Tag: LLTNPA

October 22, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Photo of volunteers working by the A82 on west Loch Lomond – Photo Credit Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs

I spent Saturday evening, along with a few hundred others at a sold out event in the Glasgow Concert Hall, listening to George Monbiot talk about his new book “Out of the Wreckage”.   George’s message was that contrary to neo-liberal ideology, the vast majority of people are altruistic and will contribute to the wider good expecting nothing in return.   Volunteering epitomises that.  Its a great thing.

 

Why therefore did the photo above and accompanying news release from Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs (see below), of volunteers who are obviously enjoying themselves, make me feel uneasy?  The answer, in a nutshell, is that the volunteers are compensating for failures in basic service provision by our public authorities, in this case Transport Scotland and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.

 

The voluntary work included “dozens of bags of rubbish being collected from litter strewn laybys and neighbouring areas beside the A82”.  Transport Scotland, who are supposed to maintain our trunk roads, should be ensuring this work is done.   Instead, neither they nor the LLTNPA nor Argyll and Bute Council can even agree who should provide litter bins in the A82 laybys – with the consequence that there are none – let alone who should empty them.  This makes what is a national litter problem even worse.  And then volunteers are left to clear up.

 

The other work volunteers were involved in in this case was clearing the cycle path and removing scrub to enable people to enjoy views of Loch Lomond.

Photo Credit Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs

Its a shocking indictment of both the National Park and Transport Scotland – both of which claim to promote cycling – that basic maintenance of the path network is being left to volunteers.   In the Spring the verges of the A82 along Loch Lomond were all cleared of scrub by professional contractors, so why not the cycle path?     While I am sure the volunteers did as good if not better job than professional contractors, had the work been done by people equipped with electric rather than hand tools, it could have been done by just one or two people.  Was this really the best use of volunteer time?   If there are not enough resources to keep cycle paths clear, Transport Scotland and the LLTNPA need to call upon the Scottish Government to provide these and challenge the neo-liberal narrative that the state can do ever more  less and that voluntary effort can be used to substitute for paid jobs.

 

The other point here is parkswatch has been reliably informed that when the A82 was re-aligned, a landscape plan was produced.  This preceded the creation of the National Park but the Loch Lomond Joint Committee which preceded it, visited Lochlomondside with the then Scottish Office Roads Chiefs and commitments were given that the landscape along the road would be maintained.  All this has  conveniently been forgotten as austerity has sunk its ugly tentacles ever deeper into public life.

 

In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.  They have long understood that the landscape of the National Park should underpin everything the LLTNPA does and a fundamental aspect of this is that all people should be able to enjoy the landscape.   Hence the initiative a few years ago to clear the scrub from pulpit rock – Transport Scotland missed another trick in failing to provide decent parking there when it widened the A82 by the former traffic lights.   FOLLAT have effectively had to step into the breach left by our Public Authorities.    It has been using that experience to show up the failures of our public authorities, inform its advocacy for what should be happening in the National Park and its call for the National Park to get back to basics.

Letter to Herald last week following release of Keep Scotland Beautiful Report on litter levels in Scotland

Which bring me back to Monbiot and the people who volunteer.   While volunteering is a demonstration of altruism and generally good for the mental and physical health of those involved,  and volunteering outdoors doubly so as it helps connect people to nature and involves physical activity,  the experience of volunteers is sidelined by those in power.   The clearest current example I can think of this is Food Banks, which could not operate without thousands of voluntary contributors all of whom do so because they care.  And yet these people are fundamentally disempowered when it comes to debate about how our social security system is falling apart as the rich  become ever richer.   If the volunteers had power, I doubt we would have any food banks and the volunteers could go and do something else.

 

Its the same in our National Parks.   The draft LLTNPA National Park Partnership Plan makes noises about the importance and success of volunteering in the National Park, but nothing about how volunteers are being used to compensate for cuts:

 

“The number of people volunteering in the National Park has grown significantly and in our annual
volunteer survey 80% of volunteers indicated that volunteering benefited their health and wellbeing.”

 

More importantly, there is no acknowledgement that volunteers in the National Park might have something important to say about how the LLTNPA and other public authorities operate at present.  These are after all people who do not just enjoy being out in the National Park, they contribute their own labour on  a voluntary basis to protecting or improving the landscape.  In short, they care and should be key stakeholders of the National Park.

 

I would like to see the LLTNPA explicitly acknowledge that they should not be using volunteers to compensate for or hide failures in service provision.  Instead, I would like to see them engage with volunteers about how they could be empowered, not just through representative organisations but directly.  Part of this would involve engaging volunteers about their existing experience of  how basic issues, such as litter, could be addressed and using this to inform the “back to basic agenda” for service provision.  It should also though involve engagement about where voluntary work is best directed in future.   There are lots of great things for volunteers to do but compensation for cuts should not be one of them.

 

For anyone interested in the current role of volunteering in our National Parks and its future potential, the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (I am a member of its Committee) produced a report on volunteering and National Parks in 2015 (see here).   In the Report it was estimated that the potential value of volunteering if new National Parks were created was £500k a year.   While National Parks offer great opportunities for volunteering, I think the figure demonstrates that volunteering will never compensate for the cuts in basic services that have been taking place ever since the crash in 2008.

The Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs New Release from the beginning of October

Volunteers help to open up views of Loch Lomond as part of special Make a Difference Day event

 

Volunteers taking part in the latest ‘Make a Difference Day’, organised by Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, the independent and conservation and heritage charity for the National Park, helped to remove trees and shrubs to open up scenic views of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond along a stretch of the busy A82 tourist route.

 

A group of 30 volunteers travelled to Inverbeg, just north of Luss, to remove several hundred metres of overgrown plants and shrubs from the side of the road, giving motorists, cyclists and walkers clear views of Loch Lomond. Also, part of the day was a litter clearance exercise, which resulted in dozens of bags of rubbish being collected from litter strewn laybys and neighbouring areas beside the A82. This was part of the Friends’ ‘Windows on the Loch’ project, which aims to improve views of Loch Lomond along the busy A82 tourist route.

 

The volunteers came from a variety of walks of life including Luss Estates, the Department for International Development and Scottish Water as well as motivated individuals who volunteer regularly with the Friends and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority. The nearby Inn on Loch Lomond Hotel also provided shelter and complimentary lunch for the volunteers.

 

The event was the latest Make a Difference Day to be led by the Friends, and builds on the efforts made by the conservation and heritage charity in recent years with funding support from the National Park Authority to remove stretches of the Loch Lomond ‘tree tunnel’ which for years effectively meant there were no views of Loch Lomond along the entire twenty mile stretch of the A82 between Duck Bay, near Balloch and Tarbet.

 

In recent years other Make a Difference Days have involved litter and rhododendron clearance and path improvements works at different locations around the National Park with volunteers and corporate bodies helping to protect the special landscapes of the National Park.

 

Friends Vice-Chairman John Urquhart, who was among the volunteers who took part on the day, said: “Anybody passing this area of Loch Lomond now has a much better view of its natural beauty, and it is all down to the efforts of the volunteers, who turned out in force to ensure that this event was a great success. We even noticed passing motorists stopping in laybys to have pictures taken against the new backdrop!

 

“We were delighted with the response we had to Make a Difference Day, especially at a time of year when the weather can be so unpredictable. Fortunately, we had the elements on our side this time around, and with the hard work of so many people to open up views of the loch and Ben Lomond has made a real difference.”

 

Niall Colquhoun, owner of the Inn on Loch Lomond, added: “We were very pleased to support the Friends and the volunteers on the day, helping the hard workers to enjoy a relaxed lunch in between their spells of unstinting efforts. The improved views of Loch Lomond from the A82 has already been positively commented on by some of our visitors and I am delighted with what has been achieved by the volunteers.”

October 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The Allt a’Chuillinn hydro track from slopes of Beinn Chabhair, Eas Eonan hydro track right background – photo credit Tom Prentice Autumn 2017

Last Saturday, sitting in a hut in the Snowdonia National Park, I came across a Guardian travel supplement “Adventures in Wild Britain” which featured ten places to experience Britain’s most stunning wildlife.  One of the places was Glen Falloch at the head of Loch Lomond (see here).

 

Regular readers and anyone who hillwalks there, will know that the landscape in Glen Falloch has been trashed by what were supposed to be temporary hydro construction tracks being granted consent by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to remain on a permanent basis.     Of all the new Glen Falloch hydro tracks, the one up the Allt a’ Chuillinn is the least obtrusive in landscape terms from the bottom of the Glen and has been used by the National Park to demonstrate what a good job they are doing.

Track up to Allt a Chuillinn intakes June 2016

The quality of the restoration work on the Allt a’ Chuillinn track is indeed better than most of the other Glen Falloch tracks to date but the top photo shows the landscape impact.  A harsh artificial line, which is far more prominent than the Allt a Chuillinn itself, which penetrates up into the hills right to the edge of a core wild land area.  The LLTNPA officers failed to take this into account when they gave consent under delegated powers to the Glen Falloch Estate to retain this and other tracks.

 

Glen Falloch runs between the two Wild Land Areas that have been agreed for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   Any development in Glen Falloch has obvious implications for wild land areas 6 and 7 but instead of thinking about how these wild land areas might be enhanced,  the LLTNPA has allowed tentacles of development to penetrate up all the side glens.  Wild Land areas 6 and 7 feel considerably less wild now than they did when they were created three years ago.

 

You would not know any of this from reading the Guardian article.  There is not a mention of the new hydro tracks although it would have been almost impossible for the journalist and photographer to go where they did without seeing some of these tracks.  Anyone looking at the photos in the article or reading the purple prose – “We walk for hours and miles for glimpses of deer, but what glimpses” – who didn’t know the area would be left with the impression that Glen Falloch estate is pristine.

 

The Guardian makes no mention either of the impact of the 700 deer on the estate, whether on the areas of ancient woodland at the bottom of the glen or on the mountain sites of special scientific interest or whether the estate is managing this effectively.  The article refers to “the stalker” – I have met him, a nice guy who is very relaxed about access – but it appears nothing has changed since 2013 when in their submission to the Land Reform Review Group (see here) the estate reported it employed one full-time member of staff.   Even with occasional part-time assistance one stalker could not possibly “manage” 700 deer effectively.  The Landowners however use their staff – who undoubtably work in tough conditions – to sell a message which journalists and politicians find very hard to question.

 

The promulgation of landowning ideology has always swithered between claiming how many jobs are sustained through their goodwill and current management practices and describing these jobs as precarious (with the implication that any land reform would lead to a total collapse in rural employment).  Glen Falloch however now has lots of money because its hydro schemes are operational and generating significant profits.  It will be interesting to see if any of this money is used to promote management of the estate in accordance with National Park objectives or even, dare I say it, to promote rewilding in the two wild land areas.  One suspects, however, that just like on the grouse moors very little of the money earned by the estate will be re-invested and the tracks, by making it quicker for the stalkers (or gamekeeper) to travel round the estate,  will simply enable the estate to keep the number of people they employ to a minimum.

 

The Guardian article illustrates the extent of the challenge facing proponents of conservation and land reform.   Landowning interests are extremely good at manufacturing portrayals of Highlands life for public consumption which are based on images of unspoilt landscape and wildness.  These, as in Glen Falloch, conceal the truth as to how the land is actually being managed.  Our National Parks should be challenging all of this.   My suspicion however is that in this case the LLTNPA’s large marketing team, which is mentioned in the second sentence, set the whole thing up.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA in Glen Falloch is part of the problem, they have been failing to protect the landscape and wild land while doing nothing to promote local employment or to use the hydro schemes as an opportunity to invest in more sustainable forms of land-use.  They need to be pressurised to take a different approach in their next 5 year National Park Partnership Plan.

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 18, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Overused camping area by Loch Achray. The National Park claimed the camping byelaws would reduce damage to vegetation by enabling camping to be controlled. The opposite has happened – by concentrating campers into a few permit areas this type of (minor) damage has almost certainly increased.

Following my post (see here) on why people should be sceptical about the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board paper which claimed the camping permit system had been successful, I have been passed information from two readers about complaints submitted to the LLTNPA.  Both concern Forest Drive and accord with what I saw when I visited there with Ross MacBeath at the end of September.  This is that the camping byelaws have made things worse, not better, for the great majority of responsible campers.

Complaint 1

The complainant has agreed I can publish the information on parkswatch but has asked I summarise rather than quote from their complaint.

While the person did not tell me what area they had booked, the description fits with what we saw in Zone I.

The person had booked to stay in a specific permit area by Loch Drunkie because they knew the area well, having used it in the past to launch their canoe and a canoed and had mountain biked around Forest Drive.  While on previous visits they had come across campers, they had never noticed any significant camping related problems. However, on their stay they found the area was covered by fire scars, litter, human waste and toilet paper, far worse than they had previously experienced and reported this to the Park.  They made a point of saying they would no longer choose to launch their canoe from the area because of the high risk of stepping in excrement and also that while they appreciated that people when they book are being advised about good practice (as set out in the permit terms and conditions) this is clearly not working.  They feared for what the sites will look like in future.

 

The Park used the existence of fire scars to justify introducing camping byelaws.  They clearly haven’t worked.  The metal barbecue (right photo) is good idea – perhaps it was brought in after the tree in the centre was burned?  Fundamentally though, forcing people who want to be able to enjoy a fire to camp under trees is asking for trouble.  People used to be able to camp on loch shores away from trees and the majority did so.  The byelaws are creating, not solving, problems.

All around the areas of strimmed and flattened vegetation in Zone I there were little paths into the bracken.  These invariably ended at heaps of crap and toilet paper.    This is not all campers fault.  The ground under the trees is covered with lots of roots and digging a hole deep enough to bury crap properly would not be that easy.  It should have been quite predictable that if you provide very few areas which are suitable for camping – and the vast majority of ground in each permit area at Forest Drive is totally unfit for camping ((see here for example) – that impacts would be concentrated.  Add to that a failure to provide toilet facilities and the LLTNPA have created a major problem.  Simon Jones, the Park’s Director of Conservation, acknowledged the problem at the last Board Meeting when he said that human waste was a major problem in certain places.  What he didn’t explain was the role the byelaws and the LLTNPA’s failure to provide facilities in creating this.

The irony is there is an FCS toilet block on Forest Drive.  The problem is its not in or near any camping permit area.  Despite there being flat areas in the trees near the toilet block which would be good for tents, camping is banned here – you would be committing a criminal offence to put a tent up within reasonable walking distance of the toilets!     The reason, it appears, is that neither FCS nor the LLTNPA want campers and day visitors to mix – talk about social apartheid – although recently a single campervan permit place was added to the carpark.  Lucky campervanner!   Just one hitch, if they have their own toilet,  there is no chemical disposal point.

 

If the LLTNPA and FCS want to concentrate people in certain places, as is happening at present, they should have a duty to provide facilities such as toilets.   Facilities should come first.  Towards the end of the summer the LLTNPA and FCS deliberately started to increase the number of campervan “permit places” on Forest Drive  and encouraging visits from campervanners but without any plans to  to provide chemical disposal points.   The LLTNPA has submitted a planning application  for a new campsite at Loch Achray and the toilets there will help but I can see nothing in the toilet block plans to indicate a chemical disposal point is included  (see here).

 

Complaint 2

 

I received this from someone involved in outdoor education and it concerned a DofE group.  The Leaders had apparently obtained permits for the group to camp at Loch Drunkie, with staff accessing the site by vehicle.    On arriving at the Forest Drive gate (which is locked after 4pm) one leader was trying to find the code for the gate on his phone when van full of people appeared wanting to get through as well.  They shouted out the code – “Park have never changed it, so we came once officially, then been coming whenever there’s good weather for a party.  Our friends are on their way”.

 

My informant went on:  “Needless to say the party went on into the early hours, despite repeated requests to consider the youngsters.  Tents & people all over the place.  The youngsters were moved on at first light to get them away.  Throughout the night, leaders phoned Park staff on the contact forms – ansaphone saying office closed till next day; police – no response, etc.  Leaders have sent in “feedback” to Park including videos and photos but heard nothing back.  The feedback system says: thanks for your feedback and Park will review things at end of the season.”

 

“This was the first time the leader used this particular site and never again…  He also said that at other private campsites there are stories of people, especially families arriving very late asking for a plot as they had abandoned their “official Park site plot” due to similar activities…

 

So a system designed to improve access to the “park” has instead succeeded in enabling free use for party / rave sites to the detriment of people’s peaceful enjoyment.”

 

I could not have put it better.  The problem always was and still is policing.  The byelaws have solved nothing.  What the LLTNPA need to do is ditch the whole permit system (except for where facilities are provided where it could be used as a campsite booking system) and concentrate on working with the police to develop a rapid response where problems occur.  This would benefit both local people – rural policing has been slashed – and responsible campers.

 

The future of Forest Drive as a camping destination

An attempt to create a camping place in the heather in Zone C

After promising Scottish Ministers 300 new camping places in the camping management zones and because they wanted to stop all camping along many loch shores, the LLTNPA persuaded FCS to provide a large number of camping places at Forest Drive.  This was to meet targets.   Most were totally unsuitable – as Ross MacBeath has described on several occasions – and a number of these zones have been removed from the Park booking system.  Other unsuitable areas remain.

Marker post for Zone M, on the edge of Forest Drive.

The Rangers to their credit, just like at Loch Chon, have been doing a good job helping people move to more suitable areas of which there are about half a dozen on Forest Drive.   Unfortunately, due to the ban on camping elsewhere in the National Park this is concentrating use.

Some basic management measures like blocking off vehicle access to good camping areas and provision of adjacent parking would really help reduce impacts

The lack of basic infrastructure has then made the impact of this increase in use far worse than it need have been.

 

The fundamental problem at Forest Drive is that the LLTNPA has wanted it to provide over 60 camping places when in reality it can probably support half that number on a regular basis (excluding the new proposed campsite at Loch Achray).  Managers have forced staff to “create” camping places in wooded and boggy zones where no-one in their right mind would want to camp.   The sensible course of action now would be to abandon promoting  the rest of these unsuitable places and allow the few people who might want to go there to do so under access rights.

The only suitable place for camping in Zone C is very boggy and only likely ever to be used by people fishing

The LLTNPA  should then focus on creating facilities to support camping at the places which are good for pitching tents which are almost all down on the lochshores on flat turfy areas.   There are only half a dozen such places and it would be easy, for example, for the LLTNPA to install portaloos (as they do in English National Parks) in all these areas for next year.   That and a few rubbish disposal points would justify the Park collecting a small charge from people camping here.

New campervan places on Forest Drive
Who would want to stay here overnight?

The LLTNPA is now promoting Forest Drive as a destination for campervans.  I think this results from criticisms of the failure of the LLTNPA to provide for campervans and the impossibility of enforcing the byelaws against campervanners because of people’s right to sleep overnight in vehicles on roads.   What’s happening at Forest Drive – a large increase in the number of campervan places – can be seen as a desperate attempt to provide evidence to the Government that byelaws are still needed in relation to campervans.  Byelaws aren’t needed and the attempt to create new campervan permit places without any consideration of whether they might be good places to stay is just repeating past mistakes.

Zone E – its far better for campervans than for tents

 

However, the nature of Forest Drive, means that in some places it provides a very good campervan experience as shown by the photo above.  Hard flat ground which is poor for tents is just what campervans need.  Add in the view and  Zone E, and a few other places on Forest Drive, are potentially great places to stop off ovenight.

 

What the LLTNPA and FCS need to do is engage with campervan interests and work out what are the good places to stay at Forest Drive.  I believe they should then only sell permits for these good areas and if campervanners want to stop off in other grotty forest laybys for free they should just be allowed to do so.   If the LLTNPA/FCS added a chemical disposal point and drinking water provision at the existing toilet block or at the new campsite on the way out of Forest Drive small charges for staying in the campervan permit areas would be justified

 

The way forward at Forest Drive

While what has been happening at Forest Drive epitomises what is wrong with the camping byelaws and the Park’s failure to provide proper infrastructure, it does also suggest alternative solutions which would help people to enjoy staying out overnight in the countryside, whether in a tent or campervan.  Its about time the LLTNPA and FCS engaged properly with recreational interests to develop an alternative plan for Forest Drive instead of their managers trying to drive through top down solutions which don’t work in pursuit of meaningless targets.

October 11, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Extract from Glasgow Airport magazine, High Flyer, September 2017. Often the LLTNPA appears to be more a tourist agency – we have Visit Scotland to do that – than National Park, with a marketing team to match. Yes, Loch Lomond is very close to Glasgow airport , but can you get there easily by public transport? Yes, the National Park is great for camping – but why not mention the camping ban then?

Looking at the papers for the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place last Friday (see here), I was struck by the significant differences between the way it and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority operate.

 

While many (mostly retiring?) members of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have lost sight of what they might contribute to the National Park (see here),  Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Members are involved in a large number of initiatives.  Here is an extract on current CNPA involvement in Groups (27 in all):

 

While attending meetings and events of course does not necessarily make Board Members effective – and the CNPA has in my view always struggled to engage with recreational interests – this wide network of groups does influence how the Cairngorms National Park operates.  The CNPA has a raft of strategies and plans compared to the the LLTNPA and there are direct links between these groups, the existence of strategies and the National Park Partnership Plan.

 

For example,  the Cairngorms Economic Forum (one of the Group above) links to the Cairngorms Economic Strategy 2015-18 and the fact that the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan considers economic issues, include low pay in the National Park.  While they are far from developing an alternative economic strategy, based on sustainable development and use (should that be re-use?) of natural resources, they do have a framework for considering the issues.    There is no equivalent in the LLTNPA.  As a consequence their draft National Park Partnership plan is much weaker on these issues and is little more than a set of aspirations (which its very hard for anyone to disagree with) without content.

 

While some networking does go on on the LLTNPA – you can see that locally elected members and councillors do attend community council meetings from the minutes of those meetings – what their Board Members are involved in is very difficult to ascertain as there is no public network of groups as with the CNPA.   Indeed groups which used to exist, like the east Loch Lomond and 5 Lochs Visitor Management Groups appear effectively to have been shut down.  Moreover, the public have no easy way to contact LLTNPA members, whereas go to the section of the CNPA website on Board Members, click on their name and there is an email.  So, if you are interested in social inclusion or Broadband in the Cairngorms National Park, you can work out who best to speak to and contact them.  I would suggest that is worth a lot.

 

The differences go further.  The CNPA has a Planning Committee, on which all Board Members sit, and an Audit and Risk Committee but it also has a Finance and Delivery and Staffing and Delivery Committees.  ALL meet in public.  Contrast this with what the LLTNPA say on their website:

 

“By law, we have two committees that are required to meet:

  • Our Planning & Access Committee meets monthly to consider certain planning applications, enforcement actions, policy papers, legal agreements and access matters.
  • And our Audit Committee meets up to four times a year to support the Accountable Officer (our CEO) in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance and associated assurance through a process of constructive challenge.”

 

The LLTNPA operate with the minimum number of Committees possible,  just as they publish the minimum amount of information they are legally obliged to (two years).

 

The LLTNPA model has, I believe, been based on neo-liberal corporate ideology that the best way to run organisations is by slimline management, which in effect means small groups of people endorsing decisions taken by the leader.  The few know best and Park structures have been designed to prevent anything getting in the way of centralised decision-making.   No wonder their Board Members no longer saw a role for themselves and proposed their own abolition.

 

Thankfully there are signs of change at the LLTNPA.  Their new convener appears to be a genuine team player, more like the captain than the manager, and the Chair of the Park’s Delivery Group, Colin Bayes, has been trying to make more public what that group does.   The logical next step is to create a finance and delivery committee which, like the CNPA, meets in public.  Having a staffing committee also says something about the preparedness of an organisation to be open – for staff should be the most important resource our National Parks have.

 

The two National Park Boards have arranged to meet in November – its been an action point for the LLTNPA for over two years – and I think that provides an ideal opportunity for LLTNPA members to rediscover a role for themselves.

 

Structures are only the start

Extract from report on last CNPA National Park Partnership Plan progress

Networking, listening, being more open is however only a start. Having discovered a role for themselves, Board Members need to help ensure our National Parks deliver far more than they do at present and where things are not working to help change direction and come up with new solutions.  The above extract illustrates the challenges facing the CNPA.  The Wildlife Estates Initiative was dominated by landowners and hunting interests and was supposed to show how the National Park would work in partnership with estates to promote wildlife in the National Park (and reduce wildlife persecution).  What the extract above shows is that even this weak initiative has failed and it provides strong evidence that the voluntary measures to promote wildlife in the new National Park Partnership Plan won’t work either.    The landed estates basically don’t care how they appear to the public.   The challenge for CNPA Board Members is to start to assert the right of the National Park to take action on these issues where voluntary measures have failed.

 

Ironically, the LLTNPA did take firm action in one area – the camping byelaws –  though I think it is significant that this is the ONLY area of work where it has been prepared to stick its neck out.  The problem has been that the LLTNPA focussed on the wrong issue – camping management rather than visitor management – and has bulldozed through the wrong solution with disastrous consequences.   I am in favour of our National Park Boards taking a stronger line but, just like when landowners fail to co-operate, they also need to recognise when they have got it wrong.  Its these type of issues where public debate should be promoted by our National Park Boards,  rather than the manipulated Your Park consultation on the byelaws or the relative silence of the CNPA on fundamental issues of land-use such as whether grouse moor management is compatible with the aims of the National Park.   Neither of our National Parks have been very good at leading such debates to date.

October 5, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The carpark for Ben Venue, which was featured in the Stirling Observer (see here), had been cleared up by the time I visited it 8 days ago.  I had a discussion with Fergus Wood, the Board Member who own Ledard Farm afterwards and he said the layby had never been blocked to hillwalkers.  While that had been suggested in the Stirling Observer article, that was not the point I had made on parkswatch which was that a condition of the planning permission for the Ledard hydro scheme (as far as I could ascertain) was that the layby was NOT to be used to store materials.   The concern was that a development involving a Board Member had breached planning conditions, which in my opinion, sets a very poor example.  That the layby has been cleared up suggests there was a breach of planning conditions and much of the credit for redressing this lies with the local publicity given to the issue by the Stirling Observer.

 

For the last couple of weeks I have been having a dialogue with the National Park Authority about their refusal to release information about pre-application discussions which took place with Fergus Wood about the proposed campsite at Ledard Farm (which was to be located just through the gate in the photo).  Fergus Wood withdrew that planning application in May.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement and I have now submitted an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.   In gathering the paperwork for that appeal I found that the planning documentation on the Park’s Planning portal (see here for current information) had been changed since my post of 11th April which drew attention to potential conflicts of interest between Mr Wood’s involvement in the development of the camping byelaws and his application for a campsite (see here).  In my view this change has been done in a way that is misleading, covers up for the failure of the original application to state that Mr Wood, the applicant, was a Board Member and appears to involve falsification of documents.  The rest of this post considers the evidence for this and the implications.

 

In my post of 11th April, I included an extract from the Planning Application form which I downloaded from the LLTNPA planning portal on 10th April.   This showed that under the Member Interests section of the application form the “No” box had been ticked.  The form was was dated 3rd March 2017. You can see the full form I downloaded here 2017_0097_DET-Application_Form-100279676.  I was surprised to discover therefore, when checking my appeal to the Information Commissioner, that there was a new Application form on the planning portal in which the “Yes” box under Member Interests had been ticked and which included text which said Fergus Wood was on the Board.  You can compare the two versions of the form below:

Extract from form downloaded 10th April
Extract from Application Form as it currently appears on Park portal

 

I was even more surprised to see both forms were dated 3rd March 2017.

 

I then checked further and saw there were two versions of the application form on the portal, the second headed “superseded” was easy to miss.

Screenshot from planning portal

Now I was pretty certain that when I downloaded the form on 10th April there was only one version of the application form on the portal.   While I did not take a screenshot at the time, its seems hardly credible that the agents for Mr Wood would have submitted two application forms on the same day, the first say Mr Wood had no interest, the second saying that he had an interest, that both were then date stamped 13th March but one went on portal first and was later marked “superseded”.

 

I then realised that the version of the application I had downloaded on 10th April had NO “superseded” in the title (and there should be proof of this in my computer’s download history – I am away from home – which I would be very happy to make available to investigators).   What therefore appears to have happened is that sometime after my post and before the application was withdrawn, a member or members of National Park staff renamed the original application form by inserting the word “superseded” in the file name and then created or processed a new version of the application form where the Members Interest boxes were both ticked yes.

 

I don’t know whose idea this was or who authorised the changes but they appear to me to be  fraudulent and intended to give the impression Fergus Wood had declared his interests at the time the planning application was made.   I would stress here that I have no evidence that Fergus Wood was involved in this at all, although what should have happened is when he realised he had failed to declare interests properly,  he should then have written to the Park, apologised and any amended paperwork should have then shown the correct date.   That would have removed any cause for complaint.   However, certain LLTNPA staff and Board members don’t think like that.  Instead they try to cover things up which makes matters a lot worse if they get found out.

 

The significance of this cover-up is that its the third that I am aware of involving a Board Member.  First there was Owen McKee, the chair of the planning committee who traded in Cononish goldmine shares (see here).   Second, was the falsification of the minute of the Board meeting which decided the byelaws to say that Board Members with property in the proposed camping management zones had declared an interest when they had not (see here).   And now there is Fergus Wood’s campsite planning application.

 

These attempts to cover up for Board Members are part of a much wider malaise, where information and records are changed or misrepresented to ensure the Park gets its own way.    This has been evident through the whole camping byelaw saga, for example in the way the results of the Your Park consultation were falsified,  but also seems common practice in the planning system where myself and a couple of co-contributors have noted documents have a strange habit of disappearing.  I would recommend anyone interested in a planning application to always take screenshots of the planning portal and download all relevant documents.   Its a pain in the neck, shouldn’t be needed but if you don’t do it, you have no redress.   Unless I had downloaded the Ledard Farm planning application I would have no proof any changes had been made.

 

What needs to happen

First, the LLTNPA needs to conduct a full investigation into the Ledard Farm campsite planning application, how and when this was changed and who was involved/responsible.

Second, the new Board needs to make it very clear to the senior staff team that any falsification of records will be treated as gross misconduct.

Third, It could then, try and re-establish a reputation for probity.  A review of the way complaints have been addressed might be a good place to start.  For example it could carry out the long outstanding  investigation which is needed into who was responsible for falsely recording that Board Members had declared an interest at the meeting which approved the camping byelaws.   (When I wrote to Linda McKay, after the Commissioner for Ethical Standards found she had no knowledge the minute had been changed, asking that she conduct an investigation into who was responsible she passed the letter on to Gordon Watson to respond.  He declared the matter closed, which suggested to me he was fully aware of who had changed the minute but it was not in his or the Park’s interests to address this).  I suspect there are many other examples.

Fourth, it should make a commitment to operate far more openly, publish more information and stop abusing Freedom of Information law to withhold information from the public (every appeal I have made so far to the Information Commissioner has resulted in information being released but its a long a thankless process).   This would help provide public audit trails which would help staff and Board Members who are honest and want to do the right thing.

Fifth, the Board could ask the new Governance Manager – the post has recently been advertised – to put ethics, including truth, at the heart of the governance of the National Park Authority.

October 2, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Photo credit – Scotland’s Nature

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago, in SNH’s regular e-newsletter “Scotland’s Nature”(see here), that there are some great people working for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Ranger service . What better for a group of refugees without money and after all they have been through to get out and experience the Scottish landscape?

 

This seems to me to be what the National Park Ranger Service should be all about, helping people who might not otherwise do so to enjoy and connect with the countryside.    To do this type of work well you need to combine the knowledge of a natural scientist with the people skills and values of a social worker.

 

The tragedy of the Ranger Service in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is that for most of this summer it has been diverted from encouraging people to get out and enjoy the countryside to policing campers.  With the end of the byelaw season, the staff’s permanent rangers can back to what I see as their rightful jobs.

 

Thankfully there have been many signs that many of the Rangers involved in Your Park have not lost their skills or values.   The main reason why the Loch Chon campsite has received positive feedback is because of the two Rangers who were stationed there when the Park’s plans to get a private operator to run the site collapsed.  “Booked a pitch which is underwater or sloping, no problem, you can find a better place here”.   They have not just ensured bottled water was available due to the failure of the public water supply, they have strimmed a number of areas to create better places to camp and been available to sort out a myriad of problems caused by the incompetent planning of the site.   I suspect none of this was in their job description but they deserve medals.  They have rescued the LLTNPA.

 

There is evidence too that Rangers know that checking permits is a  waste of their time and have stopped doing so (which incidentally is another reason why the Park’s data on permits is worthless).  Last week I was out at Forest Drive with Ross MacBeath and we got talking to an angler with a campervan who had bought a fishing permit  but had not been told about the camping permit system.    On site, he had spoken with a Ranger who had come round in the afternoon to give him the number to undo the Forest Drive gates which are locked at 4pm (another waste of Rangers time, why on earth is FCS locking people out of camping permit areas?) but not been asked for a permit.

 

While the LLTNPA has been trying, more or less unsuccessfully, to turn its Rangers into a private police force, austerity continues to bite.  Many many people, not just refugees but a sizeable proportion of the population of the west of Scotland, never get an opportunity to enjoy the countryside.  I remember talking at a seminar before the LLTNPA  was created that an indicator of its success would be when every school child in the Clyde conurbation was able to spend a week in both primary and secondary education enjoying the National Park.  Outdoor education for the many has since collapsed, despite the valiant efforts of people working in the field.

 

The LLTNPA could and should however be helping to change this.  Indeed I think this should form a key plank of its new Partnership Plan.    If its Ranger resource was freed up from patrolling and instead was given the mission to work with local authorities, instead of visits from primary schools etc being the exception, they could become the norm: the things that Rangers did every day.  Given continued local authority cuts, this would be quite a challenge but the LLTNPA has, I believe, in its workforce, people with the necessary skills and commitment. The LLTNPA could make this happen if it empowered its Rangers to make full use of their skills and determine how best they spend their time, rather than forcing them to drive around in vans all day patrolling.

 

The LLTNPA could also make the case for abandoned resources in the National Park, like the Ardlui Outdoor Centre, to be renovated (brought into public ownership) and used once more in conjunction with its Ranger Service.  That would help the Ranger Service meet its potential.

The former Outdoor Education Centre at Ardlui – the buildings were leased by West Dunbartonshire Council.

 

October 1, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The facilities at Loch Chon campsite are now closed – photo credit Ross MacBeath

On Friday to mark the end of the camping byelaws – you were a criminal if you pitched your tent without a permit on Saturday but from past midnight could camp in the same place scot free – Phoebe Smith has a piece on Radio 4’s “You and Yours”   http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095ptx2.  (It runs from 28 mins 10 secs to 35 mins).   Don’t be put off by the howlers, “lakes” for “lochs” and Balmaha described as a town, the rest of the content is quite good – Phoebe Smith loves camping and says so.

 

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority took Phoebe Smith out to Balmaha.   After repeating the claim that there were far too many campers,  the Park’s Director of Conservation Simon Jones  went on to say large numbers of campers created certain problems such as litter and human waste and that the byelaws were addressing these, before correcting himself mid-speech and admitted human waste is still a problem.   This was a public admission that the byelaws have NOT addressed the problems the Park claimed they would solve.   This should not be a surprise. The problem has never been numbers, which have been concentrated on a few weekends a year,  it has been the lack of facilities for campers and other visitors.  By trying to concentrate campers in a few places through the permit system without any new facilities, all the National Park has done is concentrate impacts, the opposite of what it claimed it was wanting to achieve.

 

The LLTNPA then wheeled out Sandy Fraser, owner of the Oak Tree Inn (they use him most time they want someone to speak out in favour of the byelaws to the media), to talk to Phoebe Smith.   Powerful stuff to anyone who did not know better: people “really didn’t want to live here any longer”, “it was a no go area” and the introduction of the east Loch Lomond byelaws was “like a light switch, night and day”.  Now, I always believe money speaks louder than words, so I took a look at the accounts of the Oak Tree Loch Lomond Ltd, which was formed in 2009 and is described as a restaurant business:

 

Year till 31st Oct 09/10   10/11     11/12 12/13
Net current assets £86,785 £169,623 £265,883 £363,898

 

The accounts are abbreviated, so don’t show what contributed to profit and loss for the year, but the total profit and loss feed into the “net current assets” line at year end.    If people had stopped coming to Balmaha, prior to the east Loch Lomond byelaws being introduced in June 2011,  one might have expected the first year of the new company to have been disastrous financially.  Instead, the accounts show assets increased to £86,785 of which £76,785 came from profit.  Hardly a sign that people were no longer coming to Balmaha.  Moreover, the introduction of the byelaws in June 2011 did not mark a massive jump in profits.  I think we can take Sandy Fraser’s claims with a very large pinch of salt.

 

While there were undoubtably some problems associated with camping and drinking at Balmaha prior to the byelaws coming into effect, I think these need to be seen in perspective.  The main problem Sandy Fraser cited in the interview was that about once every three weeks people took the Oak Tree Inn benches and umbrellas down to the beach beyond Balmaha pier.  Extremely irritating I am sure, but did this justify the removal of access rights?   And what role does Sandy Fraser think the introduction of alcohol byelaws on east Loch Lomond by Stirling Council also in 2011 have in stopping this happening?

 

In terms of objective evidence about what changes had happened, the Park commissioned some research from Keep Scotland Beautiful which it eventually provided  under Freedom of Information.  It has never published this research or considered it at a Board Meeting, presumably because it makes uncomfortable reading:

The research does show the condition of sites on east Loch Lomond in 2015 (which was when the survey was undertaken) was better than in the other management zones but not that much better.  Not the miraculous improvement claimed by Sandy Fraser.   And this despite the camping ban, the alcohol ban and the clearway which prevents people visiting many of the places they used to go to.

 

Looking at the Keep Scotland Beautiful data in more detail,  one site on east Loch Lomond that has really improved is the beach north of the pier at Balmaha which sits under the metal bridge and which used to be use for partying (hence why it was selected for the survey).

Note, no alcohol related rubbish was found but this could as well been the result of the alcohol byelaws as the camping byelaws

So, maybe Sandy Fraser has a point, the environs of Balmaha have improved a bit – something everyone should welcome.  The question though remains, why were byelaws ever needed to do this?  The site under the metal bridge is small and very visible, hence easy to police by rangers but if easy to police by rangers, why not the police?   What should have happened is each time his benches went, Sandy Fraser should have phoned the police.   Its the adequacy of policing in rural areas which is the real issue, not camping.

Wayne Gardner’s new development of Luxury Lodges at Balmaha (Sandy Fraser is in partnership Wayne Gardner and will be developing another part of the site).

There are however, I believe, other agendas at play.  The evidence shows that Balmaha is being turned to a luxury tourist destination with prices to match.   My impression is campers don’t fit that image.   Hence why, despite the considerable area of flat land to the south of the village, there is no campsite.  Hence why the camping byelaws were extended down to the mouth of the Endrick, again without any evidence of problems.  Camping is just not part of the agenda of the new lairds of Balmaha.   If they understood the access legislation however they would know land can be exempted from access rights (under Section 11 of the Land Reform Act) without any need for byelaws and this could have been used to stop people camping within villages in the National Park.

 

The lack of publicity for the end of the byelaw season and the Park’s closure of facilities

 

In contrast to the launch of the byelaws in the Spring, there is NO publicity on the Park’s website and no news release to say people announcing they are now over and people can now camp freely again under access rights.  This probably explains the lack of media coverage in Scotland (please contact parkswatch if you have come across anything).  The explanation, I believe, is that if the LLTNPA had reminded the media the byelaws were over for the year, they might just have been asked some awkward questions, including what the byelaws had achieved.  Better then not to mark the occasion and hope no-one noticed.

 

While some people may have realised that the byelaws ended on 30th September, I am sure most  will not have realised that Loch Chon campsite is also now closed.    This is incomprehensible.  Here is what staff told the Board just a few weeks ago:

 

Loch Chon campsite has now been operating for six months and continues to be popular with visitors, with some weekends coming close to operating at full capacity. The total nights booked up until the end of August was 1160 with an average stay of 1.5 days. These bookings were representative of 1843 people; 1362 adults and 481 children

 

Now, leave aside everything which was wrong about this campsite (too many places, fixed pitches in the wrong places, no water supply and a toilet block which stank as a consequence) people visited because at least there were some facilities and, its one of the few lovely places where you are still allowed to camp.   Why then, having paid well over £345k for this campsite, close it just because the byelaw season  is over?   If there was such demand, surely it would be worth keeping the campsite open for at least another month and leaving the toilets open after that?

 

How too does the decision to close Loch Chon fit with the fact that the other two campsites the Park is involved in, at Sallochy and Loch Lubnaig, are both open till the end of October?  The answer is that other people operate those campsites, with no cost to the Park, but the Park has had to deploy two (excellent) rangers at Loch Chon to keep it going.

 

It makes me suspect the Park will now have also reverted to its previous practice of closing the toilets and carpark at Firkin Point.  If so, the public should treat all claims by the LLTNPA that it wishes to improve infrastructure, with scepticism.     The Park should know that human waste, about which it claims to be so concerned,  biodegrades more slowly in winter than summer and is a strong reason why all toilets operated by the National Park should be open year round.    Infrastructure is needed 365 days, not just over the summer and not just so the Park can claim to Scottish Ministers it has done something to provide for campers.

September 27, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Marquee, slate bay, 26th August, by Camstradden within the West Loch Lomond camping management zone.  There is no record I can find of Luss Estate or the Loch Lomond Arms hotel who run weddings here of applying for an exemption from the camping byelaws..

The Your Park paper update paper to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board on 18th September (see here) contained a very short section of enforcement of the camping byelaws.

While the LLTNPA has reported that 7 cases have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal since the byelaws came into effect, what they did not say is how many breaches of the byelaws have NOT been reported.  From my observations, dozens of tents and shelters have been erected outwith permit areas let alone the hundreds of campervans parking overnight outside of permit areas before the LLTNPA’s attempt to prevent people from exercising their legal right to sleep in vehicles on the road network collapsed.  The LLTNPA has also never publicly explained what methodology, if any, it has implemented to record breaches (it used to count tents and fires and record these in its ranger patrol records) or how many such breaches it has identified.    On top of this, if there is to be any proper evaluation of the effectiveness of the byelaws, it needs to estimate the number of tents and shelters which have not been recorded by its Rangers.

The methodology is important because, for example, under the byelaws its an offence not just to camp but for any form of shelter to be set up between 7pm and 7am.  While its quite easy to erect and dismantle light shelters within a day, I am certain the marquee in the picture above, even if was not used after 7pm, stayed up after that time.    What’s more – just as with the Luss Games (see here) – I cannot find any record of an exemption being applied for.  So, if the report on the first year of the byelaws which the Park intends to submit to Minister is to mean anything, it needs to record not just numbers of tents but the different types of shelter and the details of all exemptions which have been granted.

 

Park Rangers drive past Slate Bay every day on their way out from the Park HQ at Balloch.  If this ground has not been granted exemption by the Park as a campsite and specific exemptions not applied for and granted, how many times have they recorded marquees here?  How many times have they then talked to Sir Malcom Colquhoun of Luss or the Managers of the Lomond Arms Hotel who appear to be involved in these weddings (see here) and told them they needed to apply for exemptions and tried to educate them about the allegedly serious impact which the Park claims tents and shelters have on the natural environment?   Has anyone reminded the Sir Malcom that the reason why the byelaw management zones extend south of Luss and round his house was because the local community, of which he is a part, called for this?   What is the difference between Mr Trout, who has been referred to the Procurator Fiscal (see here), retreating to his shelter in a storm and wedding guests taking shelter from the rain under a marquee?

And its not just marquees……………tents at Slate bay on 2nd September

Actually, there is no difference.  Its pretty obvious that it is who you are, rather than whether you have broken the law, that determines whether the LLTNPA will refer you to the Procurator Fiscal or not.   Can you imagine Park Rangers asking Sir Malcom Colquhoun to dismantle these tents and shelters shortly before a wedding and then, when refused, calling the police?   I think not, but anglers are different, especially if they speak with the “wrong” accent.

Slate Bay, is the large bay opposite Inchtavannach.  Camstradden House, the home of Sir Malcom, is on the north side of the bay.

The byelaws would,if applied properly, not just make criminals of people camping according to Scottish Outdoor Access Code but many local people and businesses.  These examples show just how ridiculous and unfair the byelaws are.  The answer is not to try and make the exemption system work.  All that has done has produced more bureaucracy and another set of figures the Park should be providing is how many Scout and DofE groups applied for “free” exemptions – free apart from the hassle and bother?  Judging by the number of applications listed on the weekly planning lists – not many – there appears to have been a collapse in the number of expeditions involving young people to the National Park.

Since the beginning of August until this week just ONE camping byelaw application has been recorded on the Park’s weekly planning lists and that ironically for an old campsite, where camping is now banned.

 

Whether or not the Park reports on what is really going on, the truth will eventually become widely known and when it does, the byelaws will collapse.  These are bad laws and I do not see how, when there appear to be such glaring breaches by the great and the good, that the Procurator Fiscal  can possibly justify taking action in the cases referred to them.  Simon Jones the Park’s Director of Conservation told the Board Meeting he had spent lots of time talking to the PF but not what this was about.  This indicates that LLTNPA staff are finding enforcement far more complex than they ever imagined but the Board unfortunately do not appear yet to have appreciated the implications.   Its time that recreational interests started to prepare a case for the Justice Minister about the fundamental flaws in the operation of the byelaws.

 

What needs to happen

The LLTNPA must:

  • publish its ranger patrol records for this year as soon as the byelaw season ends on 30th September.
  •  provide a list of exemptions that have been granted to the byelaws and why together with an analysis of why the system is not working.
  • make public all rules and instructions to staff about enforcement of the camping byelaws

and use this to inform the drafting of its report to Ministers and whether a change in direction would do it less damage than continued attempts to gloss over how the byelaws are failing.

 

September 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Herald Thursday. There was a further article and leader comment on Saturday.

The debate about visitor numbers, which started this summer with reports of visitors “swamping” Skye and the North West Coast, has moved to the Outer Hebrides and the current focus is on “motorhomes”.  However, unlike in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park where the numbers of visitors are treated as a problem,  in the West the increase in visitors is generally seen as a good thing.  The challenge, as Alasdair Allan the local MSP said, is that infrastructure has been unable to keep up with demand.   In suggesting that a levy be imposed on campervans to fund the infrastructure, he has opened up the debate.  The Herald, at the end of their leader on Saturday, reflecting on that debate concluded, rightly I believe:  “Getting the infrastructure right is the solution: who pays for it is the problem”.

 

What the Herald failed to say was that if our National Parks had been working and being doing the job they were set up to do, they would now be providing a model of how to do this.  Moreover, the case for further National Parks, including that mooted for Harris, would be unanswerable.

 

Unfortunately, there is almost nothing that people on Skye and in the Outer Hebrides can learn at present from our existing National Parks.  Both seem keener to ban visitors than welcome them.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority has suggested byelaws to restrict access could be used to allow the An Camas Mor development to go ahead (see here), while the constant refrain of LLTNPA  Chief Executive Gordon Watson over the last year when asked to justify the camping byelaws has been  that the numbers stopping off in campervans and tents are too great.  The LLTNPA’s original provision for campervans under their camping permit system was a measly 30 places, with not a single campervan allowed at their new Loch Chon campsite despite all the parking space there.   The LLTNPA’s attempt to limit the number of campervans has now fallen apart because of the legal right people have to sleep in vehicles by the road but this has left a policy vacuum.

 

The policy vacuum  provides an opportunity for the LLTNPA to change direction.  Instead of trying to stop and control visitors,  they should be focussing on what infrastructure is needed to support them.   There was no open discussion of this at the Board Meeting earlier this month, although a reference in the Your Park update report that staff were looking to upgrade facilities at Firkin Point and Inveruglas suggests they may now be moving in the right direction.

 

The basic elements of the infrastructure the LLTNPA needs to provide for campervans should be quite obvious – chemical disposal points, places to leave rubbish and drinking water.  When asked for a list of chemical disposal points in the National Park earlier this year, the LLTNPA knew of none outside formal campsites (see here) and could not even say which campsites had chemical disposal points.  The LLTNPA needs to start acknowledging that the lack of facilities for campervans and the lack of public information about this as a problem and also that it has the primary responsibility to sort this out.

 

The contrast in levels of understanding and understanding between the LLTNPA and  the west is striking.   Alasdair Allan MSP was able, without apparent difficultly, to identify the lack of facilities, chemical disposal points and capacity on ferries as a challenge.    Imagine what the Western Isles could have learned if the National Park had installed chemical and waste disposal points for campervans at the toilet facilities along the A82,  (Luss, Firkin, Inveruglas, Crianlarich, Tyndrum) and made these available 24 hours a day.  Imagine too what the Western Isles could have learned if the LLTNPA had used its large communications and marketing team (there are at least 8 staff) to engage with campervanners about the infrastructure they would like to see in place and then disseminated the results across Scotland?  That could have informed provision of infrastructure everywhere but instead the LLTNPA uses that team to produce glossy materials telling people what they are not allowed to do and where they cannot go.

 

To take the contrast further, tourism chiefs on the Western Isles have criticised Mr Allan’s proposals for a ferry tax on motorhomes because it might put people off visiting.  In the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park tourism businesses piled in to support the byelaws banning visitors in the mistaken belief that you could force people to use commercial sites.   Funny how all those free marketeers want to constrain choice.    A study by Outer Hebrides Tourism has found that people in motorhomes, who are not forced to go anywhere in the Western Isles, on average spend £500 per visit.  Both the tourism chiefs and Mr Allan know that the increased number of visitors in motorhomes is good, the debate is just about how to fund the infrastructure and whether tourism taxes would put off tourists.   The contrast with the LLTNPA  is that in all the papers that were developed to try and justify banning campers and campervanners, there was no tourism impact development and never once did the LLTNPA consider the impact on the local economy.  The LLTNPA should acknowledge in their report to Ministers on the byelaws in December that this was a mistake as has been their attempt to limit the numbers of tents and caravans to 300 (which was an arbitrary figure which has never been justified).

 

The final contrast between the west and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park about the infrastructure debate is the level of political involvement.   Its not just Alasdair Allan that is involved, Kate Forbes the Highland MSP has facilitated meetings on Skye with local councillors and the tourism minister to discuss what needs to be done to support visitors (see here).  In the Saturday Herald Leader of the Western Isles Council, Roddie Mackay, was quoted as saying “The council is exploring all options that could increase investment in infrastructure required as a result of the undoubted success of RET (the Road Equivalent Tariff which has reduced ferry charges) and tourism”.  Contrast this with the LLTNPA where local MSPs and councillors, including those on the LLTNPA Board, have been notable for their silence on the need for improved infrastructure and investment.

 

A recent example of this political silence came at the LLTNPA Board Meeting last week when a Board Member referred to visits from large cruise liners which come to the Clyde and then send busloads of passengers to Luss.  This was interesting – same issue as in the Hebrides – and helps to explain why visitor infrastructure at Luss is creaking.  Not one idea was proposed however on how to rise to this challenge and opportunity.  Instead, there was a bizarre discussion about how difficult it was to get agreement from Luss Estates, the Park and the local Council about who should pick up litter where around the Luss carpark.   

 

What needs to happen

Our National Parks should be aspiring to provide models of excellence for how to support visitors, not ban them, and focus the resources which they have, which are far greater than are available on the west coast, on getting infrastructure right.

 

As part of this the LLTNPA should be committing to develop a proper plan for the infrastructure needed to support campervans in the first year of the forthcoming National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23.  This should include a commitment to engage openly  people using campervans and local communities  to the right type of infrastructure and in what places.  Some of this should be easy, for example adapting existing facilities, some more challenging, for example installing new public toilets and disposal points (eg at the carpark at the foot of the Cobbler).  I will consider how this could be funded in a future post.

September 22, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Retiring Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Member and former SNP councillor Fergus Wood was featured in the Stirling Observer last week due to his  alleged failure to abide by planning conditions set by the National Park Authority for the hydro scheme at Ledard Farm which he is reported as describing in the article as “my project”.   Fergus Wood is a paid Director and part owner of Ledard Farm Ltd which appears to own Ledard Farm.    Fergus Wood has been a member of the Park’s planning committee since at least 2013 and possibly since c2007 when he joined the Board.  (Councillors have traditionally sat on the Park planning committee but the LLTNPA’s removal of all Board records pre-2014 from its website has made it very difficult for the public to ascertain basic information like who was on what committee when).

 

The LLTNPA, as planning authority,  required Fergus Wood as applicant at the time,  to submit a Traffic Management Plan for approval as a condition of the planning permission .  This unfortunately has not been published on the Park’s planning portal, which makes it difficult for the public to submit specific complaints about breaches of planning permission, but will almost certainly have included requirements that the public layby should be kept clear.   Fergus Wood was also required to submit details of:

 

Its almost inconceivable that the Park would have allowed this on a public road.

 

Its also almost inconceivable that Fergus Wood, as a former councillor and member of the planning committee, would not understand the reasons for these conditions and as a local resident (the layby is opposite where the side road leaves the B829 for Ledard Farm) did not observe what was happening.   The first scandal therefore is that a member of the Park’s Planning Committee apparently knew the contractors/developers of the hydro scheme on his land were in breach of planning conditions and yet did nothing to stop this.

 

A second scandal is that Fergus Wood still hasn’t stopped the breach of planning conditions  despite the publicity and despite the claim (article above) by his former colleague  on Stirling Council, SNP councillor Jim Thomson, that the problem had been sorted (see the letter below, which appeared in the Stirling Observer today).

While Fergus Wood is about to retire from the Park Board, having lost his Council seat after ignoring the views of the local community over his proposed campsite (see here)and (here)  (the planning application was subsequently withdrawn), the LLTNPA cannot ignore this blatant breach of its own rules involving a Board Member.  To do so will bring them into further disrepute.   Board Members should be setting an example for any planning application which involves them because otherwise they undermine the very system of which they are supposed to be custodians.

 

An even bigger scandal however appears to be brewing at Ledard Farm.

 

The new planning application to “retain” a track used to construct the Ledard hydro scheme

 

In  August, Baby Hydro Ltd, acting as agents for Vento Ludens Ltd submitted what appears to be a retrospective planning application (see here) to retain a construction track along the line of the approved pipeline to the hydro intake (see here for all papers 2017/0270/DET).  None of the earlier planning applications related to the hydro scheme published on the Park’s planning portal appear to have included authorisation for a temporary construction track here.   While I have asked the LLTNPA to clarify this, a note of a telephone conversation by the applicant on the application form states “It was agreed therefore that a retrospective planning application was required”.  If  a retrospective planning application on a Board Member’s land is not bad enough, what’s worse is the LLTNPA Planning Committee had explicitly rejected an earlier proposal for a permanent track along this very route because of the visual impact it would have had.   The full story is quite complicated but is important to understand what is going on.

 

The original proposal for the hydro scheme was for an access track to approach the intake from the east along the line of the pipeline.  This was rejected by Park officers – and all credit to the landscape adviser for their strong recommendations on this – because of the visual impact:

Extract from committee report December 2014

As a consequence of these pre-application discussions, the revised scheme included proposals for access to the intake from the west side of the burn (on land not owned by Fergus Wood).  This was was approved by the LLTNPA planning committee in December 2014. (Because the applicant was a Board Member the decision was made by the full planning committee and not delegated to staff as now happens with most hydro schemes in the Park).

The is the best illustration I have found in the planning documents to explain the history. The original proposal for a track followed the pipeline marked in red and went through open fields above the wood – which were very visible, hence why this option was rejected. The proposal that was approved utilised the existing forestry track marked in blue and then added a short section of new track along a ride (the L-shaped bit of red line on the left).   The new track which has been constructed approximately follows the two red lines.

After receiving planning approval,  a significant number of alterations were submitted in the name of Fergus Wood to the original plans.  These were treated as Non-material Variations and dealt with by officers (you can see all the published planning documents relating to the original application at 2013/0267/DET).  Most of the NMVs approved were insignificant but then in 2016 an application was made to remove the  access track which had been approved on the west side of the burn completely.

Staff approved this  and in doing so were fully in accordance with the Park’s Supplementary Guidance on Renewables which states:

 

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

 

The fact that no alternative proposals for an access track were submitted at the time would have led staff to believe that Fergus Wood had decided there was no “overhwelming reason” for permanent vehicular access to the intake.  Its not far from the farm and it could be maintained by occasional visits on foot.  I suspect if staff had known that  a further application might be submitted a year later along the line of the route that had already been rejected they would have been very alarmed.

 

Within the original planning application for the hydro scheme there were no proposals that I can find for temporary construction tracks.  The Construction Method Statement, which was approved by officers after the planning committee, also made no reference to temporary tracks being needed to construct the pipeline.  From what I have been able to ascertain from the published documents – and its not good that the position is not 100% clear – the pipeline was to be created by “tracked excavator”:

Being a small hydro scheme with a small diameter pipe it should have been possible to dig the ditch and bury the pipe without a track – a good thing.  However, because the position is not 100% clear I have asked the LLTNPA to clarify if any approval was given to Fergus Wood or his agents at the time for temporary construction tracks and if so where this is recorded.

 

The new planning application is for a track along the line of the pipeline – ie the very line that the LLTNPA rejected three years ago because of the visual impact!   However, formally Fergus Wood appears not to be involved.  Not only is the application in the name of Vento Ludens Ltd, the form includes this declaration:

So, Fergus Wood, as a Board Member has no formal interest in this development – which incidentally would allow staff rather than the full planning committee to decide this application -and yet another part of the form shows he is still the landowner!

Now, Fergus and Francesca Wood used to be directors of a company called Hydrocrofters Ltd whose address was Ledard Farm.  I suspect this was the company that was originally intended to deliver the hydro scheme but the two Woods resigned from the Company in May and Companies House records it as being dissolved on 26th September 2017 (bizarre, I know,  that is in the future!  – but in the unregulated world of capitalism at Companies House lots worse is allowed to happen!).  It appears possible therefore that Fergus Wood has sold or leased the hydro scheme to Vento Ludens but kept the land.   As landowner, however, he is responsible for what is going on on his land, and he appears to have admitted this when referring to the scheme as “my project”.  I think it inconceivable that the developer would construct a track on his land without his permission..

 

Its worth noting this is not the first time Fergus Wood has failed to declare an interest as a Board Member on a planning application form.   He also failed to declare an interest when he applied to build a campsite on his land last year (see links above).

 

The planning application form records there was a telephone call, office meeting and site meeting with park officers and, if the reference to agreeing the need for a retrospective planning application is correct, what the LLTNPA has once again failed to do it enforce its own planning conditions.   Sometimes retrospective applications can be justified instead of taking enforcement action but in this case officers should have known that the Board Planning Committee had previously rejected a track here, so why ask for a new application to be submitted?   I think we should told not just how this decision was made but by whom?  I somehow doubt it was the staff involved who had done a fantastic job first time round stopping a track from being created here.

Photo from current planning application of the new track which Fergus Wood wishes to retain.  It appears the pipeline has been buried on the left side of the track.

 

 

In view of all of this disregard of the planning system, its not a surprise that the photo above shows is that in constructing the “temporary” construction track and pipeline normal good practice has been ignored.   LLTNPA staff are normally very good at specifying both soils and turves should be stored properly to enable effective restoration. Spot any turves here?  Moreover the track has been cut through a bank on the right, leaving oversteep sides, which are very difficult to restore and will leave an even greater landscape scar unless the slope profiles are fully restored.  Again, what sort of example is this from a Board Member?

 

The reasons given by the applicants for keeping the track they have unlawfully created  are not credible:

The hydro is close enough to walk to for occasional cleaning.  If an ATV can carry in a large sluice gate at some indeterminate time in future, it can do so off road.  Occasional use of ATVs has far less impact on both vegetation and the landscape than this track will.  If Fergus Wood ostensibly accepted  for a whole year he could manage the hydro without a track, so can the new applicants.

 

What needs to happen

If you are concerned about what is happening at Ledard Farm, please submit an objection to the current planning application.  This will help put pressure on the LLTNPA to take what has happened seriously.   Just click on the comments box on the  planning portal for application 2017/0270/DET.  In my view the most important point to get across is nothing has changed since the Board originally decided a track was inappropriate.

 

Following on from the Owen McKee case, where the former Planning Convener was found to have been trading in Scotgold shares without declaring this (see here for example), it is absolutely crucial that the LLTNPA is seen to undertake an open investigation into Fergus Wood’s involvement of breaches of planning permission arising from works at Ledard Farm.   This must not be covered up, as the Park tried to do with Owen McKee, and my view is Fergus Wood should be suspended from the Board until this has been fully investigated.

 

The LLTNPA also needs to be taking effective enforcement action to redress current breaches in planning conditions at Ledard Farm.   This should start Monday.  While having accepted the retrospective application for a track, the Park will need to go through due process but because of Mr Wood’s landownership any decision needs to be taken in public by the full planning committee and not officers (and we should not accept the excuse that because Fergus Wood’s term on the Board is about to terminate this is no longer necessary).

 

I would also like to see an investigation cover Mr Wood’s involvement, since the day he joined the planning committee, about enforcement policy and enforcement decisions (or rather lack of them) made by the LLTNPA.  In my view, the LLTNPA uses its enforcement powers far too rarely.  When there are Board Members sitting on the planning committee who apparently don’t want planning requirements to apply to their own land, its quite reasonable to ask whether their own self-interests have not corrupted the entire system.

 

After Owen McKee and with Fergus Wood, its time there was a full review of the Park’s Planning Authority functions.  With new Board Members about to be appointed, it provides an ideal opportunity for change.

September 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Just what we want to see in the National Park, hill tracks so broad that people can walk five abreast! One reason why the Loch Lomond National Park Authority is dysfunctional at present is its marketing department appears unaware of the Park’s own policies – hill tracks where they exist should be quadbike width – and produces glossy brochures without reference to its own staff.

The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board Meeting on Monday (see here for papers) was far more open than meetings in the past but showed the Board still has a considerable way to go.   The fundamental issue is that most Board Members appear to have little idea of why they are there.  It was telling that under Matters Arising, there was not a single question about where the Board goes now the Scottish Government has rejected its suggestion the Board be reduced in size (see here).  This was an ideal opportunity to continue the discussion from the last Board meeting about the function of Board Members but ostensibly the matter is now being treated as closed.

 

Among the welcome signs of change at Monday’s meeting were:

  • The meeting time was changed to the morning which meant there was no time for the secret pre-meetings which used to take place under previous convener Linda McKay.
  • As a consequence there was more public debate, including on issues where Board Members previously appear to have been gagged.  For example, questions were asked about why plans for the National Park’s properties at Balloch, the Gateway Centre, and Luss Visitor Centre were so far behind schedule.  Even the financial consequences were touched on, both losses and costs, and while Chief Executive Gordon Watson was very reticient in his response, the good thing is more Board Members seem prepared to discuss these issues in the open.  I hope this creates an opportunity for the Board Members representing those local communities to engage with them on what is going on.
  • James Stuart, the new convener, reported to the Board he had spent a lot of time meeting stakeholders, including people who disagreed with what the National Park had been doing, and made it very clear he thought such engagement essential.  He even pointed to Ross MacBeath and myself in the audience and said he had had a constructive meeting with the two of us and Dave Morris on camping!  He reported on a meeting with SNH who were keen to develop far closer working – there has been a stand-off over the last few years where the Park has tried to do things itself without using expertise of SNH, for example on how to engage with recreational users, which contributed to the camping byelaw disaster – and the long delayed meeting with the Cairngorms National Park Authority is now going ahead.   The message was that James Stuart really does want the LLTNPA to work in partnership not isolation.   There was no rush from Board Members volunteering to get involved in this although my view is if the National Park is to change course, other Board Members need to start engaging too and means different people need to take on different roles.

 

While the meeting was conducted in a far more open manner than in the past two local people,  commented on the lack of meaningful discussion.   (Its well worth reading Trevor Scott’s account of the meeting (see here) on the Balloch Responds Facebook Page).  They were amazed when we told them the meeting was a considerable improvement to what used to happen!.    I think though they identified the main problem with the meeting:  the Board was not being asked to take any meaningful decisions and as result the meeting was over in under two hours.

 

This was despite  two very important matters being on the table, the “Your Park” progress report and the National Park Partnership Plan.   The way the reports on these subjects were drafted though suggests that it staff, not the Board, who are at present taking the decisions.

 

The camping plan and camping byelaws

Board Members were not invited to take any decisions about the Your Park plan, instead an update report (see here) was presented:   a  report for Ministers on the first year operation of the byelaws will be brought to the December meeting for approval.    I will analyse in further posts (see here for issues with the data presented in the report) the content of the paper including the Park’s failure to deliver additional campsites and the serious problems with the permit areas (all of which were glossed over)  and here focus on the Board reaction to the paper.

 

The first good news was that Colin Bayes, who chairs the LLTNPA delivery group (of Board Members and senior staff), announced that after meeting Ross MacBeath, Dave Morris and myself he had been out to see most of the permit zones with staff and Board vice-convener Willie Nisbet.  He acknowledged that there were some serious issues and that these are now being addressed. A positive development although it would have been good if staff could have been as open about this in their paper. Its possible that its as a consequence of Colin’s visit that some camping permit areas have now been removed from the booking system.

 

Also positive was Billy Ronald’s question – first time I have heard him speak – asking why anglers cannot buy a camping permit in local shops along with their fishing permit?  The answer from staff was that if the Park allowed paper permits to be issued by local shops, they could not control numbers and as a consequence more people might end up camping in a specific permit area  than Park staff have deemed sustainable.   No Board Member thought to follow this up by questioning the justification for stopping anglers from camping in the places traditionally used for fishing but which are outside the new permit zones or by asking staff how they decide what numbers are sustainable.

 

Most significant though was the statement from former Councillor James Robb,  that the clarification that the Park had “overreached its powers” – his phrase, not mine –   in trying to ban campervans from laybys was useful.   Now the Park has never publicly admitted this although it appears from Cllr Robb’s comment that it has briefed Board Members.   There was no single reference to campervans or the LLTNPA overreaching its powers in the update paper.  Indeed the LLTNPA has refused to clarify with parkswatch whether campervans are still included in the byelaws outside of laybys and if so where (see here).    It appears that the LLTNPA is still trying to cover up the extent of the campervan fiasco, including how they and Scottish Ministers approved camping byelaws which were legally unenforceable.  More importantly, they have not started to grapple with the question of fairness: if there are now no or limited controls on campervans and caravans, what is the justification for continuing with the byelaws?  I would suggest that this is the fundamental question that needs to addressed in the report to Scottish Ministers.

 

Councillor Robb also asked staff members to take him through the process of referrals to the Procurator Fiscal (7 people have now been referred for prosecution).   This was a very good question – one which the Park have refused to answer under Freedom of Information claiming it would interfere with law enforcement – and I was not surprised when staff failed to respond.   Cllr Robb then tried to talk through the process himself and asked whether when a person refuses to apply for a permit when camping in a permit area, they are then issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice?   This was a clanger of immense proportions.   Gordon Watson  had to explain to him there are NO Fixed Penalty Notices (which can only be used for civil offences) under the camping byelaws.   Here was one Board Member who had approved the camping byelaws without apparently appreciating that they would criminalise people (fines of £500 and a criminal record).    After 13 secret meetings to develop the byelaws, I find it staggering that staff had not properly briefed Board Members on this.  This points to the fundamental issue, there has been no-one on the Board with sufficient knowledge and understanding to ask basic questions like “is it really right we criminalise people simply for not being in possession of a camping permit?”.

 

There was evidence that other Board Members still have their heads in the sand.   Petra Biberbach, the convener of the planning and access committee, commented that she thought the data in the update paper was excellent.     Neither she or any other  Board Members thought to ask about what negative feedback there had been to the camping byelaws and what data existed on this?   This is despite it being clear that changes to the permit zones for example have resulted from complaints and public criticism.    Former Councillor and retiring Board Member Bob Ellis went further and said he was very heartened by the report, had only had positive feedback from campers (its good he is speaking to campers but those he has engaged appear to be a completely different subset of campers than those I have talked to), thought the report showed the camping byelaws were a great success and was proud to have been part of it.

 

To be fair to other Board Members, they did not follow this valedictory speech.  I think some of them are beginning to realise that the camping byelaws have been far from a success (no-one dared ask about the numbers of people who ignore the permit system) and that the delivery of proper new camping places is far harder than they ever envisaged.  This was reflected in several comments to the effect that “we are learning all the time”.   The prevailing assumption on the Board though still seems to be that as long as they keep throwing resources into various management measures, eventually they will be able to control all campers and make the byelaws work.  Maybe the new members coming onto the Board will be able to take a more critical look at what has actually been happening.

 

The draft National Park Partnership Plan

The development of the NPPP is well behind schedule, a reflection of the resources which have been devoted to Your Park and the significant number of staff who have left the National Park Authority.  The NPPP paper  presented the responses to the flawed consultation on the plan (see here) without saying how the Park would respond to these but that a revised plan would be presented at the December meeting for approval.

 

Colin Bayes, who is open and on the ball, pointed his finger at the issue when he asked staff what process would be used to decide how all the comments received would be fed into the final plan?  Gordon Watson’s response that the National Park Authority needed to be realistic about what it can achieve avoided the question but to his credit, David McCowan, another Board Member who is willing to be critical (he has consistently raised the Park’s failure to deal with litter) then asked that staff should record a response to every single comment received, including that resources weren’t available to deliver it.  Brilliant!   I think staff had assumed they could decide how to respond to comments without telling anyone.   A little bit of accountability at last.

 

In the main though this was an opportunity missed.  What staff should have done is brought to Board Members key issues for discussion based on the responses that had been received.  The Board could then have given a steer about how the Park should respond.   However, unlike in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which based the whole of its consultation on its Partnership Plan on big issues it wanted to address, LLTNPA have avoided any mention of issues like the plague.  Instead, the LLTNPA consultation was based on visions and outcomes that were so broad as to be meaningless and which contained almost nothing about what partners would contribute.

 

Extract from consultation responses paper

This extract shows that a significantly higher proportion of organisations supported the draft NPPP than individuals.  In fact most of the critical comments come from individuals.   The reason for this is that the LLTNPA, through the NPPP, is not asking its public sector partners to do anything further than what is already planned.  What a relief given austerity induced budget cuts!   It suits their narrow self-interests to sign up quick and not think about really needs to be done to make this a National Park worthy of the name.   Fundamental challenges, such as how to change the industrial forestry that has wrecked Cowal, are simply avoided.

 

Even so, its noticeable how certain key public sector partners have failed to respond.   Cllr George Freeman lamented the failure of his own Council, many of the community councils and of the community trusts (which are supposed to be a key means of attracting investment to the National Park) to respond.   He was right to do so.  The LLTNPA are supposed to be working with Argyll and Bute Council to tackle litter but there is obviously no strategic liaison about this.    Later on in the meeting we heard that at Luss part of the litter problem is that Argyll and Bute are responsible for the car park, the LLTNPA for the grassy areas around it and Luss Estates for the shop and no-one can agree who is responsible for what.   My jaw dropped, but the reason for this is now fairly clear, Argyll and Bute are simply not engaging:  their new Councillors on the Board should just get stuck in and bang some heads together.

 

Hazel Sorrell, former councillor for West Dunbartonshire whom I have never heard speak at a Board Meeting (in two years), did not take the opportunity to mention the failure of her own Council to respond.  Perhaps she and they preferred not to draw attention to Flamingo Land? (the delivery of the Riverside site development being one of the few concrete actions named in the plan).

 

What these examples illustrate is not just the complete ineffectiveness of councillors on the LLTNPA at present but also that these councillors council potentially have a crucial role in enabling effective joint work between the LLTNPA and Councils.   With five new council members, the Board has a great opportunity to look at how they could improve partnership working with local authorities.

 

The most positive aspect of the NPPP paper was the Appendix with all the consultation responses (453 pages worth).  In the Your Park consultation  the responses were only made public through Freedom of Information and, as far as I am aware, Board Members were never allowed to see what people had actually said.  While at the meeting not a single Board Member referred to these responses – the sheer number are daunting – many of them have some very interesting things to say about where the National Park is going wrong and suggestions for how it could improve which I will cover in future posts.  Board members should be advised to read them and use the feedback to make a NPPP worthy of the name.

September 17, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

In the paper on the camping byelaws presented at the June LLTNPA Board Meeting, it was reported that:

“86% of people said that they would be quite likely or very likely to recommend staying over in a camping/motorhome permit area”

and

“82% of people found it easy or very easy to find their permit area”.  

 

Board Members treated this as a “killer fact” for, if such a high percentage of people filling in the permit feedback survey are so happy to recommend staying in a permit area, that suggests they have accepted the removal of access rights by the Park and think the permit zones a reasonable replacement.    Both these figures are repeated (its strange that the the percentage rate has not altered at all despite the number of returned surveys increasing from 431 to 1066) in the Your Park Update (see here)  to the September Board meeting tomorrow.  This post argues it is essential that the Board subject these figures to critical scrutiny rather than accept, as they did at the last meeting, that they prove all is well.

 

Having visited the majority of the camping permit areas (many of which have been featured on parkswatch) and to have found them underwater, overrun with brambles, without any flat areas for camping etc etc I found it quite frankly incredible that 86% of people returning survey forms had said they would recommend staying in a camping or campervan permit home area.   So, I asked for the data under Freedom of Information and received it in the form of two Pdf files, one giving the total bookings for each permit area EIR 2017-055 Appendix A Permit Area Bookings 1Mar17 to 26Jun17 and the other giving the breakdown of survey responses EIR 2017-055 Appendix B Permit Area Feedback 1Mar17 to 26Jun17.   By separating the data in this way, the Park has made it much harder for anyone to do an independent proper overall analysis of the data.   However, to demonstrate there is a serious issue with the data – which the Park Board needs to explain – I will compare feedback responses from what I regard as one of the worst permit areas, Coilessan Glen, with one of the best, Invertrossachs Rd on the south side of Loch Venachar.

 

Which is best – Coilessan or Invertrossachs Rd permit area?

 

My assumption, and I think it is reasonable because its how Trip Advisor and other accommodation websites work, is that you would expect a variation in how people rate different permit areas, with some scoring much more highly than others.    In camping terms you would expect people to rate this:

Most of the area on the west shore of the Loch Long south of Ardgarten which makes up the Coilessan permit area looks like this
There are two or three small open areas at Coilessan but they are all sloping, even more though than it appears in this photograph
The dryest and flattest area I could find at Coilessan appeared to have been used for camping – it would have been hard to pitch a tent in a way to avoid sleeping on tree roots

differently to this:

The largest flat grassy area at Invertrossachs Drive, which I visited on the day of the last Board Meeting in Callander, had been clearly used by campers
It also appeared some people had camped on the beach at Invertrossachs Drive. Unlike many of the permit zones there are places on the beach which are flat and sandy, ie suitable for pitching tents. Note another patch of grassy sward left side of photo.

Now Invertrossachs Rd permit area is far from perfect (there are places in the zone where it would be very hard to camp) but I hope I have shown enough to demonstrate why I think it is a much better place to camp than Coilessan Glen.    Encapsulated in words, rather than pictures, I would point to the outlook/scenery (its hard to see much from out of the conifer forest at Coilessan), the vegetation (open native woodland at Invertrossachs) and the availability of dry flat grassy places to pitch a tent.  And its not just me that thinks this: I spoke to someone doing maintenance work near the Coilessan site who told me he had heard there had been complaints about the site (and also about the history of anti-social behaviour there).

 

The message from the feedback data supplied by the LLTNPA however gives a very different message:

According to the LLTNPA people rated Coilessan (90% favourable) far more highly than Invertrossachs Drive (71% favourable). (NB By the June Board meeting 55 people had camped at Coilessan (Loch Long) with 10 submitting feedback forms while 66 had camped Invertrossachs Drive so the level of use appears broadly comparable).

 

What is the explanation for people rating Coilessan more highly than Invertrossachs Rd?

I have been able to come up with a number of explanations for this, including:

  • I am completely unrepresentative of campers and most campers really don’t care about the scenery or having a flat, grassy area to camp, all they are interested in is getting high on drugs and alcohol.    Now, I would have to say Coilessan scores well on that count.  Unlike most of the other permit areas its well away from the public road (so is difficult to police) and been the scene of difficulties in the past (which is why the camping management zone was extended south down Loch Long).  While the photo tells a tale, people who are too intoxicated to notice what they are camping on are, I suspect, highly unlikely to take the time to fill in a survey form:
    One part of the Coilessan camping permit zone is site to half a dozen half burned out tree stumps but had nowhere you could have pitched a tent. If people party here, its in the open, or rather under the trees and you don’t need a permit for that.

     

  • Some other site specific factor explains why people did not like Invertrossachs Rd so much (its one of most lowly rated of all permit areas).   One possible such explanation is the unlawful restriction of access rights on the south side of the road (photo below), which Park Rangers must see every day while conduct permit checking trips.  Its probably not the sign that bothers people but rather than the fence which makes it much harder to go into the woods to have a crap.  Perhaps campers are actually far more responsible than the LLTNPA has tried to suggest and rate camping areas by the availability of places to “go”?
These signs contravene our access rights and the sign about shooting being in progress is a lie for all but a few hours of the year.  Welcome to the brave new world of the countryside, where your every move is caught on camera.  LLTNPA Rangers must pass this sign every day as part of their policing of the camping management zones – its not unreasonable to ask what have they done about it?
  • Grassy camping areas have become irrelevant with airbeds.  Perhaps, but air beds slide on  sloping ground and not much use at Coilessan or on many of the sloping pebbly beaches, as at Firkin Point.
  • The data has somehow been corrupted:  for example, perhaps the system was initially tested by someone entering test data for each permit site and who ticked the box “very likely” to recommend the permit areas to others and then forgot to remove all this data.  That might help explain the generally high level of positive feedback to the survey but would not explain why a poor site rated more highly than a good one.
  • The Invertrossachs Rd feedback data is correct, its the Coilessan data which is wildly wrong – that I could believe!   Invertrossachs Rd is one of better places to camp (despite no access to toilets, no bins and limited parking) and 75% favourable is credible for this site.  Its the other ratings that are not.

    Litter which campers had collected – there was an airbed at top of bag – but was abandoned, presumably because there were no bins to put it in.
  • The data has somehow been influenced, for example, Rangers on their rounds when talking to people ask those who are positive about the zones to fill in the survey form.
  • And lastly, the figures have been made up (and by someone who knew so little about camping they did not think to consider people might rate different camping places differently)

I don’t think any of these explanations, apart from the last two, can account for the differences in feedback received for Coilessan and Invertrossachs although elements of each might play a role in understanding why people might rate camping zones as they do.

 

Its worth stressing here that the issue is NOT just about one camping permit area.  Firkin Point Zone D  (see here)  which other campers have told me they thought was terrible and where I challenged Board Members to come camping, received a 100% very likely to recommend rating (only two campers made the return).   Meanwhile, Inveruglas, which up until June was covered in brambles and has hardly anywhere flat to camp received a 90% “very likely to recommend” rating.   There are many other examples.

 

What needs to happen

 

The Board needs to ask staff to explain the statistics reported from the feedback survey forms and in particular why there appears to be no relationship between “positive” responses and what the permit zones are like to camp in.  If staff are unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, the Board should commission an independent investigation for why people are apparently rating terrible places to camp so highly and commit to finding a credible explanation for its statistics with a view to developing an independent and objective feedback mechanism.

 

The wider issue is the one I referred to last week, how does the LLTNPA rediscover its sense of purpose?   (see here)   To provide proper critical scrutiny, the LLTNPA Board needs get out more.  It would be interesting to know how many of the Park’s Board Members would, after camping in some of the permit zones featured on parkswatch, recommend the experience to the public.  If the Board got out more – preferably accompanied by people with varying points of view so they learned rather than seeing what they want to see – I think they might also question some other aspects not just of the Your Park update paper (which is basically an attempt to sell the camping byelaws as a success and which I will analyse further in another post), but other papers being presented to the meeting tomorrow (Monday).

September 12, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Extract from paper on “Matters Arising” for Board Meeting 18th September, the decision as recorded in the minutes on the left

An extraordinary discussion took place at the end of the June Board meeting of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority in which Councillor James Robb, one of several councillors who will be leaving the Board this Autumn (see here),  proposed that the number of Board Members should be cut.  The reason for the proposal basically was that he felt there was very little for Board members to do, consequently the Board could operate with far fewer members  and cutting numbers would save money.

 

There followed a very open discussion – which would never have taken place in public under the aegis of the previous convener Linda McKay (all credit to new convener James Stuart) – in which basically Board numbers agreed with the proposal (it was clear during the discussion that Cllr Robb had discussed the proposal with some of the other councillors on the Board).   Hence the decision of the meeting, recorded in the minute, to approach the Minister and ask for a suspension of new appointments until numbers on the Board could be reviewed.

 

Unsurprisingly the proposal has been rejected by the Scottish Government. Our National Park legislation requires the Board to be composed of three types of members, those appointed by Ministers, those nominated by local authorities and directly elected members and the numbers of the three categories of Board Member to balance.   While reducing numbers of councillors and Ministerial nominees on the Board would be relatively simple, reducing the number of directly elected members would require electoral boundaries to be completely withdrawn, a complex business.  Also, I suspect the Scottish Government wants to avoid opening up the possibility of any debate in the Scottish Parliament about new or existing National Parks which would be created if the existing legislation was to be amended.

 

While I welcomed the open discussion and the honesty of Board Members – its not many people who voluntarily vote to make the posts they are leaving redundant – what was depressing was that not a single Board Member made a case for keeping Board Members, based not just on what they do at present but on what they could and should be doing.    It appeared from the discussion that Board Members feel they serve no useful purpose.

 

Now I can understand why that might have happened.  First, when Mike Cantlay was chair and Fiona Logan was Chief Executive, Board Members were  firmly told they were not to get involved in operational matters.   So Board Members who knew about footpaths, were told not to support staff on this and those that knew about conservation were told to keep clear of that while those simply with an interest in their area were also told to keep at arms length.    The reason for having Board Members with expertise or democratically elected and nominated Board Members disappeared.

 

Second, to keep Board Members occupied, Mike Cantlay and Fiona Logan then introduced the practice of monthly briefing sessions and seminars as a  way for Board Members to earn their £200 a day.  These meetings, rather than helping Board Members to speak freely, actually became a way of controlling them and under the next convener Linda McKay were turned into secret decision making forums which among other things developed the camping byelaws.   The National Park Board became increasingly autocratic and the result has been Board Members have been left unable to see a role for themselves.

 

What is very sad though is that Board Members have become so neutered that even under the new more open regime of James Stuart they cannot see a useful role for themselves.    I believe there are plenty of opportunities for the Board both to start showing leadership and also to start putting proper governance arrangements in place.  I think this should be based around a number of  areas of activity:

  1. Board Members should know what is happening on the ground and being done in their name.    This means them getting out to see everything from the hydro tracks that are destroying the National Park landscape to the inappropriate areas designated as “camping permit zones”.  This would enable them to make informed inputs into policy development and to scrutinise papers properly.   The current Board is totally failing to do this,  is  disconnected from what is happening on the ground and as a result cannot do its job properly.
  2. Elected Board Members, both councillors and those directly elected,  should be engaging with the local communities they serve and helping to articulate community concerns and aspirations.  That they are failing to do so I think was epitomised by the case of former Councillor Fergus Wood, who was resoundly defeated in the last election, in no small part because he had pressed ahead with a proposal for a campsite without consulting local people.  The same elected representatives for Strathard totally failed to listen to the concerns of the local community about the size of the Loch Chon campsite.  When push comes to shove, the democratically elected representatives have always listened to their Chief Executive before the communities they serve.   The large democratic deficit in the National Park needs to be closed and that will take time and effort.
  3. Board Members should be engaging with national recreational and conservation interests – the people with expertise in the Park’s statutory objectives to promote public enjoyment and conservation.  Had they been doing so I don’t think we would have ended up with  the camping byelaws or the land management practices which still dominate much of the National Park and are destroying its conservation value (whether intensive forestry with clearfell or overgrazing by sheep and deer).  Again, this will take time and effort.
  4. Board Members should be taking a leadership role to ensure effective partnership working with other public sector organisations.  I find it amazing that Councillor Members, having called a year ago for more effective working with local authorities to address litter (noted again in the minutes as an issue) do not appear to have done anything to assist with this process.   They appear to have no idea of how to do this and to have lost sight of the reason they form a third of the membership is to ensure effective joint work with their councils.  If the structures aren’t there, its their job to create them and they need to start doing so.   However, the issue of effective co-ordination goes far beyond local authorities.  The Board needs to have members meeting and networked with other public authorities such as the Forestry Commission, SNH  and SEPA and to have links with delivery organisations like Sustrans and Transport Scotland .   If they started doing so, the National Park might have a chance of delivering a partnership plan which made a real difference, instead of each sector just carrying on as it is managing what is left of ever decreasing public sector budgets.

 

It will be interesting to see if the Board Meeting next week has any discussion in public about creating a meaningful role for Board Members.  It appear from the fact that senior staff have marked this matter arising as “Closed” that they don’t want this to happen.

 

 

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 7, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
BEFORE photo credit Stephen Pimley
AFTER   photo credit Duncan MacLachlan Arrochar & Tarbet Community Development Trust
Following my post on lessons for path investment from the Dolomites I am pleased to report that the short link path to the Three Lochs Way at Arrochar has been cleared of vegetation by the West Dunbartonshire Community Payback Team.    Well done to them and to the volunteers who asked them to help!
Photo credits Duncan MacLachlan
That the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority needs to work with all interests to develop a proper strategy for footpath maintenance in the National Park is illustrated by these photos which were sent to me by Duncan Maclachan of the Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust.   While the path by the church has been cleared, the surface of the Three Lochs Way above it has been eroded away by the recent rain and now needs urgent maintenance and possibly an alternative design to prevent small stones and gravel being flushed off into the water course in future.
The Three Lochs Way is an important recreational resource which runs from Balloch to Inveruglas and is “managed and maintained by the voluntary efforts of members of Helensburgh & District Access Trust” http://threelochsway.co.uk/.  It was their Secretary who contacted the Community Payback Team to clear the path by Arrochar church. While they have been very good at raising money – a credit to all those involved –  this requires constant effort and those volunteers will now have to try and find a way to repair the latest damage to the link path.
It may be a surprise to readers to learn that although much of the Three Lochs Way passes through the National Park, it gets no funding currently from the  LLTNPA for maintenance purposes (although the upper section of the link path was originally completely funded by the National Park):

Our Funding Partners

Love Loch LomondFriends of Loch Lomond & The TrossachsRound TableLEADERScottish GovernmentLuss Estates Logo

Moreover, nor is the Three Lochs Way or the local Community at Arrochar able to call on anyone from the LLTNPA to assess and advise what work needs to be done on path maintenance either in this case or more generally.   Local councils employ road specialists, but our National Park Authorities don’t employ path specialists despite the critical role that paths play in public enjoyment of the countryside.   Instead, the NPAs  rely on the Outdoor Access Trust (formerly the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust) which provides professional consultancy services which local communities and volunteers would need to pay for.
This is not just a problem for Arrochar, its a problem faced by local communities across out National Park.   The Wildcat Trail at Newtonmore, for example, faces similar challenges.  What is happening that due to a lack of resources our National Park Authorities, while saying all the right words about local community initiatives, are not providing the infrastructure necessary to support these properly.
Local communities have responded by trying to find their own solutions.  At Arrochar and a number of other places in our National Parks this is through the development of local community hydro schemes http://arrocharhydro.coop/.     While this could offer a potential source of funds for pathwork in future, it seems to me wrong that the LLTNPA appears to be leaving this all to local communities (at least the Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority has flagged up the need for proper resources).  The LLTNPA has a statutory responsibility to promote public enjoyment of the countryside and this means that it has overall responsibility for ensuring the path network is fit for purpose and properly maintained.   Addressing these issues should be one of the key priorities of the next National Park Partnership Plan.
There are various models for doing this.   I am not against either volunteers having key roles – we need stronger local democracy and people who serve on community councils all do so in a voluntary capacity and should be able to take more decisions – and there is also a place for Community Payback Schemes, training schemes for unemployed people etc.   However, this needs to be underpinned by a professional resource, with the expertise both to design and construct paths according to the highest standards and through funding being available.  Its the responsibility of our National Park Authorities to ensure these resources are in place.
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 31, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
A example of the destruction created by the Ledcharrie track. The slope above the track is too steep and the spoil has been dumped below it without any sign of re-landscaping. The contractor had removed all equipment from the site indicating the Developer, Glen Hydro Development Ltd,  saw this as the “finished product”.

Following my visit to the Ledcharrie Hydro Scheme in Glen Dochart with members of the Munro Society (see here),  I made an information request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to find out what they were doing to address deficiencies in the development, particularly the  damage to the landscape that has been created by the new hill track.    The LLTNPA’s initial response to my request was to refuse to give me ANY information apart from the dates of monitoring visits,  claiming that they had not signed off all the works and provision of information could prejudice future enforcement action  EIR 2017- 050 Response Ledcharrie.   I treated this, as with so many responses from the LLTNPA, with a degree of scepticism, because I am unaware that they have ever taken enforcement action against hydro tracks, despite the large number of inappropriate and poorly restored tracks which now blight the National Park.

 

Leaving that aside, refusing to make public information that the developer was legally obliged to provide as a condition of the planning consent was in my view completely unjustifiable and I asked for a Review.  The LLTNPA has now backtracked  EIR REVIEW 2017-050 Response Ledcharrie hydro scheme and at the beginning of August sent me no less than 45 documents on a CD.  This post considers what the information tells us about how the LLTNPA  is “managing” the impact of hydro developments on the landscape of the National Park.

 

The information required as a condition of the planning consent

 

The Planning Consent which the Park’s officers agreed in December 2013 included 18 conditions, each of which required the Developer, Glen Hydro Ltd acting on behalf of Auchclyne Estates, to submit further information for approval before the development could go ahead.   This information includes assessments required (eg wildlife surveys), more detailed plans (eg for the powerhouse and track construction), standards governing the work and reporting arrangements.  Similar information and conditions are required for most planning consents for hydro developments.    In my view all such information should be public – people should have a right to know what has been agreed between planning authorities and developers – and it appears that the LLTNPA now agrees.  Over half the documents on the CD relate to the plans, reports and proposals the Developer had made to fulfil these conditions.

 

Unfortunately the information is not properly indexed by the LLTNPA and they have not told me whether they are still withholding information about the fulfilment of some of the conditions.  But, as far as I can tell from what has been supplied, Glen Hydro Developments did supply information on each of the 18 planning conditions.  The file sizes are large but the content is summarised in the chart on pages 6-12  here.

 

What is far less easy to see is what documentation was agreed by the LLTNPA.   Some conditions, including the first, to produce a  Construction Method Statement, were clearly approved Condition 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9_20150827_Discharge of conditions. For others its very hard to tell.  For example, in relation to condition 12 on the design of the powerhouse, the Developer appears to have done everything the Park had asked Condition 12_20160314_Agent to NPA but there is no final sign off the from the LLTNPA.   Another example is that the Developer clearly stated that they would include information on several of the conditions (2,4,14) in the all important Construction Method Statement, but in approving this document (see above) the LLTNPA did not clearly say whether those other conditions contained in it were also discharged.

 

In my view our National Parks, which are meant to be beacons of good practice, should  be publishing information about the discharge of planning conditions on their planning portals so its readily available.   This should include both the information supplied by the Developer and the documents from our National Parks signing it off, the two clearly referenced.   This would empower the public and avoid the need for need for endless information requests.  The LLTNPA’s current stance however is it doesn’t make this information public because it doesn’t have to legally – so much for being a beacon of good practice!    In fact if the LLTNPA made these documents public, I think it would improve their practice because where approvals are unclear, as at Ledcharrie, they would be challenged.   This would also help Developers who are left in a difficult position when they are not clear about what has been approved either.   Its worth noting that Glen Hydro developments appears to have taken a far more systematic approach to the provision of information needed to disharge planning conditions – judging by their chart – than the LLTNPA.

 

What the information tells us about planning standards and protection of our landscape

Much of the documentation supplied by Glen Hydro and approved by the LLTNPA is excellent, for example it shows that lots of care is taken to ensure that walkers are informed of alternative routes and is a credit both to National Park staff and to developers.  However, what the EIR response also shows is that standards and documentation are much better developed in some areas than others.  So, the planners, whose stock in trade is new buildings, took huge amounts of care about the design of the powerhouse (see link to condition 12 above).  They also, because of environmental regulations, require very detailed information about the potential impacts on protected nature sites (informed by advice from SNH and their own ecological staff which is included in committee reports) and how these will be mitigated.  They also took great care with any aspect of the environment regulated by SEPA (hence all the plans to prevent stop silt filtering into watercourses).  All this shows that regulation and rules do work.

 

Ironically, because this is what the National Park was set up to protect, what the planners are not so good at is protecting the landscape, and more specifically the impact of new hill tracks.  Ledcharrie shows the problems were created even before planning consent was granted.  Here is what the Committee Report said:

 

  • “Effects on Landscape Character: There would be no significant adverse effects on the site landscape, published landscape character types and the designated National Park are predicted after construction is complete.”

and

  • the topography will screen the intakes, the pipe route will be restored, the track returned to its original state and the tailrace and powerhouse be assimilated in the landscape.
A section of the old track, it had almost disappeared into the landscape – the new track is on far right
And here’s how it looked when I visited with members of the Munro Society

Wishful thinking does not make things happen.  This weakness is carried through into the Construction Method Statement approved by the LLTNPA (see here).  The section headed Access Track is brief to the extreme, in contrast to other sections, and mainly about silt:

What the EIR Response shows is that in discharging this condition the LLTNPA agreed a far broader track than was reported in the the Planning Report and mentioned in my original post:

 

“A permanent track from the powerhouse to the primary intake (surfaced with local crushed stone and about 2 metres in width).”

 

In agreeing to a 3m broad track the LLTNPA also ignored its own good practice guidance which Gordon Watson, the Park’s Chief Executive stated should mean tracks are 2m broad except on bends where they may be 2.5m broad.   No wonder the Park did not want this information to be made public!

 

The Construction Method Statement did contain some further information on track construction and restoration under a section on Landscape Mitigation measures:

The second track, like the ground over the pipe, has been completely restored and generally well done

The problem is this is not a proper Construction Method Statement.  It says nothing about the angle of the track – key to future erosion (SNH tracks recommends a maximum angle of 14 degrees), the design of culverts or the angle of verges all of which have contributed to the adverse impact this track is having on the landscape:

While this section of track has been narrowed the section of bank on the left is too steep, the edge of the ditch crudely done and its too steep – you can see how it was already washing out before it bends left

Where the Construction Method Statement is stronger is the restoration of soil and ground vegetation:

I believe this helps confirm my analysis.   The LLTNPA has been good at ensuring that ground above pipelines has been restored well.  In this case the techniques for ensuring such restoration have also been applied to tracks.  The problem however is that if you get the track construction wrong (angle of slope, cutting through banks etc) that is much much harder to restore than land above a pipeline.

 

The lesson I think that the FOI material tells us is that the LLTNPA (and indeed other planning authorities) need to pay far more attention to the specification of tracks and use this to inform whether tracks should become permanent or not.

 

 

Following on from that, if its not possible to create a track which does not meet all the requirements of SNH’s excellent guidance on hill track construction, that should be an indication to our planning authorities, that these construction tracks should only be temporary and be fully restored, just like the pipelines.

The monitoring of the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro and enforcement of planning conditions

The LLTNPA has not given me a single document about enforcement of the planning conditions, claiming this might prejudice future enforcement action.  While this might be the case in some circumstances – for example legal advice – one would hope that the Developer would have been told by the LLTNPA which conditions it has so far failed to meet.  If so, its hard to see how provision such information could prejudice enforcement action.  If the Developer knows the concerns of the LLTNPA, why shouldn’t the public?    I suspect the reason for refusing this information is that if it became public more evidence would become available about the LLTNPA’s failure to enforce planning conditions.   This is far too systematic to be the fault of staff who I believe have neither the time or the expertise necessary to monitor these schemes properly.

 

Instead, staff depend on is Monitoring Reports and work from the “independent” Ecological Clerk of Works (who is contracted by the Developer and who is therefore dependent on the Developer to get paid).   The other suite of documents in the EIR response are 19 Monitoring Reports from the Ecological Clerk of Works (some of which cover several visits).

 

While these monitoring reports contain good things  – the reports show for example that the Ecological Clerk of Works  consistently identified issues with silt traps and actioned these – and many interesting photos,  I believe they also help explain why the hydro track at Ledcharrie is the mess it is.  The problems are illustrated early on:

Photo from report of site visits in August  2015 at initial stage of construction

This photo shows that turves were not being stored as had been specified in the Construction Method Statement – one layer deep and the right way up – but instead have been dumped in a heap.  The Ecological Clerk of Works makes no comment on this by the picture and no mention in the body of their report.

 

To their credit, the LLTNPA planning officer identified this as an issue.  We only know this not from information recorded by the LLTNPA but because its mentioned in the next suite of monitoring reports from the Ecological Clerk of works (ECOW)  which includes this:

Having asked why the turf had not been stored correctly, the member of the planning team  apparently then accepted the claim by the ECOW that the turf could not be stored successfully for long periods.  This is garbage.  Why did the Construction Method Statement say that turf would be stored in this way if it couldn’t?   Actually, I have just seen an example on the Ralia estate (which I will cover in due course) where turf was stored successfully for over three years.   Unfortunately, the LLTNPA appear to have accepted this claim, instead of challenging the ECOW and the Developer, and this helps explain much of the more restoration work alongside the track.

Bare ground all along the track results from the failure of the LLTNPA to enforce the planning condition that all turf be retained and stored properly.

Its worth having a look at the report  (20151007_Condition 18_Monitoring Report_Sep 2015. which has nteresting photos but bear in mind its right from the start of the works and only covers certain issues.  A couple of the photos show oversteep banksides, the ones that are now have such an adverse impact on the landscape as they are too steep to be restored.   Again there is no comment from the ECOW.  That’s maybe not their fault – their primary remit after all was for ecology, not landscape – but its a serious problem the LLTNPA needs to address.

 

The lessons that need to be learned from the information released by the LLTNPA on Ledcharrie hydro and what needs to change

The documents released by the LLTNPA tell us nothing about what the Park is doing to redress the damage caused by the construction of the Ledcharrie hydro, but they do tell us a lot about what is going wrong and I strongly suspect a similar tale could be told for many other hydro schemes in the National Park.

  • Far too little attention is given to the way track to hydro schemes are constructed in the planning process prior to work starting.  I think at the very least all proposal for tracks should have a specification which covers every aspect of SNH Guidance on the Design of Hill tracks (see here) and our National Parks and other planning authorities should evaluate proposals against that guidance
  • It appears that at present planning staff do not have the expertise necessary to ensure high standards of track construction nor are they able to call on this expertise from elsewhere (as they can with other specialist areas).  Our National Parks need to address this skills gap.
  • Unfortunately, it also appears that the Ecological Clerks of Works  lack expertise in this area too and its imperative that if our National Parks continue to get Developers their own practice that they engage people with the right skills.  That might mean a specialist track consultant.
  • The problem for both our National Parks and developers is that there is little evidence that there are currently people involved in hill track construction with the expertise to ensure tracks are designed to high standards and also to advertise where permanent tracks would have a deleterious impact on the landscape.  One solution would be for our National Parks and developers to engage people involved in footpath design to carry out this work.  In general the standards that are applied to footpath design are far far higher than those applied to hill tracks.  This might help provide permanent jobs to the people currently being trained as footpath workers in our National Park.
  • The biggest failure of all though is a lack of will.  There appears to be no ethos in the LLTNPA which encourages staff to take action when they identify things that are going wrong, secure in the knowledge that they will be backed to the hilt by their Managers and the Board.  Instead there is a development free for all which is undermining the entire credibility of the National Park Authority and will in the long-term destroy tourism, as its the landscape which is the reason why people visit our National Parks in the first place.    Then, when the results of this free for all are made public, suddenly the LLTNPA says it is considering enforcement action.    If action had been taken at the beginning of the construction at Ledcharrie, most of the issues could have been prevented.
  • As a start to rectifying these planning deficiencies, the LLTNPA should now commission an independent audit of a selection of hydro developments in the National Park causing public concerns.  This should analyse in how many cases the LLTNPA has approved tracks which breach its own best practice guidance and ask for recommendations about how this could be prevented in future.
  • In order to show a collective determination to tackle these issues, I think that the LLTNPA should no longer delegate decisions about hydro schemes to staff.  Like in the Cairngorms National Park Authority, all decisions about hydro schemes should be taken in public at the Planning Committee.
August 25, 2017 Mary Jack 1 comment

By Mary Jack

Photo credit M M Jack

History

Perhaps one of the best travel books ever written about Scotland is The Companion Guide to the West Highlands of Scotland [1968] by W.H.Murray. Early on he touches on Loch Lomond:

 

The banks of Loch Lomond are clothed by deciduous woods. Oak, beech, chestnut, larch, and birch predominate … That the banks of Loch Lomond have remained so long free from the forester’s axe and from impairment by tourist development appears well-nigh mira­culous. Their preservation has been due to the rule of enlightened landowners, principally the Colquhouns of Luss, who have sacrificed personal profit.

 

All this changed in 2015 when a heritage organisation was accused of carrying out ‘wanton vandalism’ on the island of Inchtavannach on Loch Lomond.   Scottish Natural heritage is said to have poisoned hundreds of beech trees, some of which were 300 years old.

 

Luss Estates, who own the island, said SNH had entered into an agreement with the tenant of Inchtavannach in 2013 to remove rhododendron from the island.   That agreement also provided for the mature beech trees to be felled gradually over a five year period. But it is said SNH had decided to ring-bark and poison the beeches instead.

 

At the time Sir Malcolm Colquhoun was quoted as saying “I simply cannot understand why the supposed guardian of our natural heritage has killed off these wonderful trees for no apparent reason.”    SNH were reported as stating they “didn’t appreciate” the effect this would have on the landscape.     You can read more at:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/landowner-scottish-natural-heritage-poisoned-my-trees-1-3829391

lussestates.co.uk/news/beech-trees-poisoned-inchtavannach-island

So why were the 300 year old beech trees killed?

The agreement between SNH and the tenant apparently included measures to remove “non-native” beech and this was included in the Management Statement InchtavannachSSIsite808-doc3 for the island which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.   While SNH claimed the beech trees were non-native, elsewhere it had written:

“The importance of a wood for biodiversity is closely related to its age. In Scotland, Ancient Woodland is defined as land that is currently wooded and has been continually wooded, at least since 1750”     (History and ancient woodlands – Scottish Natural Heritage)

 

Moreover, according to the Woodland Trust (what does native and non-native mean?):

The term native is used for any species that has made its way to the UK naturally, not intentionally or accidentally introduced by humans. In terms of trees and plants, these are species that recolonised the land when the glaciers melted after the last ice age and before the UK was disconnected from mainland Europe.

 

While according to Forestry Commission Scotland (What are Scotlands native woodlands?) http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/

Ancient woodlands usually have a high value for natural and cultural heritage  because of their long history of continuous woodland cover. Ancient and semi-natural woods (i.e. those where the current stands appear to be naturally regenerated rather than planted) are the woodland category that generally has the highest biodiversity value.

Native tree species are those which arrived naturally in Scotland without direct human assistance as far as we can tell. Most of our native tree and shrub species colonised Scotland after the last Ice Age (which ended roughly 9,000 years ago), with seeds dispersed by wind, water, and animals.

Although not native to Scotland, the beech – or Fagus sylvatica in Latin – is a common tree across much of Europe. It’s thought beech trees arrived on our shores during the Bronze Age.

 

Conflicting or what??   So ancient woodland sites are important to conserve but need to be cleansed of beech trees which have been there for 300 years?

And now we have been told ………………..beech trees are native to Scotland after all, scientists discover

 

According to research announced on 4 July 2017:

Beech trees should be considered native to Scotland – despite a long-running debate over their national identity, researchers at the University of Stirling and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) report. The team examined the DNA of more than 800 beech trees at 42 locations across Great Britain and made direct comparisons with trees growing on mainland Europe.

The study – funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – shows almost all of the beeches growing in Great Britain the researchers tested, are derived from native populations and, as a result, could not have been planted from abroad.

Professor Alistair Jump, of the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy, said: “The beech tree has been experiencing an identity crisis in Scotland. Evidence shows that the European beech was mainly confined to the south-east of England after the last Ice Age. However, this tree now occurs throughout Scotland and has been considered ‘not native’ by many land managers.

“This tree can colonise ancient woodland in Scotland, and is sometimes removed because it poses a threat to the persistence of other native species. Our study shows that beech should be considered native throughout Great Britain, including Scotland.”
See: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-beech-trees-native-scotland-scientists.html#jCp

 

The research, entitled ‘Understanding the legacy of widespread population translocations on the post-glacial genetic structure of the European beech’, is published in the Journal of Biogeography.

The current position and questions that now need to be answered

Felled beech trees on the island of Inchtavannach, L Lomond, can be seen along most of the west shore. Photo Credit MM Jack

A great many of the poisoned beech trees are still standing in 2017 (Aug) whilst some have been felled and a few shredded and left lying, making the view of the island from land and water unsightly to say the least . It is devastating to see all these once beautiful, healthy trees dead and abandoned.

 

If beech trees now belong in Scotland, the destruction on Inchtavannach,  looks even more scandalous.

 

Here are some questions the public authorities concerned, SNH, the National Park Authority and Forestry Commission should answer:

  • Do you agree that the poisoning and subsequent felling of beech trees on Inchtavannach was a terrible mistake?
  • Was anyone in your agency aware of the research being conducted at Stirling University and that beech trees might, after all, be classified as native?
  • Were the NPA, as the Planning Authority (with the power to create Tree Protection Orders), consulted about the beech trees on Inchtavannach and if so, did they sanction the removal of the trees?
  • Did SNH have a felling licence from Forestry Commission Scotland, to remove the mature trees, or was the poisoning a way round the need for that?
  • Why were all the trees dealt with in one fell swoop (pardon the pun) rather than over the five year period as agreed?
  • Was felling/shredding/removal just too expensive given that they are on an island

 

Whatever the answers, what has happened on Inchtavannach smacks of complete and utter incompetence.

The role of the National Park Authority

The foremost statutory duty of the National Park Authority is the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the area.  Clearly, they should have been involved in the Inchtavannach decision.

 

Moreover, one of the objectives of the National Park Plan 2012-17 is:

Forest design that is sympathetic to the Park’s landscapes, designated sites and ecosystems. This includes restoring Planted Ancient Woodland sites and where appropriate,increases the area of the National Park under continuous cover forest management.

 

How does what happened at Inchtavannach fit with that objective?

 

And, according to the Forestry Commission :- ‘Planning authorities are public bodies who are subject to the biodiversity duty in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, which requires all public bodies to further biodiversity where it is relevant to their functions. Development planning and management take account of native woodlands as priority habitats under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.’

 

So how was the poisoning of the Inchtavannach beech trees able to take place in a National Park?   One suspects that, had the public been consulted, commonsense or an intuitive understanding of how the Inchtavannach beech trees added to the landscape would have prevailed over scientific dogma, dogma which has now been shown to be false.

August 23, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The start of the cycle lanes on the west side of Milton Buchanan – there is a similar layout on the east of the village.

Most visitors to Balmaha and beyond this summer will have probably been struck by the new cycle lanes through Milton of Buchanan.     I use a bike to get around Glasgow, campaign in the area I live for more cycle lanes and when driving try to be as “cycle friendly” as possible.     Coming into Milton of Buchanan therefore I tried to avoid the cycle lane but the space left between the lane and the central line is far too narrow for a car.

Photo showing how the space left for cars is too narrow to allow them to pass with the inevitable consequence they swerve into the cycle lanes.

Then, just a little further on, the centre road marking disappears completely and the road narrows to one lane,  far too narrow to allow two cars to pass.  Any car determined to respect the cycle lanes risks would run into cars coming from the other direction head on.   The consequence is every car I saw had either to swerve in and out of the cycle lanes or simply ignored the cycle lane completely.   This is not the drivers’ fault, its the consequence of extremely poor design and provides ammunition to the petrol heads who believe all cycling provision is a denial of their right to drive their car wherever they want.

 

The local community and the local police force appear to share this view:

Extract from the draft minute of the June meeting of Buchanan Community Council

 

Now I have been aware from the organisational updates given to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board meetings that there were plans to create a cycle path between Drymen and Balmaha.  I have been unable to find any information about these plans on either the LLTNPA, the Stirling Council or Sustrans websites, but that may because I have searched in the wrong places.  Its not clear what consultation has taken place but I suspect that if any meaningful consultation had taken place about Milton of Buchanan, the poor design would have been avoided.    Consultation however tends to go by the wayside when people have limited budgets and performance targets to meet.

 

I happen to have walked along the entire B837 between Balmaha and Drymen – which is marked as a core path on the LLTNPA’s core path plan.   While there is a pavement along most of the road, its very narrow in some places and in others disappears completely, sometimes on bends where this a verge less than a foot wide and where its hard for cars to see you.  Not a good walking experience, even on the section between Milton and Buchanan and Balmaha which is marked on OS Maps as an official alternative to the main West Highland Way.  So much for “destination Scotland”.

One of the better sections of pavement which forms part of the West Highland Way snapped from the car – its not wide enough for cyclists and pedestrians to pass

The plan for Sustrans to install a cycle path therefore appeared to me a good one in principle which  could benefit both cyclists and walkers, both visitors and local residents, and improve current provision.

 

The challenge however is that the B837 is narrow and bordered by (attractive) hedges, not atypical for a country road.   To accommodate cars, cyclists and walkers you either need to widen it, which would require significant investment including the costs of purchasing land bordering the road, or restrict cars.    In effect, an attempt to restrict cars has been made at Milton of Buchanan but in a way that is extremely poorly designed and so both ineffective and dangerous.  If there were far fewer cars, the road markings at Milton of Buchanan might just about be made to work (if priority was given to cars coming from one way).  The only way to make this happen though would be to restrict traffic to Balmaha to local residents and commercial vehicles, introduce a frequent year round bus service for visitors along with new car parking capacity at Drymen.  While this could fit with the proposal to close the road to Rowardennan (see here) I cannot see this happening in the near future.  The proposed cycle path along the B837 and the section created at Milton of Buchanan therefore needs a re-think.

 

An alternative to the current road markings at Milton of Buchanan would be to create a segregated path shared by cyclists and pedestrians along one side of the road.  In my view that would be better than the current set up.  Its easier and safer for cyclists to share a lane with pedestrians than with cars and indeed the first photo in this post shows the assumption is that cyclists should use the pavement outside the village.

Main street in Predazzo, Val de Fiemme. A temporary dedicated segregated cycle route has been created by placing large flower boxes down the middle of the road. (A permanent segregated cycle route runs round the village and connects it to neighbouring villages).

In the Dolomites I saw lots of evidence of how to do things differently, ideas we could apply to Scotland.    In the Dolomites there appeared to be far more emphasis on segregated cycle routes, ranging from temporary arrangements to dedicated paths.

The cycle route which runs along the Val di Fassa and Val de Fiemme. It was well-used by both cyclists and pedestrians – I reckoned at least one cyclist every minute. Note how there is room for cyclists and pedestrians to pass.

Great work of course has been done in Scotland on developing dedicated cycle routes through the National Cycle Route network but we appear to be well behind Italy.

 

It seems to me that if there is not space to create segregated cycle lanes and a decent path along the B837 consideration should be given to following the Italians and developing an alternative route.  There is already an extensive and under-promoted path network between the B837 and the River Endrick, some of which have been designated as core paths  (see here).    The problem is it does not join up to create alternative through routes.    It could do.

This extract from the LLTNPA core path map shows there is a track from High Mains Farm (south of Milton of Buchanan) which joins the B837 just west of Milton of Buchanan. At present it crosses two burns by ford, which have stopped me on the one occasion I have tried to walk it. Add a couple of bridges though and upgrade the path and you could create a segregated cycle route.

 

 

 

 

I am not here trying to provide a definitive answer to how we improve cycle path/lane provision in the National Park or even at Milton of Buchanan, only to illustrate that we need to think more creatively and thoroughly about how existing provision should be improved.  In my view that process should be led by the National Park Authority.   Unfortunately it appears that rather than co-ordinating new provision and ensuring there is consultation with appropriate bodies, from the local community to the Ramblers Associations and organisations like Go Bike, the LLTNPA are leaving this to others.   That partly accounts I think for the daft road markings at Milton of Buchanan.

 

One of the priorities in the draft National Park Partnership plan, “Visitor Experience 1”  is “Ensuring that the National Park Core Paths are reviewed and fit for purpose” while another, Visitor Experience 2 commits the LLTNPA to “Promoting the use and improvement of the National Walking and Cycling Network including new active travel linkages between communities as well as routes facilitating active travel into the Park and better linkages with existing transport hubs and routes.”     The cycle lanes at Milton of Buchanan provide a graphic illustration of why this is needed.    However, if the LLTNPA is to become an effective public authority which leads on developing good practice for outdoor recreation and active travel it will need to allocate resources to do this.    In my view it could do so easily if its Board decided that instead of fruitlessly devoting most of its resources to chasing away campers it re-focussed on how it could provide the infrastructure necessary to support visitors.

August 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
The road from Balmaha to Rowardennan was like this much of the way, stop/start as cars squeezed past each other.

On Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of a break in the tropical storms which have been battering  Scotland, we went for a walk up Ben Lomond, a hill that everyone from the west of Scotland who is able to do so should walk up at least once in their lifetimes.   I walk, run or ski it most years.   The drive from Balmaha to Rowardennan required patience because of the volume of traffic.   It probably took us twice the time to drive it as it does in winter.

The Forestry Commission carpark at Rowardennan was full to overflowing. With all the official places full people were parking on the verges

We met all sorts: small groups of middle aged men with strong Glaswegian accents, a couple of Asian families, backpackers taking a diversion from the West Highland Way, students, a person with a learning disability, Dutch tourists, some younger teenagers who must have been still at school, a Sikh……….we heard probably a dozen different languages.   The number and diversity of people visiting Rowardennan and walking up Ben Lomond is a great thing.  It should be the people’s hill.

 

The infrastructure though is creaking under the numbers and needs a re-think…………………in fact its needed a re-think ever since the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park was created.

 

In the Dolomites and indeed in many other valleys in the Alps where small roads finish in a dead-end without much space for parking – as at Rowardennan – they do things differently.

Track between Gardeccia and Vajolet Huts

The main access to the Catinaccio group, off the Val di Fassa, is via this valley.   The road up to the Gardeccia is closed to private cars.    The valley is extremely popular – it leads up the famous Vajolet towers (where we climbed), offers great walking and a number of via ferrata – but people either walk up (rare), get a ski lift and then contour round into the valley or use the shuttle bus service from Pera.

Shuttle buses with Catinaccio group behind

The shuttle bus service operates from 7am to 6pm from the end of May until mid-October.   It took about 20 minutes and cost 10 Euros return, including the cost of leaving our car for three days.   It was extremely well used – we were concerned when we turned up at 7am whether we would get on the two buses waiting at the bottom – but coming back saw over half a dozen buses taking people up and down the route and waited just five minutes for our bus to fill and set off.

The parking provided for those using the Gardeccia shuttle bus

The road closure and shuttle bus service solves the problem of where people would park up the valley, takes the stress out of driving along the narrow road up to Gardeccia, provides jobs and is more environmentally friendly than people taking cars.   This is not the only side valley off the Val di Fassa where such services exist (see here for list).   So why don’t we do this in Scotland?   We could start  places like Rowardennan.

 

In fact, one of the action points of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan 2014-19 was:

“Consideration to be given to shuttle bus service provision from Drymen to Rowardennan.”

The new signs that have been put up on almost every free post along the Rowardennan Rd since Stirling Council assumed responsibility for parking enforcement in May.

This has not been progressed.  Instead, the focus has been on the expensive water bus service and  there has been an obsession with trying to control car parking:  in particular how to enforce the clearway between Balmaha and Rowardennan.

 

This has had the unfortunate effect of making much of east Loch Lomond inaccessible for people wanting to do short walks along the West Highland Way.  Apart from the public carparks at Milarrochy, Sallochy and Rowardennan, there is nowhere to stop.   Fine for fitter walkers, but for lots of people it means many of the joys of east Loch Lomond are now beyond reach.

 

A shuttle bus service would enable far more people to do shorter walks along east Loch Lomond, letting people walk between points of their choice.  It would also make Ben Lomond far more accessible – something like 50% of the adult population of Glasgow do not have access to a car and effectively have no way of reaching, Ben Lomond, what should be the people’s hill.

 

The Buchanan Community Partnership and recreation management on east Loch Lomond

 

Unfortunately, not only does the LLTNPA appear to be doing nothing to address this situation, it and Stirling Council appears to be about to make this worse.   The issue at stake is the management of the carpark at Balmaha.

 

There have been calls from people in Balmaha that the community  should be able to benefit from the car park there for some time.    There is a very interesting record of how the proposal has developed – given by Kevin Lilburn recorded in the minute of the May meeting of the Buchanan Community Council (see here).   Basically the proposal had been that money raised from the car park should be split between Stirling Council, the LLTNPA and an organisation called the Buchanan Community Partnership.  The plan which was eventually agreed was that Stirling Council would lease the car park which they still own for 3 years to the LLTNPA who would introduce parking charges through their  newly procured Automatic Number Plate Recognition charging system.     The LLTNPA would take on the burdens of running the carpark and after costs would share income with the community.  The vehicle proposed to do this was the Buchanan Community Partnership

 

The BCP had been set up in 2003 to enable the local community to access and manage funds.  It appears responsible for initiating the negotiations that car parking charges should be introduced at Balmaha and part of the money from this used to benefit the local community.  The BCP has, according to Kevin Lilburn’s report to the Community Council  – information reinforced by its accounts – been in “suspended animation” for a number of years.    This is interesting as Kevin Lilburn is a Director of the Buchanan Community Partnership and information obtained under FOI FOI 2015 002 Response – Copy show that he represented that body on the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management stakeholder group, the body which is supposed to co-ordinate the implementation of the east Loch Lomond Visitor Management Plan (which now appears defunct) and indeed that he appears to have chaired meetings.     Although in theory open to anyone from the local community to join, there is other information to indicate the BCP was hardly a democratic organisation.   Information from companies house  (see here) states it is controlled by one person, Joseph Twaddle its Secretary, who had been secretary of the Community Council before he resigned.   The May minutes of the Buchanan Community Council record that “The view was expressed that the current BCC membership knew nothing about BCP meetings from the former Secretary”.  

 

All this though now appears about to become history.   According to the draft minutes of the Buchanan Community Council meeting in June  the Buchanan Community Partnership is about to be wound up and instead there are plans that a new organisation, the East Loch Lomond Community Trust, will receive the funds.

 

14) AOCB
KL advised that the Buchanan Community Partnership (BCP) board had decided to start a process that aimed to wind up the BCP. This had implications for the “community” share of the revenue that might result from the proposed introduction of parking charges at the Balmaha car park. He understood that the recently formed East Loch Lomond Community Trust might now have an involvement.

It was proposed & agreed that the Chair should write to the NP expressing our deep concern at the situation.

 

Reading between the lines of the minutes, it looks as though one shadowy organisation, the BCP, has been replaced by one that is even more shadowy.  Moreover,  there has been no communication from the ELLCT and the Community Council, the organisation which represents people locally.   Information on the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator’s website shows that the ELLCT was incorporated in October 2016 and sets out it general objectives but does not provide the names of the trustees or say what area it covers.  The only other public information that is available about the ELLCT is it appears to have registered for Just Giving.      You cannot therefore see who is controlling the organisation let alone what it intends to do.  Perhaps the National Park knows?

 

What needs to happen

  • The LLTNPA  should make all information it holds on the east Loch Lomond Community Trust public and explain why it appears happy to divert funds to an organisation which appears accountable to no-one
  • The LLTNPA needs to create an integrated vehicle management plan for the area.   Charging for carparks has all sorts of implications for recreation management, including the viability of a shuttle bus service to Rowardennan.   We bought our 10 euro return ticket in Italy and it covered carparking for three days.  The car park at Balmaha is not big enough to cope with the extra car parking capacity that would be needed to support a shuttle bus service but income from it could be used to kick start such a service.   The LLTNPA in giving away funds to an unaccountable group is reducing the likelihood of transport systems, which exist everywhere on the continent, being developed in the National Park.
  • At the National level, it appears that the law regarding community councils needs to change (the minutes show the reason these trusts and companies are being set up are because of legal limitations as to what community councils can do).   Now community councils are not perfect, they can easily be taken over, but as the saga on east Loch Lomond shows, the alternatives, companies or trusts accountable to no-one can be even worse.

 

And for any reader, who thinks I am being too radical, in Italy they are prepared to close to private vehicles not only dead-end roads, but major through routes.

Looking down onto a section of the road over the Sella Pass on a Wednesday. Note the cyclists.

The road over the Sella Pass, between the Val di Fassa and Val Gardena is closed between 9am and 4pm every Wednesday, except to buses and cyclists.    Imagine us doing  something as radical in Scotland?   What the closure does is enable hundred of cyclists to enjoy the challenge without having to think about traffic, which includes not just car but lots of motorbikes.   The Rowardennan Rd is a nightmare to cycle at present.   A shuttle bus service might make it a pleasure to cycle again with additional recreational benefits – and help promote a circular route on car free routes from Balloch to Rowardennan, across to Tarbert on a ferry and then back down to Balloch along the west Loch Lomond cycle path.    That would be a National Park which, like Italy, put outdoor recreation at the centre of how it manages the countryside.

August 18, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Photo from Luss Gathering Facebook page 2017 (it took place Saturday1st July) – count the tents and shelters!

The Luss Gathering takes place each year on Luss playing fields which now form part of the west Loch Lomond camping management zone.   Since last year the camping management byelaws have made it a criminal offence to erect a tent in a camping management zone without explicit authorisation from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority.   Mostly such authorisation is granted through the camping permit system the Park has created but this only allows tents to be put up in specified permit areas.   Luss is not one of them, no doubt because some local residents had blamed camping for all the problems of anti-social behaviour the village was experiencing and so no camping under permit is allowed close by.

 

The other way permission to put up a tent can be obtained is to apply for an one-off exemption to put up a tent or tents.   Decisions about such exemptions are, under the Park’s procedures supposed to be advertised on the Park’s weekly planning list which I have been monitoring for some time now.    Most of the applications are from Duke of Edinburgh and Scout Groups, with hard-pressed voluntary Scout Leaders and teachers,  no longer able to organise expeditions which stay overnight in the camping management zones without the Park’s permission.   The bureaucracy and additional workload is signficant and I feel for the (mainly youth) groups involved.  They were, just like other responsible campers, never part of any problem – indeed being supervised, the chances of such expeditions causing any damage were minimal – but nevertheless the Park has required them to apply for permission to camp.

 

I tend to recall applications from other bodies for exemption from the camping byelaws – that from the Loch Ard Sailing club comes to mind – but don’t remember seeing one for the Luss Highland Games.    I have double-checked all planning applications decided for the Luss and Arden Community Council since April on the Park’s planning portal and cannot find any appllcation to exempt the Luss Gathering either.  I am thus reasonably certain that the Luss Gathering did not apply for and were not granted permission to pitch the tents that feature on the photo above.   If I am correct,  all those responsible in putting up these tents have committed a criminal offence.   Ridiculous I know, as common sense tells us that these people have done no wrong.

 

But neither has Mr Trout, the angler who is being prosecuted simply because he broke the byelaws for doing what he has done for years (see here), just like the people who organise the Luss Gathering.  Neither has done any wrong.  Mr Trout told me that the police officer employed by the National Park, PC Barr, when cautioning him, had told him the law is the law and has to be enforced.  It would be interesting to know how many events PC Barr or other police officers have attended over the summer – I cannot believe that there was no police presence at the Luss Gathering – and what action they have taken.  My guess is none but I would be more than happy to publish information from the police or the LLTNPA if I have got this wrong..

 

The camping byelaws are daft but since during the Your Park consultation both Luss Estates and  members of the local community in Luss strongly supported them, there is an argument they should be made to live by the rules they have created for everyone else.   I would prefer it if they now joined those of us who believe the camping byelaws were never justified, are completely unfair and a complete waste of resources and call publicly for them to be dropped at the earliest opportunity.

 

Meantime, there was a helpful reminder of the real problems which the National Park Authority should have been addressing at Luss in this letter which appeared in the Herald on Monday.   It is significant that it is from someone who is in the tourism industry.   The new National Park Partnership Plan needs to completely change the focus of what the Park is doing, from wasting money and resources on trying to chase off responsible campers to the provision of the basic infrastructure the Park needs.

 

 

 

August 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

One of the priority actions under the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan was to develop long-term Land Management Plans across the National Park, an objective that everyone with an interest in land-use and landscape should support.   Interested to understand what progress had been made, I asked the LLTNPA for copies of all plans that been agreed and in June the LLTNPA informed me (see here) that plans had been agreed with 18 private businesses “which equates to 29% of all privately owned land in the National Park”  – exceeding their 25% target.  However, they refused to release any of the Plans that had been agreed on the grounds they were commercially sensitive.  To me, this seemed bizarre, surely how land is being managed in our National Parks is a matter of public interest and should be public?

 

I therefore asked for a review of this decision EIR 2017-043 Review request and this week received a response, EIR REVIEW 2017-043 Response estate plans.  This claims that these land management are so full of commercially sensitive information – which can be exempt from publication under the Freedom of Information Act in certain circumstances – that they cannot be released.   The implications of the Park’s claims for Land Reform and land-use management are profound.   What the Park is in effect saying is that because the plans contain commercially sensitive information they will not release the information these plans contain relating to the Park’s statutory objectives to conserve the landscape and wildlife, promote public enjoyment of the countryside and sustainable use of resources.  Among other things the following would now appear, according to the Park, to be state secrets:

  • agreements made with landowners to manage deer numbers and reduce the impact of deer grazing on the environment
  • agreements made with landowners to improve recreational infrastructure, such as car parks or campsites
  • agreements made with landowners about how land could be managed to reduce the risk of flooding
  • plans to protect vulnerable species or to control predator
  • plans for future developments, such as hydro schemes

In effect the Park is claiming that agreements it makes with landowners on how land should be managed are secret and not a matter of public interest.   This is totally wrong and contradicts National policy.

 

The Scottish policy position

 

Last year the Scottish Government issued a revised Land-use strategy for Scotland 2016-21 http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00505253.pdf  under the title “Getting the best from our land” – note the “our”.   Here are some relevant extracts:

 

a) Under “Principles Land Use” “People should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future.”

How can people, including local communities, contribute to land-use decisions in the National Park if information about land-use is secret?

 

b) Under “Our Vision” “A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.”

How can we know if decision the Park is making with landowners about land-use are delivering “improved and enduring benefits” if these decisions are secret?

 

c) The Land Use Strategy also supports the three underpinning principles in A Stronger Scotland, The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16.  The third of these is “making sure that we encourage and facilitate participation by everyone in the debates and decisions that matter to them most, regardless of their circumstances or backgrounds”

How does the LLTNPA’s secret agreement with landowners support this objective?

 

d) Under “Our Objectives”  “Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.”
How do secret management plans enable more people to positively influence land-use?
e)  “Our Objective to maximise the opportunities for land to deliver multiple economic, environmental and social benefits is still valid and at the heart of this second Land Use Strategy.
In 2011 we published an information note on Applying an Ecosystems Approach to Land Use…………(which)….. “summarised the three key steps which are important when using an ecosystems approach, these are:
• considering natural systems;
• taking account of the services that ecosystems provide; and
• involving people.”
How does keeping management plans secret involve people?

f) 2.5 Land Use and Communities “We are all part of a community. A community can be based on its location (for example,people who live, work or use an area) or common interest (for example, the business community, sports or heritage groups). Both need to be at the heart of decisions about  land use because land is at the core of our communities. It provides places for us to live, work, and enjoy recreation………………When people can influence what happens in their community and contribute to delivering change, there can be many benefits. Pride in the local community can increase, people may be more inclined to go outdoors and be active, or have the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables and eat more healthily. All of these things improve people’s physical health, mental wellbeing and overall quality of life.   It has also been shown that most people feel that they should be involved in local land use decisions beyond the rights already provided by the statutory planning system; this is why we need to encourage better connections between communities and the land.”

So according to the Scottish Government involving people should be central to land-use – except in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park it would appear.  The LLTNPA is not only failing to consult on land-use decisions, its keeping information about the basis of those decisions secret.  And our National Parks are supposed to demonstrate best practice!     Its worth noting here that the Cairngorms National Park Authority does publish estate management plans.  While they are far from perfect, in fact in many cases so general as to be meaningless, at least what the CNPA is doing is public and provides a basis for debate.   It appears that the LLTNPA would prefer that not to happen.
Its hard to avoid the conclusion that at some level the LLTNPA has in effect been taken over and is being run for landowner and business interests rather than the public interest.

Land management plans and freedom of information

The Park makes two interesting statements in its Review Response refusing to make land management plans public.

The first is that “there is commercially sensitive information throughout the documents, such information is not discretely held within one part of the document. The plans also contain copies of reports provided by third party consultants on the viability of businesses and future plans.”   Now, while I am sceptical about how far landowners have provided commercially sensitive information to the National Park, if there is indeed commercial information inserted throughout the plans, the obvious solution – apart from redacting the commercially sensitive information which would be a lot of work – is to redesign the plans so that business information is held in a separate document which would not need to be made public.   This would make it easy to publish plans which set out the agreements made  with landowners – e.g deer numbers, extent of woodland restoration, plans for new paths – without the financial information that underpins the delivery of this.   Having said this, where work is to be financed through public funds, I see no reason why this information should not be public.  Its should be in the public interest, for example, to know what Forestry Commission Scotland intends to grant aid.

The second is the LLTNPA’s statement  that “the ILMPs have been put together with businesses within the National Park on the understanding that this information is not shared publically (sic)”.   My understanding of Freedom of Information law is that this is totally wrong: public authorities cannot get round the Freedom of Information Act by making private agreement with landowners or anyone else that the information will not be public.   That is why in every public tender and contract clauses are included which state that any information provided is subject to the provisions of Freedom of Information law.   The LLTNPA statement suggests once again that its being driven by landowning and business interests, not the public interest.

What needs to happen

While I will appeal to the Information Commissioner – the National Park cannot be allowed to drive a cart and horses through our Freedom of Information legislation – this is a matter that the LLTNPA Board need to address.   I believe they need to:

  • Require staff to re-design estate management plans so that information that is legitimately confidential is separated out from decisions that are being made about land-use
  • Consider how to consult and involve the public in the development of land management plans as per Scotland’s Land-use Strategy
  • Commit to publishing all plans that have been agreed so far as soon as possible
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 31, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Temporary toilets at Linn of Dee carpark July 2017

Dear Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority,

Pretty no, but effective yes.  These toilets had been brought in because the composting toilets – I know your Chief Executive will say, “I could have told you so” – did not work.   I don’t know why they had gone wrong but what I do know is that National Trust for Scotland, which is under severe financial pressure, appears able to prioritise basic facilities for visitors.   If they can do this, why can’t you?    All your visitor surveys have said there are insufficient public toilets in the National Park.   A hundred portaloos would be a start.   Visitors might even then  be happy to pay a small car parking charge, as they do at Linn of Dee.