Tag: land reform

July 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Are the symbols for the National Outcomes the LLTNPA claim to be delivering useful?

The third and final section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Partnership Plan (the official consultation (see here) closes today) is entitled “Rural Development”.  The statutory objective of the National Park is rather different, to promote sustainable use of natural resources and sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.  Its quite possible to have rural development which does not achieve either of these aims, whether this is continuation of unsustainable land uses or new development such as the Cononish Goldmine.

 

The LLTNPA’s vision

The Park’s vision for rural development is infused with neo-liberal values and thought processes:

 

“In the National Park businesses and communities thrive and people live and work sustainably in a high quality environment”

 

Implicit in this vision is that development is dependent on business, there is no mention of the role of the public sector despite the fact that Forestry Commission Scotland, a public authority, is the largest landowner in the National Park.   There is no vision at all about what the public sector, including the National Park Authority – whose staff incidentally are paid far more than most people who work in the National Park (a good thing, reasonable pay) – have to play in sustainable rural development.   Significant amounts of research is undertaken in the National Park – for example by the SRUC’s research station in Strathfillan – but this, like other evidence is simply ignored.    I would suggest that any consideration of sustainable economic development that does not put the public sector at the heart of the vision is meaningless, its simply a charter for business.

 

There is no recognition either that the interests of business owners and local communities may not be the same.    So, the LLTNPA’s main focus is on tourism businesses which may deliver good returns to their owners but are dependent – perhaps exploit would be a better word – a low paid workforce who earn so little they cannot afford to live in the National Park.   There is no discussion of what is basically a rentier economy, which is based on the provision of tourist accommodation (all those chalet parks) or the financial subsidies paid for by the public for hydro power which are flowing to the City of London.  Most of the income generated within the area provides no benefit to the National Park or the people who still manage to live there.   In the Cairngorms National Park Authority Plan there was at least implicit recognition of this in the statistics which demonstrated average pay in the Cairngorms National Park was well below the Scottish average.  The LLTNPA plan is devoid of evidence and the only indication that this might be an issue is a reference to the total population and population of working age in the National Park declining.

 

The vision also says nothing about sustainable development.  The vision is of people working IN a high quality environment, which just happens to be there, there is no recognition this natural environment has been moulded by people andthere is NOTHING about sustainable land-use.  This fits with the conservation and land-use section of the plan (see here) which similarly has no vision or plan for how land-use could become more sustainable.  The natural qualities of the National Park are simply there to be used: the  “Park’s unique environment and special qualities provide many opportunities for economic growth and diversification.”     I couldn’t find a single proposal about how land-use or wider economy could be diversified in this section of the plan – its all being left to the private sector, the miracles of the market.

 

The complacency of the LLTNPA and its unwillingness to look at the real issues is staggering:

 

“Overall, our rural economy in the Park is performing well with growth in accommodation, outdoor recreation, infrastructure improvements, and food and drink offering over recent years. We have also seen a notable rise in development activity, particularly in renewables, housing and tourism investment. However, we are still facing significant challenges for the rural economy of the National Park.”

 

If the economy of the Park was really thriving one would expect there to be an increase in population, not a decrease.  There is no proper analysis of what the challenges are or that the economy in the Park is benefitting the few, not the many.

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities

 

The very first action point under Rural Development shows the Park’s true priorities:

 

“Delivery of the key sites and infrastructure in Arrochar, Balloch and Callander, as well as villages identified as Placemaking Priorities identified in LIVE Park, the National Park’s Local Development Plan”.

 

This is parkspeak for the delivery of Flamingo Land at Balloch (see here) and the development of the torpedo site at Arrochar (see here).  Neither has anything to do with sustainable economic development.

 

The other main development priority appears to be hydro schemes – the number of new hydro schemes being a measure of success.  Nowhere in the plan is there any indication of the impacts of such schemes on landscape or river catchments.

 

Almost all the other action points either re-inforce the Park’s development plan, are so vague as to be meaningless or miss the point.

 

Outcome 1 is basically a repeat of the Local Development, which (apart from the Flamingo Land and Torpedo site) is about matters such as enhancing the environment in existing settlements.

 

Outcome 2 is about providing support for business, from improving broadband to provision of workshop space – there is not a proposal in it about how the Park could help businesses based on the National Park’s special qualities (eg timber businesses) or how the LLTNPA could use its purchasing power to assist local businesses (e.g it has purchased shipping containers for toilets rather than commissioning local businesses to provide buildings fitting for the local environment).    The Park says it wants to increase the number of business start up when the reality is that a few businesses are actually increasing their grip on the economy in the National Park particularly in the tourism sector  (see here).

 

Outcome 3 sees the answer to population decline as training young people and getting more affordable housing provision.   Actually, its investment in the economy that creates jobs and the problem in the LLTNPA is that while there has been investment (eg construction of hydro schemes) this has been short-term and generates very few long-term paid jobs.   Requiring a proportion of new housing to be “affordable” will do nothing to address the basic issue.

 

Outcome 4 is about empowerment of local communities.  There is no mention of the Park’s track record on this (when it matters, they have consistently ignored view of local communities (e.g giving the go-ahead for new housing by the LLTNPA HQ in Balloch and ignoring the Strathard Community Council’s concerns about the size of the Loch Chon campsite).   As with the CNPA Partnership Plan there is no mention of supporting those communities to take over control of land, which is the main resource in the National Park, not even in areas where the FCS is the main landowner.  Until our National Parks grapple with Land Reform, claims to be empowering local communities should be taken with a large dose of salt.

 

What needs to be done

 

Here, in a nutshell, is an alternative agenda for rural development in the National Park:

 

  1. The public sector and public sector investment needs to be put at the centre of sustainable rural development but everything the public sector does (from new roads to land-use) should be tailored to the National Park’s conservation and recreational objectives.
  2. There should be no place for large scale tourist developments which destroy the special qualities of the Park (Flamingo Land) and the focus within tourism should be on improving pay and conditions (including living conditions) of those who work in the sector.
  3. The National Park Plan should be driving forward changes in land-use from large scale intensive conifer forestry, sheep farming and hunting to alternative uses.    This could start with the Forestry Estate and the production of a plan to change the way the Argyll Forest Park is managed, so landscape and biodiversity are put first, and new community models of forestry which would create new jobs locally.
June 14, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
This entry on the Risk Register made me smile, because its an acknowledgement that CNPA is taking social media like Parkswatch into account, but illustrates concern about the wrong thing. The risk should be whether the CNPA is delivering the objectives for which it was set up. If it delivers these, it will earn a good reputation.

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

 

Mountain Hares

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

 

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

 

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

 

Raptor tagging

 

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

 

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

Resources

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

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

 

Nature conservation targets

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

An insight into the political challenge

 

“An MSP survey carried out in December shows 100% have heard of the Cairngorms National Park and a third say they know a fair amount or know it well. A little under half (43%) are favourable towards the Cairngorms National Park with 51% claiming to be neutral. Both national parks are held in strong regard at the Parliament, stronger than may be expected given the level of awareness compared to other organisations.”
I found this extract from the corporate performance report pretty shocking: only 43% of MSPs are favourable to the Cairngorms National Park (the target was 50%).    Since we know that the Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens are in favour of more National Parks, its hard to avoid the conclusion that the majority of SNP MSPs (who avoided the debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks (see here) don’t like the existing ones either.   If that is so, it goes a long way to explaining the lack of resources.
Our MSPs really do need to start seeing our National Parks as a means of doing things differently, particularly the way we manage the land.
May 8, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Letter to Strathy 15th March 2001 courtesy of Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

My apologies to readers that in my post on Curr Wood (see here) which highlighted the importance of the wood to the pine hoverfly, I had missed an article from the Strathy the previous week making this very point and providing some of the history to the site  Strathy 17.4.20 Curr Wood felling concern.   Taken together the articles  raise some serious questions about how species which have been agreed by government as priorities for conservation are being protected in the Cairngorms National Park.

 

Controversy about the management of Curr Wood, which is situated just south of Dulnain Bridge on Speyside, dates back at least 15 years (see letter from Adam Watson above), i.e before the CNPA was created in 2003.   The importance of Curr Wood to wildlife appears linked historically to a sparse  felling regime which has allowed Scots pines to grow older and larger than elsewhere and left much of the ground undisturbed.  Curr Wood hosts the largest population of the twinflower in the UK and is the last remaining refuge of pine hoverfly.  Both are priority species under the UK and Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan, although strangely the site itself has not been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).   The site therefore, although of obvious importance to conservation, is not protected as such.

 

Pine hoverfly larvae have very specific habitat requirements.  They develop in rotten pine stumps, usually in association with the pine butt-rot fungus, which are 40 cm in diameter – this is thought because smaller stumps do not provide a sufficient area for the larvae to develop.  After about 8 years, rotten stumps dry out and the hoverfly needs to move on. http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1849928.pdf    What this means is if smaller trees are chopped down too early , the stumps are no use for the pine hoverfly, while if too many are chopped at the same time, there is nowhere for them to move on to.   Pine hoverfly are still l found in Curr Wood precisely because the felling has been so selective.   Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) in their statement to the Strathy last week, claiming to have protected pine hoverfly by putting machine exclusion zones in place, appear to have missed the point – for the pine hoverfly its the felling regime that matters.  What FCS has not explained is the likely longer term impact of the felling license on the remaining population of pine hoverfly, and in particular, the likelihood that the pine hoverfly will colonise the areas being felled in future.    If we want to save the pine hoverfly, restricting it to one area of one wood looks a high risk strategy.

 

Both the pine hoverfly and twinflower are  also listed in the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan as being priority species for the National Park.  This was confirmed in the new draft Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan, to which FCS is a party.   One of the priorities of that plan is “Safeguarding species for which the Cairngorms National Park is particularly important” – which includes the pine hoverfly.    It is legitimate therefore to ask how FCS thought it good enough, after sending a formal consultation to CNPA and RSPB about Curr Wood, to proceed with the felling license when they received no reply.    Did no-one in FCS think of picking up the phone to ask the views of others on the “mitigation measures” it had decided?   This is a failure in Partnership working by public agencies – just what the Partnership Plan is supposed to prevent.

 

Ten years ago (see SNH document above) there was a serious attempt to conserve the pine hoverfly and indeed to re-introduce it to areas such as Rothiemurch, which included the appointment of a dedicated member of staff.   These re-introduction attempts appear to have failed and the pine hoverfly appears to have disappeared from its other refuge, Anagach Wood, so is now confined to Curr Wood.  Even more reason one might have thought for FCS to have worked in partnership with all the parties, including the pine hoverfly Biodiversity Action Plan Steering group, to work out a joint approach for Curr Wood.   That doesn’t seem to have happened so far.  Its time therefore for the CNPA to take a lead here, in terms of partnership working, and to call on FCS to work with other parties, including local people.   One might have hoped that, 14 years after the National Park was created, agencies would be working together more effectively.

 

The unstated issue and challenge behind all of this is land-ownership.   There is something wrong when private landowners can still more or less do what they want on sites vital for conservation in our National Park without considering the wider good.   While the failure to designate the site as a SSSI has no doubt contributed to this, there have been at least four different owners since 2001:   Seafield Estate sold the wood to BSW timber 2001 who sold to Henry Becker in  2002 who then sold on to Billy Martin.   That is not a good way to manage a prime wildlife site which needs a consistent approach.  Instead, Curr Wood has been subject to different owners with different objectives.   More evidence of the need for a new approach to landownership in our National Parks.

 

One option would be for FCS to buy Curr Wood – after all it did stump up £7.4m to buy up part of Rothiemurchus, so why not other woodland of conservation importance in the National Park?

 

The strongest advocates for this site though, as with other areas of woodland on Speyside, appear to be the  people who live near it.    The CNPA in its Partnership Plan included some positive commitments to empowering local communities without saying how it might do this.  So why not engage with the local community about the future of Curr Wood?     While resources to buy the wood might be an issue, why not think ahead?   How about the CNPA  sponsoring a common good fund for the Cairngorms which could assist communities to buy up land in the National Park?    As with the Victorian common good funds, people might even bequeath money for the benefit of the National Park and the people who live in it and enjoy it.

 

A wider perspective on why the CNPA needs to intervene in Curr Wood is given today in an excellent piece by their Chief Executive, Grant Moir, in the Scotsman (see here).   Nature is good for people, so why are we destroying it?    And, Curr Wood even includes a core path!

April 3, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The sale of the Tulchan Estate, which straddles the northern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park, was announced last week  (see here).  The estate, or rather Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd which Leon Litchfield, the previous owner, set up as the vehicle to own it soon after he purchased the estate in 1993,  was bought by the Yuri Schefler, a Russian billionaire.   He owns the SPI Group which is registered in Luxemburg (notorious for its loose tax regime).   Companies House still records – from a statement made in 2016 – that no single person or legal entity has “significant control” of the company.   Its therefore unclear if Mr Schefler has bought the shares in Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd personally or through another legal vehicle.   It appears though he has appointed a new director, to replace the Directors who resigned in March, one Natalia Sidorenco (a UK citizen).

 

Ms Sidorenco is also a Director of Tulchan Estate Services Ltd, a new company set up in February 2017, and which appears to have nothing to do with the Litchfield family.   It has nominal capital but  its owners’,  sf Scottish Properties Ltd, correspondence address is Lefebvre Court, Lefebvre Street, St Peter Port, Guernsey, GY1 6EJ.   Another tax haven.   The Herald quoted claims that Yuri Schefler is aiming to invest in the estate, and that might be so, but why set up a service company which is owned by another company which appears based in a tax haven if your long-term intentions are to invest in the area?   It looks like any returns on Mr Schefler’s investments may go elsewhere rather than benefitting local people.  This is yet another sale which raises issues about the need for land reform.

 

Indeed, the creation of companies and trusts to own estates is now being used to circumvent the right to buy provisions in our Land Reform legislation.  This was well put in the Herald article:

 

“But the sale had been hit by a row over the rights of the estate’s tenant farmers, which campaigners had asked to be put on hold.

Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 is meant to ensure tenants are granted the right to buy when farms are put up for sale.

Because the new owners of Tulchan will buy the shares of a company, rather than a property, the farms will not technically have been sold and the tenants will not be able to trigger a right to buy.

But a spokeswoman for Savills said the issue over the tenant farms had been resolved with the sale.”

 

While Tulchan Estate had been put on the market for offers over £25 million the most recent company accounts for January 2016 show Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd had been valued at nothing like this amount.

Part of the reason for this was that a number of loans had been secured on property owned by the Company,  including as recently as last year,  and Companies House records all these were paid off earlier this year.   Then on 10th March 2017 the Directors issued a statement reducing share capital in the company to £14,355,802 shortly  before resigning and being replaced by Ms Siderenco.  Now, I am not an accountant but I am not sure why they would do this unless the offer for the estate was less than the previous share capital of £15,653,208.  Its also possible of course that it was Mr Schefler who paid off the various creditors of the company.

 

Natalia Siderenco has also become a Director of Tulchan Springwater Ltd but that company is dormant and is worth nothing   Her fourth Directorship is I think relevant.  She is a Director of SPI Spirits (UK) Ltd which after paying interest lost £165k in financial year to December 2015 and  whose liabilities exceeded its assets at that time by c£1.85m. Those accounts use Company Act exemptions and don’t report on internal transactions with the wider SPI group owned by Mr Schefler but its another company that appears insolvent.

 

So why is all this relevant to our National Parks?

 

The predominant model of National Parks across the world is that land is state owned.  Indeed in Chile, the state added 11 million acres of land to National Parks in March (see here), albeit spurred to do so in part by a legacy from the campaigner Doug Tompkins.  In Scotland we allow all land to be traded, even that in National Parks, without controls.   Tulchan is just the latest example of this.

 

Proponents of private ownership would argue so what?  Well the reason this matters if we have no idea whether Mr Schefler respects the four statutory objectives of the National Park.   We allow landowners to buy land in our National Parks without even having to make a declaration about their intentions – Mr Schefler says he is going to invest in the estate but, for all the Cairngorms National Park Authority knows, this might bulldozing more tracks onto grouse moors or cutting off access to the river Spey for outdoor recreation apart from fishing which is happening downstream, just outside the National Park.

 

While the CNPA to their credit have tried to get every estate in the National Park to develop estate plans many did not do so: Tulchan was one of those.  So will Mr Schefler, or rather his apparent nominee, Natalia Siderenco, now ensure one is produced and consult with the National Park on this?  The problem is its their choice.    The CNPA has no powers to force the company to produce a plan yet alone to determine whether they are fit people to own land in a National Park.    Owners of Care Homes have to show they are fit to do so, so why not owners of land in our National Parks?  Someone who has abused people or allowed people to be abused would not be allowed to own a care home, and we should apply the same principle to land ownership, so people who allow protected species to be killed should not be allowed to own land in our National Parks.

 

If you want a compelling reason for this, the day after the sale of Tulchan was announced, the RSPB reported the disappearance of  yet another golden eagle on the Glenbuchat estate (two estates on from Tulchan going east).  Its worth reading the history from Raptor Persecution Scotland:

 

Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ on North Glenbuchat Estate in Cairngorms National Park

 

Nothing to do with Mr Schefler of course but the point is we have no idea what he is going to do, whether he might be like the managers of north Glenbuchat or at the other end of the spectrum, like Anders Povslen, the owner of Glen Feshie.   We need to create ways to assess suitability of people to own or lease large areas of land in our National Parks and this should include a financial fitness test to ensure companies such as Natural Retreats don’t siphon money out of the National Park.   Mr Schefler’s companies that relate to Tulcha haven’t done anything yet of course but will need watching.

February 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The Loch Venachar Quay carparking area – a nice scene or a demonstration of how powerful interests control how we enjoy the landscape?

On Sunday, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s story of the selfish giant.   The story is about a giant who returns to his castle, finds children playing in his garden and infuriated, builds a wall to keep them out but then the hard way learns the error of his ways.  Its a parable about many things, but access and sharing land is at the heart of it.   For readers who don’t know it,  its a recommended read (5 minutes – see http://www.online-literature.com/wilde/180/). 

 

I had gone to the Trossachs to check a couple of hydro schemes (about which more anon) but first of all wanted to check some details about the land around Loch Venachar House, the home of Linda McKay, the soon to depart convener of the National Park.  She appears to have been the driving force behind the forthcoming camping byelaws (see here).   I stopped at the carpark at the Quay on the Invertrossachs Rd, which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park upgraded in 2015.   Parkswatch has previously covered how the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority had changed some of the original plans for this site (see here for the cock and bull stories about why gates were installed)   as set out in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan in 2012.  What I had not appreciated till last week was that the Park had applied for planning permission to itself for re-landscaping this car park and planning documents were also available:

The plan that was approved 14th January 2015 by planning – note the footpath out along the quay.

In the original Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan,  the area to the right of the gate which is directly adjacent to the grounds of Loch Venachar House, Linda McKay’s House, was to be grassed.  On the planning application the grass was replaced by trees.  You can see from the photo that many are of prickly variety and sit in front of a full height barbed wire fence.  The objective would appear to be the prevention of any public access along the shoreline towards the old water works. Why the LLTNPA should be so determined to curtail  public access here remains obscure.

 

While the landscaping in the foreground of the photo at the top accords with the plan granted planning permission, the path along the quay has totally disappeared and been replaced by closely planted trees making access very difficult.  Again, it would be in the public interest to know why it was decided to do this.

According to the plans approved by the LLTNPA the path was supposed to run just to the right of the larger trees on the left side of the Quay

The land at the Quay was gifted to the people of Callander on 7th August 1909 as part of a deal in which a builder, John Watherston, bought the lands of Easter Duilater (now known as Dullater) from the McLaren Educational Trust.   The original deeds from the Register of Sasines state that the purpose of the gift was for local people “to enjoy the rights and privileges of fishing and boating in Loch Venachar……together with the right of access to Loch Venachar for these purposes”.   Over the years the land was managed on behalf of the people of Callander, first by the McLaren Educational Trust, then Callander Borough Council before being transferred to Stirling Council and thence to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on 22nd September 2004  (along with other parcels of land on the north side of Loch Venachar, Rowardennan, Milarrochy Bay and some other places).

 

While the quay had fallen into disrepair, one might have thought a National Park would have wanted to respect the terms of the original gift.  Not so – the LLTNPA has now effectively stopped anyone from launching boats from the quay while  the dense treeplanting  discourages anyone from walking out to the end of the Quay and enjoying the view along the shoreline to the dam and waterworks, a  fine piece of Victorian architecture.

Loch Venachar House is behind the Scots pine, Venachar dam to the left. The full height fence appears to stop close to where what I believe is willow scrub can be seen in the water

This landscaping appears to contravene one of the four statutory aims which is to promote enjoyment of the countryside.  An artificial quay built into a loch is not the sort of place that would normally be planted or where tree regeneration would be promoted.    I have written to the LLTNPA asking for them to explain why the path has been replaced by a barrier of trees and the basis for this decision.

 

One might have hoped that with the Convener of the LLTNPA, Linda McKay living next door, she would have taken a close interest in the need for the Park to demonstrate best practice here and intervened to prevent this measure.   On the contrary, I have – despite asking – seen no evidence that she made any written representations on the Park’s development of the Quay site.

 

The main thing I wanted to check on my visit though was access along the boundaries of Loch Venachar House.    Last summer I had seen a barrier between the high fence, which I suspected marked the property boundary, and a lower fence that runs along the edge of the quay.  It was still there:

The wire is very hard to see from a distance (you can see a faint haze across between the fences if you look carefully) and its only if you tried walking between the fences that you would realise it was there:

Close up though the barbed wire and wire netting below it form a very effective barrier with no way round without wading through the Loch.   I have no idea of who has done this.   It appears though to be fairly recent from the way the barbed wire is wrapped round the fence wire, i.e it post dates that, and whoever did this appears to care little for trees.  Nor do I know who owns the land outside the fence.  This could form part of the Venachar House property or could be owned by someone else, such as by Scottish Water – or it could form part of the harbour and quay and be owned by the National Park itself (I was not able to find the diagram of the land originally gifted from the Register of Sasines).

 

What I did learn on Sunday though, from a man fishing with his son, is that people used to walk around the shoreline of the loch here to the dam during the long period when the former Venachar House was derelict.  The intention of the new wire is clearly to stop people doing this and because its outside the fence that marks the garden boundary, whatever the ownership, it appears to be an obstruction to access, possibly on land owned by the LLTNPA.    Interestingly, the man fishing – who turned out to be a police officer in his day job – also told me that when the reservoir is low you can still walk round to the dam along the beach.  LLTNPA photos from the Your Park consultation prove that people used to camp on the beach along the shoreline by the Invertrossachs Rd and perhaps they also used to camp on the beach in front of what is now Loch Venachar House.

 

After checking the Quay side of the shoreline and being unable to get further, I walked round Linda McKay’s house then took the track to the dam.

The track to the dam, Loch Venachar House on the left.

 

The access is not welcoming, there are no signs making  walkers welcome however,  I knew the track was used by Scottish Water to access the dam and the last time I had visited, a woman from the house to the right of the track gave me a friendly wave as I walked past.

The view of the dam and track beyond the houses – clearly an access track

At the dam I tried walking back towards the Quay along the lochside, but this was soon blocked by vegetation, so I walked through the open field (to left of picture), climbed over a wire fence and then realised by a short section of wooden fence between the fence and the shore that if I went further I could be in what is now Linda McKay’s garden.  I turned round.

The view from the wooden fence outside the field.  This is where apparently people used to walk along the loch shore between the Quay and the dam. The Quay is round the corner in the distance. The double height fence in the previous photos stops somewhere between here and the Quay allowing the occupants of Loch Venachar House open access to the lochshore.

 

 

I don’t know as yet whether the shoreline here forms part of the property of Loch Venachar House or whether the wall or line of trees in the photo forms the boundary and, if so, who owns the land outside the boundary, including the sloping embankment down to the reservoir.     If the wall or lines of trees forms the boundary, the land outside of this would still be within access rights.  However,  because there is no information and because no-one wants to walk into what is legally someone’s garden, what this would effectively mean is that the owners of Loch Venachar House have secured part of the shoreline for their own private use.   I turned back because of this.    If the owners had continued with the boundary fence, as they have every right to do, this would indicate to the public that the land outside the fence was within access rights but would have blocked Linda McKay’s access to the shore.

 

If the entire shoreline now forms part of the Loch Venachar House property, since its been effectively treated as being part of the garden, then access rights would no longer apply.    If that is the case, this is a land reform issue – how do we protect land that is important for recreation from being bought up for exclusive private use?

 

I live in Glasgow, am lucky enough to live in a nice house on a fairly quiet residential street and on an average day several hundred people walk within metres of my front door.  If people, whether children or drunks step onto the property I happen to own, I tolerate it and sometimes welcome it.  In this respect I am no different to many thousands of other city dwellers.  I know there are though some people who live in the countryside or very large houses who feel differently.  They become so hooked on their own privacy or right to enjoy the land that they try and put barriers around their property, like the selfish giant.

 

One of the significant things that have changed for the better as a result of our access legislation in 2003 has been the whole culture of access among the general population (if not among public officials).    Many people who live in the countryside have become far more relaxed about access and have come to realise that people visiting and walking close to where they live are not a threat but a positive thing.  There are now walkers welcome signs all over Scotland.    Views have changed, like those of the Selfish Giant, but on a mass scale.  This is something that Scotland can and should be very proud of, one of the greatest achievements of the Scottish Parliament.

 

Unfortunately there are still some people who have not seen the light, who, like the selfish giant, remain shut up in their properties.   While Linda McKay appears to have done nothing illegal, my investigations have re-inforced what I thought the first time I saw how she had fenced her house and how the National Park had blocked off access at the Quay.  Neither she, nor the National Park staff who changed the landscaping design at the Quay,  appear to be to be among those people who understand or appreciate the importance of access.   Such people have a right to their views but should not be holding positions of power in a National Park which has a legal duty to promote access to the countryside and that they do is a matter that should be of the greatest concern.

 

What needs to happen

 

We need to learn from what has gone wrong  in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.    A key lesson for  the Scottish Government is to avoid in future the appointment of anyone to a National Park Board  who appears to  have strong private interests which conflict with the protection and promotion of access rights.    I think that should require that at Board Interviews, people who own land should be asked to demonstrate how their management of land is in sympathy with the National Park’s objectives.  This should include not just access but also conservation and sustainable use.  If people cannot demonstrate this in their own ownership of land they should not be appointed (that would also rule out any landowners who had in any way tolerated raptor persecution or flouted planning permission from serving on National Park Boards)

 

At Loch Venachar, public access should be restored from the quay to the dam area along the shoreline linking to the path alongside the river beyond.   The dam is a listed building, a great place to visit and it could form part of a path network linking Gartchonzie with the Invertrossachs Rd, a distance of c1.5k.   Walking along river and lochside would be immeasurably superior experience to walking along the Invertrossachs Rd, which is currently marked as a core path.   If that requires the LLTNPA to purchase of a strip of land on the edge of Linda McKay’s property then they should do this, as soon as possible, using their compulsory purchase powers, if necessary.

The downstream side of the Loch Venachar dam – an interesting place to visit that could be linked to a path along the river and the Invertrossachs Road
September 28, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
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Glenfenzie ruin in Glen Fenzie just off the A839 on the Dinnet estate.  This used to be a small farm that supported people but is now managed as a grouse moor and the shooting let out.

 

Following my post questioning  the Cairngorms National Park Authority assertion that grouse moors bring much needed employment to the National Park see here, on Sunday I went for a walk round the western half of the Dinnet estate via the summit of Morven.  My main intention was to look at the unlawful hill tracks that have been created there in recent years (subject of a future post), but the number of abandoned houses was striking.  Hardly a sign of grouse moor management bringing prosperity to the area.

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Glen Fenzie farm. The change from conventional to grouse farming has not created any new jobs, precisely the opposite.
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Abandoned estate buildings above Morven Lodge. How many people used to work here?

The CNPA partnership plan says nothing directly about the number of jobs or houses that have been lost as a result of the intensification of grouse moor managment.  In my view it should.  This is a fundamental issue about land reform.    These estates have been clearing not just wildlife (see here for yesterday’s announcement of yet another unlawful hen harrier killing in the National Park) but also people from the countryside

 

This should have implications to the CNPA proposals on housing, one of the Big 9 issues in the Partnership Plan, and where the CNPA is still supporting a couple of large new housing developments of owner occupied housing (see here for housing evidence). The Housing Evidence document (at 43 pages) and Flood Management documents (36 pages) are about twice the length  as any other evidence document (eg Active Cairngorms gets 11 pages and landscape scale conservation 18).  Despite the length, this is the nearest the Housing Evidence document gets to discussing the impact of landed estates on the housing supply in the countryside:

 

Around 14% of households rent from the private sector, which is a fall of around 6% since 2001 (down from 20%). One unusual facet of the National Park’s rented sector is the relatively high proportion of households renting from an employer of a household member. In 2011 these households represented 5% of the private rented market. It is likely that these households largely represent estate workers and seasonal workers in the tourism sector, where accommodation is often included with the job.
There was however a drop in this tenure class from 35% in 2001; the reasons for which are uncertain. In part it may represent a change in the categorisation of tenure definitions, for while the 2001 census records no households as living rent free, the 2011 indicates a level of 4%. Other causes may include changes in the working practices of estates and the sale of estate stock.

 

The CNPA fails to mention that one possible contribution to the decline in private sector rented housing is that estates are continuing to remove people (and jobs) from the land.     The CNPA Plan has promoted no discussion about this or options for the future.  While much estate accommodation is remote – that around Morven Lodge is accessed by unsurfaced hill tracks – judging by the numbers of people who respond to adverts to live on remote islands, if you offered these houses to people to live in, there would be lots of demand.  Alternatively, if renovated and offered as holiday accommodation they would be in high demand which would help support local jobs.  There is no electricity at Morven at present –  there are  gas lights in the Lodge – but with micro hydro everywhere else, why not here?

 

I don’t think however that any vision such as this – and I am sure there are other alternatives – is ever going to happen though while landowners maintain their feudal grip.  The owners of the grouse moors don’t want independent people living or staying in remote areas who might notice and report what is actually going on in terms of wildlife persecution and grouse moor management.   A good reason for the CNPA to promote community buy outs and control of these buildings.   There is a fantastic resource out there of attractive Victorian buildings that the CNPA is letting landowners abandon.  Is this called protecting the cultural heritage?p1000120-copy

The nature of the abandoned estate buildings suggest this was a place that once supported several jobs.

 

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The only building still in use is the former lodge. Its use now appears to be restricted to providing lunch to shooters. There does not appear to be any overnight accommodation. If this is right the only job that is supported is the cook that is brought in for the day and the gamekeepers who live elsewhere.
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The main function of Morven Lodge now is to provide luncheon

 

 

Our failure as a society to make use of existing housing is not just a problem with Landed Estates of course and there are other aspects to this such as second homes which are are covered in the Partnership Plan.   However, from a quick tour of Deeside I spotted over 10 empty dwellings – some of which are probably not even on the CNPA’s database of empty dwellings.   When the CNPA is estimating 4.5 new properties a year are needed on Deeside (from Aberdeenshire’s figures of 90 properties in 20 years)  to meet demand why is it not taking a serious look at how abandoned estate buildings could be brought back in the housing stock?

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Abandoned house Corriemulzie
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The boarded up house opposite the car park and public toilets in Braemar

Below is the extract from the main Partnership Plan of the CNPA’s preferred direction (notice there are no actual targets) on housing.  The CNPA should firm up the vague commitment to help local communities buy land to secure local housing “solutions” with a firm plan to help them buy up and renovate abandoned estate housing before it deteriorates still further.

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TARGETS / PREFERRED DIRECTION
• Making sure that when new housing is built, more of it is accessible to people who live and work in the National Park through influencing scale and tenure of housing;
• Delivering more affordable housing as a proportion of all new development;
• Increasing the level of investment in affordable housing and infrastructure on key sites;
• Ensuring the delivery of key strategic sites; [ie the large sites at An Camus Mor and Kingussie]
• Maintaining high design standards appropriate for a National Park; [what better than renovating traditional buildings?]
• Helping communities make the most of any right to buy land in order to secure local housing solutions; and
• Reducing the proportion of second and holiday homes in the National Park.

September 12, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have previously touched on elements of the Cairngorms National Park Authority draft Partnership Plan (e.g see here and here) and wanted to take a look at the Plan as a whole as it is supposed to provide the framework for what the National Park will do over the next five years.  It’s therefore the key document for anyone interested in what the National Park intends to do in future (which is not to claim documents are everything).

 

The CNPA consultation, which closes 30th September) focuses on what they have identified as major issues, or the Big 9 as they have branded it.  Before reading the Plan, or the nine evidence reports that accompany it, I would suggest you jot down your own list of issues and compare these to the those the Park has identified.     What doing this highlighted for me was there are major omissions from the draft Park Plan.

 

My Big 9 The CNPA Big 9
The landscape of the Cairngorms Landscape scale conservation
Wild land and natural processes Deer and moorland management
Land ownership and use Flood management
Recreational infrastructure Visitor Infrastructure
Resources to make things happen Active Cairngorms
The CNPA’s powers and use of them Learning and inclusion
Better paid jobs and sustainable land-use

 

Housing
Accessibility of the National Park Community Capacity and empowerment
What improvements the CNPA will deliver in the next 5 years Economic Development

 

Landscape

 

While the Plan makes a reference to the special landscape qualities of the National Park, this paragraph is about the sum total it has to say about landscape:

plan-landscape-quote

Don’t be fooled by the heading in the Park’s Big 9 “landscape scale conservation” as this is about conservation, not landscape.   There is nothing in the Plan about landscape threats to the Park or what the CNPA has been doing about this, except a brief mention that it will maintain its opposition to all wind-farms in the National Park.   Welcome, but is that it?   Its almost as though, having taken a stand against wind-farms, the CNPA feels its stuck its neck out far enough.  There is no reference to the extent of the new hill tracks that scar many of the hills in the National Park, no mention of the impact of the Beauly/Denny power line in the Drumochter, no mention of the destruction at Cairngorm, no consideration of whether attempts to mitigate hydro schemes to date have been successful nor how best to mitigate the dualling of the A9.   Nothing.

The absence of any plans to protect the landscape unfortunately implies the CNPA will allow the attrition of the Cairngorms landscape to continue.   Is this what National Parks are for?

 

Wild land and Natural processes

 

Closely related to landscape issues, is how we protect wild land and allow natural processes to flourish.   While the Plan includes the SNH wild land map there is no analysis of how wild land has been impacted on over the last 5 years.  The sad fact is that the CNPA has allowed the area of remote land to reduce, mainly through a failure to control the creation of hill tracks.  This is what the Plan has to say about hill tracks:

plan-hill-tracks

This view, that hill tracks are required to facilitate access to remoter areas for land management purposes, needs to be challenged.  Deer used to be culled and shot without tracks and tracks have made it much easier for estates to kill wildlife they perceive as vermin.   Tracks are not necessary, they are a political and economic choice but the consultation offers us NO choice.

 

Moreover, while the Park considers conservation from a management perspective I could find not a single mention of restoring natural processes outside the paper on flood management.  Indeed, the current re-wilding debate seems to have passed the Park by.   The de-designation of the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve has allowed the CNPA simply to abandon any commitment that in the core of the National Park nature should come first.  Instead, the Plan asks us to consider how to ameliorate the worst excesses of landed estates in the way they manage the land for grouse and red deer.

 

The management approach though is clearly failing.  The CNPA’s own figures show that 1/3 of the European protected sites are in unfavourable condition, almost entirely down to the way the land is being used or rather abused.  The Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation were supposed to be the jewels of the crown in the National Park, until Brexit at least, and it should be to the CNPA’s shame that they are still in such poor condition.  The Plan will only be able to offer more of the same, and continued failures, until its starts to look at alternatives that put wildness at the core of nature conservation in the National Park.

 

Landownership and use.

 

The draft Plan contains no critical analysis of the impact of current systems of landownership in the Park and proposes no ideas for change.  While one of the Big 9 issues is Community Empowerment, there is no analysis of the potential for community ownership or control of land in the National Park and nothing about how the CNPA might assist communities to take over and run estates.   There is no analysis either of how the different types of landowner (public agency, voluntary sector, progressive private landowners such as Glen Feshie, traditional estates) impact on the ability of the CNPA to meet its statutory objectives.    Without such an analysis, its simply not possible to devise a Plan which will deliver those statutory objectives.

 

Powers of the National Park  

 

The Plan contains no analysis of how the CNPA has used its powers to date and how it might do so in future.  The implication of the many failures of the CNPA to enforce planning decisions effectively is that landowners can do what they want.  There is hardly a reference to Development Planning in the entire document, a major omission when the CNPA does not have full planning powers and needs to work in partnership with local Councils on planning matters.   There is also no consideration of how the CNPA might uses to powers better to meet its statutory objectives, whether bringing in byelaws to control hunting or ensuring that there is cross compliance between the grants the Park and its partners award and statutory objectives.   I suspect for example that all the estates where illegally killed raptors have been found are in receipt of public monies of one type or another.   The CNPA should be able to co-ordinate withdrawal of all public subsidies where landowners are failing to respect the objectives of the National Park.

 

Resources

 

There is no analysis or even estimate of the resources needed to deliver the Park’s statutory objectives or the Park Plan.  Instead, there are references through the Plan to various pots of money that could be drawn on to meet the specific initiatives that are described in the Plan.    There is no analysis of whether this is sufficient or what is really needed.  The Park Plan seems to just accept the current Government narratives about austerity and that the National Park and other agencies should still devote considerable effort to scrabbling about try to find funds from wherever.  This is very important because without proper resourcing, its not possible for the National Park for firm up any clear strategic direction, and the Plan is limited to aspirational directions of travel.

 

What improvement the CNPA will deliver in the next five years

 

The draft Plan refers to some existing targets, contained in other plans, but contains no new ones that I could see.   Where aspirations are expressed, such as that in five years time  sites protected under European legislation will be in better condition than others in Scotland, there are no firm commitments.  On my reading,  I am none the wiser of what changes the CNPA is hoping to deliver.

 

A comparison with the existing Park Plan

 

Having drafted this, I was concerned that I was being too critical, because there are some good things in the draft Plan (which I will cover in future posts).  I therefore did a comparison between the current 2012-17 Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/working-partnership/national-park-partnership-plan/  and the proposed new Plan and found significant changes in approach.   Here are three illustrations of this:

  • The current plan has five pages on the vision, the new Plan has reduced this to 15 words (which were in the last plan):   “An outstanding National Park, enjoyed and valued by everyone, where nature and people thrive together.”     Everything that is visionary, along with the inspirational photos, has been stripped out.   Maybe this is not intentional, maybe the Board and senior staff know the vision so well that they thought there was no need to repeat it again,  but for me the lack of visionary statements reinforces the impression that the CNPA has lost its vision.
  • The current  Plan contains a whole page on landscape qualities of the Park.  Its so good, I have appended it below.  The contrast with the void in the current plan is striking.
  • The current Plan clearly identifies which Partners would be involved in delivering what.   Now  it wasn’t perfect and I regret the omission of recreational organisations and many conservation NGOs from the list of partners BUT the proposed new Plan does not even contain a list of partners.   While some organisations may be signed up to some of the other subsidiary plans referred to in the document (its impossible to tell without wading through all those documents too) its not difficult to identify gaping holes:  Scottish Natural Heritage  for example, does not appear to be included in any of the mechanisms mentioned for moorland and deer management when it has statutory responsibility for Red Deer numbers.  If this really is a Partnership Plan should we not know SNH’s views about deer numbers in the National Park and what it intends to do about them?   You could ask similar questions with all the organisations listed as partners in the current Plan.

 

The muddled approach in the proposed new plan is summed up for me by this statement on the Role of the National Park Authority:

 

The purpose of a National Park Authority is to ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in a coordinated way [a quote from S9 of the National Parks Act] This means leading the vision for the National Park and the partnerships necessary for delivery.

 

So where is the vision?   Who are the partners and what will they do?

 

Addendum – The Cairngorms landscape

 

plan-landscape-qualities

July 10, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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Dear LLTNPA,

 

In May I visited the Loch Venachar quay site off the Invertrossachs Road where you installed a new carpark with gates last year, just outside Invertrossachs House, the home of your convener Linda McKay.   I note that the trees on the quay, which were not in the original plans, were growing particularly well – I suspect that whoever did the work was instructed to feed the trees with a large dose of fertiliser.  I normally love trees – indeed I have been criticised by readers of my posts for promoting trees at the expense of deer – but here they are a symbol of everything that is wrong with the National Park.   This quay, hard to see in the photo, was gifted to the people of Callender for their enjoyment and handed over to LLTNPA on the creation of the National Park.   People used to camp here but in a couple of years, when the water in the loch is high, it will no longer be possible for anyone even to walk to the end of the quay.  Should our National Parks be about planting trees at the expense of people, to keep out the hoi polloi, to stop access?.

 

So, here’s to the people of Callender using the new powers of the Community Empowerment Act to re-assert their right to land that was gifted for their enjoyment.

May 9, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

Raptor Persecution Scotland has published information  today about a goshawk criminally killed on a “sporting”  estate in Donside, in the eastern part of the Cairngorms National Park,  in April – the exact location has not been revealed.     The comments rightly raise question about how such crimes are allowed to continue our National Parks and some suggestions about how to prevent them, including removal of gun licences and compulsory purchase of the estates in question.   Parkswatchscotland has previously covered some of the powers available to our National Parks that could lead the way to stamping out raptor persecution http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/25/stop-raptor-persecution-cairngorms-national-park/   These could be used now.   Whoever is appointed as new Minister of Environment needs to give a clear message to the National Park Authorities in Scotland that she or he expects them to start using their existing powers as soon as possible.

 

One thing I failed to cover in that previous post was the role of estate management plans.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority asks all the estates in the National Park to draw up estate management statement .    The Donside estates are smaller than on the west of the National Park but what is interesting is that there appear to be NO estate management plans for the Delnadamph, Edinglassie Candacraig or Glenbuchat estates.

 

There is, however, an ALLARGUE estate management plan. This estate covers the Lecht ski area and where a massacre of mountain hares took place earlier this year.   The plan makes interesting reading.  The estate is part of Wildlife Estates Scotland.   Its primary objective (65%) is grouse moor management and shooting which, in its words, “involves heather burning, predator control, tick and disease control, careful grazing.”     Now, the estate deserves credit for producing a plan – for being honest if you like when its neighbours have failed to state anything about their objectives – and there are  parts of the statement that are commendable.  Its objectives for grouse moor management though really should have set the alarm bells ringing in the National Park HQ at Grantown.

 

In publishing this, the Cairngorms National Park Authority appears to have endorsed the massacre of mountain hares for tick control – after all this was totally within the scope of the management statement – and the reference to “predator control”  could be taken as a nudge and wink that while raptor persecution is illegal estate staff don’t have to worry too much about that.    Its time the CNPA  produced a clear statement and consulted on what predators exactly does it think that estates should be able to control within our National Parks.   Or to put it another way, when does wildlife, which the CNPA has a statutory duty to protect under its conservation objectives, not count as wildlife and sits outside its objectives?

 

I will be writing to the Chief Executive and  Convener of CNPA asking them why public estate management statements are not in place for all estates within the National Park and on by what criteria these are approved.

 

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.

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.
March 16, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have long wondered why Scottish Land and Estates, the organisation representing landowners, was so vocal in its support for camping  bye-laws.   After all Forestry Commission Scotland is by far the largest landowner in the National Park and the voluntary sector, including the Woodland Trust, NTS, RSPB and Royal Scottish Forestry Society also own sizeable chunks.   Yes, there are a few private estates such as Glen Falloch and Ardvorlich but Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is hardly a stronghold for the SLE.  Moreover, local landowners were not even united in their views on camping: while Luss Estates strongly supported the byelaws, there was a lot of concern  from riparian landowners in the Trossachs because of the importance of income from fishing.  Drummond Estates expressed serious concerns about the byelaws (which of course the Park failed to acknowledge).   My conclusion for some time has been that SLE was vociferous in its support for the byelaws because they wanted a precedent that would open up the possibility of landowners reversing access rights all over Scotland.

I do not think therefore that the timing of the announcement by the Duke of Buccleuch that he had decided to charge for access at Dalkeith Country Park, just six weeks after the byelaws were approved, was entirely a coincidence https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3657/exclusive-land-reformers-launch-19th-march-protest-to-target-duke-of-buccleuch-s-estate.   That the two issues are linked was confirmed by the SLE in a letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday.  This claimed the proposed charge “is an attempt to manage anti-social behaviour and vandalism”.  It went on “This is not so dissimilar to the situation in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where the Park is unfairly being accused of acting against the spirit of the access legislation by introducing camping restrictions”.    The parallels are actually even stronger. The Duke, through his access charge is in effect copying the National Park Authority which wishes to charge people for permits to camp in places with NO facilities.  The camping byelaws have opened a can of worms.

It Is good to see political campaigners from the SNP, RISE and the Greens reacting to the Duke of Buccleuch’s decision to try and charge for access at Dalkeith Country Park and about his land being held in a tax haven https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/3678/revealed-scotland-s-largest-aristocratic-landowner-holds-land-in-offshore-tax-haven .  But they do not seem to have made the connection yet with the LLTNPA’s camping byelaws.    I hope they will.      Perhaps some of the MSPs who are committed to land reform will starting asking questions to Aileen McLeod, Minister for the Environment, about the camping byelaws.  Perhaps some of the activists will now consider demonstrating out the Park HQ in Balloch.  The Duke, for all his wealth, has far less power than the National Park to prevent people taking access.

 

February 29, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

I was out ski touring on Saturday on Glas Tulaichean near the Spittal of Glen Shee which was brought into the Cairngorms National Park when its boundaries were extended in 2010.  The south side of the river here is part of the Dalmunzie Estate which has an interesting history https://www.dalmunzieestate.com/history/ – its striking just how  many people lived here before the estate was cleared –  and until the 1970s had its own railway to help transport (more…)