Tag: landed estates

On 27th April, the same day the above article appeared in the Strathie about felling at Curr Wood, on Speyside, SNH’s latest post on Scotland’s Nature popped into my inbox https://scotlandsnature.wordpress.com/2017/04/27/time-to-celebrate-bugs-in-the-cairngorms-national-park/.   And guess what bug featured?     One so rare that …………….it only occurs at a single location in the National Park, Curr Wood………….shome mistake surely!

 

Cairngorms Nature

One example is the pine hoverfly. Due to intensification of forest management over the decades this is now an endangered species, so rare in fact that it is restricted to a single location in the Cairngorms National Park. It depends on the deadwood cycle – the process of trees (in this case big old granny pines) falling over or succumbing to fungal disease and decaying. The pine hoverfly’s larvae live in wet role holes created by this process – a very specific niche. Natural occurrences of these “rot holes” are nowadays few and far between because most pines in forestry are felled before they get to be old, knarled granny pines. To help save the pine hoverfly from extinction, a range of organisations in the park have been making artificial holes in tree stumps to give the pine hoverfly a home. It is hoped that in the future numbers of the hoverfly will increase to levels that allow it can survive on its own, and with more pine forest in the park being managed less intensively, natural rot holes should become common again.

Thank goodness our public authorities don’t always co-ordinate what they put out to the media.   The cracks between them are most revealing.  And for a broader view of what is going wrong with the approach to tree “management” in the National Park, the same issue of the Strathie contained this very interesting letter from Basil Dunlop which appears to re-inforces previous points made on parkswatch about Loch an Eileen (see here).

Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend 12th – 14th May

The place of nature in the Cairngorms National Park is highly contested and full of contradictions and this is evident in the events being organised for the Big Nature Weekend (see here).   There are some great events on and, due to the current attempts to criminalise people who enjoy the countryside in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, I particularly liked this one at Invercauld:

Description

Camp fire capers – explore around the wonderful Invercauld Estate, collect sticks and other things from nature and learn how to light a small fire without matches. It’s not the easiest thing to do but a great skill to learn and a fab party piece. There will also be marshmallows for everyone to toast! Suitable for kids 3 years + (with a well behaved adult!)

 

Collecting wood for lighting fires is now of course a criminal offence in the LLNPA camping management zones, incurring a fine of £500 and a criminal record.    So what’s being promoted in the Cairngorms National Park Authority is a criminal offence in the LLTNPA!     This just shows how completely out of touch the LLTNPA are.

On May 1st though the CNPA put out a Cairngorms Nature email which highlighted events that were taking place on five estates under the heading  “Behind the Scenes” which just so happens to be the same heading used Natural Retreats on their blog to explain what they are doing at Cairngorm!

Behind the Scenes

Part of the Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend is about offering opportunities that are not normally available to the public.

Landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park, it is a challenging task which is all about balance.  The weekend will offer a number of opportunities to join the people who look after our landscapes on a day to day basis and get an exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ tour of a working estate.

There are events happening in Strathspey, Phoines Estate, Corgarff, Glenmuick and Balmoral.  Please click on the relevant area above to find out more and book a place.

The claim that landscape management is vital to the long term future of the Cairngorms National Park is highly ideological.  What about the wild land/rewilding view?   This explains that the reason why so much of the National Park is degraded in conservation terms is precisely because there is too much management: muirburn, proliferation of bulldozed tracks.  Indeed one could cite the felling and replanting at Curr Wood.

 

The CNPA would, I guess, respond by saying “its all about balance” – to which the question needs to be asked, balance between what?    Unfortunately while promoting these events at the Big Nature Weekend there appear to be no events being promoted by RSPB, SNH or NTS which might demonstrate some alternative ways of managing the land.

 

Click on Corgarff and you will find the event is on the Allargue Estate, which is described as conservation-minded – this is the estate where all the vehicles were parked that took place in aninfamous mountain hare massacre featured on Raptor Persecution Scotland (see here).    The event is called “A Question of Balance – Wildlife and Land Management”.   It makes you want to cry.

 

What needs to happen

 

The CNPA needs to stop promoting estates which do not adhere to the standards for conservation we should expect in National Parks.  Now maybe the Allargue Estate has made a commitment to stop culling mountain hares.  If so, I would applaud that but if not, the CNPA should not be promoting it.

 

The new Cairngorms Partnership Plan provides an opportunity for the CNPA to  ask all estates within the CNPA that have not already done so to submit an estate management plan and for those who have them, to revise their current  plans.   Such plans should contain transparent statements on what wildlife is killed by estates, either for “sport” or “protection of wildlife”, on practices such as muirburn and how the estate is going to play its part in meeting  the conservation objectives set out in the Partnership Plan.

Most people want to conserve the countryside but is what Ralia Estate means by “conserving the countryside” compatible with a National Park? (see below)

 

On Wednesday evening I went to have another look at the northern section of the access track which had been created for the construction of the Beauly Denny powerline and which was due to be restored last year (see here).  Its situated on the east side of the A9 behind the tree shelter belt and opposite the southern turn off to Dalwhinnie.

The north end of the track, which is blighted by a so-far unrestored large turning area

That post resulted in the North East Mountain Trust, who had been concerned about the original planning application, taking the matter up with the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   It transpires that the Estate had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency about the details of how they were going to restore the track, missed the deadline and the CNPA has now extended it until the end of 2017.    There was provision for this under the conditions attached to the planning consent which lasts until February 2018.    Unfortunately there are still no details of this on the CNPA planning portal (see here) where the last available document is dated July 2015.  If you are a member of the public, therefore,  not only does it appear that the estate has failed to restore the track within the deadline but also that the National Park has done nothing about this.   The CNPA is letting itself down and, I believe, making planning enforcement much harder for itself because of this lack of transparency.

 

 

The CNPA did though state to NEMT  that, should the Estate fail to restore the track as per the planning permission it granted by the Park Authority, once the CNPA planning permission lapses the ground would  need to be completely restored, as per the Section 37 Electricity Act consent for the Beauly-Denny.  They said the Scottish Government would be responsible for enforcing this. (I am unclear how this can be reconciled with earlier advice I received from the Scottish Government that  “In relation to the enforcement of conditions on planning consent, this is primarily the responsibility of the relevant planning authority, i.e. the planning authority within whose area the development is taking place”).   If it comes to that, four years will have been lost in which this land could have been restored properly to the benefit of both landscape and wildlife.     Funny how delays in our planning system are always portrayed as being the fault of planning authorities when in fact by far the biggest delays and created by developers/landowners.

Tower 125 just beyond the end of the track. There is a patch, just behind the tower, where vegetation is recovering, unlike the scar in the middle distance

Meantime, the Scottish Government is even less transparent – one rule for local government, another for national government – and removes planning applications it approves from the public realm.  There is therefore no convenient means for the public to find out how the restoration of the Beauly Denny is going.  I resorted to a FOI request to the CNPA about what information they held and was – again very helpfully – provided with information about the restoration of land under the 76 towers and approx 28km of track that are within the National Park boundary.

Extract from SSE monitoring report October 2016. The Drumochter track is 25a and the FT reference is short for the Fort Augustus to Tummel section and followed by the number on the tower.

According to SSE most of the restoration for which it is still responsible is going well – or rather is “of an acceptable standard”.  I think the photos show otherwise, as does a report the CNPA’s peatland officer in 2015  (see here) – well done him and the CNPA.     What the papers, which I will come back to in further posts, show is that SSE is just hoping all the destruction which it caused will regenerate naturally, whereas the CNPA and SNH are concerned whether this is going to happen.    The problem is the CNPA appears to have very little power to make SSE do anything – although if it went public with its concerns that I think would make a significant difference.

Photo of ground north of tower 125. Stones have been mixed with soil and insufficient turf retained to resurface the whole. To make matters worse clumps of turf have simply been dumped on along with stones on the surface.

So why has Ralia estate taken over the burden of restoring the land from SSE?

 

 

The amount of work – and therefore cost – in meeting the approved design plans for the track are considerable.   The 4.7 km of track needs to be reduced from its current width of 5-7m to 3m.

So much aggregate has been imported to construct the track that even where turves have been properly stored, re-landscaping will be a real challenge.   The planning permission granted by the CNPA specifies that excess materials will be removed, which would make landscaping considerably easier – a great requirement but will the estate do it?

 

The job will not be made any easier because so much of the temporary construction work was so poor.   If this track is to be halved in width, so will the drainage pipes.

Bizarrely, among all the protuding pipes, there was one example of a culvert which had been properly finished – at both ends too!   Unfortunately, the track here was even wider than normal, 7m rather than 5m, and at least one of the finished culverts will need be ripped out if the track is to be reduced in width to 3m.    If this work was done by SSE, one wonders why?  If by the Estate, that would suggest they are intending to keep the track at its current width, contrary to planning requirements.

The reason why the estate wanted to retain the track though quickly became apparent.  It makes it much easier for the gamekeepers to manage animal traps or, from their viewpoint, “to conserve the countryside”.   This was the first time I had seen a live bird in a Larsen trap in 100s of visits to the hills (not a coincidence, they are usually tucked away like this) and I found it quite distressing but then I see crows as beautiful creatures, one of the most intelligent of all birds, and not pests.   The crow was hopping up and down and beating its wings against the side of the trap – that’s what’s meant to happen, it attracts other crows wishing to defend their territory.    All my instincts were to free it but that, I recalled somewhere, is a criminal offence.

The ostensible purpose of Larsen traps is that the flapping crow (or other corvid) attracts others which are then lured into one of the two traps.    In Scotland only hens’ eggs or bread are allowed as  bait (as here).  The theory and use of these traps from the landowner viewpoint is set out in guidance from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here).     The trap in the photos appeared to meet all animal welfare requirements about provision of water, food and a perch for roosting at night.   While Scotland has stricter requirements than England on the use of these traps, under General License under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, it seems to me there is question about whether this General License should extend to National Parks.

 

While the GWCT claim there is little evidence of raptors being caught in such traps and that live traps such as this allow protected birds to be released,  that claim needs to be taken with a pinch of salt given the level of persecution of raptors on grouse moors.  Why would estates ever report if hen harriers, say, were found in such traps?  Maybe I am unobservant, or always unfortunate in my timing, but while there were large numbers of grouse about (and some song thrush, pied wagtail and wheatear) there was not a sign of a hen harrier.

 

What was clear was that the estate was trapping anything else that might prey on grouse.   The tracks make maintenance of such traps easier for estate staff.

 

A  multi-catch cage trap was located slightly further away from the track – as recommended by GWCT – part of the reason being to avoid the public coming into them while in use and becoming distressed.  What is clear to me is the CNPA, by granting planning permission, for the retention of this track has made it much easier for estate staff to trap and kill anything that is perceived as a threat to red grouse.  The CNPA talks about the need for balance between competing interests, but in terms of species there is no balance.  Everything is about increasing numbers of red grouse.

Ralia estate: Grouse shooting in Inverness-shire

While as the link shows, the numbers of grouse at Ralia have increased dramatically, what is not reported is the numbers of other species that predate on them.

 

The CNPA’s consent to Ralia Estate retaining this section of track appears to have had little impact on their off-road use of vehicles.     Indeed, Ralia estate appears to be creating further tracks without any planning permission.

The track that has been developed along the line of grouse butts on the north side of the Allt Coire nan Cisteachan.    The installation of a water bar means, I believe, that this counts as a constructed track and should have had full planning permission – its purpose, along the line of grouse butts is only too clear and has nothing to do with agriculture (where developments only require “prior notification”).

The track, as you can see far right, runs up in front of the grouse butts

 

New track, running up south side of Allt Coire na Cisteachan and branching off track used by many walkers to access A Bhuidheanach

The constructed nature of the track on the south side of the burn is even more obvious and to an appalling standard (I will report it to the National Park).  Although the newly “constructed” section is short,  its intention is clearly to enable vehicle access up the hillside easier and yet more scars on the Drumochter.

End of the 20m section of track showing erosion created beyond

The issue at Drumochter therefore is not just about restoration of the Beauly Denny or planning permission for hill tracks and what they are then used for – although both have had major and unnecessary impacts on the landscape – its about what off-road use estates should be allowed to make of vehicles in the National Park.   In my  the National Park could contain and control all these issues through the use of byelaws which introduce licenses for hunting.   Such hunting licenses could require estates not to use vehicles off-track or trap any animal without explicit permission.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority Board is meeting on Friday to discuss and approve its new Partnership Plan, the overarching Plan which guides what it will do over the next five years (see here for the 60 page plan and supporting documents).    The LLTNPA’s announcement about this can be read (here).   Its positive the Board is devoting a whole meeting to consider the plan – it deserves this.  What follows is not a comprehensive evaluation of the Plan  but rather an attempt to highlight some key issues for those who aspire to create  National Parks in Scotland which are worthy of the name.

 

Positive changes in the revised plan

 

It is clear that the CNPA has listened to criticisms of the draft plan and has made far stronger statements/commitments in certain areas.   Among the specific changes which should be welcomed are:

 

  • to eliminate raptor persecution in the National Park (an ongoing issue as recent disappearance of a golden eagle on the North Glenbuchat estate shows (see here)
  • the recognition of the role of moorland management in creating flooding downstream
  • the statement that the Park will  “plan proactively” for beavers
  • the presumption against new bulldozed tracks in the uplands
  • the commitment to join up the path network in the eastern Cairngorms  and to create a new long distance walking route, the Deeside Way

 

There has also been some strengthening of the general statements that underpin what the Partnership Plan should be about, particularly the creation of a section on public interest priorities for landuse in the National Park  This includes the role that National Parks can play in combating climate change, reversing loss of biodiversity and landscape scale conservation as well as how the National Park can promote best practice in terms of recreational visitors and empowering local communities.

 

All this is positive and suggests there are people within the CNPA who have clear aspirations for what the National Park could deliver.

 

Weaknesses in the revised plan

 

While the revised plan is more aspirational than the draft, it still seems to me to fall short of what we should expect from a National Park.   Here are some examples:

 

  • In announcing the Partnership Plan the CNPA cited the inclusion of a target of 5000 hectares of woodland restoration in the next five years as showing its conservation intent.   5000 hectares sound a lot until you consider that the total area of the Cairngorms National Park is 4528 square kilometres or 452,800 hectares – so the target is to increase the amount of land with woodland cover in the National Park by about 1.1% in the next five years.  Nothing in that target that remotely threatens to change the way that “sporting” estates are managed.  Indeed its unclear if grouse moors or stalking estates are going to contribute anything to this target or whether it will be delivered by the NGOs and Forest Enterprise.
  • Connected to this, the Plan states that public interest land-use objectives, such as increasing woodland cover, should be delivered “in conjunction with private objectives”.  In effect this means the objectives of sporting estates.   If these remain untouched, will anything change as a result of the plan?  My reservations are re-inforced by the section on deer management which contains actions like the further development of methodologies for establishing the “right level” deer grazing.   This type of approach that has been taken for years without any meaningful results.   There are no commitments from sporting estates to change what they do.
  • These weaknesses derive from an ongoing commitment by the CNPA to using the voluntary approach, and that alone, to achieve its statutory objectives:   “All sectors must work together to deliver for the Cairngorms”.   There is not, as far as I can see, any fallback position in the Partnersip Plan which sets out what the CNPA will do if this voluntary approach, once again, fails to work.  What is the CNPA going to do if golden eagles are still disappearing in the Cairngorms this time next year?    There is no plan B.  Worse, in my view, if there is no stick there is absolutely no incentive or reason for private sporting estates to change how they manage the land on a voluntary basis.
  • The basic omission in the plan is about how the CNPA will tackle powerful interests in the National Park if they fail to act in the public interest.   Land Reform is one way that the power of landed interests could be tackled but, while there are welcome statements in the Plan about  empowering local communities, there is nothing to say how land reform might help the CNPA meets its statutory objectives.   This is not just about land though – the CNPA rightly recognises low pay is a serious issue for the majority of those working in the National Park, but makes no proposals for how this might be tackled.   Instead it wants to see the contribution tourism makes to the economy in the eastern Cairngorms increase – more low paid jobs?   When one of the statutory objectives of the National Park is sustainable economic development, its a major omission when the Park Plan has nothing to say about whether changing the way land is managed could create more and better jobs.
  • At least though the CNPA is clear – unlike the LLTNPA whose thinking is far more overtly neo-liberal (they even have a commercialisation strategy) – that public investment is key to the future of both conservation and the people living in the National Park.

The Plan reads as if the CNPA has identified most of the key issues, its just not worked out yet how to deliver its aspirations.

 

Omissions from the Partnership Plan

In my view, in addition to any plan to tackle vested interests,  there are two further major omissions from the plan

  1. A lack of a vision for wild land and rewilding.   While near the start of the Plan there is a map showing wild land in the Cairngorms, the Plan says nothing about how this will be protected or enhanced apart from there being a presumption against new tracks.   There is no commitment to restore land that has been trashed by past developments – surely the National Park should be identifying tracks and other developments that impact adversely on wild land landscapes and which we should aspire to have removed?   Nor does the Plan explain  how the Park’s commitment to new hydro schemes fits with wild land.  While re-iterating its opposition to windfarms, on landscape grounds, the CNPA seems to see hydro as unproblematic – there is plenty of evidence that this is just wrong (see here for example).   The lack of vision however goes further than this:  is there nowhere in the National Park where the CNPA would like to see natural processes predominate and where nature should be allowed to take its course; what about the re-introduction of species?   The beaver is mentioned, but there are no firms plans, while of lynx, which would help reduce numbers of roe deer, there is not a mention.   This is an opportunity missed, an opportunity for the National Park to take a lead that would inspire people.
  2. What resources are needed.   While there is much talk of partnership (and indeed even a statement that partnerships are a way of bringing resources together), there is no systematic attempt to describe what resources the various partners can definitely contribute to make the Plan happen (an exception is a list of major capital investment projects both private and public).  Nor is there any attempt to describe the resource gap, things that the Partners would like to do if they had the resources.    What most striking about this is its completely unclear how the Park’s conservation objectives in the Plan will be financed (apart from the Peatland Action project).

 

What next?

 

The Parternship Plan, once amended/approved by the Board needs to be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham.    While there is a lot of good things in the Plan, much of this, particularly the conservation objectives, are likely to unravel because they are totally dependent on the voluntary principle.   If the Minister really wants objectives such as the elimination of raptor persecution to be achieved, she would be wise to ask the CNPA to develop alternative mechanisms to ensure the Partnership Plan is delivered.

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.

The lower part of the track on Carn Leth Choin (foreground and upper right)  which Highland Council treated as a permitted development not requiring planning permission

Following my post questioning what the Cairngorms National Park Authority was doing about the unlawful hill track leading onto Carn Leth Choin in upper Glen Banchor, west of Newtonmore (see here), I wrote to the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  On 8th March (I have been in Norway in-between) I received this response from Murray Ferguson:

 

“Concerns about the track at Carn Leth Choin, Cluny Estate were brought to CNPA’s attention in 2014 and the CNPA raised the issue with Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage who had both been involved at earlier stages. Highland Council had previously determined that a lower section of the track was permitted development for agricultural purposes and so no further action could be taken.  It appears that there was some confusion between SNH and the CNPA/Highland Council at the time over further part of the track and what had been authorised and only in 2015 did all the bodies come to understand the issues properly.  A site visit was undertaken with SNH and Highland Council in October 2015.

Following the site visit, SNH undertook to pursue the previous owner of the estate on the grounds that the track was a breach of The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. The case was subsequently investigated by Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime team and CNPA were advised to hold off our own investigations while the criminal investigations were undertaken. Police Scotland concluded that there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution.

This was reported to the CNPA in June 2016 and we re-opened our investigation in July 2016.The CNPA are currently in dialogue with the estate’s representatives and Scottish Natural Heritage about restoration of ground and mitigation of impacts and a meeting is taking place soon that our Head of Planning will attend. If action is not taken voluntarily by the estate in the next few months then the CNPA will move to take formal action.”

 

I believe this response is extremely welcome.  It helps explain the background and makes it very clear that the CNPA is taking this issue seriously (and I would have to say is quite a contrast to the way in which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park responds to concerns which I have raised with them about hill tracks).  I believe though its worth considering some of the detail and the implications.

 

Commentary

 

One of the problem with the preventing unlawful hill tracks, such as the one onto Carn Leth Choin, is that existing tracks have not been clearly mapped by planning authorities, including our National Parks.  This makes it very difficult for Planning Authorities to establish when extensions have taken place and whether they should have come under the Prior Notification rules which came into force in December 2014 (this has been a problem for the CNPA on Deeside where the Dinnet Estate claimed its track extensions were completed prior to the new rules).    In this case it has led to delays because its not been absolutely clear which section of track was agreed to by Highland Council as a permitted development.    The solution to this problem was demonstrated by Kincardine and Deeside Council over 20 years ago when they marked the end points of all hill tracks on their Local Plan maps – a precedent that our National Parks should now follow.

This section of track of the Carn Leth Choin track was treated by Highland Council as a permitted development but it sits within the Monadliath SSSI and was an “Operation Requiring Consent”.

 

 

Only the lowest section of the hill track is outwith the Monadliath SSSI

While it can be difficult for Planning Authorities to prove that a track is NOT for agricultural purposes and therefore not a permitted development, in this case I believe Highland Council Planning Department made a serious mistake.  Soon after crossing the Allt Madagain (top photo) the track enters the Monadliath Site of Special Scientific Interest and any track construction with this protected area was an “Operation Requiring Consent” from SNH:

 

The Operations Requiring Consent for the Monadliath SSSI that relate to tracks and vehicle use

Its not clear from the CNPA response if Highland Council planning department checked with SNH before agreeing to the lower part of the track as a permitted development as they are supposed to do for all developments within protected areas.    If they did do so, there are some obvious questions that need to be asked about why SNH agreed to this.  If Highland Council failed to do so that would have made it very difficult for SNH to take action subsequently.

The section of track which was allowed as a permitted development appears to terminate at this large borrow pit at over 650m up the hill. The construction has been undertaken with no regard for this being a SSSI

In my view this was a serious planning failure.  The lower section of track is too steep and is already eroding away.   The landscape scar can only get worse.  In this case this is not the fault of the CNPA as they can only “call-in” development that their constituent Councils and Planning Authorities have identified as requiring planning permission.

 

The fact that SNH referred the construction of the new section of track that leads to the summit of Carn Leth Choin to Police Scotland is significant.   Breach of the Operations Requiring Consent is a criminal offence and the evidence shows that this clearly happened in this case: the photos below show extraction of materials, road construction and use of vehicles all of which needed permission.    It would be in the public interest to know why Police Scotland decided not to prosecute in this case – it would have sent a clear signal to landowners all over Scotland of the consequences of ignoring the law governing protected areas.  Its difficult to avoid the suspicion that as with raptor persecution Police Scotland treat landowners differently to the rest of the population – as being above the law.

 

 

Taking what the CNPA has said at face value, there are serious challenges with restoring this track.   The material that forms the track needs to be returned to the “borrow pits” from which it was sourced.

I would suggest this material, which appears to have been simply dumped on existing vegetation (which was protected – its montane heath) cannot simply be removed by heavy machinery because that will simply further damage the ground underneath.  The final removal of aggregate and restoration of the ground surface both beneath the track and over the borrow pits once the material has been replaced there will need to be by hand.  That will require a skilled workforce which at present does not really exist because there has been no attempt to restore any hill tracks since NTS acquired Mar Lodge Estate and restored the Beinn a Bhuird track.
Any restoration will be very expensive but luckily the new owners, who were not responsible for constructing the track, do not lack a bob or two.  They can either afford to pay for the restoration themselves or pay whatever it needs to recover money from the previous owner – who made £3.7m on the Cluny Estate in the fourteen years he owned it.   For excellent background on the estate sale  see Andy Wightman’s blog

 

Qatar royal family buy Cluny Estate

Its time for the CNPA to be resolute and there are welcome signs that in this case they might be so.  They only need to tackle successfully one unlawful hill track in the National Park and all landowners will start to take note of the risks of failing to comply with the law.

Use of vehicles, which is an Operation Requiring Consent, extends beyond the end of the unlawful hill track
Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Suie Field camping permit area – all photos taken 14th March 2016 two weeks after the permit areas were “open for business” Photo credit Nick Halls

The LLTNPA is discouraging camping at designated sites.

Following the implementation of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority  Management Zones on 1st March and the requirement to purchase a permit for the use of designated sites or risk a criminal conviction I revisited two sites to refresh my recollection of the environmental condition of the areas.

 Suie Field

 

Photo credit Nick Halls
The Board in October agreed there should be permits for four tents at Suie Field        Photo Credit Nick Halls

Notices informing potential campers of the designated areas and requirement for a permit, are in place. However, nothing has been done to enhance the amenity of the area and it remains in a similar state in which I found it in the Autumn of 2016 – with un-cleared fire sites, litter stuck in the bushes and bramble under growth, and access obstructed by moribund damaged wire fences, strands of brambles, mud and debris.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

 

The remnants in the fire places seem to be from last season.

Photo Credit Nick Halls

The site and access to it has been left as unappealing as possible.

 

People responsible for much of the litter appeared to be day visitors using the nearby parking area and accessing the beach. There is evidence of undergrowth near the lay-by being used as a toilet, but surprisingly none very evident in the vicinity of the camping area.

 

The lay by is littered with bags thrown down on the shore and evidence of fly tipping. Much of it is food wrappings and drink cartons disposed of by people parking in the lay by, but there is also evidence of burning industrial rubbish (below).

Photo credit Nick Halls

Some of the litter on the beach might be wind-blown from the opposite shore, but the prevailing wind would suggest that far more litter ends up on the Eastern rather than on Western shore.

 

The litter in the photograph below was immediately next to the newly installed notice marking the southern limit of the camping zone.

Photo credit Nick Halls

No effort seems to have been made to make the area accessible or attractive or to enhance the quality of the environment in preparation for implementing charging for camping permits. Most visitors would wonder what they were paying for!

 

The zone identified on the notice as the camping site is mostly overgrown with brambles and scrub and is virtually inaccessible and very little of it is suitable for camping – yet with little effort and no detrimental impact on the environmental quality the whole area could be restored to rough permanent pasture and meadowland.

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

 

It is hard to avoid concluding that the LLTNP is deliberately trying to make camping at the site as unappealing as possible, and is doing nothing to facilitate camping with or without a permit.

 

It raises the suspicion that the NP is allowing the brambles and undergrowth to overtake the whole area thereby making camping impossible.

 

It is becoming blindingly obvious that the camping management arrangements are more to do with social exclusion than protection of the environment or making ‘non-campers’ feel safe. Nor are they anything to do with maintaining the amenity for other categories of visitors.

 

It appears to be discrimination against a category of visitors who behave no better or worse than any other group.

 

In fact, if the evidence of abuse of the environment in the National Park were to be presented fairly, campers, even irresponsible ones, would probably be shown to be relatively innocent of the worst and most widespread impacts, which appear to arise from activities of residents.

 

Cuilag

The LLTNPA also allocated four places for tents at Cuilag in October. Photo credit Nick Halls

I was depressed by Suie Field but Cuilag hammered the message home.

 

The carpark from which the access track leads is disgusting, with evidence of fly tipping of building and garden waste, and burning of industrial rubbish. It is a disgusting place, which could be made quite pleasant and welcoming.

Photo credit Nick Halls

There is building and garden waste tipped into the burn running alongside, which threatens to obstruct the flow of the burn.

Photo credit Nick Halls

Actual camping on the beach is practically impossible and likely to be pretty uncomfortable, but looks as if it is easy to erect temporary shelters to provide overhead cover while fishing – so it seems that fishermen are the group being discriminated against at this location. The beach is not particularly extensive or attractive and there was surprisingly little litter, although there are active fire sites, among the rocks on the beach, the impact of which are ephemeral compared with the fly tipping.

Photo credit Nick Halls

There is also a memorial to somebody’s parents, which suggests that the area is regarded as special by at least one family.

 

Along the beach, beyond the zone designated for camping with a permit, there was evidence of either extraction of gravel, or using beach material to reinforce the bank of the loch to protect the field above.

Photo credit Nick Halls

 

Further along a large oak tree has been felled and the branches used to reinforce the bank for what appeared to be a similar purpose.

 

In terms of environmental impact this activity by a land manager dwarfs any impact arising from camping, the felled tree probably represents more wood than all the campers using the western side of the loch have cut during the last decade.

 

What is becoming increasingly evident is that there is one rule for the residents of the National Park and a totally different one applied to visitors.

 

Anybody concerned about the urban populations right to access and seek enjoyment in a natural environment, or anybody concerned with equality, a fairer society or maintaining the quality of our joint environmental heritage should be hanging their heads in shame, that a public body should be permitted to introduce the arrangements that now apply to camping in a Scottish National Park. Also, any official with a true commitment to the conservation of the environment and encouraging understanding and respect for it, who colludes in this arrangement should be questioning their own integrity.

 

If this is representative of the future of Scottish society, whatever its constitutional future, it’s something about which we should all be very concerned.

The “temporary” construction track looking north towards Dalwhinnie. Note the piles of spoil running alongside the left of the track – an artificial esker!

Following my  post about the failure to restore the destruction caused by the Beauly Denny  by the developer, Scottish and Southern Electric, I went last Monday to have a look at the section of the “temporary” construction track on the Drumochter Estate.

 

Under the Beauly Denny planning application determined by the Scottish Government, all construction tracks were to be fully restored.  The Drumochter Estate however submitted an application in 2013 to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to retain the section of track on their estate.   The first application was refused, mainly because the estate wanted to keep the entire section of track which ran through the estate.   The section south of North Drumochter Lodge ran into the Drumochter Special Area of Conservation – why is it that only European designated sites appear to have any teeth?  – and cut across the open hillside.  The revised application removed the southern section of track but is still 4.7 km in length.

The track granted planning permission runs from 750m south of Drumochter Lodge to just south-east of Dalwhinnie. Most of it is hidden from A9 by a shelter belt of trees.

 

The Committee Report which considered the application in February 2015 track planning application was very thorough.  The CNPA had opposed the Beauly Denny, was concerned about the proposed track, but was won over by arguments that with the new A9 dualling would make it very difficult for estate vehicles to access the existing hill tracks onto the east side of Drumochter.   Their assessment of the construction track was pretty damning:

 

However, the assessment of staff was that as long as the construction track was narrowed considerably – to a maximum of 3m – and the spoil heaps used to do this, retention of the track was acceptable:

 

The North East Mountain Trust, which to its credit had objected to the application for the existing track was also persuaded and agreed not to object.   Both the NEMT and the CNPA were no doubt partially persuaded by the illustrations from the estate of what they were proposing:

 

The problem is that two years later absolutely none of what was promised by the estate has happened.

No work has been undertaken to narrow the track from 5m in width and no work undertaken to conceal the plastic culvert

Some of the track is “floating” which means it was created by dumping aggregrate onto the peat in sufficient quantities to support construction vehicles.  Proper restoration would mean all this aggregate being removed.   The estate promised to improve this by narrowing the track to 3m maximim and revegetating the sides using vegetation from a new drainage ditch and seeding.

 

The track is almost two landrover widths and should have been almost halved in breadth according to the planning conditions.

Part of the restoration proposed by the estate was removal of this “hammerhead.   Nothing has been done.  There are piles of spoil in the centre and along right side of the area.

Another view of one side of the hammerhead.  All this ground should have been restored.

Spoil heaps on either side of the opposite section of the hammerhead to that pictured above.

The priority of the estate is indicated by these new grouse butts.  They were being brought in from the A9 by landrover and trailer.  It appears it has suited the estate to retain a large storage area rather than restore the land as promised.

The access to the A9, more spoil heaps on right. The shelter belt helps conceal this mess.

 

The CNPA, again to give it credit, had required that all the works be completed by June 2016:

Six months after the deadline for works to be completed, on the section I looked at at the north end of the proposed track, there is no evidence that any work has been completed.  There are two issues here:

  • first you cannot tell from the planning portal whether the CNPA has agreed in writing with the estate to extend the deadline for completion of the works beyond June 2016 and, if so, the justification for this and what the new deadline is;
  • second, if the CNPA has not agreed an extension, its not clear what enforcement action they have taken if any.

 

Unfortunately, this is yet another planning case where the credibility of our National Parks is at stake.  What appears to be happening in a number of cases from Natural Retreats at Cairngorm to the Bruar Hydro to Drumochter is that the CNPA approved planning applications with conditions which the developer then simply ignores.   The failure of the CNPA to go public about this and use its enforcement powers gives a clear message to developers that as long as they pay someone to complete good looking paperwork, they can do what they want.

 

In the Drumochter access track case there is an added complication.  SSE were supposed to restore this track and, being a huge company, obviously have the resources to do this properly (if there was anyone insisting they should do so).  Having agreed that Drumochter Estate could keep the track, however, the risk is that all obligations of SSE will have been taken over by the estate.   My guess is that will now make it impossible for the CNPA to turn round to the estate and say the planning permission no longer applies and ask SSE to do the works.

 

This supposition is reinforced by the fact that SSE has not been at all co-operative about restoration of the Drumochter and the atrocious standards of the restoration work they have undertaken.

The restoration of the land under the pylons (access track foreground and background) is SSE’s responsibility though the communications I have had from the Scottish Government say its the CNPA’s responsibility to enforce this

The trouble is that the CNPA has allowed them to get away with this.    Although very concerned about the standard of work, and taking time to visit the site, they have then resorted to their normal practice of writing letters rather than taking enforcement action when things go wrong:

 

20. The Convenor advised the Committee on her reflections following site visit with Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) to the Beauly – Denny overhead transmission line that she and other members had attended, along with SNH staff. She advised that it seemed that SSE Officers were not sufficiently clear as to what the restoration of the tracks involved. SSE Officers were also rather vague as to who was ultimately responsible for carrying out the restoration and reinstatement and what standard would be deemed acceptable. Following a full discussion the Committee agreed that Convenor of the Board should write to SSE expressing significant concerns.  (Planning Minute June 2015)

 

The failure of the CNPA to take a robust line against either SSE or the North Drumochter estate means that the CNPA is storing up serious problems for itself at Drumochter and setting further poor precedents for the rest of the National Park.

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Walking the Aviemore to Kincraig section of the Speyside Way on 30th December 2015. Much of the walk was then marred by pylons which I understand are due to be removed.

The Cairngorms National Park announced last week it has won a planning quality award for the extension of the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Kincraig (http://cairngorms.co.uk/planning-award-for-speyside-way-extension/):

 

“The judges praised the Park Authority for its partnership working, community consultation and sheer determination over a decade to develop the best off road route to connect Aviemore to Kincraig.

This included the first use of a Path Order in Scotland to secure rights to develop the path on the preferred route”

 

I think the staff involved do need congratulating on their persistence but the time taken to deliver this path and the walking experience demonstrate that our access legislation is still very weak when it comes to creating new paths and that our landowners still have far too much power.  The basic problem was that the Kinrara Estate objected to the Speyside Way crossing its land, even under an electricity wayleave, and it required two consultations in 2005 and 2007, approvement in principle by Scottish Ministers in 2009, then a path order which required a public inquiry before being approved in June 2012.  Three and a quarter years later the extension opened in September 2015.

 

No wonder the Ramblers Association cited the Speyside Way extension in its submission to the Land Reform Review Group in 2013 in the part of its submission which dealt with “Failure to expand path networks”:

 

“While core paths plans are now drawn up, that does not mean they are being
implemented on the ground – and core paths comprise just a small proportion of the
entire path network. As noted above, access authorities seem reluctant to use the
powers they have within the Act, and this includes powers to use compulsory purchase
or path orders. Just one path order has been used in Scotland, to extend the Speyside
Way, and this followed many years of fruitless discussion with the landowner
concerned. Much time is spent on negotiating with landowners across Scotland who
are resistant to public access, with the public becoming increasingly frustrated with
plans for path networks that they have helped to develop but which produce no change
on the ground. It is inconceivable that transport departments would spend so long
negotiating routes for new roads and yet paths do not have the same status despite
potentially being of huge public benefit.”

 

Now I don’t believe the ten year delay in getting the path off the ground was either the fault of SNH (who had started on plan for the path) or the Cairngorms National Park Authority who took on the work c2009.  However, neither highlighted the case to the Land Reform Review Group (indeed from a trawl through the responses the CNPA did not even make a response).  I think this is wrong.  Our National Parks should be trailblazing when it comes to new paths and if they do not have sufficient powers to do this effectively they should be highlighting the issues to the Scottish Government.

 

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The extension also raises significant issues in relating to the quality of the walking experience which the CNPA has simply not mentioned.  Indeed in their news section they claim “we built the path on the best route for both visitors and local communities”.   That is a matter of opinion but I think if the CNPA asked the public they would disagree.  As one foreign visitor said, the trouble with the Speyside Way is that it avoids the river and this is very true of the  new section.   Of the c8 kilometres of new path, only c2 km, near Kincraig, are by the Spey.

 

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Speyside Way, the thick brown line.                                                          Map Credit CNPA

The problem was and still is that the Kinrara Estate did not want people walking along the river, despite having a right to do so, or Bogach, the loch north of the Duke of Gordon’s monument which is a great place to watch ospreys fishing.  Unfortunately our public authorities were not strong enough to stand up to the estate and the result is the Speyside Way avoids all the best things places to visit in the area.  A missed opportunity.  I would advise anyone who wants to experience the best that Speyside has to offer should find their own route rather than follow the Speyside Way until close to Speybank.

 

Apart from the route it takes, the path provides a good illustration of a number of access issues.

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While Network Rail don’t actually say here you will be prosecuted for crossing the line the message is unwelcoming. Railway crossings are a problem across Scotland but surely our National Parks should be trailblazing solutions with Network Rail which facilitate access rather than stopping it?  The new gate and sign looked to me like a response from Network Rail to the creation of the Speyside Way.
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While the wooden fencing has been done to a very good standard the overall experience is one of being hemmed in and kept away from nature. Compare this to walking along a river bank.  Openness is important to walkers and rarely have I seen such a constricted path.
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The landowners concerns, however ridiculous – they appear to believe that cyclists or runners risk colliding with wildlife – show why all the fencing is in place.
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Another  ridiculous sign. Note the two dog proof fences on either side of the path – there is  nowhere for a dog or people to go. Arguably, because of the new fencing, the creation of this section of path has made access worse not better. What is the point of access if you cannot step off the path and go and sit under a tree?
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Nature beats planning!

 

 

img_1453-copyOur access legislation means that people can walk the Speyside Way extension and all the land around it whether the landowner agrees or not.  Unfortunately the CNPA had not for whatever reason managed to get the owner of this wood or the Forestry Commission to remove this sign which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

 

What should the Cairngorms National Park do about the Speyside Way extension?

Despite my criticisms, the extension is a new path and that is a plus. I think it is important though the CNPA does not in any way suggest that the Speyside Way is the only or main walking route between Aviemore and Kincraig.  I would suggest the CNPA:

 

  • Removes the signage which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
  • Produces a plan to reduce the fencing along either side of the path to improve the quality of the recreational experience
  • Signposts alternative routes, including how to follow the Spey itself
  • Stops the spin and say how it really was for the staff involved
  • Use this example to argue the need for Access Authorities to have stronger powers to create new paths in the places people want to visit

I also suspect that if the CNPA had treated organisations representing recreational users, Ramblers, cyclists and horseriders as true partners, many of the problems with this path could have been avoided.  The Ramblers, for example, have long campaigned again signage such as is evident on the Speyside Way extension and I believe if they had been involved it would not have been tolerated.

 

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The Morven Site of Special Scientific Interest as shown on SNH sitelink. I walked with my partner Louise from Glen Fenzie, bottom left of map up to Mona Gowan (new track on its south ridge not shown on map) along ridge to Morven and then down to Morven Lodge.

Following my post on “How to protect wildlife in our national parks”  I have been thinking about how the Cairngorms National Park could achieve its stated objected of landscape scale conservation on the Dinnet Estate where I walked in September.   I have since used it to illustrate the connection between grouse moors and rural depopulation (see here) and the persecution of wildlife (see here).

 

I had not checked what areas on Dinnet were protected by nature conservation designations before our walk but there is in fact a connection between what is protected and what you see.  Unlike  many SSSIs in the National Park all the features are currently classified as being in favourable condition, with only one of these – the assemblage of upland birds, surprise surprise – classified as declining (see here). However, and this is a major problem as we will see, the site is not regularly monitored and the last survey of the Alpine Heath was back in 2000.

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On grouse moors there are high culls of red deer, because they are believed to impact on grouse numbers, with the consequence that trees can regenerate as here by the A839 in Glen Fenzie

 

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One of the reasons Morven is designated a SSSI is because of its juniper. The reduced grazing pressure is also helping juniper regenerate outwith the SSSI
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The regeneration however does not last for long because of muirburn, which has here destroyed what was a large patch of juniper (the bare branches across the middle of the photo). Juniper is not fire tolerant unlike heather.

 

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The fence, running to the summit of Mona Gowan, marks the boundary of the SSSI. Within SSSIs landowners have to ask permission from SNH for operations requiring consent and for Morven this includes creation of all hill tracks. The bulldozing of this new track just outside the SSSI boundary is not a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

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The creation of the tracks has not however stopped the estate taking vehicles into the SSSI and damaging the moorland.  “Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest except four-wheel drive or similar agricultural vehicles on existing estate roads and tracks” is one of the Operations Requiring Consent on the Morven SSSI. Its not possible to tell from Sitelink if SNH consented to this or not as the details of the consents are not publicly available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground” is another Operation Requiring Consent. Its not clear if the estate got consent either to dig this hole to create this mound for putting out medicated grit for grouse. While adminstration of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are all ORCs, strangely feeding medicated grit to grouse is not.
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Another earthwork created to feed medicated grit to grouse within the SSSI. Morven beyond.
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As we got further into the SSSI, the evidence of land management operations reduced and the wildlife increased.
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Having not seen any mountain hare on Mona Gowan, on the edge of the SSSI, on Morven there were many. “The killing or removal of any wild mammal or bird, including pest control, except bird species covered by the General Licence (Scottish Government Rural Directorate); other species under a specific licence issued by SGRD.” is listed as an ORC. SSSIs could thus be used to protect mountain hares.
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There was also lots of fantastic heath, another feature for which Morven is designated a SSSI
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The Cairngorms National Park Authority is currently dealing with tracks created without planning permission on the Dinnet Estate. This track and large borrow pit, on Roar Hill, is within the SSSI and both track and pit were Operations Requiring Consent. Its unclear if SNH gave consent to these tracks but its quite clear they have had a large impact on the vegetation and should not be allowed on nature conservation grounds. Note also the muirburn. “Burning (and) changes in the pattern or frequency of burning” are also ORC.
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More damage by all terrain vehicles within the SSSI
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Below that however is the success story, the large expanse of juniper which is now classified as being in favourable condition. Walking through it was a wonderful experience.
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While there was some sheep grazing, except for tussock fields of purple moor grass, I cannot think of a time in Scotland when I have walked through grasses as tall as this. Again, a great experience.
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As soon as you leave the SSSI there are traps everywhere. Even if small mammals like stoats are not persecuted within the SSSI, as soon as they move out they are. The SSSI is too small to support species that require large territories like eagles. Its thus failing to fulfil its potential.
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As soon as you leave the Morven SSSI, you are back into intensively managed grouse moors where muirburn stops all regeneration of the land.

 

Nature protection and landscape scale conservation

I have been thinking about how Alison Johnstone MSP’s suggestion that Nature Conservation Orders could be used to protect the mountain hare in the National Park could be applied to the Dinnet Estate and what other mechanisms are available to protect species and enable habitat restoration.

  • The purpose of Nature Conservation Orders is to protect natural features from damage.   They are stronger than the Operations Requiring Consent because they make certain activities that damage natural features illegal.   They can also be applied to land contiguous with an SSSI or European protected site  or any land which Scottish Ministers believe to be of special interest for its natural features.  They could thus, in theory be used to ban certain activities from the entire National Park.
  • The provisions relating to Operations Requiring Consent should  be sufficient to prevent much of the persecution of wildlife that goes on on grouse moors that are designated as SSSIs as the Morven SSSI shows.   The problem is the lack of monitoring (SNH does not have the resources to monitor sites properly) and the will to use existing powers to take enforcement action.   There are plenty of powers to force landowners to restore damage, the problem is they are not used.     I think a first step to improvement would be if SNH published in full those Operations Requiring Consent it had approved for each SSSI and together with this a mechanism for the public to report land-managers who had breached these conditions.   The public would then be clearer if damage such as that documented above (the earthworks, track creation and damage by ATVs) had been agreed with SNH or not.
  • In the case of species protection outside SSSIs, species like mountain hare are already protected.  The problem is that SNH has consented to culls because of claims that mountain hares carry ticks and damage trees.  Again, this is a matter of the will of our public authorities to take on the landowners.
  • What is lacking at present however is any effective means to extend areas which are doing well in conservation terms.   A basic flaw of our conservation system is it was designed to protect what is already there, than what might be there.  To protect land SNH has to undertake a lengthy and bureaucratic process to show that certain habitats or species are present in a particular area.  If they get lost, that area can lose its protected status.   When I was on the Board of SNH there were proposals from the RSPB to create Special Protected Areas to save hen harrier.  To designate an area SNH had to show sufficient hen harrier were present – all that did was  incentivise the landowners to kill off their hen harrier as quickly as possible to avoid their land being designated.  So, in my view we do need an effective means to enable natural processes and species to be restored to areas which do not meet the criteria for SSSIs or European Protected Areas.
  • National Parks are one way that this could be done as they have the power to create byelaws for nature conservation purposes that cover all land, not just SSSIs.  Hence my proposal that the Cairngorms National Park should regulate hunting through byelaws.  The CNPA however could, if it had the will, introduce byelaws to control/stop damaging activities such as muirburn.
  • Another mechanism however could be Nature Conservation Orders.   Their advantage over byelaws is that they could be applied to particular areas of land.   They are a stick which the Cairngorms National Park Authority, if it worked with SNH and the Scottish Government, could use to encourage landowners to work in partnership.   The CNPA keeps talking about the need to work in partnership but I very much doubt that Dinnet Estate, whose failure to co-operate with the National Park on hill tracks I intend to blog about soon, would agree at present to any reduction in the damaging activities it conducts on its land outwith the SSSI.   If the CNPA however was able to say it had decided that the area of juniper should be expanded beyond the SSSI boundaries to achieve landscape scale conservation, would be happy to agree with the estate where to do this but if they failed to co-operate, would ask SNH to issue a Nature Conservation Order……………….well, I think that might just provide an incentive for partnership to work.

 

 

 

The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including shrub, herb, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus and turf.

In respect of borrow pits within Muir of Dinnet and Morven and Mullachdubh SSSIs whilst the method statement refers to borrow pits there is no information to state whether these are subject of the planning application and therefore to be used. Works to borrow pits within the SSSIs may require consent from SNH.
33. In respect of the Muir of Dinnet SSSI and its geomorphologic interest, SNH note that the original track cuts across a number of sub glacial ridge and channel features, with the recent upgrading of the track causing additional damage which cannot be restored and has increased visual intrusion. The proposed mitigation should benefit the geomorphologic interest by visually reducing the interruption to the landforms

p1000099-copyI was in Aberdeen on Tuesday night giving a talk to the North East Mountain Trust on “What is the Cairngorm National Park for?”.   I have been a member for years, because of the excellent work they do and their magazine Mountain Views, which I regard as an essential source of information for anyone who cares about the Cairngorms.

 

The latest issue contains the responses the Scottish Government has made to questions in the Scottish Parliament about the continued killing of mountain hares.     Before my talk one of their members told me they had driven over the Lecht that afternoon and seen a group of gamekeepers by the road with rows of dead hares like those that have been featured on raptor persecution Scotland (see here).     If they’d taken a photo I’d have ask to post it here but unless you have a camera with a powerful telephoto lens or are fearless (and possibly foolhardy), its very difficult to record these incidents.   Most massacres of mountain hares in the National Park, just like the illegal killing of raptors, are simply not recorded.

 

In my talk I showed some photos of grouse moor management taken on a recent walk  around the Dinnet Estate including the mountain hare above.  I remarked on the number of traps I had seen and asked the audience if there was anywhere worse in the National Park?p1000140-copy

Trap Glenfenzie

 

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Two traps, one on either side of pool, leaving nothing to chance, Morven burn

 

A chorus of estate names rang out from the back of the room, including Invercauld which borders on the Dinnet Estate. A hillwalker had found a common gull caught in a trap earlier in the year at Geallaig Hill on Invercauld (see here) and unusually, the Gamekeeper in this case has been dismissed, although he has not apparently been charged.

 

At the end of my talk I was asked what we could do to make the Cairngorm National Park more effective in protecting wildlife and our landscapes.   My reply was  to the effect that photos are worth a thousand words and that ideally more people should keep a keen eye on the workings of the National Park and not just respond to consultations but take more active roles through submitting FOI requests and complaining where necessary.   In responding, I was aware that I had not entirely convinced myself or the audience.  While photos and lobbying can effect some changes, these will only go so far.

 

Yesterday, I thought about this again, prompted by accounts I had heard after my talk about how NEMT members were involved in not just enjoying that National Park but in practical conservation work such as maintaining paths and monitoring tree regeneration on Mar Lodge estate.  This reminded me that the recreational community, in a broad sense (not just physical activity but observing the landscape and nature) cares far more about the Cairngorms than most of the people who own it (who are responding for the persecution of wildlife and the trashing of the landscape with tracks and developments).  Yet the recreational community, who are people who basically argued for National Parks in the first place have been sidelined and don’t have a seat at the table in the proposed Partnership Plan.   Instead, what we have is Fergus Ewing MSP accusing the Cairngorms National Park Authority of bias (see here)  for not privileging gamekeepers above all other interests.  As a former member of the Mountain Rescue one might have hoped he would have appreciated the need for the recreational voice to be at the centre of what the National Park does.

 

So, I think the answer to the question of how do we make the Cairngorm (and indeed the Loch Lomond and Trossachs) National Park more effective, is that the recreational organisations need to assert their right to be centrally involved in running our National Parks   The answer to the question “What are our National Parks for?” lies in the question “Who are our National Parks for?”.

 

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I am up in the north-west Highlands for a week, staying near Gairloch, and yesterday walked into Beinn an Eoin from Loch Bad Scalaig.   The first part of the track is through a native woodland scheme planted in 1998 and then leads on to the former bothy, Poca Buidhe, almost 12k in all.   Its  used by vehicles for stalking.  What struck me is how narrow it is, like a footpath, about 1.5m wide and as a consequence enjoyable to walk.  In many places the Poca Buidhe track just disappears from view although there are still places where there is a signficant impact on the landscape, as is in the photo above where the track runs above the Abhainn a Garbh Coire.

 

On my reading the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority set out similar aspirations for hill tracks in the National Park in its Guidance on Renewables:

 

“It is expected that where possible, the type of vehicles that will require access after restoration of the tracks  will be light, low-pressure vehicles, such as quad bike or equivalent.

If access tracks are to be retained for light low-pressure vehicles, the visual impact of these tracks should be minimised by downsizing the width, green re-instatement track methods and local mitigation measures such as planting and rock/boulder placement”.

ALL of the hydro tracks in Glen Falloch, approved by LLTNPA officers are far wider than would be needed for a quad bike or similar, leaving aside there is no evidence that there was any “overwhelming need” for these tracks to be retained (see here).

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Looking across Glen Falloch from the Eas Eonan track

The narrowest tracks are about 2m wide.   Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive of the LLTNPA, has subsequently stated in writing that planning conditions require construction tracks to be reduced to 2m (2.5m at bends).    While I believe this is simply his latest re-interpretation of the LLTNPA’s policy and, as the Torridon photo shows, is needlessly broad, in practice the LLTNPA was approving tracks in Glen Falloch while he was Director of Planning that are wider than his quoted maximum:

 

  • The Glen Falloch extension track is 2.5m wide (see here)
  • The Eas  Eonan and Allt a Chuillinn schemes 2.5m (see here)
  • Allt Fionn width not specified but the “minimum” necessary for use by a landrover (see here)

 

Only the Ben Glas track, approved at end of 2015, states the track should be reduced to 2m (and 2.5m at bends).

 

This shows that once again LLTNPA officers are ignoring their own policy, both the written policy which was good in intention if too vague, and Gordon Watson’s re-interpretation of this to mean tracks should be 2m wide.    I don’t believe there was an “overwhelming reason” to allow these hydro construction tracks to be retained but even if there was, if the Gairloch Estate can manage on 1.5m tracks so should estates within our National Parks.

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Part of the West Highland Way in Glen Falloch which is also used by estate vehicles. Its closer to 1.5m in width than 2m.

Reducing the width of these hydro tracks would help them merge with the landscape over time (which is what the LLTNPA claims it wants).  The LLTNPA should be setting an example of best practice and I regret that so far it has conspicuously failed to do this.  It is not too late.  The Glen Falloch Estates will make a fortune from these hydro schemes over the next 10 years paid for by the public and the least they can do in return is reduce the impact of the destruction they have caused.

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Hill track Dinnet

 

At least the LLTNPA appears to have a policy position on the width of tracks.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority produced an 18 page report on the Dinnet Hill Tracks without mentioning the width of tracks once item8aadinnettracks20160004det.   More on that in a future post.

 

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Eroding bulldozed track with burnt heather moorland behind on Dinnet Estate September 2016

 

As readers will know, there are now several organisations trying to get the Cairngorms National Parks Authority to address the problems associated with grouse moors: destruction of habitats, destruction of the landscape, destruction of wildlife and destruction of the rural population.    There have been several signs in the last couple of weeks that landowners are fighting back and putting considerable pressure on the CNPA to make sure the new National Park Partnership Plan contains nothing that will upset their interests.
 
The first was at the last CNPA Board Meeting where Grant Moir, the Chief Executive had this to report on moorland management:
 
“We have just received confirmation that we have been successful in obtaining funding through ECAF (Environmental Co-operation Action Fund) for the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership. This will fund project development work to enhance habitat and species diversity”.
In the draft Partnership Plan the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership was identified as the main mechanism to deliver the Park’s ambitions for grouse moors (nothing was identified for moorland estates in the rest of the National Park)  and now we know why, a funding application had already been submitted.     Now there are some good things about the ECAF (see here)  – Hen Harrier is a priority species on moorland even if nothing is said about eagle or mountain hare  – but there is nothing that I can see in the scheme about cross-compliance.    Despite the recent raptor killings on Speyside, the eastern Cairngorms is where wildlife persecution has historically been most intense.  So the landowners who have done most to persecute and destroy our wildlife and habitats are now being paid to restore a bit of it.    The public should be very sceptical.    I suspect this is an attempt by the Scottish Government to try and kick the issue of wildlife persecution in the National Park into the long grass.  In response to any demand for action, they can now say “we have funded the East Cairngorms Moorlands Partnership to address these issues and need to give this time to see if it works.     I hope that the CNPA will help ensure that there is transparent reporting about the objectives that have been agreed and what progress is being made.  These estates need to be held to account and, as I have suggested before, any further incidences of raptor persecution should result in the removal of ALL rural payments to the estate concerned.
The second sign of the landowners fight back appeared on the  CNPA blog on 7th October:

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) met with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) on the 29 September to discuss the National Park Partnership Plan consultation and specific issues around grouse management. The SGA raised concerns about a recent blog on the CNPA website which they felt did not reflect the work being done on grouse moors.

There was a robust exchange of views with Gamekeepers setting out their views on grouse and moorland management and the CNPA setting out the need to debate future management as part of the consultation. The meeting ended with an agreement to meet more regularly with the SGA and Moorland Groups so that further discussion can take place on these issues.

 

I welcomed (see here) the original blog by Will Boyd Wallis for trying to promote debate on how our grouse moors should be managed but criticised it for not being radical enough.  While we already know that the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who act on behalf of their employers, the landowners, object to any debate on moorland management what is interesting is that the CNPA has had to give them time to air their much voiced views.  The danger here is that the CNPA tries to convince itself that there is a middle way, in which the current lack of any real action is continued into the next Partnership Plan, and this is then justified as a need to hold the ring between two opposing interests.

 

The third sign of the pressure the CNPA is under was the open attack by Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, but now Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy in his column in the Strathie last week (see here) .  Fergus Ewing states the CNPA meeting with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association was  “following my intervention, subsequently arranged actually to hear the views of local keepers and others”.  In other words he forced the CNPA to meet the representatives of the people who, on behalf of the landowners, have been responsible for killing so much wildlife in the National Park.   He goes on to say  “But in a letter to me the park refused to accept there was anything wrong, and refused to permit the other side of the case to be published on its website. Given that a formal park consultation is ongoing, that does not seem to be balanced or fair. The second principle of natural law is – Audi Alteram Partem – hear both sides of the case! ”   

 

Fergus Ewing does not appear to realise that while there are two sides to the case on moorland management, the CNPA at present is not on either side.  It has been sitting on a fence somewhere in the middle.   If Fergus Ewing wants SGA’s views promoted on the CNPA website he should also, according to the Latin, be calling for Raptor Persecution Scotland, the LINK hill tracks group etc to be given space on the CNPA blog.

 

What the SGA, the landowners and now apparently Fergus Ewing are worried about is that the CNPA might now at last, in the face of overwhelming evidence, jump off the fence and start to stand up for the conservation purpose of the National Park and develop an altnerative plan for the moorlands in the National Park (some of which might be to allow these areas to go wild).   This would end gamekeeping as we know it but could also create more and better paid jobs.

 

Fergus Ewing does not have Ministerial responsibility for National Parks but I would not underestimate the pressure he will be putting on Roseanna Cunningham, the Environment Secretary, to ensure the new CNPA partnership plan does nothing to address the destruction going on in the moorlands of our National Park.  Both the CNPA and Roseanna Cunningham should stand up to both Fergus Ewing and the landowning interests which have been working on him behind the scenes.

 

Both should take heart from the annoucement yesterday that there is to be a debate in the UK Parliament about banning driven grouse shooting on 31st October.  Many of the people who signed were from Scotland and this is a clear sign that public opinion is now in favour of changing the ways our moorland is managed.

 

 

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The problem and the potential: signs of neglect and mismanagement with montane scrub behind

A week ago,  on the same day that the consultation on the new Park Partnership Plan closed, the Cairngorms National Park Authority approved the Cairngorm Glenmore Strategy (see here).  This had been subject to public consultation earlier this year.

 

All the detailed visitor management proposals which were in the consultation draft have been stripped out of the strategy and will be worked up into a Glenmore Visitor Improvement Plan and Cairngorm Masterplan.  The final strategy is much shorter, simpler and easy to understand.   A great plus compared to the morass of documents and plans that made up the draft Partnership Plan and it has avoided being competely dummed down too.

 

In my view there are two glaring omissions.  The first is that Rothiemurchus Estate is not included, although its an integral part of Glenmore.  I am afraid the presentation of the strategy as being about public authority owned land is simply an attempt by the CNPA to put a good spin on this.  The fact is Rothiemurchus declined to join and the CNPA was powerless to make it do so despite the Scottish Government having agreed that Forestry Commission Scotland should acquire part of the estate for £7.4m last year.   The sad fact is landowners in the National Park are a law unto themselves.

 

One could also say that too of the Speyside Trust who run Badaguish and who have consistently ignored planning requirements.  The Strategy has nothing to say about Badaguish.  Its not on the map of sites identified for visitor infrastructure development, unlike Glenmore Lodge, the Youth Hostel and campsite despite far more development going on at Badaguish.  This omission is quite extraordinary and conspiracy theorists will note Badaguish is named on every other map in the Strategy document apart from the visitor infrastructure one!   This undermines the credibility of the Strategy much as I hope the CNPA Board has now decided to take a firm stand and use its enforcement powers to prevent any further unlawful development on the site.

 

On the positive front, the Strategy contains a number of actions for the Cairngorm ski area which I believe most people who cares about the place would agree with:

 

  • Safeguard the plateau habitats and species by actively managing recreation pressures
  • Develop action plan to enhance the ski area by improving storage and removal of disused items
  • Ensure enhancements within the ski area are implemented to high quality standards appropriate to the sensitive environment
  • Develop agreed best practice standards for development and enhancement works in the ski area [actually good practice standards have existed since the early 1970s, they just need enforcing]
  • Expand montane woodland establishment within and around the ski area
  • Support enhancement of the wintersports experience and year round activity provision

 

I was particularly pleased to see the commitment to clean-up the ski area and expand montane woodland within it – suggestions which have been made several time on Parkswatch.

 

However, the problem is that the strategy bears no resemblance to what is actually going on on the hill at present.    Natural Retreats simply ignore all planning requirements (further photos proving this will appear soon!) and Highland Council and the CNPA as planning authorities have so far failed to do anything.

 

What does ensuring “enhancements with the ski area are implement to high quality standards appropriate to the sensitive environment” mean when Highlands and Islands Enterprise, CNPA and Highland Council are not prepared to speak out, condemn Natural Retreats for their mis-management and intervene to stop this?

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The destruction around the Coire Cas Gantry – Photo Credit Terry Smith 23 September 2016

So what are CNPA, Highland Council and HIE going to do to meet the management aspirations set out in the Strategy?

 

Management interventions will improve the natural environment, landscape and visitor experience and retain the sense of wildness and space found in the area.

 

How does letting Natural Retreats get away with the destruction they have caused ensure that “Cairngorm and Glenmore will be a high quality mountain and sports destination”?

 

How can our public authorities claim that “Cairngorm and Glenmore will be at the heart of collaboration with neighbours to protect the mountain plateau”  when they are allowing Natural Retreats to destroy part of that very same plateau?  (see here)

 

The worst though is at the end of the Strategy where after saying that “Natural Retreats and partners to develop and deliver masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain” – a step forward – that “Natural Retreats and Forest Enterprise Scotland will lead on delivering spatial plans that set out the detailed actions focused on improving facilities at Cairngorm Mountain and Glenmore respectively. These plans are expected to be completed in the next year.”     How Natural Retreats can be trusted to lead on anything is beyond my ken.

 

Now this is not all the fault of CNPA.  HIE as landowner have primary responsibility for ensuring Natural Retreats as their leaseholder maintains the highest environmental standards and they have completely failed to do so.  Its about time that CNPA repeated the call they made on 7th November 2006 for the ownership of the Cairngorm Estate to be transferred to Forestry Commission Scotland:

 

“The board of the CNPA considered its response to the consultation on the transfer of the estate from current owners Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to FCS at its monthly board meeting on Friday 3 November.

David Green, Convener of the CNPA board said: “We fully support this transfer subject to the delivery of an inclusive approach to the estate’s management and the delivery of a wide range of public benefits.

“It seems sensible that Forestry Commission Scotland should assume ownership of the estate, rejoining it to its holding at Glenmore, and the organisation has a proven track record in managing land to deliver public benefits and ensuring that local and national interests are fully involved.”

Among the other points raised by the CNPA in its response to the consultation are:

  • An early priority should be the production of a management plan to steer the future of the estate and this should be done following consultation involving a wide range of interested parties. Such a plan should include ways of delivering the priorities emerging in the Cairngorms National Park Plan as well as incorporating integration with neighbouring land holdings.
  • Short term environmental improvements, such as the removal of some ski-ing infrastructure, should not be carried out at this stage. Decisions on these proposals should be deferred and instead considered through a full management planning process and through consultation with all those interested in this aspect of the estate.
  • Bureaucracy should be minimised and all meetings relating to the management of the estate should be open to the public.

Fiona Newcombe, the CNPA’s Head of Rural Development Strategy commented: “Forestry Commission Scotland is the obvious organisation to take over the Cairngorm Estate. As an enabling organisation, the National Park Authority is not best placed to own land, but rather positively influence land management by others. We are fully supportive of this move and welcome the principle of wide stakeholder engagement in the management of the estate.

I think the CNPA were right in 2006.  Until the Cairngorm Estate is transferred from HIE to FCS (and Natural Retreats replaced as operator of the ski area) the actions set out in the Cairngorm Glenmore Strategy will remain aspirations.

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The Derrydarroch Allt Andoran intake track from Sron Garbh on An Caisteal. The dark area to the right of the track  is where the pipe is buried.  It should disappear as the vegetation recovers but the track will remain a permanent scar.     The vegetated strip down the middle of the track, highlighted by the National Park as good practice, has since been destroyed through the Glen Falloch estate allowing cattle to walk over it.

 

The planning permission granted for the four Glen Falloch hydro schemes in 2010 agreed to some  permanent new (short) tracks along the bottom of the glen to the powerhouses, some widening of existing tracks but stipulated that the tracks to the intake dams required for construction purposes were to be temporary.  Once work was completed they were to be restored, just like the land over the pipelines and access to the intakes was to be argocat on “green tracks”.   This position was agreed by the Board at the time (which had rejected an early application for hydro in Glen Falloch back in 2003 because of the visual impact) and later endorsed in the LLTNPA’s “award winning” Supplementary Planning Guidance on Renewables which stated:

 

It is expected that any access tracks required for the construction will be fully restored unless there is an overwhelming reason why they should be retained for the operational phase of the development.

I could not work out from the original planning documentation (reference 2009/0249/ECN if you want to track this down at http://eplanning.lochlomond-trossachs.org/OnlinePlanning/?agree=0) why the tracks were still there.  Then last week when the LLTNPA responded (see here) to some questions I had asked about the Glen Falloch schemes including the bright blue pipes.  This showed a further four planning applications had been made to the LLTNPA between 2012 and 2015 to make ALL the temporary tracks permanent.   All were agreed by officers under delegated authority and did not go to Committee.   Given the history of the planning applications and the LLTNPA’s clear policy on hill tracks and renewables, that the LLTNPA Board has allowed staff to reverse their previous decisions appears to me totally wrong.  A dereliction of the National Park’s duty to protect the landscape.

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Map of the Intakes, pipelines and access tracks in Glen Falloch. There were pre-existing tracks in Upper Glen Falloch (Intake 1 top right) and towards Ben Glas (Intake 7) but all the other tracks were to be restored.

The first of the tracks to be approved was the Allt Fionn back in 2012.  Originally the estate had wanted a permanent access track but the Committee report that recommended the Scottish Government approve the proposal in 2009 stated ” As a result of the pre-application process it has been agreed that the proposed access track to the intake will now be temporary rather than permanent.”   It did not take long for Falloch Estates to get this decision reversed.  The reason staff gave for approving this in their delegated report was:

 

As the proposed track is not just to service the intake, but also for estate/land management purposes which will be for the benefit of the estate as a whole, it is considered that the retention of this track is justified

 

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The Allt Fionn track from Ben Glas. The restoration of the ground above the pipeline appears successful in landscape term (from the sharp bend it continues down the hill on the same line as the upper part of the track) but the creation of a permanent track cutting across the hillside from left to right has had a major impact on the landscape

Note that the decision is justified as being for the benefit of the estate, for the landowner, not the public interest or the landscape.   This reasoning, about the needs of the estate, was repeated in the three other delegated reports in which officers agreed that all the temporary access tracks should become permanent.   Now the LLTNPA has a very clear policy on this set out in its SPG-Renewables-final:

 

It is expected that any access tracks required for the construction will be fully restored unless there is an overwhelming reason why they should be retained for the operational phase of the development.

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A small part of the new Derrydarroch track network in Glen Falloch showing how it scars what was a beautiful glen

 

The LLTNPA officers in my view totally failed to present an overwhelming need for these tracks given their impact on the landscape.   While the LLTNPA has ignored its own policy, what is worse is there appears no-one in the National Park prepared to stand up for the landscape in the face of developers.

 

Evidence of this lack of care for landscape can be found throughout the reports that approved the tracks. For example, while the Allt Fionn report  notes that the Falloch Estate had constructed “storage” by the Allt Fionn dam without planning permission, there is no consideration of whether this should be retained.   The hill goer might have thought the need for a store would disappear with a permanent track, after all there is none by any of the other dams, but its still there.

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The store, across from the Allt Fionn dam, and associated rip rap embankment.   It reminds me of those nuclear bomb stores in Glen Douglas.

The failure of the LLTNPA to protect the landscape of Glen Falloch is further demonstrated by the way the reports on all four schemes deal with wild land values.    Again the LLTNPA has an apparently strong policy position on this in their Renewables Guidance:

 

“priority will be given to protecting these core areas of wild land character. These areas will
therefore be safeguarded from development which may detract from their relative wildness.”

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Rip rap retention has wrecked the gorge below the Eas Eonan dam – in an area of core wild land. The Allt Andoran track is in the far distance.

The 2013_0153_det-delegated_report_final-100102998-derrydarroch-tracks clearly states

 

It is likely that a permanent track will erode the perception of wildness of this open hill slope; in particular the upper section in core wildness area and the point at which the track approaches the intake and the upper glen where there is intervisibility with Ben Dubcraig. Here the perception of wildness is more apparent and any extensive or adverse development will add to the cumulative impacts of the Glen Falloch schemes.

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The top of the Eas Eonan track and dam which the LLTNPA allowed to be constructed in an area of core wild land.

Officers used this argument to approve the track:

 

The track to intake 2 will enter core wild land, however due to the erosion from argo tracks already evident, it would be preferable to have one small well-designed and integrated stone track to service the intake, rather than increase the environmental damage more widely across the hillside.

 

This argument is shown to be false by the evidence on the ground.

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The estate has created a spur off the track to the Eas Eonan to enable it to drive ATVs more easily over the hillside

 

 

 

The approval of the hill tracks have done nothing to reduce environmental damage across the hillside.  If the National Park is serious about this it could introduce a byelaw to prohibit the use of four wheeled vehicles in areas of core wild land but the reality is it does whatever estates asks.   While the Eas Eonan track is the only one to enter a designated area of core wild land, all the other tracks enter buffer areas – again this counts for nothing.

 

I argued in my first post on the Glen Falloch schemes (see here) that the Ben Glas scheme should never have been allowed because of its wild land qualities and later on that restoration is a myth (see here).

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The Ben Glas intake construction track, which is now permanent, has destroyed landforms to such an extent that they can never be “restored” properly.

There was an existing track to the Ben Glas burn and the original proposal was that this would be used to access the dams.

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The old track which ends lower down the Ben Glas burn was to be used to access the Ben Glas intakes

At the end of 2015 however officers agreed that the temporary access track should become permanent.  This has created a much bigger scar across the landscape.

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In the original planning permission almost all the track visible in this photo should have been removed.  The decision to make this track permanent is a serious detriment to the landscape and to the wild land buffer zone.

 

 

A further effect of this decision is that there will be now be TWO tracks that cross the hillside to the Ben Glas burn.   If the LLTNPA cared even an iota about the landscape they might have insisted the original track, which should now be redundant, was restored but they have said nothing.

 

So what can be done?

 

All the tracks in Glen Falloch were financed with public money through the extremely generous subsidies that existed till about a month ago for renewable energy developments.   The Falloch Estate is making large sums of money from their hydro schemes (about which more in due course), enough money to employ more staff who could have occasionally walked up to the hydro intakes to clear them after storms or to hire the occasional helicopter.   These hill tracks were not necessary, which is why the original planning permission required them to be temporary.  LLTNPA staff, however, have simply accepted every argument the estate has made,  another failure of National Parks to stand up to landowners.

 

What is worse though is the National Park appears to have extracted not a single improvement or planning gain from the estates in return for approving these tracks.   I will address some of the poor construction and design of the Falloch Hydro tracks in a future post (there is plenty of evidence that the LLTNPA has failed to implement its own good practice guidance) but to me it seems the LLTNPA has lost a real opportunity.    The impact of a number of these tracks – not all – would disappear if woodland regeneration was allowed to take place.   The Upper Glen Falloch track starts  just by the Glen  Falloch native pinewood, the southernmost remnant in Scotland and long threatened by overgrazing.     What an opportunity to allow  this pinewood to extend – particularly when all the trackwork has created new mineral soils – but instead the LLTNPA is allowing the state to graze cattle as before which is destroying much of the restoration work.   I despair at the lack of any vision.

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The Glen Falloch pinewood is seen just behind the powerhouse but instead of taking the opportunity to encourage regeneration over a wider area the LLTNPA simply required the estate to plant trees to screen the building

Ultimate responsibility for the terrible decision-making on the Glen Falloch tracks lies not with the poor planner who drafted the reports but with the senior management who approved them and with the Board who have allowed this to happen.   Perhaps they could now take a lead on this, not least to demonstrate that they will not simply roll-over when it comes to pressure from Flamingo Land.

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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.

.

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.

raptorsRaptor Persecution Scotland picked up  (see here) on a Cairngorms blog piece and article in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald by Peter Argyle, Convener of the the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

 

I believe Peter’s contribution is very welcome and its very refreshing that as Convener of the National Park he seems prepared to engage in public debate, unlike his counterpart, Linda McKay, at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority where everything is sorted out with preferred partners in secrecy and behind closed doors.

 

I thought it interesting that Peter has not referenced any of the powers the CNPA has to address the widespread raptor persecution that takes place in the National Park.   I have argued how these could be used before (see here) but there is now a very interesting precedent just to the North in Moray where the creation of bye-laws and permits for shooting geese at Findhorn has been supported by none less than the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary who was responsible for National Parks until earlier this year:

 

“Following his meeting with Basc, Mr Lochhead argued it was “absolutely clear” the existing regulations weren’t working properly.

And he has now encouraged councillors to impose a permit system with certain by-laws to satisfy parties on either side of the debate.

Mr Lochhead said: “There’s been a backlash in the local community due to some visitors not respecting the local environment, and it’s absolutely clear the status quo is not an option.

“My meeting with Basc was positive and they made it clear they support a permit system with by-laws.

“We need the council to adopt a can-do attitude and calculate the costs of a permit system to inform the debate.

“The shooting season is under way and I don’t think anyone wants to see another season go by without a solution being put in place.”

Basc Scotland’s Donald Muir added: “We explained that a permit system should be put in place at Findhorn Bay, which should eliminate any bad practice taking place.”

(from Press and Journal ((see here))

 

So why doesn’t the CNPA adopt a similar type of can-do attitude as Richard Lochhead is calling on Moray to adopt?

 

 

I also think Peter and the CNPA have got the economic contribution that moorland management makes to the National Park wrong.   It is now very profitable, in part because the financiers are enamoured with grouse shooting (Fred Goodwin when running the Royal Bank of Scotland as his personal fiefdom loved to put on his plus fours and go shooting as told by Ian Fraser in “Shredded: Inside RBS the bank that broke Britain)  and have both invested in estates and pay large amounts for a day’s shooting (£9,943 per day compared to £729 per day of stag shooting according to the Cairngorms Estates survey in £2014).   This has resulted in a shift from deer management to grouse shooting as shown by Andy Wightman and Ruth Tangay in “Research into the Intensification of Grouse Moor Management”.   Unfortunately the CNPA have completely failed to provide a similar overall analysis for the Partnership Plan and I think if they did, it would show that most of the alleged benefits grouse moor management brings to the National Park are myths.

 

Peter Argyle acknowledges that driven grouse shooting has been banned in much of the rest of Europe but does not say why its a problem.  Driven grouse shooting is just like a glorified clay pigeon shoot the difference being the supply of targets is limited.   This might not matter to most people but grouse shooting is about conspicuous consumption and among the shooters part of the “fun” is downing more grouse than the person next door.  The numbers of grouse are extremely important and this is what has driven the intensification of grouse moor management including raptor persecution.  While the CNPA has been trying to talk to estates, the ground rules have been changing beneath their feet and as a result they are always on the back foot.     If the CNPA introduced a permit system and limited the numbers of grouse that could be shot in a day they could stop this completely and “de-intensify” grouse moor management.

 

Peter seems to fear that if grouse shooting was tackled there would be a loss of jobs.   The evidence suggests that while grouse shooting is now extremely profitable, most of the profit is not invested in the National Park but elsewhere.  There is a complete myth that grouse shooting is essential to maintain jobs in remote areas.  The pay of estate staff, often working in very difficult conditions, is lamentable (Andy Wightman found the average salary was £11401 and this would seem to accord with the CNPA’s own findings that wages in the National Park are 26% lower than elsewhere in Scotland).   The obvious question, which is not being asked by the CNPA, is whether alternative land-uses which depended on the natural rather than the highly managed qualities of the National Park could provide more and better paid jobs which kept money in the local area?     Surely this is the sort of question the CNPA should be considering under its mandate to promote sustainable economic development?

 

The CNPA has produced lots of information on economic development but what is conspicuous by its absence in the Partnership Plan is the absence of any analysis of the role of sporting estates.  Part of the reason for this that while previous economic surveys have identified “game management” as one of the most distinctive economic activities in the National Park, it has not been analysed as such but included partly under the tourism sector and partly under food and drink.  So, the dominant land-uses in the National Park simply disappear from the economic analysis as this graphic from the draft plan and the quote below illustrates:

 

cnp-employment

Land Management related industry is of vital importance to the economy of the Cairngorms
National Park and activities to support this sector are a key priority. Land Management in itself,
however, has not been identified as a Priority Sector. This is because it is such a diverse
industry which cross-cuts wider sectors including tourism, forestry, agriculture, renewables etc.  (Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015)

 

The result is the draft Plan, instead of looking at the economics of sporting estates and how this impacts on it priority issues of landscape scale conservation and deer and moorland management, comes up with this non-plan:

 

Deer and moorland management is a significant aspect of the local economy and culture for many people living in the National Park. The fact that estates invest heavily in deer and moorland management is clearly demonstrated in the landowners’ survey carried out in 2013. This currently supports jobs in sometimes remote locations. Investment in moorland management is a personal choice often driven by a range of external social and economic motivations. Changes to any model of land use carries risks and uncertainties about how alternatives are funded, particularly for individual businesses. Therefore the long term viability and continued employment opportunities must be integral to addressing any changes, to maintain viable land management with investment in public interest outcomes. There is a good opportunity in the National Park to explore new approaches to combining the value of sport with a high quality environment, maintaining employment and investment.

 

I welcome Peter Argyle’s call for a frank dialogue but I think that to take that forward requires a much more rigorous analysis to that presented in the draft Partnership Plan.  Peter says in his blog “There is much good work being done on heather moorlands within the Park, be it on peatland restoration, the spread of upland scrub species and more effective control of deer numbers.”   I would agree there is good work and also that some people are trying very very hard – I don’t want to belittle the efforts of those who are trying – but unfortunately the Park Plan does not explicitly put these efforts in context:

 

  • 350ha of peatland restoration underway in the National Park, with a target of 2,000 ha by 2018.   This is tiny in the context of the National Park and the 2m hectares of peatland in Scotland that is in poor condition.
  • 890 hectares of new woodland is tiny within the context that the National Park covers 4528 km2 or 452800 hectares

 

Is this really good enough for a National Park which should be setting an example to the rest of Scotland?

 

What the Partnership Plan needs is some much more ambitious targets if the CNPA is to deliver its statutory aims.   I hope Peter Argyle will take part in further public dialogue and debate about this.

 

 

 

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

img_2777-copy
Fire Edinchip Estate 5th September 2016

I passed this fire last Sunday at the start of a walk round the Glen Kendrum horseshoe, near Lochearnhead.  It was still burning when we came back 6 hours later.

 

By chance, Ross MacBeath had just passed on to me an FOI response he had made to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority which contains this statement on the rationale for the camping byelaws:

 

The basis of the byelaws is evidence of a problem that the Park Authority has been unable to fully resolve. The Park Authority has no evidence of landowners camping on their own land, lighting fires and causing a detrimental impact on the environment or other people’s enjoyment.

 

Forget for a moment the dozens of examples of landowners in the National Park doing things that have a detrimental affect on the environment or people’s enjoyment of it (bulldozed tracks, deer fences, inappropriate developments on wild land, blanket conifer plantations, destruction of biodiversity etc) and just consider fires.

 

The fire in the photo – and we saw an estate vehicle drive off leaving the fire unattended – is likely to have had a far worse impact on the environment than several dozen small camp fires.   The biggest impact will have come from burning general rubbish which could have released toxic fumes into the environment –  which doesn’t happen when campers or day visitors burn untreated dead wood.  The fire is also on the grass verge and because of its size it will have left far bigger burnt patch than those the LLTNPA presented as justifying byelaws.   So, will the LLTNPA use this evidence to refer the Edinchip Estate to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency?   I am sure they won’t.  Within the LLTNPA there  is one set of rules for landowners and another for everyone else.

 

This is not just hypocrisy, its driven by deep seated ideological beliefs that perceive visitors as the cause of potential  problems while being blind to similar or much greater impacts caused by landowners.   There is no understanding that landowners have far greater powers to cause environmental damage than visitors (just look at the Glen Falloch Hydro Schemes).   The LLTNPA claim that they have no evidence of landowners causing damage to the environment.   Well, if you don’t look, you won’t find it:   direct your Rangers to patrol popular places for visitors and instruct them just to record data for those places, and the data you hold will mostly be about visitors.  How about the LLTPNA directing its Rangers to do an audit on all the farm rubbish in the Park?   It would then have a different type of evidence on litter that it has quite simply ignored.

 

img_5182-rubbish-and-l-venachar-house-on-right-small
This farm litter, opposite Park Convener Linda McKay’s House, at the east end of Loch Venachar which I originally photographed in 2015 was still there a year later. The Ranger Patrols pass it daily during the summer but it is never recorded so the Park has no evidence of this problem.

The camping byelaw proposals are not primarily about evidence at all, but about ideology.  At heart this is an argument about who, if anyone, should be allowed into your backyard (and note the perfect field for a campsite just to the right of the Venachar dam in the field by Linda McKay’s House).

 

For an extreme example of this, its well worth reading this article about the eviction of homeless campers from Anchorage in Alaska (thanks very much to Anne MacIntyre for sending this to parkswatch) http://www.adn.com/alaska-news/anchorage/2016/09/07/police-post-eviction-notice-for-residents-of-tent-camp-near-valley-of-the-moon-park/    Don’t just read the article, read the comments to understand where neo-liberalism takes people in relation to what happens in their backyard.   One is from a guy who, after joining the general condemnation of the campers for being homeless, argues against any public provision of toilets because if you provide a toilet, someone will eventually get hurt in the toilet, sue the Council, that will cost millions and result in higher taxes for local residents!   The perfect excuse for the failure of the LLTNPA to improve the infrastructure for visitors.

 

 

 

 

Badaguish

Peter Argyle, the convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, published a thoughtful blog piece on 19th August promoting the consultation on the new draft Park Partnership Plan and more specifically the need to work “partnership”.    While I do not doubt Peter’s good intentions, the reality is that many landowners and some businesses in the National Park at present are doing anything but working in partnership.  One example of this is their ability to flout planning regulations, apparently at will.

 

Recent planning failures

  • The failure of the Speyside Trust to observe or implement conditions attached to its developments at Badaguish in Glenmore.   The convener of the Park’s Planning Committee Eleanor Macintosh summarised all that was wrong in an excellent letter to the applicant back in March yet the Planning Committee at their last meeting  gave retrospective planning permission to all the unlawful developments that have taken place.
  • The failure of the Dinnet estate to observe planning rules on hill tracks north of Ballater as evidenced by the July committee report:
    • “Members are aware that the planning application is in part retrospective and it has taken a considerable amount of time to secure the necessary details to demonstrate compliance with adopted policy.  Whilst the approval of planning permission for the track works provides certainty, the delivery of the identified
      standards will rely heavily on the co-operation of the applicant, and it is prudent for the works to be implemented as soon as possible to avoid any further degradation of the track conditions and worsening of the landscape and visual,
      and environmental impacts.

       

    The minute of the meeting again records that the Planning Committee Convener is to write to Applicant to express the “Committee’s disappointment over the retrospective nature of the application.

  • The flouting of the planning requirements for the Sheiling rope tow at Cairngorm by Natural Retreats see here which is currently subjective to a retrospective planning application
  • The bulldozing of a new track onto the Monadhliath by the Cluny estate

Unfortunately, the CNPA at present is giving very mixed messages about planning rules.  On the one hand it is deploring what is going on – and rightly so – but then not only lets people get away with breaching planning requirements but suggests that all is well and everyone is working in partnership.  So,  after the Committee meeting which granted retrospective planning permission to all those unlawful developments at Badaguish the CNPA put out a press release headed “Approvals all round at the Planning Committee”:

 

“There is often the perception that the CNPA says no more often that yes, but in fact this is not the case as demonstrated today. By working with applicants early in the process we can help ensure that their projects can be realised.”

 

This is simply not true and totally divorced from reality as the evidence from the above planning applications shows.

 

The way forward for partnership working?

 

It is worth considering Peter Argyle’s statement in his blog piece against the evidence cited above:

 

“The legislation that established National Parks in Scotland did not give significant powers to the Authorities established to manage and direct them. It could be argued that beyond Planning and Access powers, National Park Authorities have almost no ‘powers’ at all.

We cannot ‘give orders’ or ‘issue instructions’; instead we work through co-operation and in (an over-used word these days) partnership. Which is a good thing as I believe this makes the CNPA a more effective organisation and helps foster better working relationships throughout the Park.

The CNPA works with others, be that local authorities, other agencies, the Scottish Government or, importantly, the communities within the Park; without forgetting the ‘communities of interest’ outwith the Park which can keep a very close watch on what happens here. It is a National Park”

 

  • Its true that our National Parks were not given significant powers, particularly in relation  land-use and ensuring landowners support the statutory objectives of the National Park.  This helps explain why landowners can flout those statutory objectives both by ignoring planning rules but in the way that the land is managed (wildlife persecution etc).  The CNPA could be calling for more powers instead of maintaining, against the evidence, that partnership are working.  I agree with Peter that “partnership” is an over-used word.   For partnership to work there has to be a clear framework for what is and what is not acceptable.  Unfortunately, there are NO ground rules at present – this needs to change.
  • Our National Parks however do have planning enforcement powers – the problem is there does not appear to be the will to use them.  The CNPA also has more powers than Peter suggests – it could for example create bye-laws to license hunting.  The new Partnership Plan should include an unequivocal commitment by the CNPA to re-establish the credibility of the planning system but also how it will use its existing powers more effectively to achieve its objectives.
  • I think it is significant that Peter’s list of “partners” makes no mention of landowners.  Yes of course the public authorities in the National Park should be working together – that is meant to be happening throughout Scotland through community planning – and  its good to see the reference to “communities of interest” (such as recreational organisations).   The problem is though you cannot work in partnership with people who simply ignore everything the National Park is supposed to be about except when it suits them.   This is mainly landowners but also businesses such at Natural Retreats and the Speyside Trust.   The new Partnership Plan needs to set some ground rules for these interests otherwise it will not to be worth the paper its written on.

 

 

 

The inclusion of a paper  Agenda Item 9 – Reducing litter in the National Park  for discussion at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board  Meeing on Monday (13th June) is welcome.  The paper makes a number of welcome statements, which are very relevant to the issues which have been raised on Parkswatchscotland by myself and Nick Halls (e.g http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/05/17/accommodating-needs-visitors-loch-lomond-trossachs-national-park-nick-halls/).  Unfortunately  though the paper fails explore the full implications of these and the Park still has some way to go to articulate a comprehensive plan to address litter..

  • The paper states that litter is a problem almost everywhere in Scotland and makes the implicit acknowledgement (which was absent during the whole of the Your Park consultation process on the camping byelaws) that litter is a far wider and greater problem than something caused by inconsiderate campers.  What it fails to say is that the then senior management and the Park Board claimed to Ministers that the camping byelaws had solved the litter problems on east Loch Lomond: if Roseanna Cunningham had visited Balmaha last weekend she would have seen litter strewn throughout the village due to the numbers of day visitors dropping rubbish or having nowhere to put it.
  • The paper states that at the heart of the National Litter Strategy, published in 2014, is the idea of prevention, of getting individuals to acknowledge responsibility and that education is the key to this.   What the paper does not say is this conflicts with the claim made in the Your Park consultation that education had not worked and the only way to solve litter was to ban campers.  I am delighted the paper is putting education being put to forefront again but it begs the question of why the Park ever proposed camping byelaws
  • The paper describes the inconsistencies in litter collection arrangements by Local Authorities through the Park:  Stirling does not provide litter bins, West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute do so, but only in some places, while and Perth and Kinross (which only covers a small area of the National Park) is the only Local Authority that does provide bins consistently.   What the Park does not say is that the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan back in 2012 was supposed to have produced a litter strategy by 2013/14 which would sort this out for a large part of the Park.  This was never done and now there are not even timescales for action.
  • The paper reminds Board Members that in the Partnership Plan 2012-17 there was a vision for litter recycling throughout the Park that people would use. What has not been stated is that this has clearly failed, not because people are failing to use litter bins (they are overflowing where they exist) but because they have not been provided.    What the paper does not say is WHY local authorities have failed to install litter bins or indeed why it has failed to do so on its own land.   The paper clearly states the LLTNPA is responsible for clearing litter on the land it owns, which is to be welcome, but does not explain why there are no bins at the carparks on the parcels of land it owns around Loch Venachar
  • The paper clearly states that local authorities have a duty to keep our roadsides clear of litter but makes no mention of their failures to clear litter alongside the main roads through the National Park (now partly covered by growth of vegetation because its summer) which have been highlighted on Parkswatchscotland
  • The paper refers to the Scottish marine litter strategy but makes no mention of the litter at the head of Loch Long, which is a blight to both the local community there and visitors,  that has been highlighted on parkswatchscotland and is again nothing to do with campers.
  • The paper provides background to the LLTNPA’s new policy and procedures on Fixed Penalty Notices (fines) for littering which are included as appendices to the report.  The paper makes the welcome statement that fixed Penalty Notices should be a last resort, that education should come first.   The irony is that if this approach rather than the NIMBY one had been used for problems associated with campers the camping byelaws would never have been proposed.  Unfortunately the paper and the accompanying policy and procedures do not explain how education first might work in practice.   The reason why Countryside Rangers should have the power to issue Fixed Penalty Notices is not to turn them into a quasi police force (which is what will happen if the camping byelaws go ahead and which is why the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association objected strongly to them) but to give them “authority”.   It would allows Rangers to explain, when they come across evidence of people dropping litter or picnicking or camping next to a pile of rubbish, not just to explain to people why they should not do this but to ask  them to clear it up then and there.  If the person/people ignore them, then they can issue the fine but, with the right communication skills, I believe this should rarely be necessary.
  • The biggest omission in the paper is the failure to mention the role of the Forestry Commission Scotland, the large landowner in the Park, and its role in addressing litter.  So just what is it planning to do?    Nor is there any mention of the role of other landowners, the positive things they are doing at present (eg Luss estates does regular litter pick-ups) but also, most importantly their role in creating litter.   Farm litter in the National Park or the litter associated with some of the current industrial developments in our countryside is arguably a greater problem than any litter left by visitors.
  • The paper mentions but makes no proper evaluation of flytipping, which is mostly undertaken by local people or businesses, not visitors.  The huge dump on Loch Loch is another national disgrace but there are many smaller examples.  Its great the LLTNPA now has powers to address this through fines but what actually is it going to do?
  • The paper also fails to mention the role of local tourism businesses in generating litter.  Now many businesses in the National Park have been at the forefront to clear it up but there are some businesses that generate much of the litter that is dropped, particularly in the tourism hotspots where people buy their ice creams on a sunny day and then drop the wrappers.   There is no mention of what these businesses could do either to provide litter facilities or give out messages (“please put all packaging in the litter bins we have provided”.
  • There is also no mention of the role of the Park’s own Ranger service in collecting litter.  In the absence of litter bins, if they are not allowed to put litter in the Park’s vehicles for alleged health and safety reasons and are forced to put this by the roadside for collection, any member of the public seeing them will do the same.   And we all know what happens to rubbish left out for collection, wildlife has a feast and in doing so scatters it once again.
  • The paper makes no mention of the Keep Scotland Beautiful Audit of litter in the National Park which was supposed to be published shortly after the meeting of the Board in October last year

In summary, while the paper is a useful indication of how a strategy might be developed – and therefore a step forward – it unfortunately it has been produced under a Board which up until now appears to have thought that camping byelaws would be the Park’s answer to everything.  The paper is welcome because it does provide an alternative to the flawed logic which led to the proposed camping byelaws – if banning camping is the answer to litter left by campers, then banning drivers would be the answer to the litter thrown out of car windows along the A82 – and has started to suggest alternatives.  If this leads to a change in approach, it is very welcome but to do so the Board will need to endorse a change in direction.  Here are some suggestions about how this could be made to happen:

  • The new Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, who chairs the annual review of the Park’s Partnership Plan, should call a special meeting of the Park and Local Authorities to review the lack of progress they have made on installation of litter facilities and set clear timescales for production of implementation of a litter strategy.   She should also insist the Park develop a proper plan – the Five Lochs Management Plan had a section outlining the actions needed on litter which have sadly never been progressed but would provide a good starting point.
  • The new Minister of the Environment should now acknowledge that campers only account for a small proportion of litter problems in the National Park and littering is not a justification for the removal of access rights.
  • The LLTNPA needs to be told that its litter strategy must  include a plan for addressing marine litter (including exploring the implications of the National Marine Litter strategy), farm litter, dumping and rubbish left by developers
  • The LLTNPA, instead of imposing education messages on people, should engage with visitors about what messages might influence them to take even more care because it’s a National Park.  It should also consider how it can use people who care about the countryside most, which includes walkers and campers, to spread the message.  This means engaging with the recreational organisations such as the Ramblers and all the activity organisers who use the Park at present and whose activities are now threatened by the Park’s proposed bye-laws.

Raptor Persecution Scotland published a piece today  about the BBC Countryfile programme at the weekend on the Invermark Estate and the recent history of persecution in the Angus glens.  The list of crimes, most never “solved” or brought to justice is horrific.   In the interests of accuracy though its worth stating the vast majority of incidents that have been recorded took place on other estates and outwith the National Park boundary.    The BBC presenter however did not even ask Invermark how raptor persecution by these other estates affected the wildlife part of its business.

 

By chance earlier this week I came across these photos of estate signs from Invermark taken in 2005.

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Invermark Estate sign 2005.  Two years after the Land Reform Act granted us access rights the estate still had signs up stating “Estate Path.  Access at discretion of estate”.
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Invermark Estate sign 2005. There has never been any significant evidence that walkers or other visitors disturb raptors

In support of Raptor Persecution Scotland’s case, I would suggest the only reason for such signs is that greater visitor numbers increases the likelihood that the public will come across evidence of illegal activities.   Evidence from the past that the Invermark Estate is perhaps not as pro-wildlife as portrayed by the BBC and a very strong reason to preserve access rights.  Note how the estate was anti-camping  (just like the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, which is strongly supported by Scottish Land and Estates).  I suggest a major reason for this is that  campers are out in the field for far longer than walkers and therefore far more likely to come across evidence of raptor persecution.

 

The BBC missed another angle on Invermark.   All the estates within the Cairngorms National Park have been asked to produce estate management statements and Invermark was one of the estates that did so (many did not).   The Invermark Estate Management Statement  makes interesting reading, not for what it says, but what is left out:

  • There is no mention that much of the Invermark Estate is part of the Cairngorms Special Protection Area designated for its golden eagles (the BBC should have asked, if hare numbers had increased on the estate as claimed in Countryfile, whether eagle numbers had too and if not why not)
  • There is no mention of predator or vermin control.  So, which species do the estate regard as vermin and control as such?
  • There is no mention of red deer numbers, what the estate believes as a sustainable number and how these will be controlled (not surprising perhaps because the estate factor, Richard Cooke was long the secretary of the Association of Deer Management Groups which has done such an effective job lobbying politicians in Scotland to prevent any effective controls on deer numbers).
  • There is no mention of how the grouse moors will be managed, such as the extent of burning and medication of grouse
  • Or, one might add, from the two events that Raptor Persecution Scotland’s have listed as taking place on the estate, what it might do to prevent destruction of peregrine’s nests (as happened in 2004) and to protect trees where raptor are or have nested (January 2013 White Tailed Eagle nest tree felled).    Evidence of estate determination to stamp out such practice could include contracts of employment that clearly describe such actions as gross misconduct which would lead to instant dismissal.

 

While the Cairngorms National Park Authority was no doubt well intentioned when it asked the estates within the National Park to produce management statements, by publishing statements such as that from Invermark,  it has in effect endorsed them.   This, I suggest,  undermines the statutory conservation purpose of the National Park because there is complete avoidance of almost all the things that matter from a conservation perspective – and the Invermark Estate Statement is typical in this respect.

 

The solution is for the CNPA  to lead by example and require  management statements from ALL estates within the National Park setting out how they will meet the Park’s conservation objectives and putting in place sanctions for those that fail to do so.  Part of every statement should include what the estate will do to prevent raptor persecution.   Such statements should form part of a much wider plan of action to address raptor persecution and other conservation failures which I have outlined in previous posts http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/03/25/stop-raptor-persecution-cairngorms-national-park/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.