Tag: landscape

Photomontage of Option 1 for proposed redevelopment of Ptarmigan.  As well as the raised viewing tower, note the glass viewing area added to  design

I understand that Natural Retreats were not happy last week that their proposals for Cairngorm were obtained through Freedom of Information (see here).   As John Hutchison pointed out on twitter in response to my post, the secrecy at Cairngorm rather undermines – or perhaps reinforces the need for! –  the current Scottish Government consultation onengaging with local communities on decisions about land (see here).     While the draft guidance states there is no need for additional consultation where statutory consultation is required, it appears Natural Retreats and HIE are planning to submit a bog standard planning application without any specific consultation with the local community, let alone with the recreational community or conservation organisations, as would be required if a proper masterplan was developed.    No change then to the way HIE has always operated at Cairngorm, plans are developed in secret and then presented as agreed.

 

More development, high up on Cairngorm, is totally inappropriate

 

Design Option 2 for the Ptarmigan

 

Before considering why HIE are pushing the development of the Ptarmigan, its worth stating clearly why the proposal is fundamentally flawed:

 

  • Its near the summit of Cairngorm, one of our finest and best known hills.  Its not the sort of place where a National Park, whose mission is to protect our finest landscapes, should be allowing further development.
  • HIE and Natural Retreats will doubtlessly argue that the increased visual impact created by their proposals will not be that significant, but the job of the National Park should be to see that existing impacts are reduced, not increased.
  • In tourist terms, Cairngorm is covered in cloud for much of the time so why would anyone take a train up to near the summit to see…………….. nothing?   The concept is all wrong.  If you want to get people to take trains or gondolas up mountains, they need to finish somewhere with a view.  In Scotland, this means taking people half way up the hill where they might get a view most days of the year, like the Aonach Mor gondola, not onto the Cairngorm plateau.
  • Most tourists, however,  want more than a view, which after all you can see easily enough on film.  They want to experience the outdoors in some way, which means a walk.  Leaving aside the legal agreement, which prevents non-skiers from leaving the stop station, Cairngorm is not a good place for a walk most of the time – the weather is just too wild, though maybe Natural Retreats think will buy a ticket up the funicular so they can be blown about on a viewing platform.  Of course, Cairngorm in fine weather is wonderful, which is why so many people care about the place, but those days are far to few to support mass tourism developments high on the mountain

 

For these reasons further developments high on Cairngorm are objectionable in principle, something which conservation and recreational organisations have been trying to tell HIE for over twenty years.

 

Why do HIE and Natural Retreats want to develop the Ptarmigan?

 

While its not clear at present why the earlier plans to develop the Day Lodge were dropped, the current proposals suggest this is all about the funicular.   The risk of developing the Day Lodge into a visitor and conference centre is that on those wet and cloudy days, people would not have bothered to buy a ticket up the funicular.

 

The funicular was supposed to increase the number of summer visitors to Cairngorm but Natural Retreats figures (from last year) say it all:  “210,000 annual visitors (120,000 in winter and 90,000 in summer) with vast potential to increase”.    The aim of the new Ptarmigan development appears to be to try and attract more summer visitors to Cairngorm.:

Extract from slide obtained through FOI “Cairngorm Mountain Resort Development Plans”

 

The initial plan was to increase visitor numbers through the creation of three mountain bike trails down from the funicular top station, as mooted in press.   However, it appears the other public agencies made it clear they would not relax the legal agreement preventing people from leaving the top station.  This is not surprising. One could hardly justify mountain bikers  leaving the stop station while pedestrians were stuck inside.

Advice from SNH obtained through FOI

Once the mountain biking proposal was dropped, the only option was to try and think of ways of turning the Ptarmigan into a tourist attraction which visitors would want to visit even though they were unlikely to see anything and would not be allowed out for a walk.   Hence the proposals for viewing towers in the top two photomontages and for a wrap around viewing platform added on to the existing building (purple area below):

This and following slides all from documents entitled “Cairngorms Mountain Resort Development Plans” obtained through FOI

And, in order to give people an “authentic” taste of the outdoors, a board walk out over the top of the funicular tunnel was proposed:

 

Inside, the idea is first to provide a visitor attraction:

 

 

Then, a much larger cafe so people have somewhere to go and spend money after viewing the exhibitions.

 

And finally, to encourage people arriving at Cairngorm to buy the ticket up the funicular, a partial facelift for the funicular entrance and funicular itself are proposed:

 

Why the proposals are misguided and what needs to happen

Whatever you think of the designs – and the firms that have developed them, 365 and 442, have some very skilled people – the problem is they are for a development in the wrong place:

 

  • Adding glass covered walkways and viewing towers to a visitor facility is a good idea but not appropriate for Cairngorm
  • The proposals for the exhibition may be interesting, but the place for a visitor centre is lower down the mountain, where people can go out afterwards and experience some of what has been shown as in Coire cas.
  • The blingy funicular upgrade might be a great idea for Blackpool but not Cairngorm

 

The basic problem is that HIE are still hooked on trying to increase funicular numbers in summer, still trying to make their asset pay.  They don’t appear to understand most people who visit the National Park in summer want to be outside.  Why would such people ever want to take the funicular when they have the whole of Glenmore to experience?   A visitor centre might be a good option for a wet day but a visitor centre up the top of a mountain on a wet day will be a disappointing experience.

 

Maybe HIE has conducted proper visitor surveys providing evidence that lots of people visiting Glenmore would pay to visit such a facility and this has informed their decision to lend £4 to Natural Retreats – but somehow I doubt it (I will ask).   Consultation is not HIE’s forte.

 

A little early engagement with all interests (and not just public authorities) – as recommended by the Scottish Government – would prevent HIE adding to the financial disaster of the funicular, for which it of course was responsible.

 

Meantime, there is no sign of any proper plan being developed for Cairngorm.  HIE was tasked under the Glenmore and Cairngorm Strategy with producing a Cairngorm Estate Management Plan – there is still no sign of this or the proposed Montane Woodland Project on Cairngorm and in my view both should have been agreed BEFORE any development proposals.    The Cairngorms National Park Authority also asked Natural Retreats to produce a set of standards to guide their operations on the mountain and there has been no sign of this either.

 

Its time for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to start speaking up for Cairngorm and a first step would be to ask Natural Retreats and HIE to start consulting on all the other proposed plans before any development proposals are considered.  If they are also feeling brave, they could  point out to HIE and Natural Retreats that the priority for sustaining the local economy is maintaining winter visitor numbers, not summer visitors.

Mid Glen Falloch, viewed from shoulder of An Caisteal.  The area It is now a mass of tracks, leading to hydro dams.  Foreground Allt Andoran, far right Eas Eonan and left background start of track up Allt a Chuillinn.  The hydro powerhouse is centre background, Derrydarroch to the right.

On 6th May, during the very dry spell, I went for another walk over An Caisteal and Ben a Chroin, almost a year to the day after a similar round The Glen Falloch hydro schemes (2) (with several visits in-between).   The walk provided yet more evidence of why Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority staff should never have approved these tracks (which in the original planning application consented to by the Scottish Government were to be removed) but also about the poor standards of restoration.    This is a disaster for a National Park whose 2012-17 Partnership Plan, which is supposed to guide everything it does,  starts with the statement that:

 

“we want the National Park to be an internationally-renowned landscape”.  

 

How does what the LLTNPA have allowed to happen in Glen Falloch contribute to that?    In the draft Partnership Plan 2018-23 which is now out for consultation (see here) it is telling that there is no evaluation of how successful the LLTNPA has been in achieving this aim.

The first Allt a Chuillinn intake centre, the other two intakes are beyond track you can see bottom left

Previously, I have stated that in my view the restoration of the ground in which the pipelines have been buried has generally successful and little  cause for concern with it often being quite difficult to make out the line of the pipelines.    While I believe that is still sometimes the case, the long dry spell has accentuated the differences in vegetation and its easy to see the landscape scars (above centre).   The land may take longer to recover than I had thought.

 

Allt Andoran Track 8th May 2016

Comparing the photo above (taken a year ago on a day with far less good visibility) with the first photo in the post taken a year later, you can see that the ground above the pipeline has recovered to an extent but has a long way to go.   The track itself, despite the vegetation down the middle, looks little different and forms a permanent landscape scar.

Close up of Eas Eonan track, showing poor restoration of the temporary access track that led to blue pipe over West Highland Line (centre left)

 

The Eas Eonan hydro track leads into an area of core wild land.  The new draft Park Plan states:

 

“The National Park provides opportunities for anyone to have their first experience of the ‘wild outdoors” 

 

There is nothing in the plan about how the National Park, through all the developments it has approved, has eroded that experience in the last five years.  Perhaps the  National Park Board and senior management team believe walking up a bulldozed track is a wild experience?    Its becoming harder and harder to have a wild experience in the National Park because of decisions made by the LLTNPA.  Removal of the tracks, as originally planned, would have preserved some of that.

Lower reaches of Coire Earb by the Upper Falloch, Beinn Odhar and Ben Dorain in background

Coire Earb is wild, and indeed falls within a core wild land area.   While there was an existing track by the upper reaches of the River Falloch, this ended 1 km before the new hydro dam and formerly was out of sight when you were descending the glen.   The decision by LLTNPA staff to allow the track to remain permanently has changed the experience totally.

The new section of track. The line of the pipeline is now more visible than it was a year ago.

Would not the hydro here have had far less impact on the landscape if the track has been removed as originally planned?

The Upper Glen Falloch hydro close up

May 2017
May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The approval of the LLTNPA to the track extension to the hydro being retained has made it easier for the Glen Falloch Estate to drive vehicles off-road further up the glen.   A year ago (right) there was no evidence of vehicles being driven beyond the intake, now there are vehicle tracks beside it which are destroying the ground that was restored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vehicles are also being driven off the track with no regard for soil or vegetation.  The consequence is the track is in places likely to end up being 5-7m wide instead of the 2.5m (and 3m on steep hills and bends) which the LLTNPA recommends in its “award winning” good practice guidance which it has never enforced.

 

The reason for this is that the LLTNPA has basically allowed a new wide track to be created to construct the hydro scheme but then allowed the batters (see diagram below) to remain in place with minimum attempts to re-landscape the flat surface of the track (a little bit of soil and peat has just been added to the outside edge of the track).  The result is that its very easy for vehicles to drive off the track while in landscape terms the track is still effectively 5-7m broad in most places.

Photo showing how original attempt to cover former track surface is failing, with former surface of construction track being revealed as turf has been eroded by cattle.

The design of the track together with the erosion caused by vehicles and cattle have had the result that in most places there is actually now less peaty soil by the track than there was a year ago (see above).

 

The failure to re-landscape the former road surface so that the remaining track moulds into the contours of the land has also made it easy for the estate to create new parking or working areas which add considerably to the visual impact of the track.

 

The pre-existing track  which ended a little further up the hill, was widened for the hydro construction,  not by cutting a further batter but by importing aggregate (left) to use as fill.

There little  attempt (photo above) to shape the the fill so it merges into the contours of the land.  The result is a broad bench cutting across the hillside.  In landscape terms, the track here is in effect still 5-7m wide rather than the 2.5-3m recommended by the National Park.

The 3m mark on tape measure is just to the left of the small stone holding the tape measure in place.

Even on the better sections, the track is far wider than the LLTNPA requires.  I took my 3m tape which is here fully extended on a section of track which slopes gently downhill.  I think a 2.5m track would have been more than adequate here (and probably less as you can see from the vehicle marks) but the actual track is more like 3.5m wide.   What is the LLTNPA going to do to address this?  The wider the track of course, the more it will stand out from a distance.  There is no evidence of the central grass strips which grace the Allt Andoran track (top photo).

If there was any serious intention to narrow the upper Falloch construction track this double gate would have been removed – another illustration of just how wide this track is.

 

 

Readers who have driven up the Glen Falloch or walked there will know that the construction compound is still in place and, during my walk, there was some evidence that some further work had been undertaken to restore the destruction caused by the hydro scheme.

 

Where turf has been stored successfully, then used alongside the track and cattle have been kept off, the restoration does look better, although the protruding plastic culvert tells a tale

The restored sections however are few in comparison to those that still need attention and at this rate the track is going to take years to restore to anything like an acceptable state.  That is unacceptable in a National Park whose current Plan incidentally states (and rightly so):

The outstanding landscapes and special qualities of the Park should be protected and where possible enhanced

 

What needs to happen

 

The LLTNPA needs both to learn from the Glen Falloch disaster but also find ways to reduce the impact of what has happened.   This is not just about Glen Falloch, but the forty odd other hydro schemes in the National Park, many of which have similar impacts.  Here is my first go at a list of actions that are needed:

  1. Planning decisions that have significant landscape implications should no longer be delegated to staff but considered by the Planning Committee, as in the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
  2. The LLTNPA should commission an independent report into the Glen Falloch hydro schemes which should fully involve those who are concerned about the protection of Scotland’s landscape, which should look both at the mistakes that have been made and how they can be reversed.
  3. The new Partnership Plan needs to incorporate a meaningful landscape policy which, like the Cairngorms National Park Authority, indicates areas where there will be a presumption against development.  Unless the LLTNPA does this, the current destruction of landscape in the National Park will simply continue.
  4. The LLTNPA Board should engage with the Glen Falloch estate and develop a plan on how to remove the hydro tracks granted consent by staff.  Over the next ten years the estate will receive a huge income from the hydro schemes which could still be used, as originally intended, to remove the tracks.
  5. Where existing tracks were widened, the LLTNPA needs to ensure that all the restoration meets the standards set out in its good practice guidance.   Tracks which are broader than the maximum and unfinished culverts for example should not be tolerated.
  6. The LLTNPA should put in place measures to control the off-road use of vehicles, particularly in wild land.
  7. The LLTNPA Board and senior staff need to get out more and take a look at what is being done in their name.
Slide from the secret Board Members Briefing Session in January 2015 obtained under FOI.  This meeting took place just  prior to the special Board Meeting which approved the revised Cononish goldmine planning application – why?

Scotgold Resources Ltd are holding two “consultation” events at Tyndrum Village Hall on 10th and 24th May between 10.30 – 20.30 on new proposals for the Cononish goldmine.  Their proposals are set out in a scoping report which is now on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority Planning Portal (see here).     The Report does not contain a clear description of how the new proposals differ from those already granted planning permission or the rationale for the changes.

 

The core of the proposal however appears to be that instead of a large proportion of the waste being returned to the mine (underground waste facility in map above) and the eventual restoration of the tailings facility (within orange line  above), Scotgold is now proposing that all the waste from the mine be left outside.

 

Proposal from scoping report

 

The consequence of this, which you can see by comparing the two maps, is that the waste from the mining operation will now cover a far larger area of ground.  Instead of the orange area in the first map, about half the ground within the boundary to the mining operation contained within the red line would be covered in mine waste.     In order to make this acceptable Scotland are proposing that the waste be shaped to look like hummocky moraine (outlined in blue).

Slide from Secret Board Briefing Session January 2015

To give an idea of the potential landscape impact, its worth considering the photomontage of the temporary tailings facility in the original proposal (above).   Under the new proposal it appears waste will cover over three times the area of ground.

 

The proposal to create artifical moraine out of mine waste

 

Extract from scoping report

While the proposal to create artificial moraine appears clever, it would be a major alteration of the landscape formed by glaciers.   There is an extremely fine hummocky moraine field at the head of the Cononish Glen around Dalrigh but none below the Eas Anie, the fine waterfall just above the mine entrance – that’s not an accident.  Hummocky moraine would never have developed here, its too close to the steep sides of Beinn Chuirn.  What Scotgold is proposing therefore is totally artificial and out of place in this landscape.   Its inappropriate for a National Park created to protect the landscape.

View up River Cononish to Ben Lui. While the gold mine entrance is just out of the picture, middle right, you can see how the ground on the slopes above the farm sheds is smooth (also shown top photo).

There is nothing in Scotgold’s scoping report to say how they intend to construct moraine out of mine waste.  Moraine normally comprise blocky till set within a matrix of grit and sand which holds the landform together and has done so successfully for thousands of years.   Scotgold have said nothing about whether the mine waste would contain the right mix of material to construct artificial moraine let alone how they would do this.   Nor have they said what will happen when the Allt Eas Anie, which flows through the middle of the proposed artificial moraine field, changes course as it will at some point and starts to erode into the side of the moraine mounds.   Will the whole thing collapse or will both burn and mound be held together with concrete?

 

In the original planning consent for the mine the LLTPNA made a number of requirements in respect to waste from the mine, including:

 

“removal of all materials within the TMF [tailings management facility] and recirculation pond  (which were not won from within the TMF) which shall be returned to the underground mine in the first instance until it reaches capacity, and the remainder used to re-grade the mine platform/processing building area; and the landscaping and re-vegetation of the track from the farm to mine platform)”

REASON: To minimise the adverse landscape and visual impact and ensure that the site is restored to a satisfactory standard in this sensitive area of the National Park.”

 

In my view they should stick with those conditions and uphold the original reasons for that decision.

 

What cost our landscape?

 

Whether the LLTNPA will do so however is another matter.

 

The new proposals appear to be all about money or, more accurately, saving Scotgold money in order to make a profit for their investors (who would appear no longer to include Owen McKee, the former LLTNPA Convener of the Planning Committee (see here) at the time the original planning application was approved).  Scotgold have been running a trial, following the alteration granted to the original planning permission in January 2015 which allowed them to store waste in bags, and my guess is that from that trial they have quickly discovered that there is not enough gold in the ore to pay for their original waste storage proposals or full restoration of the land (or for the jobs that that restoration would create).   It would be much cheaper simply to leave the waste on site, hence the present proposal.

 

Its dressed up of course with a few sops to the public:

The risk is the LLTNPA will use these sops as an excuse to approve the new proposal when a planning application is submitted.     What drove LLTNPA approval of the goldmine was the promise of jobs – the lure of gold – and this is reflected in the planning permission granted for the current trial:

 

 

The question for the LLTNPA – to which I will return – is whether the creation of a few temporary jobs justifies this destruction of the landscape and whether the proposals meets the LLTNPA’s legal obligation to promote sustainable economic development.

 

The need for transparent decision making

 

The list of secret LLTNPA Board Meetings since 2010 FOI 2016-002 Appendix A list topics at Board Briefing sessions shows that the number of such meetings puts those of the Scottish Police Authority which has recently been forced to go public into the shade.  Three considered the Cononish application:   13/12/10; 20/06/11 and 19/01/15.   Just why, in the case of the January 2015 meeting, Board Members had to be briefed prior to considering the application in public, should I believe be a matter of major public concern.  While the slides, some of which are included in this post, appear quite neutral – unlike some of the Your Park slides – the real issue is what was discussed.  We will never know as no minutes are kept of these sessions.

 

If Board Members are not capable of understanding the papers put to the public meeting, there are questions about their fitness to serve on the Board.  If the briefing was not for that purpose,  the only other explanation appears to be that the Board was in effect deciding what should happen in advance, in secret.  That is wrong.  The new LLTNPA Convener, James Stuart, really does need to stop this practice and make a public declaration that it will no longer consider planning applications in secret.  If he fails to do that, the Scottish Government should step in and require the LLTNPA to do so.

 

The other problem with the LLTNPA’s failures in terms of transparency is illustrated by the Owen McKee case.   Owen McKee had traded in Scotgold shares after consent had been given into the goldmine going ahead.   The LLTNPA conducted a sham investigation into what happened (see here for example) which concluded that the basis of that planning decision had not been undermined by Owen McKee’s actions.   The unanswered question is the degree to which Owen McKee, as Planning Convener, influenced other members to reverse their previous decision to refuse the goldmine application as inappropriate for a National Park because he hoped personally to profit from this at some time in the future.   Its quite possible of course that Owen McKee never thought of buying Scotgold shares until after the planning consent had been granted although its probably impossible to answer this question now.   The LLTNPA however never even asked the question which suggests that there were other agendas present.  If so, those may still be relevant to how the new proposal is determined.

 

The public should be very sceptical about the whole planning process.  As a start the LLTNPA should make public on its website all the information from the secret meetings which considered the Cononish application – the slides published above are not on the Park’s website – and the monthly monitoring reports which Scotgold has been required to provide since the current “trial” started.

The Ardvorlich powerhouse on the east side of the burn followed by the main path up Ben Vorlich from the north. It was designed to resemble the traditional water mill that was once located here. Had the intake and tailrace also been finished in natural stone, this aspiration would have been met.

The General Election and National Parks

Had this been been published when originally intended it would have been issued to subscribers at about the same time  as the general election was announced yesterday!    In the world of newspapers, radio and TV I guess the post would have been scrapped.   I will persist!   However, its worth saying first that the general election will provide an opportunity to consider why decisions at the UK still matter to Scotland’s National Parks, even though powers to create and manage  National Parks belong to the Scottish Parliament.

 

For Scotland’s National Parks don’t exist in a vacuum but reflect wider changes and conflicts in society.   Among the matters at stake in the General Election that will affect our National Parks are:

 

  • wage levels (employment law is controlled by Westminster) – average wage levels in the Cairngorms National Park are below the Scottish average
  • levels of public expenditure in our National Parks, which will be determined not just by any future UK Government’s commitment to “austerity” but what is proposed by the political parties proposals for rural expenditure post-Brexit
  • ownership of land through complex legal and financial vehicles (which are ultimately aimed at avoiding not just tax but other legislation such as the community right to buy

 

All these things ultimately impact on our landscape, wildlife and ability to enjoy them.  Meantime though, a little more evidence of what appears on the ground.

 

Ardvorlich estate hydro scheme

 

Following my post on the Keltie Water hydro scheme (see here), I was up on the north side of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin at the weekend (about which more anon) and took the opportunity to have a look at the Ardvorlich hydro scheme.   I returned home to find that Jim Robertson of the Munro Society had sent parkswatch photos of the Tarken Glen hydro on the north side of Loch Earn.  Both are featured here and, while there are many positive aspects to the way both schemes have been designed and executed, both raise issues about how successfully the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is protecting the landscape.

The Ardvorlich hydro was granted planning permission back in 2009, before the LLTNPA published its guidance stating that pipes should wherever possible be placed under bridges  and the only paper currently on the planning portal is the decision notice (see here) .  Its not possible therefore to what what consideration was given to this pipe across the burn which in my view is the single worst aspect of scheme.   It should not have been so difficult to align the pipe with the bridge and track so the pipe was concealed by the bridge as at Keltie Water.

 

The biggest landscape impact is not where pipe runs underground – the ground above the buried pipe  is recovering well – but the steep edge of the track – too steep to regenerate naturally and which is likely to continue eroding for years.

Same view from closer up:  a few years and I suspect it will be very difficult, even for vegetation experts, to detect line of the pipeline, quite a contrast to the permanent landscape scar created by the track.   According to my old OS Map, dating from 1988, at that time there was just a path up the west side of the burn.  Now there is a vehicle track on both sides.

View of western intake above fork in the burn  – the main walker’s path up Ben Vorlich from the  north runs up the skyline

There are two intake to the hydro scheme.    The main visual impact of the western intake is the concrete on left side of dam which has not been faced with natural materials.  The concrete on the right side appears to have coloured due to water flowing over it regularly so it blends better into the landscape    The wooden safety fence is also unobtrusive and fits in Park’s subsequent policy to use natural materials, such as wood for fencing.

Closer up the main visual impact of the dam remains the grey/white concrete.  If our National Parks and other planning authorities required intake structures to be finished in stone, except where likely to be stained by water,  their visual impact would reduce considerably.   The cost of this would be minimal and it could reduce carbon imprints.

 

In the past natural stone was used a lot more (see photo below) as it was less easy to import materials and people consequently used whatever was to hand.

Stone faced intake, Cuaich hydro scheme, beneath Beauly Denny powerline, Drumochter.

 

View from just below western intake dam to bridge (where pipe crosses burn).  The pipe runs beneath grassy/mossy section in centre of photo.  Even though the greenery is probably explained by the failure of the heather to recover yet, its almost impossible to tell now that this conceals a pipeline – succcessful restoration!

The visual impact of the dam is also reduced because the track does not go right up to the dam, as in most later developments in the Park.    There is nothing to draw your eye to it and as a result many people walking up the track probably miss it.

The formal track also ends short of the eastern intake (to right of view in photo) although an ATV eroded track continues up the glen (in place of the old path).   What is good about this track is that there is no large turning area which is so common with so many other hydro tracks.

Eastern intake on Allt

 

The second intake is closer to the track than the first and more intrusive.   While the lower concrete has stained there is a much greater expanse of light grey concrete retaining wall, which is made even more obvious by the Lomond blue piping.   Added to this there rip-rap boulder embankment on the far side of the burn and the excavation of the banks on either side of the burn where vegetation has not recovered (its too steep, just like the bank of the track below the bridge).  The design of this intake could, in my view, have been considerable improved and the impact on the landscape reduced.

eastern intake

Still, its a small scheme and within the landscape as a whole the impact is not great.   In many places this would be judged a good scheme but it still falls short of what I believe we should expect in our National Parks.   Its not the location of the scheme that should cause concern, its the execution.

 

Tarken Glen hydro scheme

 

The border of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park runs just north of Loch Earn and only the lower part of Tarken Glen, by St Fillans, lies within it.   The papers on the LLTNPA planning portal show that LLTNPA staff, in deciding this scheme, worked closely with Perth and Kinross Council.

Photo Credit Jim Robertson

Within the National Park there is a small section of new track to the powerhouse, the powerhouse itself and a very short area of open pipeline behind the powerhouse.   This is well concealed and not possible to see from Jim’s photos.

 

 

Photo credit Jim Robertson

While the intake is outwith the National Park, it  is fairly typical of those found within our National Parks, being constructed out of white/grey concrete partially concealed by rip rap tendering.  The gantry adds to the visual impact although viewers will note the piping is not bright “Lomond” blue.  The location of this dam in a wide open glen makes it more visible than those at Ardvorlich.

View of intake from above – photo credit Jim Robertson

The rip-rap bouldering looks as artificial as the concrete dam.

An existing track was used for construction purposes and, because the size of the scheme was relatively small, it appears the track did not require extensive upgrading.   Vegetation appears to be recovering well which will give it a more “natural” feel for walkers.

The track demonstrates what a track looks like from close up where there is a central vegetated strip – as advocated in the LLTNPA’s Best Practice Guidance.

View of Tarken Glen from Meall Rheamhar above Fin Glen – the power house is behind the large agricultural shed located just north of the Tarken burn and you can just see the line of the buried pipeline through the bracken covered area to the left of the burn.

The photo demonstrates once again that the main impact of hydro schemes is not the pipeline, where these are buried, but the access tracks.   While in this case the track was already in place, where tracks cut across the grain of the landscape, as in the middle ground of this photos where the track goes diagonally uphill, they are particularly prominent.  While the LLTNPA did refer to the visual impact of the scheme from the South Loch Earn road, it made no recommendations about what might be done to mitigate the impact of what can be seen from the National Park.

The Tarken Glen track though is not nearly as bad as the new track (above) you can see from the summit of  Meall Rheamhar in Gleann Ghoinean which again lies outwith the National Park boundary to the south.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

There is a much older hydro scheme at the head of Glen Tarken – part of the extensive Breadalbane hydro scheme  – which demonstrates that at least in respect of pipelines, some progress has been made.

Photo credit Jim Robertson

Jim’s photo though raises questions about how much progress has been made in reducing the impact of dams and hydro intakes.  In this case, the intake diverts all the normal flow of the burn, which will only flow in spate conditions, whereas intakes are always designed nowadays, due to greater awareness of hydrology and the framework of water catchment plans, to maintain some flow.   Are the concrete embankments of the existing hydro intake though any worse than the rip rap tendering shown in Jim’s second photo of the new scheme?

View from above intake – Photo Credit Jim Robertson

The photos also demonstrate just how long it takes for concrete retaining walls to be colonised by mosses and lichens and to start blending into the landscape.   A good reason why theLLTNPA needs to enforce its guidance that concrete dam structures should wherever possible be faced with natural materials.

 

Parkswatch  covers our two National Parks.  The Munro Society is trying to survey the impact of hydro schemes across Scotland (see here) as part of its work on measuring change in our hills.  This is incredibly important work because it will provide evidence of the impact of hydro developments in mountain areas on the landscape across Scotland.    Parkswatch has agreed to share with the Munro Society photographic evidence of hydro schemes gathered within in our National Parks – so if you have photos please send them as Jim and others have done –  but if you have photos from outwith the National Parks, do please contact the Munro Society directly (see here) and let them know what you might be able to share with them.

 

The LINK hill tracks group is doing similar work on hill tracks and also collects photographic evidence of their impact  across Scotland and you can submit photos online (see here) .

 

By Nick Halls

Damage to the new gates at the Torpedo station put in place to stop flytipping. Outside the gate fly tipping down onto the shore seems to be continuing.

 

In my last post (see here) on the torpedo station, I stated that the gates blocking the old main road were both locked, thereby preventing vehicles entering the area.    Recently, the southern of the two gates has been burst open and badly damaged. It was ajar for a period and it was not clear whether this was ‘official’, and signified that fly tipping was being cleared, or that it had been ‘unofficially’ opened to allow further tipping to take place.  The photographs here, taken on Saturday 15th April,  give some impression of the current situation.  The evidence seems to indicate that both situations seem to prevail.

 

The right-hand side of the southern gate has been more or less destroyed, and the left-hand side is off the hinges. It does not look as if this ‘official’, and adds to the impression of dereliction of the site, but in a very public place, right next to the main road.

Southern gate view east from main road

 

The previous obstructions, which seem to be water filled road barriers, remain together with an old concrete post from a dismantled building. Again, this gives the impression of dereliction, destroying the landscape quality of what could be an attractive outlook to the opposite side of the Loch.

View from inside the gates

Inside the destroyed gate it would appear that either pedestrians or the occupant of a vehicle has thrown down litter as if in an urban street. It is very depressing to see this type of littering but it is in accord with how such derelict spaces are treated whether in an urban environment or the countryside. It is characteristic of the state of many of the parking places along Loch Lomond side and elsewhere in the National Park.  Again, the whole scene destroys the quality of the outlook behind.

 

Immediately beyond the gate it appears that fly tipping from vehicles has taken place recently.

Fly tipping down the bank onto the sea shore.

One gets the impression that fly tipping at this site is regular and is generated locally, and one would imagine that someone in the community is aware of the culprits. Only some sort of enforcement action is likely to reduce the progressive degeneration of the whole area.

 

 

Further along the road walking towards the derelict torpedo station there is further evidence of  fly tipping of building debris – which suggests that this might be commercial tipping. See photo above and two below.

 In the two photos above, the fly tipping along margin of the old main road leading north towards the derelict torpedo station appears to be very recent, since my last visit.

 

On the section of the old main road on either side of the bridge over the Allt a’Bhalachain, where two dumps of corrugated iron were shown in a previous report, these have now been cleared – in a pretty crude fashion – the scars of which will probably take some time to recover.

Sites where where dumped material has recently been cleared from the verges of the old main road.

However, the material seems simply to have been transferred to the fly tipping area within the derelict industrial area of the torpedo station.

 

There is evidence of a rather crude and superficial attempt to clear fly tipped material from the what was formerly the main dumping ground. The work seems to be ongoing as there is a container, presumably awaiting to be used to remove material from the site.

However, while material is being cleared the amenity of the area is hardly improved, and the whole process gives the impression of doing the barest minimum to conform to the demand from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to clear the site.

Main dumping ground on the derelict industrial site of Torpedo Station

The quality of the work, whether complete or still in progress, gives the impression that the owner/contractor is doing the barest minimum and could not care less about the amenity of the area or that it lies within an area of outstanding scenic quality within a National Park.

 

Repeated visits to understand the situation that prevails brings it forcibly home that the derelict torpedo station will be very costly to clear up, as a brown field site, and equally costly to develop into the sort of tourist development presented in the planning application (see here).

 

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this site will remain in a similar state for decades to come and that the M.O.D. should be compelled to tidy up the mess they left.

 

Despite the recent work to clear up the site the corrugated asbestos, featured in my last post, remains untouched so far.

 

There are two dumps of what appears to be asbestos in fairly close proximity

 

 

 

The LLTNPA’s priorities are all wrong: it  should be focussing its efforts and resources on environmental dereliction, fly tipping and the litter problem in the National Park instead of trying to ban innocent campers.

By Nick Halls

Northern Gate, preventing access to old road and former Torpedo range site. The gate was recently installed, apparently under a road closure notice which was related to the planning permission for the development of the site. That planning permission has however lapsed.   All photos Nick Halls.

Following the post about the planning blight at the site of the former torpedo factory and range on Loch Long  (see here),  I went to take a look for myself.  I wanted to take a look at the impact of the gates that have blocked off the old road and check if any of the flytipping had been removed as required by the Amenity Notice.   This was served last August and  gave the owners four weeks to clear the rubbish from the site.  Since then, the minutes of the Arrochar, Tarbert and Ardlui Community Council Area Forum held in March  (see here) have not just confirmed that Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is giving the owners four to five more months to remove the flytipping (on top of the six months since the Amenity Notice deadline expired) but also that there is asbestos on site.

View south down the old main road towards derelict Torpedo factory.

It is possible to by-pass the gate on foot which, in respect of the danger from asbestos renders the gates ineffective, and, although the gate prevents fly tipping from vehicles, it does not prevent people disposing of bags of garbage which are being thrown down towards the shore line.

Garbage thrown down from within the northern gate from shore side of old road

Stuart Mearns, the Park’s Head of Planning, spoke too soon when he stated (as recorded in the  Forum minutes)  “that at least there would be no more fly tipping” on the site.

The southern entry to the site and the old A83  has also been blocked off with similar style gates

Dumping from vehicles is still possible also at the southern gate and is still happening.

Building materials and general garbage tipped down bank by vehicles on the main road side of the southern gate

The next photos are of tipping and garbage disposal within the gated area, on the area that was the former torpedo factory, on a road that leads from the old main road into the decayed industrial ruins.

View south
View south east

There are a series of dumping spots on the western side of this road (see below) mostly containing what appears to be builders/commercial rubbish.

View west

Two of the fly tipping sites contain what appears to be corrugated asbestos.  Both of these sites are east of the old road on what was the site of the torpedo factory.

View north west

 

Note: the old main road runs behind trees in the background, so the asbestos risk is well away from the former public highway.

View north west, site immediately beside the one shown above

If this is the asbestos and it influenced the decision to close the old main road, it would have cost less to remove than to install the gates!  It is also situated on the grounds immediately beside the industrial ruins of the former torpedo factory – not particularly close to the old main road.

 

The industrial area of the former torpedo factory is a potentially heavily polluted ‘brown field’ site, which should have been cleared by the M.O.D., as they constitute the polluter/previous owner. On the basis that the ‘polluter should pay’ it seems likely that the responsibility still lies with the M.O.D. even if the site has been sold to a possible developer.

View south along the old main road

There is much less evidence of fly tipping along the southern section of the old main road, beyond the access loop leading through the ruins of the former torpedo factory.

Fly tipping and garbage along the northern part of the old main road

The quantities are not large and appeared to be fairly straightforward to remove. Again, clearing the roadside might have involved less effort than placing the gates – with an unnecessary restriction of access.

Parts of a broken-up fiber-glass boat, in three parts thrown off bridge into stream passing through site. The stream above the ruined factory site looks as if it is quite natural, and constitutes quite a scenic view, were it not for the dumping.

 

Remains of demolished building, which might have been residential or administrative. Note also the remains from what appears to be some sort of forestry operation involving stripping bark and branches, which presumably took place elsewhere, and then disposed of along the roadside.

Much of the fly tipping along the sides of the old road is fairly easy to remove, or does not pose a particular health risk.

 

The forestry operation debris, although unsightly will eventually break down and become over grown – but it still constitutes fly tipping – always assuming it was carried outout with the owners consent.

Most of the unsightly material seems to be the remains of demolished buildings, which have not previously given rise to concerns, whether on health and safety or amenity grounds, and have been in this state for decades.   The blight at the former torpedo testing site is far greater than the flytipping and while the LLTNPA needs to address the flytipping, a much bigger challenge is to clear the site up and make it fit for public enjoyment again.   Its a prime site in the heart of our National Park, a disgrace, a challenge and an opportunity.

The former torpedo range by Arrochar is just one big rubbish dump – is the LLTNPA ever going to do something about this?

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park has been nominated by BBC Countryfile presenter as National Park of the year (see here)  There are four other nominees, South Downs, Peak District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales.  The LLTNPA was quick to get in on the act, issuing its own press release and then arranging for this motion to be lodged in the Scottish Parliament: 

 

Motion Number: S5M-03569
Lodged By: Dean Lockhart
Date Lodged: 22/01/2017

Title: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Motion Text:

That the Parliament congratulates everyone at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on it being shortlisted for the title of National Park of the Year 2017; notes that it is the only Scottish park in the final of the competition, which is run by the BBC Countryfile magazine; understands that the competition, which is in its sixth year aims to celebrate the importance of the British countryside and its people, nature reserves and heritage attractions; notes that the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs park covers over 720 square miles and includes 21 Munros, two forest parks and the Great Trossachs Forest, which was recently been named the UK’s latest and largest national nature reserve; understands that the park is renowned, not only for its undoubted beauty, but also as a living, working landscape that offers a home to unique wildlife as well as providing a range of activities for visitors and locals alike, and wishes all of the nominees, and the rest of the UK’s national parks, continued success.

 

This interest in National Parks in the Scottish Parliament is a positive thing.  However, both the motion and the Countryfile nomination confuse the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the place, with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,  the body responsible for  running it.   They are quite distinct.

 

While National Parks, as places, change a little each year, this is not  enough to explain why a National Park should be nominated one year rather than the next.  If thought, the Award, is supposed to be about the performance of National Park Authorities, there is no information provided by the BBC to enable people to compare how each of the National Park Authorities nominated for the award are doing.  The result is people will vote for the place they like, rather than what any National Park Authority is doing.   This will suit the LLTNPA, which does not like its performance to be scrutinised, and will be hoping that everyone in Scotland will vote for it simply because its a nomination from Scotland.

 

Before rushing headlong into supporting this piece of marketing, I hope our MSPs will consider the  LLTNPA’s performance in 2016.  The LLTNPA has a large communications team of, I believe, 8 staff to sing its own praises, so here I will only list some of the things they try to avoid mentioning:

 

  • In April the Standards Commission found against Board Member Owen McKee, the planning convener who traded in Scotgold Shares after the Cononish goldmine was approved.  Unfortunately the Standards Commissions did not have the powers to investigate how the Board covered this up.
  • The destruction of landforms and landscape in Glen Falloch, on an industrial scale, in order to construct new hydro schemes reached its apogee.  With staff having previously reversed the decision of Board Members that all the access tracks should be removed, these tracks now form permanent scars on the landscape.  The LLTNPA has failed to enforce its own standards for hydro schemes, including landscaping, colour of material used and width and design of access tracks.
  • The LLTNPA conducted a community planning consultation in Balloch – called a charrette, funded by the Scottish Government – without telling the local community that a company called Flamingo Land had been appointed to develop the large Riverside site and that as the National Park Authority it had been on the selection panel for that developer.
  • The secret and unaccountable Board Briefing sessions LLTNPA continued throughout the year –
  • The LLTNPA’s promise that it would provide new camping places if the camping byelaws were agreed collapsed.  The Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, which included specific plans for campsites, along with the Stakeholder Group which contributed to it,  appears to have been abandoned entirely.    It has been replaced by a series of vague promises that the Park is continuing to work to develop new campsites in the proposed camping management zones.
  • Instead the LLTNPA committed to spending £345k on a new 26 place campsite at Loch Chon, which is inaccessible to anyone without a car, and where there is little demand.  The campsite was totally overspecified, which explains the cost, and the only justification for spending this money was so the LLTNPA could satisfy a promise to the Minister that they would develop new camping places before the camping byelaws commenced.
  • The LLTNPA developed a new permit system to control camping in the management zones which had not been subject to public consultation and then failed to consult its own Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, on the implications for access rights.   Freedom of Information requests demonstrated that the LLTNPA’s decision to “create” 300 places where people could camp, was not based on any evidence about the impact of campers.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner forced the LLTNPA to make public all but one of the slides that had been presented at the Secret Board Meetings which decided the camping byelaws and was investigating the failure of the LLTNPA to declare all the information it held about these meetings at year end.
  • The LLTNPA diverted a considerable proportion of its resources into a single issue, how to ban campers, and consequently failed to progress many far more important matters.  This was epitomised by the non-appearance of the new Park Partnership Plan (the Cairngorms National Park draft plan was consulted on over the summer) which is due to be signed off by Ministers in 2017
  • One year late, the LLTNPA published the Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit.  During the course of Board Meetings it emerged that once again the LLTNPA had again failed to take any meaningful initiatives with its local authority partners on how to address litter problems in the National Park.  The litter strategy, promised in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan, is now several years overdue.
  • The LLTNPA planning committee refused to delay consideration of a planning application for housing next door to their HQ in Balloch until after the community planning event and instead approved the housing plans.

 

This is not intended as a balanced appraisal, for that one would need to add some positives and then look at how the overall scorecard squared with the performance of the other National Parks nominated by John Craven.  However, information like this needs to be put into the public arena if we are to have any chance of our current National Parks improving and meeting the objectives for which they were created.     Our MSPs, instead of accepting the marketing hype issued by the LLTNPA,  should start scrutinising what it is actually doing.

Looking north along the Bruar track, you get a sense of its length. The new hydro power house is rear centre. Note the large expanse of aggregate dumped onto the vegetation on the right of the track.

This is my second post on the Bruar Hydro Scheme (see here) which I visited at the end of August.   I  am fairly confident that few of the issues identified in this post will have been remedied since my visit but would welcome more up to date photos from anyone who is in the area.

Looking south along the Bruar track as it rises over the hill to Calvine. This section of track has been subject to less upgrading work but note the width of the track, the steep left edge which is unturfed and will erode away and the culvert pipe projecting into space. None of this meets SNH standards for Constructed Hill Tracks in the uplands.

The Glen Bruar Hydro track is about 12k in length in all.  While prior to the installation of the Bruar Hydro scheme there was already a track from Calvine to Bruar Lodge, most of the track appears to have been “upgraded” to enable heavy construction machinery to be brought in.  It has been extended in two main places (there is also a short section of new track close to the A9 which I have not looked at), the first a new spur off the existing track down to the powerhouse, the second from opposite Bruar Lodge up the west side of Bruar Water to the dam.

 

All along the track the remains of piles of aggregrate, that have been dumped on vegetation, are clearly evident.  The SNH Guidance on hill tracks snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/heritagemanagement/cons.. does not say anything explicitly about storage of track materials – my guess is that this is because it assumed track constructors would never dump materials in this.   Other parts of the guidance make it very clear it expected the verges of hill tracks to be properly restored:

The Environmental Statement from the developer (ultimately Atholl Estates) stated they would follow SNH’s guidance, so the question is why has this not been observed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The side of the track here is eroding away and into the burn below.  The SNH Guidance is very strong on the need to prevent track materials being washed into burns.

Another view of the eroding track edge.  Note the boulders placed to prevent vehicles driving off the edge and the width of the track.  Its c4m wide at this point.  According to SNH Guidance the maximum required for 4 wheeled drive vehicles – all that is required here – is 3m and Lomond and Trossachs National Park Guidance indicates a maximum width of 2.5m on straight lengths of track.   This track should have been reduced in width once the construction had finished.   There is no sign there has been any attempt to do this.

Another view of the same section of track.  Contrast the finishing of the original track here – the stone facing – with the latest work which appears to have consisted of dumping aggregate on and alongside the old track without any attempt at finishing.

The SNH Guidance clearly states track developers should restore/finish the edges of new tracks as construction progesses:

So much for the developer (Atholl Estates) providing an “immediate source of vegetation cover” to reduce the risk of erosion.  I have looked through the planning documentation and part of the problem is that while the developer said they would follow SNH guidance, there is no documentation I can find in the planning application documents on the Cairngorms National Park Authority webite setting out how they intended to do this.   Moreover, while the CNPA attached a large number of conditions to the planning permission (some of which were not observed and have never been enforced – see first post) very few of these concerned the track.  Indeed the main requirements were for the short new section of track by the A9.

 

No requirements were made for the new section of track to the powerhouse.   While there have been attempts made to revegetate the verges of the new sections of track, the track here is far wider than it need be.

Contrast the way this culvert has been constructed – which is typical of the culverts along the new sections of track – with what the SNH Guidance says on how it should be done:

 

 

A new drainage ditch has been dug along this section of upgraded track, its unfinished ditches and edge of track on left is unfinished – there has been no attempt to revegetate it, either with turfs or re-seeding.

Among the kilometres of upgrade track where there has been little or no attempt to mitigate the landscapes or environmental impacts of the work, this bridge stands out as an exception.  Note the new retaining buttress on the right.  Unfortunately it appears the work has never been finished as material is still spilling down round the edges of the stone work on either side of the bridge.

Another view of the not quite finished bridge

While the SNH Guidance allows for passing places this corner would be more suited to a race track.   Large areas of vegetation have been destroyed and never restored.  How can this be allowed in a National Park?

Here aggregate appears to have been dumped on the edge of the area excavated for the pipeline.   The Developer claimed the poor restoration of the pipeline was because the organic material was too shallow but said nothing about how they had dumped other materials onto the line of the pipeline.  This could only have happened after the pipeline had been “restored” as the road aggregate sits on top of the “pipeline restoration”.

The track is not even good for the people who live or work at Bruar Lodge.  Here staff have had to mark the holes that have eroded out of the track.  Its not clear to me why Atholl estates would have tolerated such poor work.

 

 

 

 

While there was mention of temporary areas of tracks and laydown areas in the planning application all were meant to be restored.    Why has this vehicle area been left in the midst of the scar left by the pipeline?   Its hard to imagine how restoration of a hydro pipe and track could be worse than this (do send in your photos).

By contrast the work on the new section of track beyond Bruar Lodge appears to have been constructed with far more care.   It is much narrower than the section of upgraded track and restoration work has taken place along the verges.   This is less than 2k though out of a total track length of 12k.   The reason for this appears to be that the CNPA did set out conditions:

 

I have been unable to find the specific construction method statement among the planning papers on the CNPA website (I need to check again in case I missed them) but it does appear the CNPA has followed up this planning requirement and this has had positive outcomes.  However, since there was also a track up to the dam on the east side of the river, there are now two tracks to the dam rather than one.    Why was this necessary?

The turning/storage area by the dam however has not been restored or properly cleared up.  Again note the track aggregate dumped on the bank on the left.

This is the section of the old track north of the dam, ie beyond the hydro scheme.  It illustrates a number of features that the CNPA should ensure are applied to the 12k of track to the dam, namely its narrow, the sides are vegetated and a narrow vegetated strip runs down the centre of the track (as recommended in guidance by the Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority on hydro tracks).  While this track penetrates a prime area of wild land, in design terms it illustrates the standards our National Park should be aspiring too where tracks are agreed.

The section of track linking Glen Bruar to Calvine appears to have been subject to far less upgrading work than that in Glen Bruar itself.  If construction vehicles could access the Glen by this track, which is far steeper and narrower than any of the track along the glen, it begs the question of why the Bruar track needed to be upgraded.  Possibly it was in poor condition but simply dumping tons of extra aggregate on top of the existing track as a quick fix, which is what appears to have happened, should never have been allowed.

What needs to happen

In my last post I made suggestions about what the CNPA needs to do to ensure proper restoration of the hydro infrastructure apart from hill tracks.   In relation to the hill track,  I believe the CNPA needs:

  • to commission an independent survey of the track along with options for restoring it so that at the very least it meets the standards set out in the SNH guidance on hill tracks
  • take appropriate enforcement action
  • learn from the experience of this and other tracks and adopt a clear set of standards for all hill tracks  (it has guidance for hydro schemes but not for hill tracks as such)

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

 

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

 

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

Trap Glenfenzie

 

p1000115-copy

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?”.

Balmoral was in the news twice over the last week, first for a grouse shoot and second because Prince Charles collided with a deer when driving on the estate (see Mirror). Raptor Persecution Scotland provided some excellent critical commentary on the use of soldiers as beaters on the grouse moor but most of the media repeated the story of Kate Middleton being driven up above “the imposing Creag Bhiorrach” by Loch Muick by the Queen for a royal picnic and to watch the grouse shooting without any consideration of what this tells us about how the royal family views the land.

 

Leaving aside the intensification of grouse production and all that implies for wildlife, some of the stories referred to Prince William driving towards or over to Glen Clova – its not certain which – up the Capel Mounth road.   This suggests part of the royal view of their land is it is perfectly acceptable for landowners to be able to drive up onto the tops of the hills or indeed over to neighbouring estates.  I have commented before on how being in a big Range Rover must feel when passing walkers on hill tracks – a sense of power and privilege – because of course only certain people are allowed to drive here.   As the technology has improved and its become cheaper,  private landowners have extended tracks all over our hills.   Post-war there were various proposals to create public roads through the core of the Cairngorms including the Lairig Ghru which were rejected but what has happened is that now  in many parts of the Cairngorms we have  private road networks instead.   What happens on Balmoral is important  because it gives this the ultimate social respectability, royal endorsement.

 

It also tells us something about landowners perceptions of our landscapes.  I think most people would say that a key part of what is special about the landscape in the Cairngorms National Park is that it is unspoilt and feels wild – even if they are viewing it from the public roadside.  Hill tracks from this perspective are scars on the landscape, something that detracts from the landscape and National Park.   The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family can’t share that view as they use these same tracks as a matter of course, see it as their prerogative even.    I suspect they, and most other private landowners, have very different ideas of  beauty to the rest of the population.

 

A search of the Cairngorms National Park draft Partnership Plan does not come up with a single mention of the word “beauty”.   Indeed, there is almost no consideration of landscape and wild land   (see here).   A Plan that took these issues seriously would have to take on the Royal Family and other powerful landowners and it appears the CNPA is simply not up for this – so better just to avoid mentioning it.  To me it just reinforces for me that we will only effectively protect our landscapes through securing fundamental reforms in land ownership.

 

The draft Park Plan though does cast some light on the second story, Prince Charles’ collision with a deer.   On page 8 of the Moorland Evidence document 160621deermoorlandmanagementfinal1 there is a “crude” map of aspirations by landowners for deer densities in the National Park.  It shows Balmoral, along with a great swathe of land to the west, as having aspirations for the highest deer densities in the National Park.    The planners then will not have been surprised then that Prince Charles collided with a deer on the Balmoral Estate.     The same report shows much of Balmoral is in a woodland expansion area where grants are available for woodland planting.  The Plan offers no firm proposals for how the differences between these objectives should be reconciled – how to stop deer eating all the trees – but again  that would mean the CNPA taking on the Royal Family among others.    How Balmoral is managed is in a real sense a litmus test for how well the CNPA is doing.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Landscape

 

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

plan-landscape-quote

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

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

 

Wild land and Natural processes

 

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

plan-hill-tracks

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

 

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

 

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

 

Landownership and use.

 

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

 

Powers of the National Park  

 

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

 

Resources

 

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

 

What improvement the CNPA will deliver in the next five years

 

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

 

A comparison with the existing Park Plan

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Addendum – The Cairngorms landscape

 

plan-landscape-qualities

IMG_6821 - Copy
The quarry site at the bottom of new Ben Glas track

Following James Fenton’s fine post “Just Say No ” and earlier posts on the destruction in Glen Falloch (see here and here) I wanted to write a bit more about the permanent impact that the construction of these schemes is having on the landscape.     This is not just about hydro schemes of course, and issues surrounding the creation of hilltracks for example apply to windfarms, the new unlawful hilltrack created at Cairngorm by Natural Retreats and the hundreds of kilometers of new tracks being bulldozed across our moorland both in our National Parks and outside (do please report these to the LINK hilltracks campaign – see post by George Allan).  However, in the last few years hydro-power has been generally seen as a “good thing” and its impacts benign.   I assumed this too, but having looked at the evidence of the Glen Falloch schemes, which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have claimed as exemplars of sustainable development, have lost that faith.

 

In order to function, run of river hydro schemes need to channel water downhill through a pipe to the turbines that generate the electricity.    In the small burns found in the Scottish Hills this requires the construction of an intake dam as well as installation of a pipeline and the current and cheapest method to do this is to construct a track up the hill from the hydro power house to the intake.    While the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Supplementary Planning Guidance Renewables-finalstates such tracks should take the line of an existing tracks where these occur, the reality is because of the size of the “earth” moving machinery  a much wider track is required.   While the LLTNPA Guidance also suggests that “On soft ground, consider techniques such as temporary floating or rafted tracks to avoid habitat destruction, erosion and flooding” there is no evidence of such techniques being used in Glen Falloch.  Instead, tracks up to 7m wide have been created up the hillsides.   These tracks need a firm base to support the heavy machinery which requires large amounts of aggregate material.   While some of this has been taken from the hillside, particularly from moraine, this is often not possible because of the nature of the ground and so new quarries are created (as illustrated in the first photo).   The construction of the access tracks required to install these schemes has therefore generally required the transportation of large amounts of new material up the hill.

IMG_6830 - Copy
Part of the lower section of the access track to Ben Glas hydro scheme Glen Falloch illustrating the large amount of aggregate used in its construction

The LLTNPA’s Guidance says the following about this:

 

“It is expected that any new access tracks required for the construction will be fully restored [my emphasis] unless there is overwhelming reason why they should be retained for the operational phase of the development”.

To fully restore this track would require the materials that have been imported to be returned to the appropriate quarry or “borrow pit”.   There is no evidence of this happening.

 

Instead, the new  material imported to construct the track is, once the construction has finished,  flattened out, reprofiled and then covered up .   This has a permanent impact both on the landscape and on the ecology (the ecological impacts will be subject of a forthcoming blog from James Fenton).

IMG_6806 - Copy
Example of track “restoration” from the upper Falloch hydro scheme. You can  see evidence of the aggregate that has been imported on the right of the photo.  The imported aggregrate results in a track that has been raised above the previous contours in the landscape. In the centre of the photo you can see the imported aggregate has hardly been reprofiled and simply covered up with a thin layer of turf.

 

IMG_6859 - Copy
Moraine can be used as a source of aggregate for building tracks, as here approaching the Ben Glas intake dams, but no restoration will be able to restore this to its former shape. Landscape features that have persisted since the end of the ice age, and would have been well known to the drovers who brought their cattle along this route, have been changed out of all recognition.
IMG_6883 - Copy
Large amounts of material to build the track have been obtained from this moraine, the contours of which have been changed for ever.

Further surplus material is created from the digging of the trench for the water pipes.  Full restoration would require the removal from the hill of the material displaced by the installation of the pipe (to be used for example in road construction).   Instead this material is added to the material that is imported and taken from the moraines and then reprofiled.

IMG_6845 - Copy
The laying of the water pipe brings material that was once well buried to the surface – it may be relatively small quantities compared to what is imported but it all adds up.

 

IMG_6853 - Copy
One of the better examples of “restoration” where some turf has been re-used. The reprofiled slope however, while not entirely uniform, is still in the form of an embankment and is out of place with the natural shape of the hillside above.  Its very hard to restore slopes over a certain angle, hence the embankment look is replicated across what was once a wild landscape..

Its not just the track that creates destruction.  I had assumed that the intake dams would be built between natural features and indeed the LLTNPA renewable guidance suggests this: “Choose a weir location which is naturally well screened and where a weir structure can be readily introduced.”    The Ben Glas pipeline has two intake dams because it has to cross a slight rise between the Ben Glas burn and the powerhouse in Glen Falloch and for the water to flow through this the intake/s had to be located above where the main burn splits.    While one is situated between natural features,  the other has required extensive grounds excavations there was nowhere “natural” to locate it. The intake pool has literally been dug out of the ground.   More than double the damage to the land, which raises further questions about why this scheme was ever approved.

IMG_6414 - Copy
Photo illustrating how the second Ben Glas intake has been excavated out of the ground. The burn has been diverted temporarily to allow the dam to be constructed. The first intake is hidden behind the moraine to the left of the track.
IMG_6405 - Copy
Second Ben Glas intake from below- significant amounts of concrete and other materials have been imported into what was once wild land

 

 

 

IMG_6865 - Copy
The first Ben Glas intake dam is located between natural features (moraine out of sight on left) but nevertheless has required significant amounts of material to be shifted and relandscaped.
IMG_6864 - Copy
What will become the intake pool at the first dam. A large amount of concrete has been introduced to the landscape.

While bridges would not normally be required high up on run of river schemes, because there are two intakes, the pipe from and track to the first dam needs to cross the burn which currently flows down from the second dam.

IMG_6862 - Copy
The “need” for a bridge introduces a further new structure into what was previously an almost pristine landscape (there are electricity pylons to the south).

 

These photos show that any talk of restoration of the damage cause by hydro schemes as currently constructed is misleading.  They create permanent change to the landscape.   There can be no restoration, only amelioration of the impacts (the subject of my next post).    This is important for the debate on wild land, land that should be free from development and where natural processes should be the dominant influence on the landscape.

 

While the construction of hydro schemes brings alien materials into the landscape, their operation diverts water from the burns that run through it.   I had previously questioned how the LLTNPA could possibly have recommended approval for this scheme when it would remove water from the Eagle Falls, waterfalls being so important to tourism and for many people where natural beauty starts.  I have since discovered that the Glen Falloch Estate is intending that the scheme will not operate in the day in order to maintain the flow of water down the Falls.    It speaks volumes that it is the  Estate, rather than the LLTNPA, which has taken this initiative though whether  it happens in practice, because it will lead to a considerable loss of income, remains to be seen.  The reduced flow in other burns though, will be noticeable to walkers.

 

Should run of river hydro schemes be allowed in our National Parks?

 

I would have liked the LLTNPA to have taken a far more critical view than it has on run of river hydro schemes.   Unfortunately, it has been driven by Government targets and only too ready to classify hydro schemes as sustainable development (hence the pat on the back it has given itself for its Guidance) without any proper consideration of the conservation impacts, which in case of conflict should be put first.  This, I believe, is in no small part because the LLTNPA has been too ready to accept the myth that all the damage created in the construction of these schemes can be restored.  It can’t and that means there are some places where these schemes should not be allowed, where the National Park should, as James Fenton put it, “Just Say No”.

 

If our National Parks were functioning properly they would have been leading the debate on this.  As it is, the only thing that I can see that separates the LLTNPA from other Planning Authorities is its best practice guidance which is about how the damage caused by these schemes can be ameliorated (and subject of my next post on Glen Falloch).

 

IMG_2001

 

 

Dear LLTNPA,

 

I was interested to see in May that meters had been installed at the carpark in Inveruglas.  I appreciate you are short of money but it seems to me particularly mean to advertise the new wooden structure at Inveruglas, as part of Scotland’s scenic routes, and then charge people for the privilege of stepping out of their cars to take a closer look.    I might not mind so much if it was clear what the money was being used for and litter bins were being installed not just at Inveruglas but at all the stopping points along the A82.    I would like our National Parks though to assert the fundamental value of being able to experience our countryside for free, as a common good, and what better way to demonstrate this than by creating a free campsite at Inveruglas (behind the parking area) from which people could experience the glories of the loch overnight?

 

The experience of sleeping out is worth more than any hotel.

 

Parkswatchscotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6154

Dear CNPA,

 

Apologies, I could not find the best card.  The track in the foreground as you will recognise is outwith your boundary but the one in the far distance is within it.   Travelling through the Drumochter though I  am not sure the boundary has made any difference: every hillside is cut like the one in the foreground with bulldozed tracks for grouse-moor management.    I know this might not matter for people whizzing by in their cars but really I think we are missing a trick.  Drumochter, the gateway to Speyside, the most popular area of the National Park.  It should be a scenic route, a place to stop off, a place to go for a wander, a place to see Hen Harrier.   Its a great place, for people in the know, to run or walk or ski tour but all the time the views are marred by tracks, ones ears accosted by the sound of traffic and ones enjoyment lessened because of the absence of anything that might eat a grouse.

 

Perhaps though the dualling of the A9 provides a new opportunity – just a thought but how about the National Park developing a vison  for the Drumochter as part of your new Partnership Plan?

IMG_6172

Dear LLTNPA,

I know at the behest of the Scottish Government both our National Parks have been promoting  scenic routes and as part of this some interesting sculptures have been created over the last year or so including the structure at Inveruglas.  To many people like myself though the natural beauty of the area speaks louder than any sculpture.  I was dismayed therefore to see the suburbanisation of the Rest and Be Thankful, which should be one of the finest road pass in Great Britain, that took place last year.  I wonder what  the drovers and the soldiers who built the military road have thought of the turning circle and installation of an urban style bus shelter between Beinn Luibhean and  Beinn an Lochain, two of the finest hills in the National Park.  I realise the plaque in the bus stop says responsibility for this lay with Argyll and Bute Council, Strathclyde Transport and Transport Scotland but could the National Park Authority really do nothing to influence this?  I am all for improving the public transport in National Parks but is this really the way to do this?

 

Happy travelling

 

Parkswatchscotland

I was out last Sunday taking a  look at the Glen Falloch hydro schemes which I had not yet visited.  In an earlier post I was very critical of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park for setting out no firm rules about what locations might be suitable for hydro schemes http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/05/24/glen-falloch-hydro-schemes-2/ .     The very last section of its Supplementary Planning Guidance on Renewables though has a section on “Best Practice and Mitigation Measures for Renewables in LLTNPA” which contains some excellent requirements in terms of detailed design and restoration   SPG-Renewables-final

 

The problem in Glen Falloch is that there is extensive evidence that the LLTNPA’s own guidance has not been followed.   This is not all the fault of the LLTNPA, because it was the Scottish Government that was responsible for approving the hydro schemes, although the LLTNPA is responsible for enforcing the conditions attached to the planning consent.   Since the Scottish Government consulted LLTNPA before agreeing to grant planning permission it is quite difficult to ascertain exactly where responsibility lies.   I plan therefore to focus on what in wrong with the schemes in relation to the Park’s own guidance over several posts, starting with the most obvious breach.

 

Anyone who has driven north up the A82 in the last year may have observed a bright blue pipe on the left.  This is a penstock which feeds waters from the Eas Eonan into the Derrydarroch power station.  The first time I saw it I wondered why a bright blue pipe had been allowed in our National Park.IMG_6500

 

The Park’s Guidance on this makes interesting reading:

 

Penstocks above ground should follow existing linear features such as watercourse or road routes, and be of a colour matching ground cover features, however it is expected that the penstock will be underground wherever possible.

 

So, why was planning permission granted to install this penstock?  I am not a technical expert and therefore cannot say whether it might have been possible to underground this section of pipe, as was done on the hillside above, but it certainly does not match the ground cover.

 

While you may only glimpse this section of pipe while speeding by in a car, if you are walking the West Highland Way its in full view from the end of the first of the River Falloch meltwater gorges for well over a kilometre, in other words its not hidden at all.  Its impact on the walking  experience is therefore significant and I believe is yet another blow to the West Highland Way which is continually promoted as a world class experience without a thought about how the quality of that experience could be preserved or enhanced.

 

Linked to the pipe in the first phone is another which crosses the River Falloch.  It is not visible from the road but is again in full view of the West Highland Way.

IMG_6553

 

 

 

 

Following its statement that colours should match the natural environment, the Park’s Guidance goes on to state:

 

 If the pipeline needs to cross a watercourse, consider whether there is scope to attach it to an existing or proposed bridge, or if the pipeline will  require undergrounding, seek advice
from SEPA on how to maintain the hydrological integrity of the watercourse. From a landscape
perspective undergrounding or a location beneath the bridge is preferred.

 

Unfortunately the Park’s Guidance says nothing about the design of crossings where the pipe cannot be hidden under a bridge or undergrounded.   It would be easy however in such situations to use natural materials such as wood to hide the pipe or, here’s a thought, to convert it into a pedestrian bridge.

 

It looks however that whoever approved the various schemes in Glen Falloch simply ignored the LLTNPA guidance.  There was an obvious opportunity for concealing one of the pipes, which also runs into the Derrydarroch power station, where it crosses the Allt a Chuillinn.IMG_6565

 

 

 

New pipe, new bridge but still no-one insisted the pipe should go under the bridge.

 

There is a lot more blue penstock in Glen Falloch, such as these short sections waiting  to be installed at the new dams being created above the Ben Glas falls, an area of wild land if ever there was one.

IMG_6401

It appears though that no-one responsible in granting this planning consent cared sufficiently, wild land or not, to require the developer to order penstock in an appropriate colour that met the LLTNPA’s guidance.  One wonders what the point of the guidance, which the LLTNPA claims was trailblazing, if no-one follows it.

 

I am afraid there is a lot more of this to report on but that will have to wait a few  weeks.

 

Following my post http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/17/ring-ouzels-new-vision-cairngorm-ski-area/  Ron Greer sent  parkswatch some photos of montane scrub from North America and Norway and some useful links which help illustrate the type of landscape that might result from planting the ski area.

NH1 montane
Montane heath woodland from eco-equivalent zone in North America.  With our own native species complex, this is very like what could be obtained at Coire-Cas and environs. We could thus have an upland sylvan environment with high amenity value and conservation qualities with pistes (with self-repairing& carbon sequestrating capacity living ‘fences’) and walking trails built integrally to it. This is an ‘as well as’ and not ‘an either or scenario’. Photo commentary Ron Greer

 

1024px-Fjällväxter_-_Norwegian_hills_near_Sweden
Fjällväxter-Norwegian hills near Sweden. The plant species that are pictured in this photo are essentially the same as can be found at Cairngorm and the hill in the background even looks similar.

 

Here are some useful links from Ron:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glen Derry
Glen Derry

I have been meaning for a couple of weeks to refer readers to the excellent piece from Neil Reid, the Cairngorm Wanderer on the National Trust for Scotland’s latest proposals to renovate Derry Lodge

Plans announced for Derry Lodge development

 

I remember discussing the future of Derry Lodge at the Mountaineering Council of Scotland twenty years ago with the main options being to knock it down and restore this as an area of wild land or to turn Derry Lodge into an Alpine-style hut.   The lack of action since then is all about money, about the the National Trust for Scotland operating under a model in which it is expected to fund the vast majority of its activities despite being a national resource and struggling to do so.  It has consequently lurched from one financial crisis to another and is undergoing yet another internal restructuring at present driven by the need to balance its books.    With large historic buildings to maintain, the consequence is that Derry Lodge is a low priority and I fear that despite the good intentions of the staff who are behind these proposals, nothing may happen.    The wider financial issue is really about how do we get financial investment in rural areas.  There are lessons here from Alpine Associations on the continent and how they manage to raise funds to renovate mountain huts in locations which from a construction viewpoints are far more challenging than Derry Lodge.

 

The other big question is how the proposals to renovate Derry Lodge sit within the need to protect and enhance wild land – the central Cairngorms are after all one of the largest areas of wild land in the country.   Why not just knock it down?   And what is the difference, if any, between renovating Derry Lodge and installing a new run of river Hydro scheme in Glen Derry?

 

The arguments about the importance of wild land led the NTS to remove the bulldozed track from Glen Derry above the old lodge building and, along with nature conservation, helped drive the reduction in deer numbers which is allowing the pinewoods in Glen Derry and Glen Lui to regenerate.  So, keeping wild land values and concepts of rewilding to the forefront of thinking about Derry Lodge seems to me very important.

 

In this large area of wild land, the existence of Derry Lodge and a few bothies, has very little impact.  The Lodge is well screened by trees and sits at one of the main entry points for walkers and climbers to the central Cairngorms.   NTS’ proposal to include public toilet facilities would address the main human impacts on the area.   Its worth contrasting Glen Lui with Glenmore, where the road intrudes well into the mountain core and new development high up on Cairngorm  is continuing.   There are far bigger issues affecting wild land and landscape in the Cairngorms National Park.

 

In addition, Derry Lodge is regarded by most people as an attractive building.   NTS would have significant issues getting agreement to demolish it because it is bound to protect and conserve the historic buildings it owns.   From a cultural viewpoint too, the area has a well known history, including use by mountaineers.   All of this seems to me to be a reason to support the proposals.  This is not about new development as such but restoring an existing building in a way that should help conserve the landscape and enable people to enjoy it.

 

IMG_1583
Lower Glen Lui – few signs of rewilding

While supporting the proposals in principle,  I do think there is a strong case that the renovation of Derry Lodge should be considered alongside what could be done to re-wild lower Glen Lui.    This is still dominated by the track and forestry plantations and walking or cycling along it is far from a wild land experience.   The main reason the track has been kept is again one of money, the cost of culling deer without NTS vehicles being able to transport stalkers to Derry Lodge would be considerable.    It would be good though if the NTS  vision included the case for converting the track into a footpath and outlining the  public financial assistance it would then require to continue effective deer culls.    Together with plantation restructuring this would make the approach to Derry Lodge a far wilder experience. Part of this vision could be that one day Derry Lodge provides a refuge for people uncomfortable with the idea of camping in places where wolves or lynx roam, that it part of the core wild land area and not on the edge of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Lintern, the wild land photographer who writes for Walk Highland,  contacted me last week about the Ben Glas hydro scheme, above the Beinglas farm campsite at the head of Loch Lomond.   He has written a heartfelt and poetic piece on his blog http://www.davidlintern.com/blog/  about this, along with photos which show the destruction that is taking place in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the beauty that survives.    He has kindly provided me with a  photo to publish here but I would recommend looking at his blog.   This includes photos of the fine hummocky ridge of Ben Glas that leads, after a fair amount of up and down,  to the summit of Beinn Chabhair and the Lochan of that name.

Photo Credit David Lintern
Photo Credit David Lintern

 

 

 

 

I have walked or tried to run the Ben Glas/Ben Chabhair ridge several times,  sometimes starting up the path by Eagle Falls, and to my mind it is one of the best walks up a Munro in the National Park.  Once above the Eagle Falls, you were suddenly in an area that felt wild, away from it all – marred only for a short way by the tracks of All Terrain Vehicles that had come up the track to the North.   The Lochan a Chaisteil, nestled on the ridge, like a fortress – hence its name I guess – was one of the finest places to picnic, camp, swim or simply loiter in the whole National Park, but now overlooks the  new track that has been extended up the Ben Glas Burn.

 

I am certain the National Park’s response to David would be that this is the last of the four Glen Falloch hydro schemes, work is still in progress and the damage will be restored and that to judge this scheme because of photos taken at a particular point of time is unfair.

 

I will come back to the question of how far such damage can be restored in a post in the next few days on the other Glen Falloch schemes.  I had however been on Ben Vorlich recently, seen the long scar of the new track above the Eagle Falls – the light was poor but the scar stands out for miles – and had resolved to find out more.   David’s contact prompted me to do so.

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The new Ben Glas hydro access track, the top of the Eagle Falls visible in bottom left hand corner, seen from Ben Vorlich

 

The Ben Glas hydro scheme is one of four in Glen Falloch  which were approved back in 2010 by the Scottish Government 2009_0249_ECN-BEN_GLAS_DECISION_LETTER_AND_CONSENT-39389. 

Having looked at all four schemes, I believe Ben Glas is the one that is objectionable in principle, having an impact on the landscape that can never been compensated.    While its too late now, this hydro scheme should have never been allowed in a National Park:

    • Not far above the Eagle Falls you used to pass over the lip of the glen, away from the noise of the traffic into another world.   Hard going, even trying to follow the baggers path to Beinn Chabhair, and beautiful as David’s photos show.   Untamed moor and bog, rather than grassland dominated by sheep.   Prime wild land, though not marked as core wild land on the Park’s wild land map because it is not remote enough.  Remoteness isn’t everything.
    • The summit of Ben Glas itself, Beinn Chabhair and Parlan Hill are all however designated as wild land areas.  In walking terms though, what has been constructed is  a new motorway extension to Beinn Chabhair which will be permanent, however well restored.   The old track from the north, which has also been extensively re-engineered, ended close to the Ben Glas burn.  It now heads up the burn.  According to the Park’s wild land map this was a buffer zone, intended to protect the remoteness of the core.  That buffer has now been deeply punctured.
    • The line of the Ben Glas burn, which supplies the hydro scheme, marks the boundary of the National Scenic Area.  The burn itself and the Eagle Falls are, for a reason unknown to me,  just outside it.  Not that this would have made a difference in planning terms because the Park has no policy to ban renewable developments in National Scenic Areas.   Their Supplementary Planning Guidance-Renewables-final guidance approved in 2013 is all about factors to consider, no absolute protection for any designated land, whether wild land, national scenic area or Site of Special Scientific Interest.   Its guidance about how to do renewable development, not where to do it.
    • Ironically, the land up the Ben Glas burn  is not dissimilar in character to that on the north side of Ben Lomond which is fully in the National Scenic Area and where the Craig Royston hydro scheme was proposed.   That proposal led to a public outcry, a 200,000 signature petition and the creation of the Friends of Loch Lomond – but not even they objected to this scheme.  It seems to have passed beneath the public radar.
    • The line of pylons that cross the hill to the south of the Ben Glas burn spoil the view but they are in the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area and could, one day have been removed, restoring the blemish – a suitable aspiration for a National Park.   Not a reason, I believe, to justify more development, though the proximity of the national grid was what made Glen Falloch so attractive to the developers of renewables.
    • Wild land  aside, the most compelling reason of all why this scheme should never have been allowed is that the pipeline, running back down into Glen Falloch, will divert the water which currently flows down the Ben Glas burn away from the Eagle Falls.  Yes, it will destroy the waterfall.   In tourism terms, this is madness – waterfalls since Wordsworth have been one of the biggest draws to the countryside – but then the LLTNPA also approved the Cononish goldmine which basically trashes the tourist potential of that other major waterfall in the Park, the Eas Anie.

 

Ironically, while the Scottish Government and LLTNPA are  busy promoting the A82 as a national scenic route, investing money in the sculpture at Inveruglas to encourage people to get out of their cars, they have never invested anything to encourage people to walk to the Eagle Falls, a natural attraction.   Too late now, I suspect, and one less thing for walkers on the West Highland Way to enjoy.

 

A further irony.   David Lintern pointed out to me that down the loch at Balmaha, the Park has been celebrating the life of John Muir at the National Park visitor centre.   The same John Muir who fought, unsuccessfully, against the Hetchy Tetchy hydro scheme.  I am pretty sure I know what he would have said about Ben Glas.   I suspect the LLTNPA, if they thought about it, know too what John Muir would said but that will not stop them agreeing schemes such as Ben Glas.