Tag: hill tracks

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

 

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

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

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

 

July 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

Dear Cairngorms National Park Authority,

I had come over Carn na Drochaide and Carn Liath – crossing the track which runs up the fairy glen it is true – to be faced with the track which runs up to and across the Bealach Dearg, high under the western face of Culardoch.  Besides the grouse, it services a scientific research station on the bealach (visible where the track bends left).   The National Park has stated it wishes to stop track development in our hills, a welcome step, but I think it needs to go one step beyond, follow the example of the National Trust for Scotland on Beinn a Bhuird and start to identify tracks that should be removed to re-wild our landscape.   The Culardoch track would be high on my list but why not ask other people what they think?

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

On 7th July, an application for a new hydro scheme on the slopes of Ben More by Crianlarich, one of the highest and best known Munros, was validated on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Planning Portal  (see here) (or if the link does not work go to http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/planning/planning-applications/find-an-application/ and search for application Ref 2017/0119/DET or on Benmore farm).    On Friday I went to have a look and have now submitted an objection to the application as currently proposed (appended to end of this post).  This post is about why the new Benmore farm proposals are very different to the hydro scheme on Benmore burn which was completed  last year and why  I have objected.  I hope people reading this will be encouraged to consider doing so too (its easy to do, just look up the application and go to the comments tab which allows people to support, object or comment on an application).   The application is open for comments until 28th July.

 

The Benmore burn hydro scheme

This hydro scheme, which became operational in 2016, is one of the best I have seen in the National Park.

View of the intake from north west shoulder Ben More.

The “track” marks the line of the buried pipeline but generally the vegetation is recovering well. The burn was diverted to build the intake dam and the vegetation on the ground above the diversion channel has already recovered to the extent you would not know it was there.

The construction track was along the line of the pipeline and was removed completely. The ground is recovering well. The existing hill track – bottom right – was not used for the construction although it runs round the hill not far from the intake.

One thing I really liked about the intake was that instead of the normal concrete retaining wall, the development has embedded boulders in concrete.   This creates a far more natural form.  You can also see the browner rock below the intake which appears to mark the former “normal” flow levels of the burn.  The hydro schemes are having a significant impact on river flows which will affect their ecology.    I don’t believe we really know yet what the permanent impacts might be.

When you approach the intake though the most obvious feature is the metal fencing – contrary to Park guidance on use of natural materials (but is it really necessary?) –  and the Lomond blue pipe.  Its a shame that the left side of the intake has not been finished like the right had side but it does show, I think, what can be done.   Well done somebody!

The recovery of the ground above the pipeline and construction track is not as good as it might have been because vehicles have been driven over land which is far too wet to support them.

It was good too to see that the dyke through which the 7m wide construction track had been taken had been narrowed (a contrast to the Falloch and Ledcharrie (see here) tracks) and restored to a high standard.  It is possible to construct things of beauty in the hills!   I must say I am not sure about the gate, even if its not used by vehicles its likely to encourage – and there were a fair few boot marks – a more direct walking route up the glen over what is very wet ground.     So, some reservations, but generally this is a high quality scheme with very little snagging left to do – if only all schemes in the National Park were like this!

The new proposal

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

What prompted me to visit the location the scheme was the proposal to retain the new access tracks.    Having removed the construction tracks to the intake in the Benmore Burn scheme, I wanted to understand why Benmore Farm were proposing to retain the construction tracks to the new intakes.   Part of me reckons that this is because since 2013, when the first scheme was approved, the LLTNPA as Planning Authority have moved from a position of assuming tracks should be removed to allowing them to remain everywhere.

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

So, if other people are getting away with it, why should Benmore Farm follow best practice?     That’s why people need to take a stand.   The proliferation of hill tracks is destroying the landscape in the National Park – and indeed across Scotland – and those who care about the landscape need to put a stop to this.

 

The Design Statement gives two reasons for keeping the track, the first to help the shepherd/ess, the second to “provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsairean”.   The second claim is nonsense.   Anyone wanting to walk up the Sron would normally do so from the north east side of Ben More, not from Benmore farm, and in any case walkers don’t need a 2m wide track (for that is what it is proposed to retain) which stops half way across the hillside.   In relation to the first, shepherding is being cut like everything else and shepherds are under pressure to do more in less time.  However, the Design Statement states the cost of scheme is approx £530,000 and annual revenue estimated at c£75k and the scheme to operate for 100 years.    In other words it could make over £6m profit in its lifetime, ample to pay for reinstatement of track and to pay the shepherd to walk up to the intakes occasionally

Having visited the site I have become more concerned.  The construction track will cut across the hillside from just after the top of the last zigzag on the existing track to just above the top of the plantation.  This is steep ground.   It means cutting a great bench into the hillside.  There are diagrams illustrating this in the application but no indication of how long each steep cross section will be:

The applicants state that they will set out in the Construction Method Statement which would follow approval being given to this scheme how this track will be constructed.   I don’t think the Park should accept this.  The landscape impact of tracks across steeper slopes is all too evident on the other side of Benmore Glen.

Forestry track Creag a Phuirt

There are huge challenges as to how to store the soil and rock excavated to create a track across steep ground and then restore them.   I am concerned one reason why the developer may be  proposing to retain the track is they know it will be very difficult to restore such ground.

 

This is not just a landscape issue.  The top section of new track and intakes are within the Ben More Site of Special Scientific Interest and all works affecting the soils and vegetation are what are known as operations requiring consent – for complete list of Ben More  SSSI ORCS site190-doc28.   That is an additional reason to be concerned about the upper access track.

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

While four intakes are proposed, and the plan states they will be small, there are no photomontages in the landscape assessment of how they may look like in the landscape.   This seems to me to be a failure. The landscape assessment says the intakes will not be seen from the summit of Ben More, but that is because its just over the brow of the steep slope, they are likely to be visible for much of the way up both the north east and north west shoulders of Ben More.    The current plan is for concrete intakes – no mention of incorporating stone as was done on Ben More burn.  Another step backwards.

 

Why its important to comment on this scheme

I started to look at hydro scheme planning applications after most of them had been approved and what is striking is that I have not yet come across a single objection to an application – not even the heart of Glen Affric!     Ordinary people have just assumed hydro is good while our public agencies, including the National Park Authorities, are under pressure from the Scottish Government to do nothing which gets in the way of the hydro gold rush (most of the financial benefits of which end up in the City of London and nowhere near the people struggling to make ends meet in the Highlands).  If no-one objects, our planning authorities, who are under great pressures, simply approve what is put in front of them.   We are now reaping the consequences of poorly conceived and poorly executed hydro schemes across Scotland.

 

Its time therefore to make a stand and what better place than in a National Park which is supposed to have special regard to our landscape and wildlife.    I am not against hydro schemes but this must not be at the expense of the landscape and at the very least, in this scheme, the construction track should be fully restored but I think the Park as Planning Authority should be seeking more information about how the track could be constructed and then restored on this ground.   A copy of my objection is pasted below.

 

NB My objection should appear on the Park’s website BUT a previous comment on this scheme, dated 4th July (also appended), which pointed out that there was no mention on that date of this proposal affecting a SSSI, has not been published, although that omission has been rectified.   Instead I was told:  “Please be assured however that I am aware of the constraints on the site and all relevant consultees were consulted when the application was validated.”   I guess if the LLTNPA  had published my comment, someone might have used their failure to list the “constraints” affecting the site as a reason to invalidate the application, or maybe the just don’t like it when parkswatch picks up on mistakes?

Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer objects to the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: Unlike the recently completed hydro scheme on Benmore Farm where the construction track was removed, in this case the applicant wishes to retain it which would have an adverse impact on the landscape of Glen Dochart. The justification for keeping the track is it would help the shepherd and provide for walkers who may wish to climb Ben More along Sron nam Forsaireana – actually walkers wanting to walk up the Sron do this from the north east and with £75k a year income the farm has plenty of money to employ the shepherd/ess to be a little longer on the hill. There is no proper assessment of retaining this track – eg no photomontage – which would be highly visible from slopes below Ben More summit. It is important therefore that the LLTNPA adheres to its policy guidance on renewables and insists if this hydro goes ahead the track is restored.
There are other issues with the scheme though: there are views from the summit down the north slopes of Ben More to the intakes (and to proposed track) and, while relatively small, they may be visible from above. Impact should be properly evaluated and could be reduced if intakes clad in natural stone (instead of plain concrete as proposed). In order not to impact on the landscape these schemes need to be as near to proper run of river schemes, with small intakes, as possible. In addition, the line of the construction track is across what is a steep hillside – as depicted in steepest cross section. For a construction track to be created here will require major engineering which is likely to be very challenging to restore (both to restore the materials which have been removed and then replace them). The Developer is suggesting this should be dealt with by Construction Method Statement post planning permission, I believe the Park needs to be confident the land can be fully restored before granting any consent.

 

Comments were submitted at 11:52 PM on 04 Jul 2017 from Mr Nick Kempe.

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

 

Comments Details
Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: There are no constraints listed against this application at present although the upper pipe and track appear to be within the Ben More SSSI. Could you please confirm whether this is case or not? Among Operations Requiring Consent for the SSSI are alterations of watercourses and construction of new tracks and drainage both of which are included in these proposals
July 13, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Destruction around the Corrimulzie intake. On first viewing this, I had assumed all the destruction had been caused by the construction of the hydro intake but the rocks in foreground, which partly envelope the bases of the two birch trees, were deposited by flood water during Storm Frank which devastated Deeside.

The Corriemulzie community hydro scheme  http://braemarhydro.org.uk/scheme/, just west of Braemar on the road to Linn of Dee, provides an interesting case of how developments can go badly wrong despite the best intentions of the main players.  I first visited this scheme, which became operational last summer, in September 2016 and was horrified by what I saw.   Subsequent research and correspondence with the Cairngorms National Park Authority established the situation was a little more complex than it appeared and both the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro were taking action to rectify the damage that had been caused by the contractors and design failings.  I have therefore delayed blogging about it but a check up visit last weekend (its a ten minute walk from the road and well worth a visit if in the area), on the way to a stravaig through the eastern Cairngorms, showed that remedial measures have only had a limited impact.  I think its time therefore to publicise what appears to have gone wrong and what lessons could be learned for the future.

The old intake dam has been infilled with flood debris. You can just see old intake pipe centre left.

Historically there was a hydro scheme on the Corriemulzie burn which supplied power to Mar Lodge.

View of powerhouse from Linn of Quoich July 2017

The new powerhouse sits by site of former powerhouse although the track to it, down from the Braemar to Linn of Dee Road, is new.   In my view – and I realise this is just a matter of opinion – the wider landscape impact of the track is not a major issue.  I did not revisit the track though last September there were both good things and bad about how the land around it had been restored.

In design terms the power house is well located, close to bank and trees, and the turning area for vehicles is small.  All positives.  The ground above the pipeline had recovered quickly, with evidence of turfs having been stored and replaced.   Incredible care needs to be taken with removal of turf and topsoil if all the surface area is to be re-covered in restoration and in this area there was not enough to use on the banks (bare patch left) though I suspect this has recovered by now.

The track has been less well done, with large boulders left on the surface of what had previously been a grassy field.  The bank on the right though is at a sufficiently low angle to recover quickly and a good example of track design.

The Corriemulzie hydro intake area

The main problem with the Corriemulzie scheme is around the main intake.  It was not pristine prior to the hydro and the hill track and vehicle use had caused some needless damage.

The hydro scheme and burn is just to the left. Note the steep bank down to the track.

 

The planning however was a chance to restore past damage and the intake was intended to look like this:

 

Photomontage from CNPA Planning Committee report which approved the scheme in December 2013

If this had been delivered, I would be congratulating Braemar Community Hydro and the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose landscape adviser had said “the location of intake is a small but very scenic a ‘gem’ of a location” and recommended the utmost care.

 

Unfortunately, what has happened is completely different to what was intended.

In order to build the dam the burn needed to be diverted through a channel created through the (true right) bank above the intake.  The intake as it appeared in September 2016.

 

The bank as it appeared in September 2016

And this is an overview of how the area looks now:

The fundamental issues here are:

  • there has been no effective restoration of the bank along the burn;
  • the bank on the hill was excavated and is far too steep to be restored;
  • the track and turning area are far too wide.

While  there had been obvious attempts at amelioration since September 2016 these have not in my view addressed the fundamental issues.

Four strips of fabric had been applied to the oversteep bank to reduce erosion but this has had no impact.   There is no sign of vegetation re-establishing itself and the problems have been increased by deer (you can see hoof marks between 2nd and 3rd strips) walking down the slope.

 

View across burn above intake

There has been “compensatory” tree planting but no attempt to restore vegetation to the bank of the burn.   This should have been done months ago at the beginning of the growing season.

A new signboard has been erected by the intake.   The line of pylons is rather ironic given CNPA’s opposition to the Beauly Denny and I wonder what Prince Charles, who opened the scheme, and talks so much about architectural standards and traditional landscapes thought about the destruction.  Its as if, though, everyone at the official opening had their eyes shut.

 

Despite the atrocious finishing along the bank and track, this photos shows some good things about the scheme.  You can just see the pipe from the second hydro running below the bridge – you won’t see it unless you look out for it – and the CNPA told the developer there was no need to erect fencing around the intake.  I agree.     All that good design though counts for little if the destruction round about is not addressed.

 

So what has gone wrong?

 

I have tried since the weekend to look through planning documents.  There are pages of them, one document submitted by Braemar Community Hydro is over 200 pages long, and seems to cover everything except a description of the detailed work that was planned to construct the main intake.    The CNPA landscape adviser drew attention to this in an appendix to the Committee Report and recommended further detailed plans were required before planning consent was given.   The Committee however gave approval on condition these documents were produced but unfortunately these documents, if they were produced, are not on the CNPA website.    It is possible therefore that the CNPA allowed this development to go ahead without a proper landscape plan for the intake area.    If so, that in effect allowed the contractor to do what they wanted in the intake area and undermined all the other efforts staff had made to ensure this scheme was of the highest standard possible.  One small mistake can have huge consequences.

 

However, I don’t think all the emphasis should be on paperwork, which is beyond the capacity of any  community organisation to deliver and which means they have to put themselves in the hands of consultants.   I suspect if there was a hole in the paperwork, Braemar Community Hydro did not appreciate this either.

 

A fundamental problem with the proliferation of hydro schemes is that monitoring their construction is not being properly resourced.  I think if there had been someone properly qualified on site, the bank on the hillside would never have been excavated because it would have been only too obvious it could not be restored properly.   The problem is our National Parks rely on developers appointing an Ecological Clerk of Works to do the supervision and these people are beholden to the developer/contractor who pay their wages – they are therefore not independent.   It may also be the case – given the many failures to restore construction tracks – that they don’t have the right skills.

The ground above the pipeline to the second intake has not bee restored well and will, as a result, take a much longer time to recover than it should have with increased erosion.

A related  issue is that both our National Parks only appear to start proper monitoring once construction is almost complete.  Here is what CNPA Chief Executive Grant Moir told me in January:

 

“CNPA staff noted various breaches at the site in April 2016 during a routine monitoring visit.  The agent was immediately contacted by phone to express concern and also contacted in writing.  CNPA staff and the agent for the development met on site in May 2016 to discuss how to reinstate or mitigate the unauthorised or unsatisfactory works.  The agent provided an initial written programme of reinstatement works in June 2016 which the CNPA did not consider satisfactory”

 

What a commendable response and the contrast with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who treat everything as a Freedom of Information Request is striking.   The problem though is once the construction has gone wrong, and created unnecessary damage, this becomes very difficult and very expensive to put right.  Our National Parks need to try and find a way of preventing problems rather than detecting them after the event.

The small second intake, the pipe runs to the right of the blocks of trees which have been planted.

Lots of tree planting should not be seen as compensation for poor ground restoration work.

What needs to happen

 

I hope this post has demonstrated that the way the planning system operates at present, even when our National Parks’ have taken considerable and commendable efforts with hydro developments, they can go badly wrong.

 

The focus of the CNPA and Braemar Community Hydro needs to be around addressing the landscape damage around the first intake.   I think that to remedy the damage will require considerable expertise and require money.  If the contractor cannot be made liable, it means the shareholders for the hydro, who were expecting a 5-8% return (there is interesting information on the finances on the community hydro website), Mar Estate which is charging rent (and was responsible for previous damage in the area) and the community may have to wait for their return.  It seems to people that all the people who were going to gain from this development have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not at the expense of the landscape.   Success would then be being able to promote this as being a nice place to go for a walk again – a “small gem” in the National Park – as it was in the past.

 

In terms of planning system failures, it seems to me these are twofold.  First, not nearly enough emphasis is put on the landscape impact of construction prior to planning approval.   Planning applications consider the wider impact on the landscape but not the more localised impact.  Its hard to see the Corriemulzie intake from any distance but the local impact is huge.   Our National Parks should be exemplars of good practice in this respect but they generally approve hydro schemes in principle without detailed Construction Method Statements.  Then, once a scheme is approved in principle, its much harder for staff to influence and its probably less of a priority, because they are judged on the time it takes from planning application to approval.    None of this is the fault of planning staff, its the system and that needs to change.

 

Second, the focus of monitoring needs to shift from the end stage of the construction to the beginning and be independent of both developer and contractor.    This would prevent problems arising.  For example, if our National Parks were ensuring all vegetation was properly removed and stored before pipelines were dug or tracks created or broadened, restoration would then be far more effective.

 

For this to happen though, our National Parks, like all our public authorities, need to be properly resourced.

 

Lastly,  it would be good, given what I see as their good intentions, if the CNPA, Braemar Community Hydro and the other main players had a proper discussion, a post mortem if you like, about what lessons might be learned and then publicised this so they could be used to inform the development of hydro schemes, both community and commercial, in future.

July 4, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The new track runs round the head of Glen Prosen – here looking towards Bawhelps

During a round of the Glen Prosen watershed 10 days ago, I came across a bulldozed track on the plateau at the head of the Glen which appears to be just inside the boundary of the Glen Isla Estate and therefore created by that estate.    The lack of vegetation on the surface – on what is a relatively fertile soil – and the state of the turves which have been piled by the track suggest the track is relatively recent.   There is nothing about this track on the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portal and it therefore would appear to have been constructed without planning permission.

The new hydro tracks in Glen Prosen viewed from Mayar. The boundary of Wild Land Area 16 is at Kilbo, centre right, where the track meets a burn flowing in from the right

I had not realised when blogging about the Glen Clova and Glen Prosen hydro tracks (see here)  that the head of Glen Prosen was within Wild Land Area 16 “Lochnagar and Mount Keen”.   There is a presumption against development in wild land areas – even more reason, if more were needed, for the CNPA to taken enforcement action and ensure the “temporary” hydro access tracks are removed.

Glen Prosen runs parallel and left of Glen Clova. Most of the new track across the plateau appears to be in Wild Land Area 16.
View to Dun Hillocks from east of the Mayar Burn. Lochnagar is on the right.

After crossing Driesh and Mayar, we met the track near the Mayar Burn.  While I was tempted to follow the northern section towards Dun Hillocks and Finalty Hill, I was not sure my legs would take it (first longer run of the year!).   It was difficult to see how far the track goes because of the rolling nature of the landscape here which is well described in the Wild Land Statement (see here) which was published last year:

 

At a broad level, the landform tends to be convex, limiting visibility up and down slopes. This means that, from the hill tops, neighbouring glens are screened and there is a horizontal emphasis of open views directed over successive tiers of ridges and tops extending far into the distance and contributing to a sense of awe.

 

What is clear is that it penetrates well into the Wild Land area 16.  I couldn’t tell either if it enters the Lochnagar and Deeside National Scenic Area, the boundary of which runs in a straight line between Mayar and Finalty Hill  (any information on this, particularly photos, would be welcome).

The plateau, the head of the Mayar burn is the lower ground on far right of photo, the track just to the left of the photo.  While the grouse butt is well disguised, it indicates that this track was created for “sporting” purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.

The creation of the track has removed much of the challenge of navigating across what was a featureless area of plateau.  If you have ever tried to walk between Tom Buidhe and Mayar in the mist you will know what I mean.   This quality of the plateau, so important to adventure, is also well described in the Wild Land statement:

 

Despite a mixed composition of hills and undulations, the simplicity of the landform and land cover at a broad level means individual peaks do not tend to stand out and it can be difficult to estimate vertical scale or distance within the landscape. This makes navigation challenging upon the hills and plateaux, especially in low cloud, thus increasing risk.

Looking towards South Craig at head of Glen Prosen.  The track is intermittent in the sense that it is a mixture of track eroded by regular vehicular use and new sections where the turf has been completely removed.

Because its intermittent, although the constructed sections predominate, its possible that the track was not created all at once but over time.

View across track to Mayar.  The creation of drainage channels adds to the mess and impact on vegetation.

The track has been created by a digger scraping off the turf and dumping it by the side of the new track.  The positive thing about this is it should make restoration of the track quite simple.  All the estate would have to do is replace the turves and soil onto the bare surface.

 

Intermittent section of track up Bawhelps

The older vehicle erosion shows that its not just constructed tracks which are the problem – its vehicle use.  The CNPA should be addressing the issue of vehicular use on higher ground.    A start would be to restrict the type of vehicles that can be used, ban heavier vehicles like landrovers and just allow quad bikes which are much lighter and, if used carefully, cause much less damage to vegetation.  This could be done through the creation of conservation byelaws.

Looking southwest from Bawhelps, Badundun Hill and Mount Blair in distance.  The track comes up to Bawhelps over Midhill from Glen Isla.

We didn’t follow the track over Mid Hill and so did not ascertain where it started (again photos would be welcome) but it appears most of it lies within the Cairngorms National Park boundary.

View along new spur to track which runs south east along Broom Hill, Craigie Thieves behind.

There is a short spur to the track down Broom Hill, which unlike other sections of track has been created by importing aggregate and dumping it on top of vegetation.  This section of track will be much harder to restore.

The spur then turns into a vehicle eroded track before ending completely before the bealach between Broom Hill and Craigie Thieves

Had I not stopped to take photos, we would have made fast time from the Mayar Burn to the bealach with Craigie Thieves.  After that, the going was much slower and although the hills were much lower, they provided a wilder experience even after we had crossed out of the National Park.

Looking towards Eskielawn outside the National Park boundary.

Although there was a fence, the absence of track made a huge difference to the experience,  altogether wilder and hard on the legs, and not just because I was forced to play the role of aged deerhound trying to keep within sight of my mate!

 

Until, that is, we came to this monstrosity on the Hill of Adenaich, well outside the CNPA boundary, and the responsibility of Angus Council to fix.     Sadly, whether these tracks are created or not appears to have very little to do with the Planning Authority, its all determined by the landowner: most create tracks, some don’t.  It would be good though if our National Parks became exemplars of good practice and the CNPA by its actions inspires Angus Council also to take action.

 

What needs to happen

 

I have reported the track featured here to the CNPA, asked them to confirm whether they were aware of it not and stated that it appears to have been constructed for sporting purposes and therefore should have required full planning permission.    In my view the track should be removed.   The CNPA in their new Partnership Plan, to their credit, have stated that there will be a presumption against new hill tracks within upland areas in the National Park.  This one enters a Wild Land area to boot so there is every reason for them to take action.   If the CNPA act fast, much of the damage could  be restored quite quickly (because the turves removed to create the track are still usable) so I would urge them to do so.

 

Whether the Glen Isla estate, which straddles the National Park Boundary, will co-operate remains to be seen.   While the Glen Isla estate appears on the CNPA map of estates which lie within the National Park (see here) there is no estate management plan.  The CNPA initiative to get estates to publish management plans was a good one but has been ignored by many landowners.  In my view the publication of management plans for all estates within the National Park should be compulsory and such plans should include maps of all existing tracks (and where they end) as well as a statement from each estate about what vehicles they use off track.  This would it much easier for the CNPA to take enforcement action in cases like this.

June 27, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Start of Clova hydro track which cuts back right to two hydro intakes, one on the Corrie Burn and the other on the Brandy Burn.                                                                                                                   Photo Credit J Neff

Glen Clova Hydro Construction Track

 

A week before taking action against the Cluny Estate track (see here)  the Cairngorms National Park Authority issued a planning contravention notice against the owners of the Glen Clova estate for failing to remove the temporary hydro construction track behind the hotel.  This is another very significant action from the CNPA and should be welcomed by all who care about the landscape.   First, because the CNPA approved the hydro scheme on the basis that the track should be temporary – its permanent access tracks which cause the greatest landscape impact with hydro schemes – so well done to the CNPA for putting the landscape before profit.   Second, because the CNPA are now prepared to enforce the conditions of the original planning application, unlike the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who caved in to the Glen Falloch Estate when they applied to make the temporary construction tracks there permanent (see here).

 

My thanks to Jojo Neff, who has been monitoring hill tracks and passed on some photos (above).  Dismayed by what these showed, on Saturday I took the opportunity to have a look myself as part of a run round the Glen Prosen watershed.   In the course of that I came across another  temporary hydro track at the head of Glen Prosen which has also not yet been re-instated.

View from North East ridge of Coremachy. The track forms a large zig zag before traversing across the hillside to join the path to Loch Brandy and the second intake located there.

The track is visible from many points along the 8km ridge between Coremachy and Driesh.   I was too far away – and without binoculars – to be able to tell if the horizontal scar across the hillside is still a track (would welcome information on this) or has been re-instated but to a very poor standard.   The uphill section of the track is far more prominent than the lower part of the footpath to Loch Brandy.

A close-up shows that while the uphill section of the track has been narrowed – there was no planning permission for this – the quality of work has been poor
The pipeline, which you can just make out centre of photo is not an issue and will have blended into the landscape in a couple of years.

The planning application was approved by the CNPA planning committee in 2010.   There is no information on the CNPA planning portal at present following the decision letter.  As a result there is almost no information about the construction track.   All I could find was a reference to “temporary access tracks” in the Committee Report and this map which shows the pipeline, not a track, and indicates therefore there was no proposal for a permanent track:

The Decision Letter from the CNPA required the developer to produce a Construction Method Statement, which would have provided information about where the temporary access track was to be sited and how it was to be constructed and the ground then re-instated, but this information is not public.   Nor is there any information on the planning portal about when the work started, when it was “completed” or subsequent correspondence between the CNPA and the Developer.    I will ask for all this information under FOI but in my view the CNPA’s reasons for taking action should be public (and should not be limited to a one line entry on their Planning Enforcement Register).  It would also be in the public interest to know just how long negotiations had been going on before the CNPA decided to take enforcement action.

 

The owner of the land and developer of the hydro scheme appears to be Hugh Niven, who runs the Glen Clova Hotel, the Glen Clova farm – which has been supplying Albert Bartlett with potatoes for over 25 years (see here) – and Pitlivie Farm, near Carnoustie in Angus.  This according to information on the internet is the site of one of Scotland largest agricultural roof mounted PV installations.   An interest in renewables then.

 

Mr Niven had a run in with Angus Council Planning in Glen Clova just before the Cairngorms National Park was created.   In 2000 (see here) Angus Council initiated enforcement action against Mr Niven because he had created a new loch in the Glen without planning permission and there were sufficient safety concerns about the earthworks that the public road was closed for a time.  Two years later Mr Niven applied for, and was granted, retrospective planning permission for the works (see here).

 

There are lessons for this for the CNPA.  First, this is not the first occasion Hugh Niven has ignored planning law.  In this he is not unusual – many landowners still see planning authorities as imposing unwelcome restrictions on their ability to manage land any way they wish.  Second, back in 2000 it appears that Hugh Niven argued that what he had done was justifiable and the risk is that he will now do so again which will lead to years of wrangling.    While the creation of a loch might have been acceptable on landscape grounds, the permanent retention of this track is not and the CNPA therefore needs to avoid drawn into negotiations about how this scar could be ameliorated and take a stand.   This track needs to be removed and like the Cluny track, is therefore a fundamental test for the CNPA.  They deserve the support of everyone who cares about the landscape in our National Parks.

 

As in the Cluny case, it appears that the developer does not lack resources: the latest accounts for Clova Estate Farm Ltd doesn’t show income (because they are abbreviated accounts – a fundamental issue in terms of business transparency) but does show the business has total net assets of £8,037,710.   Hugh Niven therefore has the resources to pay for the re-instatement of the hydro construction track.

 

Glen Prosen hydro track

The hydro construction tracks are on left half of photo with the bare ground behind resulting from clearfell of a forest plantation which appears to have taken place at the same time the hydro scheme was constructed

After completing the ridge on the west side of Glen Clova to Mayar and after coming across  a new bulldozed track on the plateau leading from Bawhelps to Dun Hillocks (which I will cover in another post) the head of Glen Prosen is scarred by new tracks and clearfell north west of Kilbo.

View from Broom Hill, Driesh in background

On returning home I checked the planning report from 2013  which made clear that the construction tracks would be temporary:   “Beyond the powerhouse there will be a temporary access road for construction to reach both intakes.”   Again well done to the CNPA for putting landscape before profit.

The Committee Report also concluded:

Landscape and Visual Effects
40. The landscape impacts of this proposal are minor, given the scale of the development and the location in the upper Glen Prosen. Conditions relating to the construction phase of the development have been proposed to minimise any short term impact. In addition, the set of mitigation measures proposed are likely to have a positive impact on the development site in the long term.

 

The trouble is at present the landscape impact is anything but minor, as the photos show, and this is mainly because the construction tracks have not been removed, although the clearfell has added to the destruction.  There were no signs of machinery on site and it appears therefore that the Glen Prosen estate, like the Glen Clova estate, thinks the work is finished and simply hopes to avoid the expense of re-instating these tracks.    It will be much easier for the CNPA to take action if they show resolution in addressing the Glen Clova track.  The message to landowners will be then loud and clear:  you cannot afford to ignoring the planning rules in the National Park.

June 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Recent clearfell at the Rest and Be Thankful. The conservation section of the draft NPPP fails to address the issues that matter such as the landscape and conservation impacts of industrial forestry practices in the National Park Photo Credit Nick Halls

This post looks at the Conservation and Land Management section of the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) which is out for consultation until 3rd July (see here).  It argues that the Outcomes (above) in the draft NPPP are devoid of meaningful content, considers some the reasons for this and outlines some alternative proposals which might go some way to realising the statutory conservation objectives for the National Park.

 

Conservation parkspeak

 

Call me old fashioned but I don’t see why the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park needs a vision for conservation – “An internationally renowned landscape where nature, heritage, land and water are valued, managed and enhanced to provide multiple benefits for people and nature” – when it has a statutory is duty a) “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.   The statutory duty to my mind is much simpler and clearer, the vision just marketing speak.

 

Indeed, the draft National Park Partnership Plan is far more like a marketing brochure than a serious plan.  This makes submission of meaningful comments very difficult.  Feel good phrases such as “iconic wildlife”,  “haven for nature”, “stunning and varied wildlife”, “vital stocks of natural capital”  are peppered throughout the document.  The reality is rather different, but you need to go to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to find this out:

 

  • The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures
  • Three river and 12 loch waterbodies in the Park still fail to achieve “good” status in line with Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives.
  • The Park has 25 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to pressures from Invasive Non-Native Species.

 

In other words progress during the period of the 2012-2017  Plan has not been what one might have expected in a National Park.    Instead of trying to learn from this and set out actions to address the issues, the LLTNPA is trying to bury failures under the table and to conceal its lack of a clear plan with marketing speak.  There is no need to take my word for it, the problems are clearly spelled out in the SEA:

 

The main weakness of the new plan over the extant plan is its lack of specificity combined
with its with its very strategic nature: given limited resources and the framing of the priorities in the
draft plan, it is unclear how intervention will be prioritised. For example, in the extant NPPP [2012-17], waterbody restoration and natural flood management measures are focussed in the Forth and Tay catchments. The new plan does not appear to include any such prioritisation and it is unclear if there will be sufficient resources to deliver the ambitious waterbody restoration measures across all catchments during the plan period. This key weakness is likely to be addressed by using the new NPPP as a discussion document to formalise arrangements and agreements with partner organisations on an individual basis (e.g. using individual partnership agreements as per the extant NPPP). However, it would be preferable if resource availability (and constraint) is articulated clearly in the plan document to help manage expectations;

 

Or, to put it another way, the NPPP outcomes are so “strategic” as to be meaningless, the LLTNPA has failed to consider resource issues and is planning to agree actions in secret with partner bodies once the consultation is over.     It appears that all the failures in accountability which took place with the development of the camping byelaws (developed in 13 secret Board Meetings) will now apply to conservation.

 

Economic interests are being put before conservation

 

This failure in governance – about how plans should be developed – conceals a skewing of the National Park’s conservation objectives towards economic interests (in spite of the duty of the LLTNPA, under the Sandford principle and section 9.6 of the National Park (Scotland) Act to put conservation first).     The best example is the beginning of the conservation section where the LLTNPA outlines the main threats to the “natural environment” the Park faces:

 

  • Impacts on freshwater and marine water bodies from problems such as pollution from surrounding land uses [ e.g algal blooms in Loch Lomond];
  • Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in some upland and woodland areas, leading to reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores [the 27 sites according to the SEA];
  • The spread of invasive non-native species which displace our rich native wildlife; [we are given no indication of how much progress has been made tackling this over last 5 years]
  • The impacts of climate change leading to warmer, wetter weather patterns and a subsequent
    increase in flood events, major landslides and rapid shifts in natural ecosystems.

 

Omitted from this list are the many threats to the landscape of the National Park which is being destroyed by “developments”:  Flamingo Land, the Cononish Goldmine, transport routes and over 40 hydro schemes with all their associated tracks.

Netting above the A83 in Glen Croe has further trashed visual amenity in the glen while not stopping the problem of landslides.   The problem is the A83 takes the wrong route – almost anywhere else in the world this route would have been tunnelled but not in a Scottish National Park.
Scotgold has permission during its trial at Cononish to store 5000 tonnes of spoil in bags – think what 400,000 tonnes would look like.
The Beinn Ghlas hydro track in Glen Falloch – the whole of Glen Falloch, which runs between the two prime wild land areas in the National Park, has been trashed by hydro tracks which planning staff agreed could be retained (originally they were to be removed) without any reference to the LLTNPA Board.

In the world of parkspeak however all these developments will be classed as successes.  The reason?   One of the measures of success is “Planning & Development:  The percentage of the Park and/or number of sites with landscape mitigation schemes”.    The developments in the photos above have all been “mitigated” by the Park as Planning Authority – an “unmitigated bloody disaster” would be a more accurate description of what the LLTNPA is allowing to happen. 

 

Many of these developments also impact on the ecology of the National Park.  For example, despite all the fine words about water catchment planning and flood prevention there is NO consideration of the impact of the 40 plus hydo schemes being developed in the National Park on flooding (send the water through a pipe and it will descend the hill far more quickly than in a river) or the ecology of rivers.

Beinn Ghlas hydro scheme – the LLTNPA appears uninterested in evaluating the impact of channelling water off the hill through pipes

A more specific example is conservation Priority 11 which says the LLTNPA will “Support for land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Whole Farm and Whole Estate Management Plans”.  This is the same LLTNPA which, while claiming  28% of the National Park is now covered by such plans, has recently refused to make them public on the grounds they are commercially sensitive(see here).  If this is not putting commercial before conservation interests, I am not sure what is.

 

The few specific “conservation” objectives are not about conservation at all

 

The photo that appears on the page on Conservation Outcome 2, Landscape conservation

While there are very few specific conservation objectives in the NPPP, those that do exist are clearly driven by other agendas

 

Conservation Priority 4
Supporting projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes particularly along major transport routes and around settlements and also that better meet the different travel mode needs of visitors, communities and businesses. Priorities include:
– Implementing a strategically planned and designed upgrade to the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan;

-Continuing to review landslip management measures on the A83 at The Rest and Be Thankful.

 

Landscape conservation has been reduced to ensuring that people can enjoy the view from the road.  There is no consideration on the impact of those roads (visual, noise etc):

 

It is important that we ensure that key areas of the Park where people experience the inspiring vistas found here are recognised and enhanced. This means that key transport routes,  such as trunk roads and the West Highland railway line, along with the settlements in the Park, continue to provide good lines of sight to the stunning views of the iconic landscapes found here.

 

Biodiversity in the National Park

 

The new NPPP actually represents a considerable step backwards from Wild Park 2020 (see here), the LLTNPA’s biodiversity action plan, which is not even referred to in the NPPP.    The vision set out in Wild Park (P11), which is about restoring upland and lowland habitats, enriching food chains (to increase numbers of top predators) woodland re-structuring etc, is worth reading – a far clearer and coherent vision than in the NPPP.  That should have been the NPPP starting point.

 

Wild Park  contained 90 specific actions, which were due to be reviewed in 2017 – “the Delivery and Monitoring Group will undertake a mid-term review in 2017 of progress overall on the projects and programmes in Wild Park 2020” .  There is no mention in the NPPP about what has happened to that when it should have been central to developing the new plan.   Part of the problem is the LLTNPA has taken very little interest in conservation over the last three years – there are hardly any papers to the Board on conservation issues  as all its focus and the Park’s resources have been devoted to camping management.

 

The weakness in Wild Park was that while it included many excellent projects, these were mostly limited to small geographical areas and many were located on land owned by NGOs (eg a significant proportion of all the projects were located on NTS land at Ben Lomond and the Woodland Trust property in Glen Finglas).   There was nothing on a landscape scale and very few contributions from Forestry Commission Scotland, by far the largest landowner in the National Park.   The draft NPPP claims  (under conservation outcome 1) to want to see conservation on a landscape scale but contains no proposals about how to do this apart from setting up a network of partnerships.   This begs the question of why these partnerships will now work when we know over the last 15 years similar “partnerships” have failed to address the main land management issues which affect landscape scale conservation in the National Park, overgrazing and blanket conifer afforestation.

 

What needs to happen – biodiversity

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to have some ambition.    On a landscape scale this should include a commitment to a significant increase increase in the proportion of forestry in the National Park which is managed in more sustainable ways.   The SEA describes this as “there is an opportunity and interest in increasing the amount of woodland under continuous cover forestry (CCF) systems. This would reduce the amount of clear fell and associated soil erosion and landscape impacts”.  So, instead of failing to mention the Argyll Forest Park, why is the LLTNPA not pressing the FCS to change the way it manages forestry there?      How about aiming to convert 50% of that forest to continuous cover forestry systems over the next 10 years?  

 

And on a species level, there is no mention of beavers in either the NPPP or SEA.   Amazing the lack of join up:

Why is FCS building artificial dams when beavers could do the same job?

Wild Park described one indicator of success in 25 years time would be that “The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.”   The LLTNPA should bring that forward and actively support beaver re-introduction projects now.

 

Second, there needs to be some far more specific plans (which the Park should have consulted on as part of the NPPP to guage public support) which are both geographical and theme based.  Here are some examples:

 

  • So, what exactly is the plan for the Great Trossachs Forest, now Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve, which is mainly owned by NGOs?  (You would have no idea from the NPPP).
  • How is the LLNPA going to reduce overgrazing?
  • What about working to extend the Caledonian pine forest remnants in Glen Falloch (which would also hide some of the landscape scars created by hydro tracks)?
  • What does the LLTNPA intend to do to address the widespread persecution of species such as foxes in the National Park?
  • What can the National Park do to address the collapse of fish stocks in certain lochs or the threats to species such as arctic charr (whose population in Loch Earn is under threat from vendace).

 

I hope that people and organisations responding to the consultation will add to this list and demand that the LLTNPA comes up with a proper plan for the next five years and argue for the resources necessary to deliver such objectives.

 

What needs to happen – landscape

 

First, the LLTNPA needs to start putting landscape before development and state this clearly in the plan.    There should be no more goldmines, large tourist developments (whether Flamingo Land or on the torpedo site at Arrochar) and improvements to transport infrastructure (which are needed) should not be at the expense of the landscape.   Tunnelling the A82 along Loch Lomond – which has been discounted by Transport Scotland as too costly – should be put back on the agenda.

Powerlines at northern end Loch Lomond dominate much of the landscape of what is supposed to be a world class walk, the West Highland Way

Second, I would like to see the LLTNPA have a bit of ambition and make an explicit commitment to restoring  historic damage to landscapes.   What about burying powerlines as is happening in English National Parks (there is one small initiative at present in the LLTNP)?   How about restoring damage to the two wild land areas on either side of Glen Falloch, particularly the old hydro infrastructure south of Ben Lui, the largest area of wild land in the National Park?

Alt nan Caoran Hydro intake south of Ben Lui and Ben Oss – you can just see pipeline above centre of dam

The LLTNPA Board should also commit to a complete review of how it has managed the impact – “mitigated” – the construction of hydro schemes, engaging the people and organisations who have an interest in this.   The big issue here is the hydro construction tracks, which the LLTNPA now allows to remain in place, and which have had a massive deleterious affect on the more open landscapes in the National Park.   The LLTNPA’s starting point in the new NPPP is that there should be a presumption against any new tracks in the uplands and therefore that all hydro construction tracks should be removed in future.  There should be a review of the tracks which have been agreed over the last five years and a plan developed on how these could be removed (the hydro scheme owners, many of whom are based in the city, are not short of  cash and could afford to do this – that would be a demonstration of real partnership working).

 

Finally, as part of any plan to restructure conifer forests in the National Park, the LLTNPA also needs to develop new landscape standards for Forestry which should include matters such as track construction and felling.   There should be a presumption against clearfell.

 

What needs to happen – resources

 

Just like the Cairngorms NPPP, the LLTNPA NPPP makes no mention of resource issues.  Instead, the underlying assumption behind the plan is neo-liberal.  The state should not provide – in this case the National Park cannot expect any further resources – and the priority of government is to enable business to do business, which (according to the theory) will all some  benefits to trickle down to the National Park.

 

This is totally wrong.  We need a proper plan which sets out what needs to be done, how much this will cost and how this will be funded.    The Scottish Government could of course and probably would say “no” but things are changing politically and proper financing of conservation (and well paid rural jobs) are key to the third part of the NPPP which is about rural development.

June 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 10 comments
Part of upper section of Cluny Estate track, Glen Banchor

On the longest day, the Cairngorms National Park Authority initiated enforcement action against the Cluny Estate for the unlawful track up Carn Leth Choin at the head of Glen Banchor (see here).

 

The latest entry on the CNPA’s Planning Enforcement Register

 

This is extremely welcome.  In March the CNPA had written to me stating that they had been in discussions with the estate about restoring the track voluntarily but if the estate failed to do this the CNPA would take enforcement action (see here).  The addition to the register indicates the estate is refusing to do this and the CNPA have been as good as their word.    They deserve support from everyone who cares about our National Parks for initiating this action and will, I suspect, need ongoing support through what is likely to be a long and complex process.  Its not easy to bring recalcitrant landowners to heal while removing tracks is not easy.   It has been been done in the cases of a handful of hydro schemes, but these have been lower down the hill.  The only time a track has been removed on high ground was when the National Trust for Scotland removed the bulldozed track on Beinn a Bhuird.  This took place over a number of years, being completed in 2001, and took both significant investment and expertise.

 

Still,  the Cluny Estate appears to be owned by the Qatari Royal Family (see here) who, even if they are under lots of pressure at present due to the blockade from their neighbours, are not short of a bob or two.  There is no reason therefore why the restoration should not be to the highest possible standard.   While they are about it perhaps the Qatari Royal Family, if its indeed they who own the Cluny estate, should also pay for the restoration of the lower part of the track which was constructed at an earlier date and is, I understand, outside the current enforcement action.

The lower section of the track up the shoulder of Craig Leth Choin is apart from the landscape impact, too steep and will be constantly subject to erosion

The significance of this action by the CNPA is far wider than just this hill track.  In my view the Planning System in our National Parks (and indeed Scotland) has fallen into disrepute because enforcement action is hardly ever taken.  The emphasis has been on co-operating with people who, like the owners of the Cluny estate or Natural Retreats on Cairngorm, appear to have no respect for the planning system, drag out processes of negotiation for years and do anything they can to avoid doing what is right.    This therefore needs to be seen as a shot across the bows of all landowners in the National Park (its not the only one, as I will demonstrate in a future post).  The CNPA need to see it through.   I believe it will only take a couple of enforcement cases, where landowners learn what the costs of ignoring the planning systems are likely to be, and the whole attitude of landowners and their advisers to planning will change.

 

This is therefore a crucial test for the National Park and they should be congratulated for their new approach.