Large developments are, I believe, fundamentally incompatible with the whole concept of National Parks, wherever they are located across the world. National Parks are places where the natural environment should come first, not second. That’s why I, like many people, object to the An Camas Mor development in principle. We should not be building new towns in the Cairngorms, whether or not these impact on protected European sites or have implications for access by visitors (see here).
That does not mean I am against new housing in our National Parks, indeed there is a crying need for social housing in the Cairngorms, but this must be of an appropriate scale and appropriately situated. Anyone who cares about the natural environment should visit An Camas Mor and see for themselves. In my view its a totally inappropriate location for housing, whatever the size of the development.
Earlier this week a reader expressed scepticism that the pole (left hand photo) could mark the centre of the proposed development. I can well understand why, the location is beautiful and unspoilt, just the sort of place our National Parks were set up to protect. I was shocked too when I visited two weeks ago and very quickly started asking myself how could the Cairngorms National Park Authority ever have consented to a development here?
The most intensive building is proposed for the centre of the development in the areas marked red on the map below (the pole in the photos marks as I understand it the centre of the green circle on the map). The approved development proposals include buildings 3.5 storeys high. If you can see the Lairig Ghru from ground level at the centre of An Camus Mor, its quite obvious it will have a major impact on the landscape of Glenmore. Indeed, the impact of the development on the landscape was one of the reasons why the CNPA imposed the condition that the development could be halted after 630 houses had been built. The removal of that condition was the key change approved by the CNPA when it agreed to vary the original planning application this August.
After my visit to the site, I believe the map in the Committee report showing the boundary of the site and dating from 2009 is totally misleading.
Much of the the east side of the site (left of the red line along the road, the B970, is depicted as rough grassland. Its not, its regenerating Caledonian pine forest. This is partially acknowledged by the Developer who describes the part of the site where houses will be built as “elevated woodland” – while carefully avoiding the term “Caledonian pine forest”!
Unsurprisingly, in order to sell the development, those acting on behalf of Johnnie Grant, the landowner, included plenty of illustrations from Gehl, world renowned architects, of what the built environment might look like (and numerous sustainability features) rather than showing what the new town would replace. Unfortunately very few people apart from quad bikers visit the site and experience for themselves what the developers are wanting to destroy. I think if they did, there would be an uproar. Yes, Gehl’s designs may be world-leading but these should be used for a new town somewhere else where they could be a credit to Scotland, not in a National Park. While the CNPA Board did visit the site before taking their decision, they were transported along a track by minibus – not the best way to see what it is really like.
An Camas Mor has had a variety of uses. Parts have been and still are used for grazing cattle (which probably explains open nature of woodland in photo above) and parts have been planted (with grant aid). In ecological terms however, much of the soil structure appears to be intact, which helps explain why, with trees regenerating, so much wildlife has now been recorded on the site.
Even where trees have been planted and the land ploughed, there has been regeneration, while old pines have been preserved. On my visit I saw Osprey, Red Squirrel, signs of badger and otter as well as rare funghi and various creepy crawlies (you can see excellent photos on the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group flickr album (see here)).
An Camas Mor, rewilding and the Cairngorms National Park
An Camas Mor is not pristine, one reason why its not so far been designated as a protected nature site, and there are plenty of signs of poor management.
However, it is re-wilding. Paradoxically one of the reasons for this is the proposed new town. An Camas Mor has been left alone, allowing natural processes to take hold, while the land round about is intensively used.
From what I have learned though, An Camas Mor always had this re-wilding potential, because although partly abandoned now, much of it was never intensively used. It is therefore just the sort of area that the National Park should have earmarked for regeneration and extension of the Caledonian pine forest.
The CNPA however appears to have turned a blind eye to the re-wilding potential and to have reached the wrong conclusion about the validity of the Environmental Statements accompanying the planning application:
The reason that the records of species found at An Camas Mor has increased is not just because there has been more recording – and part of the credit for that goes to the Badenoch and Strathspey conservation group rather than the developer – its because as a result of rewilding the wildlife on the site is improving the whole time. The longer its left, the more will be found. If the CNPA had insisted on proper surveys for the most recent application and compared these to all the species it has prioritised for protection in the National Park, it would have had lots of reasons not to agree to this development going ahead.
Unfortunately, the CNPA at present appears to give little priority to rewilding. Our National Parks, which could have offered a means to re-wild parts of Scotland, have not had the drive or will to promote the potential of nature against the interests and wishes of landowners. Meantime, apart from national nature reserves none of our other nature conservation designations – a major flaw – can be used to restore nature to places. Our designation system is focussed on protecting what is there, not what could be. We sorely need a means to promote re-wilding which is not entirely dependent on the goodwill of the landowner.
If Anders Povlsen, who is doing so much to re-wild Glen Feshie, or the RSPB rather than Johnnie Grant had owned this land, I think it would be being quietly promoted as one of the jewels in the Cairngorms. From a conservation perspective, the Scottish Government would have been far better giving Johnnie Grant £7.2m to buy up An Camas Mor than buying part of the Rothiemurchus Estate (see here), which was already fully protected.
While both the Scottish Government and the CNPA know that An Camas Mor sits at the centre of the main areas of woodland where Capercaillie now survive, they have seen the challenge as being to find ways to let the development go ahead without impacting too much on capercaillie. Hence the detailed Habitats Regulations Assessment and mitigation proposals for An Camas Mor which, if enforced, will inevitably restrict access. They could and should have looked at this from a completely different viewpoint. What is the rewilding potential of An Camas Mor and what role could it play in saving the capercaillie (once again) from extinction in Scotland?
I have asked Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group why there are not capercaillie in the woods? The first reason he gave is recreational use, and by that he did not mean walkers (I did not see another walker in two hours on what was an English bank holiday) but the use of the forest for quad biking.
The second is that part of An Camas Mor is used for pheasant breeding.
While specific, let alone conclusive research, is lacking, even the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here) admits that pheasant rearing can lead to competition for food and drive other game birds (in which they include capercaillie) from the most intensively used areas while also attracting predators.
Now I am not against either quad biking or pheasant rearing, in the right place. However, given the current parlous state of capercaillie, surely what the CNPA should be doing is engaging with relevant interests to help capercaillie re-colonise this site (and other such woods)? This should include, if necessary, helping the current businesses relocate (if An Camas Mor goes ahead they will be finished in any case).
In a previous post (see here) I argued we need an alternative plan for An Camas Mor and this could be funded by the money which the Scottish Government apparently intends to invest in the development. Having had a good look at the site, I believe the core of an alternative plan for An Camas Mor should be about how we can allow it to continue to rewild. That would not cost much in itself: narrow a few tracks to footpaths, restore other damage, remove human artefacts and rubbish and then leave nature take over.. It would then leave plenty of money to develop social housing elsewhere.
The only problem? Landownership and how to change who controls the land.
Like many people, I suspect, I have been waiting for months for another case of raptor persecution to occur in the Cairngorms National Park. For under the current grouse moor management regimes that dominate much of the National Park, its not a case of “if” but “when” another raptor will disappear. While its taken longer than I expected, last week the RSPB announced a young hen harrier, which had been satellite tagged on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, had disappeared just north of Ballater. As Raptor Persecution Scotland reported (see here) its almost certain this was on either the Invercauld estate, held by a Trust on behalf of the Farquharson family or Dinnet estate, owned by former Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Member Marcus Humphrey. Their article documents known cases of raptor persecution in the area.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority issued this news release in response to the incident:
Statement: Hen harrier disappearance
1st September 2017
From Grant Moir CEO, Cairngorms National Park Authority
“A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances.
“Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues.
“The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review.”
While its good to hear their Chief Executive state that the CNPA is determined to stop raptors disappearing, I don’t think the measures they have currently taken will achieve this. The two main initiatives the CNPA has taken to protect raptors are the Civtech challenge to improve performance of satellite tags (see here) and the initiative to recruit special constables (see here) which was announced in the new National Park Partnership Plan and is referred to in the press release. While its good to hear that last week the CNPA met with the police about this – they are well ahead of the Scottish Government which has still failed to announce the membership of the so-called independent review of grouse moor management – neither initiative is likely to do much to protect raptors.
The problem is even if satellite tags were made indestructible and were able to record that a raptor had been killed and where – actually they are pretty good at present (see here) – this would still not prove who did the killing. And the idea that special constables will be able to prevent persecution of raptors by estates is naive in the extreme: keepers are out on estates day in day out and impossible to supervise. The answers to raptor persecution have to lie in controlling land management activities on estates.
Parkswatchscotland has previously suggested that byelaws could be used to create a licensing regime specific for a National Park which would not require legislation by the Scottish Government. In other words the CNPA has the means available to it to take action now. Its Board has never openly discussed this option – it should do.
However, while such a solution might work in a National Park where the Board was determined to tackle landowners, unfortunately the reality at present from the destruction at Cairngorm to the profileration of hill tracks is that the CNPA does not appear to have the will or resources to use its regulatory powers. So, even if the CNPA introduced a licensing regime – and was allowed to act independently of its minders at the Scottish Government – this might not change anything.
Another solution is to nationalise the land. In many National Parks across the world land is in public ownership. National Parks were set up in Scotland on the assumption that it would be possible to persuade landowners to cooperate. They have now had 15 years to do so and some still blatantly ignore all the conservation objectives of the National Park. I think its time therefore for people to start demanding that where there is evidence of repeated raptor persecution (or a repeated failure to meet other conservation objectives) on particular estates in our National Parks the Scottish Government should compulsorily purchase the estate concerned. Tney could then transfer the land to a new National Parks land-management service, as exists in other countries, to manage.
The Luss Gathering takes place each year on Luss playing fields which now form part of the west Loch Lomond camping management zone. Since last year the camping management byelaws have made it a criminal offence to erect a tent in a camping management zone without explicit authorisation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority. Mostly such authorisation is granted through the camping permit system the Park has created but this only allows tents to be put up in specified permit areas. Luss is not one of them, no doubt because some local residents had blamed camping for all the problems of anti-social behaviour the village was experiencing and so no camping under permit is allowed close by.
The other way permission to put up a tent can be obtained is to apply for an one-off exemption to put up a tent or tents. Decisions about such exemptions are, under the Park’s procedures supposed to be advertised on the Park’s weekly planning list which I have been monitoring for some time now. Most of the applications are from Duke of Edinburgh and Scout Groups, with hard-pressed voluntary Scout Leaders and teachers, no longer able to organise expeditions which stay overnight in the camping management zones without the Park’s permission. The bureaucracy and additional workload is signficant and I feel for the (mainly youth) groups involved. They were, just like other responsible campers, never part of any problem – indeed being supervised, the chances of such expeditions causing any damage were minimal – but nevertheless the Park has required them to apply for permission to camp.
I tend to recall applications from other bodies for exemption from the camping byelaws – that from the Loch Ard Sailing club comes to mind – but don’t remember seeing one for the Luss Highland Games. I have double-checked all planning applications decided for the Luss and Arden Community Council since April on the Park’s planning portal and cannot find any appllcation to exempt the Luss Gathering either. I am thus reasonably certain that the Luss Gathering did not apply for and were not granted permission to pitch the tents that feature on the photo above. If I am correct, all those responsible in putting up these tents have committed a criminal offence. Ridiculous I know, as common sense tells us that these people have done no wrong.
But neither has Mr Trout, the angler who is being prosecuted simply because he broke the byelaws for doing what he has done for years (see here), just like the people who organise the Luss Gathering. Neither has done any wrong. Mr Trout told me that the police officer employed by the National Park, PC Barr, when cautioning him, had told him the law is the law and has to be enforced. It would be interesting to know how many events PC Barr or other police officers have attended over the summer – I cannot believe that there was no police presence at the Luss Gathering – and what action they have taken. My guess is none but I would be more than happy to publish information from the police or the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong..
The camping byelaws are daft but since during the Your Park consultation both Luss Estates and members of the local community in Luss strongly supported them, there is an argument they should be made to live by the rules they have created for everyone else. I would prefer it if they now joined those of us who believe the camping byelaws were never justified, are completely unfair and a complete waste of resources and call publicly for them to be dropped at the earliest opportunity.
Meantime, there was a helpful reminder of the real problems which the National Park Authority should have been addressing at Luss in this letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday. It is significant that it is from someone who is in the tourism industry. The new National Park Partnership Plan needs to completely change the focus of what the Park is doing, from wasting money and resources on trying to chase off responsible campers to the provision of the basic infrastructure the Park needs.
One of the priority actions under the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan was to develop long-term Land Management Plans across the National Park, an objective that everyone with an interest in land-use and landscape should support. Interested to understand what progress had been made, I asked the LLTNPA for copies of all plans that been agreed and in June the LLTNPA informed me (see here) that plans had been agreed with 18 private businesses “which equates to 29% of all privately owned land in the National Park” – exceeding their 25% target. However, they refused to release any of the Plans that had been agreed on the grounds they were commercially sensitive. To me, this seemed bizarre, surely how land is being managed in our National Parks is a matter of public interest and should be public?
I therefore asked for a review of this decision EIR 2017-043 Review request and this week received a response, EIR REVIEW 2017-043 Response estate plans. This claims that these land management are so full of commercially sensitive information – which can be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act in certain circumstances – that they cannot be released. The implications of the Park’s claims for Land Reform and land-use management are profound. What the Park is in effect saying is that because the plans contain commercially sensitive information they will not release the information these plans contain relating to the Park’s statutory objectives to conserve the landscape and wildlife, promote public enjoyment of the countryside and sustainable use of resources. Among other things the following would now appear, according to the Park, to be state secrets:
agreements made with landowners to manage deer numbers and reduce the impact of deer grazing on the environment
agreements made with landowners to improve recreational infrastructure, such as car parks or campsites
agreements made with landowners about how land could be managed to reduce the risk of flooding
plans to protect vulnerable species or to control predator
plans for future developments, such as hydro schemes
In effect the Park is claiming that agreements it makes with landowners on how land should be managed are secret and not a matter of public interest. This is totally wrong and contradicts National policy.
The Scottish policy position
Last year the Scottish Government issued a revised Land-use strategy for Scotland 2016-21 http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505253.pdf under the title “Getting the best from our land” – note the “our”. Here are some relevant extracts:
a) Under “Principles Land Use” “People should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future.”
How can people, including local communities, contribute to land-use decisions in the National Park if information about land-use is secret?
b) Under “Our Vision” “A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.”
How can we know if decision the Park is making with landowners about land-use are delivering “improved and enduring benefits” if these decisions are secret?
c) The Land Use Strategy also supports the three underpinning principles in A Stronger Scotland, The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16. The third of these is “making sure that we encourage and facilitate participation by everyone in the debates and decisions that matter to them most, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds”
How does the LLTNPA’s secret agreement with landowners support this objective?
d) Under “Our Objectives” “Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.”
How do secret management plans enable more people to positively influence land-use?
e) “Our Objective to maximise the opportunities for land to deliver multiple economic, environmental and social benefits is still valid and at the heart of this second Land Use Strategy.
In 2011 we published an information note on Applying an Ecosystems Approach to Land Use…………(which)….. “summarised the three key steps which are important when using an ecosystems approach, these are:
• considering natural systems;
• taking account of the services that ecosystems provide; and
• involving people.”
How does keeping management plans secret involve people?
f) 2.5 Land Use and Communities “We are all part of a community. A community can be based on its location (for example,people who live, work or use an area) or common interest (for example, the business community, sports or heritage groups). Both need to be at the heart of decisions about land use because land is at the core of our communities. It provides places for us to live, work, and enjoy recreation………………When people can influence what happens in their community and contribute to delivering change, there can be many benefits. Pride in the local community can increase, people may be more inclined to go outdoors and be active, or have the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables and eat more healthily. All of these things improve people’s physical health, mental wellbeing and overall quality of life. It has also been shown that most people feel that they should be involved in local land use decisions beyond the rights already provided by the statutory planning system; this is why we need to encourage better connections between communities and the land.”
So according to the Scottish Government involving people should be central to land-use – except in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park it would appear. The LLTNPA is not only failing to consult on land-use decisions, its keeping information about the basis of those decisions secret. And our National Parks are supposed to demonstrate best practice! Its worth noting here that the Cairngorms National Park Authority does publish estate management plans. While they are far from perfect, in fact in many cases so general as to be meaningless, at least what the CNPA is doing is public and provides a basis for debate. It appears that the LLTNPA would prefer that not to happen.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that at some level the LLTNPA has in effect been taken over and is being run for landowner and business interests rather than the public interest.
Land management plans and freedom of information
The Park makes two interesting statements in its Review Response refusing to make land management plans public.
The first is that “there is commercially sensitive information throughout the documents, such information is not discretely held within one part of the document. The plans also contain copies of reports provided by third party consultants on the viability of businesses and future plans.” Now, while I am sceptical about how far landowners have provided commercially sensitive information to the National Park, if there is indeed commercial information inserted throughout the plans, the obvious solution – apart from redacting the commercially sensitive information which would be a lot of work – is to redesign the plans so that business information is held in a separate document which would not need to be made public. This would make it easy to publish plans which set out the agreements made with landowners – e.g deer numbers, extent of woodland restoration, plans for new paths – without the financial information that underpins the delivery of this. Having said this, where work is to be financed through public funds, I see no reason why this information should not be public. Its should be in the public interest, for example, to know what Forestry Commission Scotland intends to grant aid.
The second is the LLTNPA’s statement that “the ILMPs have been put together with businesses within the National Park on the understanding that this information is not shared publically (sic)”. My understanding of Freedom of Information law is that this is totally wrong: public authorities cannot get round the Freedom of Information Act by making private agreement with landowners or anyone else that the information will not be public. That is why in every public tender and contract clauses are included which state that any information provided is subject to the provisions of Freedom of Information law. The LLTNPA statement suggests once again that its being driven by landowning and business interests, not the public interest.
What needs to happen
While I will appeal to the Information Commissioner – the National Park cannot be allowed to drive a cart and horses through our Freedom of Information legislation – this is a matter that the LLTNPA Board need to address. I believe they need to:
Require staff to re-design estate management plans so that information that is legitimately confidential is separated out from decisions that are being made about land-use
Consider how to consult and involve the public in the development of land management plans as per Scotland’s Land-use Strategy
Commit to publishing all plans that have been agreed so far as soon as possible
This post looks at the Conservation and Land Management section of the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) which is out for consultation until 3rd July (see here). It argues that the Outcomes (above) in the draft NPPP are devoid of meaningful content, considers some the reasons for this and outlines some alternative proposals which might go some way to realising the statutory conservation objectives for the National Park.
Call me old fashioned but I don’t see why the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park needs a vision for conservation – “An internationally renowned landscape where nature, heritage, land and water are valued, managed and enhanced to provide multiple benefits for people and nature” – when it has a statutory is duty a) “to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area” and b) to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area. The statutory duty to my mind is much simpler and clearer, the vision just marketing speak.
Indeed, the draft National Park Partnership Plan is far more like a marketing brochure than a serious plan. This makes submission of meaningful comments very difficult. Feel good phrases such as “iconic wildlife”, “haven for nature”, “stunning and varied wildlife”, “vital stocks of natural capital” are peppered throughout the document. The reality is rather different, but you need to go to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to find this out:
The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures
Three river and 12 loch waterbodies in the Park still fail to achieve “good” status in line with Water Framework Directive (WFD) objectives.
The Park has 25 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to pressures from Invasive Non-Native Species.
In other words progress during the period of the 2012-2017 Plan has not been what one might have expected in a National Park. Instead of trying to learn from this and set out actions to address the issues, the LLTNPA is trying to bury failures under the table and to conceal its lack of a clear plan with marketing speak. There is no need to take my word for it, the problems are clearly spelled out in the SEA:
The main weakness of the new plan over the extant plan is its lack of specificity combined
with its with its very strategic nature: given limited resources and the framing of the priorities in the draft plan, it is unclear how intervention will be prioritised. For example, in the extant NPPP [2012-17], waterbody restoration and natural flood management measures are focussed in the Forth and Tay catchments. The new plan does not appear to include any such prioritisation and it is unclear if there will be sufficient resources to deliver the ambitious waterbody restoration measures across all catchments during the plan period. This key weakness is likely to be addressed by using the new NPPP as a discussion document to formalise arrangements and agreements with partner organisations on an individual basis (e.g. using individual partnership agreements as per the extant NPPP). However, it would be preferable if resource availability (and constraint) is articulated clearly in the plan document to help manage expectations;
Or, to put it another way, the NPPP outcomes are so “strategic” as to be meaningless, the LLTNPA has failed to consider resource issues and is planning to agree actions in secret with partner bodies once the consultation is over. It appears that all the failures in accountability which took place with the development of the camping byelaws (developed in 13 secret Board Meetings) will now apply to conservation.
Economic interests are being put before conservation
This failure in governance – about how plans should be developed – conceals a skewing of the National Park’s conservation objectives towards economic interests (in spite of the duty of the LLTNPA, under the Sandford principle and section 9.6 of the National Park (Scotland) Act to put conservation first). The best example is the beginning of the conservation section where the LLTNPA outlines the main threats to the “natural environment” the Park faces:
Impacts on freshwater and marine water bodies from problems such as pollution from surrounding land uses [ e.g algal blooms in Loch Lomond];
Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in some upland and woodland areas, leading to reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores [the 27 sites according to the SEA];
The spread of invasive non-native species which displace our rich native wildlife; [we are given no indication of how much progress has been made tackling this over last 5 years]
The impacts of climate change leading to warmer, wetter weather patterns and a subsequent
increase in flood events, major landslides and rapid shifts in natural ecosystems.
Omitted from this list are the many threats to the landscape of the National Park which is being destroyed by “developments”: Flamingo Land, the Cononish Goldmine, transport routes and over 40 hydro schemes with all their associated tracks.
In the world of parkspeak however all these developments will be classed as successes. The reason? One of the measures of success is “Planning & Development: The percentage of the Park and/or number of sites with landscape mitigation schemes”. The developments in the photos above have all been “mitigated” by the Park as Planning Authority – an “unmitigated bloody disaster” would be a more accurate description of what the LLTNPA is allowing to happen.
Many of these developments also impact on the ecology of the National Park. For example, despite all the fine words about water catchment planning and flood prevention there is NO consideration of the impact of the 40 plus hydo schemes being developed in the National Park on flooding (send the water through a pipe and it will descend the hill far more quickly than in a river) or the ecology of rivers.
A more specific example is conservation Priority 11 which says the LLTNPA will “Support for land managers to plan and deliver multiple environmental and social benefits, alongside economic return, through the creation and delivery of Whole Farm and Whole Estate Management Plans”. This is the same LLTNPA which, while claiming 28% of the National Park is now covered by such plans, has recently refused to make them public on the grounds they are commercially sensitive(see here). If this is not putting commercial before conservation interests, I am not sure what is.
The few specific “conservation” objectives are not about conservation at all
While there are very few specific conservation objectives in the NPPP, those that do exist are clearly driven by other agendas
Conservation Priority 4 Supporting projects that enhance opportunities to enjoy landscapes particularly along major transport routes and around settlements and also that better meet the different travel mode needs of visitors, communities and businesses. Priorities include: – Implementing a strategically planned and designed upgrade to the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan;
-Continuing to review landslip management measures on the A83 at The Rest and Be Thankful.
Landscape conservation has been reduced to ensuring that people can enjoy the view from the road. There is no consideration on the impact of those roads (visual, noise etc):
It is important that we ensure that key areas of the Park where people experience the inspiring vistas found here are recognised and enhanced. This means that key transport routes, such as trunk roads and the West Highland railway line, along with the settlements in the Park, continue to provide good lines of sight to the stunning views of the iconic landscapes found here.
Biodiversity in the National Park
The new NPPP actually represents a considerable step backwards from Wild Park 2020 (see here), the LLTNPA’s biodiversity action plan, which is not even referred to in the NPPP. The vision set out in Wild Park (P11), which is about restoring upland and lowland habitats, enriching food chains (to increase numbers of top predators) woodland re-structuring etc, is worth reading – a far clearer and coherent vision than in the NPPP. That should have been the NPPP starting point.
Wild Park contained 90 specific actions, which were due to be reviewed in 2017 – “the Delivery and Monitoring Group will undertake a mid-term review in 2017 of progress overall on the projects and programmes in Wild Park 2020” . There is no mention in the NPPP about what has happened to that when it should have been central to developing the new plan. Part of the problem is the LLTNPA has taken very little interest in conservation over the last three years – there are hardly any papers to the Board on conservation issues as all its focus and the Park’s resources have been devoted to camping management.
The weakness in Wild Park was that while it included many excellent projects, these were mostly limited to small geographical areas and many were located on land owned by NGOs (eg a significant proportion of all the projects were located on NTS land at Ben Lomond and the Woodland Trust property in Glen Finglas). There was nothing on a landscape scale and very few contributions from Forestry Commission Scotland, by far the largest landowner in the National Park. The draft NPPP claims (under conservation outcome 1) to want to see conservation on a landscape scale but contains no proposals about how to do this apart from setting up a network of partnerships. This begs the question of why these partnerships will now work when we know over the last 15 years similar “partnerships” have failed to address the main land management issues which affect landscape scale conservation in the National Park, overgrazing and blanket conifer afforestation.
What needs to happen – biodiversity
First, the LLTNPA needs to have some ambition. On a landscape scale this should include a commitment to a significant increase increase in the proportion of forestry in the National Park which is managed in more sustainable ways. The SEA describes this as “there is an opportunity and interest in increasing the amount of woodland under continuous cover forestry (CCF) systems. This would reduce the amount of clear fell and associated soil erosion and landscape impacts”. So, instead of failing to mention the Argyll Forest Park, why is the LLTNPA not pressing the FCS to change the way it manages forestry there? How about aiming to convert 50% of that forest to continuous cover forestry systems over the next 10 years?
And on a species level, there is no mention of beavers in either the NPPP or SEA. Amazing the lack of join up:
Wild Park described one indicator of success in 25 years time would be that “The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.” The LLTNPA should bring that forward and actively support beaver re-introduction projects now.
Second, there needs to be some far more specific plans (which the Park should have consulted on as part of the NPPP to guage public support) which are both geographical and theme based. Here are some examples:
So, what exactly is the plan for the Great Trossachs Forest, now Scotland’s largest National Nature Reserve, which is mainly owned by NGOs? (You would have no idea from the NPPP).
How is the LLNPA going to reduce overgrazing?
What about working to extend the Caledonian pine forest remnants in Glen Falloch (which would also hide some of the landscape scars created by hydro tracks)?
What does the LLTNPA intend to do to address the widespread persecution of species such as foxes in the National Park?
What can the National Park do to address the collapse of fish stocks in certain lochs or the threats to species such as arctic charr (whose population in Loch Earn is under threat from vendace).
I hope that people and organisations responding to the consultation will add to this list and demand that the LLTNPA comes up with a proper plan for the next five years and argue for the resources necessary to deliver such objectives.
What needs to happen – landscape
First, the LLTNPA needs to start putting landscape before development and state this clearly in the plan. There should be no more goldmines, large tourist developments (whether Flamingo Land or on the torpedo site at Arrochar) and improvements to transport infrastructure (which are needed) should not be at the expense of the landscape. Tunnelling the A82 along Loch Lomond – which has been discounted by Transport Scotland as too costly – should be put back on the agenda.
Second, I would like to see the LLTNPA have a bit of ambition and make an explicit commitment to restoring historic damage to landscapes. What about burying powerlines as is happening in English National Parks (there is one small initiative at present in the LLTNP)? How about restoring damage to the two wild land areas on either side of Glen Falloch, particularly the old hydro infrastructure south of Ben Lui, the largest area of wild land in the National Park?
The LLTNPA Board should also commit to a complete review of how it has managed the impact – “mitigated” – the construction of hydro schemes, engaging the people and organisations who have an interest in this. The big issue here is the hydro construction tracks, which the LLTNPA now allows to remain in place, and which have had a massive deleterious affect on the more open landscapes in the National Park. The LLTNPA’s starting point in the new NPPP is that there should be a presumption against any new tracks in the uplands and therefore that all hydro construction tracks should be removed in future. There should be a review of the tracks which have been agreed over the last five years and a plan developed on how these could be removed (the hydro scheme owners, many of whom are based in the city, are not short of cash and could afford to do this – that would be a demonstration of real partnership working).
Finally, as part of any plan to restructure conifer forests in the National Park, the LLTNPA also needs to develop new landscape standards for Forestry which should include matters such as track construction and felling. There should be a presumption against clearfell.
What needs to happen – resources
Just like the Cairngorms NPPP, the LLTNPA NPPP makes no mention of resource issues. Instead, the underlying assumption behind the plan is neo-liberal. The state should not provide – in this case the National Park cannot expect any further resources – and the priority of government is to enable business to do business, which (according to the theory) will all some benefits to trickle down to the National Park.
This is totally wrong. We need a proper plan which sets out what needs to be done, how much this will cost and how this will be funded. The Scottish Government could of course and probably would say “no” but things are changing politically and proper financing of conservation (and well paid rural jobs) are key to the third part of the NPPP which is about rural development.
On the longest day, the Cairngorms National Park Authority initiated enforcement action against the Cluny Estate for the unlawful track up Carn Leth Choin at the head of Glen Banchor (see here).
This is extremely welcome. In March the CNPA had written to me stating that they had been in discussions with the estate about restoring the track voluntarily but if the estate failed to do this the CNPA would take enforcement action (see here). The addition to the register indicates the estate is refusing to do this and the CNPA have been as good as their word. They deserve support from everyone who cares about our National Parks for initiating this action and will, I suspect, need ongoing support through what is likely to be a long and complex process. Its not easy to bring recalcitrant landowners to heal while removing tracks is not easy. It has been been done in the cases of a handful of hydro schemes, but these have been lower down the hill. The only time a track has been removed on high ground was when the National Trust for Scotland removed the bulldozed track on Beinn a Bhuird. This took place over a number of years, being completed in 2001, and took both significant investment and expertise.
Still, the Cluny Estate appears to be owned by the Qatari Royal Family (see here) who, even if they are under lots of pressure at present due to the blockade from their neighbours, are not short of a bob or two. There is no reason therefore why the restoration should not be to the highest possible standard. While they are about it perhaps the Qatari Royal Family, if its indeed they who own the Cluny estate, should also pay for the restoration of the lower part of the track which was constructed at an earlier date and is, I understand, outside the current enforcement action.
The significance of this action by the CNPA is far wider than just this hill track. In my view the Planning System in our National Parks (and indeed Scotland) has fallen into disrepute because enforcement action is hardly ever taken. The emphasis has been on co-operating with people who, like the owners of the Cluny estate or Natural Retreats on Cairngorm, appear to have no respect for the planning system, drag out processes of negotiation for years and do anything they can to avoid doing what is right. This therefore needs to be seen as a shot across the bows of all landowners in the National Park (its not the only one, as I will demonstrate in a future post). The CNPA need to see it through. I believe it will only take a couple of enforcement cases, where landowners learn what the costs of ignoring the planning systems are likely to be, and the whole attitude of landowners and their advisers to planning will change.
This is therefore a crucial test for the National Park and they should be congratulated for their new approach.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The remnants in the fire places seem to be from last season.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is building and garden waste tipped into the burn running alongside, which threatens to obstruct the flow of the burn.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Our 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.
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.
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
I 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?
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?”.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
There was an existing track to the Ben Glas burn and the original proposal was that this would be used to access the dams.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The nature of the abandoned estate buildings suggest this was a place that once supported several jobs.
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?
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.
Raptor 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.”
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:
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
Resources to make things happen
The CNPA’s powers and use of them
Learning and inclusion
Better paid jobs and sustainable land-use
Accessibility of the National Park
Community Capacity and empowerment
What improvements the CNPA will deliver in the next 5 years
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.