Tag: political parties

My thanks to Stella Bray who asked Patrick Harvie, Leader of the Greens, his view of the camping byelaws in an online question and answer session before the election  https://www.facebook.com/ScottishGreens/videos/10154164579926170/  His response appears 39 mins and 39 seconds into the video and is worth listening to.    He clearly states that there is no justification for stopping people from camping responsibly, that the proposed camping byelaws are contrary to the whole direction on land reform since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and that bad  behaviour, whether in Kelvin Park or Loch Lomond, can be dealt with in other ways (which is what all the campaigners against the byelaws, including former Chief Inspector Kevin Findlater, have been saying from day one).  He also indicates that the Greens will work to have the byelaws repealed.   He is, to the best of my knowledge, the first national politician to state this.

 

While the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government have tried to portray campers as having adverse impact on the natural environment (without having evidence for this) it is significant that the Greens, whose mission is to protect the environment, do not see people enjoying the outdoors as an environmental issue, even when they behave badly and appear to have a good  understanding of how access rights were intended to operate.     .

 

We need more politicians to speak out and now the Greens have taken a stance on the camping byelaws, I hope other political parties will follow.  We now have a new Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, who was involved in the development of the first Land Reform Act and access rights and appears far more likely to listen than Aileen McLeod, who appears to have been completely out of her depth. I am optimistic there is an opportunity to repeal the byelaws before even more resources are wasted on designing systems to try and chase campers out of the best camping areas in the National Park.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

masterless……….”;

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.

 

 

The Scottish Labour Party issued its election manifesto on Wednesday, for some strange reason long after the other political parties.    Judging by the 2.7k hits on its website there has not been that much interest but, unlike the SNP, it does make commitments in respect to National Parks:
Scottish Labour in government  established the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks to conserve and enhance the natural heritage of these areas of beauty. We will review the future of National Parks to protect them and consider options for establishing a new National Park.”
While the language is a little vague, no other political party has made a commitment to a review which will include existing National Parks – politically this is a significant step forward.   We need our politicians to recognise the failures of our existing National Parks and that they could and should do better.  Unfortunately, the next statement about “establishing a new National Park” does not inspire confidence that Labour has much understanding of the issues.   Why just one National Park?  If Labour believes there should be just one more, why not tell the public where it will be? 
 
There are some other goods things in the manifesto, particularly the connection between our land and poverty:  “We have land and sea in plenty, but too many in Scotland rely on food banks in order to eat, while farmers and fishermen find it hard to make a living”.  Unfortunately though, the manifesto contains almost no ideas about alternative environmentally sustainable uses for the land which might address these issues.    Our existing National Parks, which include many inhabited areas, could and should be tasked with developing alternative models for the rural economy which put conservation and enjoyment of the countryside first.
 

Making the National Parks a political issue

Dave Morris, a contributor to Parkswatchscotland, is doing his best to raise political awareness of the failures of the current Scottish Government in relation to National Parks and the wider countryside as in his  Herald Letter, published 29th April (its the second letter down and not about the Labour Party!), and also available here Herald Letters 29 April 2016).
While not everyone will agree with Dave’s proposed political solution,  there is much to commend  his succinct analysis of the Scottish Government’s failures in respect of Land Reform and the natural environment, including National Parks.  Ultimately, if we are to achieve change in our National Parks, we need these issues to feature far more highly in the internal agendas of all the political parties.  Parkswatchscotland is not party political but wishes to raise public political awareness and debate about how our National Parks operate.

Last week, the Tory Government at Westminster published an 8 – Point Plan for National Parks in England http://www.cnp.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploadsfiles/National%20Parks%20Plan.pdf

In the introduction it states the Government has an “ambition to put National Parks at the heart of the way we think about the environment”.

 

Contrast this level of interest with this week’s Political Hustings in the Sunday Herald  which gave the political parties a chance to consider “all things environmental”.  Aileen McLeod, the Environment Minister, wrote the SNP contribution which was limited to repeating what the Government has done so far on climate change (no new commitments) and a statement a future SNP Government would increase the Climate Justice fund to £3m a year.    Her poverty of imagination is illustrated by the issues mentioned by Mark Ruskell for the Greens:  sea and air pollution, including pesticides; warm homes; fracking; environmental jobs; greener farming through changing subsidies and land reform;  food poverty; green spaces and wildlife persecution.   Sarah Boyack said Labour would protect air, water and food but spent most of her piece attacking the SNP record on fracking rather than saying what Labour would do.   Only RISE mentioned re-wilding and only the Tories mentioned landscape, two issues which should be central to the future of our National Parks.

 

The Scottish Tories, in line with their party south of the border, are even calling for an extension of National Parks, something that the SNP Government included in their last election manifesto but have never progressed.    While some of the ideology behind the Tories 8-Point Action Plan makes me cringe –  “National Parks are the soul of Britain. They are the centre of our imagination. When people think of Britain, wherever they are, they imagine these landscapes” –   they have picked up on something, that landscapes are very important to people.   The other political parties in Scotland have missed this almost completely.    Our politicians have been treating the performance of our existing National Parks as a management, not an environmental or political issue.

 

While I am not advocating an English model for our National Parks, our politicians could still learn something from the 8-Point Action Plan, for example:
* that our National Parks have a role in preventing flooding – think of the Cairngorms, intensive moorland management and the floods on Deeside
* that our National Parks have a key role to play in outdoor education and the commitment to increase this – think of the closure of Outdoor Education centres for young people in our National Parks as a result of Local Authority cuts
* that the diversity of people visiting the National Parks should be increased – think of the proposed camping ban and its impact on  people from the Clyde conurbation being able to enjoy the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
While the action plan is full of positive aspirations, some of the proposed targets are far from meeting those aspirations and I find that some of the means of getting there are quite sinister.  For example, Westminster wants to connect every young person with nature and is aiming to ensure that 60,000 young people a year experience the Parks through the National Citizens Service.  NCS “brings together young people from different backgrounds to learn about responsibility and serving their communities” – not, you may note to enjoy the outdoors or learn about the natural environment.      The Action Plan therefore is far from a suitable blue-print for Scotland but should be a wake-up call to the next Scottish Government.
In order to try and promote some debate about National Parks in the lead up to the Scottish Elections – and what a Scottish Action Plan for our existing National Parks might look like – Parkswatch hopes to feature some articles from different authors over the next few weeks.