited provision to convert to caravan parks could not be more striking.

 

Over the years I have enjoyed staying in a number of the campsites in Borrowdale and elsewhere in the Lakes.   While there is no legal right to camp as such in England, in practice its as hard to stop people as it was in Scotland before our access laws and you will see people camping all over the fells.   There are very few attempts to “wild camp” in the valley bottoms in the popular areas of the National Park simply because there are so many campsites.  Because of this the Lake District National Park Authority does not have to waste its resources “policing” campers – which is what the LLTNPA is now proposing.

 

I took a few photos which demonstrate some other things the LLNTPA could learn from the Lake District about the provision of campsites.

IMG_2465
Part of the campsite at Stonethwaite.

I have never seen any fixed “pitches” in the Lake District campsites I have stayed.  You can camp where you like.  Contrast this with the LLTNPA proposed campsite at Loch Chon where they are creating 30 fixed places.    The LLTNPA acts like big brother and decides where you can camp.   Now I appreciate the terrain is different but so it the attitude of mind in the people running the LLTNPA.

IMG_2467
Camping overspill field Stonethwaite

 

One of the points a number of people made to the LLTNPA during the Your Park consultation was that all you needed to do to address the lack of facilities in the National Park was to install  portaloos at times of peak demand.  Add a tap and you have a basic campsite.    The cost of this is tiny but instead of this the LLTNPA is spending £345k to develop just one totally overspecified campsite at Loch Chon where there is no demand.   It should have learned from its experience of developing the campsite at Loch Lubnaig where it spent a fortune.   Its beautifully done of course but if the LLTNPA spends its resources in this way it will take 50 years to create anything like adequate camping provision.  It needs a total re-think.IMG_2471

 

 

This sign indicates that anti-social behaviour is not just a problem in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.  Indeed I have been in Lake District campsites when being camped near people drinking under Union Jack gazebos was not a pleasant experience.  The campsite owners and operators however have by and large IMG_2472learned how to manage this – and that’s the answer, they manage people rather than banning them completely.

June 1, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Cameron McNeish has some interesting comments to make on National Parks and the political priorities for the new Scottish Government in the latest Walkhighland newsletter http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/political-priorities/0014950/    In it he states he believes the reason the SNP did not commit to more National Parks was lack of cash – or to put it another way because of current UK Government policies of austerity that arise from neo-liberal economic thinking.

 

Raising more money in taxation is the main alternative to austerity and while the Scottish Parliament can do relatively little to raise taxes at the national level, one thing it could do if there was the political will would be to encourage the introduction of tourist taxes.   A campaign for a tourist tax in Edinburgh is now gaining momentum.  An eloquent case for this was made by Rosemary Goring in the Herald yesterday  http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14525115.Why_it__39_s_time_to_say_Yes_to_a_tourist_tax/  but why not also for the countryside?

 

Our existing National Parks would be a good place to start.   The issues faced by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in particular are not dissimilar to Edinburgh – litter, eyesores, congestion  – and as Rosemary Goring says are both practical matters and about aesthetics.  A tourist tax would enable improvements in visitor management such as public toilet provision, litter collection etc.   A quick look at the statistics indicates that between 2009-11 on average foreign visitors spent 2.4m bed nights in the LLTNP.  An average charge of £1 a night bed tax would raise a lot of money from people who otherwise make no direct contribution to the National Parks (the VAT they pay on hotel nights etc goes to the UK Government).

 

Such money I believe should not be used to replace central Government funding but as additional monies to invest in rural areas.  The best way to ensure this happens is not to add any money raised to the National Park’s or Local Authority budgets but to devolve it to local communities, as on the continent.  In Europe there are many examples of where local communities get to decide where to spend monies raised in their area in a way that benefits both local residents and visitors.  This wold empower local communities against the centralising trends in Government in Scotland.

 

While such a model could be replicated across rural Scotland the National Parks would be an ideal place to start as they have the infrastructure to support the roll out of such a tax.  There are already some initiatives in our two National Parks which raise money from businesses on a voluntary basis and my suggestion is this should be developed into a tourist tax.  The tax would be on the tourists not the business and the main cost to the business would be in accounting for it, a small price to pay for increased local investment which can only benefit them.    In my view such a tax should also be proportional rather than flat rate, so people staying in expensive hotels pay more than people camping.

 

 

May 9, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The failure of Aileen McLeod to be re-elected to the Scottish Parliament means there will be a new Minister for the Environment in the new Scottish Government.  This post – which is responsible for our National Parks – has existed, under one title or another, since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.     Dr McLeod was the tenth different person to hold the post, the incumbents surviving on average for 18 months.  Hardly time to get your feet under the table and where the appointee has  had little or no background expertise in environmental matters this has left power either with the civil servants or the senior Minister.

 

The contrast between the length of period in office of these junior Ministers and their boss, in the post that is now called the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, is striking.  Just two people, Ross Finnie and Richard Lochhead, have held the senior posts since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.  I hope Nicola Sturgeon will appoint a Minister for the Environment for the long-term, but it has to be the right person – someone who have a vision for the environment.   I was not hopeful, given the lack of any vision in the SNP election manifesto, that this could happen but there is now an opportunity because Nicola Sturgeon has identified the environment as an area where the SNP will work with other political parties following the election.

 

Aileen McLeod made a number of disastrous mistakes as Environment Minister some of which have been listed by raptor persecution scotland.   I would add a few in respect of the National Parks:

  • Her failure to stand by access rights or challenge the misinformation propagated by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and Forestry Commission Scotland that access rights do not apply to roadside camping
  • Her failure to recognise the key role of recreational organisations in representing the largest group of stakeholders in our National Parks or listen to them
  • Her failure to scrutinise or seek advice on the so-called evidence for the camping byelaws presented by the LLTNPA
  • Her failure to respond to the flooding on Deeside with any vision for how National Parks might help reduce the impact of such catastrophic events  in future through changing land-use from grouse moors to forest
  • Her failure to respond to the latest persecution of raptors in the Cairngorms National Park with any message encouraging the National Park Authorities to use their existing powers to prevent this
  • Her failure to respond to serious failures in governance  in the LLTNPA:
    • Allowing the LLTNPA continuing to meet and make decisions in secret
    • Her silence on the role of the LLTNPA Board in covering up the Owen McKee case
    • Ignoring  letters about serious flaws in the LLTNPA complaints process and the need to  address the absence of further mechanisms for public redress

 

Perhaps Dr McLeod’s greatest failure of all though was to create any space in which to articulate a vision for the future.  She seemed content to restrict her role to one of overseeing our National Parks and, as long as they met targets previously agreed with her civil servants, there really was no need to look too closely at what was going on or what the alternatives might be.  Management not leadership.

I hope the new Minister will be open to discussion on questions such as:

  • Conservation – what role could National Parks play in re-wilding, species introduction programmes and alternative ways of using the land?
  • Recreation – what role could National Parks play in enabling people to experience and learn about the natural environment (particularly those without cars), in green tourism or in inspiring people to keep fit and healthy?
  • Sustainable development  – what role could National Parks play in Land Reform,  shifting jobs from destructive to conservation land-uses, creating better paid jobs in tourism, tackling second homes that are empty for 11 months of the year?

 

A review of our current National Parks and what they have achieved – it does not need to be expensive – should be part of the discussion.

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In London, what appears to be a  very successful campaign  is developing to turn it into the world’s first National Park city.  The proposal won the support of the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates for the London Mayor election.  Its proponents, from health experts to nature conservationists, architects to geographers, are now trying to win support from local councillors.   According to a poll in the London Evening Standard something like 90% of Londoner’s agree with the idea.

 

As the Greater London National Park City admits, the proposal is not for a National Park in the traditional sense.   It is not about the countryside, does not fit the criteria of the National Park legislation in England (see statement from National Parks England) and does not fit any of the international criteria for protected areas.   The City of London will still dominate.  It is though about further greening of the city.  The term “National Park” is being used because it has resonance, the power to convey a message.

 

Thereby, I believe,  lies a danger.  That the whole concept of what National Parks should be about is diluted, perhaps even polluted.   The risk is the term “National Park” no longer represents ideas about putting the natural environment first but rather becomes associated with attempts to fit nature better around human development.    To put it crudely, if the City of London merits the term National Park, what is to prevent us from building a city in the middle of the Cairngorms or over the top of Loch Lomond if the need arises?

 

The success of the campaign though does tell us something about the importance of nature to people.      People want to connect to nature but, because London is so large and difficult to escape from, the only option for many people is to green their our own backyard or treasurer the pockets of wildness among the skyscrapers.    People like David Lindo, who writes for the RSPB magazine about urban birdwatching, illustrate the point well and the London City National Park campaign pages have some fantastic photos of London wildlife.

 

Cities in Scotland, and indeed the rest of England, also have some wonderful wildlife – the discovery of water voles in the East End of Glasgow comes to mind – but because they are so much smaller, the  countryside is much easier to access.    If you want to connect to nature, it is much easier – if you have the income – to escape the city.  There are of course plenty of green initiatives in Scottish cities, people care just as much as they do in London, but I think our geography reduces the political pressure to green our urban environment.   The middle classes can and do get out – and its often to our two National Parks – areas where the natural environment should come first.

 

While our geography should make it easier to keep the concept of National Parks separate from Greening the City, I believe we need  to consider the relationship between our cities, where most people live, and our National Parks.

 

To give one example, if you agree with our National Park’s current statutory objectives to promote recreational enjoyment and understanding, their connectedness and accessibility  to the urban population should be one benchmark of their success.   By this measure, at present our National Parks are not doing well, aside from the arterial routes along the A9 and A82 and their railway lines, with large swathes of the inhabited off limits for those who have no car.

Try getting to:

    • Ben Lomond from Glasgow – our aspiration should be that everyone from the Glasgow conurbation should experience the view from Ben Lomond once in their lifetime but the only way to get to Rowardennan by public transport is by expensive private waterbus in the summer months
    • Braemar from the south – Balmoral is, for better or worse, one of our most famous tourist attractions but  even as a tourist, after viewing Holyrood palace, you cannot jump on a bus to Deeside but have to go the long way round to Aberdeen.  Blairgowrie to Braemar is 45 minutes or so by car, 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus.
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain like Ben Lomond which is very hard to access without a car
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain which, like Ben Lomond, is very hard to access without a car

There are many other examples, particularly of dead-end roads that provide the main means of access to some of the core areas of our National Parks.   This is a challenge if you are a hillwalker or mountaineer with a green conscience but its also an issue, to use the current political terminology,  about social inclusion, equality of access and social justice.   Its another very good reason for the new Scottish Parliament to review our National Parks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Like many people, I have not had a good thing to say about the banks for several years.  Following the financial crisis, I came to the conclusion that the banks should not be allowed to issue paper currency or create electronic money, as debt, out of thin air.   Such money is often used in socially and environmentally damaging ways, including financing operations which undermine the very purpose of our National Parks.

 

However, if the Scottish Government had decided to issue paper currency which  featured three of Scotland’s great landscape writers, Sorley MacLean, Norman MacCaig and Nan Shepherd and a nature quote from Mary Somerville, I would have been delighted.   RBS did just that ten days ago when they announced the theme of their new banknotes would be “the fabric of nature”.

 

Its ironic that the Scottish Committee of RBS, which decided on the new banknote designs, has given more prominence in this election campaign to the importance of our relationship with nature than our politicians.    The banks though understand something about the importance of beauty.  As I read somewhere last week, imagine a £20 note on plain paper, no-one would believe it represented anything.  Create a wonderful design and adorn it with someone who represents integrity and you have transformed a piece of paper, into fiat money, something which embodies a complex system of  values and beliefs.

 

The news coverage and the RBS website did not say us what quotations will be included on the banknotes.  I have struggled to decipher them but they include the following  lines from MacCaig:

“The cork that can’t be travels –

Nose of a dog otter.”

and “Its a grand thing to get leave to live” from the £5 note featuring  Nan Shepherd, the great writer about the Cairngorms.

 

I wonder what MacCaig, who wrote

Who possesses this landscape? –

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for

this landscape is

masterless……….”;

would have made of it?

 

A few days ago, I was helpfully reminded by a reader that the SNP – whose manifesto like other parties I had criticised for their lack of meaningful commitments to landscape and the natural environment – had initiated a ban on windfarms in National Scenic Areas and areas of Wild Land.   A step to be welcomed and in the right direction.  It is though a step which I suspect the other political parties,  had they been in power, might also have made in the face of widespread discontent from people concerned about our landscapes.    I do not believe a few such steps forward can  disguise the lack of vision or the fact that they are re-positioning after the event.

 

We need our politicians to escape the clutches of their chaperones, experience the landscape for themselves and then maybe borrow from some of the writers who will be featured on the new RBS notes to articulate what’s important about the natural environment.    They might then start to think about how better to direct investment in the countryside and our National Parks – including where RBS puts our money.

 

 

April 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Scottish Labour Party issued its election manifesto on Wednesday, for some strange reason long after the other political parties.    Judging by the 2.7k hits on its website there has not been that much interest but, unlike the SNP, it does make commitments in respect to National Parks:
Scottish Labour in government  established the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks to conserve and enhance the natural heritage of these areas of beauty. We will review the future of National Parks to protect them and consider options for establishing a new National Park.”
While the language is a little vague, no other political party has made a commitment to a review which will include existing National Parks – politically this is a significant step forward.   We need our politicians to recognise the failures of our existing National Parks and that they could and should do better.  Unfortunately, the next statement about “establishing a new National Park” does not inspire confidence that Labour has much understanding of the issues.   Why just one National Park?  If Labour believes there should be just one more, why not tell the public where it will be? 
 
There are some other goods things in the manifesto, particularly the connection between our land and poverty:  “We have land and sea in plenty, but too many in Scotland rely on food banks in order to eat, while farmers and fishermen find it hard to make a living”.  Unfortunately though, the manifesto contains almost no ideas about alternative environmentally sustainable uses for the land which might address these issues.    Our existing National Parks, which include many inhabited areas, could and should be tasked with developing alternative models for the rural economy which put conservation and enjoyment of the countryside first.
 

Making the National Parks a political issue

Dave Morris, a contributor to Parkswatchscotland, is doing his best to raise political awareness of the failures of the current Scottish Government in relation to National Parks and the wider countryside as in his  Herald Letter, published 29th April (its the second letter down and not about the Labour Party!), and also available here Herald Letters 29 April 2016).
While not everyone will agree with Dave’s proposed political solution,  there is much to commend  his succinct analysis of the Scottish Government’s failures in respect of Land Reform and the natural environment, including National Parks.  Ultimately, if we are to achieve change in our National Parks, we need these issues to feature far more highly in the internal agendas of all the political parties.  Parkswatchscotland is not party political but wishes to raise public political awareness and debate about how our National Parks operate.
April 25, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Judging by the election manifestos, our political parties do not see National Parks as a political issue issue or believe they are so far down the political agenda that there is no need to say anything meaningful about them.  I think this is not just unfortunate, its a  mistake politically. Part of any vision for Scotland should be about how we treat our finest landscapes and natural heritage.

 

Yes, I know “its the economy stupid” that decides elections and, in these times of neoliberal austerity, there many basic issues about how people live – jobs and income, housing, services – which could be seen as having greater priority for election manifestos.    But, if we are not to destroy the world entirely, there have to be places where human economic systems come second and, as importantly, humans need to be able to articulate the importance of values that cannot be expressed in monetary terms.    National Parks, and other areas of the countryside which are not subjected to intensive human use, play an important role in this and what the political parties say about them therefore  matters.

 

Three of the political parties make commitments to new National Parks in their manifestos:

 

“Establish new national parks or landscape partnership areas, learning from the first two national parks in Scotland, bringing the benefits of improved management, conservation and tourism to other parts of the country;” (The Scottish Liberal Democrats)

“New national parks. Scotland has many areas of outstanding natural beauty that  merit national park status, but currently recognises only two such areas. As a worldwide recognised designation for high quality environments, creating new national parks would bring a range of environmental, social and economic benefits to Scotland by increasing tourism in remote areas. The Scottish Campaign for National Parks has identified seven possible sites including the Isle of Harris, Galloway and the coastal areas of Mull, Coll and Tiree. Green MSPs will champion the creation of new national parks in these areas”.

“Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world and we are all rightly proud to call it home. We have hundreds of natural wonders sitting on our doorstep – no matter where in Scotland we live…………………….That’s precisely why the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party supports the creation of further national parks across Scotland. They would not only help protect some of our greatest landscapes, but would also help attract more tourists and support local businesses.”

 

Of the three parties that support new National Parks, only the Liberal Democrats indicates there might be lessons to be learned from the existing ones but unfortunately do not say what these might be.  So, three commitments to new National Parks but not a single indication that all might not be well with our existing National Parks, whether inappropriate developments, restrictions on access rights or continued failures to conserve or enhance the natural environment.

 

National Parks of course while providing a means to present a vision for the natural environment, are not everything, and the political parties need to be judged on the what they say more widely about our relationship with the natural environment.

 

For me, there are some paradoxes in the manifesto.  The SNP, whose growth originated mostly in the rural areas, while making a number of pledges in terms of rural subsidies, has little to say about the natural environment.  What is included is mainly a rehash of current Scottish Government policies (including keeping windfarms out of National Parks).  There is no attempt to articulate a vision for our natural environment in contrast to other parts of their manifesto which are quite visionary in tone.  I find this gap strange and quite a contrast to the Scottish Tories whose view of the natural environment “Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world” is nationalistic in tone.    Its almost as though the SNP is now acting as a predominantly urban political party, in the old labour mould, where people mattered but the natural environment was very much an afterthought (the Labour Party manifesto has not yet appeared).     The other paradox is that RISE, who have very much presented themselves as representing the urban working class living on housing estates, have quite a radical vision for the countryside:  “Hunting estates create conditions suited for blood-sports but not for biological diversity. We would curtail the size of these estates and begin a process of reforestation, re-wilding and re-introduction of native species. To assist in this, we call for newly re-introduced beavers to immediately be given protected status, in light of their crucial role in flood prevention.”

 

The Greens had the most articulated vision for the natural environment, as one might expect, and are the only party to commit to widespread natural habitat restoration projects – something I believe that National Parks should be leading on.  At the other end of the spectrum UKIP predictably wishes to get rid of all EC rules and subsidies, which determine how much of the countryside is used and managed,  and leave all decisions about land-use to landowners (which probably implies they see no role for National Parks at all).

 

In-between,   I am not sure that anything the political parties have said in their manifestos, really progresses our thinking.  While in many ways that is disappointing, it is also an opportunity – the SNP, who are likely to form the next Government,  could be seen as blank slate.   We therefore need to work on developing a vision for new National Parks – as the Scottish Campaign for National Parks is doing (I am on the Executive) but also for existing ones.    The post that follows from Ron Greer which  articulates a new vision for National Parks based on wildlife refugia, does both and  incidentally challenges a couple of my most profoundly held beliefs.  I hope it helps promote debate.