Tag: Scottish Government

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

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     While the draft guidance states there is no need for additional consultation where statutory consultation is required, it appears Natural Retreats and HIE are planning to submit a bog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

 

More development, high up on Cairngorm, is totally inappropriate

 

Design Option 2 for the Ptarmigan

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Advice from SNH obtained through FOI

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Why the proposals are misguided and what needs to happen

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Beauly Denny restoration across A9 from A889 just north of Dalwhinnie. Meall Chuaich left background.  Photo 1/5/17.

 

In my last post on the Beauly Denny restoration (see here), I referred to the apparent contradictory views on who is responsible for ensuring the land is properly restored to its original condition, a requirement of the planning consent for the powerline granted by the Scottish Government.   The  restoration of much of the ground in the Cairngorms National Park falls well short of what we should expect in a National Park (see photos).

 

A Scottish Government official had told me the Cairngorms National Park Authority is responsible for enforcing the planning condition while an officer of the CNPA had told the North East Trust that they thought the Scottish Government is responsible.     I am grateful to the reader who draw my attention to the Guidance from the Scottish Government Energy Consents and Deployment Unit (ECDU) on this topic (see here).

 

Ostensibly the Scottish Government official was right.  The Guidance states:

 

ECDU, in consultation with the relevant Planning Authority, SEPA and SNH, who will all be asked to provide regular reports to ECDU, will monitor the performance of applicants in complying with the above conditions. The discharge, compliance and enforcement of deemed planning conditions is overseen by the relevant planning authority.

 

While there are complexities to the legal position of which is the planning authority in this case, the CNPA not having full planning powers, in practice the CNPA rather than Highland Council has taken the lead on the Beauly Denny (to its credit) so I think it is clear it is responsible for enforcing the planning conditions.

 

The problem however is the Guidance makes it clear that the Scottish Government is responsible for monitoring compliance with the planning conditions.  Its difficult to see how legally CNPA could start taking enforcement action unless the Scottish Government accepted this was needed:  Scottish and Southern Electric as developer could probably block any enforcement action in court on the basis that there was no evidence that the Scottish Government as the  official monitoring body was concerned about the quality of the “restoration”.

 

So what is the position of the Scottish Government on the quality of the restoration?

 

Next pylon south from that in top photo showing poor “restoration” around the tower and along the track. From a distance some of the landscape impact is reduced because of the large areas of muirburn but is likely to become more prominent as summer progresses.

 

From what I have been able to ascertain from a Freedom of Information request to the CNPA, the Scottish Government is doing very little to monitor critically the performance of SSE.   While I might be wrong about this – I have not for example asked the SG yet for the information they hold on this – what appears to be happening is the SG are  meeting SSE without SNH and CNPA present.   Indeed CNPA were kept so far out the loop that in July 2015 the liaison process had to be explained to them by SSE 150729BDUpdateMeetingNote.

 

This is important because  the CNPA has been raising serious concerns about the standard of the restoration.   First, the then convener of the CNPA Duncan Bryden wrote to SSE outlining their serious concerns after a Board visit to the site 250615trackrestorationSSE:

 

Despite a long period of period of pre planning and preparation it does not appear to the CNPA that the methods used are commensurate with National Park sensitivities (including Natura 2000 designations), nor the high- profile nature of the works, immediately adjacent to and often highly visible from the A9, Highland main line, National Cycle Route 7  and surrounding Munros.  For example, the original vegetation and turfs have not been removed and stored in such a way as to facilitate regeneration and there has been significant soil compaction and mixing of soil horizons.

 

These concerns were reinforced by CNPA officers at the meeting in July when the asked some SSE some crucial questions:

 

Why, given that certain activities had been planned, had they not then been implemented? Why, given that this was always known to be a challenging and high profile site, and that work was going on at present were the plans for re-vegetation/restoration not at more advanced stage?

 

The response from SSE, which claims to a company with aspirations to being green and socially responsible, avoids the issues 250615trackrestorationSSE Mr D Bryden CNPA Response 26 August 2015:

The photographic evidence in my view contradicts the claim by SSE that “there have been isolated issues surrounding the separation and storage of soils” and that the whole project has been very successful.    The Scottish Government needs to test the corporate governance speak against what can be seen on the ground.

Travelling down the A9 on 1st May I took photos of almost every tower you can see from the road. The impact on soils and vegetation is not hard to see as with this pylon south of North Drumochter Lodge

 

While I have not yet been able to work out the numbers of all the pylons, in the monitoring produced in October 2016 SSE states that for almost all pylons on this section of line “Re-instatement of the soils is to an acceptable standard”.  The photos I believe show otherwise and that the CNPA was completely right to raise concerns.

 

What needs to happen

 

What’s not in the public realm at present (as far as I have been able to ascertain) is whether the  CNPA’s concerns have been submitted to the Scottish Government, and if so what the Scottish Government’s response has been.   What is needed is join up between the Scottish Government’s ECDU and the CNPA and SNH.  While a first step would be joint monitoring meetings, I think there also needs to be a joint approach to remedying what has gone wrong.

 

Meantime, at the end of April there was some good news about the impact of the Beauly Denny on the landscape in the National Park (see here).   The pylons between Aviemore and Kingussie, including those that blight the extension to the Speyside Way (see here), are being removed.  Although the CNPA did not manage to block the Beauly Denny they did achieve removal of these powerlines as a compensatory measure.   The challenge now for the CNPA (and for landscape campaigners)  is not to allow the Scottish Government to treat that welcome “compensatory improvement” as sufficient and the Beauly Denny as job done while burying their heads in the new soils that have been created at Drumochter.

Photo credit Luss Estates – from last weekend

Contributors to Parkswatch have, over the last 15 months, regularly highlighted the failures of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to provide basic facilities for visitors.  We are not the only people who have been saying this of course but in an extremely welcome development, Luss Estates, who I understand have been trying to influence the LLTNPA behind the scenes, have gone public.   Their press release, about what went wrong at Luss over the weekend, is very powerful.

A link was also provided to a number of further photos (see here) which every politician in Scotland should take a look at and then start asking questions.

The problems, which were entirely predictable given the spell of fine weather we have been having,  did not just affect Luss but were evident in other hotspots in the National Park.   This point was well made in another welcome press statement from the Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs:

 

“Call to Get Back to Basics

The Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Chairman, James Fraser has made an urgent call for local public sector agencies to get back to basics to tackle litter, toilet and traffic management issues in a more effective way at popular lochside visitor hotspots such as Luss and Balmaha.
He said: ” Over the past weekend both locations were overrun with visitors and were unable to cope and it was evident public bodies such local authorities and the National Park Authority are not geared up to deal with the basics such as emptying overflowing litter bins and  resolving traffic management problems at busy times. The current arrangements are wholly  inadequate and urgently need to be addressed to ensure there is no repeat of the shambles which took place last weekend.”
He added:” I understand new arrangements are supposed to be in place for different parts of the area with Councils taking on more responsibilities for traffic management and parking from the police but it is evident from the chaos with road blockages and indiscriminate parking at the weekend the Councils are ill prepared and  have not staffed up at busy weekends to deal with the problems.”
A flood of complaints were lodged by visitors and local residents over the weekend and many were ashamed by the dreadful state of the areas which fell well short of what is expected in a National Park.”
What is great is the public are now also complaining, as you can see from this post on Walkhighland about litter at Inveruglas.  Its also well worth a read and it would be hard to beat the patronising attitudes in the LLTNPA response to the complaint:
“It is unfortunate that more education needs to be done with the users of the park in terms of how they deal with their waste when in such beautiful locations.”
This shows just why the LLTNPA is failing, everything is someone else’s problem.
 

Visitors to the National Park are being ripped off by our public authorities and getting nothing in return

Meanwhile, as Magnus points out the LLTNPA charged him £4 to park his car while he was out hillwalking,  fees to pay bureaucrats to patronise the public.
And its going to get worse – the LLTNPA is at present trying to lease the carpark at Balmaha from Stirling Council where it plans to install another Automated Number Plate Charging system (three were originally planned, one at Inveruglas) so it can charge visitors – again without them getting anything in return.
Photo Credit Fiona Taylor
Argyll and Bute Council are doing the same in Luss.  If you want to go for a hill walk in the Luss Hills, a healthy activity which the National Park should be encouraging, and and use the car park you are likely to end up paying £7 for the privilege.   No-one in the LLTNPA seems to care – they would prefer people to park on the kerb so that they can then patronise visitors for not showing enough consideration for “beautiful locations”.

The connection between the LLTNPA’s  failures to provide infrastructure for visitors  and the camping byelaws

Illegal tent snapped from passenger seat of car west Loch Lomond Saturday 6th May
Contrast the photo above with the photos in the Luss Press Release.   Yes, the photos above was from the car and its not possible to tell if the campers were adhering to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but ask yourself what is the problem the LLTNPA should be tackling?
Should they be devoting a huge proportion of their human and financial resources to trying to chase campers away from the loch shores, whether or not they are camping according to SOAC, or should they be tackling the problems highlighted by Luss Estates and Friends of Loch Lomond and Trossachs?
What neither Luss Estates or FOLLAT have been prepared to say publicly as yet – and both supported the camping byelaws, albeit far from unconditionally – is that the camping byelaws account for many of the failures of the LLTNPA, including a failure to co-ordinate work with Local Authorities on everything from litter collection to car park charging.     While the evidence shows the byelaws are unravelling anyway – see yesterday’s post (see here) – as long as they continue to direct their resources towards managing what they are not fit to manage, the National Park will continue to disgrace Scotland.

What needs to happen

James Stuart, in his speech to become convener, hinted that the LLTNPA need to change focus.  He did not go far enough but his challenge now is to reverse the parrot like statements from the Park and the Scottish Government officials that the byelaws are here to stay, admit the LLTNPA has made a serious error which is preventing resources being spent where they are needed, and start engaging with organisations like Luss Estates, FOLLAT and the recreational organisations, as well as local communities,  to develop a new approach.

 

The new National Park plan is the obvious place to start.   The LLTNPA needs to “get back to basics” as FOLLAT puts it and stop pretending that they are some sort of business whose main purpose is to raise income for itself rather than cater for the needs of visitors.  Parkswatch will feature a number of posts on the new draft Partnership Plan in the next few weeks and would encourage all those who have complained to the LLTNPA, to respond to it in due course.

Photo taken Sunday 19th March and posted by Donald Morris on the Save Cairngorm Mountain facebook page – great source of information for what is going on at Cairngorm. Natural Retreats were burning off the old snow fencing which they had previously committed to remove from the mountain.

After Highland and Island’s Enterprise announcement that they had agreed a new masterplan for Cairngorm, along with a £4m loan to Natural Retreats (see here),  I asked HIE for a copy of the masterplan and any associated plans for the proposal- such as a business plan providing evidence for the proposals:

HIE Response

“At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board approved CML’s [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd’s] new Master Plan.  However, the CML Master Plan is commercially sensitive and cannot be published at this time.”

Comment

The business plan – although HIE has avoided answering whether such a plan exists – could be commercially sensitive and thus exempt from FOI law,  but a masterplan is a planning document and should be available to the public.

I also asked for a list of all organisations HIE has consulted on this proposed and any information relating to that consultation:

 

HIE Response

“CML will be the applicant in terms of any forthcoming planning application. Both HIE and CML have been involved in prior consultation with CNPA, THC [Highland Council] and SNH.”

Comment

HIE have failed to answer whether they hold any information relating to this “consultation”  with other public bodies.

My final request was asking HIE to clarify whether whether Schedule 4 to the current lease, which was about the requirement to deliver a new day lodge as part of the lease, has been revoked:

 

HIE Response

At the HIE Board meeting on 11 April 2017, the Board agreed that the legal documents will be amended to accommodate the new projects.

Comment

This is the only informative part of HIE’s response.  What it means is that the HIE Board have agreed to drop the legally binding requirement in the original lease with Natural Retreats to develop a new Day Lodge.  Its significance is that this was an opportunity for HIE to terminate their lease with Natural Retreats.  They have chosen not to do so.

The failures and lack of accountability of HIE

 

It is not unreasonable to ask how a public authority, funded by public monies, believes it is acceptable to put out a press release stating a masterplan has been agreed at Cairngorm but then keep that masterplan secret?

 

The proposal for a masterplan at Cairngorm formed part of the Glenmore Strategy agreed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority last year.

While I cannot find any reference to a masterplan in the CNPA Local Development Plan agreed in 2015, the footnote to the table above indicates that the masterplan is a spatial plan and therefore, its fair to assume, a masterplan in the formal planning sense.  Even if not, in terms of good practice, one might have hoped HIE would have taken some heed on the Scottish Government Planning Advice Note on developing masterplans (see here).

That guidance I believe is very relevant for Cairngorm.   It requires site appraisal – for Cairngorm that would mean a look at the ski area as a whole – and consultation with local communities:
“When creating successful places, people must be at the heart of the process. The local community’s understanding of the needs of an area are invaluable in establishing priorities and arriving at a vision for a place. Once the local community and key stakeholders (the community in its widest sense) have been identified, early discussions can provide a wealth of information about the area’s history and how it functions. An engagement plan could be devised to identify mechanisms for involving the community. These will establish opinions and confirm local people’s aspirations for the place. Various types of interests may have to be engaged in different ways.”
 
While because of the special nature of Cairngorm, I would argue that consultation should be far wider, and involve for example recreational (e.g skiers and mountaineers) and conservation interests, the important point is there has NO consultation at all.   HIE has apparently agreed what it wants to happen at Cairngorm with Natural Retreats and how to fund this through public money without any consideration of other views.    A top down solution that again is likely to end in tears.

Natural Retreats is not fit to manage any development at Cairngorm

While HIE and Natural Retreats have kept all information about the proposed dry ski slope secret at present (e.g its location) one detail emerged on the Cairngorm Mountain facebook page on 13th April where they said it would be constructed out of snowflex .  This raises some intriguing questions because the nature of the product http://www.snowflex.com/ which is “solid” rather than other types of artificial slope:
  • with no spaces for vegetation to grow through, it is likely to have a greater impact than other potential products on the vegetation and soils at Cairngorm;
  • without holes in the matting, there is higher friction and this means snowflex requires a water misting system which cannot operate in low temperatures because it freezes up;
  • because of the high friction, snow flex also needs to be installed on steeper slopes (unlikely to be of use at the Shieling rope tow which was installed for beginners).   While the manufacturer states it can be used when frosted, in such condition it can only be used by better skiers and boarders.  Not much use then for beginners in winter then;
  • if my understanding is correct and you cannot use piste bashers on snow flex, then if partly snow covered, snow flex could not be used at all (it would be like skiing over grass patches but worse).

 

There is nothing wrong with snowflex as a product, the trouble is its not designed for use in a mountain environment year round.  Its advantage over other products comes in artificial snowparks (artificial half pipes etc).  One wonders therefore if a summer snowpark is the secret plan for Cairngorm?.

 

If there is any case for an artificial ski slope at Cairngorm, it would be to provide a beginners area when there is insufficient snow and to link to the piste system.   This has been done in other parts of the world using different materials.

 

The revelation about the proposed use of snowflex just provides further evidence of Natural Retreats’ lack of competence to manage the Cairngorm ski area.

 

Cairngorm Estate Management Plan

 

Meantime, there is no sign of HIE’s  proposed estate management plan which might one have hoped excluded practices such as taking skips up the mountain to burn off fencing (first photo) and which needs to be considered along with any masterplan.

Extract from secret Board Meeting about implementation camping byelaws. The claimed antisocial behaviour has been grossly overstated as has its popularity as a camping destination – too inaccessible for most.

By Ross MacBeath

What differentiates a campsite from wild camping?   Most people would say at the very least the existence of  services such as the provision of drinking water and toilets.  The evidence from my visits to  Loch Chon the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority cannot even provide a reliable water supply for the £7 a night charge  (see here for post and here for a set of photographs of wider issues with the campsite).

 

The reasons why the water supply at Loch Chon is defective

 

One of the first principle of designing a private water supply it to ensure the availability of water from the source stream by carrying out a year long study of peak water flow. What follows below shows that  these investigations were either not carried out or ignored but its worth considering first why the LLTNPA has behaved in this manner..

 

Gordon Watson at a Public Meeting with Strathard Community Council on the 4th July 2016 stated that the Loch Chon campsite was chosen for it’s suitability and merits as a campsite rather than its availability.  The slide above, which was obtained subsequently through FOI, shows that this is not true and that Loch Chon was the ONLY option  that would allow the LLTNPA to deliver the  number of pitches they had promised to Scottish Ministers by 1st March to enact their byelaws.

 

What this shows is that the LLTNPA intended to build a campsite at Loch Chon no matter what.  For how the LLTNPA dealt with its planning permission to itself (see here). This is reprehensible behavior on all counts and LLTNPA are quite clearly paying the price with a defective water supply. But ultimately it’s visitors and communities who will pay the real price for this unwarranted development going forward.

 

Peak water flow and the LLTNPA Loch Chon water supply

 

An unsightly installation with loops in blue water pipe makes a poor impression.  When taken together with the positioning of the intake manifold, which is partially out of the water, unsecured and likely to be dislodged the first time the stream is in spate, it provides a rather damming but realistic indication of what was initially installed.

 

Just while we’re looking at this image, you can see that the concrete floor of the culvert under the bridge is smooth and curved.  This is done intentionally to stop materials collecting on the surface.  When the stream is in spate, large boulders are transported in the torrent of water and the smooth culvert base ensures they can roll right through preventing them from  causing an obstruction under the bridge. We will see why this is important later in the article.

 

Another important factor in providing a water supply is water pressure

 

One measure of the effectiveness of the water supply is determined by the water flow from the taps, which is of course dependent on the water pressure.  Water pressure in turn determined by the difference in elevation between the tap and the intake manifold.  The greater the height between the two the greater the pressure.

 

At this development the Park Authority have chosen to place the intake manifold almost 2  metres underground just by the road bridge over the stream  though it is still above the level of the taps which are further down the slope.  Not sufficiently high though to provide a sufficient head of water which is responsible for many of the issues with the water supply.   It would seem clear then that the intake manifold is in the wrong pace. It’s a basic design flaw and still goes uncorrected even though the LLTNPA is aware of the fact.

An essential requirement is that the intake manifold is always underwater

 

You would think that making sure the intake manifold is always under water would be a given. Yet here we are at Loch Chon on the 12th  March 2017 with the manifold almost completely uncovered  drawing air into the system.

 

Water intake pipe is aove the water level of the river drawing air instead of water.
Image 12th March 2017 lying on surface at water level

 

The problem is clear that the stream does not have sufficient water flow in dry periods.  This was evident during a dry spell starting before March 1st and through 12th March when the water supply failed intermittently when the intake pipe was not fully submerged causing air to be drawn into the system. In this location there is sufficient depth of water the intake is just not positioned properly.

 

 

Of course once the air lock is in the system it won’t self clear easily as water won’t flow up hill.  So many basic principles have just been overlooked cumulatively resulting in poor system design. This is a contributory factor together with the failure of staff, the clerk of works and the contractor to understand the basic requirements for implementing such a water supply.

 

One must ask who is managing this project, clearly the people involved with the development at Loch Chon have little or no understanding of stream feeds to private water supplies or their design. This lack of capability is worrying in an organisation which claims to wish to provide more campsites.   The LLTNPA is evidently not up to the task.

 

One week later the water was partially on, there was drinking water but no toilets

 

One week later on the 19th March 2017 the intake pipe was submerged once more, after some rainfall, however the water to the toilets and wash hand basins was still off.  You can see here the pipe had been removed from the clips removing the ridiculous upward loops in the water feed pipe.

 

Recent rainfall has caused the stream level to rise and cover manifold The Intake Manifold under the surface of the stream after rainfall

The water supply was still causing issues, drinking water was  available but toilet flushing was not.

Two weeks later there is still no effective water supply

 

On the 2nd of April the water supply was again only partially functioning the intake manifold was submerged  and there was water.   This time while one toilet was working the drinking water wasn’t.  3 of the 4 toilets remained locked.  The disabled toilet wass open and functioning with wash hand basins.

 

Another week on engineers were working on the system and some water was flowing

 

10th April 2017 – Water was now available from the outside taps though pressure was so low the auto shut off taps fail to operate correctly.  Well at least there was drinking water on site.  Although container filling took a while, it was better than nothing.

 

Again only one toilet was unlocked but I am pleased to report  it was flushing and the wash hand basin was operational. The other three toilets remain locked and strangely it was not the disabled toilet that was open.

 

It had taken the LLTNPA well over a month since the date the campsite was officially open to get even a basic water supply in place.  This was my first visit where toilets and drinking water have been available together but it is clear the LLTNPA are not out of the woods yet with low flow rates and intermittent supply. The test will be when all 4 toilets are in operation and water still comes out of the taps.

 

The engineers were working on the system when I arrived and allowed an opportunity to see whats inside the container next to the toilet block. It does look like there is a leak in the container roof.

 

The confusion over the hot and cold taps had also been sorted and there were now neutered tap tops both supplying cold water.

 

The  LLTNPA have been busy correcting some of the issues above and creating others

 

My visit on the 10th of April 2017 showed some changes.  The main visible differences one week on were  up by the intake manifold.  They had cut the pipe back and fitted a black sheath which is far less  intrusive.  The had also removed the old stainless steel manifold and fitted a cage to cover the end of the pipe.  However the pipe end is open and directly facing into the water flow with nothing to prevent  pebbles and smaller items being transported down the stream from finding their way into the system, so anything smaller than the mesh can also enter the intake pipe.  I think this may pose a problem for the future, potentially causing blockages in the intake pipe and significant costs and disruption to clear it. Some form of strainer or baffle is surely required.

 

Cage fitted over intake pipe, small stones of dam will be washed away with first rains In dryer weather the water level fails to cover the intake pipe

Click on images for zoomed view

 

The second and most important is the placement of the intake port on to the surface of the culvert, these images are very telling considering the recent weather has been wet followed by a short dry spell, the level here has dropped 20 cm since last checked.3 weeks ago.

 

This indicates the Peak flow of the stream may be very small in dry weather.

The problem is clear, the peak flow of the stream on dry days is so small that the water level in the culvert is no more than a centimetre or so and doesn’t even cover the intake pipe.  To solve this a small dam, and I mean small, has been created with stones and gravel where the depth of water behind this is sufficient to cover the intake pipe.

 

Culverts are designed to prevent debris collecting

As we discussed already, the smooth curved floor of the culvert is designed to prevent debris collecting in this location.  The Debris (dam) (photo above) will be removed by fast water flow.

Even with the current level of water flow the smaller stones and gravel around the intake pipe will be washed away eventually breaking the dam causing the water level to drop below the intake pipe and the water supply to fail.

 

In Spate the stream will remove all debris

With any heavy rain storm the stream will be in spate, the force of water will clear all of the rocks forming the dam in the culvert.  When in spate the stream can also carry branches and fallen trees down through the culvert but now with the fixed obstruction of the mesh cage there is a possibility that these will damage the cage or more likely get jammed on it causing a build up of debris in the culvert. This is not good practice and I would think it should be avoided.

 

The arrangement of the pipe has changed, now entering the river bank at a much lower level, the pipe is not secured on it’s traverse across the culvert and the gap underneath will most likely collect sticks and other vegetation then a build up of debris will possibly  occur.

 

Two months on and no further forward.

 

Around 2 months since the water problems became public and it would seem we are right back where we started with an intermittent supply determined by rainfall.   The National Park Authority really have to get their act together on this and stop penny pinching.  There is a problem with the water supply and it’s clear what it is.  In dry spells there is no water.  Get it sorted!  The solution is simple providing the stream does not dry up altogether, and only time will tell if that’s going to happen.

 

One thing remains clear, the LLTNPAs current solution is unlikely to work effectively even in the short term.

The real problem here is systemic failures within the LLTNPA

 

The LLTNPA Board should have been well aware of these problems as some apparently visited the campsite but have denied their existence in almost every public forum, even at their own board meetings.  I’m aware of one occasion where their spokesperson stated “As with any new site, there have been some snagging issues such as the running water which was unavailable for a few days due to a temporary problem with the new connection”  at least finally giving a nod to a problem everyone knows exists.     41 days of no water, limited water or intermittent water supply is hardly reflected by their “temporary problem”.   I believe it’s clear from the series of images here that the  problem has existed from the beginning and the vagaries of Scottish weather has determined if water was available or not. The solutions created  just promise more of the same – an ineffectual, intermittent water supply.

 

See here for video on the 19th March and here for the 2nd April

 

In the strange world of infallibility the LLTNPA inhabit even when they’rere wrong, they say they’re right and put out statement claiming all is well, whether it’s true or not.  This was certainly what happened at their board meeting on the 13th of March when numerous board members patted each other on the back for a job well done at Loch Chon and for getting the site finished on tiime.   This was witnessed by seven members of the public but should have been recorded for all to see.   Quite a surreal experience to see a National Park Authority  behave in this way.

By Ross MacBeath
View from 1 of 3 existing pitches in Zone B. This overlooks roundabout at entrance to forest drive Zones B and C.
Entrance to Forest Drive Zones B and C

Forest Drive

In order to stop people from camping by the loch shores and to meet their commitment to Scottish Ministers to deliver 300 “new” camping pitches, the LLTNPA had to find somewhere else for people to camp – so they leaned on Forestry Commission Scotland to use their land and have “created” no less than 76 permit places (just four of which are for campervans) along Forest Drive north of Aberfoyle.   In the past, the camping here has been mainly by Loch Drunkie, which has a few places close to the loch side which are good for camping, and the south shore of Loch Achray.   I went to have a look at the “new” areas and this post focuses on “Zone C”  so readers can understand the implications of what the LLTNPA is doing to campers.

Forest Drive Camping Zone C

The National Parks new maps of Zone ‘C’ indicate large expanses of open ground in a woodland locations with what looks like ample opportunity to choose a camping place by the waters edge or in among the trees.

 

Arriving just after 4 PM I  found locked gates, a now common occurrence in part of a park wide policy of denying access to visitors outside office hours.  Worse, it seems the code for exit is only granted if payment has been made through their permit booking system, effectively making access to our National Park on a pay as you go basis. Information on the Three Lochs Forest Drive page  states that “The drive is open to vehicles from Easter to October, daily from 9am”  The byelaws however started on of 1st March so this means there is a denial of access to 72 camping and 4 motorhome places until the 16th of April this year. Surely not!   Or maybe the LLTNPA just  need more time to get some camping provision in place at Forest Drive.

 

Access to Forest Drive and other gated facilities is in disarray

 

The Three Lochs Forest Drive page tells us access will be available until 4 pm and the exit gate locked at 5 pm after which a code is required to exit.  Other locations have different opening and closing times and the T&Cs for Loch Chon contradicts itself.  Confusion reigns and the National Park and Forestry Commission need to get their act together because at the moment it is the visiting public that is suffering through wasted journeys and uncertainties.  It is unacceptable to lock out visitors after encouraging them them  to drive for an hour and a half gain access to forest drive only to be turned away by a locked gate. Quite clearly visitors are being excluded from this area of the National Park at a time when access is most desirable, in the evening after work or as in this case, Sunday afternoon.

 

Camping Zone C

A Camping Zone without camping pitches

Camping Zone C is a short distance along a wider than expected compacted hard core road, not what the the term “Forest Drive” conjures up, more of a  superhighway.  The vista beyond the boundary sign, though beautiful, was clearly not the camping ground expected. The description on the LLTNPA  booking site warns of some “uneven terrain in places” but nothing like this.  In point of fact the entire zone is uneven in the extreme, except for a path that’s not indicated on their map. It’s is not an area one would choose to enter or cross if it could be avoided never mind to search out and use a camping pitch. A clear case of false advertising and  LLTNPA will find themselves challenged legally about this and many similar misrepresentations that comprise their  so called “camping provision”.

 

North West corner of permit zone 'C' with first perimeter post back right.
First view of Camping Zone C – a shocking place to camp

This entire zone is unsuitable for recreational camping

 

Not seeing anything that resembles a camping place from the road, I walked around the perimeter marked out by a line of yellow topped wooden posts.  This gives a view from the perimeter in to the Camping Zone and I hoped I would be able to identify potential camping places along the way. You can view progress by clicking on the grid below and scroll/ click through the gallery to view each image in turn.

.

Zone C view from North perimeter towards loch View from First perimeter marker pole towards South East View west to secon perimeter post View to centre of Zone C sowing nature of wooded area. Looing back to post 2 showing density of wooded are on north perimeter View west to the west end of loch South westerly boundary post, view alomg loch side toward east Loch shore line prone to flooding. Continuation of shore line towards the east showing slope and rough gound. Shoreline further towards east, very rough and slope down to lochside First sight of Pitch 1 from perimeter walk round Boggy area to the west of Pitch 1 Boggy area to the west of pitch 1, showing water depth.

No natural pitches and the two created are not suitable as they stand

 

In the absence of any natural pitches big enough to take a tent, the National Park Authority have been forced into a botched attempt to create them to meet their requirements to deliver at least two pitches in permit zone C. Form a visitor perspective, you would expect to have a choice of at least 6 to 10 prime locations in a zone of this size

The two pitches are concentrated is a small area beside the path and it's true extents are shown in green.
Camping Zone C showing location of two pitches in green

The National Park Authorities Camping Permit Conditions state:

  • “Avoid pitching your tent on ground that is already trampled or has dying vegetation cover. Pitch on durable surfaces, such as gravel, and grasses.
  • Choose a safe place to pitch your tent.  Your choice of where to pitch your tent is at your own risk.”

Zone C – camping pitch 1

 

Pitch 1 is a semi natural pitch on at a loch side location. The pitch is bounded by the loch to the south, a bog to the west and a slope to all other aspects.  The area is constrained and was too small for a tent.

A small loch side area on a gentle slope, has been enlarged by cutting back heather to accomodate small tent with hazards.

Ground work in the form of cutting away a heather patch has been required to increase the area to allow pitching a small tent.  The works have been botched insofar as they have not removed the heather roots so regrowth will occur this season but more importantly, in cutting back the heather, the Park Authority have left sharp heather stalks which will hole any tent floor pitched upon it, not to mention the possibility of stabbing injuries to humans. The site slopes to the loch and is waterlogged.

Sharp spikes left after heather cut back to enlarge pitch - puncture hazard Heather spikes causing hazard

The water level is 2 inches below the camping surface making it wet and the shore line is soft and in danger of collapsing under human loads at the edge.  The loch is deep at this location and this poses a threat especially to children. The lack of level space to manoeuvre around any camping pitch is a issue.  This pitch is just not suitable for recreational camping except perhaps for the smallest of tents in dry weather and if  ground cover issues were resolved.  However this camping pitch breaches advice in the Camping Permit Conditions insofar as it does not constitute a safe area to camp.

Zone C – Camping pitch 2

 

It’s hard to understand who would believe the mere strimming of an area in this location would result in a serviceable camping pitch.  The Park Authority have chosen an area beside the existing path down towards the loch shore view point just off the main track.

Branch off path to pitch 2

They have cut a the heather back to form line through the dense vegetation which its easy to walk past.  It is not a path with a hard surface nor is it a typical worn path only a gap in the vegetation, it’s highlighted above with flash.

Pitch 2 - Heather cut back leaving 4 - 6 inch spikes in the middle of pitch

On reaching the end in this short ‘path’ there is a second area that has been trimmed back to reduce the height of vegetation in the mass of moss, heather and thick grasses that blanket the zone. It remains 6 – 8 inches thick and is not a suitable surface for pitching a tent and securing tent pegs to the ground is problematic. As before, the cut heather stalks have been left 4 to 6 inches long which would cause injury to any person and tent using this site.  The site is small and there is nowhere to erect a seat , use a stove  or lie down to relax.

Heather spikes pitch 2 Thick vegetation covering on pitch 2 - unsuitable for pitching tent or recreational camping

Cooking, even with a stove would pose a real fire risk and without firm ground as as stated in their own Camping Permit Conditions, recreational camping cannot take place.

Tick and Midge Haven

The nature of the vegetation cover interspaced with standing water makes this Zone an ideal breading ground for midges and ticks, the dense vegetation provides an insulated layer at root level that allows insect eggs, larvae, pupae, nymphs, or adults to overwinter in all but the severest conditions thus guaranteeing large insect populations in the summer months.  Not a place you would want to spend time.

Spectacularly failed, even when doing nothing.

 

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and their board are responsible for misleading the public and other agencies on a massive scale.  It is clear they have failed to provide equivalent camping pitches for those camping out of cars.  The very campers they have banned from all their management zones. Its hard to imagine camping of any type being viable anywhere in Zone C.

 

Besides double counting existing pitches as new provision (Loch Lubnaig and Sallochy to meet their target of 300 new places) the LLTNPA are trying to muddy the waters by renaming out of car camping style as a wild camping experience both at Loch Chon and elsewhere.  They are doing this so they can justify the poor provision at Loch Chon, their failure to provide new facilities and for doing absolutely nothing to ensure there are viable places to camp in the locations they have decided to allow camping by permit.    We can see this from the images for zone C and the many other camping zones that are devoid of any places which it is feasible let alone good to camp.

 

It’s time for the Scottish Government to scrap these byelaws, the LLTNPA have spectacularly failed to meet their commitments and are not competent to manage camping.

Slide presented to secret Board Briefing sessions showing levels of “informal” camping in the National Park. The Park never included this information, based on data from Park patrol records, during the Your Park consultation as it undermined their claims that byelaws were needed because of the sheer volume of campers.

Today probably marks the most retrograde in the history of access to land in Scotland since the Trespass Scotland Act of 1865 as the camping byelaws come into force.  When even Radio 3, not renowned for covering the great outdoors, announces on its 7.30 news headlines that campers in one of Britain’s prime beauty spots will be guilty of a criminal offence with a fine up to £500, the wider public may start to realise what is happening:  that the right to peaceably enjoy the countryside is being removed by a National Park whose statutory purpose is to promote the right to enjoy the countryside.

 

As I am writing this there is a  debate on Radio Scotland about the new £200 penalties for using a mobile phone while driving a car – using a mobile can kill people but is a civil offence.  Camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and harming no-one in the best places to camp in the National Park is now a criminal offence with a fine of up to £500.      How is that right or just?

 

The URL for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park media release announcing the implementation of the byelaws (see here) says it all.   The Park welcomes campers………….by banning them!   The rest of the release is the usual parkspeak…………………………

 

Parkspeak

“Between March and September, people keen to camp or stay overnight in a motorhome or campervan at one of the many popular and picturesque lochshore locations throughout the Park, can do so by buying a camping permit or booking a pitch at a campsite.” 

Comment.  Not true.   A large proportion of the lochshores have no provision for camping at all and there are only 20 permits for campervans for all four management zones.

 

 

Parkspeak

““The camping management zones are focused around the national park’s busiest lochshore locations which attract very high numbers of campers year on year.”

Comment.  Lie.  The management zones includes lochs where there was very little camping, like Loch Arklet, and other areas, where again there is very little camping, as is clearly shown by the Park’s own data (above) presented to the LLTNPA Board in 2013 but then suppressed.

 

 

Parkspeak

“This volume, combined with the antisocial behaviour of a minority of campers over a number of years, has a significantly damaging effect on the environment and a negative impact on other visitors and local communities.”

Comment.  The Park’s evidence of significant damage to the environment consists of photographs such as the one below presented to yet another whole day secret Board meeting on 19/09/16:

Obtained through FOI

I am against litter, but to claim this is significant damage to the environment is, forgive the pun, rubbish.  There is a small patch of burnt grass and litter which could be cleared up in 10 minutes – that’s it.  Because of “damage” like this which is caused by about 1% of campers  the Park wants to remove camping rights from everyone else and turn them into criminals.   The police officer I met the other week by Loch Venachar House, home of Linda McKay, the Park Convener who retired yesterday – and note in the insert in the top slide the little red symbol at the east end of Loch Venachar denoting high levels of camping just next door where she was building her new house (see here) – who had often camped there, put it to me that the few are spoiling it for the many.  When I asked him though, “what about the rights of the many”?, his comment was “right enough”.    

 

In fact the LLTNPA has never taken any objective view of damage at all as these  recent photos from north side of Loch Venachar show:

19/01/17 Milton of Callendar farm

Which is worse, the rubbish left by campers or that permanently dumped around Milton of Callendar farm just north of Loch Venachar?

Another view of the rubbish looking south to Loch Venachar, so how can the LLTNPA claim that a little burned patch of grass constitutes damage compared to all the ground damage done here?

How many trees have been cut down here along the road compared to those chopped by a very small minority of campers? I suspect on this small stretch of road more trees have been chopped by the roads department than are chopped by all rogue campers in the Park in a year.

 

 

All these photos are taken in the North Trossachs Management zone (see below) – so you can’t camp, not that you’d want to, in the field next door to all the rubbish dumped around the farm because of the risk that you might do damage to this fragile environment.  What  is the LLTNPA doing about the real damage that is taking place in the National Park?

 

 

The risk of this failure to look at damage objectively, and the failure of civil servants to scrutinise the LLTNPA’s arguments,  is that the same arguments will be used to justify camping bans or other restrictions on access rights right across across Scotland.

 

Parkspeak

Gordon Watson, Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, said: “Camping is one of the best ways to get out and enjoy the stunning surroundings we have in the National Park and there is every kind of camping experience on offer here.

“The new byelaws do not change that. Whether you’re an experienced camper, coming on your own or with your friends and family, there is still a wide choice of places to camp in the National Park. To support this we have opened a new campsite in the Trossachs at Loch Chon and are promoting some excellent locations to ‘wild camp’ with a permit.

Comment.  This is laughable.  How does introducing bye laws that will criminalise people for camping responsibly not change people’s ability to enjoy the Park?   The facts are up to 850 tents have been recorded on popular weekends and the Park is now intending to reduce this to around 300 places:  of these 300 places a number are in campsites and yet more around Forest Drive, one of the least popular places for camping in the Park.  Freedom of access has been replaced by Big Brother telling people where they can camp.

 

Parkspeak

“Most laybys are regulated by roads authorities and are not affected by the new camping management byelaws. A small number of laybys within the Camping Management Zones are regulated by the National Park camping management byelaws.  These will be clearly marked with signage about the byelaws. Anyone can stop and rest in these laybys during the day but you cannot sleep overnight in your vehicle. Where there are places for motorhomes to stay overnight, there will be specific signs making this clear. Permits for staying overnight in these spaces should be booked online in advance at here.”

Comment.  Park staff and civil servants changed the wording of the byelaws to remove the reference to laybys from the definition of what counts as a road and to include private roads (see here).   This is important because its NOT an offence to sleep overnight in a vehicle if you are on a road within a camping management zone and since the legal definition of a road includes the verge it means campervans can stop off alongside roads throughout the camping management zones and, on quiet roads without parking restrictions, on the road itself.    While it is positive the LLTNPA has confirmed people will be able to stop overnight in roads authority laybys, the statement that people cannot stop in a small number of other laybys and these will be signposted raises a number of serious issues:

  • First, what is the legal basis of the Park’s belief that certain laybys do not count as part of the roads network?   What in law is the distinction between an informal and formal layby, and how can the Park justify treating them differently in terms of the current wording of the byelaws?    It is very hard to envisage any informal layby that would not be counted as being part of the road verge and therefore exempt from the byelaw provisions which allow people to sleep overnight in a vehicle on a road.
  • Second, since laybys were originally included in the definition of road but are now excluded, even if one accepted the Park was right in their interpretation and laybys are not included in the normal legal definition of a road, what this would mean is that unelected officials have in effect  changed the meaning of the byelaws or made a “material change”.  This is unlawful.  Its the LLTNPA Board and the Minister who have the right to take such decisions, not officials.   The Minister approved the byelaws subject to minor changes in drafting by officials or “points of detail”, not fundamental changes in their scope (see here).
  • Third, the LLTNPA Board, when it approved a signage plan at its December Board meeting, did not agree to any  signage being placed at stopping off places – something I criticised because people would not know where it was legal to stop.  There has been no Board meeting since.  Either another decision has been taken by the Board in secret or officials have again usurped the rights of the Board to take such decisions.

 

On account of this, if the Park tries to put up any signs along roadsides that suggest it is illegal to stop off and spend the night in a vehicle, I think they will be open to legal challenge.

 

Parkspeak

“Given the dramatic transformation seen on east Loch Lomond since bylaws were introduced there in 2011, we are confident we will see improvements with more responsible behaviour and less damage to the environment.”

 

Comment   The changes on east Loch Lomond have followed a package of measures including focussed policing.   The LLTNPA is intending to apply just one of those measures, a camping ban, to the rest of the National Park.  The situations are however totally different.   For example, the road to Rowardennan is a dead-end and is a clearway where it is very hard to stop off in contrast to major through roads like the A82 which have 100s of stopping off points.   The LLTNPA has totally failed to consider the implications of this, leaving aside the fact that Fiona Logan, the then Chief Executive, said back in 2011 that if the situation on east Loch Lomond improved they would remove the byelaws there   The fact the byelaws have not been removed on east Loch Lomond – and there is no evidence they continue to be needed – tells you this is all about NIMBYISM.

 

 

Parkspeak

“Our rangers will continue welcoming people and educating them on all the aspects of the park. This will include providing information to make sure all visitors can camp responsibly.

“Our experience on east Loch Lomond is that most people want to do the right thing to help look after such a special place. This is not about looking to catch people out who might be camping in the wrong place, as taking formal action would always be a last resort, but helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly.

Comment    If most people are responsible, as the Park suggests, there is no need for camping byelaws.  Banning people does nothing to help understanding and the bit about “helping them understand where and how they can camp responsibly” is patronising drivel.  If the Park can explain why responsible camping is not possible on the north shore of Loch Arklet, where all camping is banned, and can provide an explanation of just what it is about permit areas that means camping can be done there, and only there, responsibly perhaps they could explain this to the public?   Had they been called to the Scottish Parliament to justify their proposals I am confident they would have collapsed.

 

What next?

The campaign against these unjust laws has, I believe, only just started and unless the National Park changes direction, its likely to sink along with these byelaws.  The first thing that Scottish Ministers need to do is ensure that no-one is prosecuted under the byelaws if they have been behaving according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Slide 17th August 2016. The Park is far more interested in branding than getting signs to be information. How would you know from these signs that the byelaws apply to campervans and motorhomes or shelters?

Ten days ago I received a response to another Freedom of Information request,  EIR 2016-068 Appendix A list meetings of the secret Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board business sessions that took place in 2016.    There were six of them, a slight reduction from the ten  held in 2015 (at the height of the Board plotting on the byelaws) and back to the average since 2010.  That’s still six secret meetings compared to four public meetings, worse than Police Scotland which is rightly being criticised for wanting to hold 50% of its meetings in private (see bottom of last past).    I have also obtained, thanks to the Information Commissioner’s ruling that the Park required to make public if asked written materials from such sessions,  written materials circulated at these meetings.  The LLTNPA has not put these on the FOI section of its website – indeed so far it has put up none of its FOI responses sent out in 2017 – so if you are interested in seeing/scrutinising any of them please contact parkswatch which will cover some of them in due course.

 

This post covers the secret Board Meeting held on 17th August 2016 which was devoted wholly to  camping YP Informal Briefing – 17th August 2016 – FINAL Staff.  While the agenda described it as an informal briefing, that is quite obviously false as you can see from this slide:

 

Recommendations are not made to informal briefing sessions, only to decision making meetings.  The whole way the LLTNPA Board has operated in developing the byelaws is corrupt.

 

The content of the slide is of great significance.   It shows there still appear a few decent staff in the Park, who are prepared to hang on to their principles, because they recommended to the Board there should be NO charge for camping permits. (You can see the logic in the argument in the full presentation 20160817 – Your Park Camping Management Models Final).     Indeed, staff estimated only c£6k would be raised through sale of permits, so it was hardly worth doing and in fact they thought the costs of collecting the money might be more than that.   However, staff appear to have been overruled by the Board  because in the paper to the Board in 2016 (see here) in the section on “Permits: Charging considerations” (paras 5.8ff) there was no reference to the principle of charging for access, the  proposal to accept donations had disappeared completely and instead there was only one option, to charge £3.    This makes it pretty clear that its the Board that is behind charging for access and is yet another example of the Board acting ultra vires because it is supposed to take decisions in public.   Reason enough for the Scottish Government to intervene now and insist all charges for permits are dropped.

 

Another example of secret decision making is that in the August slides the original proposal for campsite fees was £7.50 (up from £5 due to the extravagant costs of creating the Loch Chon campsite) but the option put to the Board in December and then approved was £7.  Perhaps the reduction in charge was because in October 2016 this is what the LLTNPA told the Scottish Government in response to a question about charges:

 

 

 

 

No indication there that the Park had been discussing a 40-45% increase in charges: the Scottish Government civil servants don’t appear to have appreciated yet that they really cannot trust anything that the Park tells them.

 

The development of the Your Park signage

 

While there was very little debate on charging at the December Board Meeting, there was debate on the signage examples accompanying the Board paper  some of which was quite encouraging (see here). What I and other members of the public did not appreciate at the time was that the Board had already discussed all of this in August.   No wonder staff looked put out when Board Members belatedly realised and suddenly started to insist, quite rightly, that there should be signs telling people when they were leaving the camping management zones.

 

A comparison of the August proposals with those put to the Board in December  (see here) is revealing:

The signage examples presented to the Board at their secret meeting in August 2016.  The permit area sign and colouring was in paper approved at the public Board Meeting in December 2016.

The “NO CAMPING HERE” signs, proposed at the secret Board Meeting in August were completely absent from the December Board paper and it appears the Board decided there shouldn’t be such signs at the August meeting.   I says “appears” because it is possible the Park decided NOT to present the “NO CAMPING HERE” in December because this would appear anti-access:  because there were no camping management signs of any description when I visited the Trossachs a week ago (they were supposed to be put up from the beginning of February), I was unable to check.

 

If NO CAMPING HERE signs are now being erected, then it appears that has been done contrary to the approval given at the Board Meeting in December.  If, however, the LLTNPA has indeed  decided there should be no NO CAMPIMG HERE signs, that will make the byelaws even harder to enforce.   The problem is neatly illustrated by the slide below presented at the August secret Board meeting:

 

The A82 is a major through route with tens of thousands of people driving along it each year.  So, drivers glimpse a sign as they roar past at 60mph saying “Camping Management Zone”  and even possibly “Camping in the Park”.   What would your reaction be?  Great, let’s find somewhere, stop and pitch our tents…………….so unless there is a NO CAMPING HERE sign in every single stopping off point, as was proposed back in August,  what’s going to happen is people are going to pitch tents and completely unknowingly committed a criminal offence.   The NO CAMPING HERE signs put to the August meeting were crucial for enforcement purposes.

 

However, what do the NO CAMPING HERE signs tell the public apart from tents are not allowed?  What about campervans, motorhomes or sleeping in the back of the car?    And, then consider the wording of the byelaws:

 

Unauthorised Camping
(6) It shall be an offence for a person to:
(a) set up, use or occupy a tent, wigwam or bivouac at any time; or
(b) set up, use or occupy overnight any other form of shelter (other than an umbrella)
within a Management Zone unless they have been authorised to do so by the Authority
under byelaw 11.

 

Does the NO CAMPING HERE sign give you the message that pulling off in a campervan or putting up any other form of shelter apart from an umbrella is a criminal offence?   How on earth will the fishermen or anyone else know from the signage that hanging a tarp between trees or putting up one of those fishing shelters are criminal offences, with fines of up to £500, which could result in them losing their jobs or being prevented from travelling abroad?  They won’t.

 

The LLTNPA’s signage, whether or not it includes the “NO CAMPING HERE” sign is completely inadequate.   The Park is pretending to be in favour of camping and encouraging it (“camping management zones”, “camping in the park”) while at the same time trying to ban it.  Its then tried to reduce the criminal law to a branding exercise where people are supposed to be able to tell from signs and symbols what they can and can’t do.   This won’t work.

 

Even if the Park put the NO CAMPING HERE signs in every layby and added smallprint so people could see shelters were banned it would still not tell campervans where it is legal to stop off overnight.  The Park would need to put signs up indicating to campervaners all the private roads in the Park (where you can stay overnight in a vehicle) for the byelaws to be properly understood.  That is never going to happen and as a consequence the byelaws are unenforceable.

 

The consequences of this is the Park is going to have to deploy its Rangers, as they do at present on Loch Lomond, chasing away campers and campervaners from every place that is not properly signed.  This is a complete waste of resource.   The new Convener, James Stuart, when he starts on Wednesday, needs to signal a completely new direction for the Park otherwise its going to sink.

Following my posts (see here) and (here) on the rights of and need for National Park Board Members to speak out, this excellent letter appeared in the Strathie this week.  (I know Peter very slightly, he preceded me on the Board of SNH, but I have not had contact with him for c 10 years).

 

What I think Peter has missed – and which I have only found out in the last week – is that the right to speak out is not just about the Code of Conduct but also the CNPA’s Standing Orders (the rules which set out how the Board operates).  They include this clause:

 

30. Board Members share corporate responsibility for decisions taken by the Board as a whole. Members must therefore either accept and publicly support the collective decision of the Board or resign. Members must respect the confidentiality of sensitive information held by the organisation, as well as the discussions and papers taken in private session.

 

In other words, once the Park Board has taken a decision, Board Members are gagged under the rules of the Park.     While Peter Argyle denies that he tried to get Cllr Lobban to resign, it appears if he had done so he would have only have been following the rules of the National Park.

 

I found this quite extraordinary so I checked the rules of three other environmental Non-Departmental Public Bodies.   Neither SNH or the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park contain similar clauses in their Standing Orders.  However, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a similar if less draconian gagging clause:

 
Collective Responsibility and Confidentiality
79.SEPA’s boards and committees operate on the basis of collective responsibility for decisions.
Members are therefore expected, if questioned on a matter where a board or committee has
taken a view, to support the position reached

 

The gagging clauses appear to be incompatible with the Code of Conduct for Board Members.  For example all four Boards have a clause in their Code of Conduct on Accountability and Stewardship which reads as follows:

 

You are accountable for your decisions and actions to the public. You have a duty to
consider issues on their merits, taking account of the views of others and must ensure that
SNH uses its resources prudently and in accordance with the law.

 

It appears that the CNPA is try to make Members accountable to itself rather than to the public.   This is wrong.

 

That this is not just a National Park or environmental NDPB issue is demonstrated by Paul Hutcheon’s investigation in Friday’s Herald on the resignation of Moi Ali from the Scottish Police Authority after the chair tried to silence her (see here).  The parallels with CNPA Board Convener Peter Argyle’s alleged attempt to silence Cllr Bill Lobban are striking and one can’t help thinking that Moi Ali should have followed Cllr Lobban’s lead and refused to resign.

 

The story also mirrors other things that have been happening in our National Parks.  The Scottish Police Authority’s attempt to delay publication of Board Papers until the day of the meeting mirrors the LLTNPA decision in 2015 to change their Standing Orders so that papers only needed to be published 3 days (instead of 7) before meetings.   If you don’t know what’s on the agenda of course, you don’t know if its worth attending.    The increasing propensity of the SPA to meet in private, which led to Moi Ali’s resignation, is nothing compared to the LLTNPA which developed the camping byelaws which are due to come into force next week over 12 secret Board Briefing sessions between September 2013 and April 2015.   Moi Ali’s observation that “If dissent is only allowed privately, then I think decision-making becomes enshrouded in a type of fog” seems a pretty good description of the byelaw making process.

 

What the experience of the LLTNPA also demonstrates is that you don’t need formal gagging orders enshrined in Standing Orders in order to silence Board Members.  The problems go far deeper than that and appear to be linked to a style of leadership which appears authoritarian rather than democratic.

 

What needs to happen

 

The inclusion of gagging orders in NDPB Standing Orders conflicts with the Code of Conduct for Ethical Standards in Public Life for Members of those Boards.  While members of the CNPA Board therefore need to review their standing orders, the Standards Commission which oversees and enforces the Code of Conduct for NDPB Board Members, should have a role here.   What the public, to whom Board Members are accountable, deserve to know is the extent to which Board rules and practices enable and facilitate individual members to abide by their Codes of Conduct.

 

The Scottish Government also needs to start taking an interest in how our National Parks operate and to introduce reforms which would increase transparency and public accountability.    That should include the abolition of gagging orders – what is a Board Member not even allowed to approach the Minister if s/he thinks a decision by the Board is fundamentally flawed.   I would also like these to include a requirement that Board Meetings should always be held in public (with any confidential business held in private at the end of the meeting), that all Board Meeting should be recorded as available as pod/broadcasts for at least a year after the meeting and that papers for meetings should appear at least one week before the meeting is held.

Unlawful sign, Loch Lubnaig, last Sunday. Even if the camping byelaws come into force next week, such signs will still be unlawful because camping is not banned for the whole year even in camping management zones. The sign has been up for several years and National Park staff must have passed it frequently but none have taken action.  That tells you something about the LLTNPA’s attitude to access rights.

Alteration of the camping byelaws

The camping byelaws that now appear on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park website (see here) differ signficantly from those approved by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board and then sent to the Minister (see here).    This came as a surprise to me because the then Minister, Aileen McLeod, in her letter to LLTNPA approving the byelaws (see here) only made one formal modification to the byelaws, reducing the length of time they apply by one month.   I have asked the Scottish Government civil servants if they made the changes but they have treated this as an FOI request which means they can delay responding for a few weeks.

 

I had not picked up on these changes when previously commenting on the wording of the byelaws (my apologies to readers for this), and the changes do have some implications of what I wrote on campervans (here) and (here) and lighting fires.    I have detailed all the changes in a line by line comparison of the byelaws approved by the Board with those that have now been published.

 

The most significant changes are:

 

  • Instead of saying “no person shall sleep overnight”,  the byelaws now say “it shall be an offence…...”   This makes it crystal clear that the purpose behind the byelaws is to criminalise people simply for camping (with a £500 fine and criminal record) although senior Park staff keep claiming in their usual parkspeak there is not a ban.
  •  Instead of stating that people sleeping overnight in vehicles are exempt from the byelaws if the vehicle is on a public road or car park operated by the roads authority  the exemption now applies to people sleeping overnight in vehicles on roads, as defined by the Roads Traffic Act 1984.    Under that Act the definition of a road includes both public and private roads.  This means that the exemption for campervans and caravans is far wider than I had previously stated although, to add to the confusion, the ability to stop overnight in carparks operated by the roads authority may have been reduced (FOI requests have established there are not that many carparks operated by the Roads Authorities in the National Park and in most of them overnight stays have been banned under the Road Traffic Acts).
  • The definition of “damage” which was used in the Your Park consultation and rejected on the advice of SNH has been re-introduced to the byelaws.   (SNH have not been consulted on this – I have checked – or any other changes since the byelaws were approved by the Board).

 

In my view, none of the process through which the camping byelaws have been developed is  legitimate (e.g the LLTNPA failed to consult their Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee, before they had decided what they wished to do, fiddled the results of the byelaw consultation process, took decision outside public Board Meetings etc).   The whole process would make an ideal case study of how the process of good government can be corrupted.  However, that civil servants and LLTNPA staff appear to have taken it upon themselves to “improve” the byelaws (if the Minister made these changes she surely would have stated this in her letter) hits a new low and is an absolute indictment of the way officials, who are meant to serve the public, operate.

 

Whether this could be successfully challenged legally I don’t know, but it raises serious issues about how byelaws are created.   Byelaws are serious, they can criminalise people, but unlike other criminal laws they are not scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament and then decided democratically by majority vote.  Instead, it appears civil servants have the power to  alter the wording, and thus the extent and effect of what becomes criminal, on a whim.   They have not even consulted SNH the Government’s statutory adviser on access rights.    This is totally wrong.

 

The meaning and likely impact of the changes in wording

 

The changes to the camping byelaws have not made them any clearer, will have unintended consequences and raise further issues about enforcement.

 

Campervans and vehicles

 

The change of the scope of the exemption to allow people to sleep  overnight in vehicles to include private roads, opens up far more and better areas for campervans and caravans to spend the night.   I had previously commented that campervans might be forced into villages, as these were the one place you could be certain you were on the public roads network.  That now appears less likely as generally private roads offer more attractive places to spend the night than public roads.   To give one example, who would not rather pull onto the private road leading to the Ben Ledi carpark (in the Trossachs North camping zone), where cars already park in the day, rather than spend the night on the verge of the busy A84 through Strathyre?

 

There are dozens of private roads in the National Park, so this change probably drives a coach and horses through the byelaws – a good result if unintended in my view –  but the problem is what counts as a “private road”.   For example, what about tracks down to jetties on the loch side?     I suspect they do count as they are obviously going somewhere, but what about a vehicle track down to a loch used by the owners to go fishing?   Because of this uncertainty, one possible consequence is campervaners will stop off on the verges of the most obvious private roads, which are usually those leading to houses, rather than places they would prefer to stay.

 

Originally one of the main claimed purposes and justifications of the byelaws was to prevent overnight stops and encampments in laybys and the LLTNPA sold the byelaws to local communities on the basis that they were all about keeping anti-social campers away from where people lived.   While the Park has gone very quiet on campervans and motorhomes, there is a little give away on the “camping” section of their website:

.

In order to protect some of our most cherished lochshores, byelaws covering camping and firelighting are in place in certain areas from March to September.

During this time, you will need a permit to camp or (in some locations) to stay overnight in your motorhome in these Camping Management Zones.

 

What I believe I have shown is the locations where people will be unable to stop off overnight in a vehicle are probably very few.   While the changes to the byelaws appear to have made it more difficult for people to stop off overnight in vehicles in carparks, as even carparks run by the Roads Authority are no longer exempt from the byelaws, anyone can now in theory stop off on the private roads leading to car parks!

 

The problem here is the legal position of where people can and cannot stop overnight in vehicles is totally unclear.  First, the Park has completely failed so far to say what counts as a private road or not, and I doubt it will ever be able to do so, the legal position is far too complicated.  What instructions it has issued to its Rangers, who are supposed to enforce the byelaws, so they don’t hassle or try to refer people to the Procurator Fiscal who have not broken the byelaws, is unclear.  Second, how will the public know unless there is a sign by every private road?   There is no plan to do this and the cost would be prohibitive.  People sleeping in vehicles therefore will find it very difficult to know where they stand.  It may all come down to who is prepared to stand up for their rights and challenge the LLTNPA.  This is all wrong.

 

SNH in their response to the camping byelaws stated this quite clearly:

 

“The byelaws must be reasonable, proportionate and clear (the actions that are an offence) if they are to command support from the publíc”

 

The camping byelaws are not reasonable, proportionate or clear about where people can sleep overnight in campervans and vehicles.  These byelaws would never have been passed if they had been scrutinised properly, for example by the Scottish Parliament.

 

Damage caused by fires and collecting wood

 

What the re-introduction into the byelaws of the definition of damage rejected by SNH does is potentially to make any fire within a management zone unlawful.   The problem here is twofold:  what constitutes damage or what activities could be said likely to cause damage is subjective;  and how will the Park let people know what is responsible?  I had asked  the Park some time ago about the meaning of the word “damage” in respect of fires before realising a definition had been re-inserted into the byelaws, and received this response EIR 2017-001 Final Response fires.    Its still relevant as the Park was responding based on the definition of damage inserted into the byelaws.  It failed to provide answers to any of the scenarios I had raised and its unclear which of them could turn you into a criminal.

 

Since the response, the Park has added information on what constitutes damage caused by fires and collecting wood to  the camping section of the Park website (under permit terms and conditions) (see here).  If you are not camping but simply going for a picnic or staying in a vehicle overnight on a road and want to have a fire, you are unlikely to have any idea of this or what activities could turn you into a criminal.   While the Park could improve the information of their website,  the much more serious  issue is how will people know what is lawful unless there are signs everywhere spelling out what is and is not allowed in respect of fires?

 

The information contained in the terms and conditions for camping permits suggests that the LLTNPA is now interpreting “any damage” to mean that if you burn wood that you find, that is criminal offence, but its ok to bring your own.   If that was the intention of the byelaws, it would have been  clearer if they had simply said what is in the permits:  “Should you wish to light a fire, you must bring your own firewood and kindling”.    After spelling out the offences you could be committing, the terms and conditions include a  section on “Advice for Campers” which is far more like the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  However, taken with the all-encompassing definition of damage in the byelaws themselves, this “Advice” just adds to the confusion: 

 

Wherever possible use a stove or fire bowl.
If you have an open fire keep it small, on a surface that cannot be easily damaged, under control, supervised and bring you rown wood,or other kindling
Comment:  so when does having an open fire count as causing damage and a breach of the byelaws which will turn you into a criminal?    So when will Park Rangers count open fires as causing damage with breaking the byelaws and try and turn them into criminals?   I am none the clearer from reading this.  It will probably depend on the Rangers who’s on duty at the time.  That is totally wrong.

 

Enforcement Policy

 

The lack of clarity over the meaning of the byelaws, and therefore what activities are and aren’t legal, raises issues about enforcement.   I have been asking the LLTNPA about this for some time and in January received EIR REVIEW 2016-057 Response-1 Enforcement policy.

 

The most important part of this letter – which is full of the usual obfuscation – is the statement at the end:

 

Finally, given your interest in the enforcement of the byelaws, the Your Park project team is currently in the process of developing an Enforcement Policy. This will be released to the public in due course via our website

 

It will be interesting to see if this policy provides clear guidance to Park rangers on all the issues that have been raised on Parkswatch but the most important thing here to note is that any Park Policy should be srutinised and then approved by the Board.    The camping byelaws thus cannot be enforced on 1st March as there is no Board Meeting scheduled till mid-March.

 

I would go further and suggest that the Minister for Environment and Ministers for Justice in the Scottish Government should comment on this policy before it is put into effect  because of the significant implications for who could be made a criminal or not.    Were Ministers to do this, and not rely on opinions of their civil servants, they would realise the byelaws as they relate to campervans and sleeping overnight in vehicles are unworkable and, as a consequence of this, there is a complete lack of parity between how campers and campervaners are affected by the byelaws which undermines their whole rationale.

 

What can be done?

 

Its only a matter of time before someone decides to challenge the legal basis of the byelaws.  As soon as someone is referred to the Procurator Fiscal for lighting a fire or sleeping in a vehicle for example, it should be possible to challenge the LLTNPA  without incurring great costs.

 

The LLTNPA’s success in enforcing  these byelaws mainly depends on bluff.  This is not just about the impossibility of enforcing badly wordly byelaws,  the Park clearly wants to make camping in a tent in a management zone a criminal offence, but if the Park tries to refer lots of innocent campers camping according to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to the Procurator Fiscal, their reputation will collapse.    If people call the Park’s bluff,  the byelaws will collapse.

 

In the longer term we need to prevent this situation recurring.  A good way to ensure this would be if ALL byelaws affecting access and thus access rights could be called in for scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament.

 

Meantime, people could follow the excellent advice from Cameron McNeish in his article on Walk Highland and write to Scottish Ministers asking them to intervene

 

A look to the future?

 

The “temporary” construction track looking north towards Dalwhinnie. Note the piles of spoil running alongside the left of the track – an artificial esker!

Following my  post about the failure to restore the destruction caused by the Beauly Denny  by the developer, Scottish and Southern Electric, I went last Monday to have a look at the section of the “temporary” construction track on the Drumochter Estate.

 

Under the Beauly Denny planning application determined by the Scottish Government, all construction tracks were to be fully restored.  The Drumochter Estate however submitted an application in 2013 to the Cairngorms National Park Authority to retain the section of track on their estate.   The first application was refused, mainly because the estate wanted to keep the entire section of track which ran through the estate.   The section south of North Drumochter Lodge ran into the Drumochter Special Area of Conservation – why is it that only European designated sites appear to have any teeth?  – and cut across the open hillside.  The revised application removed the southern section of track but is still 4.7 km in length.

The track granted planning permission runs from 750m south of Drumochter Lodge to just south-east of Dalwhinnie. Most of it is hidden from A9 by a shelter belt of trees.

 

The Committee Report which considered the application in February 2015 track planning application was very thorough.  The CNPA had opposed the Beauly Denny, was concerned about the proposed track, but was won over by arguments that with the new A9 dualling would make it very difficult for estate vehicles to access the existing hill tracks onto the east side of Drumochter.   Their assessment of the construction track was pretty damning:

 

However, the assessment of staff was that as long as the construction track was narrowed considerably – to a maximum of 3m – and the spoil heaps used to do this, retention of the track was acceptable:

 

The North East Mountain Trust, which to its credit had objected to the application for the existing track was also persuaded and agreed not to object.   Both the NEMT and the CNPA were no doubt partially persuaded by the illustrations from the estate of what they were proposing:

 

The problem is that two years later absolutely none of what was promised by the estate has happened.

No work has been undertaken to narrow the track from 5m in width and no work undertaken to conceal the plastic culvert

Some of the track is “floating” which means it was created by dumping aggregrate onto the peat in sufficient quantities to support construction vehicles.  Proper restoration would mean all this aggregate being removed.   The estate promised to improve this by narrowing the track to 3m maximim and revegetating the sides using vegetation from a new drainage ditch and seeding.

 

The track is almost two landrover widths and should have been almost halved in breadth according to the planning conditions.

Part of the restoration proposed by the estate was removal of this “hammerhead.   Nothing has been done.  There are piles of spoil in the centre and along right side of the area.

Another view of one side of the hammerhead.  All this ground should have been restored.

Spoil heaps on either side of the opposite section of the hammerhead to that pictured above.

The priority of the estate is indicated by these new grouse butts.  They were being brought in from the A9 by landrover and trailer.  It appears it has suited the estate to retain a large storage area rather than restore the land as promised.

The access to the A9, more spoil heaps on right. The shelter belt helps conceal this mess.

 

The CNPA, again to give it credit, had required that all the works be completed by June 2016:

Six months after the deadline for works to be completed, on the section I looked at at the north end of the proposed track, there is no evidence that any work has been completed.  There are two issues here:

  • first you cannot tell from the planning portal whether the CNPA has agreed in writing with the estate to extend the deadline for completion of the works beyond June 2016 and, if so, the justification for this and what the new deadline is;
  • second, if the CNPA has not agreed an extension, its not clear what enforcement action they have taken if any.

 

Unfortunately, this is yet another planning case where the credibility of our National Parks is at stake.  What appears to be happening in a number of cases from Natural Retreats at Cairngorm to the Bruar Hydro to Drumochter is that the CNPA approved planning applications with conditions which the developer then simply ignores.   The failure of the CNPA to go public about this and use its enforcement powers gives a clear message to developers that as long as they pay someone to complete good looking paperwork, they can do what they want.

 

In the Drumochter access track case there is an added complication.  SSE were supposed to restore this track and, being a huge company, obviously have the resources to do this properly (if there was anyone insisting they should do so).  Having agreed that Drumochter Estate could keep the track, however, the risk is that all obligations of SSE will have been taken over by the estate.   My guess is that will now make it impossible for the CNPA to turn round to the estate and say the planning permission no longer applies and ask SSE to do the works.

 

This supposition is reinforced by the fact that SSE has not been at all co-operative about restoration of the Drumochter and the atrocious standards of the restoration work they have undertaken.

The restoration of the land under the pylons (access track foreground and background) is SSE’s responsibility though the communications I have had from the Scottish Government say its the CNPA’s responsibility to enforce this

The trouble is that the CNPA has allowed them to get away with this.    Although very concerned about the standard of work, and taking time to visit the site, they have then resorted to their normal practice of writing letters rather than taking enforcement action when things go wrong:

 

20. The Convenor advised the Committee on her reflections following site visit with Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) to the Beauly – Denny overhead transmission line that she and other members had attended, along with SNH staff. She advised that it seemed that SSE Officers were not sufficiently clear as to what the restoration of the tracks involved. SSE Officers were also rather vague as to who was ultimately responsible for carrying out the restoration and reinstatement and what standard would be deemed acceptable. Following a full discussion the Committee agreed that Convenor of the Board should write to SSE expressing significant concerns.  (Planning Minute June 2015)

 

The failure of the CNPA to take a robust line against either SSE or the North Drumochter estate means that the CNPA is storing up serious problems for itself at Drumochter and setting further poor precedents for the rest of the National Park.

Slide from the Secret LLTNPA Board Meeting on 9th September 2013 – the slide makes no reference to Linda McKay and senior’s staff’s unsuccessful attempt to try and change our access legislation earlier in 2013

I have been puzzling about the development of the camping byelaws by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park now for some time.  Back in 2011 when the east Loch Lomond camping byelaws were put into place, the then LLTNPA Chief Executive Fiona Logan made a number of statements (these are taken from BBC News Bulletin 10th March 2011:

 

National park chief executive Fiona Logan said she did not believe there were any other areas of the park where similar bans would be “appropriate”

She told BBC Scotland that the by-laws were not permanent and could be revoked if the park was confident the problems had been successfully tackled.

“We would like not to have these laws in three years,” she said.

 

Yet, less than two years later the LLTNP submission to the Land Reform Review Group advocated that the right to camp within a certain distance of a public road should be removed completely from access rights and that sanctions be introduced, in the form of Fixed Penalty Notices, for breaches of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.  This would have completely changed the Land Reform Act.   The LLTNPA proposals were rejected by the Land Reform Review Group which had been charged with reviewing how our access legislation was working in their Interim report of May 2013 and the LLTNPA proposals,  along with other access matters, were  referred to the National Access Forum for further consideration:

 

Members of the Group were given a presentation by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs
National Park which graphically highlighted their concerns………………
However, the general view is that most of the complaints about access will be resolved by better implementation of the Access Code and better visitor management rather than by modifying the legislation. This is the core business of the National Access Forum (NAF) . We therefore propose to share the evidence from the LRRG submissions with the NAF, invite them to review it and to
report back to the Group through our advisers.

 

Just four months after being told by the LRRG that there was no need for the changes in our access laws the LLNPA Board held its first secret meeting to consider using its powers as a National Park Authority to change the law.

 

There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that the National Access Forum ever discussed the LLTNPA submission on camping or that the LLTNPA tried to engage the National Access Forum about visitor management in the National Park.     If this was not a conspiracy, I am not sure what would be.  No wonder the LLTNPA developed its byelaw proposals in secret because if they had done so openly they would have been seen to flout the recommendations of the LRRG.

 

What the Information Response I received last week  EIR 2017-004 Response LRRG and EIR 2017-004 LRRG Appendix A  shows is two things:

 

  • First, the submission which purportedly came from the Loch Lomond National Park Authority to the Land Reform Group was never considered by the Board (this conclusion follows from the Park’s declaration that it holds no information on meetings or communications between Board Members to discuss this matter).
  • Second, that Linda McKay, the Convener of the Board headed the delegation which met with the LRRG on 15th February 2013 to discuss the LLTNPA submission.  This also included Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park, Gordon Watson (current Chief Executive LLTNPA) and Bridget Jones.

 

What this tells us is that  Linda McKay was personally leading the case to change our access laws despite not having discussed or agreed this with her Board.  Just how far individual members of staff were willing participants in this is unclear but Grant Moir had previously said publicly he did not support any further extension of the byelaws.  The submission to the LRRG did say though that this might be reconsidered AFTER the review of the East Loch Lomond byelaws.   That review only took place in March 2014 so what’s quite clear is, that having told the LRRG there were no immediate plans to extend byelaws, someone in the Park then authorised staff to spend time working up proposals to do just that for the Board in September 2013.   That person, it appears, was Linda McKay, the Board Convener.

 

All the evidence therefore now points to Linda McKay, a Scottish Government appointee to the Board who is also a non-executive director of the civil service, as being the driving force behind the camping byelaws.  It appears therefore that she is also responsible for the secretive process that has led to them being approved first by the LLTNPA Board and then approved by the Minister for the Environment.

 

The timeline is as follows:

  • 2011 introduction east Loch Lomond camping byelaws
  • October 2012 – January 2014   Call for evidence LRRG  – LLTNPA submit response
  • 15th February 2013 LLTNPA meeting LRRG led by Linda McKay
  • 20th May 2013 Interim Report form LRRG referring LLTNPA and other submissions to National Access Forum
  • 9th September 2013 first secret “Board Briefing” session to discuss camping byelaws
  • 28th October 2013 most of secret “Board Briefing” session taken up with camping byelaws
  • December 2013 Board Meeting – Visitor Management paper (first time visitor management plans raised publicly, camping just one of number of issues)
  • 17th March 2014 Board Meeting.   Review of East Loch Lomond byelaws signed off and sent to Scottish Government
  •  23rd May 2014 Final report LRRG – proposes no changes to access legislation (just as the LLTNPA was undertaking intensive drive community organisations in the LLTNPA to get them on side for the byelaws)
  • October 2014 launch Your Park consultation proposing byelaws

 

This photo is of same section of restoration work of Beauly Denny line as was featured in Park champions but from below

The purpose of Parkswatch is to try and ensure that our National Parks live up to the aspirations that led to their creation.   The focus is on what is going wrong, trying to understand why this is happening and then suggesting what needs to happen.   In trying to do this, I and other contributors will not always get things right and being an open and critical forum are committed to correcting errors where they occur.

 

I am grateful to the person who, in response to the post on Park Champions,  has  pointed out to me that the Cairngorms National Park Authority were not the planning authority in this case and that the decision was taken by the Scottish Government.   I have also been informed that in relation to extremely poor restoration work, the CNPA  had a number of site meetings with the Developer to express its concerns but, as its not the planning authority in this case, it cannot require the Developer to put the damage right.   In other words its the Scottish Government that needs to be held to account for this.  I am pretty certain this is right and have contacted the Government to try and find out what they have done or are planning to ensure the terrible destruction along the Drumochter is restored properly.

 

 

Besides their objection to the Beauly Denny powerline going through the Drumochter, which was overruled by the Government Reporter, the CNPA has used its powers to reject subsequent planning applications by the Drumochter and Ben Alder estates to retain the tracks that were installed to construct the powerline (see here for Drumochter committee report).   Its worth quoting from that report says:

In other words, there was supposed to be restoration “to ensure the landscape is returned to its pre-works condition”.  The photos show that this clearly has not happened.

 

Indeed while planning permission may have been rejected by the CNPA to make tracks permanent, it appears that tracks are able to create de facto tracks by driving their vehicles along the area of “restored” ground as in the photo above.

 

Re-reading my comment in “Park Champions” I think it was still partially valid.  I accept that it appears the Scottish Government should be taking a lead on ensuring the ground that was destroyed in the construction of the Beauly Denny is properly restored (and it would have been good to have mentioned this), but there is still a question of whether the CNPA is happy with the quality of the work:

 

The photo above is to illustrate the excellent question to Grant Moir by Mark Stephen who observed that in travelling up the A9 corridor on entering the Cairngorms National Park you “are hit” with pylons and asked whether this gave the wrong message?   While Grant explained the CNPA had adopted a policy of no large wind turbines in the National Park, and that national priorities had overriden the objections of the CNPA to the Beauly Denny powerlines, he said nothing about whether the CNPA was happy with the quality of the work. 

The question this case raises is whether the CNPA should have more powers so the Government cannot simply allow breach of planning conditions to be ignored.    This is very relevant to the Drumochter and other parts of the Cairngorms National Park where the project to dual the A9 could have significant impacts on landscape and indeed access (a subject to which I will return).  The CNPA has been trying to influence that process and its vitally important that the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland ensure that the final plans are the best possible for the National Park.  The Beauly Denny may have been in the national interest, but the way its been finished has certainly not been according to the standards we should expect in a National Park.

Slide presented at secret Board Meeting in September 2014.   What do the dots mean?  Surely somebody in the Park must know?

After the Information Commissioner forced the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to make public the slides that had been presented to the Board in the secret Board Briefing Sessions I asked follow up questions about three of those slides, including the one above.  The answer was unsatisfactory EIR 2016-062 Response, so I asked for a review of my request and yesterday received a response EIR REVIEW 2016-062.

 

The answers tell us a lot about the secretive way the Park operates and the conspiracy to undermine access rights:

  • The LLTNPA is simply refusing to tell me (or you the reader or the public) what the different coloured dots on the map of Loch Voil mean.   The FOI Act only requires the public authorities to provide written information, not to explain this information – a weakness in the law demonstrated by the slide above.  So, the slide is supposed to provide to the Board a detailed example of what the Park staff were proposing for Loch Voil  but the Park staff are now refusing to say what this was  (was this campsites, toilets, carparks, signs?).   The Park’s Chief Executive Gordon Watson must know what this means, along I would think with a whole number of Board Members who were at the session, but rather than just be open, it appears the LLTNPA would prefer to keep this secret.  What is there to hide?
  • Much more significant politically is that the Park has now stated quite clearly it has NO information on how it has worked out the number of camping permits.   So, the 300 number, which is the total number of camping places and permits the Park has agreed for the four management zone is totally made up.   Its obviously not based on any evidence of camping impacts or carrying capacity of the land.   It appears the number could have been 500 or 100 so why 300?.   My best guess is the Park has decided this number which would sound ok to Scottish Ministers and is the least it could get away with.  The public and Scottish Government need to realise there is no rationale for this, whether its the Park’s decision to allow just four camping permits along the Invertrossachs shore on Loch Venachar (which just so happens to be where their current Convenor, Linda McKay lives and which was a popular place for camping) or not a single permit along the A82 north of Inveruglas.
  • The response to the third question is interesting because although the Park has dropped any reference to peak weekends, it showed it never had an definition of what these were anyway.  I think its further evidence to show the LLTNPA has tried to create a new terminology to describe camping and campervanning and persuade people into supporting its proposals that is based on a whim, not fact.

 

 

There was more on National Parks on Out of Doors on Saturday http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088flk5 including an interview with Robert Maund, former chair, and Ross Anderson current chair of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks from 36mins.  I am a member of the SCNP Executive Committee.

 

The interview focussed on the economic arguments for National Parks.   This is  because the current view of the Scottish Government is that further National Parks are unaffordable, as expressed recently in the Scottish Parliament by Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment:

 

19/12/16 SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

ORAL ANSWER

15 December 2016
Index Heading: Economy

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party):
To ask the Scottish Government what impact the establishment of a new
national park would have on tourism and conservation.

S5O-00487

Roseanna Cunningham:

While the Scottish Government recognises the important contribution our
existing National Parks make to tourism, conservation and the wider Scottish
economy, any new national parks would incur significant costs. At a time of
pressures on public finances, we do not believe that it is right to raise
expectations regarding the designation of new national parks. We will
therefore continue to focus our support on our existing Parks so that they
can continue their track record of success.


SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT

 

Now while the SCNP has produced a number of reports on National Parks, which illustrate the benefits they can bring (see here),  in my view those benefits ultimately are attributable to the power of the idea.  National Parks conjure up the idea of special places.   So, if you are visiting a country and want to see special places, there is fair chance you will choose a National Park.  If you have lots of National Parks, then you are a country really worth visiting.  Its not surprising they bring economic benefits

 

That same idea though has implications for the way the land is managed.   People don’t choose to go to National Parks because they want to visit a theme park – that’s why 33,000 odd people signed a petition against Flamingo Land within a few days – they understood, a gut response determined somewhere in the collective unconcious, but very real, that this is not what National Parks should be for.  Conversely, people instinctively understand that National Parks should be about wildlife and that there is something very wrong when our National Parks are unable to protect raptors and other species from persecution.

 

I set up Parkswatch because our National Parks weren’t living up to the idea, the ideal, and needed watching.  The reasons for this are complex, and worth analysing – indeed much of parkswatch is about why things are going so wrong in our National Parks – and Roseanna Cunningham’s claims that our two existing National Parks have “a track record of success” is in my view a long long way from the truth.      There are people I respect, who think our current National Parks have so tainted the ideal that they are opposed to any further National Parks in Scotland.   There are other people, who I also respect, who are loathe to criticise our two National Parks but who are trying to work behind the scenes to remedy their faults.   My own view, is different.  I don’t think there is anything inconsistent in using the power of the idea  to criticise our existing National Parks – and prevent the idea and ideal being eroded – and to argue that Scotland needs more National Parks.      That’s why I will be helping at the SCNP stall in the Scottish Parliament this week, putting the case for new National Parks, while continuing to criticise our existing ones.

 

What I’d say to Roseanna Cunningham, if I get to meet her, is cost should not be the primary consideration when it comes to National Parks.    What should come first is protecting land and nature for people to enjoy and the real question is does the Scottish Government wish to do that?   Not cost.   Indeed I might quote Mike Reynolds, head of the National Park Service in the  USA, who talking about landownership near the beginning of the Out of Doors programme asked if private landowners didn’t work towards National Park objectives, why wouldn’t you nationalise the land?   This from neo-liberal America.   As long as the Scottish Government does not allow National Parks to do stupid things – such as the LLTNPA spending £345k on the Loch Lomond Campsite and deploying dozens of rangers in a quasi police force to stop innocent campers camping – National Parks will repay the investment.  The Scottish Government needs to think again, both about new National Parks and how our existing National Parks have failed to deliver their potential.

The second letter, while not about explicitly National Parks, could be – our National Parks are failing both wildlife and visitors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following my post (see here) on the discussion of litter at the last Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board meeting, it was good to see Peter Jack’s lead letter to the Herald.  I hope this will help bring the failures of the National Park to the attention of a different audience.  (And if you didn’t see the excellent letter from Dave Morris the previous week on the VisitScotland initiative to promote wild camping just as the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority is trying to ban it………….. (see here))  

After my post, a reader gently reminded me that a few years ago the LLTNPA had made a serious attempt to tackle litter.   This was when Grant Moir, now Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, was at the LLTNPA and Kevin Findlater was Chief Inspector of the police for the Trossachs Area.  Their efforts culiminated in the Five Lochs Visitor Management Plan in 2012.  It had a whole page on actions to address litter which is worth reading in full.
While I have covered on several occasions the LLTNPA’s failure to implement the (excellent) plans for campsites contained in the 5 Lochs VMP,  I have not covered LLTNPA’s abandonment of other aspects of that plan – litter was one of them.  Actions originally planned for 2012-13 – the first Keep Scotland Beautiful Litter Audit was one of them – were generally delivered but after that almost nothing:
  •  Litter strategy for 5 Lochs Area – planned 13/14; never delivered
  •  Implement new powers rangers to award fixed penalty notices – planned 13/14 – delivered June 2016
  •  Creation of recycling points – apparently abandoned e.g Loch Venachar north carpark constructed without recycling point which was on original plans
  • Litter signage; never delivered (thought Park now spending £100k on no camping signs)

 

There appear two explanations for why the 5 Lochs Visitor Management Plan appears to have ground to a halt in 2013.  First, Grant Moir, the driving force in the LLTNPA behind the 5 Lochs Plan left the Park Authority in that year.  He was replaced by as Director of Conservation and Visitor Management by Gordon Watson who is now Chief Executive.  Second, in September 2013 the Board started its secret discussion of camping byelaws.   Whether the change in direction was decided by the LLTNPA Board or its senior staff, I am still trying to find out, but it does seem clear is that in 2013 the Park abandoned its plans to tackle litter and instead started to focus on how it could ban campers.

 

Since my post on litter and the Board Meeting, the LLTNPA has responded  to questions I asked about the long delayed Keep Scotland Beautiful litter audit (see here).   While the LLTNPA published the litter report soon after receiving it on 18th November, EIR 2016-063 Response date KSB litter report received, what’s interesting is that the LLTNPA had three meetings with Keep Scotland Beautiful about the Report in April, June and September.  Its hard to see how LLTNPA could have met KSB about the report unless it had been provided with some documentation, and harder still to understand why there was 3 months between meetings unless KSB had been asked to undertake extensive re-writes.  If this is right, the fact the LLTNPA holds no drafts – as stated in the letter – suggests that it has deliberately decided to destroy them.  This suggests that the first draft of the report may have contained some inconvenient truths LLTNPA did not wish to see in print.  (If this interpretation is wrong I would be very happy to publish a response from the Park explaining how it could have three meetings about one report and not hold any information on it).

 

All of this adds further support to Peter Jack’s theory that in order to restrict camping rights, it has suited the Park not to have tackled the litter problem.   Unfortunately I think it is unlikely the Scottish Government will order a full inquiry into the Park’s failure to tackle litter because any objective look at litter would involve an examination of the failures of its own agency, Transport Scotland, to keep the verges along the trunk roads in the National Park clean.   Keep Scotland Beautiful was not apparently asked to look at that.

At the Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board Meeting on 12th December Bob Ellis, the Board Member on the Local Access Forum, reported he had been to visit the Loch Chon campsite and suggested other Board Members might also visit.  Having visited last Sunday to look at the work in progress I recommend they do so, to understand where “camping in the park” is going wrong.

I am not sure why the Local Access Forum needed to visit – unless it was to take a look at the gate in the photo above, which Forestry Commission Scotland had installed and had stopped canoeists from accessing the loch.  I guess the Park was trying to persuade access forum members that it was worth sacrificing access rights for this campsite.

 

The former car parking area. Large amounts of aggregate have been imported to create a path network and new car parking areas in anticipation of all 26 pitches being full at the same time.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

If I was a member of the LAF the first question I would have asked is why with all this space is there not provision for a single campervan place in the new campsite?   Indeed why are campervans being banned completely from the Strathard Camping Management zone Strathard?  There is no rational reason for this.   As Strathard is relatively remote and has no public transport at least people with campervans might be able to get to Loch Chon, unlike the campers who have no car, and might even be able to afford the £7 per person per night camping fee, income which the Park desperately needs to pay for this unwanted campsite.   I predict the Park will be forced to allow campervans to stay at Loch Chon sooner rather than later.

Photo credit Louise Brimelow

The second question I would have asked the Park is why, when the rationale for this campsite was to prevent campers causing damage, is so much destruction taking place?

Trees have been chopped and cleared………because……….of all the damage uncontrolled camping is apparently doing to trees

The new car parking area where the toilet block will be situated. Note the large quantities of aggregate dumped on the ground in the foreground to create a surface for vehicles and more chopped trees on left.,

Compare the damage to ground vegetation that has been caused here by these works compared to all the damage that has ever been done by campers, responsible or not.

Photo credit LLTNPA planning committee report September 2016

This photo gives an impression of how the area looked before the LLTNPA started work on the new car park.   I am not against new campsites, indeed I have argued for them, but a campsite of this scale was never needed for this location.  The destruction is therefore unjustifiable.

The new car parking area and site for toilets

Its ironic that the National Park which claims it was against roadside camping has extended a road into the woods in order to let people to park their vehicles close to the fixed camping pitches.  There is a reason for this of course, the pitches are singularly unattractive for camping and if you could not park your car relatively close to them no-one would even have visited the campsite.

 

New track up to camping pitch. This track is almost certainly too steep and the aggregate is likely to wash away.

An extensive new pathwork, with side paths to each pitch has been created.  Paths were  needed because without them no-one would be able to find the “pitches” which in the the places where people have camped here up to now being up the hill and away from the loch.  Still, on the Park’s logic, what was the justification for this type of path which would be more suited to an urban park than an area which the Park now claims is for “wild camping”?

The westernmost pitch is about the nearest to the lochshore and has traditionally been used for camping. Compare the old path with the end of the new path which you can just see on the far left.

The Park didn’t even think of using the tracks that were already there and which blended into the environment.  Instead it decided to create new paths which are totally out of keeping with the environment and unnecessary.

Same view from 50m further east. You can just see line of old path on right through the coppice. Photo Credit Louise Brimelow
This is the claim the LLTNPA made in their Committee Report

Most of the old narrow paths people used to use have been obliterated by the new construction.  Is any of the new pathwork or carparks really “sympathetic to the rural setting”?    In my view most of the work was completely unnecessary and very costly.

By the time we visited most of the path construction was complete.  The final bit of path to be constructed will follow the line between the red netting up the hill. This is to access two camping pitches, one where the path bends and another up the hill.   Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

It appears the Park planners prefer aggregate to grass.   That’s not the right choice in what is supposed to be a National Park.

Proposed camping pitch on hillside, it slopes and no camper in their right mind would choose to camp here.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

Whoever has selected the camping pitches appears to knows nothing about camping. This site is sloping.  The LLTNPA Committee Report stated that “To form the camping pitches, apart from some light scraping of the ground no ground works are required”.    The Park is though proposing to cover the pitches in bark and on this one its likely to slide down the hillside.

 

There was no evidence – and I looked at every pitch  – that anyone had ever camped there except in one case.   Most of the pitches are  singularly unattractive for camping.

The stakes mark the site of the proposed pitches

Would you choose to camp here even if the polytrichum moss is scraped away and replaced by bark as the Park is proposing?

Another sloping pitch at top of sloping section of path still to be constructed.  The evidence of the woodland clearing that has been necessary to create this unsuitable camping pitch is obvious.

Another pitch, prior to scraping

This is about as close to the park shore as campers will be allowed to camp

Pitch after scraping and before bark is laid

 

While several of the pitches on the hillside are sloping, many of those on the lower ground while flat are not  well drained and would never normally be chosen by campers.

  It appears that in order to make this “pitch” campable the Park has dumped aggregrate onto the ground by the tree to firm it up.

 

The basic problem is the thinking of the Park.  They want to stop people camping by the loch shores at whatever cost so most of the pitches are up the hill or – if you look at sign in first photo – on the inland sign of the path where it goes close to the shore.   The places where people currently camp – chosen because they are good places for camping – are by the lochshore and on well drained ground with grazed turf.  Its also worth noting that many people go camping to be sociable, they want to camp in groups and talk round a fire.  The Park wants to segregate people – Simon Jones Director of Conservation at the Board indicated pitches in permit areas would be 5m x 5m maximum, too small for several tents to camp  – and if this is applied to Loch Chon, why would groups, including families, ever come?

The remains from fire in foreground is less than 5m from loch shore. You can see how Park is not going to allow people to camp here in future, despite this site being adjacent to the path, but instead will force people to camp on inland side of path off short spur rear right.

In the BBC coverage of Loch Chon (see here) the Ranger was filmed talking about the damage done by fires.  The two fire pits in the  photo above (the only ones on this section of shore) are contrary to Scottish Outdoor Access Code which states you should leave no trace of the fire.  However, putting it into perspective almost as much ground has been affected by mole heaps and this is nothing compared to the new path behind.

The fire pit referred to by the Ranger in the BBC interview – if this was so objectionable why did not Gordon Watson, the Chief Executive or the Ranger bother to clear it up after the interview? I left it there.

The Ranger in the BBC interview referred to the damage done by tents.  The only bare patches that I spotted along the whole of Loch Chon were in this and the succeeding photo and the only patch that was almost certainly caused by a tent was that on the right of this photo.  One patch of bare ground compared to the 26 new pitches the Park is creating covered by bark.

 

Looking along the shore line you can see that there were not many areas good for camping – in fact there are just half a dozen spots like this along the whole shoreline.  The lack of many suitable camping areas plus the remoteness explains why not that many people used to camp here.   It was mainly fishermen that came – will they continue to visit if they cannot camp near to where they want to fish?

Looking back to fire pit from the Loch shore.  This was the most popular area for both camping and day visitors at Loch Chon.  Photo Credit Louise Brimelow

The Park has extended the new path to down near the area in the photo but no camping will be allowed here.  The bare patch in the earlier photo is behind the red firepit.  While the ground is eroded here its likely this has been as much through feet as tents.   Does this small area of eroded ground really justify the opinion of the Park’s landscape adviser below?

Opinion quoted in the Planning Committee Report

 

 

Finally, for the sake of completeness, its worth saying that we saw no evidence of human crap or toilet paper in the entire area covered by the campsite or along the shore of Loch Chon.

What’s gone wrong?

In my view the Loch Chon campsite is a disaster:

  • Gordon Watson made the misleading claim on BBC out of doors that the Loch Chon campsite enabled lochside camping – the reality is the Park has designed this campsite so people cannot camp on the shore or even close to it (with the exception of one pitch).  Why would people come here if they cannot camp by the shore?
  • The construction of the campsite has caused far more damage than campers have ever caused here and is completely overspecified – this should never have happened in a National Park
  • Most of the pitches are badly located and unsuitable for camping and would never be naturally chosen by campers.

I think the reason this has happened is because:

  • The Park has completely failed to consult with campers about the campsite design.  If it had done so this development would never have gone ahead.
  • The Park Planning Committee failed to make a site visit – the one great strength of the CNPA planning committee is it quite often makes site visits.  I think if Committee members had visited the site they might have rejected the whole proposal.
  • Park staff and Board Members are so obsessed with the impacts of campers – at the Board Meeting Petra Biberbach asked Park staff how they were going to monitor impacts of tents on vegetation so they can adjust the number of permits they issue – that they literally cannot see the wood for the trees.   If they visited Loch Chon they would see that the current impacts of camping are minor, tiny compared to what the Park is doing, and could have been fixed for a tenth of the price.

I supported the proposal in the Your Park consultation to create more campsites but until there is a fundamental change in thinking – which I think will require regime change – I don’t think the Scottish Government should allow the LLTNPA Park to develop any more campsites itself.  Community organisations working with recreational organisations could create much better infrastructure to support camping for far less money than the £345k that the LLTNPA is spending at Loch Chon.

The Board rightly told staff there need to be signs telling drivers not just when they are entering a camping management zone but also when they are leaving it.

The implementation of the camping byelaws dominated the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Board meeting last Monday, with discussion taking place across a number of different agenda items.  This is a reflection of what is happening to our National Park, its allowed all its resources and efforts to focus on one issue, and because its taken the wrong path its now perched on a big cliff.     There was an indication some on the Park Board now recognise the dangers, when they elected James Stuart at the end, 9 votes to 8, as the new convener. James in his election statement (see here) had said it was time to start looking at wider look at what the Park is doing (a veiled criticism of how the Park is currently run).

 

I am not sure though James Stuart or most of the rest of the Board fully appreciates what a mess the Park has got itself into.   I sent the questions I believe the Board needed to answer (see here)  before going ahead with the new byelaws to Linda McKay, the current Park convener, and Gordon Watson before the meeting.   I have no idea if McKay and Watson shared them at the secret meeting the Board appears to have held that morning.    (The evidence that there was was a secret meeting is first that the visitor register showed most of the Board had signed into the building about 10am that day and second that Martin Earl – good for him for being open on this – made a reference to a Board discussion earlier in the day.  That the Board continues to have secret discussions though in the morning about items it is going to discuss in the afternoon is I believe totally wrong).

 

Will the permit system be ready for the start of the byelaws on 1st March?

Two questions I had identified were explicitly asked about this under the Your Park agenda item:

  1. David McKenzie asked if the permit system would be up and running on time?  Staff gave assurances it would, and what is more said it would be fully tested, even though the the IT developer was only given the contract on 1st December and staff said that the detail of the permit system was in the process of being handed over (another 12 days lost).
  2. The second question, also from David McKenzie, was whether there was a date for fixing broadband gaps in the Park to enable campers to book permits.  The answer to this was a feasibility report is due early in January along with an estimate of the costs of fixing this.   While there was then discussion about how good this would be for local communities many of whom cannot access broadband or mobile phone coverage at present, there was no discussion of what will happen if there is not comprehensive coverage by 1st March.

Now I  think its fair enough that Board Members should accept staff assurances that the electronic booking system will be fully up and running and accessible from all the campsites and permit places in the camping management zones by 1st March.  Staff had already stated very clearly in the presentation on the Board paper that the project is “on track and on budget”.   However, if it turns out that this is not the case, staff need to be made responsible and heads should roll.

 

How will campers, campervanners and drivers know where they can sleep overnight?

The Board Paper proposed 3 types of signage:

A crucial weakness in this proposal was revealed when a Board Member asked staff what signage there would be to show drivers they had LEFT a camping management zone – this is a critical question (which I had missed in my critique of the proposed signage(see here)).     The initial response from staff was that there was no money for more signs and they did not want to add to clutter.   A number of Board Members then made the point that this was unacceptable and drivers  needed to know when they had left a camping management zone (otherwise for example people driving up the A82 could end up in Fort William still not knowing if they would become a criminal if they camped by the road).   This meant placing clear signage that drivers could read that would indicate that they were leaving the management zones.   Well done the Board!   Unfortunately, as I understand it, no clear decision was then taken and it was left that staff would go away and reconsider.

 

After this excellent start, there was limited further discussion of other signage issues and the following key points were not addressed:

  • How will people who realise they are in a camping management zone but decide to walk to the edge of it to camp know when they have reached the boundary?  None of the proposed signage appears to have maps showing the boundaries as the illustration (left) for Inveruglas shows.  The sign is legally wrong because it implies the whole area pictured is in the camping management zone whereas access rights I believe apply top left and is misleading unless the boundary is depicted.  It appears designed to try and force people into permit areas where they will be charged to camp.
  • How will people know that stopping overnight is banned?  The signs for drivers simply say you are entering a camping management zone – that tells you nothing – its only the signs for walkers on the zone boundaries (left) which clearly tells the public they can only camp where permitted.   There is no signage proposed which says “stopping overnight here is a criminal offence”.  Unless the “area signs” showing where you can camp are placed in every possible camping spot in the management zones people will not know they will be committing a criminal offence by stopping off overnight.
  • Conversely, there is no signage proposed telling people with vehicles where they CAN stop off legally (since staying overnight on the public road network including laybys, is exempt from the camping byelaws).  How will people in vehicles know which laybys are exempt.  There needs to be a sign by every one where camping is allowed.

 

While I was encouraged the Board picked up on the need to know when one is leaving a management zone,  the problem is far far greater than they identified at the meeting.   People have a right to know exactly where they can and cannot camp or stop off overnight in vehicles but the proposed signage doesn’t tell the public this.   As long as it doesn’t, the byelaws will be unenforceable.  All anyone has to say is that the signage wasn’t clear and any Court case would collapse.    The Board’s failure to understand this goes back to the flawed review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws, which attributed all improvements there to the camping byelaws.   This took no account of the impact of the road to Rowardennan being a dead-end, which limited the amount of traffic, or a clearway, which prevented vehicles stopping day or night under road traffic legislation.   Provision of adequate signage in new management zones is a far more complex matter and this has been neither properly considered nor budgeted for.

 

The byelaws are unaffordable

While staff claimed the byelaws are on budget, the Board papers and questioning by Members revealed a rather different situation:

 

  • The £100,000 signage budget is all earmarked so there is no further money to provide the signage that is needed.
  • There is no cost as yet for plugging the gaps in mobile phone reception to enable people to book permits on their phone.  There doesn’t appear to be a budget either.
  • The Scottish Government has given a further capital grant of £85k towards a budget of £120k to scope the installation of further facilities at South Loch Earn and Forest Drive.   This indicates the Park has not the funds to do this.  Unfortunately no-one on the Board asked why £60k had been needed for south Loch Earn when they had previously seen at secret Board briefing sessions on more than one occasion a campsite design for Loch Earn (see here) – but perhaps that was just an artists impression?   In fact why the Park spends anything like this money on a feasibility study when when a top of the range composting toilet can be installed in a remote location for £30kl I am not sure but the Park’s insistence of putting all its resources (£245k this year) into the campsite no-one wants means it has no money to develop resources where they are needed.
  • What Board Members did uncover though was that while giving with one hand the Scottish Government is likely to take back with the other c£45k that the Park had earmarked to be spent on cars – so what you might think?   Well, this budget was for vehicles to enable Rangers to patrol the camping management zones as promised to local communities!    Since the byelaws are unenforceable anyway, the Government would be well advised to take this money back to stop further waste.
  • Then there was  the budget line that showed that professional fees were £138,233 compared to budget of £75,900.  How much of this related to the camping byelaws?
  • In fact the Your Park budget was overspent and is under considerable budget pressure.  The only reason the Park’s overall budget is balancing is because of a large underspend on staffing.  Now I had revealed previously the Park’s Commercial Director had gone (he was on a big salary, c£60 from memory)  and under the organisational update item Colin Bayes asked why under the Human Resources heading why there was no reference not just the commercial director going but all the Project Manager for Your Park!  Gordon Watson, the CEO, replied that it was not usual to deal with staff matters under the organisational update – so why then Gordon have a heading on Human Resources?    I think Colin Bayes was absolutely right to reveal this and also that the Park had put in what he thought was adequate cover.   Whether this is the case or not I think time will tell but to me it looks as though the Park is being pressed and the pips are beginning to squeak.
  • The financial pressures I believe explain the recommendation in the papers that the charge for camping at Loch Chon and Loch Lubnaig should be £7 per person over 16 per night.  No-one on the Board questioned the impact of this of people from Glasgow with very little money who have previously camped for free.  That was very disappointing.  What then happened surprised me.  Linda McKay, the convener, asked staff if Forestry Commission Scotland were going to raise their charges at Sallochy to £7 as she expected uniform pricing for similar facilities provided by partners.  In fact Sallochy will have cost lots less to construct because it has composting toilets and there is no reason to penalise campers because the Park is incapable of producing affordable infrastructure.     Board Members did though question Gordon Watson how much money they would raise from the permit system – he, rightly this time, said this was impossible to predict.  I suspect the financial sustainability of the whole Your Park system hangs in the balance.

The questions that were not asked or discussed by the Board

For the record, here are some  the questions which I think the Board should have, but failed, to discuss.

  1. What consultation has taken place on the permit systems with the Local Access Forum, a statutory consultee?
  2. Will personal data be held on campers?
  3. If so, how will personal data be used?
  4. If so, what procedures are in place for people to correct that data and appeal against any actions taken by the Park?
  5. What will be in the terms and conditions that apply to permits?  How will this be enforced?
  6. Given the Park’s claims they don’t want to discourage campervanners, despite providing only 20 places across all the management zones, what is the Board going to do about this by 1st March?
  7. What procedures are going to be put into place to enforce the byelaws fairly and transparently?
  8. Why are there no procedures to govern how staff will vary the number of camping permits in camping management zones?

 

While I welcome the fact that Board Members have become more prepared to speak out and think for themselves, as is evidenced by some of the debate and contributions last Monday, they have allowed themselves to be corralled on the edge of a big cliff and show little sign as yet that they need an alternative plan.

 

The road sign that the LLTNPA has designed, apparently in conjunction with Transport Scotland, to mark the boundary of the proposed camping management zones

 

After yesterday’s post I have been reflecting on the proposed signage that the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board is being asked to approve on Monday.

 

The message given by the sign above is that there is a zone where camping is managed.   Nothing else.  So if you drive by in a campervan or in your vehicle planning to pull off the road and sleep in your vehicle you have been given no indication that if you do so you will commit a criminal offence and £500 fine to boot.  None of the other signage in the  Board paper says anything to indicate that campervans,  sleeping in a vehicle, bivouacing or staying overnight in any form of shelter (eg an upturned canoe) will be banned and if undertake any of these activities outside permitted areas in the zone you will become a criminal.      This is very very wrong.   People need to know where they stand.   I met someone last year who driving down from Skye pulled into the Falls of Falloch carpark for a sleep – he had no idea the byelaws banned him from doing so.  He still won’t if this signage goes ahead and that I think is a major legal and civil liberties issue.

 

The sign also says nothing about the extent of the camping management zone.  So, if you are a camper entering one of the zones in your car it would be reasonable to assume that camping is banned everywhere.  Parkspeak claimed the zones were only 3.7% of the area of the Park, a claim which is now under 4%, but there is no mention of that here.  The impression you get is that camping is managed everywhere and if you are aware is banned except in permitted places the message will be get through this zone as fast as you can – a disaster for tourism.   Communities like Arrochar are already suffering, with a number of shops closing in the last year and unable to gain from the many walkers and climbers who visit.   These messages will make it worse.

Note the bare ground behind the sign on the right. The Park claim they need to manage camping to protect the ground – the sign is a nice own goal!

There are signs that tell you where you can camp.  Nothing though to tell you where you can stay overnight in a campervan, neither for the grand total of 20 places where campervans will be permitted to stay, nor for the Transport Scotland or Council laybys where it may still be legal to stop off overnight in vehicles.

 

Nothing in this message for campervans or people thinking of staying overnight in their vehicles who will also face £500 zones.  Nothing to tell them they might need to find out more.

 

 

What these signs tell me is the camping byelaws, which were totallly incoherent, are already collapsing.  Without signage,  any attempt to enforce the byelaws against people who stay in vehicles will fail and is open to legal challenge.

 

You might ask, but what about the byelaws on east Loch Lomond where these issues haven’t arisen.   Well the reason they have no arisen is there is a clearway order along the road to Rowardennnan which prevents any vehicle stopping at any time.   It was this that stopped the problems caused by roadside campers coming out to party not the byelaws.

 

The Board on Monday really does need to start thinking about this instead of following the lead of its leader, LInda McKay.  The Scottish Government meantime should make it clear that any breach of the byelaws will not result in criminal offences unless the person is committing another criminal offence.   That would give time to come up with an alternative plan that puts people’s rights rather than NIMBY prejudice back at the centre of what the National Park does.

hares
Photo credit Raptor Persecution Scotland
camping
This photo from the LLTNPA which I believe dates back several years still periodically appears in the mainstream media in stories about the camping byelaws. What does it tell us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I  have been pondering further what Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, said about more evidence being needed before the Government can act to protect mountain hares (see here) when I believe action could be taken in our National Parks now. Roseanna Cunningham never explained what sort of evidence the Scottish Governance would need before it could act and why.    I doubt she could, I suspect she is repeating what the civil servants have told her.

 

I think Roseanna Cunningham should therefore ask her civil servants why photos of abandoned tents counts as sufficient “evidence”to justify the introduction of camping byelaws in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park whereas photos of piles of dead mountain hares is not apparently regarded as sufficient evidence to introduce byelaws to control hunting in the Cairngorms National Park?

 

I know that photos of abandoned tents were used by the previous Minister, Aileen McLeod, as the MAIN “evidence” to justify the introduction of camping byelaws as a result of a number of FOI requests.    When Aileen McLeod announced she had given the go ahead for the camping byelaws she referred to the evidence she had personally seen.   I asked the Scottish Government in February to clarify under Freedom of Information what evidence the Minister had actually seen (see here) and received this response  in April.  Basically the Minister had made one visit to the National Park to three places, one of which was a hotel:  “Loch Lubnaig Visitor Site (North Site); Loch Earn, North Shore Horseshoe Layby; and the Mhor84 Hotel.  I think we can safely conclude from this the main “evidence” she had SEEN were the photos of abandoned tents.

 

I also asked in that request a number of other questions about evidence:

evidence

 

 

 

 

 

The response was clear the Scottish Government held no evidence other than that provided by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority

evidence-2

 

 

 

I had provided an extensive critique (see here) to the Scottish Government on the camping byelaw proposals and the so-called evidence the LLTNPA had provided to them appendix-1-overview-of-evidence-base-1  and what the response above shows is that the Scottish Government had done nothing to check the veracity of that evidence.  Contrast that with Mountain Hares, where ever more evidence is needed before action can be taken.

 

It was the same with the review of the east Loch Lomond byelaws (see here) where the Government admitted it had no criteria by which to judge the LLTNPA’s review and held no information at all on this.  The Scottish Government simply accepted what the LLTNPA had said and had taken no account of the critique I had submitted to them.    If the Scottish Government can accept such poor evidence from the LLTNPA, I can’t see any problem with it accepting whatever evidence the CNPA can draw together to justify a suspension of hare culls (the photos in themselves should be sufficient).  After all the CNPA already have a legal duty to conserve and enhance the natural heritage which is supposed to take precedence over its other aims if they clash.

 

I find it interesting that while the Scottish Government, when it talks about the need for more evidence (a reference I believe to SNH research into mountain hares) did not ask SNH to conduct research into the impact of camping on Loch Lomond before taking a decision.   Nowhere in the SNH sitelink database on protected areas in the National Park have I seen camping listed as a threat.   That says it all.   There is one rule for trying to protect nature, another rule for trying to stop people from enjoying nature.

 

Research into the impact of culls on mountain hares has been going on for years, with SNH producing two research reports in 2008, is ongoing, and will probably never reach a definitive conclusion.   SNH however has been concerned enough to agree with Scottish Land and Estates and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust an interim position which calls for a voluntary suspension of culls.  That one would have thought should be enough for the Scottish Government and National Park to act.  However, they apparently need more evidence………………

 

I think what this shows is that “evidence” is a highly political matter and what counts as evidence very much depends on whether you are trying to control what landowners and their employees do or what the general public does.  Unfortunately we live in a system where its much easier for one National Park to remove access rights, which both National Parks were set up to promote, on the basis of flawed and fabricated evidence, than for our other National Park to protect wildlife, which both National Parks were also set up to do, on the basis of sound evidence.

On 24th November the Scottish Government finally announced it has agreed the permanent re-introduction of  beavers to Scotland.   Despite beavers being role in improving water quality, flood prevention and promoting more diverse habitiats and species, all objectives of the Scottish Government, the “decision”  was far from a foregone conclusion.  The whole process shows the power of landowning “interests” and prejudice.   Over ten years ago, when I was on the Board SNH, the then Environment Minister (I can’t remember who, they change each year) was minded to approve their re-introduction but then some farmers had a word to a senior civil servant and we ended up with the five year re-introduction trial in Knapdale.  Two years after the end of that trial the Scottish Government has at last considered the “evidence” and made its decision.   An attempt to kick what should have been a simple species re-introduction into the long grass.

 

Meanwhile the unlawfully released but flourishing beaver population on Tayside showed the trial up for the farce it really was.    I suspect that without this direct action a decision might never have been made.      The Government’s announcement has made it clear that while they will allow beavers to expand naturally, there will be lots more bureaucracy before beavers are re-introduced anywhere else.  Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald quotes a Government spokesperson as saying “we have no plans to license the reintroduction further releases in the foreseeable future.  We will also take swift action if another illegal release takes place – such an action constitutes a wildlife crime and carries serious potential penalties”.    The lack of vision is lamentable.

 

The explanation for this lies with our farmers and landowners whose starting point appears to be that any wildlife, apart from that shot for sport, is a threat to their living and to the viability of “fragile” or “remote” local communities.  This actually is the reverse of the truth but the Scottish Government is simply unwilling to challenge the dominant ideology that controls our countryside.   What they should have said is that wanted to see further re-introductions over the next five years and that our two National Parks should be at the forefront of this.

 

Beavers and the Cairngorms National Park

 

It is good that Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, welcomed the announcement.  Rob Edwards quotes him as saying:   “We will explore the potential for, and the implications of, beaver re-introduction in river catchments in the Cairngorms National Park” .

 

This is a step in the right direction.   There was not a single member of beaver re-introduction in the draft Cairngorms Partnership Plan, which was recently subject to public consultation along with the supporting papers on flood management and  landscape scale conservation.  This was a missed opportunity because they contain lots of information which supports the re-introduction of beavers into the Cairngorms National Park as a priority.

flood
The Flood Management issues report contains maps of “Potentially Vulnerable Areas” throughout the National Park. Beaver dams, if located upstream, help hold back water and prevent flooding lower down

 

 

Looking at the flood threat to Aviemore and surrounds one cannot help thinking that re-introducing beavers into Glenmore, along with re-establishment of a montane scrub zone at Cairngorm,  would help reduce risks considerably.    The Cairngorm-Glenmore Strategy approved by the Park in September said nothing about beavers either.

 

The CNPA’s Flood Issues report quantified the amount of damage caused each year by flooding.

flood-1

Our National Parks should place the objections that will inevitably be raised by farmers and landowners to beaver re-introduction  into the wider context of the social cost of flooding and how current land management practices promote this (muirburn, drainage etc).  The CNPA’s flood issues report suggested an ecosystems approach to prevent flooding but did not say HOW they would do this.   The re-introduction of beavers should be part of the answer.

 

There is further supporting evidence in the Flood Issues report on water quality.  Its always a surprise to see that the water quality in our National Parks is not 100% good.  Beaver dams of course help improve water quality.water beavers-nature-plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not in the draft Partnership Plan, the CNPA has in fact in the past done quite a bit of work on species reintroduction.    The quote above is from the Cairngorm Nature, 2013-18.  The Action at the bottom is very cautious, in fact Grant Moir gave almost exactly the same form of words “explore the potential” to the Sunday Herald.

 

In fact in 2013, the CNPA Ecology Adviser, David Hetherington, produced a report on the potential to re-introduce vertebrate species, into the National Park.  This went as far as to identify two priority areas for their re-introduction in the National Park, Insh Marshes and Dinnet.   The CNPA therefore has done lots of preparatory work, I am not sure there is any need to “explore” beaver introduction further, what is needed is that negotiations need to start to make it happen.  It should be performance indicator for the next Park Plan:  the re-introduction of beavers at two sites, one on west and one on east of the National Park, within the next five years.  And if the landowners don’t co-operate the land should be secured through compulsory purchase.

beaver

 

 

 

I understand Chief Executives have to be cautious but it really is time that the CNPA started to give a strong lead on this.

 

Beavers and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

 

The LLTPNA appears to have done less work on species re-introduction than the CNPA.   There is nothing in their current Partnership Plan for example about species re-introduction although their plan for wildlife,  WildPark 2020, does contain some aspirational statements:

 

Conversely, recolonising native species such as beaver are valued for the role they play in
our natural heritage.

The Tay catchment beaver population has expanded into the National Park at Loch Earn and Glen Dochart and is managed sympathetically to prevent damage to fisheries and forestry production, whilst also providing a significant new attraction to tourists and habitat benefits such as coppicing and pond creation in acceptable locations.

The problem, as in the Cairngorms National Park, is what will be “acceptable locations” to landowners.  The Royal Scottish Zoological Society, which was involved in the Knapdale re-introductions has said it would be ideal if the beaver populations there could be joined up with the beavers on Tayside.    The LLTNP sits between the two and there is a great opportunity to build on their recognition that the Tay population could expand into the National Park.

 

I have my doubts that they will do this without public pressure.  All the LLTNPA’s focus and resources at present is being diverted to prevent people from camping rather than doing anything visionary.

 

The wider role of our National Parks in beaver re-introduction

 

Our National Park have a statutory duty to promote conservation, sustainable use of resources and sustainable economic development.   Beavers are a great opportunity to do this, to do something that would be visionary for Scotland for a change.

 

In other countries none of this would be complicated.  In North America there are jobs in beaver management (in the few places where beaver dams have adverse consequences there are specialist firms who have invented all sorts of ingenious solutions).   Our National Parks should be taking that learning from abroad and applying it to Scotland.

 

 

Last week Raptor Persecution Scotland reported on the OneKind demonstration against the slaughter of mountain hares outside the Scottish Parliament on the 17th November:

 

“Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham addressed the rally and said the Scottish Government opposes mass culls, that legislation to protect mountain hares has not been ruled out, but that the Government needs evidence before it can act.” 

 

Other reports of the demonstration also reported Roseanna Cunningham had spoken of the need for evidence but in the context of legislation rather than broader action.    Whatever Roseanna Cunningham said there are things that could be done NOW to protect mountain hares without any government legislation and without any further evidence:

  • conservation is one of the four statutory purposes of our National Parks but when other of the purposes conflict with it, conservation should be put first.  Now whether the slaughter of hares is classified as coming up the statutory purpose of enjoyment or of sustainable economic development or sustainable use of resources (the other three aims) doesn’t matter.  Conservation comes first and the photographic evidence of slaughter should be enough for our National Parks to act.   The Government just needs to tell them to do so and to introduce byelaws to prohibit the killing of mountain hares in the National Park.
  • moreover, the Government has created Special Protection Areas to protect Golden Eagles whose favourite food is mountain hare.   The citation for the Cairngorm golden eagle SPA, which runs beyond the National Park boundary in the Angus Glens at present focusses on the habitats rather than the species on which the eagle depends.   Amazingly the main threat listed for this SPA is disease.   There is nothing on the eagle’s food supply.   I believe if the Scottish Government had the will they could simply ask SNH to include provisions about protecting mountain hares in all our eagle SPAs including those in our National Parks.
  • in addtion, some of the citations for moorland Sites of Special Scientific Interest explicitly refer to mountain hare in their description of the “features” worth protecting (the Morven SSSI is one example).  Roseanna Cunningham could again ask SNH to ensure that culling of mountain hares was listed as an operation requiring consent, which in effect would introduce a licensing system year round (hares are currently protected for only part of the year in the “closed season”).    SNH could then only issue consents for mountain hare culls if landowners were able to provide proof that this was not detrimental to the environment, including the eagle population.  In other words shift the burden of proof away from public authorities onto landowners.

 

All this would make a difference, without the need for any more evidence.  It could also be done relatively quickly.   However, if the Cairngorms National Park Authority, which is currently finalising its partnership plan for submission to Roseanna Cunningham in the New Year, is to do this there needs to be a shift in thinking both at the Scottish Government and in the National Park Board.   The need for this is illustrated by this revelation also featured on the Raptor Persecution Scotland post:

rps
Credit Raptor Persecution Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Eleanor MacKintosh has rightly been criticised for saying this, and it was a very stupid thing to say, I am not sure Eleanor MacKintosh is stupid.   The interesting question is why the convenor of the CNPA planning committee is telling the gamekeepers simply to hide the mountain hares they are shooting?   A legitimate question is whether someone else told her to find a way to prevent the mountain hare massacres hitting the headlines in future and this was her clumsy attempt to do this.

 

Critics should hold onto the fact that this information came out as a result of an FOI request and at least the CNPA is recording things properly.  It would be almost impossible to obtain this type of information from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park because they stopped writing things down long ago.  The position at LLTNPA in terms of basic governance is far worse than the CNPA.

 

So I think campaigners need to pressurise both the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government that the new Cairngorms plan contains measures, including byelaws, that will protect mountain hares in the National Park from next year.  There is no reason why it could not be done and the Scottish Government could also extend protection would widely through using existing conservation legislation.

 

1
Slide presented to Board 13th and 15th April 2015 two weeks before the “open” Board meeting which endorsed the camping bye laws proposals

Anyone who responded to the Your Park consultation or followed the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park plans for new campsites will recognise this photo of tents pitched on wooden platforms.  While this slide from the secret LLTNPA Board Meetings (see here) reveals this was this was a specific  proposal for the Ardvorlich Estate it also tells us a lot about how the Park has developed its camping proposals.   First it tells us that the people who developed the camping plan did not have a clue about camping.  This photo was used for about two years and indeed the original Loch Chon planning application made earlier this summer contained proposals for camping on wooden platforms.   Not a single LLTNPA Board Member appears to have questioned this.  Even Flamingo Land – which may well, if its allowed to go ahead, develop some sort of camping at Balloch – allows people to camp on grass http://www.flamingoland.co.uk/holiday-resort/accommodation/camping-and-caravanning-guide.html  even if that is at £42 a night.    The decisions in the original camping plan were taken by people who never camp and failed to engage with those who do.

2

Second, the site plan is interesting because it shows the camping area was to be situated away from the loch shore, and a north facing slope at that.

6

 

The illustrative campsite plan, which appears to relate to the Ardvorlich campsite, although this is not stated explicitly, shows this very clearly.  Its as if the campsite was designed and located to keep people away from the shore when as everyone knows its the shores where people want to camp (and not lost in the depths of Forest Drive where the Park now wishes to force people to camp).  This provides evidence that an unstated aim of the LLTNPA is to use the camping byelaws to remove as much camping from the loch shores as possible.

 

There are two other interesting slides for the Loch Earn campsite which come from earlier slide shows that year.4

This illustration was linked with the photo in the first slide in this post and appears to show the Ardvorlich campsites in profile.  Note the flat areas with tents on them which appear to be carved out of the hillside.   More hyprocrisy from the LLTNPA that at the same time it was developing this proposal was spinning  that campers cause all the significant damage in the National Park. 3

 

 

This slide, from April 2015, is significant because it shows that at that time the Park were proposing not just a campsite but also a permit zone, a total of up to 55 places.

 

In the camping “strategy” approved by the LLTNPA meeting in October 2016 there is no sign of the Ardvorlich campsite proposal or explanation of why its no longer being considered.  Instead its been replaced by a permit zone running more or less along the same area of shore for about 6k.

7
Extract from camping strategy map for the Trossachs North zone showing Loch Earn

11The permit zone allows for just 38 places compared to the 55 originally envisaged.  Yet more evidence of the arbitrary way the LLTNPA takes decisions.

 

Although the south Loch Earn area is described as a permit area with services, there will be no facilities developed before the start of the camping byelaws.   Instead, its listed as one of two proposals under a heading in the strategy “Investment priorities for 2017” .

8

The extract also shows the Park have not apparently abandoned all ideas of a campsite on south Loch Earn in future.   So, I am not sure that the absence of a campsite on platforms in the trees is a sign that the LLTNPA realises this is a daft proposal, its more that they do not have the money to invest at present.  And that is significant because my understanding is the Scottish Government has to approve all the Park’s investment plans:  this suggests the lack of investment in new campsites, including Loch Earn, comes down to money, austerity and financial cuts.

10-copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the Government does improve investment in facilities next year, that is likely to include toilets as illustrated here in the original proposal for Ardvorlich.   At least this looks better than the shipping containers which were approved for Loch Chon but maybe they will be moved here if the Loch Chon campsite turns out to be a flop.  What the Park though has not explained is how people in the Loch Earn permit zone are expected to use these toilets: the zone by my reckoning is 6k long – are people meant to drive to them?  More evidence that the Park does not have a clue about how to manage visitor pressures.  It would be better to distribute the three portaloos behind the screening along the shore at regular intervals rather than have them in one place.

 

What needs to happen

The Loch Earn proposals show the LLTNPA and Government urgently need to get people with the right expertise involved in the development of a campite plan whether or not the byelaws go ahead.

camping-bye-law-season
Slide presented to secret Board Briefing session 23rd February 2015

 

This slide provides a crude summary of the Park’s data on camping activity within the four proposed management zones.  Its not surprising, its what anyone who camps or goes to the countryside knows, most camping takes place in summer (despite the midges!).   It raises though serious questions about why the The Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority recommended the camping byelaws should extend from 1st March to 31st October and then why Aileen McLeod, Environment Minister at the time, modified this recommendation so the proposed byelaws will now run from 1st March to 30th September.

 

The first thing to say is that the slide demonstrates that the main justifications the LLTNPA is now citing for the proposed byelaws, a) the sheer number of campers and b) environmental damage, do not justify the period of the proposed byelaws.    While the number of campers represented by each colour in the chart is not defined in the slides (again this is typical for the Park, this is not evidence that would stand up in a court of law), if they were they would show that the number of campers in  the green months are very low and in the orange months low compared to the summer period.    So, even if one accepts the argument that byelaws are needed to limit the number of campers, the LLTNPA has no evidence that,  outwith the four summer months, numbers are a problem or need to be regulated .

 

Related to this, unless a far higher proportion of campers outwith the summer months behave irresponsibly, the impact of irresponsible behaviour when it occurs will be much less March-April and September-October and is  much easier to manage. In visitor management terms, if an occasional abandoned campsite has to be cleared up, so what?   There is only a problem if lots and lots of tents are abandoned and are beyond the capacity of the Ranger service and other services to cope with.  (The LLTNPA incidentally has never provided any evidence that this actually happens or assessed this problem relative to other litter, such as that washed up at the head of Loch Long after storms).   Actually, I believe  the proportion of people camping responsibly outwith the summer months is likely to be higher, as people camping at these times are more likely to be dedicated to pursuing their chosen activity and such people are generally more aware of their impacts on the environment.

 

What this slide shows therefore is that the LLTNPA’s recommendations to Ministers about the byelaw periods was not based on any evidence worth the name but rather on something else.   While there are a number of possible explanations, I believe NIMBYISM – which is of course totally contrary to access rights – is at the heart of this.

 

When I learned that Scottish Ministers had decided to reduce the proposed period of the byelaws from 1st March – 30th September I asked them on what grounds they had done this.  I received this reply on 29th April:

 

Question Four

The decision taken to reduce the period of operation of the byelaws by 1 month was a policy decision taken by Ministers in line with their options to approve, approve with modifications or reject the byelaw proposals submitted by the National Park Authority. While the National Park Authority’s preference was for the byelaws to be in place between 1 March to 31 October as per the operation of the existing East Loch Lomond byelaws, Ministers decided that in approving the new measures they wished to see a reduction in the period of operation by 1 month across all the proposed zones, including those operating in East Loch Lomond. This decision was based on a view that visits to the National Park and the affected areas naturally start to tail off in October, in part due to falling overnight temperatures. 

 

This simply provides further evidence of the arbitrary decision making.  The Minister has NO evidence that numbers are less in October than March – indeed the opposite is probably the case because of the fishing season – and as for the claim that October is colder than March this is MINCE!   The official who wrote this did not even think it worth consulting the records of the Met:  March is significantly colder than October.

 

What worries me most about the whole camping byelaw farce is that none of it is based on any evidence that would stand up in court.  What a contrast to the levels of evidence Ministers demand before agreeing to protect mountain hares or cull red deer.

 

 

 

 

 

img_1442-copy
Walking the Aviemore to Kincraig section of the Speyside Way on 30th December 2015. Much of the walk was then marred by pylons which I understand are due to be removed.

The Cairngorms National Park announced last week it has won a planning quality award for the extension of the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Kincraig (http://cairngorms.co.uk/planning-award-for-speyside-way-extension/):

 

“The judges praised the Park Authority for its partnership working, community consultation and sheer determination over a decade to develop the best off road route to connect Aviemore to Kincraig.

This included the first use of a Path Order in Scotland to secure rights to develop the path on the preferred route”

 

I think the staff involved do need congratulating on their persistence but the time taken to deliver this path and the walking experience demonstrate that our access legislation is still very weak when it comes to creating new paths and that our landowners still have far too much power.  The basic problem was that the Kinrara Estate objected to the Speyside Way crossing its land, even under an electricity wayleave, and it required two consultations in 2005 and 2007, approvement in principle by Scottish Ministers in 2009, then a path order which required a public inquiry before being approved in June 2012.  Three and a quarter years later the extension opened in September 2015.

 

No wonder the Ramblers Association cited the Speyside Way extension in its submission to the Land Reform Review Group in 2013 in the part of its submission which dealt with “Failure to expand path networks”:

 

“While core paths plans are now drawn up, that does not mean they are being
implemented on the ground – and core paths comprise just a small proportion of the
entire path network. As noted above, access authorities seem reluctant to use the
powers they have within the Act, and this includes powers to use compulsory purchase
or path orders. Just one path order has been used in Scotland, to extend the Speyside
Way, and this followed many years of fruitless discussion with the landowner
concerned. Much time is spent on negotiating with landowners across Scotland who
are resistant to public access, with the public becoming increasingly frustrated with
plans for path networks that they have helped to develop but which produce no change
on the ground. It is inconceivable that transport departments would spend so long
negotiating routes for new roads and yet paths do not have the same status despite
potentially being of huge public benefit.”

 

Now I don’t believe the ten year delay in getting the path off the ground was either the fault of SNH (who had started on plan for the path) or the Cairngorms National Park Authority who took on the work c2009.  However, neither highlighted the case to the Land Reform Review Group (indeed from a trawl through the responses the CNPA did not even make a response).  I think this is wrong.  Our National Parks should be trailblazing when it comes to new paths and if they do not have sufficient powers to do this effectively they should be highlighting the issues to the Scottish Government.

 

img_1445-copy

The extension also raises significant issues in relating to the quality of the walking experience which the CNPA has simply not mentioned.  Indeed in their news section they claim “we built the path on the best route for both visitors and local communities”.   That is a matter of opinion but I think if the CNPA asked the public they would disagree.  As one foreign visitor said, the trouble with the Speyside Way is that it avoids the river and this is very true of the  new section.   Of the c8 kilometres of new path, only c2 km, near Kincraig, are by the Spey.

 

speyside-way-extension
Speyside Way, the thick brown line.                                                          Map Credit CNPA

The problem was and still is that the Kinrara Estate did not want people walking along the river, despite having a right to do so, or Bogach, the loch north of the Duke of Gordon’s monument which is a great place to watch ospreys fishing.  Unfortunately our public authorities were not strong enough to stand up to the estate and the result is the Speyside Way avoids all the best things places to visit in the area.  A missed opportunity.  I would advise anyone who wants to experience the best that Speyside has to offer should find their own route rather than follow the Speyside Way until close to Speybank.

 

Apart from the route it takes, the path provides a good illustration of a number of access issues.

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While Network Rail don’t actually say here you will be prosecuted for crossing the line the message is unwelcoming. Railway crossings are a problem across Scotland but surely our National Parks should be trailblazing solutions with Network Rail which facilitate access rather than stopping it?  The new gate and sign looked to me like a response from Network Rail to the creation of the Speyside Way.
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While the wooden fencing has been done to a very good standard the overall experience is one of being hemmed in and kept away from nature. Compare this to walking along a river bank.  Openness is important to walkers and rarely have I seen such a constricted path.
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The landowners concerns, however ridiculous – they appear to believe that cyclists or runners risk colliding with wildlife – show why all the fencing is in place.
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Another  ridiculous sign. Note the two dog proof fences on either side of the path – there is  nowhere for a dog or people to go. Arguably, because of the new fencing, the creation of this section of path has made access worse not better. What is the point of access if you cannot step off the path and go and sit under a tree?
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Nature beats planning!

 

 

img_1453-copyOur access legislation means that people can walk the Speyside Way extension and all the land around it whether the landowner agrees or not.  Unfortunately the CNPA had not for whatever reason managed to get the owner of this wood or the Forestry Commission to remove this sign which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

 

What should the Cairngorms National Park do about the Speyside Way extension?

Despite my criticisms, the extension is a new path and that is a plus. I think it is important though the CNPA does not in any way suggest that the Speyside Way is the only or main walking route between Aviemore and Kincraig.  I would suggest the CNPA:

 

  • Removes the signage which is not compliant with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
  • Produces a plan to reduce the fencing along either side of the path to improve the quality of the recreational experience
  • Signposts alternative routes, including how to follow the Spey itself
  • Stops the spin and say how it really was for the staff involved
  • Use this example to argue the need for Access Authorities to have stronger powers to create new paths in the places people want to visit

I also suspect that if the CNPA had treated organisations representing recreational users, Ramblers, cyclists and horseriders as true partners, many of the problems with this path could have been avoided.  The Ramblers, for example, have long campaigned again signage such as is evident on the Speyside Way extension and I believe if they had been involved it would not have been tolerated.