Tag: landscape

November 23, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Upper section of tracks in Coilessan Glen. Neither FES nor LLTNPA appear concerned about the landscape impact of the track works here. If these were not deemed forestry tracks, I believe the LLTNPA would have required a full landscape impact assessment.

Since my post in June (see here) on Forest Enterprise’s  “upgrade” of the Coilessan Glen forest track, I have been trying to get to the root of what has gone wrong.  First I established that no planning application or prior notification had been received by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, then I took the matter up with  Simon Hodge, Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise Scotland.  I believe my correspondence with him shows there are serious issues about how the Forest Estate is being managed in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and will highlight evidence for this in this post (you can view the full correspondence below).

The Prior Notification System and the track upgrade

Forestry Tracks are, under planning legislation, classed as permitted developments but under the Prior Notification System all new or alterations to existing forest tracks are supposed to be notified to the Planning Authority.    FES is usually good at doing this, and indeed has now done so for two small changes to the track in Coilessan Glen.  However, they disputed my claim that all the track upgrade and other works needed prior notification, claiming these were “maintenance” rather than alterations.

In response I sent them some photos:

View of track extension from below

FES response to photo:

In plain language this is an acknowledgement from FES that the works included a new section of track which they should have notified to the LLTNPA under the Prior Notification System.  However, they try and excuse this failure by saying they had told the LLTNPA about a new section of track in Coilessan Glen but in a different place, 250m away!  Imagine someone trying to justify building a house in one place on the grounds that the planning authority had accepted this in a different location!

The LLTNPA’s response to that Prior Notification (link to full letter below under correspondence) is telling:

 

Another view of the track extension

This extension is according to standard FES designs and therefore its reasonable to say that the original 250m away would have had a similar landscape impact.  Yet the LLTNPA was quite happy to state in response to the Notification that such extensions do not raise “any significant landscape” concerns.   I don’t think any recreational walker would agree.  The works have had a serious adverse impact on the Cowal Way.  The LLTNPA needs to ensure its staff and Board Members get out more and review their policy in this area.  I know the LLTNPA and other public authorities are strapped for resources but this is simply not good enough for a National Park.  At least according to the correspondence FES and LLTNPA have now met to discuss what to do about this section of track.  Now both need to explain publicly what they will do to restore the damage to the National Park landscape.

FES response to photo:

By saying this, FES seem to be trying to imply that this work to reinforce the side of the track is not an alteration but maintenance.  They have however accepted, by calling in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, that the works could have  serious ecological implications (with silt eroding into the river).  Reason enough one might have thought to notify the LLTNPA.

Apart from the technicalities of the failing Prior Notification system, the substantive issue is that FES has trashed what would otherwise be an attractive section of river.  In the current Ardgarten Forest Design Plan (which is not publicly available although FES are now publishng new forest plans as they are agreed) all the main riparian edges in Coilessan Glen were designated for native woodland.  Good plan, shame its being ignored.

Evidence that FES had altered the track and extended it beyond its existing footprint

FES response to photo:

The evidence shows that what has been done is more then vegetation removal.  Scottish Government Guidance on tracks and the Prior Notification system SG FinalGuidance june 15 Smith et al 2014 states:

 

“The distinction between”alteration” and “maintenance” may sometimes be difficult to determine. Maintenance‟ work could include routine repairs to private ways such as filling potholes or clearing drainage channels or replacing culverts in line with recommendations and guidance by SEPA to comply with good practice.

Work such as resurfacing to provide a materially different road surface (for example replacing loose gravel with tarmacadam), or to widen or extend a track, would generally be considered an “alteration‟.

 

While I believe the Coilessan tracks have been altered, whatever the Prior Notification technicalities the substantive issue is why FES is allowed to do work like this in the National Park?  The slope is too steep, will erode rather than re-vegetate and contrary to good practice (such as contained within the LLTNPA Guidance on Renewables).   The LLTNPA should be demanding that Forestry Commission Scotland, which agrees the standard specifications for forest tracks, to review them to ensure they are fit for National Parks (and other areas of landscape importance in Scotland).

FES response to photo:

Accepting FES assurances that the work is not complete, it is  disturbing that National Park Officers apparently have deemed the work at Coilessan acceptable.  Do they not even think further monitoring is required to see that any restoration work by FES is acceptable?    I would like LLTNPA Board Members to go out – preferably in the company of people who have an interest in our landscape and nature conservation in our National Parks –  take a look and re-think.

FES response to photo:

So, quarries can be built and extended in National Parks outwith the planning system.  I am grateful that FES sent me the letter from FCS EIA101 Ardgartan Quarry – even if it basically attributes responsibility for this to them –  although they have made no mention of the mitigation measures which FCS said needed to be agreed with the LLTNPA and are not anywhere public on the Park’s planning portal.   While I will pursue this, the substantive issues is that  quarrying does not have to look like this.  Here is an alternative example from the Cairngorms National Park I came across last weekend:

Borrow pit in Glen Tromie on the Glen Feshie Estate. The photo accentuates the track up the slope, which is hardly visible from other angles.  Ignore too the heap of aggregate and foreground and note how vegetation has been replaced on the quarried slope even though, just to the left, the borrow pit is being worked.

In Glen Tromie (which I will blog about in due course because of the positive lessons there for the rest of Scotland) the estate are restoring the quarry as they go, a complete contrast to FES.  The contrast in how the land is being treated and landscape respect is in my view stark.

 

The new Prior Notification for a 70m section of track in Coilessan Glen

 

At the beginning of October, FES submitted a Prior Notification to the LLTNPA for further work in Coilessan Glen – to “straighten” the section of track beyond the bridge in the photo above.  The response of the LLTNPA was that this did not need Prior Approval (see here) because:

Leaving aside the implication that any forestry road deemed commercial can go ahead in the National Park without any consideration of landscape or conservation issues, the LLTNPA has failed to properly consider the issues as this extract from the second FES letter shows:

First, FES are now claiming the track is needed in case there is a need to fell larch trees in an attempt to prevent the spread of Phytopthera Ramorum, a disease that is decimating larch plantations across the UK and not for normal commercial forestry purposes.   Second, FES are not proposing to remove the old track but to leave it in place, so there will be two tracks at this point in the glen for what appear to be spurious reasons.  (I had been rather hoping they might use the opportunity to reduce the old track to footpath width so improving the walking experience on the Cowal Way).   So why did the LLTNPA not ask what was happening to the 70m section of old track before simply approving the new one?   If this is anything to go by it appears the LLTNPA are simply rubber stamping FES Prior Notifications without any consideration of the landscape or conservation implications.

 

What needs to happen

The issues raised here are much broader than the track in Coilessan Glen and have implications for the whole of the Argyll Forest Park.   When the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was originally proposed, Cowal was not included, but this changed as a result of local pressure.  Part of this was because local people thought a National Park might be a way of changing how forestry was managed in the Argyll Forest Park.

Initially the LLTNPA did take an interest in Argyll and a new forest framework was produced lltnpa woodland framework action area 3. (This is not publicly available – the FES appears to have just one copy – but I am very grateful for the FES planning section for copying the relevant part of this and sending it to me by return without an FOI request).  While this did not propose a radical change of direction – it clearly states that commercial forestry would predominate – it did set out some aspirations and suggested areas for change (on some of which there has since been progress).  The problem is that the thinking behind the framework has never been reviewed or developed despite opportunities to do this, mostly recently in the draft National Park Partnership Plan consulted on earlier this year.

The most important thing that I believe needs to happen therefore is that the new National Park Partnership Plan should commit both the LLTNPA and FCS/FES to a public a review of Forest Management  in the Argyll Forest Park and how this meets the National Park’s statutory objectives.  While the spread of Phytopthera Ramorum – a conservation disaster which I will come back to – is another reason to do this, the failed operation of the Prior Notification system in Coilessan Glen and the landscape and conservation impact of track works there should in themselves be sufficient.  It will be interesting to see if the final National Park Partnership Plan due to be presented to the LLTNPA Board in December says anything meaningful about changing forestry practice in the Argyll Forest Park.

Addendum – correspondence with FES

  • 30/08/17 Email (see here) and link to my June post sent to Simon Hodge asking if agreed the Coilessan track works should have been notified to the LLTNPA
  • No acknowledgement
  • 19/09/17 Polite reminder sent (see here) with my MSP, who everyone knows as Nicola, copied in.  Hey pronto, immediate (same day) acknowledgement
  • 22/09/17 Response claiming Prior Notification not required as work within “footprint” existing tracks, that the final “running track” would be narrower and that the tracks were needed to control Phytopthera Ramorum  Final response to Mr Knowles
  • 02/10/17 Follow up letter sent with photographic evidence disputing FES claim that works within existing footprint Letter to Simon Hodge, Coilessan 171002
  • No acknowledgement
  • 17/10/17 Polite reminder sent (see here), noting further issues raised by recent notification to LLTNPA of work to straighten a section of track in Coilessan Glen, with my MSP once again copied in.   Hey pronto, acknowledgement!
  • 25/10/17  Response (see here), treated as Information Request, with two attachments: the first the LLTNPA response to a prior notification in 2016 for a new 50m section of track at Coilessan (on planning portal) (see here); the second, the response from Forestry Commission Scotland EIA101 Ardgartan Quarry saying an Environmental Impact Assessment was not needed for the quarry which has been used to source material for the tracks
  • 10/11/17 provision of Ardgarten Forest Plan (document too large to provide on website) and lltnpa woodland framework action area 3 by FES planning department.

 

The timing of the responses from FES is a neat illustration that when it comes to senior personnel in public authorities its not what you say that matters but who you know.

 

November 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
New track, slopes Creag an Loin, Glen Banchor looking towards Creag Dubh on the Pitmain Estate, behind Kingussie. You can tell this is intended as a track, rather than just caused by ATV use, by the bouldes lining the right hand side

Earlier this year, the owner of the Pitmain estate,  who appears to be Abdul Majid Jafar, bought the Glen Banchor and Strone Estate behind Newtonmore.   I say “appears” because the information on Pitmain Estate Ltd at Companies House fails to declare who has significant control over the company.

While  Abdul Majid Jafar resigned as a Director in June 2015, to be replaced by an Indian Accountant also based in the United Arab Emirates, it appears he is still the owner.   Its not only our landownership system which is opaque, our company system is too and there is abundant evidence for this in our National Parks.  Abdul Majid Jafar’s family run Crescent Petroleum, the Middle East’s oldest private oil and gas company, so not short of a bob or too and well able to afford to do things properly if he so wished.

Map credit Cairngorms National Park Authority estate maps

The previous owners of the Glen Banchor and Strone estate were the Lindt Family, of chocolate fame.  They appear to have managed the estate for purely private pleasure (for example the internet has stories about how you could not pay to stalk there).   This had its disadvantages, in that deer numbers were very high, but otherwise estate management appears to have been low key and unintensive.   That appears to have changed since Pitmain took over, with significant consequences for land-management.   This post will consider the new track works in Glen Banchor.

The section of newly engineered track above the esker – you can see one of the sheep dog trial gates on the left. The track bends left after about 700m to a sheep pen.

The boggy moorland where the road bends west into Glen Banchor (GR 702998) and lower slopes of Creag an Loin have long been used for sheep dog trials and there was a rough track along the fabulous esker – a deposit laid down by the glacier –  that snakes across the moor.  This then led up the slopes to a sheep holding pen.   Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the old track (photos gratefully received!), so you can compare then and now, but it was little more than two wheel ruts and much used by walkers.

The esker provides a dry passage across the moor but its character has been totally changed.  The top has been lopped off to create a track with no consideration given to the landscape impact.

Under the Prior Notification system, any changes to existing agricultural or forestry tracks which increase their footprint or new ones should be notified to the planning authority (see Scottish Govt statutory guidance Page 11 onwards).  There is no sign on either the Highland Council or Cairngorms National Park Authority planning portals that this has been done at Glen Banchor (I have written to the CNPA to double check and report the track works).

There is evidence all along the former landrover track that major upgrading works have taken place. Note the large lumps of turf in the foreground which could have been replaced down the centre of the track reducing erosion and the landscape impact.

While full planning permission is not needed for agricultural tracks, the point of the Prior Notification system is it is “an important tool in preventing inappropriate construction of private ways” (Government Guidance).   In this case there are plenty of signs of inappropriate construction (including above) which are not fitting for a National Park and do not meet SNH’s Best Practice Guidance on hill track construction.

The upper section of the track is too steep and already eroding away, not helped by the lack of vegetation down the middle and an absence of drainage bars which means water runs straight down the line of the track.

Start of track 7th November
Start of track 18th November

Since I learned about the track I have been twice, first time to have a quick look and then last Saturday when I walked along the track and beyond.  While it has been very wet, the two photos show there has been a considerable deterioration in the track over the intervening 10 days and much of it has been churned into a quagmire.

The turning circle at the top of the old section of track, sheep holding pen for the sheep dog trials in the background

The problem is even worse at the top of the old section of track.  I don’t think this mess has been created by sheep dog trials, the problem is the old land rover track is now being used for other estate management purposes and far more intensively than previously.  It links to a new estate management track (see top photo) which has been created without any planning permission.

The new track contours round and down the hillside from just below the sheep holding area. You can see the excavated boulders and vegetation dumped on the right of the track.

The new track leads to another turning circle and borrow pit:

The turning circle with hummocky moraine and Creag Dubh behind
The borrow pit below the turning circle

While the newly constructed track, which comes under planning law, ends at the turning circle beyond is an ATV track, if the quagmire created can be described as a track:

Behind the moraine on the right, the ATV track forks, one part linking to constructed tracks on the Strone part of the estate, the other heading up the hillside to a feeding station:

 

Red legged partridge in cage at feeding station

In terms of planning law, all this is important.  The new section of track is clearly for game management purposes and therefore does not come under the Prior Notification System.  Full planning permission was required, it has not been applied for and therefore this is yet another case of disregard of the planning system within our National Parks by landowners.  The ATV eroded track beyond, however, because it has not been constructed falls totally outwith the planning system.

 

What needs to happen

While I understand (from an update they provided) that the CNPA are still working on the enforcement action they have agreed against  the Cluny Estate for unlawful track on Creag an Leth Choin (see here), the basic problem the CNPA faces is that until they have taken effective enforcement action, landowners won’t see planning law as being important.  Generally landowners see themselves as having the right to manage land as they wish and not as custodians for it, even in the National Park.    The result has been that unlawful tracks continue to proliferate across the National Park.  The CNPA needs to be seen to take action (just as East Ayrshire has recently done for breach of planning conditions at a windfarm).

 

Determined and rapid enforcement action would I believe, make a great difference.  This track, being so recent, would be a good place to start.  In addition, while I appreciate the Prior Notification system is very weak and not fit for purpose, the creation of an unlawful track linked to an “upgrade” of an existing track, should make it easier for the CNPA  to argue that the “upgrade” of the existing track is more than that and not fit for purpose.

 

However, at present the CNPA has NO powers to address ATV created tracks, such as the featured here leading from the second turning circle to the feeding station.  While SNH has powers to control ATV use on protected sites, only the western half of the Glen Banchor and Strone estate is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so there are at present no controls in this part of the National Park.  In my view this has to change.  I would like to see all ATV use on the open hill in National Parks being subject to consent through farm/estate management plans.  The CNPA could do this through the creation of byelaws for conservation purposes.

 

This leads to the wider issue of estate management and landownership.  On the landownership side, no additional checks are required before someone buys a large area of land in a National Park, either to establish whether they are fit to manage the land or what their intentions might be.    While the Gynack hydro schemes on the Pitmain Estate are in many ways exemplary (see here) , step beyond them and the tracks further up the hill are a disgrace to the National Park:

Massive turning circle on Meall Unaig, south of Carn an Fhreiceadain. This is visible from Glen Feshie.

I have always wondered why an estate can do one thing well and another so badly.  However, it appears from other new track works above Strone (which I will cover in a further post) that the estate is importing and applying its poor practice standards to Glen Banchor.   While the CNPA has tried to encourage estates to produce management statements for their land, neither Pitmain or Glen Banchor have done so.   The CNPA is therefore left in a position that when a new landowner takes over an estate, it has no idea what that landowner is planning to do in terms of estate management.  That cannot be right in a National Park.

 

What is clear from the new Glen Banchor track is that the new owners are wanting to produce more game for shooting on the estate – hence the feeding station for Red Legged Partridge.   This has implications beyond hill tracks and how they are designed.  The Red Legged Partridge, which is of Mediterranean origin, does best in the wild on dry sandy soils and so, in the wild, is normally found on agricultural land.  Increasingly though it appears to be being bred on moorland within the National Park.  This requires intensive game managements methods akin to farming.  On moorland, however, it is very exposed to predators, especially at feeding stations such as that featured here, and would provide the perfect food for hen harriers if they had not been persecuted close to extinction.  With feeding stations like this, we should expect the number of hen harriers to increase significantly.   Will that happen?

 

Leaving aside wider ecological consideration, feeding stations in our National Parks should only be allowed if estates can prove they are committed to protecting raptors.  In this case,  it would be in the public interest if that the Pitmain/Glen Banchor Estate were to clarify whether they are committed to this and whether clear instructions have been issued to staff telling them that if most of the Red Legged Partridge at the feeding station get predated by raptors that that is fine by the owners.  It would be good if the CNPA, which states it is committed to improving grouse moor management, started to ask the estate these questions and to make the responses public.

November 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 14 comments
The Cononish gold mine as it looked on a dreich day in May – the same day as the pre-consultation event in the Tyndrum Village Hall

The failures in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park’s consultation system

A couple of weeks ago, at the Scottish Wild Group AGM, I was told that a planning application  had been submitted back in August for the new proposal for waste storage waste from the Cononish Gold Mine (see here).   The formal consultation period lasted 28 days and, while I have spent a few days feeling bad that I had missed this and failed to advertise what is being proposed, what I have realised is very few other people knew about the application either.  That is until Scotgold placed a story in the press earlier this week presenting the application as a done deal (see here for example).

 

This demonstrates a fundamental flaw in our planning system.  There was no a single objection on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority planning portal (see here) until I lodged one on Wednesday.  Although this was outwith the formal consultation period, because the application has not yet been determined, you can still lodge comments and I would urge anyone with an interest to do so.

 

The lack of public comment until this week – there are three letters of support which all appeared on the same day – is not I believe because people don’t care about what is being proposed.   There there were significant number of objections to earlier applications.  The reason is that either people don’t know what is being proposed or don’t understand.  I have checked and it appears that neither the Ramblers nor Mountaineering Scotland were informed about the application even though the Ramblers Scotland tweeted a photo of an unlawful Scotgold anti-access sign at the weekend (see here).  (The sign is unlawful because its placed far beyond the current working site boundary).   It should be the business of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority as Planning Authority to make sure that recreational organisations are informed.  When the LLTNPA consults RSPB as a matter of course (they did in this case and every hydro application I can recall) – a good thing – why cannot they also consult the Mountaineering Council about similar developments in the hills?

 

It took me a couple of hours to understand how the 147 documents then on the Park planning portal relate to each other.  There is the main Environmental Statement  then a jumble of appendices and supporting documents which unfortunately don’t appear in the right order.  After scrutinising this I realised the first two appendices to the Environmental Statement, the Pre-application Consultation summary and Consultees responses, appear to be missing from documentation:

 

I have asked the LLTNPA to make these missing appendices public.  There seems little point to the current emphasis the Scottish Government puts on open and transparent pre-consultation if that is not reported.  I look forward to seeing the responses scotgold has made to the questions I and a friend made when we visited the consultation event at the village hall, which were all about how much more mine waste was going to be dumped on the hillside and the reasons for this.

 

What’s going on at Cononish shows is that there are major democratic deficits in our planning system.  This suits Developers and, it appears, the LLTNPA, because it avoids planning proposals from being subject to external scrutiny.   Its really important that  the public demand that the Scottish Government address these failures in the forthcoming planning bill.

 

The main reasons why the new planning application must be refused by the LLTNPA

Its not clear how much of the 8000 tonnes of waste was stored in these bags when this photo was taken in May – but in visualising the impact of the waste of the new planning proposal assume there is 7000 tonnnes in the bags and consider what 100 times this amount of waste would look like.  That gives an idea of how much waste is to be dumped – sorry sculpted – onto the slopes below the mine.

Scotgold already has planning permission for the gold mine, subject to certain conditions, and earlier this year Scotgold they were given an additional permission to start work on processing 8000 tonnes of former mine waste to extract gold. For the waste pictured above thas produced ten one ounce rounds which the press reported this week were auctioned for £46k, a mark up on nearly 400% over current market price.  I will come back to how any of this can be considered sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources in a future post.

 

Here I will focus on the two key differences from the earlier planning application.  The first is that far more waste will be dumped outside of the mine.  The original approval included the following conditions::

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.”

 

The key bit is under point 5, the  amount of waste to be stored outside the mine was limited to 400,000 tonnes because of the sensitivity of the National Park.  Since the original application, the areas of the gold mine has been included in the Ben Lui Wild Land area so any protection of that sensitivity should be even stronger than before.

 

In my posts earlier this year, I drew attention to the fact that that amount of waste Scotgold wanted to dump outside the mine had increased to 530,000 tonnes of tailings.  It now that this was a vast undersestimate and that in addition to this scotgold wants to dump another 170,000 tonnes of unprocessed rock waste outside the mine.  That makes 700,000 tonnes of waste in all, a 75% increase in the amount of waste that is to dumped on the hillside outside the mine.   Nowhere in the application is this enormous increase clearly stated.  It appears no-one wants the public to know.  One consequence, if this is approved, is that the waste is now going to be disposed over a far wider area than would be needed if it was limited to 400,000 tonnes as previously.

 

It appears money has driven this change.  It would cost far more to replace waste back in the mine because the construction of tailings dams requires large up front capital investment.  So the new plan is not only to avoid replacing waste back into the mountain, its to create 10 tailings stacks of approximately 72,0000 tonnes each.  The second main difference to the earlier proposal.   This represents one full year’s worth of waste if new mining machinery is installed, 6 months if its not.  The stacks will be up to 10m high and moulded into shapes Scotgold claim will resemble moraine.

Extract planning application

One of the interesting things about this is the current proposal is claimed to be much better in landscape terms than the last one – an admission that the tailings dam as approved would in fact have had an adverse impact on the landscape in a sensitive area  (and therefore should have been refused by the LLTNPA!).  This time though we are told there will be no adverse impact, even though almost twice the amount of mine waste is to be spread over the hillside.  I am sceptical and so should the LLTNPA.

The reason for this is that in order to extract the gold, the quartz ore need to be crushed until it becomes sand and it is this sand which will make up the bulk of the stacks.  Now while you find sand in glacial moraine there is also lots of rock and finer particles – silt which goes to make clay – which helps bind the whole lot together.    However, if you place sand onto what is a pretty wet hillside – it was sopping when I visited in May – it would all wash away which is no doubt why originally a tailings dam was proposed.   Scotgold’s proposed solution to this – although storing sand is never acknoweldged as far as I can see to be a problem –  is to use the rock waste which was to be left in the mine to line the ground, put a geo-textile on top of this and then mould the sand on top of that.    Here are the design criteria:

Now it doesn’t take an expert to see that there are potentially two major problems with this.  The first is there is nowhere I can see that any consideration is given either to the life span of the membrane or what happens when it breaks down as it eventually must.  A reasonable assumption is that when this happens the stacks of compressed sand will start to be eroded away from beneath.   I suspect by then scotgold will have long gone leaving the public to pick up the tabs for preventing an environmental disaster.

 

The second is there is no proper consideration that I can see of whether it is possible to revegetate heaps of sand in the Scottish Hills in such a way that they will be able to withstand the erosive force of water from above or from the sides.  The re-vegetation plan is to store turfs, up to 30 cm thick and then use them to cover the stacks.  How well these will take on dried sand, which should drain quickly and is different in composition to current soils/peat is unclear.   Cononish, as the chart helpfully shows, has over three metres of rain a year.  Some of that may run off the top of vegetation but some of it will seep into the dried out sand heaps.   What will that do?   And even if the vegetation does take and provides a waterproof seal, what happens if deer get into the enclosure and start to erode tracks over the mounds?    It seems to me there is a high and predictable risk of wash outs of the tailing stacks. And that’s without considering the risks of the Alt Anie changing course by more than the 30m safety zone or of other burns running between the stacks which could be subject to flash floods.  That sort of scenario lead to catastrophic wash-outs.

 

I find it strange that neither SEPA nor SNH in their responses – and they have a duty to protect the River Tay Special Area of Conservation  have asked critical questions about the risks associated with the current proposals or for evidence that the proposed techniques work in very wet climates such as Tyndrum.   Perhaps they think its ok for 530,000 tonnes of sand potentially to wash into the river system over say the next 200 years?   Smaller heaps, with less material as originally agreed, would of course reduce the size of this risk.

Hummocky moraine in Strathfillan below the gold mine. The slopes of many of these moraines considerably exceeds 30% but they have held together for thousands of years because of the mix of materials within them, blocky till set within a matrix and sand and silt which often sets like concrete.

I am no expert on erosion risks and there is some technical documentation in the application which relates to this which needs to be explained in lay terms as well as properly scrutinised.  However, from a scan of the documents – there are 100s of pages of engineering documentation – there is some information in the application which suggests storage of sand is problematic.  This indicates there are high risks of sand sheering on slopes of more than 30 degrees.  This is why the proposed stack heaps do not  resemble natural moraine (for an example see above) but are to be moulded across the hillside.

 

 The Landscape impact of the tailings stacks

One of the landscape visualisations. You can hardly see the enormous green shed below the mine or the tailings. The white/grey patch below and right of the mine represents an unrestored tailings stack.

The Environmental Statement contains a number of visualisations of the landscape impact from different angles (see above).  These without exception make the tailings stacks disappear into the hillside.  Maybe they will, but there are reasons to be sceptical:

 

  • All the visualisations are from a distance and none show what a 10m high stack will look like from close up either before or after restoration.
  • The photos are all browns, a depiction of the area in winter.  However, because the stacks will be well drained their vegetation is likely to be very different to the surrounding peaty slopes and therefore stand out from it.   How this might look is unclear.

 

There are no depictions of how the sand heaps will look when they start to erode away as eventually they must.

 

The landscape impact of the buildings and spoil around the mine is not really covered but is already having a significant landscape impact.  The assumption seems to be blots on the landscape, as long as developers can claim they are temporary (in this case it will be for over 20 years not for all time, are perfectly acceptable in our National Parks.

 

The wider implications of this application

Cononish is not the only potential goldmine in the area and scotgold, when trying to talk up its prospects to attract investors, claims there is potential for several other mines in the area.  So what will the cumulative impact be of potentially millions of tonnes of mine waste sculpted onto hillsides around the Tyndrum and Glen Orchy hills?

 

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA needs to subject the new planning application to  critical scrutiny and in particular make a clear statement about the sustainability or not of the tailings stacks.

 

If the erosion risks can be addressed, in terms of the existing planning permission, it might be better for 400,000 tonnes of waste to be stored in a stacks rather than in a tailings dam.  However, the LLTNPA needs to draw a line under the amount of waste it will allow to be stored on the hillside and this should not exceed the existing limit.

 

November 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

A few weeks ago I learned that someone had nominated me for the TGO Readers’ Award under the category Campaign or Campaigner of the year.    I am really grateful that someone appreciated parkswatchscotland sufficiently to nominate me for this.   I also think its great that TGO values campaigning and through the awards and its coverage makes more walkers aware that the outdoors is not just somewhere to enjoy but also a politically contested space.  For campaigning is politics with a small “p”.

 

I am not, however, canvassing for votes and am not interested in competing against other campaigns or campaigners.  The truth is parkswatch – and the whole outdoor movement if it can be described as such – supports most of the aims of those nominated for the TGO awards.   We need to work together.

 

And that is fundamental part of what parkswatch is about, working with other people.   While presently I write many of the posts, I have always hoped more people would do so and am particularly grateful to other contributors.   Behind the scenes however there is now a large number of people and organisations keen to promote critical debate about our National Parks in Scotland who support parkswatch in all sorts of ways:  providing information, making information requests, tipoffs about what is going on and what needs investigation, suggestions for critical analysis, drafting argument/pieces for potential use, sharing posts on social media etc.   Not only this, but people are taking action, everything from submitting complaints and contacting politicians at the individual level to working through organisations.   My thanks to each and every one of you.   I suspect similar stories could be told for the other campaign/ers nominated for the TGO awards.

 

While this gives reason to be optimistic about the future,  it is worth considering how successful all these campaigns – and the many others not nominated for the awards – have been to date.    The truth is there is a long way to go.  Yes, all the campaigns listed have had their successes but none has achieved the type of fundamental change that is needed.  So, Mend our Mountains and Fix the Fells have addressed some footpath erosion but the issue of how we get sufficient funding for path maintenance work across the British Isles remains.  Mark Avery, backed by wonderful organisations like Raptor Persecution UK and a whole network of bird recorders etc, has done a huge amount to raise awareness of raptor persecution but meantime raptors continue to be killed and disappear on grouse moors, particularly in our National Parks, with depressing regularity.  Lots of people, like Get Outside, are doing great work to try and re-connect people with nature, but poverty and the slashing of outdoor education provision as part of austerity, not to mention the camping ban in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, offsets all of this work.   JMT has done fantastic work on raising awareness of the importance of wild land, but this hasn’t prevented the Scottish Government giving the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach windfarm in a Wild Land Area in Sutherland.

 

And parkswatch is no different.  Certain changes in our National Parks over the last 18 months – from alterations to camping permit areas to restoration of hill tracks –  may be partially attributed to critical coverage on the blog.  But on the really big issues, such as land-use, whether intensive grouse moor or forest management, or major developments, such as An Camus Mor, Flamingo Land or the Cononish goldmine expansion, there is everything still to go for.

 

It would be great if next year there was a standout campaign which had achieved fundamental change, whether in Scotland or anywhere else in the British Isles.  For any such change to happen however will require change at the political level and in Scotland at present there is very little sign of this happening.

 

There is a significant contrast between the radicalism of the early days of the Scottish Parliament (the first Land Reform Act, the creation of National Parks, the Nature Conservation Act) and how it and the Scottish Government now operate (with some significant exceptions of course).  Resources that might have assisted the  implementation of that early legislation and promoted progressive change in the countryside – whether access officers, countryside rangers or staff monitoring biodiversity – have been slashed. There is very little challenge to the way the Scottish Government is micro-managing and centralising public authorities with organisations such as our National Parks and SNH  told what they can and cannot do by civil servants – with loss of even more funding the consequence of non-co-operation.   Even the simplest of decisions, such as the re-introduction of beavers, can only be taken after years of bureaucratic obfuscation.  The Scottish Government’s response to public pressure to change – such as over raptor persecution – is yet more bureaucracy, with handpicked working groups which deliberate for years and achieve nothing.  That it has taken over six months for the Scottish Government to announce the membership of the grouse moor review group tells you everything about the current failures of government.

 

I am optimistic though that this can change.  The ideological consensus behind how Scotland and the countryside, including our National Parks, should be managed is breaking down and that provides a great opportunity.    To exploit that opportunity campaigners will need to work together and see everything is connected.  So, on grouse moors for example, the way they are being managed affects not just wildlife but the landscape.  Behind this its the power of landowners which is the fundamental determinant of how land is used, whether for pylons, windfarms or intensive rearing of grouse and its only when campaigns get together and start to address these fundamental issues that we will get real change.

 

Within this context our National Parks should be demonstration sites for how things could be done differently and a measure of success for parkswatch will be when they start fulfilling that role.

November 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The area of the proposed application (from LLTNPA planning portal). There is nothing in the document about WHAT Flamingo Land are actually proposing

On 27th October, after six months of silence, agents for Flamingo Land lodged a pre-planning application consultation strategy with the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.  Anyone who follows Scottish Government planning policy knows that one of the big ideas and big pushes is towards “front loading” the planning system, with a shift to consultation and engagement taking place prior to planning applications being submitted.  The idea is this should improve proposals and help create consensus around developments.   What front-loading fails to acknowledge is that current planning system is unbalanced, with local communities having little power, and is driven by the self-interest of developers.  This, and the pathetic inadequacy of current pre-application consultations are clearly evidenced by the Flamingo Land proposals.

Its still them and us

The “They” is the public, you and me – the heading illustrates typical attitudes of developers towards the public, a hurdle to be got past, not a partner in developments.

The Pre-application consultation is supposed to include the following:

The only description you will find in the planning documentation about Flamingo Land’s proposals is this:

 

 

 

The LLTNPA will no doubt be patting itself on the back that Flamingo Land is holding three consultation events, rather than the minimum recommended, which is one!   How the public are expected to meaningfully inform the proposals by turning up to an event on the day, with little idea of what to expect, and then respond with no time for reflection, I don’t know.  Any meaningful consultation has to take place over time, to allow exchange and development of views, but instead of using the last six months to do this, the LLTNPA is allowing Flamingo Land to run three tokenistic events.   This is apparently what good consultation looks like – the document states “Best Practice for Consultation is also outlined”  – in the planning world.  This is a major development proposal in a National Park which has enormous implications both for the local community and the National Park and is quite frankly not good enough.

Its also a recipe for conflict:

Extract from Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places. One of the three authors was Petra Biberbach from the Planning Advisory Service who is also on the LLTNPA Board and chairs the Planning Committee

So, why is Petra Biberbach not using her position as Chair of the LLTNPA Planning Committee to empower the local community to get actively involved in planning the Riverside and Woodside sites as she recommended two years ago?

Community Empowerment and planning

While Scottish Government pronouncements and the discourse of our public authorities is full of buzz words about “community engagement”, “community empowerment” and “co-production”, the actions of our Public Authorities continually contradict what is being said.  The Park of Weir planning decision, where Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, overruled the views of the local community at Dunblane in favour of the developers is just one example of this.

Its worth reading what the organisation Planning Democracy had to say about the Scottish Government’s planning white paper (which was developed in response to the review of Planning Petra Biberach was involved in):

The lack of meaningful involvement however fundamentally comes down to power.   What the map above illustrates is that Flamingo Land could be granted a stranglehold over the land to the West of the River Leven and therefore over the local economy.   Scottish Enterprise has agreed in principle to sell the Riverside Site, which is currently in public ownership, to Flamingo Land while their purchase of Woodbank House and also the boathouse on the point to the north west of Lomond shores means they surround that development.  There are serious issues to be addessed about whether this is in the public or local community interest.

 

There is, however, now that the Community Empowerment Act is law, an opportunity to challenge this.  One way for the local community to prevent Flamingo Land from acquiring too much power would be to request the Riverside site from Scottish Enterprise as an asset transfer.  This would not be with a view to stopping all development from going ahead but rather to ensure the community is able to influence the development, retain control in the long-term and ensure some community development.   For example, if the local community owned the land they could refuse development in certain places, such as Drumkinnon Wood, prevent inappropriate applications being made in future (e.g viewing towers which I suspect will be the sacrificial lamb Flamingo Land offers up to get their development proposals through) and ensure community benefit through rent payments.

 

Against what criteria should Flamingo Land’s development proposals be judged?

While the planning application still describes the development as Flamingo Land, the developers have set up a website in the name of Iconic Leisure Developments. This is more informative than the planning application and makes clear that fundamental to the application will be an attempt to “drive the number of visitors”:

This is worrying.   It is  exactly the same type of wording which HIE uses at Cairngorm – we all know what happened there – and is, in my view, inappropriate for a National Park.

 

There is nothing wrong with development at Balloch as long as it is sustainable and benefits both local people and the wider public.  While its a gateway to the National Park, gateways are not normally places people choose to linger.  People want to get inside and in the case of National Parks to experience nature.  It appears the only way Flamingo Land believe they will be able to attract visitors to remain longer term is if they offer a theme park type development.  They may be right about this but it  would be totally inappropriate for a National Park.   The fundamental problem is that this site is being viewed from a commercial, rather than a National Park, perspective and that is likely to drive a certain type of development.  Most of it is still public land and other solutions are possible.

 

Whatever is proposed should, I believe, be evaluated against the National Park’s four statutory objectives.   Here are a few pointers of how I think the proposals should be judged:

  • Sustainable economic development
    • will the long-term jobs on the site be reasonably paid (talk in Scotland is now of £10 an hour minimum wage) and provide good terms and conditions or will the development provide yet more precarious jobs on the minimum wage with precarious hours?
    • will local community businesses and other organisations be able to operate within the development area on fair terms and conditions?
  • Conservation
    •  how much of green parts of the Riverside and Woodbank House sites will be retained, will aerial shots of the site look as green in five years time and will Mackinnon Woods be kept free of development?
    • what will the landscape impact of the development be and will there be a viewing tower which could be seen from the summit of Loch Lomond
  • Sustainable use of resources
    • Will any polluted land on the site be cleared up?
    • Will the development when operational be powered entirely by renewable energy?
    • Will the development result in more traffic and does it incorporate improved public transport links?
  • Public enjoyment
    • Will traditional informal recreational uses of the site be able to continue (boating and angling on river leaving, walking in Mackinnon Woods)
    • Will people visiting site be able to access nature easily, e.g, through a new bridge over the River Leven?
    • Will the amount of good quality public space increase or decrease?

This is far from an exhaustive list and other people will have different ideas.  The LLTNPA and Flamingo Land should have been engaging with the local community and nationally about such objectives but they haven’t done so so far although they have been clearly having secret talks since January:

The way its going Flamingo Land should provide an ideal opportunity for both local community and national lobbying organisations to demonstrate to the Scottish Parliament the inadequacies of our current planning system within the forthcoming Planning Bill which is intended to create a different approach.

October 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Looking southwest down Gleann Casaig. The track on the left preceded the hydro scheme, while that on the right marks the pipeline and, as part of the restoration work, was granted planning consent as a new footpath. Photo credit Jim Robertson (all other photos unless otherwise credited Jim Robertson).

Gleann Casaig runs from the east shore of the Glen Finglas Reservoir, north of Brig O’Turk, up to the ridge between Ben Ledi and Ben Vane in the Trossachs.  The glen forms part of the Woodland Trust’s Glen Finglas estate and part of the Great Trossachs Forest project which in 2015 was designated as Scotland’s newest and largest National Nature Reserve.  It lies wholly within the Ben More and Ben Ledi Wild Land Area, where national policy indicates there should be a presumption against development.   In December 2014,  a few months after National Policy on Wild Land Areas had been issued, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority issued consent for the Allt Gleann Casaig hydro scheme.

 

The development has been completed much quicker than most (November 2016) and in July 2017 Jim Robertson, from the Munro Society, went out to have a look.  Jim is helping co-ordinate the national survey of hydro schemes by Munro Society volunteers (see here – which explains the scheme and how you can get involved) and he used his visit to help trial the hydro scheme reporting form I helped the Munro Society develop.  I have been meaning to blog about what he found ever since but meantime Jim has made another visit to check a couple of things.  We have had a very good dialogue about this and while this post is based on what Jim has found, the opinions in it are solely my own.

 

Jim’s report (see here) – which is well worth reading – and photos show that most aspects of the design and restoration of this scheme have been done well.

The vegetation over the lower section of pipeline is recovering well and the line will soon only be detectable by the marker posts
The powerhouse has been clad in natural materials and the surrounds are less suburban than many schemes
The main intake is well hidden
as is largest of secondary intakes
although in my view the landscaping around the main intake is better

While some of the finishing of the development could be better (e.g the walls of the dam could have been disguised more and if you look carefully you will see yet another blue pipe, contrary to LLTNPA best practice design), I agree with Jim that generally the work on this scheme has been carried out to a high standard.   Indeed, Jim was unable to identify to spot the other intakes which were included on the approved plan.

 

Approved location plan – LLTNPA
Braemar community hydro – photo Nick Kempe

While it is possible the plan was amended post-consent – the LLTNPA is still refusing to publish documentation required by planning consents as a matter of course making it almost impossible for the public to understand what standards have been applied to each development and to report breaches of these – the plans showed intakes C-F were tiny (less than 1.5m broad) and therefore like the example left hard to see from any distance.  In landscape terms if a concerned hillwalker cannot see these micro intakes or the lines of the pipes, that is a job well done.

 

The main concern about this development, as with most of the hydro schemes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is the track which, as the top photo shows has a significant landscape impact.

 

The track which is supposed to be a footpath

Unfinished culvert

In track construction terms, the new track up Gleann Casaig is in my better than most and Jim commented its one of the best he has seen.   The banks on the uphill side are not too steep and while sufficient vegetation was not retained to cover them, they should revegetate in time.  Jim identified some poor finishing but this should not be that difficult to address and could be done without large machinery (which has all been moved off-site).

The problem though is that in planning terms (see here for all papers) this track is supposed to be a footpath and that the LLTNPA gave consent for a new footpath into a wild land area without any proper consideration of the impact on landscape or wild land .  This “path” was not needed to provided access to the intakes because there was already a track up the Glen and the application included an extension of the existing track up to the main intake which was consented to by the LLTNPA:

 

Landscape and Visual Impact

A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) was submitted in the ES.  The consultation response from NP Landscape Adviser notes that existing access tracks will be used and extended to reach the intakes and the penstock route will be fully reinstated leaving a 2m wide new footpath to provide a circular route for recreational users.  The Landscape Adviser agrees with the findings of the LVIA, that during construction there will be significant visual effect on Glen Casaig footpath and also during the operational period at The Mell near the powerhouse.  The proposed mitigation would however reduce this over time.  In terms of landscape effects the wooded upland glen is highly sensitive but no significant effects will result on this or the other LCT’s.  (Extract from Report which approved the application)

 

The LLTNPA not only decided there would be no impact on the landscape – the top photo shows that this is NOT true – it also decided there would be no impact on wild land:

 

Impact on Wildland

The proposed development is located within the SNH Ben More ‐ Ben Ledi (Area 7) area of wild land and within the LLTNPA wildness buffer area, adjacent to an area of core wildness.  An assessment in the ES states that the proposed development would not result in a reduction of the overall wild land quality.  The introduction of new infrastructure – specifically the new footpath alongside the pipeline route, the new access track spur to the main intake and the intake structures themselves – must be considered alongside the presence of the existing access track through the glen.  Appendix 5E of the ES sets out a number of mitigation measures during construction, as well as restoration and enhancement measures post construction.  Provided these are implemented the development should integrate with the landscape and not detract from the special qualities of the wild land character.

 

The logic here appears to be that because there is already one track into a wild land area, that means there is no problem adding a second track.  On this argument we would end up – and indeed are ending up – with tracks everywhere.   The LLTNPA appears to be completely unaware of the Unna Principles governing the land Percy Unna bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland which said there should be NO new footpaths into the hills and the subsequent heart searching which led to the current position where footpath work in hill areas on NTS is seen seen as being only justifiable in response to severe erosion.   One might have hoped that our National Parks would support that position – indeed that has generally been the position in the Cairngorms – but instead the LLTNPA is consenting to new paths and tracks into Wild Land areas without any proper consultation or debate.

 

This failure to protect Wild Land was not helped by SNH’s response to the consultation which failed to make any mention of the Wild Land Area (see here) but left it to the LLTNPA to consider all the issues (despite the fact that it was SNH which drew up the excellent reports describing the special qualities of the wild land area).

 

While the LLTNPA consults the RSPB as a matter of course – in this case the RSPB drew the Park’s attention to Black Grouse leks which could have been affected by the development – they do not consult recreational organisations. Unless recreational organisations are alerted about developments which impact on Wild Land its impossible for them to keep up with what is going on and there were NO objections to this development.  In my view our National Parks should consult all the main recreational and landscape interests about all developments affecting Wild Land (e.g Ramblers, Mountaineering Scotland, Scottish Campaign for National Parks – I am a member of all three) so they can comment on developments such as this.

 

The first thing the LLTNPA might have questioned was whether there was any demand for a circular route round the Glen.

The LLTNPA could also have asked how the new circular route would fit into the network of tracks promoted by the Woodland Trust at Glen Finglas.  The current leaflet on walks in Glen Finglas shows no routes round Glen Casaig (centre of map above).   One wonders if the Developer ever talked to the Woodland Trust about this?

 

The other thing the LLTNPA could have questioned is why a path 2 metres wide was needed.  Most paths into the hills, unless severely eroded, are far narrower than this so how does a 2m wide footpath fit with generally accepted standards for footpath construction?

Track October 2017 – is this really a path?

In the Report that approved the application the  National Park access adviser is quoted as saying this:

 

“The development will bring benefits to public access through a new loop option and hopefully improved path surfacing. Final specifications for this new path need to be agreed.”

 

Whatever vision National Park staff had, its not been realised.  The truth is this track was never intended as a footpath.  Being 2m wide – in fact Jim has confirmed with me that the track is more than 2m wide in many places so does not even conform to the planning consent – it can still be used by vehicles and is, making the track totally unsuitable in walking for places.

 

There appear to be several possible explanations for why  this “path” was proposed.  The first is because it allows more direct access to the intakes than the older track up the Glen, which winds round the hill, and therefore takes more time.  The second is that it could potentially assist with other aspects of estate management (e.g future tree planting planned as part of the Great Trossachs Forest) – if that is the case that should have been made clear.  The third was it enabled the developer to save on restoration costs:  so instead of fully restoring the ground above the pipeline, by including in the application a proposal for a 2m wide footpath the developer was able to reduce the amount of turf and soil it stored and reduced the amount of land it needed to restore.  It seems to me that none of these reasons justify the retention of this track.

 

What needs to happen

While legally  its too late now for the LLTNPA to require this track to be removed, it should take enforcement action to ensure that the restoration of the land around the track is the best possible standard and the track stops looking like a track and starts looking like a footpath.  That means banning vehicles from using it.  I am sure because the land is owned by the Woodland Trust, which should be more sensitive than most landowners to adverse publicity, that this should be possible (if any reader is a member of the WT please contact them and ask them to stop vehicle use of this track).

 

What Gleann Casaig and theGlen Feshie track prior notification covered in my last post show (see here) is that our National Parks are failing to consider properly developments which intrude into Wild Land areas.  Our National Parks should be at the forefront of protecting wild land and developing best practice into how developments which impact on wild land should be treated.   Instead, their actions are undermining the whole concept of Wild Land Areas.    I believe there is an urgent need for both our National Parks to develop explicit policies to inform how they respond to developments in Wild Land area and that a key part of this should include consultation with recreation and landscape interests.   The sad fact is that the LLTNPA in particular only stands up to developers if somebody objects to an application and therefore the best way to improve how they protect Wild Land is to ensure the public are aware of all such developments through recreation and landscape organisations.

 

I would also like to see that where our National Parks do consent to new paths or tracks, they include conditions about how they are used.  These should include presumptions against motorised vehicles using new paths and also conditions forbidding vehicles from going off track.  This would prevent the “track-creep” we see in both our National Parks where new tracks, instead of stopping vehicle erosion, simply open up new areas to vehicular use and all the damage that creates.

October 20, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The upper part of track in the photo appears (from the site plans) to be new, the lower part of the track to have been widened

Following my post about how the planning documentation for the Ledard farm campsite has been altered  (see here), I have been trying to obtain final confirmation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority of the status of the new track being used to construct the Hydro Scheme (see here).  On 28th September a member of staff  told me:

 

“I can confirm that the temporary track which has been constructed does not have planning permission.  The route of the track follows the route of the approved penstock and has been subject to monitoring as part of the approved hydro scheme ref 2013/0267/DET.  The agent was advised that planning permission was required for the track and this has led to the submission of the planning application which is currently being considered.”

 

However the day before, when I visited the site with a friend, it was claimed (see below) that planning permission for a temporary track had been consented by means of a Non-Material Variation to the original application.  I therefore asked the LLTNPA three weeks ago for a final clarification but have not had a response.   I therefore need to qualify what I say here but it appears that Fergus Wood, who until every recently was an LLTNPA Board Member and Member of the Planning Committee, has allowed a track to be constructed without planning permission on his land.    This post will develop the argument that unless the LLTNPA refuses the retrospective planning application that has been submitted for this track (see here), the credibility of the entire planning system in the National Park will be in shreds, and that to enforce the planning conditions will benefit the local economy.

Powerhouse is wooden building right of centre

The first section of track above Ledard Farm was already in existence but has been broadened and the creation of a pipeline through the trees has made the section of new track above more visible (see top photo).

The existing track appears to have ended just above the trees and section in the bottom 2/3 of the photo is new.  The buried pipeline is to the right (the pipeline is not the issue).
The track without planning permission is marked in red as a “working corridor”.

A document uploaded to the planning portal in October after our visit described this as a “working corridor” (see left).   The photo above shows that this is not true.  A track has been constructed.  At the time of our visit there had been recent work both to landscape it (the mound of earth on the left) and to created a drainage ditch.

This section of track is not only highly visible it is also quite steep and appears to exceed the maximum angle recommended by SNH in the Good Practice Guidance on Hill Tracks – 14 degrees.   Another reason, no doubt, why staff would have originally advised that there should be no access track constructed on the east side of the Ledard burn.

 

 

Above the steep section the track turns west and takes a more or less horizontal line across the open hillside.  It was the visibility of this section of track from afar which informed the advice staff gave to Fergus Wood, prior to the original application, that the access track should be on the far side of the Ledard burn (through the trees beyond the digger).  The reasoning behind this advice was repeated in the report to the LLTNPA Planning Committee which approved the original application.  Fergus Wood, who is still the landowner,  has nevertheless allowed the developers to construct a new access track on this section of ground.   If Board Members can ignore planning conditions and requirements, I am afraid the message is so can everyone else.  This is why the LLTNPA should have taken enforcement action as soon as they heard about this and should now refuse the new planning application.

Its not just that a track has been created, a large section of hillside above has been altered – another concern in the original committee report – and various soil types mixed.  The LLTNPA had agreed to some work here – necessary to construct the pipeline – but a much wider section of land than that set out in the original working corridor appears to have been affected.    The LLTNPA should be requiring a full report on the works that have been carried out, including their ecological impact.   The planning application to retain the track says this section of hillside will be planted with trees.

Another photo showing works appear to have been carried out outwith the working corridor approved by the National Park Authority.   We wondered if turf had been “robbed” from here in order to restore the land above the pipeline?  (The work on the ground in this photo is unlikely to have any significant landscape or ecological impact but the point is its being carried out on a Board Member’s land apparently outwith planning consents).

The intake to the hydro scheme is well hidden and will have almost no impact in landscape terms – the creation of a hydro scheme on Ledard Farm is not the issue.  The question for the LLTNPA though is how much of the excavation of the hillside on the right was agreed as part of the pipeline work and how much due to the creation of the construction track (e.g as a “borrow pit” from which to obtain materials to created the track)?

Incidentally, its worth noting how the muddy water in the burn below the intake, a contrast to the water above (see left) which was totally clear.   This is why detailed plans about how sediment will be prevented from entering river systems are required as part of planning consents.  I don’t have the expertise to know whether the amount of sediment entering the river in this case is within agreed limits or not but SEPA have been notified.

 

Could the track have been granted planning permission?

On returning down the Ben Venue track we were met by Fergus Wood and a group of people working on the site (who appear to included staff from Vento Ludens, Baby Hydro and the contractors MAM).  It quickly became apparent that most of the workforce, who were friendly, did not really know what was going on and the main discussion was between my friend, myself, Fergus Wood and another person who did not introduce himself but appeared to represent Vento Ludens. He confirmed that Vento Ludens had bought the scheme from Fergus Wood, something I had not been certain of up till then and had obviously read the articles on parkswatch because he claimed a permanent access track was needed to allow future maintenance to the site.

 

The only reason I can repeat what was said next is that I had taken the precaution of switching my voice recorder on before starting our walk round the site and can produce this in Court if the man who appeared to speak for Vento Ludens wanted to challenge the veracity of what I have to say next (we were potentially two witnesses against six).   This person claimed to me that a temporary construction track (as in the photos above) had been agreed by the LLTNPA by means of a Non-Material Variation (NMV) to the original planning application.  I replied that I had looked carefully at the planning portal and as far as I could recall the NMVs that appeared there did not include a temporary construction track.  However, accepting I could have missed something or the Park might have failed to publish the consent, I requested that he could send me the NMV consent and I would be happy to publish with a correction on parkswatch.  When he repeated the claim, another guy, who wanted to be helpful, asked for my email – I said it was on parkswatch – so he could send the NMV to me.  He obviously believed an NMV had been submitted and granted consent.    I have never received it and, having checked the planning portal again there is no such consent there.  This is why I have also asked the LLTNPA to confirm that when they say the access track never had planning permission, that includes any temporary construction track agreed by means of a NMV.

 

Once I have final confirmation of the planning position, I will comment further about the implications of this case for the Board Members Code of Conduct.  Meantime, I think there are some lessons here for the planning system.

Implications for the planning system

What struck me from the discussion on Ledard Farm is the workforce appear to have very little awareness of what has and what has not been agreed through the planning system.  The guy who said he would send me the NMV obviously believed such a variation had been agreed but it appears he had never seen the document.  It appears he trusted that someone had made the application.  This made me realise that people working for contractors on the ground on this or other hydro schemes often may have little idea about whether the necessary planning consents are in place, let alone what they require.   This is not their fault, they just do as they are told but this may help to explain why planning conditions are often not met, whether at Ledard, other hydro schemes, the Beauly Denny restoration etc.

 

What then happens is driven by money.  If developers and owners of hydro schemes also know the National Park is reluctant to take enforcement action, the temptation to take shortcuts to increase profit levels increases.        The man who claimed an NMV had been obtained for a temporary construction track at Ledard, also claimed that that “due diligence” had been carried out before the purchase of the hydro scheme.   Now, one might have thought, if an access track is essential for maintenance purposes as he claimed, due diligence would have included checks on whether consents were in place for access to the site both for construction and maintainance purposes.  Perhaps checks were undertaken, but if so someone appears to have concluded that the absence of consents for an access track would not impact on the value of the hydro scheme.  What does this tell you about the respect given to the planning system in the National Park?

 

The basic problem is that while many of the conditions the LLTNPA has applied to planning consents for hydro schemes are excellent, they are not enforced.  As a consequence they become meaningless as soon as a developer puts money before the natural environment or their own interests before the planning system.  While part of the solution to this is enforcement – which is why it is so essential the LLTNPA is seen to act robustly in this case involving (now former) Board Member Fergus Wood – the other part of the solution is to have an informed workforce.   Where developments are carried out according to planning requirements and shortcuts are not taken, that should create MORE work.  More work would give more pay to the people working on these schemes and put more money back into the local economy.   Its in the interests of the workforce therefore to understand exactly what planning conditions are in place and to empower them to speak out when these are broken.   The LLTNPA could be encouraging this.  It could ask all developers to confirm that every member of the workforce has seen the relevant plans that have been approved and could set up a confidential reporting line for use where they have been broken.   That would also help other people report potential breaches of planning permission (its hard to clype on your neighbours).

 

What’s good for the environment is good for local jobs

Vento Ludens (“Playing with the Wind”) – the company appear to have started out in windfarms before branching out into hydro – is a Company with their address registered in Scotland at South Charlotte St in Edinburgh.  It is ultimately owned by a company registered in Germany which is controlled by H.Walz (who is also Director of Vento Ludens).  Its latest accounts vento ludens accounts, for the year ending December 2016, show shareholders funds of £3,938,194.

 

This is important because developers in general are always complaining about the unnecessary costs imposed by the planning system.  Renewable energy developments, however, are are highly profitable, hence the investment from Germany in this case but also why many of our hydro schemes are now ultimately owned by the City of London or other tax havens.   Vento Ludens’ accounts show they have plenty of money that could be used to pay now for the re-instatement of the access track, which would provide more employment to the people working on the scheme.  They are also likely, once the scheme becomes operational, to make enough money to pay for the Ledard hydro intake to be maintained without an access track.  That would also help local employment (the time taken to walk up to the hydro instead of driving there to clear the screens of debris).  If  larger scale replacements – once every ten years? – could not be brought in by vehicle off-road, helicopters could be sued.   The LLTNPA therefore have no reason to fear that by enforcing planning conditions that would somehow harm the local economy.

 

The lesson from this I would suggest is that the best way the Park could help the local economy, is by ensuring the highest standards possible are applied to hydro schemes.  This would help reduce the amount of money taken out of the local area, Scotland and indeed the UK.

 

Even better would be if it could promote more community owned Hydro Schemes.  One wonders if Fergus Wood ever thought about trying to sell the Ledard hydro scheme to the local community in Strathard rather than to a company controlled from abroad and what sort of system might have helped him do this.

 

The Ledard Hydro track planning application is still open for comment and you can do so here

Addendum

At 13.20 today, 3 hours after this post appeared, I received an email from the LLTNPA which stated “that the change to a new track has not been considered as a Non-Material Variation”.  In other words a track that has been constructed on land owned by Fergus Wood when he was a Board Member and a member of the Park Planning Committee is unlawful.  This is a scandal which needs full public investigation.    I have removed the ? after “unlawful” in the original title of this piece and many of the other qualifications to what I wrote no longer apply.

October 17, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The “restored” construction track just south of Balsporran Cottage forms a gash across the hillside which will remain highly visible even if the vegetation does recover because the “bench” which was created across the hillside by cut and fill construction to provide a flat track has not been re-landscaped.

This post will consider the failure of Scottish and Southern Electric to date to restore the landscape caused by the Beauly Denny construction works in the northern section of the Drumochter.

 

A central planning assumption behind the Beauly Denny was that once the construction phase was complete the land would be restored to it original condition.   Initially the main exception to this was  the agreement by the Scottish Government that some existing tracks which were “upgraded” for construction purposes would be allowed to remain, including approx 7km in the Cairngorms National Park.  Such tracks were described as “permanent” access tracks. (This, I have learned from helpful communications with SSE, includes the section of track on the Dalnacardoch Estate between Dalnaspidal and Drumochter (see here)).  Subsequently, the Scottish Government decided that landowners could also apply to local planning authorities to retain “temporary” construction access tracks but these would require full planning permission. All other tracks, compounds and construction areas around the transmission towers were supposed to be restored to their original condition.

View of north Drumochter Lodge and Beauly Denny from Geal Charn.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has granted planning permission to the North Drumochter Estate to retain the section of track from North Drumochter Lodge to near Dalwhinnie (section of track to left of lodge behind shelter belt) on condition it is narrowed and the landscape impact reduced  (see here).  The northern part of this track (outside frame of photo) was restored in the summer but the North Drumochter Estate has subsequently applied to remove the requirement for native woodland planting around it – this will be considered in future post.  The section considered in this post, where full restoration is required, lies between the south (right) of the north Drumochter Lodge policy woodlands to Drumochter summit. The line of the former construction track is still clearly visible in the photo above from a distance.

In my view the main reason for this is that the attempt to restore the former access track along this section has been risible.   The photo above shows the bench that was cut across the hillside through cut and fill (the upper slope was cut and the lower filled in with the material excavated) remains.  In effect the only restoration that has been carried out has been to break up the former track surface.   The material which forms the line of the track should have been moulded back to match the contours of the hillside, with the “fill” material shifted uphill to cover the “cut” ground and banks on the upside of the track.

The consequence of leaving the track foundations in place is not only that a permanent line has been left across the hillside but as should have been quite predictable, the North Drumochter Estate has continued to use the line as a track.  This will prevent full vegetation recovery even if the current plan, which is to leave restoration up to natural regeneration works.

The boundary between the unrestored section of track just south of North Drumochter Lodge policy woodlands and the restored section.

The photos shows vehicles are still being driven from the section of track granted planning permission by the CNPA (which still requires to be narrowed) onto the section “restored” by SSE’s contractors creating a churned up motorway.  This “restored” section is in the Drumochter Hills Site of Special Scientific Interest and off-track use of vehicles here needs consent by SNH.  (I will ask if it has been granted).  Unless the CNPA, SNH and SSE work together to stop vehicles being driven here the vegetation will never recover.

The first section of the restored track opposite Balsporran Cottages is a quagmire due to inappropriate vehicle use

 

For almost 2.5km there has been no attempt to landscape the ground of the former track into the contours of the hillside with the result that it will form a permanent landscape scar even if vehicle use was stopped

 

 

Access point opposite Balsporran Cottages has been used to create a shortcut to North Drumochter Lodge

The use of vehicles has been facilitated by the creation of access gates from the A9 enabling vehicles to be driven up onto the line of the Beauly Denny construction track, creating more erosion and preventing vegetation recovery.

 

The former track as it approaches the Boar of Badenoch from the north – in what sense is this a “temporary” track?

While the CNPA, to its credit has been very concerned about the poor restoration of this section of the Beauly Denny and the landscape scar which can be seen from the A9,  so far its focus has been on the quality of the vegetation reinstatement.

Some peat has been restored around the tower base but a far wider area has been left to “natural regeneration”.

Some of the poor restoration around the tower bases has been explained by CNPA staff as being a consequence of a failure to store vegetation properly during the construction phase leaving insufficient peat and vegetation to re-cover the area and of inadequate construction method statements 250615trackrestorationSSE (obtained through FOI).  This appears correct and the result is that more mineral soils are exposed and this will promote natural regeneration by different plant communities.  CNPA staff have suggested alternative solutions (see peatland restoration advice in link above) which so far appear to have been resisted by SSE.  One suspects the underlying reason for this is SSE does not want to incur more costs.

Section south of previous photo looking north

Its only as the former construction track approaches the Drumochter pass that the restoration work has attempted to remove the line of the cut and fill and mould the former track materials into the contours of the hillside.   While a short section of bank (on right) has been left exposed, other restoration on this short stretch has been more successful with the horizontal bench across the hillside effectively removed, making it much harder for vehicles to drive here.  Unfortunately the failure to store and replace vegetation means it will still form a very visible scar for some time.  Vegetation reinstatement, rather than landscaping, is the main issue on this short section of the former construction track.

There is one section between pylons near the Boar of Badenoch where no access track was constructed.

This photo shows what the hillside would look like if restored properly and provides a benchmark to judge the restoration.

The responsibility for restoring the damage to the landscape and what needs to happen

When planning consent was granted to the Beauly Denny the condition was that the section of ground covered in this post should be fully restored.   The CNPA to its credit has been very concerned about the standard of restoration and I have been able to tell from correspondence obtained through FOI (eg Mr D Bryden CNPA Response 26 August 2015) that the CNPA were not properly consulted about the original mitigation measures and that after a Board Visit they raised issues at a senior level in SSE.  This has had some effect and the CNPA is now involved in annual monitoring of the restoration.    Unfortunately however the 2016 restoration monitoring report, which I obtained through FOI (see here), seems to show that Scottish and Southern Electric had managed to confine discussion of the issues to vegetation recovery and not wider landscape issues:

 

2 RESTORATION
2.1 THE DEFINITION OF FULL RESTORATION
The definition of “full restoration” is not necessarily straightforward, particularly for complex vegetation communities. Totally subjective or objective approaches are likely to be problematic and it is likely that it will be necessary to utilise a combination of both subjective and objective techniques for monitoring affected locations.
The broad definition of full restoration is more straightforward than the specific detailed approach to establishing that it has been achieved. In simple terms, following construction of the overhead line, it would be reasonable to expect that the habitat should be restored to one that is of similar type, structure, species composition and of at least equivalent quality/value to that which was present prior to construction. In achieving this, certain changes to the vegetation, that may occur as a result of the construction, restoration procedures, or through natural change (or anthropogenic change) and which may be either beneficial or adverse; need to be fully taken into account.

 

Now vegetation is important, and I don’t want to minimise in any way the importance of the inputs from CNPA staff on this or the SSE classification of vegetation recovery to date as adequate when it is clearly not.  However, what appears to have been missing so far is full consideration of the landscape issues.

 

In my view both CNPA and SNH should now be calling on SSE to produce a proper landscape plan to restore the scar across the hillside caused by the failure to re-landscape the cut and fill track.  Such restoration should make off road use of vehicles along the line of the former construction track very difficult, while specific action should be taken to prevent the estate from driving vehicles onto the flatter area of moorland between north Drumochter Lodge and Balsporran Cottages.

 

SSE have the money to pay for this.  Moreover, where estates have gained permission for tracks to be retained, as north of Drumochter Lodge, this has saved SSE large sums which they would have had to spend on removing the tracks  At the very least they should be using these savings to re-invest and ensure proper reinstatement of other sections of track.  The landscape of the National Park deserves no less.

October 9, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Digger 6th October 2017 just southwest of col between Geal Charn and A’Mharconaich, West Drumochter Hills. Note the hillwalkers in the foreground.  GR 592766 approx.  The track curls round into Fraoch Choire north east of Beinn Udlamain.

If you see a digger in the hills……………report it!

On Friday, I went for a run up Geal Charn and went just beyond the summit because the views then open up down Loch Ericht.  There was a digger a little way to the south on what used to be a stalkers path into the Fraoch Choire.  Over the last ten years or so new bulldozed tracks have proliferated on both sides of the Drumochter pass and had a massive impact on the scenery.

Track behind north Drumochter Lodge
Tracks leading into west Drumochter hills from Balsporran cottages. The track on the left, up the Allt Choire Fhar leads onto the col in the top photo with the digger.
Screenshot from the very helpful Cairngorms National Park estate boundaries map

Most of land on the north side of the Drumochter pass is part of the North Drumochter or Ralia Estate as it is sometimes known.   As far as I can see from the National Park and Highland Council planning portals only two of the North Drumochter tracks has had planning permission, a  short section south of the telephone mast in the Glen back in 2012 and a section of the Beauly Denny construction track running north from Drumochter Lodge.  The tracks on the open hillside appear not to have been subject to planning at all.

 

The problem has been that under the old planning rules agricultural and forestry tracks did not need planning permission except in National Scenic Areas.  Estates used the presence of a few sheep, as in the first photo above, to claim these were agricultural tracks when they have been primarily used for grouse moor management.       However, after coming under considerable pressure from environmental and recreational NGOs, in December 2014 the Scottish Government introduced the Prior Notification system where landowners are supposed to notify planning authorities of the creation of any new track and any works to existing tracks which effectively extend them (e.g broadening the width of the track).

 

Many estates, however, are not observing the new rules and its a considerable challenge for Planning Authorities to monitor what is going on on the ground.  (Its not possible for planning authorities to take enforcement action against works that are more than three years old).   The LINK hilltrack campaign has had considerable success encouraging hillwalkers to report new tracks but one of the challenges for both LINK and planning authorities is to determine when the track work was done .   The presence of diggers however provide evidence that work is being done.

 

What struck me on Geal Charn, a popular Munro, is just how many hillwalkers must pass track construction works on the hill  and assume that all is legitimate.    If you care about the landscape, report it!.  A good place to start is the Link Hill tracks group (see here).

 

Has the work on this track been granted planning permission or been properly notified?

You can also report direct to the Planning Authority.   Several planning authorities, including the Cairngorms National Park, are now placing all Prior Notifications on their planning portals and its quite easy to check if work has had planning permission if you know the council or National Park boundary.  In this case I went to Cairngorms National Park Authority planning applications and did a map search:

The OS Map is out of date and does not show recent tracks but the track in the top photo follows the line of an old stalkers path into the Fraoch Choire.

When you zoom in one level more than this you get to maps which depict all planning applications in red.   The situation in this case is a bit complicated since the yellow marks line marks the Cairngorms National Park boundary and the digger in the photo may have just been outwith the CNPA boundary (although of course it could have done works on either side of the boundary).  I therefore also checked the HIghland Council planning portal but as far as I can see no full planning application or Prior Notification has been submitted to either Planning Authority:

HIghland Council planning portal snapshot showing line of old footpath into Fraoch Choire. If the track had planning permission or been notified to the Planning Portal there should have been a red line by the line of the footpath.

Now of course its possible that North Drumochter Estate has notified Highland Council of the work and it has not appeared on the their planning portal or that works are of a very minor nature (routine maintenance of existing tracks) and therefore don’t need to be notified.   However, what the planning portals shows is that there is NO obvious explanation for the presence of the digger or that works have been agreed here.   I believe therefore there is every reason to report it.  So, I will!

 

If you find it difficult to access or the Planning Authorities on-line portals don’t let that put you off.  (The IDOX planning portal still does not allow you to see planning applications on maps if you use firefox as your web browser although I reported this glitch to the Scottish Government early this year)    You can email photos to the planning authority and ask if they know about this work (CNPA planning 01479 873535or planning@cairngorms.co.uk) and the LINK Hill tracks campaign (see here again) will always welcome information.

 

Hill tracks and protected areas

Where it can be hard for the planning authority to take enforcement action under planning law is if works are of a minor nature.   This however contributes to a new problem, track creep.   Tracks are gradually widened or extended or ATV tracks receive some maintenance work which over time then add up to a new track.    The photos I have – and unfortunately I did not have time to take a close look which would have been better – suggest this may be happening in this case.

 

There are other mechanisms however by which we could prevent this happening.   In protected nature sites many operations require consent from SNH and much of our National Parks are supposed to be protected in this way.  SNH has a very useful website, called sitelink which enables you to do map based searches of whether a site is protected (and it works with firefox!):

The big hatched block shows the boundary of the Drumochter Hills SSSI, Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area (birds).

It appear that the digger, while it might have been just outwith the CNPA boundary was within the Drumochter Hills SSSI, SAC and SPA boundary.   Within that SSSI all work on vegetation, ditches, tracks and off road use of vehicles requires permission from SNH.   So, I will report the digger to  SNH too, although in an ideal world one would hope that our National Parks at least would automatically pass on this type of information to SNH!  Indeed, I believe one of the primary ways that the CNPA could prevent the further extension of hills tracks – a policy commitment set out in its new National Park Parternship Plan – would be to encourage and work with SNH to make the system of Operations Requiring Consent far more robust than it is at present.

What needs to be done

Besides using its planning powers and working more closely with SNH, it seems to me its time the CNPA (and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority) considered using the other powers it has to bring hill tracks and hill track work under control and protect the landscape.  I have previously advocated use of byelaws, which the National Park can create in order to protected nature conservation interests, to control grouse moor management.  Part of that should include extension of tracks and use of diggers on the hill.

 

It will help build the case for that if people out on the hill report what they see and, ideally, complain.

September 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Looking from the pole which marks the centre of the proposed new town at an An Camas Mor towards the Lairig Ghru

Anyone who tries to understand human affairs from a global perspective will have probably greeted  last week’s announcement that a poll of readers of the Rough Guides had found Scotland to be the most beautiful country in the world with a deep shrug.

 

It is of course just a piece of marketing based on a very selective sample of people who are able to travel and choose to visit certain countries.   That Scotland came out top beating Canada, New Zealand and South Africa says a lot.  This was a poll of people from the English speaking world with what appear to be anglo-saxon perspectives.   A month ago I was in the Dolomites, where its not hard to find marketing blurb claiming that the Dolomites are indeed the most beautiful place in the world.  I wonder how many Italians were included in this poll?       And what about he mass of humanity who live in the third world, often much closer to the natural environment than we do, but whose experience of beauty is being destroyed by logging companies, mines and agricultural plantations which also displace them from the land.

 

Polls like this are not just an indulgence which should be accepted with a shrug.  They feed a racist view of the world, where we rarely stop long enough to consider what people from elsewhere and who are not like us may think, and which is blind to what capitalism is doing in our name to other parts of the world.  They also feed a privileged view of Scotland, which treats a few unspoiled land and city scapes (from Skye to Edinburgh) as epitomising the country and is blind to the many far from beautiful places where people actually live, with all the impact that has for health and human happiness.   Social injustice, which is everywhere and growing, is never beautiful.

 

Even if we ignore, like the tourists, the ugly bits of Scotland, objectively, how can you compare the best bits, the beauty that lies in our hills, lochs and western seaboard with the high mountains of the Himalaya or the deserts of Australia or the savannah in Africa?   People can only answer questions about what they know about.   I love Scotland but then its the landscape of home.   If you polled everyone in the world about what was the most beautiful country I am pretty certain China, having the most people, would come out top and Scotland, being small, would come out way down the list.  That’s not much use to Visit Scotland though, in their mission to promote Scotland, so the hype and privileged world view that goes with it will continue.

 

Polls like this also ignore the reality that across the world humans are destroying the natural environment and natural beauty at ever increasing rates and although “peak” destruction in Scotland took place something like 200 years ago, it is continuing with the say-so, nay encouragement, of those in power.    The Herald in its coverage of the story  (see here) gave a wonderful illustration of the complacency of the current Scottish Government:

 

“A Scottish Government spokeswoman said its policies ensure developments are sited at appropriate locations”.  

 

Really?  It seems to me that only someone who had never visited An Camas Mor (photo above) or was blinded by business, greed and profit could ever say that.

 

And that is my greatest concerns about this poll, it lets those in power off the hook and will undermine our National Parks, which were set up to protect the landscape and find more sustainable ways for humans to relate to nature.  The thinking goes like this……..

 

….if Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world, then:

  • people cannot be really concerned about the proliferation of hydro tracks which has destroyed the landscape of Glen Falloch and Glen Dochart for example with the blessing of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority
  • surely, with so much beauty, we can easily afford to lose a few areas in our National Parks to development, whether to the An Camas Mor new town, Flamingo Land at Balloch or Natural Retreats at Cairngorm
  • people cannot be really concerned about how our landscapes are treated on a day to day basis, whether by Highlands and Islands Entrerprise at Cairngorm or grouse moor owners……….in fact, perhaps our landowners are right, its these land management practices which make the country beautiful
  • why on earth did parkswatch make a fuss about the beech trees on Inchtavannach being felled in the name of science?   This poll came after that felling and all the other destruction covered in the last 18 months and that doesn’t seem to have altered people’s perceptions of Scotland.
  • this just shows that people aren’t very concerned about the visual impact of blanket conifer afforestation and subsequent clearfelling by the Forestry Commission so we can just let these practices continue in the National Park

 

The point that our politicians and powers that be must not be allowed to forget is that, whatever Scotland’s position in the world, our National Parks have, since their creation, presided over a further degradation of the landscapes they were set up to protect.  What we need is not international opinion polls, which simply provide an excuse for our National Parks to continue as they are present, but a real change in direction which puts landscape and social justice first.

September 8, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The concrete foundations of ski tows removed by truck from Coire na Ciste

The work funded by HIE to remove the ski infrastructure from Coire na Ciste, using trucks, has progressed apace in the last week.  The sheer amount of rubble pictured above provides evidence of the number of truck journeys that have been made up and down the mountain to the West Wall area without protective measures being taken (see here).  The Cairngorms National Park Authority were told hand tools would be used to undertake this work (judging by the amount of concrete this was never a remote possibility) and that the material would be removed by helicopter.

 

Further evidence has now become available to show the removal of the ski infrastructure has nothing to do with the need to clear up Cairngorm.  In their response to a Freedom of Information request on what they planned to spend at Cairngorm (which has been forwarded to Parkswatchscotland)  HIE included this:

 

Demolition of the Coire na Ciste café subject to funding; no price or programme yet.

 

In other words the £267k which HIE appears to have secretly awarded to McGowan to remove former ski lifts and snow fencing does NOT include the demolition of the Ciste Cafe, the biggest eyesore on the whole of Cairngorm.

On Tuesday HIE, which had up till now remained silent about the destruction going on at Cairngorm (I have still not even had an acknowledgement from their new Chief Executive, Charlotte Wright, asking for the “work” to be halted) put out a news release headed “CairnGorm Mountain clear up works” (see here).    This claimed that  “The removal of disused and decaying installations will enhance the appearance of the Mountain during the majority of the year when there is no snow.  In turn this will improve the experience of non-skiing visitors, an important market in making CairnGorm a year-round visitor attraction.”       So why then, if the experience of non-skiing visitors is so important, has HIE prioritised the removal of former ski infrastructure from Coire na Ciste?   This is hidden from the mass of visitors who go to Coire Cas  whereas the former Coire na Ciste Cafe blights the Ciste car park and is the one bit of Ciste infrastructure visitors are likely to see.

 

HIE has tried to defend the indefensible by saying they are leaving the lift wiring in Coire na Ciste in place.  This is undermined by their statement that  “The potential reinstatement of mechanised ski uplift in Coire na Ciste is to be one of the options examined in the review of the infrastructure at CairnGorm due to be commissioned by HIE once the tender process has been completed.”   So, why would HIE want to remove ALL the ski infrastructure (except the wiring and some of the fences in better condition) from Coire na Ciste BEFORE it completed a full review of infrastructure at Cairngorm?

 

What’s more the news release states:   “Other remnants including concrete bases at the former White Lady T-Bar, Aonach Poma and Fiacaill T-Bar lift lines are also being removed with the project set to be completed in Summer 2018.”   This strongly suggests that the old infrastructure in Coire Cas, which really does blight the visitor experience and can be seen by anyone on HIE’s white elephant funicular, is not going to be removed until next year.

The former White Lady t-bar base and associated mess as it appeared in August 2017 can clearly be seen from the funicular (top right).

 

 

In response to public criticism of the removal of snow fencing in the Ciste – which makes off-piste skiing there possible for much longer periods – HIE claims that “The stretches of snow fencing that are still in good condition will continue to serve skiers and the programme of fencing renewal will continue”.   They make no mention of the fact that the one thing Natural Retreats is supposed to be responsible for funding at Cairngorm is the replacement of the old chestnut ski fencing (this was confirmed in an FOI response to George Paton last year  “o/ All Fencing Timber.  Tenant’s responsibility”).    So, why then would HIE be paying McGowan to remove snow fencing from Coire na Ciste when it appears that Natural Retreats could have been replacing this?

 

All of this provides yet more evidence that the most likely explanation for the destruction of the skiing infrastructure at Cairngorm is that HIE and Natural Retreats wish to try and undermine the alternative proposals that have been developed by the Coire na Ciste group STC Statement 25 Aug 2017.docx.     In other words,  the alleged “clear-up” at Cairngorm is purely about the self-interest of HIE and Natural Retreats and has little to do with the interests of the local community or recreational visitors, let alone the landscape.

 

The evidence shows HIE cannot be trusted to undertake a proper review of the uplift infrastructure at Cairngorm.  Its unclear at present how much money they intended to spend on this but luckily there is now an option to spend it differently.

 

Yesterday, members of the local community in Aviemore and Glenmore launched an ambitious bid to buy the Cairngorm Estate from HIE under the Community Empowerment legislation  (see left).  The Scottish Government says it supports Community Empowerment – well, here is a test for them then.  Why not instruct HIE:

a) to give the money they would have spent reviewing lift infrastructure to the local community to undertake an independent review in conjunction with downhill and off-piste skiers

b) halt the proposals to develop a dry ski slope at Cairngorm (the proposed development would in any case pre-empt the review of ski infrastructure)?

 

The launch of a local community buy-out at Cairngorm will also be a test of the mettle of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  In the new National Park Partnership Plan agreed by Ministers earlier this year, were some fine words about empowering local communities which however contained no concrete commitment to assist local communities to take over land.   The launch of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust provides them with an opportunity not only to show they are prepared to put words into action, it would also allow them to address the ongoing destruction at Cairngorm.

 

The problem the CNPA faces at present is not just that the convention is that public authorities should not criticise each other in public, whatever the behaviour of the other agency (which might explain some of their silence about what is going on at Cairngorm) its one of Ministerial power.  Fergus Ewing, the Minister responsible for HIE and Rural Affairs, has until now appeared all powerful and has been a strong supporter of both the funicular and the An Camas Mor Development.    By comparison, his ministerial counterpart, Roseanna Cunningham, who is responsible for the environment and National Parks has appeared weak.  However she has in the past made strong noises about supporting community buyouts and this might just provide her, the CNPA and everyone who cares about the future of Cairngorm the means to put an end to HIE’s mismanagement.

September 3, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Letter Badenoch and Strathspey Advertiser 31st August

This letter in response to the current destruction of ski infrastructure in Coire na Ciste provides an excellent summary of how downhill skiing has been managed by HIE at Cairngorm.  It raises much wider issues of what are National Parks are for.

 

Also this week on BBC Highland there was a feature on HIE and Natural Retreats proposed dry ski slope above the Coire Cas carpark.  HIE’s vision for Cairngorm appears to have nothing to do with outdoor recreation.  At its centre is a dry ski slope and an expanded restaurant at the top of the mountain where people are isolated from the natural environment by built structures.

 

By contrast the Coire na Ciste group’s vision appears founded on the understanding that what is important to skiers at Cairngorm is the quality of the skiing and enjoyment of the natural environment.   Their proposals – which HIE appears hell bent on thwarting – are in essence an attempt to develop a vision which fits the National Park’s objectives:  conservation, enjoyment of the outdoors and sustainable economic development.

 

Now there are questions about whether downhill skiing at Cairngorm is sustainable in the face of global warming, questions that the Save the Ciste group has been trying to address.   However, I think they should be the starting point of public discussion about the future of Cairngorm.  If they turned out not to be sustainable, we should then move on to a debate about alternative uses which met the National Park’s objectives and are based on the natural environment.

 

The CNPA should be leading this debate and helping facilitate the development of a vision for Cairngorm.   Instead, it appears completely subservient to HIE.    The only way this is going to change is if the recreational and conservation organisations get together with the local community and develop an alternative plan for Cairngorm.

September 1, 2017 Nick Kempe 6 comments
Hydro construction track in Glen Affric, a National Scenic Area and Special Area of Conservation because of the Caledonian pine forest. No designation at present can stop a hydro scheme and in the Lomond and Trossachs National Park not a single area has been designated as important enough for there to be a presumption against hydro developments.

While the impact of windfarms on landscape make front page news – the latest being the predictable decision by the Courts to uphold the Scottish Government’s decision to give the go-ahead to the Creag Riabhach scheme in Sutherland  (see here) – hydro schemes rarely receive any coverage at all.   For a long time, most people who care about the landscape, appear to have been blinded to their impacts.  Hydro sounds such a good thing it must be.   More and more people I meet and talk to however are now beginning to believe the evidence of their eyes, particularly the blighting of the landscape with new tracks.

Looking south from Aonach Shasuinn, May 2017

Parkswatch has been highlighting the destructive impact that hydro schemes have been having in our National Parks and, after my post on Ledcharrie http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2017/08/31/whats-gone-wrong-ledcharrie-hydro-scheme/ its seems an appropriate time to inform readers how they can help monitor and document what is going on.  This is important because our politicians and decision makers will I am afraid put the wishes of landowners and developers first unless they are confronted with evidence they cannot ignore (and remember most decision makers hardly visit the hills and have probably never walked round a hydro scheme).

 

Following my walk with Members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme (see here) I have been working with them to develop a hydro scheme reporting form. The idea is to assemble information about hydro schemes, the good, the poor and the unacceptable, which can then be analysed and used by the Mountaineering Council and others.   Munro Society Members have now visited three hydro schemes in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park which I had not seen and sent me their report forms.

 

The Inverlochlarig hydro scheme

To give an example of how the form can help, here is an example for Inverlochlarig, in the heart of Rob Roy country.  Its well worth reading and I found it incredibly informative.   When working on the form we had not thought of inserting photos into it – reporters don’t need to do this – but Derek Sime had the good idea and in my view they  illustrate his  report brilliantly.

 

While no two people are likely to have the same response to a hydro scheme, whether they see it on the ground or recorded in a form, its good to be able to give publicity to what I think is a good hydro scheme in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (there are others).  The intake is discrete, the pipeline hard to detect and because an existing track was used for most of the construction, without any widening, there has been little further landscape impact, even from the tops of the hills.  The hydro scheme is not perfect though and the report form records some oversteep banks which are not revegetating, a short section of new track which is too broad and some abandoned pipes, still there three years after the scheme was completed.   I hope the LLTNPA will address these outstanding issues and have agreed with the Munro Society to send the form to the them but overall I agree with Derek, this appears an exemplary scheme.

I will cover other reports of hydro schemes from the Munro Society in due course.  Meantime…………

If you want to get involved…………….

The Munro Society is looking for more volunteers to report on hydro schemes across Scotland.  They have a list of schemes they have prioritised for reports and if you would like to help with these, you can contact them through their website – just put in the subject line Hydro Scheme survey.   There is nothing though to stop people reporting on schemes they come across in the hills and if want to do so there is a blank report form Hydro scheme survey v3.  You can return this to the Munro Society or if the scheme is in a National Park you can send it to nickkempe@parkswatchscotland.co.uk  (we have agreed to share information about schemes in our National Parks).      Don’t worry if you cannot fill in all the form, or only fill in part of it – even partial information will help the Munro Society prioritise sites for full surveys.  And photographs are as important, if not more important than words………….

 

The form that we have created came about because of the walk I did with members of the Munro Society to look at the Ledcharrie scheme.  We realised we needed to do something to capture information on the impact of hydro scheme and I am sure this will evolve over time.  Learning what to look out for though is greatly helped by walking round schemes with other people.  I am hoping to arrange another such walk, probably in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in the next month or two.  If you would be interested in this, please contact me at the parkswatch email with your contact details and indicating which day/s of the week are most suitable for you.

August 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
On Day 2 on the Alta Via 2, one of the great walking trails of the world, we met three path workers, one with a pick axe and the other two with shovels, employed by the Puez Odle Nature Park, conducting routine path maintenance. In three weeks in the Dolomites I came across two other teams of pathworkers doing path maintenance, something which is unimagineable in Scotland. Local jobs for local people.

I have just returned from the Dolomites to find extensive media coverage on how Scotland is failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to support visitors.  On Skye, there are claims that the island has reached the limit in terms of the number of visitors it can sustain (see here), while in Orkney suggestions of a tourist tax (see here) on luxury cruise liners to fund infrastructure have been predictably dismissed under the neo-liberal mantra that all tax is bad.    I suspect most Italians would be astonished by the way these debates are framed in Scotland.   The evidence on the ground from the Dolomites is that far more money is being invested in tourism infrastructure than in Scotland and there are far more visitors, with consequent benefits both to people and to the economy.   We saw signs saying tourism in the Dolomites is worth £50bn a year and, while this is considerably boosted by downhill skiing, it dwarfs the latest figure for tourism spend in Scotland of £8.9bn.   In this post I will consider how investment in footpaths in Scotland compares to the Dolomites.

 

Back in July, in a very welcome article in the Scotsman (see here) Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, raised the need to think about how we pay for paths in our National Parks.   This in my view is exactly what our National parks should be doing – instead of pretending all is rosy and that they are managing on ever decreasing budgets – they should be articulating a new vision for the future and how this could be funded, which could then incidentally be adopted by other places like Skye and Orkney.

 

Unfortunately the heading of the article (which was no doubt inserted by a sub-editor)  – “freedom to roam is a costly business” – reflects the prevailing negative stance towards access in Scotland by the establishment, which sees everything in terms of cost not opportunity.    In fact, the amounts Grant Moir referred to are tiny.  So, the CNPA has spent £10m on paths in 15 years – that’s just £666k a year – and requires at least £500k a year to maintain paths.   Compare that to the £3bn that the Scottish Government has committed to pay for the dualling of 80 miles of the A9.   If just 1% of that – £30m – were spent on paths along the A9 corridor over the next ten years the CNPA and neighbouring local authorities would be awash with money to spend on paths.  Instead, the CNPA at present has to rely on Heritage Lottery funding, the £3.2m awarded in 2015 over 5 years for the Mountains and People project which covers both our National Parks.

 

Paths in the Dolomites

 

The path network in the Dolomites is far more extensive than what we have in Scotland and this is partly for historical reasons.

Military path in the Belluna National Park

 

Most people are probably aware that the Dolomites was the setting for major battles in the first world war in which 750,000 Italians died and which saw an extensive network of paths/tracks and via ferrata constructed high up in the mountains.    These now form the base for the mountain path network.   By contrast our own military roads, with a few notable exceptions such as along the West Highland Way, tend, because of their location along the floors of straths, to have become part of the trunk road network.

Path in woods above Predazzo – still used to extract timber.

The Dolomites also, however, have far more paths lower down.   I was based for a time in a lovely small town called Predazzo which is surrounded by forest.   I had no map to the area but no need of one.  Whatever way I left the town – and I did four runs in four different directions – I came across a multitude of path options.   The paths in the woods appear to exist because local people have worked the forests for centuries – the commune that runs Predazzo is 800 years old – a contrast to Scotland where people were cleared from the land and few paths were needed for work purposes, the main exception to this being our fine stalking paths.  These are thin on the ground however in comparison to the historic path legacy in the Dolomites.

Mule track onto Pale San Martino, reputedly constructed by a Count so his disabled daughter could experience the amazing scenery

The Dolomites, and indeed many other places in Europe including England, have had a head start over Scotland in terms of path infrastructure.   This was recognised in the discussions which led to our access legislation which identified a need for a more extensive path network: hence the provisions of the Land Reform Act about the creation of core path networks.   Unfortunately due to neo-liberal thinking, in which it is held a self-evident truth that nothing should be provided for free, and austerity the aspirations for a comprehensive path network have never been delivered (despite the efforts of many good people).     Instead our National Parks and other access authorities are left scrabbling for money.   This is quite a contrast to what I saw in the Dolomites.

Path, held together by logs, up scree slope south of Mulaz Hut – the nature of the ground in the Dolomites means that many paths would not exist without human ingenuity and engineering
An additional expense in Italy is the protection of paths with cabling – we have no equivalent in Scotland – but the creation and maintenance of such paths requires investment
A constructed log path from Rifugio Firenze/Regensburger Hut leads up this gully onto the Stevia plateau

While in the Dolomites I stayed in the Firenze Hut twice, the first as part of the Alta Via 2 when I walked up this path.   On my second visit to climb we found it closed, part of the path had been swept away in a great storm.    However, unlike the Cairngorms where – as Grant Moir states – people are still trying to find money to repair the damage from the great floods on Deeside, signs had gone up immediately saying what had happened and there was evidence the path was being repaired.   What I think this demonstrates is that path maintenance is a priority in Italy in a way that is unthinkable in Scotland.

Evidence of recent maintenance work could be seen along many paths: here a drainage hole has been created in order to create a sump for water running off a path

So why is this?  Part of the explanation I think lies in the power to make decisions and budgets to implement them being far more devolved than in Scotland.  In most of the huts we stayed in we paid a small tourism tax which is used to fund infrastructure locally.   Behind this though is a general appreciation that people want to experience the fantastic landscape of the Dolomites and what this requires is for people to be able to get out into those landscapes in the way they want.

Walkers coming off the lift from the summit of the Sas de Pordoi to walk over the Sella Plateau.  Many walk from here over to the summit of Piz Boe one of the 3000m peaks in the Dolomites and a superb viewpoint. The photo  illustrates the sheer numbers of people walking in the Dolomites and while the rocky terrain here can support these numbers, it also provides an illustration of the potential impact on the Cairngorm environment were the funicular ever to cease to be a closed system.

One of the best ways to do this is by providing paths.     This is backed by some interesting research (see here) which shows that satisfaction with the landscape is the biggest single factor influencing tourism spend:

 

 

 

 

A warning to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority who are allowing much of the landscape of the National Park to be trashed through the creation of unnecessary new and poorly constructed forestry and hydro tracks.  What they should be focussing on is the creation of a quality path network.

An example of our failure to invest from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

The contrast between Scotland and the Dolomites is illustrated by these photos from Arrochar, which I received from reader Stephen Pimley, on arriving back in Glasgow.   Its only a tiny section of path, funded by multiple agencies, but I believe it tells an important tale.

 

Photo credit Stephen Pimley

 

Here is the problem in Stephen’s own words:  “I see tourists standing in a state of puzzlement in front of the overgrown brambles and conifer hedge.  They stand at the side of the road and move on………………I have raised a work request on the Argyll and Bute council but previous requests have been ignored.   Hopefully the fact that there are multiple ‘partners’ involved won’t lead to one of those desperate “its not my job!” situations”.

Photo Credit Stephen Pimley

The basic problem is that there is almost no money available for basic path maintenance.   Most of the paths through dense vegetation like this in the Dolomites are strimmed to keep them clear for walkers.   By contrast our public authorities seem to expect that volunteers should do this and, while there is a very active and committed group of volunteers in Arrochar – where the Community Council has been long trying to improve the local amenity of the area and without whom its doubtful whether any of the attempts to clear up the beach at the head of Loch Long would have happened – I have been informed most of these volunteers are now in their seventies.     They should not be having to do this.

 

Is it really too much to aspire for that there should be one part-time footpath maintenance worker available to every community in the National Park?    This would help keep young people in the villages, as happens in Italy.  It could even provide all the pathwork trainees on the Mountains and People project jobs in the longer term.   Instead, what is happening in our National Parks, is that pathwork is funded by one source of temporary funding after another rather than being treated as a core function of National Parks.

What needs to happen

  • I would like to see our National Parks learn and compare themselves to places in other countries, whether National Parks or not (only a small proportion of the Dolomites are designated as National Parks).
  • Grant Moir was right, a permanent solution to how we invest in paths in National Parks – and elsewhere in Scotland – needs to be found.   Both our National Parks should be taking a lead on this and this should include consideration of what investment needs to take place to enable Scotland to catch up in terms of path provision as well as how paths can be maintained.    Both our National Parks have made tentative steps in this direction but they should be using the evidence from places like the Dolomites to articulate a far more comprehensive vision.
August 2, 2017 Nick Halls 1 comment

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

This is the fifth in a series of articles about forestry in the National Park near where I live (see here)

The impact of windthrow

Forest ride obstructed by windfall.

 

The value of the trees relative to the difficulty of extraction and the dangers posed by windblown trees makes harvesting from areas like this problematic. In what seems to an amazing piece of ‘double talk’ these areas are to be retained as ‘amenity’ woodland.

 

During preceding forestry cycles, clear linear gaps were left between blocks of woodland. They are referred to as ‘rides’. Techniques of felling and extraction have become more mechanized so these no longer seem to be necessary, so current replanting is denser and without any equivalent means of access.

 

During previous cycles, the forest rides were an important means of informal access, to the open hillside above.

Managing woodland open space for wildlife – according to Forestry.gov.uk

What is a ride?

For the purpose of this document a ride is a linear open space within a wood derived from the need for access. Rides may have a hard surfaced track making up part of the width or more commonly are unsurfaced. The ride is usually made up of several zones. Most commonly ride consist of a central grass zone with a mixed herbaceous and shrub zone on one side or both sides.

 

The benefit of managed rides and open spaces

Sensitive management of open habitats introduces greater habitat diversity.

This encourages a larger range of species, adding diversity and additional interest for all types of recreation and sporting activities. Many species make use of the edge habitats for feeding due to higher herb layer productivity and larger invertebrate populations. A greater number of species inhabit the first 10metres of any woodland edge or ride edge than inhabit the remainder of the woodland’

 

Rides commonly became invaded by rhododendrons, fallen branches and wind blow, but it was possible to find a way through or around obstructions.

 

Obstructed water course, in a deep gully, where Rhododendron will reinvade. The debris has accumulated over decades, and demonstrates how little is done to develop the amenity value of the forest estate. Areas like this are not really suitable for modern mechanized clear fell and extraction methods.

Obstructed scenic water course

I have experience of impenetrable natural woodland, from trying to access open hillside in Canada, Brazil, Japan and Patagonia. This sort of scene seems natural, but it is within 300 m from a public road, and five minutes from my home. In the midst of a State managed forestry plantation, in a National Park, in an area designated as amenity woodland.

 

“[A woodland managed primarily for amenity rather than for timber, often with public access for outdoor pursuits such as walking, mountain biking and orienteering, or alternatively managed for game.]”

 

It could be a very scenic, all age and abilities walk, that would economically enhance the visitor experience.  Investment in such projects, during the 1980’s, gave employment, if only temporary and seasonal, and restored access to Pucks Glen, now one of the visitor attractions of Cowal.

Pucks Glen path.
Attractive exposure of rock revealing underlying geology

Created in the 19th Century, completely blocked by accumulating wind blow in the mid 20th Century, cleared and restored, by young local unemployed supervised by foresters during Y.O.P. schemes of the 1980’s

Impenetrable nature of the forest floor, replicated throughout the woodland close to habitation. Nobody, except the fit and determined, are likely to enter the forest, but anybody not used, or unable, to walk off tarmac roads is unlikely to try. Neighbors seldom venture into the forest, if at all, they are too fearful of getting lost or slipping and injuring themselves.

 

The underfoot conditions and obstructions distorts visitor feed-back, by eliciting from visitors requests for tracks to enable them to enter the woodland. I suspect this does not mean artificial, over engineered circular tracks, with deep boggy side drains and overgrown banks, but ‘brashed’ [side branches removed to above head height] woodland and clear forest floors in the immediate vicinity of parking places and scenic areas. This would allow people to go for a wander through the woods.

 

Clearing the forest floor and making it more accessible would probably be cheaper, and keep people more permanently employed, than creating circular tracks, which are difficult to get off, and are then not maintained.

 

Acidification of aquifers.

 

It was established in Scandinavia some time ago that acidification of the aquifers draining into lakes and rivers, arising from planting conifers close to the banks of streams, eventually resulted in the decline of fish stocks. The acid flushes resulting from heavy rain washing through foliage and forest floor litter, causes fish eggs to become toughened resulting in failure to hatch.

 

This has been recognized, but not acted on except at the headwaters of some tributories to major streams and rivers draining into waters popular with anglers. Little has been done locally, so angling seems to be less and less popular as there are so few fish. Migratory fish like salmon and sea trout have disappeared from the River Finart [other factors may have contributed to this such as netting the migratory fish as they swim up the coast].

 

A small experiment in restoration

An attempt to clear historic wind blow, to improve the quality of water contributing to a garden pond, which is so acid nothing seems to live, and toad and frog spawn never hatches. The effort has apparently improved the situation, as this year for the first time in thirty years, mallards visited the pond and found something to eat!   Note improved bio diversity along cleared stream edge.

Clearing the stream of debris and obstructions permitting the flow speed to increase, deepening the stream bed, lowering the water table and dried out the surrounding area, which is no longer an acid sphagnum bog. This improved the water quality of the pond, and improved bio diversity of the banks of the stream. It also restored access to the woodland.

 

The experiment convinced me that the manner in which forestry operations are carried out fundamentally damages the micro environment and degrades the full potential bio diversity. It is not necessary to watch a program about loss of habitat in some equatorial forest, it is happening in the artificial wet desert on our doorstep.

 

Post script

Current forestry practice has abandoned any activity that might encourage informal access within the woodland, between cycles of planting, thinning and clear fell. Access to the actual woodland, and possibilities of finding a way through it to the hillside above, has deteriorated.

 

Woodland in the immediate vicinity of habitation, or surrounding visitor attractions and facilities, described as ‘amenity’ woodland is virtually inaccessible and uninviting. Little if any attention is paid to the potential for informal active outdoor recreation.

 

View south from sandy bay to Ardentinny village

In many localities, the bio diversity is artificially restricted, and access possibilities of any description deteriorating, and in no way compensated for by walking along industrial forestry road infrastructure, from which it is difficult to escape.

 

The dense forestry is treated as a scenic back drop for visitors, rather than an opportunity to encourage recreational activity!

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

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

 

The Benmore burn hydro scheme

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

View of the intake from north west shoulder Ben More.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new proposal

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Forestry track Creag a Phuirt

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

 

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

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

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

 

Why its important to comment on this scheme

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Comments Details
Commenter Type: Member of Public
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment:
Comments: There are no constraints listed against this application at present although the upper pipe and track appear to be within the Ben More SSSI. Could you please confirm whether this is case or not? Among Operations Requiring Consent for the SSSI are alterations of watercourses and construction of new tracks and drainage both of which are included in these proposals
July 4, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The new track runs round the head of Glen Prosen – here looking towards Bawhelps

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Intermittent section of track up Bawhelps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking towards Eskielawn outside the National Park boundary.

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen

 

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

 

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

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

Glen Clova Hydro Construction Track

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Glen Prosen hydro track

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

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

View from Broom Hill, Driesh in background

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

The Committee Report also concluded:

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

 

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

June 26, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
Recent clearfell at the Rest and Be Thankful. The conservation section of the draft NPPP fails to address the issues that matter such as the landscape and conservation impacts of industrial forestry practices in the National Park Photo Credit Nick Halls

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

 

Conservation parkspeak

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Economic interests are being put before conservation

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Biodiversity in the National Park

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen – biodiversity

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen – landscape

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What needs to happen – resources

 

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

 

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

June 24, 2017 Nick Halls 2 comments

Gross, poorly managed, temporary quarry on Forestry road at head of Glen Finart. NB apparently no regard for H&S or Mines & Quarry Legislation.  All photos, save one, by author

By Nick Halls

Following the post on the destruction of a core path and right of way in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (see here) I thought a bit of wider background, based on experience, of how the area has been managed over the last 50 years might be relevant.

 

I arrived in Cowal in 1969, and worked as an outdoor education teacher, at Benmore and Ardentinny Outdoor Education Centres. I am now retired but remain a resident of Ardentinny.

 

During work and leisure, I wandered throughout the area, looking for attractive places and interesting geomorphology. As an aspect of work and personal interest I became fascinated by the detail of the environment; geographical, biological, historical and recreational.

Industrial forestry and recent clearfell dominates Glen Croe – Photo credit Nick Kemp

I was quite shocked at the way significant historical features were trashed by industrial forestry practice; fermetouns, sheilings, charcoal burners platforms, water mills, bloomeries, shearing pens, transhumance routes etc. In fact, nearly all the evidence of life in the past. Anything that impeded forestry operations seemed to be sacrificial.

 

 

Eviction and emigration has been a continuous process from before 1745 up to the present day. Cowal was not a depopulated wilderness even in the recent the past, it has been created by socio-economic forces which still operate, current expressions of which discourage even visitors.

 

The area exemplifies the disappearance species due to destruction of habitat – in this case homo sapiens.

 

I used the locality for teaching map reading and how to navigate in all types of terrain. The area is particularly suitable, as wayfinding in restricted visibility, in forests, at night and in bad weather, depends on interpreting fine contour detail, slope aspect, drainage patterns and detailed route finding. It is particularly important for orienteering which takes place in woodland, because of the restricted visibility.

 

Access to and through the actual woodland and out onto open hillside, and back through woodland important. The techniques of wayfinding are not only applicable to open hills.

Impenetrable windblown, which has accumulated over decades.

I arrived after the great storms of the late 1960’s, when vast areas of wind blow occurred, to both commercial timber and natural woodland, destroying enclosures and blocking access to beauty spots.  Less violent but exceptional storms have recurred frequently since, contributing to the damage, mature woodland being particularly vulnerable. Enclosures, watercourses, paths are consequently very at risk of damage and obstruction.

Debris left, immediately behind private garden, left after campaign of Rhodo clearance

I experienced at least two full forestry cycles, with replanting of clear fell areas, almost inaccessible due to stumps, waste timber and branches, followed by close planted trees maturing into at first impenetrable saplings then into more mature young trees, and eventually into woodlands reaching ‘economic’ maturity. During the whole cycle the land remains virtually inaccessible, commonly made worse by the spread of non-native species such as Rhododendron, which invade wherever there is sufficient light filtering through the canopy.

Showing the dense patchwork of cycle of forestry operations all dense and impenetrable

I took all this for granted, the changing patch work of forestry operations, as camping sites, pleasant, natural traditional routes, significant historical sites used for environmental studies, areas of mature woodland mapped for orienteering courses were trashed, often with little if any consultation with the local community. None at all with representative organisations of recreational activities.

 

Catering for recreation seemed not to matter at all, and visitors seemed to be treated as an inconvenient nuisance.

Water pouring through garden from forested slopes above Ardentinny

During the cycles water courses were clogged with trees and branches, avoidable local floods did damage to property and public infrastructure and the locality became less and less attractive to visitors. I looked on with dismay.

I slowly came to the conclusion that it should not be happening, and that the Forestry Estate, which is held in trust for the people, but managed by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), is being appallingly mismanaged.

 

Visits to Regional and National Parks throughout Western Europe reinforced the impression that Scotland’s rural environment is poorly managed, but the commercial forestry practice is destroying the ‘amenity’ and potential recreational value of a tremendously valuable ‘public asset’ in a fashion that is largely avoided elsewhere.

 

Other countries factor in scenic quality, economic return, retaining indigenous industry and employment, catering for recreation, in an environmentally sensitive way, into forestry practice. The imperative across Europe seems to be to retain rural communities and slow down emigration to cities, and as far as possible encourage people to return.

 

Scotland’s forests seem to be managed in a way inspired solely by financial considerations, by ‘philistines’ who put every other consideration in second place. I believe the current culture of Forestry practice fundamentally betrays the public interest, in numerous ways.

 

Practically everybody I know who has lived in the area for a similar length of time shares my opinion. Like mine, their children have left, and more and more property used as holiday or second homes, or for retirement.

 

FCS and local communities

 

Over recent decades I have tried to engage with ‘here today’ gone tomorrow foresters, all of whom seemed to be decent guys, but who seemed powerless, ‘mouth pieces’ of a distant and unresponsive, autocratic, senior management. The internal culture appeared to be command and control orientated, and quite abusive of more junior personnel.

 

A practice developed of moving staff around on a migratory posting basis, and employing transitory sub-contractors. There is now no connection between the community and Forestry workers or managers. I was told some decades ago that this change was initiated to prevent Forestry personnel going ‘Bush’ and identifying more closely with the community than the employer.

 

When the Cowal Office closed, management moved to Aberfoyle, and local connections weakened even further. Clerical support staff lost jobs. Now occasionally, the first point of contact does not even know where Glen Finart is!  

 

The state of the forest floor, throughout areas of mature woodland.

When I arrived in the 1960’s, forestry personnel were semi-permanent, and members of the local community, this included forester, ranger/game keeper, fellers and extractors, and a permanent general labour force, employed ditching, maintaining forest roads, brashing, planting etc. Most people occupying the former Ardentinny Forestry village worked in the woods. The community were pretty well informed and I knew personnel as friends. Forestry operations were the background to everyone’s lives. It was done by them not to them!

 

Now as a consequence of ‘outsourcing’, ‘right to buy’ and retirement/death of former forestry workers, most properties are occupied by incoming residents with no connection to land management. More recent incoming residents accept current Forestry practice as a given, it is just a ‘back drop’. In some cases, they are even tentative about entering the woods, unless there is a way marked path!

 

When I propose to engage with the forestry about an issue of concern to my neighbours, the uniform response has been that they want nothing to do with the Forestry, because their experience of engagement has been so frustrating and unsatisfactory.

 

As former professional people themselves, they resent being treated with ‘top down’ patronising, disrespect, by unaccountable public servants. They are particularly irritated by having to deal with very personable young staff, who seem to be no more than ‘messengers’ from a higher command.  They tend to prefer to deal with issues themselves hoping that whatever is done will remain ‘out of sight and out of mind’, which is usually the case.

 

There seems to be a disconnect between what is written, information provided verbally, and what is happening on the ground.   From the perspective of somebody who has been resident in the area for decades there seems to be no coherent, long term consistency in practice, or local quality control of operations. Everything seems to be done at the lowest cost and poorest standard

Debris left after felling diseased larch trees, obstructing access to mature woodland.

The FCS and NP ‘blurb’ pays lip service to access and conservation, but the reality is an increasingly industrialised, impenetrable wasteland, with depleted bio diversity and loss of wildlife, due to habitat loss.

 

Within a National Park, and The Argyll Forest Park, created in the 1930’s from land bequeathed to the people of Glasgow as a place for recreation and escape from industry and unhealthy city life, one would like to think facilities for recreation might have a special place. Especially in the context of lack of activity among children and increasing obesity throughout the adult population. Such a facility is as much needed today as it has ever been.

 

Cowal and the National Park

Run of the river hydro works in forest estate, at headwaters of River Finart. The usual LLTNPA requirement that all pipelines should be buried has simply been ignored.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority appears to take almost no interest in what goes on in Cowal, but treats the Argyll Forest Park as an enormous industrial site, where Forestry Commission Scotland can do what it likes.

 

The contrast between how FCS is managing forest in the Argyll Forest Park and elsewhere, for example the east shore of Loch Lomond, is striking, though I am not sure their consultation with local communities is better in other places.

 

The LLTNPA needs to call for FCS to develop an alternative vision for the Argyll Forest Park, one that puts people, whether residents or visitors, the landscape and wildlife before industrial scale forestry.  The draft National Park Partnership Plan, currently out for consultation, which fails to refer to the Argyll Forest Park, would be a good place to start.

June 19, 2017 Nick Halls 3 comments

 By Nick Halls (resident of Ardentinny)

This is the first of a sequence of reports focused on access around Glen Finart in the Argyll Forest Park, which is part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

The path was a traditional route, and Right of Way, that has existed since at least the 1940’s, but possibly much longer.

An indication of the permanence and investment in the route, possibly dating back to when the bay was a camp used for training Beach Commandos, and subsequently by Forestry Workers recruited from the unemployed of Glasgow.

This can hardly be regarded as a dispensible‘desire line’ that does not need to be preserved if it causes inconvenience to felling operations.

The track is signposted, part of the core path network, and is the route from the bay carpark to Loch Goil, following the shore of Loch Long. It joins two communities.

 

The pedestrian sections  are scenic, and relatively non-strenuous. It is a popular and historically important ‘transhumance’ route, that used to connect farms and holdings, now disappeared due to forestry operations.

The path ascends through pleasant natural woodland, and is well established but not over engineered and badly aligned as is the current practice. It has the gradient of a route that was used for carrying goods and probably used by pack animals.

Then this! Despite years of use and in an area of heavy rain, with almost no maintenance, it shows almost no sign of erosion. The resilience of the path testifies to the poor understanding of those responsible for aligning and constructing recreational paths today.

Leading to this. Over the years, I have cleared the path on a number of occasions of wind blow, minor obstructions arising from the growth of commercial forestry, and encroaching Rhododendron, but clearing this would be a monumental task.

 

And, to add insult to injury, this!

 

Needless to remark nothing has been done to clear the path, presumably its open for access, but users will need to clear the route and re-establish a viable track, as if it were merely a ‘desire line’.

 

There is no indication that the path will be reinstated, just that access will be restored, if one can find one’s way.

The obliterated path runs up the shoulder between the two burns above the end northern end of the beach.

The scenic impact of the clearfell, with the progressive degradation of the landscape quality by the patchwork of ‘industrial’ forestry operations, that will continue as the cycle progresses. Scenes like this are very unusual in other Western European National Parks.

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, as Access Authority, at the very least needs to ensure Forestry Commission Scotland restores this path.

June 18, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Coilessan Glen. Glen Douglas nuclear weapons store is scar in distance on far side Loch Long.

Back in March, hillwalker Rod McLeod, wrote an excellent report (see here) on Walk Highland about new track work he came across in Coilessan Glen,  west of Loch Long, in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   The glen is an important recreational route, being taken by the Cowal Way, and has recently become even more popular since Cnoc an Coinnich, the hill south of the Brack, was promoted to Corbett status.

 

Forestry Commission Scotland owns the land and also promote a cycle ride here:

You might think therefore FCS would have an interest in improving the landscape and amenity in the area.  The Argyll Forest Park is the oldest in Britain, created in 1935 and in its blurb the FCS exhort people to  “Discover this beautiful, tree-cloaked corner of Scotland to walk, ride and relax in Britain’s oldest forest park.”

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The upgraded track below the “Dukes Path”, the Coilessan burn is just beyond the Duke of Edinburgh Group centre right and the Brack behind

Instead  FCS has upgraded part of the existing track network in Coilessan Glen by dumping aggregate on the earlier track.  There is no planning application on the Loch Lomond and National Park Planning portal and the LINK Hill track group (see here) was not aware of the track through the prior notification system.   While its possible the LINK hill track group missed the notification, its also possible that because this was an “upgrade” to an existing track the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority did not have to be notified (I will try and find out).

A sizeable new quarry has been created to source the new material for the track (the boulders in the middle ground are large) and gives some idea of how much aggregrate has been dumped on top of the existing tracks.  In my view this should have required planning permission in the National Park.

The quality of the finishing – there was no evidence that machines are still  on site or that the work is not regarded as complete – is extremely poor.  It might be more accurate to say non-existent in places.   Its does not appear likely that the FCS will try and extract trees up this corner so what is the argument for leaving it like this, apart from cost?   This should not be acceptable in a National Park, whatever the commercial imperatives to extract timber.

The Dukes path looking north. The turn off to lower track is just beyond the transit, while that to the upper track is just behind the viewer.

The Dukes Path has been spared the upgrading work so far and gives an idea of what the tracks looked like previously.   The silt trap is to catch the silt that is being washed down from the new track just above.   The crushed schist forms a very fine material which is likely to continue to wash out of the new track surface for some time.

The Dukes path and Loch Long from start of the track as it heads up the glen

The lack of care for the landscape at the micro level is demonstrated not just by the abandoned pipe and decapitated cone but by the spoil heap at the side of the “new” track.   The lack of care at the landscape level is demonstrated by the conifer replanting either side of the Dukes Path.   This was one of the few sections of the Dukes Path where the walker is not hemmed in by forest on either side but but instead of using the felling as an opportunity to create a more diverse landscape, the replanting will have obscured the view completely in another 20 years.

Section of Cat Craigs track north of Coilessan which offers no views.

This photo also illustrates difference between repairing a track surface compared to the upgrading work at Coilessan (below). The bare bank on left appears to date from original construction.

The history of a lack of care here is also demonstrated by the spoil to the left of the new track which has partly revegetated.  It may date from earlier tree felling.  Material from the new track will erode down the hillside.

The surface of the track is now firmer than two months ago, when Rod McLeod took his photos, and appears to have consolidated to an extent.   I passed the Duke of Edinburgh Group shortly after taking this photo and asked them to rate the track and the walking experience.  “Terrible” was the response.

Is this the way we would be treating what was a fine section of burn?

Compare the size of the former track on left with the upgraded one.  Are bends this size really necessary?

In order to widen the track, further excavation of banks and ditches has been undertaken in places.   The vegetated area bottom right represents former bank, a section behind appears to have been scraped bank behind that vegetated.   I could see not evidence that any attempt had been made to store and replace turf over excavated areas, even in places such as this where there are native trees behind which one would hope will be left in place during the felling.   The LLTNPA rightly requires vegetation to be restored in hydro track construction – even if it does not happen much of the time – and similar standards should be applied to forest track construction.

 

 

Will FCS do anything to improve this once the trees are extracted?

They have done very little to improve this section where felling is complete and indeed appears to have pre-dated the track.  So, if the new track was not need for felling (top left) why is it needed now? Forest tracks have become larger and larger to accommodate bigger, heavier vehicles – just as in hydro track construction.  The bigger the machines we use to work in the countryside, the bigger the tracks and the impact on landscape.

The contrast between the footpath construction in the upper part of the Glen and the track are quite stark.  How can the FCS apply such difference standards?  My 1980 1:50,000 map shows just a footpath, no track, up the Glen but now there is only a path in the upper part.  A relief.

 

You can hardly see this plastic culvert under the path.

The care taken with the path contrast with the final section of the new track which finishes not far above.

 

The felling and replanting in background (slopes of Brack) all took place without this track “upgrade” demonstrating that there was no need for works of anything like the extent of those that have been undertaken.

Looking down Coilessan Glen – footpath in trees on right

How does this compare with the FCS blurb:   “Ardgartan (meaning the High Garden in Gaelic) is at the heart of an area of vast natural beauty. The forest of Sitka and Norway spruce is an ideal habitat for red squirrel, roe deer, buzzards and owls. Mixed woodland along the many small rivers and burns is home to otters, kingfishers and bats.”

Lower sections of Coilessan Glen track from the Brack, Long Long behind

Even in the dense part of the forest, the upgraded track is visible from afar.

What needs to happen

The FCS needs to apply consistent standards of practice and up its game in our National Parks.  In places, such as on east Loch Lomond, its doing some fantastic work to remedy past mistakes, in others, like here, it appears nothing has changed.

 

The LLTNPA meantime needs to start focussing on stopping any further destruction of landscape quality in the National Park through track construction, whether hydro schemes or forestry.    In my view landscape protection and enhancement should be the  number one priority in the new National Park partnership plan – instead of visitor management.   Its not visitors that are destroying the landscape – their impacts are temporary – but how the land is managed.  If the LLTNPA does not act, the very reason why people visit the National Park will disappear.

 

The LLTNPA and FCS need to start working together on these issues and start engaging the public about the quality of the “visitor experience” in conifer forests and how this might be improved.

June 5, 2017 Nick Halls 4 comments

By Nick Halls, resident of Ardentinny

The LLA has given extensive coverage to the impact of the byelaws on Loch Lomond in its annual review available online (http://lochlomondassociation.co.uk/LLA17WEB%20-%20Rev1.pdf)

The changing landscape of the National Park

 

I monitor the evolution of the Bye Laws and the incoherent manner of the implementation, by means of observation, talking to campers, visiting designated sites, reports contributed by ‘Parkswatchscotland’, and articles in magazines of Representative bodies of the physical activities in which I engage, which include camping associated with watersports and terrestrial activities.

 

I supported the creation of a National Park and worked to have Argyll Forest Park included.  I have lived in the area of the LL&T National Park since 1969 and experienced nearly half a century of change, much of which has degraded the environment, depopulated communities of young people, reduced indigenous economic activity and local job opportunities. Not all of which lies at the door of the NP Authority, but it has done little to either slow or reverse the processes, despite the objectives of the NP. In fact, the NP Authority seems to reinforce the destructive impacts from which I imagined it would protect the area.

 

I observe daily the destructive impacts of motorists, near roadside camping, day visitors and egregious behavior of residents. I live amongst the land management practices of farmers, estates and Forestry Commission Scotland(FCS) and observe the degradation of the scenic quality of the National Park with dismay.

Conifer afforestation cutting off access to the hills and taking over former habitations that once provided places to camp – photo Nick Kempe
Deer fence and gate, Stob an Fhainne, north of Loch Arklet    Photo Nick Kempe

I have also noted the restriction of pleasurable free access, arising reversion of farmland to scrub and the ‘clear fell’ practices of FCS, encroachment of invasive non-native species, and enclosures designed to exclude deer. The hills are almost inaccessible other than by over used ‘popular’ routes – creating obvious landscape scars.

 

 

 

I am an ‘immigrant’ to the area but note with concern the progressive emigration of the indigenous population, for education, employment and improved life chances. My son who attended Dunoon Grammar, has only one or two school friends left in the area – he is now working in Canada. The indigenous population is progressively concentrated in suburban localities, while much of the more desirable property is used as either second or holiday homes or occupied by elderly retired incomers.

 

I believed naively the creation of a National Park would mitigate the damaging impacts arising from residents, land managers and visitors. I have been profoundly disappointed.

 

I have concluded the Governance of the National Park Board exemplifies the manner in which established vested interests, that actually have their ‘hands on the levers of power’ in Scotland, operate to secure influence by attaining appointments on the Boards of arms-length government agencies, that purport to serve the wider public interest, and then betray ‘people’s’ trust by subverting them in their own interest.

 

The eradication of space for camping from the National Park

 

It seems incredible that charging for camping, and by extension access, for a legal recreational activity in a National Park could ever have received endorsement by an SNP Minister of the Scottish Government. It discredits the very existence of the Scottish Parliament – and devalues the legislation it passes.   Justifications presented in support of Bye Laws were flimsy at best, but could be presented as blatant misrepresentation to secure a predetermined outcome.

 

Provision for any sort of camping has been eradicated from the area progressively from the time I first arrived in 1969 – as camping sites evolved into first caravan parks then chalet developments – both much more intrusive than temporary camping. As confirmed by reference to OS and Bartholomew Tourist maps published prior to 1989.

Ribbon chalet/caravan development Ardgoil with conifer afforestation blocking access to hillside above – Photo Nick Kempe

These concentrated seasonal residential eyesores impose more pressure on public infrastructure, particularly sewerage and waste disposal, than any number of transient campers. They also degrade the natural qualities of the NP by a progressive urbanization, and pollute the aquatic environment surreptitiously – the shores of Loch Long, Loch Goil & Loch Lomond reveal plenty of evidence – fly tipping, cotton buds, toilet paper & sanitary towels are not dropped by shipping!

The enclosure of Loch Shores – Loch Lubnaig Photo Nick Kempe

 

 

Significantly, under current legislative conditions, land that was once accessible has been converted into curtilage by close spaced semi-permanent temporary residences – a surreptitious usurping of what was once a ‘common good’ into exclusive compounds.

 

 

The architecture of these developments contrast with the vernacular building style, stimulating images of beach front caravan sites of a coastal resort or over-crowded chalet developments in an alpine resort. They fundamentally erode the integrity of the ‘uniquely  Scottish’ nature of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs, so admired by artists of the 19th and 20th Century.

Painting of Ben Lomond from shore at Balloch, Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow Uni – a great illustration of the philistine destruction implied by Flamingoland

 

Overgrown former entrance Suie Field – photo Nick Kempe

When I first arrived ‘wild’ camping was easy, but progressively every spit and exploitable piece of lower land has been either privatized, trashed by industrial forestry practice or over grown by non-native invasive species, such as Japanese Knot weed, Rhododendron, not to mention windfall, bracken & scrub.

 

A contributing factor has been decline in cattle & sheep farming, so formerly grazed areas are now overgrown. Suie Field and Cuilag exemplifies this feature, where the residual preferred camping options are now on the shingle beach.

 

The current situation is that there are very few accessible spaces to camp, and those that remain are intensively used by day visitors and campers. Progressive ‘privatization’ of accessible spaces and increased use of private cars for short visits to the NP have concentrated use, but the services to accommodate the use have not been provided.

 

All of this has been made explicit by numerous reports, press comment and user groups. It is not a recent ‘discovery’, it is as plain as the ever-lengthening noses on the faces of spokesmen for the NP Authority.

The bins originally proposed for the north Loch Venachar car parks included recycling facilities but LLTNPA staff cut bin provision and toilets from the original plans contained in the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan Photo Nick Kempe

Many former informal sites have been converted into car parks/picnic sites – in favour of motorist and day visitors, at many of them camping is frowned upon. This exemplifies considerable public investment for one category of visitors at the expense of low cost provision for another. The necessary infrastructure for such concentrated use by day visitors has not been provided, such as bins, garbage disposal and toilets. There is no coherent provision to accommodate the requirements of visitors of any sort.

 

North Loch Venachar, where informal campsites were proposed just 5 years ago in 2012 were redesigned to make camping difficult before the camping byelaws banned camping here completely and instead there are permit places in a muddy field on the other side of the road. Photo Nick Kempe

It escapes me as to why picnic tables proliferate, while being less than essential, while nice camping spots are eradicated. What ideology of visitor management validates this preference?

 

Evidence indicates campers are to be progressively driven from the Camping Management Zones and LL & T NP more generally.

 

The real problems faced by the National Park

Fly tipping of garden and other waste at Cuilag – unlikely to have been done by visitors – photo credit Nick Halls

The actual problems the NP has to confront are not ‘visitors’ but egregious land management practice, rural decay and the reversion of uneconomic farmland to marsh and scrub and fly tipping by residents. This ignores the vast tracks of land rendered inaccessible by industrial forestry practice, within which were farm towns with improved walled enclosures, charcoal burners platforms & hut platforms – reasonably drained and near water. All of which used to provide opportunities for camping.

 

This destruction of amenity is substantiated by pictorial evidence supporting reports – but to designate this sort of terrain as desirable camping locations, and charge for using it, is incomprehensible. There must be issues arising from Trades Description and Fraud legislation.

 

I cannot understand why Scottish Sports Association has not put pressure on both Sport Scotland and Ministers to review the operation of the Boards of both NPAs? The lack of consultation with representative bodies for sports and recreational activities is itself a disgrace, [except sporting estates] but the complete indifference to representations from bodies of all categories of users of the NP’s in preference to a spineless subservience to the interests of landowners/managers and influential residents surely cannot be tolerated any longer.   Particularly so, as private interests seem to be obscured by the practice of holding unrecorded ‘pre-agenda’ meetings to ensure outcomes of subsequent Public Meetings, during which interests of Board Members are not declared or recorded.

The newly “restored” hydro track to the top of the Eagle Falls, Glen Falloch. The original planning permission by the Board required the track to be removed but this was overturned by staff

Specific concerns arise in the case of hydro works in Glen Falloch, unrestricted construction of intrusive estate infrastructure on wild land, appallingly unaesthetic commercial forestry practice, and to top it all the, proposals for ‘Flamingo land’, as if a Scottish National Park is the equivalent of Center Parks or a Funfair, or in the case of Lomond Shores, Blackpool!

The LLTNPA want to develop the shoreline on right into Flamingo Land, Ben Lomond left – photo credit Nick Halls

It makes one wonder if the Board/Authority can distinguish between a Regional Park recovered from an industrial wasteland in the midst of a conurbation and conserving an iconic area of wild land, the history of which underpins the Scottish national identity.

 

I note the CV of James Stuart, it will be of interest to see whether he is just another ‘safe pair of hands’ appointed to protect vested interest, or whether he can change the culture of the LL & T NP Board. It will also be interesting to see whether the new councillors serving the constituencies within the NP boundaries, will treat the NPA as just another local authority and a vehicle for promoting their electoral interests.
Whatever emerges I fear it will not enhance the reputation of NP’s in Scotland, or enhance the environmental quality of the land for which the NP Board have planning responsibility. It will demonstrate how Scotland is ‘actually’ governed, and how little real concern exists for a ‘Fairer and more Equal’ Scottish Society.

 

Attitudes of Park staff

 

Recently, I was informed by a Ranger that the bye laws were necessary to exclude ‘travellers’ from the NP [by which I assume he meant Tinkers/Gypsies] who annually made a mess of camping places – to co-opt my sympathy on the assumption that I would naturally agree that such lower order socio-economic scum should not be allowed use the NP, or upset the largely middle class ‘blow ins’ who have replaced the indigenous population. There is no evidence whatever that the mess left by visitors both day and overnight can be attributed to any particular sector of society, other than highly subjective guesswork. There is ample evidence that the fly tipping, of which there are examples everywhere, is the responsibility of residents.

 

He also mentioned that tidying up the NP, by exclusion of campers, was an imperative because foreign visitors, particularly those traversing the West Highland Way, remarked on the quality of the Scottish Scenery but bemoaned the litter everywhere. This underlines the lack of a litter management strategy, but hardly validates the exclusion from preferred camping sites nowhere near the West Highland Way.

 

It is hard not to conclude that training of NP personnel involves reinforcement of social prejudice, that evidence they see every day must throw open to question.

 

Politics and the national interest

 

In the context of the lead up to an election in which constitutional issues will be influential, opinion about the detail of the ‘actual’ governance of Scotland is relevant.
It is appropriate to comment on abuse of position and influence and disregard for Scottish Law, in pursuit of objectives that reinforce social exclusion and private interest at the expense of the ‘common good’.

 

There is such dissonance between political pronouncements and the reality that it raises concern that Ministers of the Scottish Government consciously collude or are out of touch!  One wonders whether civil servants, parliamentary secretaries and constituency workers, who presumably monitor the press and other media, are keeping Ministers properly informed – or colluding in misrepresentation and abuse of power and due process – because they are in sympathy with it!


This raises the issue of ‘who actually governs Scotland’ and whether the declared social aspiration of the SNP  is being subverted or are just hollow. Strong & Stable [actually indecisive and floppy] versus Fighting for Scotland’s interests [actually weak and ineffective] while incapable of implementing any change worthy of notice, and presiding over socially regressive initiatives reinforcing the least palatable aspects of the Scottish social scene, of which they seem blissfully unaware.


The Governance of the NP Authorities and the accountability of senior officers is the issue under consideration, but the devious unaccountable nature of HIE, SNH, MOD, SEPA, FCS & the landowning interests with which they apparently closely identify is also becoming explicit.


The question has to be asked, ‘who disinterestedly speaks for the actual benefit of the majority of Scottish people’, and whether their voice should be heard?   The evidence seems to suggest that democratically organized representative bodies, charities and voluntary undertakings are treated with contempt.

May 30, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

 

A year after Parkswatch first started to cover the hydro schemes in Glen Falloch and highlighted thefailure of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to follow its own best practice guidance  (see here) that penstock and other materials should wherever possible be in colours that blend into the natural environment, the penstock above the A82 has been painted.    A belated well done to the planners!

 

The improvement though, to my mind highlights the light concrete which holds the penstock in place and will take years to weather.  Why can’t the LLTNPA also get Falloch Estates to face the concrete with natural materials as per its own Guidance?

 

I had asked the LLTNPA what is was going to do about the penstock last year and received this non-committal answer which failed even to admit that anything had gone wrong:

 

Its good therefore the LLTNPA has implicitly recognised that blue penstock are not good enough but it  has a long way to go in Glen Falloch if all the penstock are to be painted.  While the Eas Eonan hydro pipe is buried below this penstock, it then emerges to cross the River Falloch and the penstock there is still bright blue.  Not visible from the A82  but highly visible from the West Highland Way.

Penstock crossing Falloch between two metal girders – photo taken from just below A82

I also noticed driving up the A82 that the blue penstock crossing the Alt Chuilinn (and part of that scheme) is still  bright Lomond blue – the pipe (photo left) should have been placed underneath the bridge but again the LLTNPA ignored its own guidance.   I think its fair to say therefore that the makeover of the penstock  has only just started.   That it has taken a year to get this far demonstrates a lack of will but the basic problem is the LLTNPA has allowed the Glen Falloch schemes to be developed with inadequate specifications in place (blue penstock that needed painting should have never been allowed) and then has not been properly monitored.

 

There is a real risk the Park will run out of time to ensure the schemes meet its own Guidance – it has three years to ensure the planning conditions are met – as has happened with the award winning Allt Fionn scheme (which I visited on Friday and will cover in future post).

May 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 4 comments
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.