Tag: natural environment

January 5, 2018 Bill Stephens No comments exist

Objection to Planning Application 2017/0254/MIN   Development of a Gold Mine, Glen Cononish, Tyndrum

Cononish gold mine sheds May 2017 – Photo Credit Nick Kempe

[Editor’s note:  Bill Stephens submitted this objection to the current Cononish gold mine planning application on 5th December.  While the documentation on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park planning portal (see here) has been added to since then,  Bill’s objection contains a fine analysis of the issues for all those concerned about landscape and wild land in the National Park.   Since he submitted it Scotgold has responded to objections from myself and Mountaineering Scotland  (see here), prior to the special Board Meeting which is scheduled to determine the application on 29th January, and I will consider that response and other matters relating to the application then].



The planning application is presented as a further revision of the planning consent granted in 2015, reference 2014/0285/DET, with the accompanying Environmental Statement suggesting that what is now proposed is more environmentally acceptable but the driver is clearly to reduce costs. The main differences are:

  • changes to the ore processing building and associated screening;
  • disposal of all the tailings on the surface in ten ‘stacks’ instead of partly underground and in a ‘cross valley impoundment’;
  • construction of more than 2 km of surface water interception ditches around the stack areas instead of the diversion of the Alt Eas Anie to the south of the impoundment; and
  • extending the duration of the mine from 10 to 17 years with the potential to further extend this.

This submission considers each of these changes in turn before highlighting the implications for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the Ben Lui Wild Land Area. These mean that the National Park Authority must refuse planning permission for what is now proposed as well as not renew the consent for the approved scheme and should focus efforts on restoring the existing site.

Ore Processing Building

The building now proposed is 80 metres by 30 metres, nearly 50% bigger than the average Aldi store, and has a 6% larger footprint than that approved in 2015. The design is also more monolithic in appearance with reduced screen bunding and consequently will be an even more prominent feature in the landscape.

Tailings Management

The approved scheme is to deposit 147,000 tonnes of the ore processing tailings within the underground workings with the remaining 400,000 tonnes pumped as slurry to an ‘impoundment’ contained by an embankment constructed with some waste rock from the mine and excavated from the Alt Eas Anie diversion together with glacial till excavated from the impounded area.

It is now intended to reduce the water content of the tailings to a ‘damp sand’ and transport all the now estimated 530,000 tonnes by 25 tonne all-terrain dump truck to one of ten stacking areas. There will be a need to construct a haul road from the ore processing site to the stacks and a crossing of the Alt Eas Anie to stacks 3 to 6 but details do not appear to have been submitted with the planning application. The stacks will have a basal layer constructed using some 172,000 tonnes of waste rock excavated from the mine with the total amount of waste material to be disposed of in the stacks some 50% more than on the surface for the approved scheme.

An indication of the the scale of the tailings stacks, outlined in orange, can be seen by comparing them with the area of forest plantation top right. Extract from documentation on LLTNPA planning portal.

The footprint of the stacks range in size from 5,425 square metres to 15,498 square metres, larger than the outer perimeter of an athletics track, and in total cover an area twice that of the currently approved tailings management facility. The tailings are to be placed on a foundation of waste rock excavated from the mine and compacted in 300mm layers to the desired stack landform. The particle size distribution of the tailings indicates that 80% is finer than 125 microns and is more accurately described as a silty fine sand with engineering properties unsuitable for what is proposed.

Although laboratory analysis of samples from the existing waste heap at the mine and a single ‘representative’ tailings sample provided by Scotgold suggest that the material is ‘inert’ with acceptable acid rock drainage characteristics, it appears that the suitability of the material as a growing medium has not been assessed either for this planning application nor indeed for the approved scheme.

Spoil below the Tyndrum Lead mine where re-vegetation has still not taken place – photo Nick Kempe

The gold is to be mined from the Cononish Vein which had several lead mines along it in the past with the ore including galena (lead sulphide) and the spoil having elevated concentrations. The ore could therefore be similar to that mined from the Tyndrum Main Vein with the previous activity on the slopes of Sron nan Colan leaving large spoil heaps still unvegetated 100 years or so after mining ceased. This is typical of other lead mining areas where the difficulties of establishing vegetation on spoil heaps are well known.

It is intended that the final landform for each of the stacks will replicate the hummocky glacial terrain that is there now but it seems that these will be modelled on larger drumlin features and will look quite different.  It is also the intention that final restoration of the stacks will attempt to recreate the existing vegetation type in a few years that has taken 10,000 years or so to establish here.

The potential plant toxicity of the tailings combined with their engineering properties, the altitude of the site and its exposed location makes it extremely unlikely that the restoration aims set out in the Environmental Statement will be achieved. The cost of restoring the site to anything like what was there before mining operations commenced will cost many £ millions, much higher than the financial guarantees provided by the approved scheme legal agreement. It is also evident that these guarantees are inadequate for the remediation of the approved scheme.


Surface Water Drainage

Proposed site drainage marked in blue – from documentation on LLTNPA planning portal

The construction of the tailings management facility for the approved scheme requires the diversion of Alt Eas Anie with a channel to intercept its tributaries to the north and one of the stated benefits of what is now proposed is that these will no longer be required. However, because of the need to keep to a minimum surface water runoff entering the tailings stacks and avoid downstream watercourse pollution, over 2 kilometres of peripheral open drains will be required. These will have a man-made appearance and add to the difficulties of achieving the restoration aims.



The existing permission for the mine is for ten years but the planning application is now for 17 years to allow for a reduced rate of ore extraction and processing. Going further into the Cononish Vein and extracting more ore has previously been identified as a possibility and Scotgold have also highlighted six other priority targets within a 2.5 km radius of the Cononish Mine. These have the potential to extend the life of the operation well beyond the 17 years that planning permission is being sought for.

Planning permission for exploratory works to enlarge the existing adit and create a waste rock spoil heap was originally granted in 1988 and extended in 1989 with a scheme for the mine approved in 1996.  An amended scheme for the mine was granted consent in 2011 with an extension of time, that also included 24 hours working, approved in 2015. A nine-month bulk processing trial to extract gold from part of the existing spoil heap was given planning permission in April 2016 and approval was subsequently given to increase the amount of material to be processed as well as extend the duration of the trial to the end of March 2018.

Filling of geotextile bags at Cononish – Photo Credit Nick Kempe

The tailings from the processing trial are being contained in long geotextile bags which are much more intrusive than the spoil heaps. The planning permission stipulates that the bags can remain until May 2021 when the site ‘shall be restored and remediated…unless there is an extant planning permission for the development of a mine at the site’. How this has been allowed to continue in what is supposed to be a protected landscape for some thirty years with the prospect of another twenty years, should the current planning application be approved, and applications for further extensions to the size and duration of the mine likely, is difficult to comprehend.


National Park Aims and Landscape Special Qualities

The currently approved mining scheme was assessed in relation to National Park aims in the report on the planning application that was considered by a Special Board Meeting of the National Park Authority in October 2011. These aims are:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area;
  • to promote the sustainable use of natural resources of the area;
  • to promote the understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public; and
  • to promote the sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.

The Sandford Principle gives precedence to the first of these.

The report concluded that because of ‘the impacts on landscape and scenic qualities, wild and remote character and the associated recreation experience of walking and climbing in the surrounding area’, mining here would be contrary to the first and third of the aims. ‘However, as these losses and impacts would not be permanent and the special qualities and recreation experience could be recovered and moderately improved within a 10 to 15 year period the proposals could be argued to support these aims… the impacts and benefits associated with this development will, taken as a whole, have a favourable contribution to the National Park aims’!

Even more remarkably, it goes on to suggest that because ‘the impacts on natural heritage interests are temporary and will be ultimately conserved and enhanced in the long term’ the proposal is considered to contribute to the first aim. Consequently, there was considered to be no need to invoke the Sandford Principle and the planning application for the mine was recommended for approval. This was accepted by the Board with the National Park Authority Convener subsequently stating that ‘the glen will regain its quiet, remote character following closure of the mine and the landscape will be improved from its current state’.

The 2010 report on the Special Landscape Qualities of the National Park provides a baseline for the ‘celebration, promotion and safeguarding’ of the National Park. The report describes the special qualities of each area of the Park including ‘Wide Strath Fillan’ where reference is made to the Tyndrum mines ‘highly visible on the slopes of Sron nan Colan, stand out barren within the surrounding woodland, and are witness to the economic activity of the past’. It goes on to mention the glimpses of Ben Lui with the flat-bottomed Glen Cononish leading into the heart of the high mountains past the ancient Caledonian pinewood of Coille Coire Chuilc but no mention is made of the recent mining activity on the eastern slope of Beinn Chuirn, presumably because it was at that time still a relatively small-scale operation.


Ben Lui Wild Land Area

The Ben Lui Wild Land Area was designated in 2014 and most of the proposed mining operations lie within this. Although the protection of Wild Land Areas from development is currently advisory not mandatory, it is still a material planning consideration and the Environmental Statement provides a Wild Land Assessment.

The Wild Land Area description recently published by SNH mentions Ben Lui being regarded as the ‘Queen of Scottish Mountains’ and, quoting from the 2010 Special Landscape Qualities report, refers to the ‘great tract of hills and mountains rising steeply and dramatically from the glen floors…the bare upper hillsides and mountains appear untouched, remote and wild, rising above the long glens where farming, forestry and infrastructure are found’.  It goes on to highlight the affect that development has on emphasising the relatively small extent and sense of remoteness and sanctuary of the eastern part of the Wild Land Area. Mention is also made of the existing mine at Cononish but nevertheless did not exclude this from the designated area again, presumably, because of its relatively small scale.

The Wild Land Assessment contained in the Environmental Statement suggests that the establishment and operation of the mine will have a ’moderate and significant effect on approaching the north-eastern hills’ but this will be medium term and localised to upper Glen Cononish with the effect on the local sense of sanctuary ‘minor and not significant’. The visibility of the mining site from the surrounding mountains and the effect that this will have on their landscape setting including that of the impressive Eas Anie waterfall and ravine is not considered.

The Assessment concludes by stating that the restoration of the site will ‘enhance the naturalness of the existing situation and will be a positive effect in terms of these wild land qualities’. This ignores the fact that what is there now could be restored without having to extend the area of mining operations from less than a hectare to the 40 hectares covered by the planning application and downplays the landscape impact of what is proposed.


What Should Happen Now

The planning application Environmental Statement Overview indicates there is a ‘planning balance’ to be struck between the potential environmental impacts and socio-economic benefits of the proposal and that the findings of the Environmental Impact Assessment demonstrate that ‘there are no planning or environmental considerations which would give rise to reasons for refusal’. The Environmental Statement is of course only part of the EIA process with all consultee responses and other submissions an important part of this.

The short-term impacts on the special qualities of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and the Ben Lui Wild Land Area of building an ore processing shed the size of a suburban superstore, constructing tailing stacks the size of eight athletics grounds and 24-hour operation of the mine for up to 17 years is too great a price to pay for the anticipated economic benefits and mitigation measures offered. Uncertainties about restoring the land to anything like what it is now in the medium term and, probably, in the longer term, could well leave a huge permanent scar on what is one of Scotland’s most valued landscapes. Consequently, the precautionary principle should apply and planning permission for both what is proposed now and any application to renew consent for the currently approved scheme refused.

It is understood that the mine operator has lodged a financial bond with the Crown Estate, the owner of the mineral rights, that is intended to cover the restoration of the existing mining operations and area affected by the bulk processing trial. The efforts of the National Park Authority should be focussed on ensuring that this work is undertaken as soon as possible and not make things worse by extending the duration or size of the operations.

December 18, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments

One of the main arguments for National Parks in Britain and Northern Ireland has always been that planning has a key role in conservation, whether of the historical or natural heritage, and visitor management and that a dedicated National Park Authority will do this better than Local Authorities.   Three matters which have been covered by parkswatchscotland are on the agenda of today’s meeting of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Planning Committee:  the Loch Achray Campsite (see here), the Ledard Farm Hydro Track and the housing application for Balmaha (see here for all papers).    I had considered going to the meeting today but missed the deadline for registering a request to speak.  Here is what I would said about the Loch Achray campsite.


The proposed Loch Achray Campsite

The large flat grassy area to the east of the burn where 9 “pitches” are due to be located.   Due to foreshortening the eroded area looks much bigger than it really is relative to the grassy sward and there are plenty of place of camp.

While the planning application for the Loch Achray campsite is being presented to Committee because SEPA have objected due to the risk of the site flooding, there are other matters that I believe should be being determined by Committee rather than officers.

The photographs in the Committee Report (see here) do not give a true reflection of how the site looks and specifically there are NO photographs of the large flat grassy area which floods occasionally and which has been operated by the Forestry Commission as a youth campsite for about 30 years.  Those facts tell you two things.   First, that wild camping type experiences are quite compatible with flooding (people just choose elsewhere if a place is flooded or stay at home).  Second, that there is no need for artificial pitches, hence one of my objections to this application:

In response the LLTNPA as planning authority claims the National Park as applicant believes the raised camping pitches on plastic mats will “enhance the experience” of campers using the site.  No evidence is provided to support this claim and there has been no engagement with people who camp.  I wonder how many of you have tried to camp on a plastic mat?   Furthermore, as a National Park Authority in the Your Park plan you committed to enhancing the wild camping experience with informal style campsites.  Unfortunately, what is proposed here is the opposite and contravenes Park Policy intentions on camping although, after the changes you made to the Planning Guidance on the Visitor Experience at the last Planning Committee meeting, you make no formal distinction between different types of campsite.   That is fine, so long as staff and Board Members keep in the heads the fact the primary objective is to provide infrastructure that supports the wild camping experience and does not attempt to convert it into something else.   This campsite should be kept as informal as possible, as it has been for many years.

The only area included in the campsite where there is any justification to create artificial pitches is on the rough and boggy ground to the west of the burn, where no-one in their right mind would camp at present: but even here, those pitches should NOT be covered in plastic matting.

The reason for these fixed pitches is LLTNPA staff appear to want to control everything campers do.  This is well illustrated by the Job Description for the campsite wardens at this site which was advertised in the last month:

This is no longer about wild camping, its about GUESTS and the main tasks of the wardens is to ensure these guests camp and park in their allotted places.  Bureaucracy gone mad and a waste of scarce resources.

My second objection to this application is that there is no provision for campervans to dispose waste at the toilet block.   The LLTNPA and the Forestry Commission haves been busy promoting Forest Drive as a destination for campervans and creating more campervan permit places but without installing any facilities.  This is a recipe for disaster and the creation of the campsite is an opportunity to rectify this.  Instead, the LLTNPA  as planning authority is  saying they have no influence over the National Park as National Park Authority:

The lack of will to join up policy aspirations is in my view a failure which you as Board Members can put right.  Why campervans shouldn’t be able to stop in the car parking area seems like a repeat of Loch Chon where there was no provision for campervans, although in this case at least there is other “provision” nearby on Forest Drive.  But, campervans need places to dispose of waste and take on water and there is nowhere else to do this on Forest Drive.   Now, this might not be the best place to do so – maybe the Forestry Commission toilet block would be better? – but unless the Planning Committee knows alternative provision is planned, it should be insisting on such provision here.

Lastly, although no objection to the proposal has been lodged on these grounds, the Committee should I think make recommendations about two other aspects of the proposals.  The first is about access to the site which at present requires a five mile drive around Forest Drive when it is located just a few hundred metres from the main road:

While situated close to the main road – campsite is orange hatched area – Forest Drive is currently one way and the site can only be accessed from the top of the Duke’s Pass

This is hardly green and if you are approaching from the north, as people from Stirling might do, access requires a huge loop and will unnecessarily increase traffic on Forest Drive.  So, please ask your staff to approach FCS and make the section of Forest Drive to the campsite or indeed a little further to the campervan places along Loch Achray two way.

Second, the report reveals that the campsite will only be open from 1st March to 30th September

Every visitor survey the LLTNPA has done on facilities indicates that lack of toilets is a key issue for visitors to the National Park so why not keep the toilets here open?   The Park’s Director of Conservation at the September Board stated that there were significant issues with human waste in camping permit zones, and this is particularly evident on Forest Drive, so keeping the toilets here open for a longer period – or preferably year round – should be a no brainer.

While I appreciate that as members of the planning committee you may be limited in the extent you can impose formal conditions as applicants but you also sit on the Board of the LLTNPA which is the applicant in this case and therefore have the power to address the matters I have raised.  I hope you will do so.

December 6, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Ref: NOV302727
Notice Type: 02 Contract Notice
Title: Review of Cairngorm Ski Area Uplift Infrastructure
Published: 30/11/2017
Published by: Highlands and Islands Enterprise
Deadline: 10/01/2018
Full Text: http://www.publiccontractsscotland.gov.uk/search/show/Search_View.aspx?id=NOV302727

(Notice issued by Scotland Contracts Portal)

On Friday 30th November, following the public row about their removal of old ski infrastructure from Coire na Ciste which forced the Government Minister Fergus Ewing to get involved (see here),  Highlands and Islands Enterprise issued a tender on the Scotland Contracts Portal for a “Review of Cairngorm Ski Area Uplift Infrastructure” with an allocated budget of £75-80k.

In one sense this is welcome and not before time, the obvious question being why did HIE not commission this review BEFORE removing any of the lift towers in Coire na Ciste?  The Coire na Ciste group has long argued that winter activities are crucial to Cairngorm while concerns about the neglect of winter sports by Natural Retreats has helped prompt the creation of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust.  This post considers how the commissioning of this study relates to Natural Retreats’ disastrous management of Cairngorm and the proposed bid by the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust to takeover the Cairngorm Estate from HIE.


The implications of Natural Retreats change of ownership

First though a crucial piece of information about the reason for Natural Retreats UK’s change of name (see here) to the UK Great Travel Company Ltd which comes from the tender documents:

In June 2014, following a public tender process to find a new operator for Cairngorm Mountain, HIE sold its shares in the operating company, CML, to Natural Assets Investments Ltd. CML is now operated by a Natural Assets subsidiary, UK Great Travel Company Ltd. CML was granted a 25-year lease (running to 2039) and entered into an operating agreement with HIE. The assets leased from HIE comprise the funicular railway and other ski-tow infrastructure, all buildings, car parks and service infrastructure. CML, as Tenant, is responsible for maintenance of all the facilities.

Natural Retreats UK had been owned by Natural Retreats LLC, based in the notoriously lax tax jurisdiction of Delaware, in the USA.  What appears to have happened is that Natural Retreats UK has now been bought by Natural Assets Investment Ltd (NAIL), the same company that owns Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, and its name changed as a consequence.  There is still nothing about this on the Companies House website which claims that the controlling interest in the UK Great Travel Company Ltd is unknown.  This is despite the fact that according to HIE that controlling interest is NAIL and its ultimate owner therefore is almost certainly David Michael Gorton, the hedge fund manager:

Companies House extract as it appeared 5th December

So now the company that provides services to CML, as well as CML itself, is owned by NAIL.  In December 2016 NAIL had net liabilities of £29,380,827.  Those liabilities are likely to have increased further through the purchase of Natural Retreats.   That has implications for both HIE and Cairngorm – the risk of the whole financial pack of cards collapsing would appear to have increased further.


The Review of Ski Infrastructure and Natural Retreats’ plans for Cairngorm

Its worth recalling a few claims from HIE’s news release (see here) on the sale of Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats in 2014:

  • “Natural Retreats are renowned for offering customers and guests high quality tourism based experiences in some of the most dramatic natural locations around the world.”  Comment. Most if not all of those international connections have now gone.  Its now just the UK Great Travel Company.
  • “Natural Retreats are revealing a £6.2m five-year investment plan which will secure the future of the Resort for the next 25 years.”  Comment. And how much of this has been invested to date?
  • “Alex Paterson, Chief Executive at HIE commented: “Natural Retreats has the vision, ambition and experience to enable the resort to fulfil its potential as a world-class visitor destination.Their plans include the further development of snowsports and diversification of the business into a high quality, year-round attraction.”   Comment:  if Natural Retreats had so much expertise and such great plans, just why is HIE needing to spend £80k on a new study of what to do at Cairngorm?

Seen in this context, the commissioning of this Review is in effect an admission from HIE that Natural Retreats have failed to deliver at Cairngorm.    Instead, however, of terminating their lease, HIE is paying for work that Natural Retreats should have done and indeed be doing.   To add insult to injury, the tender documents require the contractor to work closely with Natural Retreats.  So, how independent will this study be?


The proposed study will be neither neutral nor “independent”

The tender documentation states the study will be overseen by a steering group comprising HIE, CML/Natural Retreats and the Cairngorm Mountain Trust.   The Cairngorm Mountain Trust was almost defunct until earlier this summer when it was resuscitated, almost certainly at the prompting of HIE, as a tame vehicle to represent the local community and enable “consultation” boxes to be ticked.  Unless things have changed, the CMT have fewer than 40 members, whereas the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust now has almost 400 members all within the PH22 postcode (and that despite staff working at Cairngorm being too scared to sign up in case they lose their jobs).

The Cairngorm Mountain Trust though is not just on the steering group overseeing the work, it has been given the key role among all the stakeholders whom the contractor is required to consult:

“C, In addition to the inception meeting by the end of February, not less than 2 meetings ……………..before submission of the first draft, will be required with The Cairngorm Mountain Trust, a charitable company, who have a historic interest in the Cairngorms and can bring to bear a range of experience and who are going to be on the steering group too.”

By contrast just one meeting is required with the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust who are listed along with various skiing stakeholders both local and national,  Mountaineering Scotland and the North East Mountain Trust.   Other conservation organisations which have taken a keen interest in Cairngorm, such as the Cairngorm Campaign and Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group are omitted.  A truly independent study would be allowed to identify stakeholders and engage with them to the degree of what they have to contribute.  It appears HIE is not going to allow that to happen at Cairngorm.

An alternative approach, which might have supported local people rather than city financiers, would have been for HIE to have commissioned an independent report to explore further (much work has already been done) the viability of the options being proposed by the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust for Cairngorm.  Its significant, I believe, that HIE has chosen NOT to spend its £80k on that.

The scope of the Review and its place in wider plans for Cairngorm

One good thing is the tender shows that HIE at long last acknowledges that the funicular has been a disaster for skiing at Cairngorm:

When there is insufficient snow cover at Coire Cas car park level to allow operation of the lower Coire Cas ski- tows (Fiacaill Ridge, Car Park and Day Lodge ski-tows) the funicular is the only access to the upper mountain. This results in significant operational inefficiencies in running the funicular, notably a reduction in the hourly capacity, due to the need to make mid-station stops, queuing and customer frustration and dis-satisfaction.

Nothing is said in the tender documentation about the current status of HIE and Natural Retreats “agreed masterplan” for Cairngorm which was intended in part to retrieve the disaster created by the funicular.  That “plan”, announced earlier this year (see here), consisted of a proposed dry ski slope and upgrading the Ptarmigan Restaurant (both to be funded by HIE).   Now, you might argue that none of those “masterplan” proposals count as proper ski infrastructure, but the scope of the “Review of Ski Infrastructure” is much broader than its title suggests:

Suggest options for product diversification to enable the resort to become a more attractive year round destination. Information will be provided to the supplier on schemes which have been previously evaluated including an alpine slide, zip wire, “reduced risk” facility and mountain biking trails.

Moreover, the following clause suggests that HIE is at long last considering the development of an overall plan for Cairngorm, as required by the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy agreed with the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year:

It is anticipated that this review will make a very significant contribution towards a 5-10 year long-term strategy for Cairngorm ski area, which will be a separate document produced by CML and HIE and which falls outwith the scope of this review.

Unfortunately, the scope of the clause on the environment in the tender is very weak and makes no mention of evaluating environmental impacts of the options for developing or extending ski infrastructure that might be identified in the Review:

19. Environment – Consider opportunities to actively improve the natural heritage, particularly to improve regrowth of native trees to encourage additional natural retention of snow for winter sports (’natural snow barriers’).

And the tender shows that HIE remains wedded to neo-liberal ideology which holds that the only option to enable development to take place is outsourcing:

36. Comment on the business model that would be required for any proposed changes, outlining the impact on P&L, cash flow and operational requirements; outline the potential return on investment required to support commercial borrowing for redevelopment of Coire na Ciste and the period over which this may be achieved; and the practicality of securing commercial funding for a capital investment of this nature.

Just why HIE is requiring the consultants to look at “commercial” funding when it has been prepared to commit £4 million of non-commercial loans to Natural Retreats is unclear.  Alternative methods of financing are possible but to allow for that would be to allow for a community take-over.

What needs to happen

The first thing HIE needs to do is to correct some of the biases in this supposedly independent Review.   Under the procurement rules public authorities can during the tender process clarify contract requirements and HIE could use this facility to correct some of the biases created by the wording of the tender documents.   For example, the tender is open about whether further interest groups should be consulted and HIE could therefore, if they wish, add the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorm Campaign and RSPB Abernethy to the list (as each consultation has a cost) and that could strengthen the role of conservation organisations in the process.  Similarly,  HIE could indicate that because of the size of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust more meetings with them might be required.

The second thing HIE need to do is clarify publicly how this Review of Ski Infrastructure fits with the other plans floating around Cairngorm.   While the tender says the Review will inform a longer term strategy, it fails completely to say anything about the plans for a dry ski slope where the planning application was withdrawn.  I believe HIE should confirm that these proposals have been shelved until the Review Report has been produced.  If they did that this Review could help pave the way for a proper plan for Cairngorm, as was intended by the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, particularly if HIE was also prepared openly to review the way the environment has been managed at Cairngorm.

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


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 4, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
At a landscape scale, the impact of the work that was done to replace the shieling t-bar with a rope tow does not look too bad, with the most obvious change being the colour of the slope, which has changed from brown to green due to the replacement of heather by grasses. In the foreground you can see ragwort which has colonised disturbed ground.

After the extensive coverage parkswatch gave to the destruction caused by engineering works in Coire Cas last year (see here for example), at the end of August a small group of us went to have a look at how the restoration work was going.   In my view while there have been some improvements, there is a long way to go.   The purpose of this post is to illustrate some of the issues.

That there had been some improvements did not surprise us as Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been paying for a clear-up  at Cairngorm in preparation for a planning application to install a dry ski slope above the Coire Cas Car Park (see here) and redevelop the Ptarmigan restaurant.  Neither application would look good if Cairngorm was still a tip.    A few weeks ago Natural Retreats submitted a planning application for the Dry Ski Slope but this was then, mysteriously, withdrawn.

While a fair bit of rubbish has been removed from Coire Cas, including bits of pipe that must have been there 30 years, we did not have to look far to find more.  The cynic in me wondered if it had been placed on this side of the fence so it could not be seen by passengers travelling in the funicular!


The restoration of the shieling track

The shieling track, which had been created unlawfully and then granted retrospective planning permission by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (see here) looked far better then we had expected.  The whole track surface, including wheel lanes, had been re-seeded which has helped to stabilise the ground and cross drains installed, as required by the CNPA.  So, were conservationists wrong to oppose it?  I don’t think so.  The reason why it looks this good is that it has not been used..  The question is what will happen if and when it does?

Poor track design. The cross drain empties onto the track beyond and while protecting the top of the new shieling track (right) will increase the erosion on the track  to the former Fiacaill T-bar (left – and which incidentally has never been granted planning permission). Note the rut developing at the end of the cross drain.

There is evidence for what will happen this from the top of the shieling track (the start of the track is to the right of the cross drain in the photo).  As soon as vehicles use this ground the re-seeded grass is likely to wear away and the surface of the track erode,  as on the left side of photo.  Since the shieling track is significantly steeper, exceeding at the top SNH’s maximum recommended inclination for hill tracks, the erosion is likely to be worse.

The parodox here is the only way the Shieling track will look acceptable is if its not used.  Perhaps the CNPA should have followed the advice of the North East Mountain Trust who suggested heather should have been re-established across the entire shieling slope and that the uptrack under the rope tow could have been used for occasional vehicle use?

Cross drains  have been installed along the Shieling track (left – a recycled Council road barrier is far cheaper than using natural materials) but the re-seeding has not stopped some sediment and stones being washed into them, a sign of continuing erosion.


Who paid for the pump house?

We did see one example of a cross drain where a significant amount of care had been taken (left).  The turfs should help hold back and filter sediments.  By contrast, above, was an example of Natural Retreats’ incompetence (right).   Water channelled against the wooden sides of the pump house building!   Rotten to the core!

The landscaping of the area around the Shieling track

The area below the shieling rope tow outwith the area granted planning permission by the CNPA. The bank on the right was unlawfully “reprofiled”.

The photo demonstrates the large area affected by the shieling works and  where vegetation and turves were not retained prior to re-instatement, hence all the re-seeding (the green in the photo).  While heather should re-colonise this area in time we will need to wait to see other longer term impacts, such as whether invasive species colonise some of the ground.  The picture will be complicated because the CNPA required compensatory tree planting as a condition of the retrospective planning permission, although this had not started at the time of our visit and there is no mention of this on Cairngorm Mountain’s “Behind the Scenes” blog (Autumn is a good time for planting).

What was pleasing to see was the interpretation boards, which had fallen into utter disrepair, had been replaced.   I suspect this was organised by the Ranger Service and perhaps by Nic Bullivant before he departed as head ranger.   It appears this was funded by the lottery not Natural Retreats who appear to have no interest in this visualisation of the future.   I believe this vision should be at the centre of an alternative plan for Cairngorm (with trees rather than snow fences collecting the snow).  Unfortunately a number of trees were killed in the unlawful works that took place in Coire Cas and one reason there are not more trees here, in contrast to the path round to Coire an-t-Sneachda – is that vehicles are allowed to drive willy nilly over the vegetation.

My biggest concern on the day was landscaping.  The area with boulders is outwith that granted planning permission but has been subject to extensive engineering works and new drainage.  It looks totally out of place and there has been no attempt to restore the slope to how it previously looked.

While culverts along the burn at the bottom of the shieling slope  – which required permission from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency – have been finished well, other culverts which did have permission from SEPA, are right eyesores.

Natural Retreats did not retain enough soil/peat to replace vegetation on top of culvert, required to enable skies to cross over to the bottom of the new rope tow.
Natural Retreats has made half an attempt to conceal these boulders by the Shieling track
Above the shieling rope tow the boulder dumps are more visible from a distance

The shieling rope tow and surrounds was subject to planning permission from the Cairngorms National Park Authority and they therefore continue to have some influence (legally) on the restoration of this area.  The three things I think they need to focus on are: restoration of vegetation, landscaping and the ecological impact of the changed drainage in the area.


The area above the Shieling rope tow

Highland Council agreed to works to prevent the collapse of the Cas Gantry on a de minimis basis without planning permission.  On balance I believe the lack of any planning controls has contributed to the landscape restoration around the Cas Gantry being worse than than below.

Some, but not all the boulders which were shoved under the gantry as a result of piste widening works (no planning permission) have been restored.

Turf has been placed along top of the slope which Natural Retreats excavated in order to try and prevent water flooding down it. The basic issue is the slope is too steep and no vegetation/turf was retained for restoration purposes. The bluish re-seeding pellets (left foreground) continue to get washed out and the risk is this slope will again be subject to severe erosion this winter.

Culvert pipe chopped? to create pool to provide water for snow making machines. I understand the wooden box on the right helps sediment in the water to settle out and prevents the snow making machines becoming blocked with silt.

The finishing of the culverts is very poor.

View down “track” from former shieling restaurant to recently renewed former Lifties hut.

Worst of all though is the uncontrolled use of vehicles.  The track above never used to be there, has been created through vehicle use, is far too steep and is eroding badly.  It has never been granted Planning Permission.  Forest Enterprise Scotland provides Prior Notification for new tracks as short as 40m to Planning Authorities so HIE has no excuse for this.

ATV tracks by the former shieling restaurant – there is a second track on the right running parallel to the one in the centre.

Off track use of vehicles at Cairngorm used to be strictly controlled but is now seen as unnecessary bureaucracy.


What needs to happen in Coire Cas?

The evidence shows that the clear-up and restoration of Coire Cas has a long way to go.  I cannot see this happening as long as Natural Retreats continue to manage it (they are both incompetent and only interested in what money they can extract from Cairngorm) and HIE owns it.   If Coire Cas is to protected and cared for a change in ownership and management is essential and the best chance of this happening is the proposed local community buy-out.

We also, however, need the CNPA to get involved,  in what in tourist terms is the heart of the National Park.   While this post has identified some areas around the Shieling rope tow where they could use their planning powers to drive further restoration, the involvement of the National Park should be much wider than that.  Unfortunately at present they are no match for HIE which receives high levels of political support despite its mismanagement at Cairngorm.

It is now one year since the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, which was supposed to deliver a comprehensive plan for Cairngorm, was agreed by the CNPA Board.   In the papers for the Board Meeting this Friday the only reference to what is going on at Cairngorm is in the Chief Executive’s report:


Cairngorm and Glenmore – a visitor experience partner meeting is scheduled for mid-September to agree how to take forward the programme agreed in autumn 2016 and this will be linked to work with Active Aviemore. An application is being developed to submit to Leader for funding to study how visitors to Cairngorm and Glenmore use public transport and how this might be improved.


While its great work is going to be undertaken to see how public transport can be improved, is this really the only progress a year later?  Unfortunately the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy has had a cart and horses driven through it with An Camas Mor at one end of the glen and Natural Retreats at the other.

What we need above all is for the CNPA to assert its moral authority to be the lead agency in the National Park and to start taking a lead at Cairngorm.    A good statement of intent, which should be supported by the Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham who is in favour of community control, would be if the CNPA was to offer its resources (as per its commitment to support local communities) to assist the proposed community buy out.

September 14, 2017 Nick Kempe 11 comments
Old pine tree surrounded by regeneration at An Camus Mor, isn’t this what our National Parks are for?

Large developments are, I believe, fundamentally incompatible with the whole concept of National Parks, wherever they are located across the world.   National Parks are places where the natural environment should come first, not second.  That’s why I, like many people, object to the An Camas Mor development in principle.  We should not be building new towns in the Cairngorms, whether or not these impact on protected European sites or have implications for access by visitors (see here).

That does not mean I am against new housing in our National Parks, indeed there is a crying need for social housing in the Cairngorms, but this must be of an appropriate scale and appropriately situated.   Anyone who cares about the natural environment should visit An Camas Mor and see for themselves.  In my view its a totally inappropriate location for housing, whatever the size of the development.
Earlier this week a reader expressed scepticism that the pole (left hand photo) could mark the centre of the proposed development.  I can well understand why, the location is beautiful and unspoilt, just the sort of place our National Parks were set up to protect.   I was shocked too when I visited two weeks ago and very quickly started asking myself how could the Cairngorms National Park Authority ever have consented to a development here?
Looking north towards the pole which marks the centre of the development. The Caledonian forest here is regenerating over heathland and rough pasture.

The most intensive building is proposed for the centre of the development  in the areas marked red on the map below (the pole in the photos marks as I understand it the centre of the green circle on the map).  The approved development  proposals include buildings 3.5 storeys high.   If you can see the Lairig Ghru from ground level at the centre of An Camus Mor, its quite obvious it will have a major impact on the landscape of Glenmore.  Indeed, the impact of the development on the landscape was one of the reasons why the CNPA imposed the condition that the development could be halted after 630 houses had been built.  The removal of that condition was the key change approved  by the CNPA when it agreed to vary the original planning application this August.

Extract from CNPA committee report August 2017

After my visit to the site, I believe the map in the Committee report showing the boundary of the site and dating from 2009 is totally misleading.

Much of the the east side of the site (left of the red line along the road, the B970, is depicted as rough grassland.  Its not, its regenerating  Caledonian pine forest. This is partially acknowledged by the Developer who describes the part of the site where houses will be built as “elevated woodland” – while carefully avoiding the term “Caledonian pine forest”!
This photo, from the planning papers, clearly shows that An Camas Mor is mainly woodland. You need to get up close to appreciate that a large proportion of it is regenerating Caledonian pine forest.

Unsurprisingly, in order to sell the development, those acting on behalf of Johnnie Grant, the landowner, included plenty of illustrations from Gehl, world renowned architects, of what the built environment might look like (and numerous sustainability features) rather than showing what the new town would replace.   Unfortunately very few people apart from quad bikers visit the site and experience for themselves what the developers are wanting to destroy.  I think if they did, there would be an uproar.  Yes, Gehl’s designs may be world-leading but these should be used for a new town somewhere else where they could be a credit to Scotland, not in a National Park.   While the CNPA Board did visit the site before taking their decision, they were transported along a  track by minibus – not the best way to see what it is really like.

One of the kettle holes on site, formed by the melting of the Glenmore glacier and home to rich wildlife, including the Northern Damselfly. The developers have now apparently agreed not to destroy these kettle holes, although we saw signs of recent works on the far bank.

An Camas Mor has had a variety of uses.  Parts have been and still are used for grazing cattle (which probably explains open nature of woodland in photo above) and parts have been planted (with grant aid).    In ecological terms however, much of the soil structure appears to be intact, which helps explain why, with trees regenerating, so much wildlife has now been recorded on the site.

Regenerating birch in Scots pine plantation
Granny pine in Scots pine plantation

Even where trees have been planted and the land ploughed, there has been regeneration, while old pines have been preserved. On my visit I saw Osprey, Red Squirrel, signs of badger and otter as well as rare funghi and various creepy crawlies (you can see excellent photos on the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group flickr album (see here)).

Regenerating woodland on the southern edge of the proposed development looking west to Aviemore

An Camas Mor, rewilding and the Cairngorms National Park

An Camas Mor is not pristine, one reason why its not so far been designated as a protected nature site, and there are plenty of signs of poor management.
Drain creation, Rothiemurchus style
This “forest” track was widened to provide access just prior to a pop concert a few years ago.
Eyesores from previous land-use remain

However, it is re-wilding.   Paradoxically one of the reasons for this is the proposed new town.  An Camas Mor has been left alone, allowing natural processes to take hold, while the land round about is intensively used.

Looking south from An Camas Mor across intensively farmed fields
From what I have learned though, An Camas Mor always had this re-wilding potential, because although partly abandoned now, much of it was never intensively used.   It is therefore just the sort of area that the National Park should have earmarked for regeneration and extension of the Caledonian pine forest.
The CNPA however appears to have turned a blind eye to the re-wilding potential and to have reached the wrong conclusion about the validity of the Environmental Statements accompanying the planning application:
Extract from Committee Report

The reason that the records of species found at An Camas Mor has increased is not just because there has been more recording – and part of the credit for that goes to the Badenoch and Strathspey conservation group rather than the developer – its because as a result of rewilding the wildlife on the site is improving the whole time.  The longer its left, the more will be found.  If the CNPA had insisted on proper surveys for the most recent application and compared these to all the species it has prioritised for protection in the National Park, it would have had lots of reasons not to agree to this development going ahead.

Unfortunately, the CNPA at present appears to give little priority to rewilding. Our National Parks, which could have offered a means to re-wild  parts of Scotland, have not had the drive or will to promote the potential of nature against the interests and wishes of landowners.  Meantime, apart from national nature reserves none of our other nature conservation designations – a major flaw – can be used to restore nature to places.   Our designation system is focussed on protecting what is there, not what could be.       We sorely need a means to promote re-wilding which is not entirely dependent on the goodwill of the landowner.
If Anders Povlsen, who is doing so much to re-wild Glen Feshie, or the RSPB rather than Johnnie Grant had owned this land,  I think it would be being quietly promoted as one of the jewels in the Cairngorms.   From a conservation perspective, the Scottish Government would have been far better giving Johnnie Grant £7.2m to buy up An Camas Mor than buying part of the Rothiemurchus Estate (see here), which was already fully protected.
While both the Scottish Government and the CNPA know that An Camas Mor sits at the centre of the main areas of woodland where Capercaillie now survive, they have seen the challenge as being to find ways to let the development go ahead without impacting too much on capercaillie.  Hence the detailed Habitats Regulations Assessment and mitigation proposals for An Camas Mor which, if enforced, will inevitably restrict access.   They could and should have looked at this from a completely different viewpoint.  What is the rewilding potential of An Camas Mor and what role could it play in saving the capercaillie (once again) from extinction in Scotland?
I have asked Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group why there are not capercaillie in the woods?    The first reason he gave is recreational use, and by that he did not mean walkers (I did not see another walker in two hours on what was an English bank holiday)   but the use of the forest for quad biking.
The people quad biking were very nice, obviously enjoying themselves and I even heard the tour leader, who had stopped everyone at a particular point, explain the orange marks on some trees marked those to be felled and this was being done to improve ground flora in the woods. How this fitted with the proposed development I am not sure!
The second is that part of An Camas Mor is used for pheasant breeding.
While specific, let alone conclusive research, is lacking,  even the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (see here) admits that pheasant rearing can lead to competition for food and drive other game birds (in which they include capercaillie) from the most intensively used areas while also attracting predators.
Now I am not against either quad biking or pheasant rearing, in the right place.   However, given the current parlous state of capercaillie, surely what the CNPA should be doing is engaging with relevant interests to help capercaillie re-colonise this site (and other such woods)?   This should include, if necessary, helping the current businesses relocate (if An Camas Mor goes ahead they will be finished in any case).
In a previous post  (see here)  I argued  we need an alternative plan for An Camas Mor and this  could be funded by the money which the Scottish Government apparently intends to invest in the development.   Having had a good look at the site, I believe the core of an alternative plan for An Camas Mor should be about how we can allow it to continue to rewild.  That would not cost much in itself:  narrow a few tracks to footpaths, restore other damage, remove human artefacts and rubbish and then leave nature take over..    It would then leave plenty of money to develop social housing elsewhere.
The only problem?  Landownership and how to change who controls the land.
April 24, 2017 Nick Kempe 9 comments
Aerial view of the proposed development area included in he scoping report from Peter Brett Associates

At the beginning of April, Flamingo Land (see here for most recent post and links) asked the Loch Lomond and National Park Authority whether an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be needed for its proposed development at Balloch  (see here)   The response of the LLTNPA on 13th April (see here) was that a full EIA will be required:


The development is permanent and will have an impact on a large area (33.5ha) and will have an impact on both visitors to the National Park, residents and businesses.  The proposal is complex and large scale.  The construction period is likely to be long and any impacts during construction will be prolonged in terms of construction traffic, noise and pollution.  The operation of the development also gives rise to potential significant environmental impact in terms of landscape impact, traffic increase and noise nuisance


The response was rapid I believe because the LLTNPA could hardly have said anything else.    So, what can the concerned public learn from the 125 pages of report submitted with the request for a screening opinion?

The most striking thing about this proposed development in our National Park is its size, 33.5 hectares, almost twice the size of the West Riverside Site marketed by Scottish Enterprise (map above).  What the top photo illustrates graphically is how Flamingo Land, through its purchase of Woodbank House, has in effect gained control of all the undeveloped land on the north west side of Balloch and its proposed development will effectively surround Loch Lomond shores.   Its power will increase further if Scottish Enterprise, as its proposing, eventually sells it the West Riverside Site. Land.   In effect the southern gateway to the National Park is being handed over to a private business.   There are legitimate questions about whether this is in the public interest and whether, whatever developments might eventually go be agreed by the LLTNPA,  the ownership of the West Riverside site should remain in public ownership or, alternatively, be transferred to the local community.

The EIA Report makes a reference to the site as being vacant and derelict – a myth that supporters of the development are using to justify the development – and states that there is a desire across  Glasgow Region to treat such land as an investment opportunity.   The trouble is the portrayal of the West Riverside site as derelict is  not true as the photo above shows.  Yes, there are pockets of dereliction and Woodbank House is in a sad state of disrepair.  While the West Riverside site may  not be the best green space in the world there is far more green than dereliction and, contrary again to claims in the Balloch Charrette, its well used by people.  Indeed much of the  greenspace is the  product of earlier restoration of what was formerly the line of the railway.

There are even pockets of wild along the shores of the River Leven.    If this is developed into a constructed river walkway, as the LLTNPA and Scottish Enterprise appears to wish, how will visitors to Balloch be able to access nature?   That is after all what the National Park is meant to be about?


The developers will argue that  people will still be able to access Balloch Country Park on the other side of the River Leven but this is inaccessible.   The EIA makes no mention of the long-wished for pedestrian bridge across  the head of the River Leven  which would enable people visiting Lomond Shores to access the Country Park.  That might offset to some extent the development of this site but the omission of the bridge from the EIA scoping requests indicates Flamingo Land has no intention of paying for this.


The EIA scoping Report is very vague about Flamingo Land’s plans which are listed as follows:


  However, other parts of the report give an indication of what this includes.

As if the existing Drumkinnon Tower at Loch Lomond shores was not enough, the report includes an outline visual impact assessment of a 100m high viewing tower.  Its appears that to compensate for the removal of greenspace  at Balloch, the idea is visitors should be able to view nature from afar.




You don’t need a viewing tower to see Ben Lomond from Balloch but  any viewing tower will have a signficant impact on the views south from the Loch Lomond National Scenic Area, including from the summit of Ben Lomond.   The EIA, though, apparently believes a solution could be found: “consideration should be given as to how to mitigate expansive southerly views from this popular hillwalking viewpoint”.    A friend suggested it could be very slim and reflect the shape of a Flamingo’s neck.

There is another apparent give away in the scoping of the Zones of Theoretical Visability (ZTVs).   On the maps that depict what can be seen from where there are three references to a “chute” which occurs nowhere else in the document.   Is this why the proposed Leisure Development feature is 50m high?    Is this an enormous water slide?   It appears the Sunday Herald was fully justified in referring to the proposal as the blingy bling banks of Loch Lomond (see here).    Such evidence as can be gleaned from the EIA documents provides no re-assurance about what Flamingo Land is going to propose but what it is it appears to be an intensive tourist development.


Such development is, I believe,  not appropriate for a National Park.   National Planning Guidance re-inforces this:

A good reason, one might have thought, for the LLTNPA to reject the proposal but the EIA provides an indication of why this might not happen:

This reads as though the application has already been agreed, its only the fine detail that needs to be sorted out and all can be mitigated.   It makes one wonder if the 100m viewing tower and leisure development are being proposed to divert people’s attention from other aspects of the plan, which are fundamentally about development on greenspace at one of the main entry points into the National Park?   The scenario is that following the inevitable public stushi on the viewing tower, the LLTNPA rejects that aspect of the proposal and tries to market the “compromise” which follows to the public as somehow meeting the statutory objectives of our National Parks.


The EIA contains a number of proposals for consultation, mainly with statutory bodies – potential for lots of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors – but nothing I could see about engaging with people who care about National Parks in Scotland, including the people who signed the petition against Flamingo Land.  So, how about Flamingo Land starting their consultation by asking the public about the viewing tower and leisure chute?



April 17, 2017 Nick Halls No comments exist

By Nick Halls

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


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


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

Southern gate view east from main road


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

View from inside the gates

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


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

Fly tipping down the bank onto the sea shore.

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



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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Main dumping ground on the derelict industrial site of Torpedo Station

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


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


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


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


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




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

April 15, 2017 Nick Kempe 2 comments
Plans to rebuild the Day Lodge and turn it into an international conference centre have been dropped

Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s news release on 12th April (see here) on its latest plans for Cairn Gorm – or “CairnGorm Mountain” in marketing speak – was widely taken up by the press.    HIE must be delighted there was so little critical coverage but their announcement raises a number of serious questions.


The truth is that the long promised masterplan, if it exists, is not yet public and the only agreement there has been is between HIE and Natural Retreats, the organisation that now run Cairngorm.   Nothing resembling a plan has been issued or is available on either the Cairngorm Mountain or HIE website.    So, for example, no indication has been given about where the proposed dry ski slope will be located nor how that proposal will meet environmental requirements.   The design and location of the dry ski slope and proposals for environmental mitigation are absolutely crucial for determining whether the Cairngorms National Park Authority should give ANY consideration to the new “plan” – yet HIE claims the masterplan has been agreed.  Either there has been yet more shady behind the scenes negotiations or this is pure spin!   I suspect the latter.


However, there is a reason I believe for the spin and that is if HIE can get a head of steam up behind the proposal and convince people that in this lies the economic salvation of Speyside, it will make it much harder for the Cairngorms National Park Authority to reject the proposal, however awful it might be.     Hence the emphasis in the News Release about the new jobs that HIE claims will be created – 35-45, but nothing of course about pay or working terms and conditions – and this just a few weeks after Natural Retreats had been threatening to make a large proportion of the workforce at Cairngorm redundant.


Rather than a masterplan, what has been made public is that HIE has agreed to re-direct the loan of £4 million its Board had previously agreed with Natural Retreats to construct a new Day Lodge (see here for legal agreement obtained under FOI).  It is now being proposed that the loan should be used for the construction of a dry ski slope and to make changes to the Ptarmigan Restaurant at the top of the funicular, doubling the size of the restaurant and creating a viewing platform.


The rationale behind the Ptarmigan part of the proposal is obvious, to increase numbers of people using the funicular, but whether it is sensible is another matter.  The funicular has been a disaster from start to finish, both for skiers and day visitors, but HIE management and funding of the Cairn Gorm estate has been driven by the need to justify it and  keep it afloat financially:  HIE’s one and only idea about how to do this up till now has been to increase the numbers of paying visitors in summer.  Why take the funicular in summer though when all you can do is walk around inside the Ptarmigan restaurant,  because the soils and vegetation on Cairn Gorm are just too fragile to sustain thousands of visitors, or be escorted to the top of Cairn Gorm and back by Rangers for a price.   The wrap around viewing platform proposal would appear to be an attempt to enable more visitors to experience fresh air – or should that be the more usual howling gale at the top of Cairn Gorm? – and expansion of the restaurant designed to allow people to sit around for longer periods at the Ptarmigan spending money.

Back of the Ptarmigan January 2016 – why anyone would want to walk around a viewing platform to look onto this is unclear.

The key problem for though for HIE is when Cairn Gorm is shrouded in cloud, as it is for much of the year, why would anyone visit?  Not many people want to pay a £12 entry fee (the cost of the funicular) to a restaurant.  On clear days, given the legal agreement in place preventing funicular users leaving the stop station, for those fit enough to do so, its much better to walk up Cairn Gorm and, for those who are not, to walk elsewhere. The whole concept of attracting people to the top of the mountain to sit inside is fundamentally flawed  yet HIE persist with it.   The wider flaw in their thinking though is the belief that people visit National Parks primarily for a manufactured tourist experience rather than for the great outdoors.   A strategy built on trying to extract large amounts of money from people for poor experiences is just not going to work.


What you can charge money for at Cairn Gorm is for skiing and there is a hint in the news release that at long last HIE realise that if they want to make the Cairn Gorm ski facilities financially viable, they need to make it a better place for skiing.  One part of that is to try and compensate for poor snow cover as this year- hence the dry ski slope proposal in an attempt to guarantee beginners a ski experience.   That however will not bring in enough people to make the ski area financially viable.   What’s needed is a complete re-think of skiing at Cairngorm within the context of the challenges posed by global warming.  There is no sign of HIE doing this, instead they are “lending” money to Natural Retreats.


Financial questions that need to be asked


The first  question HIE needs to answer is what, if anything, are Natural Retreats going to invest in the Cairn Gorm ski area?  While the HIE News Release referred to HIE’s  £4m loan to CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, it said not a thing about any financial contribution from Natural Retreats.  I suspect that this is because Natural Retreats are contributing nothing.   CML  at the end of December 2015 had net liabilities of £776,328 and while 2016 was a good ski season, 2017 has been awful and its safe to conclude CML has no money to invest – that is why is was threatening to lay off staff just a few weeks ago.  Its owner, Natural Assets Investment Ltd is ostensibly in a far worse financial position, with net liabilities at 31st December 2015 of £38,083,245  (see here for consideration of both sets of accounts).


The second question HIE needs to ask is on what basis do they believe CML will ever pay the loan back given the losses currently being made by the company?   CML had a £1,219,606 operating loss in the nine months to December 2015.  I assume HIE has already produced a set of visitor projections to the new Ptarmigan and the dry ski slope that shows projected income exceeding projected expenditure and how the loan will be repaid.   While any such projections should be treated with healthy scepticism – remember how the funicular would have paid for itself by now – HIE needs to explain how any projected extra income will also offset the current massive operating loss.


The third question HIE needs to answer therefore is why is it lending money to a company that is basically insolvent and dependent on the goodwill of hedge fund manager, David Michael Gorton, the ultimate owner?   When selling CML HIE retained most of the assets at Cairngorm, including the land and lift infrastructure.   Why not then simply pay for the new assets itself and retain them in public ownership rather than lend money so they end up in the hands of a hedge fund manager whose companies appear to be going bust?   The safe way to get the money back would be to keep the asset and then to charge extra rent to CML for the use of those assets?


I suspect the reason this option is not being taken is because of neoliberal dogma, that public assets and public investment are bad and everything is best done through the private sector.    The financial evidence in this case (as in many others) suggests otherwise and that HIE is creating a disaster at Cairn Gorm.  HIE will no doubt claim that it will secure its loan as it it did in its agreement with CML over the day lodge (see link in paragraph 4 above).   That agreement states CML cannot sell the new assets financed by the HIE loan without permission.   That sounds fine until a company goes into liquidation – and CML appears heading that way – when its assets are distributed among all creditors which would inevitably result in HIE getting back less than what it put in.  I am not an expert in these things but  its looks to me as though its almost impossible for HIE to secure its loan properly.


The wider questions about Cairn Gorm


Part of the justification for selling Cairngorm Mountain to Natural Retreats was to enable much needed investment in facilities to be financed by the private sector – the latest investment announcement suggests that is no nearer to happening.  If investment depends on the public sector, the obvious question is why have the private sector involved at all?


The answer is that sometime the private sector has expertise that the public sector lacks.  However, Natural Retreats was a new company with little experience and no expertise in skiing – so why then did HIE choose them?   There were – and are now – local people and businesses who are prepared to work together and manage Cairn Gorm for the benefit of everyone and keep money invested in the local area.    The biggest question therefore which HIE needs to answer is why its still pressing ahead with financing Natural Retreats instead of putting its efforts into supporting a community enterprise to takeover and run Cairn Gorm?


It would appear from the HIE News Release is that the proposal to redevelop the Day Lodge has now been abandoned.   The delivery of a new Day Lodge was a condition of HIE’s lease with Cairngorm Mountain and set out in Schedule 4.  That schedule now needs to change and it appears therefore that HIE would, if it gave notice to Natural Retreats to terminate the lease now, be secure from any legal challenge.   It has no excuse for not doing so.


The public investment at Cairn Gorm is a good thing – its just being given to the wrong people for the wrong purpose.  Its time our politicians appreciated this and started arguing for alternatives.

April 7, 2017 Nick Halls No comments exist

By Nick Halls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View south
View south east

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

View west

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

View north west


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

View north west, site immediately beside the one shown above

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


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

View south along the old main road

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

March 28, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Slide presented to Stakeholder Forum November 2016 – the clear priority for the Park is to enforce the byelaws, but how?

Back in November I submitted an FOI request to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority intended to enforce the proposed camping byelaws:


“all information relating to any intention to prosecute whether internal, discussions or communications with the police, procurator fiscal, Forestry commissioner anyone else who might be involved in enforcing the byelaws.”


The Park  refused my request (see here), stating that it  was too general but committed to producing an enforcement policy and, on 24th March, I received an email to say that it had been published  (see here).


What is the status of the Enforcement Policy?


The first thing to note about the Enforcement Policy is that it has not been considered or approved by any public meeting of the LLTNPA Board.  In my view its the National Park Board that should decide policy, not staff – though its possible the Enforcement Policy was considered at a secret Board Briefing session earlier this year.   This contrasts with the LLTNPA’s litter enforcement policy – which is referred to in this new policy – which was considered at a Board Meeting, in June 2016.   However, even in that case Board Members were only asked to NOTE the contents of the policy, not to APPROVE it:


This is yet another governance failure.   Can anyone in the LLTNPA explain why, when the Board was asked to endorse the approach to signage about the byelaws in December 2016,  they have not been asked to endorse or approve the enforcement policy?   It appears the main decision-making power left with the Board now is to approve financial expenditure and formal plans, all other decisions are left to staff.    This is wrong and way below the governance standards of local authorities.

So what does the Enforcement Policy tell us?


I had hoped the Enforcement Policy would say how the LLTNPA proposes to deal with certain situations which I believe make the byelaws all but unenforceable:


  • the thousands of visitors who will camp, light fires, put up shelters, try to sleep overnight in their campervans off a road who are completely unaware that they are committing a criminal offence
  • local residents, apart from the landowners and immediate family who are exempt from the provision, who put up tents and bivouacs  in gardens within the management zones or occupy a form of shelter overnight
  • people who know they are contravening the byelaws but do so for safety reasons (eg cycle and canoe tourers who stop because of exhaustion or bad weather)
  • and, on the definitions front, what activities relating to lighting of fires are seen by the LLTNPA as likely to cause damage?


The Enforcement Policy does not answer any of these questions.  Perhaps the answers are contained in the procedures referred to at the end of the policy (which I have now requested under FOI):




What the enforcement policy shows is the LLTNPA is sitting astride two horses which are about to gallop off in opposite directions.   The dilemma for the LLTNPA is they would really like everyone to just accept the byelaws, and not to have to refer anyone to the Procurator Fiscal, but at the same time as soon as it becomes known the Park is not enforcing the byelaws people will simply ignore them.   For this reason, while the Enforcement Policy says a number of sensible things about the need to engage visitors, it also states:
“the Park Authority will always reserve the right to proceed straight to legal sanction should the Park Authority consider that, in the circumstances, this is the most appropriate course of action.”
What are these circumstances?   The LLTNPA refuses to say.
The dilemma for the Park is illustrated by the action taken by David Lintern and friends,  which David covered in a fine piece on Walk Highland (see here) – essential reading for anyone who cares about access rights.    I fully support David’s deliberate testing of the camping byelaws – unjust laws are just that and deserve no respect – and no-one breaching the byelaws who is camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code should be prosecuted.   So, have the LLTNPA referred David to the Procurator Fiscal?    If they have, I predict a storm of protest.  The risk for the Park is that a very public prosecution of someone for challenging the byelaws will show up how unjust they are, treating  responsible camping without the Park’s permission as a more serious offence than dropping litter or using a mobile phone when driving.
If on the other hand the LLTNPA haven’t referred David to the PF,  its going to be very difficult for them to take action against anyone else who deliberately breaches the byelaws in future as a precedent has been set.
As the LLTNPA Enforcement Policy says:
 While the enforcement policy highlights the need for consistency, it says nothing about how this will work, i.e in what circumstances the LLTNPA will actually refer people to the PF.  Its just yet more parkspeak.    So, any camper who faces prosecution, should just ask the Park what has happened in similar cases.
The explanation for this lack of clarity is I believe contained in the policy:
The byelaws need our implicit consent to succeed.   What that means is the LLTNPA needs wild campers to know what areas are covered by the camping management zones and apply for permits in advance.  If the LLTNPA was clear about when it was going to try and criminalise people, it would be easy for people to get round the byelaws.  However, if people don’t respect the rules the Park is trying to create and don’t give their consent to them,  if people simply turn up and camp responsibly (whether inside or outside a management zone or permit area) what is the Park going to do?   Their enforcement policy can’t tell us but I am not sure there is that much they can do anyway.
A primary reason is most people won’t know about the byelaws.   The LLTNPA could put up more signs, spelling out what activities are banned, and then prosecute people who ignore these signs.   This may yet happen – there are indications that a second phase of signage is planned to add to that approved by the Board.
Sign from Secret Board Briefing session 19th September 2016. The no camping sign on right was not included in the suite of signs approved by the Board in October 2016.
The LLTNPA has however already spent  £100k on signs that tell the public very little and the cost of installing a no camping sign in every possible camping place along the loch shores is likely to be prohibitive.
Slide from secret Board Meeting September 2016.


The “Threshold” signs are those at the entrance to the management zones.  No wonder staff were not keen when Board Members suggested there should be signs telling people that they were leaving the camping management zone – that might have cost another £60k.  It appears that if the Park was to install small “no camping” signs it would cost £500 apiece – there must be at least 200 good places to camp outwith the camping permit areas so that’s another £100k.   Not good use of public money, but without signs it will be almost impossible to enforce the byelaws because most people won’t know and if referred to the PF can use this as a defence.  It won’t look good if a visitor stopping off to camp overnight in a car is prosecuted – in fact I suspect the PF will regard this as a waste of Court time.  The LLTNPA has ducked this issue, in fact its head is in the sand, about how it can ensure everyone stopping off knows about the camping byelaws.

No camping sign mock-up presented to Secret Board Meeting September 2016.    This glossy mock-up illustrates the Park is all about style, not substance.

The problems are illustrated by the proposed no camping signage which was never put to the public Board Meeting in October.   Imagine approaching this layby with a campervan.  The sign says nothing about sleeping overnight in campervans being a potential breach of the byelaws.   Its hard though to see how any sign could accurately convey the legal position.   Legally, roads are exempt from the provisions of the byelaws and the legal definition of a road includes its verge.  So,  if you pull off this road onto the flat verge between the two signs, or behind the one on the left, that’s quite legal.  However,  if you could drive the campervan down towards the loch shore, as soon as you left the verge if you slept in that position overnight that would be an offence.    The LLTNPA is never going to be able to convey that message by signage and the byelaws are as a consequence unenforceable for campervans.  Interestingly the enforcement policy says NOTHING about the different enforcement approaches Rangers might take depending on whether someone is camping, in a campervan or has put up a tent in the garden of a house they are renting.

The enforcement policy describes two general approaches to people breaching the byelaws, which it describes as the Preventative Approach and the Escalated Approach.  The first is mainly about informing people:
What’s interesting about this is that the Park classes the effect of negative behaviour on the environment as being the same as contravening the byelaws.  In fact the byelaws do almost nothing to tackle “negative behaviour” – that is a myth put out by the LLTNPA – as this is already fully covered by other laws. All the byelaws do is ban people who are camping responsibly.  The Park however wants to try and persuade responsible campers that by the very act of camping they are being irresponsible.  This won’t work.   It requires people to abandon all their critical faculties and specifically to accept that the LLTNPA is a better judge of where to camp than you are.   All the evidence shows the Park is totally incompetent to manage camping and nothing they say should be trusted (see here) or (here).
The second approach will be taken to people who breach the byelaws, whether inadvertently or deliberately:
The important words here is that the Park is in these cases going to try and stop people doing what they were doing.  So, if you inadvertently camp in a management zone, the Park Rangers are going first of all to ask you to leave – what they call a voluntary resolution of the breach.    It appears therefore that as long as a camper is generally co-operative with Rangers,  in other words agrees to move their tent or apply for a permit, there is little chance of them being referred by the Park for prosecution.
However, the enforcement policy does not cover what happens in specific circumstances, such as:
  • the camper is exhausted or ill or otherwise in a position which makes it unsafe to move
  • what happens if this is a repeat breach of the byelaws, in other words the person camped previously, agreed to move on, but has returned to camp on another occasion

The second point is crucial.  Under the byelaws the LLTNPA has the right to take the name and address of people breaching the byelaws.  It has not said what it will do with this information (this is something else which should have been decided by the Board), how long it will store it or whether it will record other information such as whether the camper has been informed about the nature and extent of the camping byelaws and the implications of breaking them again).    One way to find out if you provide this information is to submit a  Subject Access Request under Data Protection legislation to find out what information is being held about you.

(to be continued)

January 26, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The Officers Report for the Cairngorms National Park Planning Authority meeting on Friday which will consider the hill track at Cairngorm is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes.  This is over and above the policy omissions and enforcement failures considered in yesterday’s post.


On the positive side, there appears to have been a lot of bargaining behind the scenes, which has resulted in plans to improve the whole area, beyond the current application.

The brown areas are previous plantings, the green is additional planting proposed for 2017-18




The planting will not just hide some of the infrastructure, it should also – though there is no mention of this in the Report – compensate for some of the increased water run-off that has been created by the development.  There are some other positive things in the plan, including works around both ends of the ski tow to improve landscaping;  the work at the bottom will be done by hand.    All of this is good.  It should however have all been included in the original planning application, which was sketchy at the very least.   Its clear to me that the public pressure has helped (or is it pushed) CNPA staff to take more interest in the development.  A lesson here for the CNPA.  Well thought out plans properly enforced would avoid lots of problems and public criticism.


On the negative side though the Report, and accompanying documentation supplied by Natural Retreats, fails to explain a number of factors which are relevant to determining the application and indeed to the wider landscape improvement plan:


  • The implications of the new track failing to meet the design standards set out in SNH’s Guidance on “Constructed Tracks in the Scottish Uplands” is not considered nor is there any consideration of alternatives
  • There is no attempt to describe the extent of the area where works took place in breach of the planning permission (the application was for a strip of ground 30m broad).   This is important because without a description of what has been done, the CNPA is not in a position to stipulate what remedial measures are required.
  • Related to this, there is NO description of the impacts of the works on the hydrology of the area.


I will address each of these in turn based on the evidence I saw on my latest walk around on Saturday.   While I am not a trained path worker, ecologist or hydrologist I believe there is more than enough evidence to show that these issues need to be considered by properly qualified and independent professionals.


Location and design of the hill track

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about the hill track being needed for construction purposes.  This diagram from Appendix A to the Committee Report shows that this couldn’t have been the case.  The elevation of the new track is HIGHER than the previous sheiling tow uptrack which sat between two bulldozed banks (section GG).  In other words the hill track could only have been created AFTER the slope had been smoothed out (which was agreed in the original planning application).   This explains why there is NO evidence of any temporary construction track.   There wasn’t any. Natural Retreats appears to have confused the original ski uptrack with the new hilltrack in order to make the latter appear more acceptable by implying this had already been agreed on a temporary basis.

The most likely explanation for why Natural Retreats created the hill track is still that they did not have sufficient vegetation to replace that they had destroyed in the course of reprofiling the slope.  The track filled the gap.  The question that has still not been answered is where all the fine material that has been used to surface the new track has come from?  While on Saturday, there was good evidence of how this material gets washed away (see photo above) it was not until I received the photo below taken by Alan Brattey on Monday that I fully appreciated how quickly this happens.

There was no sign of the hole, centre right, when I walked down the track two days before.  Two days of freeze thaw and another section of track had been destroyed.


Part of the problem is that the track is too steep, contrary to SNH guidance.   Natural Retreats has appears to accept this in its comment that the track “is constrained to existing ground levels” – in other words its fundamentally flawed!

Natural Retreats has also accepted that the track washes away:

Natural Retreats solution is drainage bars which it says works well.   If CNPA officers had walked around Cairngorm at the weekend they would have seen every single steel drainage channel choked with eroded material

Choked steel drainage channel by Cas Gantry
Choked drainage channel below Ptarmigan








CNPA officers should have questioned the efficacy of steel drainage channels and its interesting why they have not advocated the use of natural materials, as in photo above.  Are the granite blocks any less effective in terms of drainage?   They are far more in keeping with the natural environment.


The problem which remains though is that the surface materials are too fine and will wash away whatever drainage is installed.  The track, as oriented, is simply not sustainable and the Planning Committee needs to consider alternatives.

Any alternative should consider that there will now be a new uptrack created by the rope tow.  Its  hard to see the heather planted along the line of the rope tow surviving (all the other uptracks lose their heather, with the car park t-bar below the Shieling almost completely bare of heather).   So, if planning permission is granted to the hill track there will be double the visual impact in the long-term, something the CNPA has apparently not considered.       If vehicle access is really needed occasionally, its strange that the uptrack, which is now totally smooth apart from the top section, was not considered as the means to do this.


Damage to surrounding ground and vegetation

In order to “restore” the damage caused by the works on the Sheiling slope, Natural Retreats scooped up vegetation from outside the area granted planning permission.


Photo Credit George Paton

I had not realised till Saturday that this appears to have been from a far wider area than that immediately adjacent to the shieling slope.

Hole scooped above track to Fiacaill dump
Another hole above track to Fiacaill dump

The whole of the bank above the track to the Fiacaill dump is full of holes where vegetation has been removed – the most likely explanation appears to be that this was used to replace the vegetation at the Shieling which had not been properly stored.

Area of ground above the unlawful works to create a new bank belong the shieling tow. This ground was not reprofiled and the most likely explanation for the bare ground and re-seeding is that Natural Retreats took vegetation from here for use on the Shieling tow.


The CNPA Committee Report makes no attempt to other describe or assess the impact of this destruction.  If it had done so, it would help put the remedial measures I described at the beginning of this post in context, as they do not address all of the damage that has been done or assess what impact this might have in the long-term.   A proper vegetation assessment should have been undertaken before any decision is made.



While the CNPA Committee Report includes comments from their ecologist, this says nothing about either the damage outside the area granted planning permission or strangely about hydrology.   What is clear from my walk around is that there has been extensive work to alter the drainage of the shieling ski slopes and surrounding area.    I am not necessarily against such works – I recognise that ski slopes and bogs are not really compatible – but the point is that there should have been a proper assessment of the impact of such works and any mitigation measures BEFORE any work was undertaken.   This is because water run-off from drainage not only changes the local ecology, it increases the likelihood of flooding downstream – in this case of Aviemore – which is one of the Big 9 issues the CNPA is supposed to be trying to tackle.


Why a proper assessment is needed is illustrated by these photos.  Natural Retreats included the photo above in their plans showing what they had done.   The photo below shows how the area in the distance looked on Saturday.  The sandbags are proof that something is not working.


Section of poorly finished culvert crossing ski slope

In fact there are sandbags in several places on the slope – an illustration of problems that the CNPA has simply not considered – and also a significant number of culverts across and along the edge of the ski slopes.


Now, I am not sure when these were created but the only culverts referred to in the planning application were to channel the Allt Choire Cas, which runs across the bottom of the Sheiling Ski slopes, underground instead of the old wooden bridges.

New? and poorly finished culvert at bottom of Shieling slope on left.  There are at least three culverts, none of which have been properly covered, running under the southern of the two shieling slopes (right photo).



The seeding indicates that this culvert on right side of left shieling slope is new.   The drainage line to the left of fence is not mentioned in the Committee Report or accompanying papers.
Besides the culverts there are also drainage ditches across the slope


So where is the environmental impact assessment of all this drainage work?  What are the implications?   We simply don’t know.  I don’t think that is good enough.


The way forward

The CNPA needs to work out how access could managed to this site without agreeing to a track which is going to constantly erode, what damage there has been to vegetation outwith the site granted planning permission together with what remedial measures are required and also also ensure there is a proper assessment of the likely impact of the drainage works and how this might be mitigated


I previously called for an independent ecological assessment of the area and options to repair the damage that has been done.    In my view this is still needed and the CNPA is not in a position to take a properly informed decision about this planning application.   It needs to do so, not just for the landscape and wildlife, but the people who enjoy Cairngorm, not least the people who ski there.

November 16, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The West Riverside site at Balloch which Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA wish to develop is currently a greenspace

A month ago I received a response from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority about their involvement in the west Riverside side and Flamingo Land.    In their letter eir-2016-051-responseb the Park have tried to defend their integrity as a planning authority and their ability to make an independent judgement on the Flamingo Land proposals:


“Scottish Enterprise invited the Park Authority’s Head of Visitor Experience to be involved in the process of reviewing the submissions for the West Riverside site. This involvement was in an advisory capacity in relation to tourism considerations and separate from, and without prejudice to, any consideration of planning issues. The decision regarding a preferred developer was for Scottish Enterprise as landowner to make.”

The documents which accompanied the letter eir-2016-051-response-appendix-a however contradict this claim –  and shows the Park were on the selection panel which appointed Flamingo Land.   Here are some relevant extracts which prove this:

So if the decision was for Scottish Enterprise to make, why were the Park involved in appraising the bids? Scottish Enterprise of course wanted to be certain the in selecting a developer and proposal for west Riverside the LLTNPA would not later on object to this.


This email makes it clear that LLTNPA were not just providing advice on the implications of each Developer’s bid, which would have maintained the Park’s claim to be neutral in this, they were involved in scoring each bid. In agreeing to score bids the Park made themselves a party to the selection of the developer.
The emails about this meeting – the subject is deleted from the response – show both Stuart (Stuart Mearns, Head of Planning) and Mairi Bell attended this meeting. This meeting appears to have taken place soon after Flamingo Land had been appointed. It shows the Park are involved in every aspect of the proposal including land price.

While the FOI/EIR response is far from complete – there are references to other written material/meetings about which no information has been provided – they provide enough information to show that the LLTNPA was deeply involved in the selection of Flamingo Land.


What they also show is that the LLTNPA made a number of false claims in their flamingo-land-news-release issued on 26th September:


“Scottish Enterprise recently appointed Flamingo Land Limited as the preferred developer of their 20 hectare site at West Riverside, Balloch, in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.”

Comment:  this is far from the full truth, the LLTNPA was clearly involved in the selection process

“Scottish Enterprise kept the National Park Authority’s tourism team informed at each stage of the marketing of the site and the process of selection of their preferred developer.”

Comment: this wrongly implies that LLTNPA were not involved in the selection process.  The Park have bent the truth as far you can without actually lying.  Yes, the Park were informed but they were also INVOLVED.

I am afraid this disregard of the facts and bending of the truth is what I have come to expect from the National Park Authority.  Its how they got Government Ministers to approve their proposed camping ban.   Perhaps before the same process is repeated with Flamingo Land, the LLTPNA Board could start to insist that its staff start working to some basic standards of governance.  Perhaps they could also explain how in  light of this level of involvement by their staff they can take an independent decision on any planning application from Flamingo Land?


I fear though that following all the bad publicity on Flamingo Land, the LLTNPA/Scottish Enterprise are working together intensively behind the scenes to win people over to the proposal and put propaganda into the press through their bloated communicationss team http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/community-council-back-flamingo-lands-9189747.   I am pretty sure Murdoch Cameron, chair of Balloch and Haldane Community Council, was not the person who contacted the media about this.  Indeed, from the article its unclear whether the Community Council actually met to agree a position or whether the views expressed were personal but have been taken to reflect those of the Community Council.    I say this because there are lots of people in Balloch concerned about the proposals and I would be surprised if the Community Council had been able to take such a clear position.


What might we learn from Flamingo Land in Scarborough?


Meantime, for those concerned about what Flamingo Land might do on the site, thanks to the reader who sent this press article from Scarborough.   Although it dates from 2014, it is well worth a read as its very relevant to what is happening in Balloch.  It provides further evidence of where Flamingo Land’s expertise lies – bling!


” Made up of three distinct environments – ‘Subterranean’, ‘Coastline’ and ‘Sky’ – Flamingo Land Coast will feature an iconic glass roofed botanical gardens, roller coaster, 55 metre iconic lighthouse structure and Space Shot Tower, walk through aviary, sea view bar, restaurant and a new town square.”


In both cases, Flamingo Land was appointed in secret.  In Scarborough the Council were forced to reveal the mystery bidder to redevelop the Futurist Theatre site.  In Balloch, Scottish Enterprise appeared to have appointed Flamingo Land back in September 2015 but they and the Park kept the appointment secret  until after the Balloch Community Planning event.


In both cases the Flamingo Land development involves destroying something else.  In Scarborough, for the last two years there has been a campaign to save the building and in effect prevent the Flamingo Land development but this appears recently to have failed (see here)   In Balloch, it will involve the destruction of what is currently greenspace.


If the Scarborough development now goes ahead,  it raises interesting questions about Flaming Land’s capacity to develop so many sites at once.   This should have been considered as part of the tender evaluation and I wonder how the LLTNPA member of the panel scored this?   (The answer is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act unfortunately).


And for those of us who are interested in the manipulation of public opinion and claims made that as Gordon Gibb is a Scot the development should be supported, the following quote should be of interest:

“Flamingo Land boss Gordon Gibb said:

“Scarborough is my home town so it gives me great pleasure, both personally and on behalf of Flamingo Land Limited, to be associated with developing a major visitor attraction on the old Futurist site.”



September 30, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The foundations for the new fixed wheel at the top of the West Wall poma Photo credit Terry Smith

In May 2015 Natural Retreats were granted planning permission to Highland Council to replace the “floating” top wheel of the West Wall poma lift with a fixed wheel and to extend the run by 40m subject to certain conditions.   The Cairngorms National Park Authority, in their wisdom, did not  call in this application unlike the Shieling rope tow in Coire Cas and so have no formal locus in the case as planning authority.   Unfortunately, while Highland Council included conditions to protect nesting birds during the breeding season, there were no other stipulations of the timing of the work.  Natural Retreats started the work in September, far too late for the vegetation to recover before winter, and Cairngorm has been hit by two serious storms in the week since these photos were taken (and my thanks to Terry Smith for supplying me with photos from his visit on 23rd September).   Unfortunately too, Highland Council does not appear to have enquired about what Natural Retreats meant by the creation of a graded slope.


However, even if Highland Council had taken more care before approving the application, I am not sure it would have made a difference as Natural Retreats simply do what they like anyway.

Digger operating outwith area granted planning permission – all vehicles were meant to be carefully controlled Photo from Cairngorm Mountain webcam (thanks to George Paton)

While Natural Retreats did commit  to meeting certain standards in their Method Statement (see here)  there is plenty of evidence these have been ignored just like with the Sheiling Tow in Coire Cas.

“Contractor to park up any machinery on existing track, or outside top station garage, where all fuelling and proper storage of fuel is to be kept” – see centre left
“Remove Turf from slopes where digger will use its reach from. Any aggregates and spoil from construction will be stored on Terram geotextile to be reused in landscaping” – no sign of terram geotextile but at least some turf is being stored unlike at the Shieling rope tow.


This aggregate is not being stored on matting as specified either. Dumping spoil like this simply destroys a larger areas of vegetation.
“A site cordon for access will be established to control vehicle movement and prevent damage to vegetation”- far left you can see new erosion caused by vehicles while the quality of the new drainage – again it appears Highland Council does not appear to have specified how this work should be done, looks very poor.

If you want a preview of the outcome of Natural Retreats’ failure to follow its own Method Statement there is evidence the other side of the snow fence (see photo below) where Natural Retreats installed new cabling.    Highland Council in their wisdom decided did not need planning permission because it was ancillary works to an existing development.p1020793-copy

The failure to restore the vegetation along the line of the ditch results from a failure to remove and store it properly pending re-instatement. The granite gravel surface will now be very vulnerable to erosion.

There is plenty of other evidence of a complete lack of care taken by the contractorsp1020782-copy

Cement bag in Allt na Ciste – its not hillwalkers or even general tourists who cause most of the rubbish at Cairngorm



More rubbish from the construction blown into the burn
The standard of work on the new fencing is extremely poor.   Just what quality control have HIE who I understand have funded this put in place How long will this bit of fence last?
The old posts which supported the chestnut fencing have not been removed but simply broken off while there has been no attempt to clear up old cabling



A lack of care in bringing vehicles up the mountain has damaged the access track. At one time permission had to be sought every time a vehicle was taken up the hill.


There is no excuse for Natural Retreats’ failure to follow its own Method Statement and for the lack of care it has taken on the upper slopes of Cairngorm.  Despite all the adverse publicity it has received over its failures to adhere to the planning requirements agreed with the CNPA for the Shieling Rope Tow in Coire Cas Natural Retreats appears to have made little attempt to improve its practice.   That says a lot about how effective our public authorities have been recently in protecting the natural environment at Cairngorm.   The poor standards evidenced by these photos would not have been tolerated 15 years ago before the Cairngorms National Park was created.  Whatever you think about the funicular there was a concerted attempt by our public authorities then to ensure the highest possible standards of construction.  Natural Retreats now appears free to treat them as an irrelevance.


What needs to happen


  • Highland Council and the CNPA as planning authorities both need to start using their enforcement powers at Cairngorm to make it very clear that breaches of planning permission will not be tolerated.    They need to work together on this and while CNPA is not involved in the West Wall Poma it could and should take action to re-instate the unlawful track in Coire Cas.
  • Highland Council should stop giving Natural Retreats the benefit of the doubt by assenting to works being undertaken without planning permission.   There is lots of evidence that such works (eg the laying of new cable) have been far more extensive than indicated by Natural Retreats.
  • Highlands and Island Enterprise as the landowner needs to start to manage all works undertaken by Natural Retreats and ensure these meet the highest standards
  • The CNPA should require HIE to produce a proper Environmental Management Plan at Cairngorm (I have established through FOI requests that there is none).
  • The CNPA should ask Scottish Natural Heritage  to start taking an active role at Cairngorm again and quality check all Method Statements and Plans to provide public re-assurance that they meet the highest standards
  • HIE, Highland Council and CNPA need to commission an independent report, which should be paid for by Natural Retreats, to survey and log all the damage that has been caused by Natural Retreats at Cairngorm and identify remedial measures.
  • The Scottish Government should instigate a transfer of the Cairngorms estate from HIE to the Forestry Commission
September 17, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
Photo posted 7th September http://www.cairngormmountain.org/category/behind-the-scenes/  Coire na Ciste

As part of its programme to upgrade the cabling at Cairngorm, funded by Highlands and Enterprise, Natural Retreats started work on the Coire na Ciste t-bar late August/September (see here for the earlier work on cabling of the car park tow).    Now this work did not require planning permission because Highland Council had judged it, like the carpark t-bar upgrade, as ancillary to an existing development.  HOWEVER, thanks to a Freedom of Information request from George Paton, we know what Murray Ferguson, Head of Conservation and Planning at the CNPA  told Natural Retreats back in July.




You will notice Murray Ferguson told Natural Retreats they needed to set out their procedures for doing ground works which would involving marking out the site, storing turf and storing spoil on terram matting.    While you can see some turves in Natural Retreats photo, their own evidence shows that they have completely ignored all the CNPA’s other recommendations.


What’s happening here is that because Natural Retreats – and by implication Highlands and Islands Enterprise who are funding all of this – know that planning permission is not required they believe the CNPA is absolutely helpless to do anything about this mismanagement.


However, even where  planning permission is required, Natural Retreats still ignore the rules.  The replacement of the top return station of the West Wall Poma did require planning permission but this was decided by Highland Council because the CNPA did not see any implications for the National Park.   Back in June though Natural Retreats sent a detailed 13 page Trial Pit Report to the CNPA by a company called ADAC structures about the foundations for the new structure.   The photograph below illustrates they appear to have done a good job.

Note the use of the matting to protect vegetation – photo from ADAC report. Thanks to George Paton who obtained this report through FOI














Contrast this though with the photos that appeared on 9th September on Cairngorm Mountain website when the main work had started – no ground protection at all!westwallpomaextension-copy

The photo on the left shows that the preventive measures taken by ADAC have simply been abandoned


The Highland Council, CNPA and HIE must have seen this, its on the Cairngorm website, so why no action?  For the avoidance of doubt this is totally contrary to the Method Statement approved by Highlands council which again specified the use of terram matting  (15_01000_ful-method_statement-791596-west-wall-tow).    There was a CNPA planning committee meeting on Friday with an agenda item “update at Cairngorm” by Gavin Miles Head of Planning.   I do hope he made the Committee aware of all of this and they agreed an action plan.


Meantime, the consultation on the retrospective planning application for a hill track in Coire Cas is still open and I was interested to see that two responses in support of the track have been submitted by people purporting to be members of the public (see here and here).   Iain Cornfoot, works at Cairngorm and is second in command of outside operations in winter – he is therefore part of the Natural Retreats management team.  His brother, Jim Cornfoot, is the land manager at Cairngorm Mountain, the person with first line management responsibility for all the destruction and failures to do works in accordance with planning requirements and good practice.  While I can understand him coming to the defence of his brother he should not have portrayed himself as a member of the public.  Iain Cornfoot’s response argues that tracks are needed for efficiency – the implication, if true, is Natural Retreats intend to create new tracks by every ski tow in the area – and says “some of their wacky ideas for alternatives to this track have amused me greatly”.   Actually most of the arguments to planning have said that since Cairngorm Mountain has managed up to now without tracks it could do so in future.  I can only assume by “wacky ideas” Iain Cornfoot is referring to the suggestions that  the CNPA should require tree planting as compensation for all the destruction carried out under his brother’s upervision.  Iain seems totally unaware that the CNPA has a montane scrub strategy – he presumably thinks that is wacky too.


The other member of staff’s response is factually what one might term a pile of mince.  For example he claims:


Last summers weather was horrendous and condition extremely difficult to landscape in. I think
that the objectors should be mindful of this issue as many do not understand the difficulties of
landscaping in such conditions.
Thanks to some research from Alan Mackay the facts are:
  • Met Office north of Scotland climate  area data shows August having just under average rainfall (98% – but drier towards North and East of Scotland). By mid August fairly limited ground works along the line of the old tow track had been carried out.
  • Met Office north of Scotland climate  area data shows September and October as being unusually dry months. September having only 37% of the long term average rainfall and October 47%.
  • Moreover, Natural Retreats Method Statement, agreed with CNPA and HIE, did not allow work to take place in wet conditions
  • method-statement-wet-conditions
No credibility should be given to any statements and claims by staff from Natural Retreats without independent verification.    I am afraid that the Management of Natural Retreats and their staff at Cairngorm are totally out of control and will claim anything to justify the destruction they are causing.
Meantime, the deafening silence from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has responsibility for the site and lease and is funding this destruction continues.  Its time our politicians and Board Members of the CNPA got a grip of the situation.


August 17, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment
CIMG8487Alan Brattey
The new damage created alongside the car park t-bar on Sunday – photo Alan Brattey

One might have thought after all the recent publicity about destruction at Cairngorm that Natural Retreats would have started to take just a little more care.   The latest evidence show nothing has changed and the spin from Natural Retreats bears no resemblance to what is happening on the gound.


Having claimed on their website what a great restoration job they had done on the trench where new cable was laid alongside the Carpark T-Bar, on Sunday Alan Brattey and George Paton witnessed the skiers uptrack being badly damaged by a vehicle.   People had been working to erect new steel structures to the top of the tow towers (nothing wrong with that) but when they had finished, they then drove an all terrain vehicle downthe uptrack to get back to the Day Lodge.   The photos shows the damage and the vehicle that caused it.

Photo credit George Paton

Ironically, the towers they were working on were close to the unlawful track to the Shieling rope tow that Natural Retreats and HIE are now claiming is needed to prevent damage to vegetation.  However, instead of using this new track, which would have been a longer way round, the vehicle simply drove downhill and through the soft ground which is an almost permanent feature of the lower part of the tow track due to a spring which emerges there.  A complete lack of care and proof that were the Cairngorms National Park Authority to approve a retrospective planning application for the Shieling Rope Tow track it will do nothing to stop the damage at Cairngorm.  Natural Retreats allow their staff to drive anywhere.  This makes a mockery of the whole planning process.  Its also completely undermines the Visitor Management Plan at Cairngorm where Natural Retreats are legally bound to educate visitors about their impacts on the environment – with messages about treading lightly – while they allow their own staff and vehicles to plough furrows willy nilly across the hill.


Yesterday I received from HIE a copy of the Environment Management Plan referred to in their lease with Natural Retreats 160805_ Environmental Management System – Cairngorm Mountain Limited (A2247756) (A2674921).   Compare the photos above with this extract from their Environment Policy:

“To minimise environmental impacts concerning our activities, products and services, we shall:………..
* Educate, train and motivate employees to carry out tasks in an environmentally responsible manner”.
Has Natural Retreats carried out any education or training?   They clearly have not motivated their  their employees to carry out tasks in an environmentally sensitive manner but this would probably take too much money, including paying them a decent wage in return for high standards of work.   The Environment Management system is not worth the paper it is written on.
I am afraid that Natural Retreats appears to be one of those companies that engages expensive external consultants to write up policies and procedures so they can tick boxes and win contracts and then just simply ignores them in practice.    HIE needs to hold them to account.


June 20, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment

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

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


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


Here are some useful links from Ron:














June 17, 2016 Nick Kempe 17 comments

Approaching the abandoned ski tow in Coire na Ciste two weeks ago, partially concealed by the rows of abandoned chairlift seats, three men in flak jackets, each with a camera whose lense was the size of a telescope, were reclining on the ground.   Two of them had come to Speyside from the south east of England to watch birds and had spent half the day are the Coire na Ciste carpark getting to know the Ring Ouzel.   On an average year I see a few Ring Ouzel, but always around boulderfields and often under crags, although these birds are normally associated with montane scrub zones.   Cairngorm is a good place to see them because the forest is growing back.


An hour later we had wandered up into Coire Cas where we saw first an adult then the chicks

Photo credit Dave Morris
Photo credit Dave Morris
Ring ouzel chicks
Photo credit Dave Morris








Brilliant, ring ouzel in montane scrub!    It got us thinking.    What an opportunity missed.  It would have been perfectly easy to put a camera on the nest and relay the photos to the Day Lodge.  Do that and suddenly tourists would have a reason to be there, even when the cloud was down as on our visit.  Something far better than the funicular – it had us grinning for the rest of the day and not just because we had got better views than the men with enormous cameras.  Visitors might go into the cafe afterwards to have something to eat or even a drink to celebrate.   Travel to Speyside to see Osprey at Boat of Garten, Peregrine at Aviemore (this summer you can watch them by video link from the Youth Hostel), Ring Ouzel at Cairngorm and, here’s hoping, Hen Harrier at Newtonmore.      Better still though, imagine the whole of the lower part of Coire Cas was covered in montane scrub, the numbers of Ring Ouzel – which are in serious decline nationally – might increase and people could just wander along paths or up through the pistes and see them like we did.


Now in general I am opposed to planting on the edges of forest which are relatively natural and capable of regenerating naturally as the Caledonian pinewoods are doing on Cairngorm.   Speeding up rewilding is likely simple to create habitats the way we, or the powers that be, think they should be.  A form of gardening, however sophisticated.  But Cairngorm I think is different.


It is ecologically different because the soils and ground vegetation have for a long time been affected by intensive human use and now in places, as in the bulldozing done by Natural Retreats,  in effect destroyed.  In destroying these soils and the ground cover, erosion is bound to increase and the chance of a major catastrophic event, such as the whole slope failing, more likely.      Planting trees that will develop into montane scrub won’t do any more damage on areas which have been extensively modified and could help stabilise them.  There is even guidance on how to do this http://highlandbirchwoods.co.uk/UserFiles/File/publications/Montane-Scrub/guidance.pdf


Cairngorm has also been subject to a number of tree planting experiments which provide precedents, the latest of which show that a montane scrub zone could probably be well established in 10 years.IMG_6127

These lodgepole pine – non-natives – were planted by an employee of the then Cairngorm ski lift company.  Guerilla gardening!

These native trees originated from a grant awarded by the then Nature Conservancy at the end of the 1970s to demonstrate to the chairlift company that trees would grow in Coire na Ciste. Subsequently there has been some natural regeneration









These trees were planted when Ben Humble’s Alpine Garden was relocated uphill at the time of the funicular construction.

Trees here are unlikely ever to grow to full height, unless global warming ends the harsh winters and wind speed decreases, but the photos show that a planted montane Alpine scrub zone in Coire Case could become well established in relatively short periods of time.


IMG_6132While there is some natural regeneration in the ski area, this has been limited, probably in part due to accidental destruction by ski machinery and skiers.    Planting trees behind the solid new fences would offer them protection from this threat but in time soften the harsh linear lines of the fencing improving the landscape.  In time, the trees might provide an effective alternative to snow fencing.


There is nothing revolutionary about this idea.   Look at similar ski areas in Norway and Canada and the runs are often through forest or montane scrub which help trap the snow and look much better.   Imagine if trees had been planted at the time of the construction of the funicular, this area would have been transformed.


The potential attraction of a montane scrub zone is not just limited to the Ring Ouzel and trees.   At present there is very little montane scrub in Scotland due to the long history of overgrazing and the best such habitat at Inshriach is inaccessible to the general tourist.   If a montane scrub zone was planted here it would provide an attraction for the general tourist which they could not see anywhere else.


Indeed, at the time of the funicular construction, the staff at Cairngorm made a serious attempt to promote understanding of montane scrub zone.   While a lot of the interpretation that was developed then is now sadly neglected, it points the way and some of it could still be used.IMG_6046

One of a number of signs in the “viewing” station on the edge of the Coire na Ciste carpark



No sign of the alpine bistort among the dwarf cornel







A once great idea undermined by neglect
Wildlife of montane scrub in Norway




















Info from James Hutton Institute on fungi
Cloudberry growing on the ski slopes








There are still some very informative signs, including ones comparing Cairngorm with similar mountains in other parts of the world.  At present almost all the interpretation is in the neglected “Alpine” garden above the Day Lodge.  There is scope to extend this onto the ski slopes in Coire Cas where its possible even now to see plants that the general tourist is unlikely to see anywhere else.  Some further planting of  Alpine plants in suitable places along sections of the existing paths and tracks in lower Coire Cas could create an attractive trail like some of the Alpine gardens on the continent which are much larger in scale than the current one in Coire Cas.


The creation of montane scrub habitat in Coire Cas could help counter the steady drop in the number of visitors using the funicular.   This has approximately halved since it was constructed and continues to threaten the whole financial viability of Cairngorm which, on the current model, depends on visitor numbers.  Visitors coming to the ski area to see the wildlife won’t in themselves rescue what is a white elephant but it could be part of a different model of sustainable tourism which is based on recreational enjoyment of  the natural environment.   It might even  put the “natural” back into “Natural Retreats”.


In the past the primary concern about attracting visitors to Cairngorm has been about the serious threat that large numbers of people would have to the uppers parts of the mountain and the Cairngorms plateau.  This is why the funicular is to all intents and purposes a closed system in summer.   Attracting people to visit a montane scrub zone in Coire Cas though is  unlikely to have any impact on the plateau.  The vast majority of people would be what I would loosely describe as “general tourists” who tend to do short walks.  It should not be difficult to keep them in Coire Cas through path signage and interpretation.  Hillwalkers who wanted to see the montane scrub would proceed up the hill anyway and for those wanting longer walks, walking back into Glenmore will most of the time be the more attractive option.  I don’t think there is much more likelihood of the general tourist heading for the plateau after seeing the montane scrub zone than there is now of then general tourist travelling to the top of funicular and liking the view so much that once they have been taken back down they decide to walk back up on their own two feet.


I have tried in this post to put the argument for the creation of a montane scrub zone in Coire Cas through planting trees and some plants.  This would reduce the impact of the ski development on the landscape, improve the skiing, improve habitats for wildlife and create a reason for summer visitors to come to Cairngorm.  The evidence of the destruction in Coire Cas suggests then neither Natural Retreats nor Highlands and Islands Enterprise are fit to deliver such a vision and that there is a strong argument to integrate management of the ground in the ski area with that in Glenmore below.















June 6, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments

The Strathie carried an article last week that Natural Retreats, the company that operates “Cairngorm Mountain” on behalf of Highlands and Island Enterprise, has dropped its plans to rebuild the Day Lodge complex by the Coire Cas carpark http://www.strathspey-herald.co.uk/News/Plans-for-futuristic-Cairngorms-Day-Lodge-are-axed-02062016.htm   This would have included new facilities, such as a conference centre.   This is to be welcomed.  It would have been a tourist facility in the wrong place.

Day Lodge 3rd June. The altitude of the
Day Lodge Friday 3rd June 2016, not a sensible location for a conference centre
The funicular was practically empty - its amazing that anyone would take a journey even further into the cloud
Funicular 3rd June.  It was practically empty – why would anyone take a journey even further into the cloud?  As in the Alps, the cloud drops and so do visitors.  The problem at Cairngorm from a tourist viewpoint is the number of days the summit is in cloud.



The decision by Natural Retreats I am sure is partly driven by money.  They have realised, after a winter season, there is no point throwing good money (they had talked about investing £10m in buildings) after bad.   Their focus, in terms of buildings, now appears to be on internal refurbishment of what is there.   While this is to be welcomed its only part of what needs to be done.


The external environment in the ski area continues to be a disgrace for a National Park.

The chairs from the former Coire na Ciste lift have been simply dumped along with other rubbish


Buildings currently in use may be being upgraded but what is being done about the abandoned ones? Restoration?
Buildings currently in use may be being upgraded but what is being done about the abandoned ones?





If the Coire na Ciste building, as the signs indicate, is not safe and cannot be restored it should be removed



There were no fewer than three skips at Coire na Ciste but unfortunately the commercial rubbish that should have been in them wasn’t.





















In Coire Cas there are plenty of signs of a similar lack of care which are unfitting for a National Park.   This is not a good visitor experience, particularly in summer when the  extent of the rubbish and neglect is more obvious.IMG_6116

Old cables straddling the burn – would it really be so difficult to remove these?

Many of the eyesores pre-date Natural Retreats but some are much more recent. Could they just not clear up as they undertake work instead of treating the natural environment as a poorly run building site?


The cloud parted for ten minutes. Expensive machinery is simply left outside to rust. There must be a better way to stop this looking like a building site. What do visitors on the funicular think when they look across to this?   There needs to be a store for machinery but it needs to be big enough and in keeping with the natural environment.  Why not bury it into the hillside?
The concrete plinth and all the industrial waste should be removed and a new place found to store spent fuel (in the red and blue metal containers)

Keeping the ski area in a manner fitting for a National Park – or indeed for any quality tourist facility – should have been part of the HIE lease with Natural Retreats.  I have asked HIE for a copy of the relevant parts of their lease.  If there are conditions about the general state of the environment they need to be enforced.  If not, HIE should pay for the cleanup, after all its the landowner.   The Cairngorm National Park Authority needs to use its powers and influence to get the external environment tidied up as a pre-condition to agreeing anything else.


I believe Natural Retreats’ decision to drop its development proposals provides a great opportunity to re-consider what could be done to improve the Cairngorm ski area  and  make it more financially viable within a wider context of how Cairngorm and Glenmore should be managed.  A draft strategic plan for Cairngorm and Glenmore, which was put out for consultation earlier this year,  treated the ski area in isolation from Glenmore.   This has been a problem ever since Highlands and Islands Enterprise purchased the ski area from the Forestry Commission.  What we now need is some joined up thinking and I would suggest the current model, in which Natural Retreats is expected somehow to make the ski area become a financially viable operation in itself, needs to be rethought.    I will outline a vision for how this might be approached in a post later this week which will focus on the potential of the natural environment at Cairngorm as a means of making the ski area into a sustainable tourist attraction.

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

In London, what appears to be a  very successful campaign  is developing to turn it into the world’s first National Park city.  The proposal won the support of the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates for the London Mayor election.  Its proponents, from health experts to nature conservationists, architects to geographers, are now trying to win support from local councillors.   According to a poll in the London Evening Standard something like 90% of Londoner’s agree with the idea.


As the Greater London National Park City admits, the proposal is not for a National Park in the traditional sense.   It is not about the countryside, does not fit the criteria of the National Park legislation in England (see statement from National Parks England) and does not fit any of the international criteria for protected areas.   The City of London will still dominate.  It is though about further greening of the city.  The term “National Park” is being used because it has resonance, the power to convey a message.


Thereby, I believe,  lies a danger.  That the whole concept of what National Parks should be about is diluted, perhaps even polluted.   The risk is the term “National Park” no longer represents ideas about putting the natural environment first but rather becomes associated with attempts to fit nature better around human development.    To put it crudely, if the City of London merits the term National Park, what is to prevent us from building a city in the middle of the Cairngorms or over the top of Loch Lomond if the need arises?


The success of the campaign though does tell us something about the importance of nature to people.      People want to connect to nature but, because London is so large and difficult to escape from, the only option for many people is to green their our own backyard or treasurer the pockets of wildness among the skyscrapers.    People like David Lindo, who writes for the RSPB magazine about urban birdwatching, illustrate the point well and the London City National Park campaign pages have some fantastic photos of London wildlife.


Cities in Scotland, and indeed the rest of England, also have some wonderful wildlife – the discovery of water voles in the East End of Glasgow comes to mind – but because they are so much smaller, the  countryside is much easier to access.    If you want to connect to nature, it is much easier – if you have the income – to escape the city.  There are of course plenty of green initiatives in Scottish cities, people care just as much as they do in London, but I think our geography reduces the political pressure to green our urban environment.   The middle classes can and do get out – and its often to our two National Parks – areas where the natural environment should come first.


While our geography should make it easier to keep the concept of National Parks separate from Greening the City, I believe we need  to consider the relationship between our cities, where most people live, and our National Parks.


To give one example, if you agree with our National Park’s current statutory objectives to promote recreational enjoyment and understanding, their connectedness and accessibility  to the urban population should be one benchmark of their success.   By this measure, at present our National Parks are not doing well, aside from the arterial routes along the A9 and A82 and their railway lines, with large swathes of the inhabited off limits for those who have no car.

Try getting to:

    • Ben Lomond from Glasgow – our aspiration should be that everyone from the Glasgow conurbation should experience the view from Ben Lomond once in their lifetime but the only way to get to Rowardennan by public transport is by expensive private waterbus in the summer months
    • Braemar from the south – Balmoral is, for better or worse, one of our most famous tourist attractions but  even as a tourist, after viewing Holyrood palace, you cannot jump on a bus to Deeside but have to go the long way round to Aberdeen.  Blairgowrie to Braemar is 45 minutes or so by car, 5 hours and 30 minutes by bus.
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain like Ben Lomond which is very hard to access without a car
Lochnagar, an iconic mountain which, like Ben Lomond, is very hard to access without a car

There are many other examples, particularly of dead-end roads that provide the main means of access to some of the core areas of our National Parks.   This is a challenge if you are a hillwalker or mountaineer with a green conscience but its also an issue, to use the current political terminology,  about social inclusion, equality of access and social justice.   Its another very good reason for the new Scottish Parliament to review our National Parks.











May 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Like many people, I have not had a good thing to say about the banks for several years.  Following the financial crisis, I came to the conclusion that the banks should not be allowed to issue paper currency or create electronic money, as debt, out of thin air.   Such money is often used in socially and environmentally damaging ways, including financing operations which undermine the very purpose of our National Parks.


However, if the Scottish Government had decided to issue paper currency which  featured three of Scotland’s great landscape writers, Sorley MacLean, Norman MacCaig and Nan Shepherd and a nature quote from Mary Somerville, I would have been delighted.   RBS did just that ten days ago when they announced the theme of their new banknotes would be “the fabric of nature”.


Its ironic that the Scottish Committee of RBS, which decided on the new banknote designs, has given more prominence in this election campaign to the importance of our relationship with nature than our politicians.    The banks though understand something about the importance of beauty.  As I read somewhere last week, imagine a £20 note on plain paper, no-one would believe it represented anything.  Create a wonderful design and adorn it with someone who represents integrity and you have transformed a piece of paper, into fiat money, something which embodies a complex system of  values and beliefs.


The news coverage and the RBS website did not say us what quotations will be included on the banknotes.  I have struggled to decipher them but they include the following  lines from MacCaig:

“The cork that can’t be travels –

Nose of a dog otter.”

and “Its a grand thing to get leave to live” from the £5 note featuring  Nan Shepherd, the great writer about the Cairngorms.


I wonder what MacCaig, who wrote

Who possesses this landscape? –

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for

this landscape is


would have made of it?


A few days ago, I was helpfully reminded by a reader that the SNP – whose manifesto like other parties I had criticised for their lack of meaningful commitments to landscape and the natural environment – had initiated a ban on windfarms in National Scenic Areas and areas of Wild Land.   A step to be welcomed and in the right direction.  It is though a step which I suspect the other political parties,  had they been in power, might also have made in the face of widespread discontent from people concerned about our landscapes.    I do not believe a few such steps forward can  disguise the lack of vision or the fact that they are re-positioning after the event.


We need our politicians to escape the clutches of their chaperones, experience the landscape for themselves and then maybe borrow from some of the writers who will be featured on the new RBS notes to articulate what’s important about the natural environment.    They might then start to think about how better to direct investment in the countryside and our National Parks – including where RBS puts our money.



April 24, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The LLTNPA used claims about damage to trees by rogue campers as part of their justification for the camping byelaws, their main evidence being a few photos.   Previous posts on Parkswatch have criticised these claims, pointing out most of the woodland in the area owes its survival to coppicing and far more damage is done by operations such as clearing of roadside verges.  I did not however have any photos to illustrate roadside tree clearance.


This afternoon I drove up the A82 to Inveruglas to go for a run over Ben Vorlich and Ben Vane.    Shortly after the Arden  roundabout it was evident that the Council had been clearing the roadside verges and had done so all the way to Inveruglas.   I stopped in a couple of places and on one short stretch I counted at least ten fresh tree stumps.  Along this stretch of road, 28km approximately, hundreds of trees have been chopped down – I suspect the Council or its contractors have destroyed more trees in a week or so than all the rogue campers in the Park have over a number of years


Most of the woodlands along this section of the A82 are included in the Ancient Woodland Inventory which the Park included in its map of Designated Nature Conservation Areas even though AWI are not protected areas as such.    This gave the misleading impression that campers were damaging protected areas.   In fact, as the photos illustrate, far more damage is done by Council.   The problem basically is that the Park is so focussed on getting rid of campers it ceased a long time ago to try and put its evidence into perspective.


The machine cleared road verges are obvious all the way along the A82
The machine cleared road verges are obvious all the way along the A82
Some pruning has been done carefully
Tree butchery worthy of any rogue camper
Other trees have been butchered
Environmental damage or inadvertent coppicing?
Environmental damage or inadvertent coppicing?



















Between Tarbert and Inveruglas some “ancient” trees had been felled














Its not necessary to oppose roadside verge management – although many people will wonder why the former tree in the last photo was felled – to see the total hyprocrisy of the LLTNPA.   In fact, what is really sad is this an opportunity missed.  The Council or its contractors has cleared most of the timber but left the litter.  An imaginative Park would have got the Council or its contractors to clear the litter but leave the wood for campers to use – it might have even let a local person collect the wood and sell it to campers, thus creating a new local business  (some landowners in the Trossachs have successfully done this).   Unfortunately all the evidence suggests is the Park is not interested in finding alternative solutions to any of the problems it has associated with people camping.


The Park, also unfortunately, appears little interested in demonstrating best conservation practice.    While the quality of the woodland felling along the A82 appears highly variable, I cannot understand why the grass verge all along this section of road has been mown.  The Spring flowers are just coming out and in other places, Councils deliberately delay mowing of verges to help wildflowers.  One would have hoped such sort of best practice would be standard in our National Park.   This would save money that could then be used to pick up some of the litter.

Recently mown grass verge
Recently mown grass verge
April 1, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Driving up to the northern Cairngorms yesterday to climb, protests by people in Aviemore about the disgusting taste of their drinking water was headline news on Radio Scotland.

Yesterday was a lovely day.  Temperature inversion over Aviemore
Yesterday was a lovely day. Temperature inversion over Aviemore from the ski car park.

Scottish Water’s response was technocratic, that they would introduce a different process in 2017 which should make the water taste better  http://www.scottishwater.co.uk/investment-and-communities/your-community/aviemore-2016    


There was not a mention that Aviemore is in a National Park or discussion about the role of the Cairngorms National Park in delivering  clean water, which is usually included as one of the key  ecosytem services delivered by the natural environment.   This got me thinking – if we cannot deliver water to local residents in our National Parks that tastes as good as the water on the open hill, what hope have we got?   Is talk about ecoystem services simply another term that is banded around by politicians from time to time to make people think they care about the natural environment?


The situation is complicated of course.   The old water supply  was piped in from Loch Einich and was not sufficient to guarantee supplies to the ever expanding village of Aviemore so a new supply from a borehole south of Aviemore was created in 2012.   Here’s what  Scottish Water said at the time:


“It’s great to see the new works going into supply. It will benefit our customers in many ways. By using boreholes rather than a remote mountain loch as our source we can access and maintain the supply more easily, increase the capacity available to support economic growth and protect the sensitive Cairngorms environment.”

“Previously supplies received only basic treatment and no filtration. The old source was remote and was the environmentally sensitive Loch Einich in the Cairngorms connected via several miles of pipelines along the length of Glen Einich. The new borehole supply receives modern treatment using filters that remove impurities down to microscopic level”.      http://www.scottishwater.co.uk/about-us/media-centre/news-archive/new-aviemore-wtw-goes-live . 


What I find intriguing is that according to Scottish Water water from boreholes should require less treatment than that flowing off the hill http://www.scottishwater.co.uk/you-and-your-home/your-home/customer-factsheets/3-water-treatment


Different sources of raw water
The treatment process that we use depends upon
the type of water source and the quality of the raw
water available in a particular area.
Water from springs and boreholes is generally of
a higher quality and may only need simple filtering
followed by disinfection.
Water from upland sources such as lochs, reservoirs
and streams, will normally require some sort of
treatment process.


The obvious question is why has all this gone wrong at Aviemore?  Why is water from a borehole, which according to Scottish Water should require less treatment,  now being treated more than the water that used to come from the open hill?        The broader question is whether bodies such at Scottish Water, when they operate in our National Parks, could be thinking of new ways to deliver what they do.