Tag: scottish natural heritage

February 7, 2018 Nick Kempe 4 comments
The Visitor Centre at the head of Glen Clova run by the Angus glens Ranger Service

Last weekend was the first time I had visited Glen Clova for several years.  The public road up the glen terminates  at a Forestry Commission (paying) car park and visitor centre. In contrast to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, which has installed gates across car parks which it then locks, the public are allowed to park vehicles here overnight.   I was pleased too to find the disabled toilet at the Visitor Centre is accessible to visitors 24 hours 365 days a year (for how the LLTNPA operates its toilets see here).  The basic infrastructure to support visitors is therefore in place and north of the car park there is a great flat area with picnic tables.

However, other things are going badly wrong and, just like in areas of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the overwhelming impression for anyone bothering to read the signs – and I am now an inveterate reader of such signs – is No! You can’t do that.  This post takes a look at the legal basis and implications of all the NO signs.

The last time I had stayed in Glen Clova, to go rock climbing on Red Craig, we had slept in my climbing partner’s van.  The Forestry Commission is now apparently trying to ban this – as it has done on so many of its car parks across Scotland.  It appears however as yet to have put no byelaws in place to make the ban here enforceable.   If you ignore the signs therefore the most the FCS could do at present is try to seek an interdict to stop a person doing this again.  Whatever the legalities, there is no justification at all for the Forestry Commission to try and stop people staying overnight here.   For anyone wanting to visit Glen Clova in a campervan there are very few places to stop off on the road apart from the Glen Clova hotel and a car park for hillwalkers on the Rottal Estate.  The Glen Clova/Glen Doll Forest carpark is easily the best place to stay and yet the Forestry Commission wants to ban this.  So much for it supporting tourism and enabling people to enjoy the great outdoors.

There are a plethora of no parking signs alongside the public road before the car park – each flash of white on the embankment tells people there is no parking here.

In order to prevent people trying to avoid the charges for using the carpark or stopping off in campervans overnight, there are half a dozen no parking signs at the road end claiming it is needed for turning when there is a large car park where most vehicles could turn.  The legal basis for these signs is also unclear:  the public road is not a clearway and you have a legal right to stop overnight on the road network unless a traffic regulation order has been put in place that says otherwise.  Of course it would be much better if people used the car park but the inevitable consequence of car park charges and trying to ban overnight stays there is people will try and stay elsewhere.

As for camping, the field behind this sign and beside the river used to be used as an informal campsite.  I know because I camped here many years ago.  Ignore the nonsense of the field being needed as an overflow carpark in the middle of winter.   The sign is contrary to access rights.  The nearest accommodation is Scott Lodge, operated by the Boy’s Brigade on the other side of the river, hardly a residence, and I find it hard to believe that either they or the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club, which has a hut nearby, would object to camping here.   There are no other residences nearby.  As for the claim that camping is not allowed because the field is close to the road this is wrong legally: you have the right to camp anywhere you have access rights.

Now I am not claiming here that this field is the best or most suitable place for camping hereabouts – I personally believe the flat area by the river north of the car park, beyond the picnic tables (sorry no photos) is more suitable and would be preferred by most people wanting to stop off overnight in tents (its also closer to the  toilet).   The signs however say that no camping is allowed there either.  Instead there is this:




This sign appears designed to mislead in respect of camping and access rights.  Our public authorities have first tried to persuade people that the right to camp under access rights was intended only to apply to people camping well away from the road, a practice which is now often termed “wild camping”.  While the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority has been the public authority which has most forcefully tried to convince people of this, other public authorities have tried to sell the same message.  But the FCS in Glen Doll and Glen Clova has now gone a step further intrying to direct people to “designated short stay wild camping sites”.   The implication of course is that in areas which are not designated, you should not “wild camp”.  Accept this, and that’s the right to camp under our access legislation totally undermined.

I am not against the Forestry Commission pointing people to areas that might be good for camping within their landholdings but this is NOT what is happening at the head of Glen Clova.  FCS is trying to stop people camping on any of the good sites by the river near the road end and instead trying to force people to camp in the old quarry or other areas further afield.  The closest good camping place to the road end they recommend is 1km away, despite there being several good flat areas for camping within sight of the car park.   The solution of course is for FCS and other partners to provide a basic campsite somewhere by the river at the head of the Glen not too far from the car park.  That would be a welcome facility which most campers would be welcome.  For campervanners, the existing car park provides an ideal base.

As final confirmation that our public authorities do not understand access rights and are mis-using the Scottish Outdoor Access Code consider this sign (approved by SNH, Angus Council and FCS):

Access rights do not cover motorised vehicles, which almost certainly covers drones, and there is no reference in our access legislation to drone flying or anything similar. Its safe to conclude therefore that flying drones is a leisure activity, like angling, which is not included in access rights.  To claim therefore that the activity “often” contravenes the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is totally misleading.  The SOAC is guidance about how to undertake activities which come under access rights NOT on how to undertake activities which are excluded.  Even worse is then to try and claim that because drone flying is “often” (whatever that means) incompatible with other activities, it should NEVER take place.  This is flawed logic.

Our public authorities should not therefore be referring to SOAC to try and dissuade people from flying drones and they have no powers under the access legislation to stop such activities.  What they could have said is that drone flying is not covered by access rights.  However, if they really want to stop people flying drones on land, they need to resort to other legislation.   FCS, Angus Council and SNH all have powers to regulate activities that fall outwith access rights by byelaws under other legislation and they should be able to use those powers rather than abusing our access legislation.

I am not claiming here that drone flying cannot cause problems for recreational users and indeed interfere with the enjoyment of access rights – drones buzzing above your head is irritating at the  best of time and at worst, for example if you are climbing, can be positively dangerous.   Drone flying may therefore need to be regulated but you cannot do so under our access legislation and this seems an appropriate matter for the civil aviation authority.

Near the first sign was a second similarly worded sign from Balmoral Estate.  It appears Balmoral have adopted this sign on the advice of the three public authorities.  My guess is that it may be the existence of the royal residence over the hill which has led to the attempt to stop drone flying in Glen Clova.  If so this just reinforces the point, our access legislation is not an appropriate means either to try and secure the safety of the royal family or the general population, for example at airports.

What needs to happen

On the positive side none of the signs at the head of Glen Clova with their various misguided attempts to manage visitors have been endorsed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   As the responsible Access Authority they are therefore in a good position to step in,  engage with wider stakeholders and help sort out the whole mess.  This should include removal of all misleading signs and the creation of a basic campsite/recommended camping area close to the road end.

Meantime local SNH and FCS staff could usefully seek advice from their headquarter staff before adding their names to signage in future while FCS  nationally needs to review its policy of trying to stop overnight stays in its carparks by campervans.    We need public authorities operating in National Parks to exemplify best, not practice – that was what the National Park Plan was supposed to be all about.

February 5, 2018 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Moraine and the cliffs in Coire Fee 3rd Feb, a middling day.   Gully B is most prominent white line centre, Gully A behind ridge on left.

I was alerted to Scottish Natural Heritage’s consultation on the Corrie Fee National Nature Reserve “We want to hear your views on our proposed management and any additional ideas you would like us to consider”  through Mountaineering Scotland news (see here).   The consultation (see here for draft management plan and excellent history) is open until the end of February and, because I was staying at the Carn Dearg Mountaineering Club’s brilliant Hut in Glen Clova at the weekend,  I took a look myself as part of a day out (Look C Gully was not there, B Gully was marginal so we wandered up Gully A).  This post looks at some the implications of the Coire Fee consultation for how the wider Cairngorms National Park is managed.  I hope others may feel inspired to respond to NNR@snh.gov.uk.

Coire Fee NNR is the hatched area marked by the bird symbol between the Foresty Commission owned forest in Glen Doll and the high plateau of Mayar

Corrie Fee is a gem of a coire.   Approaching from Glen Doll you ascend through forest and suddenly, just after the NNR sign you emerge on the top of what was once a terminal moraine for the coire glacier.   Below the coire floor is covered by smaller hummocky moraine while ahead are the crags, famous for their Alpine plants and ice climbing.   The NNR is very small, only 164 hectares of land, and is owned by SNH having been purchased from the Forestry Commission  It is as a consequence sandwiched between forestry below and deer “forest”/grouse moor above.

It was however formerly part of the much much wider Caenlochan NNR which was created in 1961 and covered 3639 hectares of land all the way over to Caenlochan at the head of Glen Isla.  This was de-registered in 2003, the year the Cairngorms National Park was created, because:


“Almost all of the Caenlochan NNR was owned by private landowners and managed as commercial sporting estates. After considerable discussion and further assessment SNH decided that three of the four (new) essential attributes of a NNR (primacy of nature, security of tenure and best practice management) could not be met.”


I have to confess, to my shame, that I was a party to that decision, having been appointed to the Main Board of SNH that year.  I now believe that this was a terrible mistake which helped undermine the conservation potential of our National Parks.   I will reflect on what went wrong and what is still going wrong  – we have moved from designating NNRs to re-designating them, most recently at Mar Lodge estate in November 2017 – in a future post on the history of NNRs in our National Parks.   In respect of Coire Fee, however, I was somewhat relieved  to find today on checking my old SNH Board Papers for September 2003, that alongside the recommendation to de-designate Caenlochan and retain Corrie Fee as a NNR  I had scribbled “Can you just protect that bit from overgrazing?”.  I cannot recall the answer and its not recorded in the minutes but I believe it was and still is the right question.


The implications of fencing Corrie Fee

Access into the fenced exclosure below the crags in Corrie Fee – Look C gully is the line to the right of the stile while Gully A starts far left.
The fence along the plateau above Coire Fee – the stile is well situated for climbers topping out from B or Look C gullies.

SNH history of the NNR, the story of Coire Fee, explains some of what is wrong with the fence:


A fence was erected in 1991, reduced to an area of around 60 ha in Corrie Sharroch, due to practicalities and cost.    While every effort was made to select a fence line that allowed access and was not too obtrusive scenically, an exclosure is not an ideal solution because as well as impacting on landscape and recreational use, some grazing is needed to stop grassland areas from becoming too rank which may hinder the regeneration of willows and other plants.


While the fence has not kept deer out – we saw deer footprints in the snow under B Gully – it probably excludes larger mammals, such as foxes, from the NNR.   This reduces the extent to which the NNR is a place where nature has primacy but, as importantly, gives the wrong message to landowners, that fencing is an appropriate way to manage open hill land.

Fencing between Green Hill and Ben Tirran east side of Glen Clova 4th February. The tight meshed fencing in background appeared designed to limit mountain hare movements. The electric fencing was in a poor state of repair and not functioning.

While SNH continues to enclose land with fences, albeit for the best of intentions – the rare Alpine plants in Coire Fee have recovered as a result of a reduction in grazing pressure – its very hard for either SNH or the Cairngorms National Park Authority to object to fences close by or to make a case that all new fencing should require National Park approval.  We saw a good example of terrible fencing the next day (above).

While the wider Caenlochan area is still designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area for birds and Special Area of Conservation for plants the action being taken there to reduce deer numbers has not been sufficient to enable SNH to recommend removal of the Corrie Fee fence:


Our top priority is to manage the internationally important rare montane habitats and associated arctic-alpine plants found in Corrie Fee NNR. To do this we need to ensure that the fenced exclosure in Corrie Sharroch allows low herbivore grazing pressure to be maintained. The impacts from deer are being addressed across Caenlochan SAC as part of a Deer (Scotland) Act Section 7 agreement, with the primary object to achieve favourable condition of all the Natura Habitats and SSSI features of the area. The reduced grazing pressure since the last reserve plan has successfully resulted in both an increased diversity of plant species and increased extent of habitats sensitive to grazing pressures. For example, tall herb communities and Yellow Oxytropis are both benefitting from management. Rare habitats and species of restricted distribution such as Mountain Willow Scrub, Alpine Milk-Vetch and Purple Colt’s Foot may require more intervention to increase their abundance in the NNR. We would like to work with partners at the landscape scale, in order to investigate opportunities to increase biodiversity in the wider area around Corrie Fee. This may include felled areas of forest in Glen Doll.


To put it another way, Coire Fee is a gem which is regaining its shine but still surrounded by dross.

I don’t doubt the desire of SNH staff to work with partners at the landscape scale but the draft management plan contains NO proposals for how this should happen.  This is little different to the Cairngorms National Park Authority whose National Park Partnership Plan, agreed last year, set out a vision for conservation at the landscape scale but was short on any effective means to achieve this.  The problem is exactly the same as when I was on the Board of SNH in 2003: there are still no effective means for ensuring landowners co-operate with conservation objectives such as reducing deer numbers to allow vegetation to recover, whether in NNRs or in a National Park.

The draft SNH management plan though does propose one suggestion which I believe needs to be strongly supported:

Consider intentional supplementary feeding for eagles etc by leaving occasional deer carcasses

This is a brave suggestion because, when other organisations have tried to do this like John Muir Trust on Knoydart, there has been an outcry in the press (see here) which deliberately plays on the British public’s love for animals.  SNH  are undestandably being far more cautious than JMT.   They are only proposing to leave the occasional deer carcase in place (a very sensible thing to do given the difficulty of extracting dead deer from the steep slopes below the crags)  rather than the sort of mass culls which might enable the deer fence to be removed completely.  Still, this could help set a precedent which could be applicable to areas of wild land where it is very difficult to extract deer carcases.  I believe that if we want both to reduce deer numbers and protect the landscape from a proliferation of hill tracks, we need to win the argument that some deer carcases should be left where shot.

I would, however, suggesting rewording the proposal slightly:


“As part of the management of deer numbers, where deer are culled in areas difficult to access, carcases may be left in situ which would have the benefit of providing food for other animals, including golden eagles”.


It will be interesting to see if the Scottish Gamekeepers Assocation and neighbouring landowning interests object on the back of their objections to the JMT culls.  Given the mass culls of mountain hares in the eastern Cairngorms and the history of dumping these animals in stink pits, such objections will be open to charges of hypocrisy.   The last thing landowning interests will want, however, given much of their land management practices are designed around removing the food sources of anything that might prey on red grouse,  is anything that could help restore golden eagle numbers in the eastern Cairngorms.


The Coire Fee NNR and the Forestry Commission

Below Coire Fee, in Glen Doll, commercial forest currently predominates although the Forestry Commission is making some attempts to restructure this in favour of native trees and open areas at the top of the plantation which could allow  space for alpine plants and willow scrub to recolonise:

Forestry Commission plantation on the slopes of the Scorrie, viewed from the track up to Coire Fee. The lines on the hillside are piles of felled logs and the open slopes could eventually be colonised by willow scrub spreading out from the NNR.

There are NO concrete proposals from the Forestry Commission about how they could help expand the NNR’s at a landscape scale despite all the land they own in Glen Doll.  I am not surprised because a consequence of austerity is that every public authority defends its own budgets and as a result partnership working has become less and less effective – despite the exhortations to the contrary.  I would therefore like to propose a practical measure which could be achieved for little cost.

A section of the path up the moraine slopes into Coire Fee. While mainly Scots pine, there are significant numbers of non-native trees – and the photo shows how some are self-seeding beside the path.

The forest track up to Coire Fee ends at a turning area and above that a wide path heads more steeply up moraine to the edge of the forest.  The end of the forestry track marks both a landscape boundary, with a transition to large scale moraine, and an ecological boundary as beyond it native trees predominate.  So why not extend the northern boundary of the NNR downhill over the moraine to the end of track?

All that the Forestry Commission would need to do then is remove the non-native trees from the moraine slopes and  let nature take its course.  The potential to create the sort of open wooded moraine landscapes encountered elsewhere in Europe is huge and it could eventually help promote a gradual transition from Scots Pine dominated native woodland to montane will scrub which is so lacking in Scotland.  It would fit with the aspiration of the proposed management plan that:


Distinct moraine flutes from the last time ice flowed, some 12,000 years ago, can be glimpsed from the woodland path in Glen Doll on the way up to Corrie Fee [so why not include these in the NNR?]. The altitudinal range in the NNR is important and its rich diversity of upland and sub-montane habitats with associated species is maintained through sustainable deer and woodland management as well as restoration projects of the montane willows [so why not extend this lower down?].


So why is there no consideration of this in the draft management plan?


What needs to happen?

SNH’s public consultations on its NNR management plans provide a great opportunity to re-think how land is managed in our National Parks to help further the objectives of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.   What is needed is more public debate about how the objectives of our National Nature Reserves could be applied to wider areas within our National Parks and for our public authorities to be brave enough (as I wasn’t in 2003) to make specific proposals for how these might be achieved.   In respect of Corrie Fee here are some suggestions:

  •  Both SNH and the CNPA should state how far numbers of deer need to reduce to on neighbouring estates before the Corrie Fee fence can be removed.  They should then be using the compulsory powers they have to achieve this.
  • The CNPA, FCS and conservation organsations should strongly support the SNH proposal that occasionally leaving deer carcases on the hill is a  positive way forward for deer management
  • The CNPA should be calling on FCS to commit to extending the NNR further downhill into the Glen Doll Forest and SNH should start negotiations with FCS about how this could be made to happen.
January 30, 2018 Mary Jack No comments exist

The islands of Inchtavannach and Inchconnachan.  The green shaded area marks denotes the Special Area of Conservation on Inchtavannach and Inchconnachan.   The red lines demarcate planning applications and the large red area on Inchconnachan shows the location of the planning application referred to below.   LLTNPA Planning Portal.

The four aims set out by the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000:

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
  2. To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.
  3. To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.”
  4. To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.”

These aims are to be pursued collectively. However, if there is conflict between the first aim and any of the others then greater weight must be given to the first aim (section 9.6 of the National Parks (Scotland) Act).

but not always it seems!

Loch Lomond is famous for its beautiful wooded shores and islands.

Sadly the island of Inchtavannach, Loch Lomond no longer comes into that category.

Poisoned Beech trees and scraggy oaks on Inchtavannach, Loch lomond. Photo credit – Mary Jack

After what can only be described, in my opinion, as the appallingly disastrous poisoning of beech trees on the island of Inchtavannach (see here), I tried to find a Land Management reference to the whole debacle.

The Planning Application (Planning Ref. 2012/0103/DET (see here)) by Luss Estates, approved by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, for the demolition of the small disused lodge and boat shelter, and replacement with a huge lodge for holiday let with warden accommodation, boathouse and gated pontoon on Inchconnachan  contained an Inchconnachan Management Plan 2015-2020. It was here that I found, what to me are conflicting references to woodlands on both Inchconnachan and  Inchtavannach  (P.16) :-


“1.1 Past and present management for land management                                                        

The SNH Site Management Statement for the SSSI states that the oaks on neighbouring Inchtavannach were planted from Dutch stock approximately 200-300 years ago and were managed to supply small timber products and tannin for the factory at Balloch. Inchconnachan has a similar history with woodland management …”


So, the oaks on Inchtavannach are not indigenous, they did not originate or occur there naturally … but were planted!! So why,might you ask, were the beech trees poisoned?


“1.2 Impacts of development of lodge  

As the development footprint covers only a small amount of the semi-natural woodland it is expected that no W 17b oak woodland will require to be felled or cleared/thinned.

The development is expected to involve the loss/limbing of some of the non-native conifers and removal of the invasive Rhododendron/azaleas for the construction of the new lodge, path network, and pontoon/pier.

Care will need to be taken during construction of the new boathouse and access tracks to build the new lodge to ensure no damage to the mature Scots Pine, alder woodland and mature beech located along the shoreline.”


2.1.3 Potential for improvement of wildlife features

Inchconnachan and Inchtavannach SSSI interest has notifiable features upland oak woodland and capercaillie.  Site Condition Monitoring by Scottish Natural Heritage states that the oak woodland is also unfavourable condition (the capercaillie had died out)”


So, the management plan stated the mature beech along the shore on Inchconnachan were to be protected at the same time as improving the condition of the oak woodland.


The Planning Application


The area outlined in blue is the Special Area of Conservation for the Loch Lomond oakwoods, the red hatched area marks the Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area (for capercaillie).

The 2012 planning application was for a development within the Special Area of Conservation, which is supposed to offer the highest level of protection for conservation areas, on Inchconnachan.  It appears to have been approved on the basis it was on the site of a former development on the island which had not yet been colonised by oak trees.   The LL&TNPA approved it providing no oak trees were affected and special measures were adopted to protect trees overhanging the site:-

3.Habitat and Species Protection Measures: No work shall commence on demolition of the existing or construction of the new building of the development hereby approved until the undernoted documents have been submitted to, and approved in writing by, the Local Planning Authority or otherwise complied with. The protection measures (as may be approved pursuant to this condition) shall thereafter be complied with during construction works.

a)       Any trees whose canopies overhang the development footprint should be covered by a Tree Protection Plan that will firstly be submitted to, and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority before works commence.  The Tree Protection Plan shall set out measures to protect the root plates of these trees from vehicle pressure during and after construction, with particular regard for trees associated with oak woodland habitat.  No storage of building materials or piling of soil shall take place within the protected areas established pursuant to this condition.


The principle behind this decision appeared to be while existing oak trees should be protected, the potential for them to recolonise new areas was not so important and ground without them could be used for development.   One might ask therefore if the same principle could not have been applied to save the mature beech trees on Inchtavannach?   It appears however that its okay for development to take place in a Special Area of Conservation on one island within the Lomond Woods SAC but not for trees which preceded the oak woodland to remain on another.

So much for the four aims set out by the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 and aims 1 & 4 in particular.

Felled mature beech trees and standing oaks (… and pretty poor looking specimens they are too) on Inchtavannach, Loch Lomond. Photo credit Mary Jack.

It also appears to be permissable for the 300 year old beech trees on Inchtavannach, apparently both native and indigenous, to be poisoned by SNH but they must be cared for by Luss Estates on Inchconnachan!

How can this be?

The blame for the poisoning of the beech trees on Inchconnachan cannot be laid solely at the door of Luss Estates. Their Land Management Plan, to which I refer above, has many references to SNH and LL&TNPA and it is clear they approved the said Plan. There appears to me to be too many Government quangos with too many fingers in too many pies (incidentally, acorns were milled and used as flour in times past). This appears to result in conflict and botched undertakings as on Inchconnachan. It seems to me that many of these Government quangos do not consult with one another. Indeed it was suggested by a Board Member at an LL&TNPA Board Meeting (albeit on a different topic) that there was a need for more ‘joined up thinking’.

December 30, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Twelve days ago I went with Dave Morris for a walk around Beinn Ghuilbin on the Kinveachy Estate, south of Carrbridge, after a reader had reported seeing some dire new forest tracks there.   I had never walked around this part of the estate before but had been keen to visit for many years because it contains a large area of Caledonian Pine forest which has several nature conservation designations including that of Special Protection Area for capercaillie and scottish crossbill.

Evidence of forest operations appeared on a side road soon after we started up the Wade Military Road which goes from near Kinveachy over the hill to Sluggan Bridge on the river Dulnain.   The first sign provoked a thought.   Fair enough, in one of the last remaining strongholds for the capercaillie, to keep dogs on a lead during the breeding season but what is the impact of these forest operations on that species?  Do we know?   The part of the forest though where timber cutting was taking place, between Beinn Guilbin and the A9, is outside the boundary of the nature conservation sites and therefore outwith the control of Scottish Natural Heritage.

Photo credit Dave Morris

The middle sign beyond provoked disbelief.  Yet another sign in our National Parks that contravenes the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.    Signs on land management operations are meant to be specific and offer alternatives (see here for SOAC sign_template_-_woodland_management).  We reported it to the Cairngorms National Park Authority after our visit and received an immediate acknowledgement and assurance they would investigate. (I have still had no acknowledgement from the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority to High Velocity Rifles in use Keep Out signs south of Ardlui which I reported on 4th December (see here) whereas the CNPA has stated they will refer the “Welcome to the Moor” signs, which featured in that post, to the Cairngorms Local Access Forum for consideration).

The former Wade Military Road, which forms the northern boundary to the protected nature sites, provided a good walking experience and an example of how tracks should be.

Over the hill we turned south and first followed a track which was even more minimalistic than the one above:  just two landrover wheel ruts but after a couple of kilometres it had been subjected to more extensive engineering works.

The track – a path formerly followed this line – appears to have been excavated with diggers and the finishing, e.g the bank on the right and the drainage ditch beyond, is poor. Photo credit Dave Morris.

The track was still narrow and had very little impact at the landscape scale, being sunken and weaving through the old trees and areas of regenerating woodland (there was lots of signs of recent regeneration – welcome when ten years ago, when this site was last assessed according to information on SNH sitelink, it was in unfavourable condition due to lack of regeneration).

Where the track ended we cut up over the south ridge of Beinn Ghuilbin heading for the forestry tracks marked on my old OS map.    Once outside the Special Protection Area we found the tracks and a quagmire.

Photo Credit Dave Morris

This was only walkable because partially frozen.

Photo credit Dave Morris

On one section of the track network there had been an attempt to preserve the former track (right) by creating a new track alongside which illustrates the impact that these forest operations have had on the rest of the track network – obliterated!   Unfortunately my photos did not come out but all along the main tracks, side tracks had been created through the trees for thinning operations, leaving huge ruts everywhere.

While the area of forest operations is not designated, it is right next door to the designated sites and with a bit of vision would offer a fantastic opportunity to extend the area of “natural”  forest.   That would  probably require tree felling but without the use of heavy forest machinery which has had such a major impact on the soil and vegetation here.   Why can’t our National Parks promote use of horses or smaller machinery to remove trees in areas such as this which incidentally would provide employment for far longer periods?   I have been unable to find the Forest Plan for Kinveachy on the Forestry Commission Scotland website (most plans are still not published ) to ascertain if this has been considered.

The main reason though our public authorities are able to get away with allowing work such as this in a National Park is that at present relatively few people walk or cycle in the area.  We saw nobody in five hours.  If the area had been better used – and if for example the tracks had been included on the core path network (they are not) – far more care would need to have been taken.  There are some very good examples of forest practice in the Cairngorms National Park – the challenge for the CNPA is to ensure that best forestry practice applies everywhere.

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


The track which is supposed to be a footpath

Unfinished culvert

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

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


Landscape and Visual Impact

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


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


Impact on Wildland

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Track October 2017 – is this really a path?

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


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


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


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


What needs to happen

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


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


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

October 23, 2017 Nick Kempe 3 comments

Just when it appeared that the Cairngorms National Park Authority was starting to get a grip on the proliferation of hill tracks which has blighted the Cairngorms landscape, they have blown it.  Faced with a proposal by WildLand Ltd, the company controlled by Anders Povlsen, the Danish billionaire to create almost 15 miles of new hill tracks between Glens Feshie and Tromie, they have decided these can go ahead without any planning approvals.   This is an astonishing decision which undermines the planning system as well and the National Park Partnership Plan approved earlier this year.  (You can view all the documentation that has been made public on the Highland Council Planning portal here)

Photo/photomontage from the landscape assessment

The purpose of this post is not to consider the details of the proposed tracks, which form part of a wider plan to reforest a large area between the Feshie and Tromie with native woodland and which I will consider in a further post (there are I think many positive aspects to the proposals), but to look at this decision from a policy and planning perspective.   What is important here is not just the size of the proposed developments – 15 miles of track in a National Park – but that 7.3km of the track are within the Cairngorms National Scenic Area and 9 km in the Cairngorms Wild Land Area.


The policy position of the Cairngorms National Park Authority and this decision

Many conservation and recreation organisations welcomed the statement in the National Park Partnership Plan approved earlier this year that there would be a presumption against new constructed tracks in open moorland areas.


This commitment was developed further in the Main Issues Report, which set out the main areas for public consultation in the forthcoming Local Development Plan, which was considered by the CNPA Board on 6th October:


Preferred Option

The existing Local Development Plan includes a specific policy on landscape. It outlines a presumption against any development that does not conserve the landscape character and special qualities of the National Park. This has been used effectively to control and mitigate the impacts of new hill tracks in cases where they require planning permission. We think the existing policy will continue to provide an appropriate means for controlling these forms of development in the future. However, we also think that we could give more clarity on the issue of hill tracks by amending the policy to reflect the National Park Partnership Plan’s specific presumption against new tracks in areas of open moorland.


“Do you agree that the new Local Development Plan should include an amended policy to reflect the National Park Partnership Plan’s presumption against new hill tracks in open moorland areas?”


It is somewhat ironic that just the day before (see here), on 5th October, CNPA staff had emailed Highland Council that despite the potentially significant landscape impact, they were content for the proposed tracks to be dealt with by Highland Council under the Prior Notification System.

The track proposals, the green area on the right marks the National Scenic Area while the tracks in the bottom half of the map are in the Cairngorms Wild Land area. Some of the proposed tracks including U-V, A-B and B to the green which marks the edge of the forestry plantation, run across open moorland. W-X is an upgraded ATV track which runs along the ridge of the Corbett Carn Dearg Mor.

What is even more extraordinary about the CNPA decision is that back in the Spring, in their response to the Government planning consultation on People, Places and Planning they had argued (rightly in my opinion) that the whole Prior Notification system for hill tracks was flawed and that tracks should require full planning permission:


We also consider that the review should consider whether some development that can
be undertaken through prior notification or approval as agricultural and private roads
and ways should simply require planning permission. Many tracks on open moorland
and hills have some link to an agricultural purpose, even where the primary use is for
sporting activities. These tracks can be contentious, but the public may never know of
their approval nor have an opportunity to make representation on them. We suggest
that new tracks on open ground that are not in enclosed farmland should simply require
planning permission, irrespective of the purpose of the track.


The Feshie track proposal was, one might have thought, an ideal opportunity for the CNPA to consider properly the implications of a large development of hill tracks under the planning system and allow the public to comment.  Instead, the CNPA have totally contravened their own policy position.

The brown shading marks the Cairngorms Wild Land areas where there is supposed to be a presumption against new developments. Most of the proposed tracks in the application which fall into this area are in what is currently open moorland.

The situation is much worse than that however.   By allowing the proposal to be decided under the Prior Notification system – which was introduced for agricultural and forestry tracks which are treated as permitted developments under our planning system – even if significant parts of the development were justifiable, the CNPA has lost any ability to control what happens under what the planning development and left the entire development to trust.


Where a track is agreed through the planning system, a planning authority will always attach conditions, for example about how it should be constructed.   Wildland Ltd has produced far more documentation than would normally be submitted for Prior Notifications, for which it is to be commended, and many of these look good.  However, not only is the public being given no chance to comment – representations from the North East Mountain Trust who were consulted privately that the visual impact of the tracks would be reduced by a vegetated central strip have been ignored –  the CNPA and Highland Council now have no means of ensuring what has been proposed happens in practice.  Without planning conditions, there can be no enforcement.  This development is being left to trust.


What is going on?

I do not think responsibility for this mess lies with the Feshie Estate/WildLand Ltd but with our public authorities.  These include Forestry Commission Scotland, SNH, Highland Council as well as the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  Its clear from references in the planning documentation that Wildland Ltd consulted with our public authorities as early as last December.  Its also appears that initially the CNPA did the right thing and asked for a full landscape assessment, as is evidenced by his extract from a communication quoted in the landscape assessment produced by Wildland Ltd:

What then happened is also revealed by the WildLand Ltd documentation:

So, just as the CNPA were telling the Scottish Government that the Prior Notification system was not fit for the purpose and before they had received any detailed information about whether the tracks could be said to be forestry or not, they had agreed that the proposals should be dealt with under the Prior Notification system.    This effectively pre-judged the decision and ruled out any public engagement and consultation.  I had been feeling a bit guilty that it has taken me three weeks, since I first heard about the proposals, to consider them on parkswatch but its clear the decision was effectively made well before then.


There is nothing to indicate that WildLand Ltd would have objected if they had been asked to submit a full planning application which could have been considered by the public.  While there are legal complexities about when a forestry track is a forestry track, the Wildland Ltd documentation makes it clear that these tracks are also to assist with deer management and have been designed to improve recreational access by walkers and cyclists.   In other words they are not pretending, as many estates do, that these tracks are solely for forestry purposes and therefore don’t require planning permission.   And while there might have been complexities in considering in one application tracks that did not require planning permission with those that should have required it, it is clear from the fact that WildLand Ltd submitted this as one proposal – rather than the normal track creep which is so evident in places like Drumochter – that they are trying to be open and transparent.  Its our public authorities which are the issue.


I can think of several possible explanations for the CNPA’s stance, none of which in my view are appropriate for a National Park:

  • A full planning application – which would have required Board visits etc – was too much work.
  • The CNPA trust WildLand Ltd, in a way that they don’t trust other estates – hence they don’t see the need for planning conditions.
  • That because Glen Feshie has been successfully reducing deer numbers and enabling native woodland to regenerate, its crucial to the National Park achieving its landscape scale restoration targets, and the CNPA therefore did not want to risk this being disrupted in any way through a planning application.

To me though none of these quite ring true.   I had started out by thinking perhaps the CNPA was under huge pressure from Glen Feshie estate but looking at the planning I don’t think that is the case.  Feshie appear to have been co-operative.  I am left with the suspicion that there is some hidden factor behind this terrible decision.   Perhaps the CNPA will disprove this and publicly explain their position and why they appear to have ignored their own and national policy?


Its time the CNPA started to put its money where its mouth is, trust public consultation processes and use them properly.   Had they done so, I am sure the end result could have been a new track network which achieved conservation purposes but with less impact on the landscape and wild land then the current proposals.  Examples of this will be considered in a future post.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

Section south of previous photo looking north

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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



May 8, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
Letter to Strathy 15th March 2001 courtesy of Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

My apologies to readers that in my post on Curr Wood (see here) which highlighted the importance of the wood to the pine hoverfly, I had missed an article from the Strathy the previous week making this very point and providing some of the history to the site  Strathy 17.4.20 Curr Wood felling concern.   Taken together the articles  raise some serious questions about how species which have been agreed by government as priorities for conservation are being protected in the Cairngorms National Park.


Controversy about the management of Curr Wood, which is situated just south of Dulnain Bridge on Speyside, dates back at least 15 years (see letter from Adam Watson above), i.e before the CNPA was created in 2003.   The importance of Curr Wood to wildlife appears linked historically to a sparse  felling regime which has allowed Scots pines to grow older and larger than elsewhere and left much of the ground undisturbed.  Curr Wood hosts the largest population of the twinflower in the UK and is the last remaining refuge of pine hoverfly.  Both are priority species under the UK and Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan, although strangely the site itself has not been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).   The site therefore, although of obvious importance to conservation, is not protected as such.


Pine hoverfly larvae have very specific habitat requirements.  They develop in rotten pine stumps, usually in association with the pine butt-rot fungus, which are 40 cm in diameter – this is thought because smaller stumps do not provide a sufficient area for the larvae to develop.  After about 8 years, rotten stumps dry out and the hoverfly needs to move on. http://www.snh.gov.uk/docs/A1849928.pdf    What this means is if smaller trees are chopped down too early , the stumps are no use for the pine hoverfly, while if too many are chopped at the same time, there is nowhere for them to move on to.   Pine hoverfly are still l found in Curr Wood precisely because the felling has been so selective.   Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) in their statement to the Strathy last week, claiming to have protected pine hoverfly by putting machine exclusion zones in place, appear to have missed the point – for the pine hoverfly its the felling regime that matters.  What FCS has not explained is the likely longer term impact of the felling license on the remaining population of pine hoverfly, and in particular, the likelihood that the pine hoverfly will colonise the areas being felled in future.    If we want to save the pine hoverfly, restricting it to one area of one wood looks a high risk strategy.


Both the pine hoverfly and twinflower are  also listed in the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan as being priority species for the National Park.  This was confirmed in the new draft Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan, to which FCS is a party.   One of the priorities of that plan is “Safeguarding species for which the Cairngorms National Park is particularly important” – which includes the pine hoverfly.    It is legitimate therefore to ask how FCS thought it good enough, after sending a formal consultation to CNPA and RSPB about Curr Wood, to proceed with the felling license when they received no reply.    Did no-one in FCS think of picking up the phone to ask the views of others on the “mitigation measures” it had decided?   This is a failure in Partnership working by public agencies – just what the Partnership Plan is supposed to prevent.


Ten years ago (see SNH document above) there was a serious attempt to conserve the pine hoverfly and indeed to re-introduce it to areas such as Rothiemurch, which included the appointment of a dedicated member of staff.   These re-introduction attempts appear to have failed and the pine hoverfly appears to have disappeared from its other refuge, Anagach Wood, so is now confined to Curr Wood.  Even more reason one might have thought for FCS to have worked in partnership with all the parties, including the pine hoverfly Biodiversity Action Plan Steering group, to work out a joint approach for Curr Wood.   That doesn’t seem to have happened so far.  Its time therefore for the CNPA to take a lead here, in terms of partnership working, and to call on FCS to work with other parties, including local people.   One might have hoped that, 14 years after the National Park was created, agencies would be working together more effectively.


The unstated issue and challenge behind all of this is land-ownership.   There is something wrong when private landowners can still more or less do what they want on sites vital for conservation in our National Park without considering the wider good.   While the failure to designate the site as a SSSI has no doubt contributed to this, there have been at least four different owners since 2001:   Seafield Estate sold the wood to BSW timber 2001 who sold to Henry Becker in  2002 who then sold on to Billy Martin.   That is not a good way to manage a prime wildlife site which needs a consistent approach.  Instead, Curr Wood has been subject to different owners with different objectives.   More evidence of the need for a new approach to landownership in our National Parks.


One option would be for FCS to buy Curr Wood – after all it did stump up £7.4m to buy up part of Rothiemurchus, so why not other woodland of conservation importance in the National Park?


The strongest advocates for this site though, as with other areas of woodland on Speyside, appear to be the  people who live near it.    The CNPA in its Partnership Plan included some positive commitments to empowering local communities without saying how it might do this.  So why not engage with the local community about the future of Curr Wood?     While resources to buy the wood might be an issue, why not think ahead?   How about the CNPA  sponsoring a common good fund for the Cairngorms which could assist communities to buy up land in the National Park?    As with the Victorian common good funds, people might even bequeath money for the benefit of the National Park and the people who live in it and enjoy it.


A wider perspective on why the CNPA needs to intervene in Curr Wood is given today in an excellent piece by their Chief Executive, Grant Moir, in the Scotsman (see here).   Nature is good for people, so why are we destroying it?    And, Curr Wood even includes a core path!

March 20, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment
The lower part of the track on Carn Leth Choin (foreground and upper right)  which Highland Council treated as a permitted development not requiring planning permission

Following my post questioning what the Cairngorms National Park Authority was doing about the unlawful hill track leading onto Carn Leth Choin in upper Glen Banchor, west of Newtonmore (see here), I wrote to the Cairngorms National Park Authority.  On 8th March (I have been in Norway in-between) I received this response from Murray Ferguson:


“Concerns about the track at Carn Leth Choin, Cluny Estate were brought to CNPA’s attention in 2014 and the CNPA raised the issue with Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage who had both been involved at earlier stages. Highland Council had previously determined that a lower section of the track was permitted development for agricultural purposes and so no further action could be taken.  It appears that there was some confusion between SNH and the CNPA/Highland Council at the time over further part of the track and what had been authorised and only in 2015 did all the bodies come to understand the issues properly.  A site visit was undertaken with SNH and Highland Council in October 2015.

Following the site visit, SNH undertook to pursue the previous owner of the estate on the grounds that the track was a breach of The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. The case was subsequently investigated by Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime team and CNPA were advised to hold off our own investigations while the criminal investigations were undertaken. Police Scotland concluded that there was insufficient evidence to pursue prosecution.

This was reported to the CNPA in June 2016 and we re-opened our investigation in July 2016.The CNPA are currently in dialogue with the estate’s representatives and Scottish Natural Heritage about restoration of ground and mitigation of impacts and a meeting is taking place soon that our Head of Planning will attend. If action is not taken voluntarily by the estate in the next few months then the CNPA will move to take formal action.”


I believe this response is extremely welcome.  It helps explain the background and makes it very clear that the CNPA is taking this issue seriously (and I would have to say is quite a contrast to the way in which the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park responds to concerns which I have raised with them about hill tracks).  I believe though its worth considering some of the detail and the implications.




One of the problem with the preventing unlawful hill tracks, such as the one onto Carn Leth Choin, is that existing tracks have not been clearly mapped by planning authorities, including our National Parks.  This makes it very difficult for Planning Authorities to establish when extensions have taken place and whether they should have come under the Prior Notification rules which came into force in December 2014 (this has been a problem for the CNPA on Deeside where the Dinnet Estate claimed its track extensions were completed prior to the new rules).    In this case it has led to delays because its not been absolutely clear which section of track was agreed to by Highland Council as a permitted development.    The solution to this problem was demonstrated by Kincardine and Deeside Council over 20 years ago when they marked the end points of all hill tracks on their Local Plan maps – a precedent that our National Parks should now follow.

This section of track of the Carn Leth Choin track was treated by Highland Council as a permitted development but it sits within the Monadliath SSSI and was an “Operation Requiring Consent”.



Only the lowest section of the hill track is outwith the Monadliath SSSI

While it can be difficult for Planning Authorities to prove that a track is NOT for agricultural purposes and therefore not a permitted development, in this case I believe Highland Council Planning Department made a serious mistake.  Soon after crossing the Allt Madagain (top photo) the track enters the Monadliath Site of Special Scientific Interest and any track construction with this protected area was an “Operation Requiring Consent” from SNH:


The Operations Requiring Consent for the Monadliath SSSI that relate to tracks and vehicle use

Its not clear from the CNPA response if Highland Council planning department checked with SNH before agreeing to the lower part of the track as a permitted development as they are supposed to do for all developments within protected areas.    If they did do so, there are some obvious questions that need to be asked about why SNH agreed to this.  If Highland Council failed to do so that would have made it very difficult for SNH to take action subsequently.

The section of track which was allowed as a permitted development appears to terminate at this large borrow pit at over 650m up the hill. The construction has been undertaken with no regard for this being a SSSI

In my view this was a serious planning failure.  The lower section of track is too steep and is already eroding away.   The landscape scar can only get worse.  In this case this is not the fault of the CNPA as they can only “call-in” development that their constituent Councils and Planning Authorities have identified as requiring planning permission.


The fact that SNH referred the construction of the new section of track that leads to the summit of Carn Leth Choin to Police Scotland is significant.   Breach of the Operations Requiring Consent is a criminal offence and the evidence shows that this clearly happened in this case: the photos below show extraction of materials, road construction and use of vehicles all of which needed permission.    It would be in the public interest to know why Police Scotland decided not to prosecute in this case – it would have sent a clear signal to landowners all over Scotland of the consequences of ignoring the law governing protected areas.  Its difficult to avoid the suspicion that as with raptor persecution Police Scotland treat landowners differently to the rest of the population – as being above the law.



Taking what the CNPA has said at face value, there are serious challenges with restoring this track.   The material that forms the track needs to be returned to the “borrow pits” from which it was sourced.

I would suggest this material, which appears to have been simply dumped on existing vegetation (which was protected – its montane heath) cannot simply be removed by heavy machinery because that will simply further damage the ground underneath.  The final removal of aggregate and restoration of the ground surface both beneath the track and over the borrow pits once the material has been replaced there will need to be by hand.  That will require a skilled workforce which at present does not really exist because there has been no attempt to restore any hill tracks since NTS acquired Mar Lodge Estate and restored the Beinn a Bhuird track.
Any restoration will be very expensive but luckily the new owners, who were not responsible for constructing the track, do not lack a bob or two.  They can either afford to pay for the restoration themselves or pay whatever it needs to recover money from the previous owner – who made £3.7m on the Cluny Estate in the fourteen years he owned it.   For excellent background on the estate sale  see Andy Wightman’s blog


Qatar royal family buy Cluny Estate

Its time for the CNPA to be resolute and there are welcome signs that in this case they might be so.  They only need to tackle successfully one unlawful hill track in the National Park and all landowners will start to take note of the risks of failing to comply with the law.

Use of vehicles, which is an Operation Requiring Consent, extends beyond the end of the unlawful hill track
November 15, 2016 Nick Kempe 2 comments
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.



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, 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.

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.
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.
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.
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?
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.

November 13, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist


The Morven Site of Special Scientific Interest as shown on SNH sitelink. I walked with my partner Louise from Glen Fenzie, bottom left of map up to Mona Gowan (new track on its south ridge not shown on map) along ridge to Morven and then down to Morven Lodge.

Following my post on “How to protect wildlife in our national parks”  I have been thinking about how the Cairngorms National Park could achieve its stated objected of landscape scale conservation on the Dinnet Estate where I walked in September.   I have since used it to illustrate the connection between grouse moors and rural depopulation (see here) and the persecution of wildlife (see here).


I had not checked what areas on Dinnet were protected by nature conservation designations before our walk but there is in fact a connection between what is protected and what you see.  Unlike  many SSSIs in the National Park all the features are currently classified as being in favourable condition, with only one of these – the assemblage of upland birds, surprise surprise – classified as declining (see here). However, and this is a major problem as we will see, the site is not regularly monitored and the last survey of the Alpine Heath was back in 2000.

On grouse moors there are high culls of red deer, because they are believed to impact on grouse numbers, with the consequence that trees can regenerate as here by the A839 in Glen Fenzie


One of the reasons Morven is designated a SSSI is because of its juniper. The reduced grazing pressure is also helping juniper regenerate outwith the SSSI
The regeneration however does not last for long because of muirburn, which has here destroyed what was a large patch of juniper (the bare branches across the middle of the photo). Juniper is not fire tolerant unlike heather.


The fence, running to the summit of Mona Gowan, marks the boundary of the SSSI. Within SSSIs landowners have to ask permission from SNH for operations requiring consent and for Morven this includes creation of all hill tracks. The bulldozing of this new track just outside the SSSI boundary is not a coincidence.





The creation of the tracks has not however stopped the estate taking vehicles into the SSSI and damaging the moorland.  “Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest except four-wheel drive or similar agricultural vehicles on existing estate roads and tracks” is one of the Operations Requiring Consent on the Morven SSSI. Its not possible to tell from Sitelink if SNH consented to this or not as the details of the consents are not publicly available.

















































“Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground” is another Operation Requiring Consent. Its not clear if the estate got consent either to dig this hole to create this mound for putting out medicated grit for grouse. While adminstration of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are all ORCs, strangely feeding medicated grit to grouse is not.
Another earthwork created to feed medicated grit to grouse within the SSSI. Morven beyond.
As we got further into the SSSI, the evidence of land management operations reduced and the wildlife increased.
Having not seen any mountain hare on Mona Gowan, on the edge of the SSSI, on Morven there were many. “The killing or removal of any wild mammal or bird, including pest control, except bird species covered by the General Licence (Scottish Government Rural Directorate); other species under a specific licence issued by SGRD.” is listed as an ORC. SSSIs could thus be used to protect mountain hares.
There was also lots of fantastic heath, another feature for which Morven is designated a SSSI
The Cairngorms National Park Authority is currently dealing with tracks created without planning permission on the Dinnet Estate. This track and large borrow pit, on Roar Hill, is within the SSSI and both track and pit were Operations Requiring Consent. Its unclear if SNH gave consent to these tracks but its quite clear they have had a large impact on the vegetation and should not be allowed on nature conservation grounds. Note also the muirburn. “Burning (and) changes in the pattern or frequency of burning” are also ORC.
More damage by all terrain vehicles within the SSSI
Below that however is the success story, the large expanse of juniper which is now classified as being in favourable condition. Walking through it was a wonderful experience.
While there was some sheep grazing, except for tussock fields of purple moor grass, I cannot think of a time in Scotland when I have walked through grasses as tall as this. Again, a great experience.
As soon as you leave the SSSI there are traps everywhere. Even if small mammals like stoats are not persecuted within the SSSI, as soon as they move out they are. The SSSI is too small to support species that require large territories like eagles. Its thus failing to fulfil its potential.
As soon as you leave the Morven SSSI, you are back into intensively managed grouse moors where muirburn stops all regeneration of the land.


Nature protection and landscape scale conservation

I have been thinking about how Alison Johnstone MSP’s suggestion that Nature Conservation Orders could be used to protect the mountain hare in the National Park could be applied to the Dinnet Estate and what other mechanisms are available to protect species and enable habitat restoration.

  • The purpose of Nature Conservation Orders is to protect natural features from damage.   They are stronger than the Operations Requiring Consent because they make certain activities that damage natural features illegal.   They can also be applied to land contiguous with an SSSI or European protected site  or any land which Scottish Ministers believe to be of special interest for its natural features.  They could thus, in theory be used to ban certain activities from the entire National Park.
  • The provisions relating to Operations Requiring Consent should  be sufficient to prevent much of the persecution of wildlife that goes on on grouse moors that are designated as SSSIs as the Morven SSSI shows.   The problem is the lack of monitoring (SNH does not have the resources to monitor sites properly) and the will to use existing powers to take enforcement action.   There are plenty of powers to force landowners to restore damage, the problem is they are not used.     I think a first step to improvement would be if SNH published in full those Operations Requiring Consent it had approved for each SSSI and together with this a mechanism for the public to report land-managers who had breached these conditions.   The public would then be clearer if damage such as that documented above (the earthworks, track creation and damage by ATVs) had been agreed with SNH or not.
  • In the case of species protection outside SSSIs, species like mountain hare are already protected.  The problem is that SNH has consented to culls because of claims that mountain hares carry ticks and damage trees.  Again, this is a matter of the will of our public authorities to take on the landowners.
  • What is lacking at present however is any effective means to extend areas which are doing well in conservation terms.   A basic flaw of our conservation system is it was designed to protect what is already there, than what might be there.  To protect land SNH has to undertake a lengthy and bureaucratic process to show that certain habitats or species are present in a particular area.  If they get lost, that area can lose its protected status.   When I was on the Board of SNH there were proposals from the RSPB to create Special Protected Areas to save hen harrier.  To designate an area SNH had to show sufficient hen harrier were present – all that did was  incentivise the landowners to kill off their hen harrier as quickly as possible to avoid their land being designated.  So, in my view we do need an effective means to enable natural processes and species to be restored to areas which do not meet the criteria for SSSIs or European Protected Areas.
  • National Parks are one way that this could be done as they have the power to create byelaws for nature conservation purposes that cover all land, not just SSSIs.  Hence my proposal that the Cairngorms National Park should regulate hunting through byelaws.  The CNPA however could, if it had the will, introduce byelaws to control/stop damaging activities such as muirburn.
  • Another mechanism however could be Nature Conservation Orders.   Their advantage over byelaws is that they could be applied to particular areas of land.   They are a stick which the Cairngorms National Park Authority, if it worked with SNH and the Scottish Government, could use to encourage landowners to work in partnership.   The CNPA keeps talking about the need to work in partnership but I very much doubt that Dinnet Estate, whose failure to co-operate with the National Park on hill tracks I intend to blog about soon, would agree at present to any reduction in the damaging activities it conducts on its land outwith the SSSI.   If the CNPA however was able to say it had decided that the area of juniper should be expanded beyond the SSSI boundaries to achieve landscape scale conservation, would be happy to agree with the estate where to do this but if they failed to co-operate, would ask SNH to issue a Nature Conservation Order……………….well, I think that might just provide an incentive for partnership to work.




The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including shrub, herb, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus and turf.

In respect of borrow pits within Muir of Dinnet and Morven and Mullachdubh SSSIs whilst the method statement refers to borrow pits there is no information to state whether these are subject of the planning application and therefore to be used. Works to borrow pits within the SSSIs may require consent from SNH.
33. In respect of the Muir of Dinnet SSSI and its geomorphologic interest, SNH note that the original track cuts across a number of sub glacial ridge and channel features, with the recent upgrading of the track causing additional damage which cannot be restored and has increased visual intrusion. The proposed mitigation should benefit the geomorphologic interest by visually reducing the interruption to the landforms

June 15, 2016 Nick Kempe 3 comments
Cairngorms Ron Greer100_0042
Photo credit Ron Greer. Bulldozing ground lower Coire Cas before installation new ski tow and snow fencing

While I usually visit the Coire Cas carpark at least a couple of times a year to climb or ski tour it was years since I had taken a proper at the Cairngorm ski area.   I was prompted to do so with Dave Morris  two weeks ago by this photo taken by Ron Greer last year.


It was pure coincidence our visit  happened just after Natural Retreats announced their decision not to replace the Day Lodge at Cairngorm with a new building http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/06/06/plans-cairngorm-dropped/ and that they were considering other options, including a mountain bike track.   I have since been doing a little digging of my own.


The destruction was to “improve” the skiing, to install a beginner’s rope tow and smooth out the slope.











In the past the destruction evidenced by Ron’s photo would never have been allowed.  The construction of the funicular 1999-2001 pre-dated the creation of the Cairngorms National Park but strict construction requirements were put in place.  For example, the use of machinery was restricted and the bases of some of the concrete stanchions which you can see in the right hand photo dug out by hand.  I disagreed with the funicular – which has always be a white elephant – but at least at that time there were serious attempts to preserve the mountain and meet some of the criticisms of conservationists or indeed anyone who cared about the mountain.  It appears that this is not longer the case, that Natural Retreats and its sub-contractors have been allowed to run amok and completely destroy the soils here.


While there have been attempts to restore the vegetation  over most of the ground, there is already evidence of extensive problems.

There are patches of ground where there has been no attempt to restore the vegetation that has been removed.
Erosion in form of gullying at the top of the track
Erosion, including gullying at the top of the new bulldozed  track
Some of the attempts to restore vegetation have clearly failed





We have had a relatively dry year so far but its clear that with a period of heavy rain significant areas of the “restoration” work will wash away and the track, which points straight downhill and has no channels to collect the water flowing down it will start to develop deep erosion channels.   This is not simply about standards of work that should be unacceptable in a National Park, its also about risks  that the whole slope is  washed away completely.   I believe the public authorities, the Cairngorm National Park Authority, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage need to act on this and fast.

The new track in Coire Cas is several hundred metres in length and the slopes to left and right of it have been extensively modified

After our visit I found out the new track has had no planning permission – its an unlawful development in the heart of our National Park and to make matters even worse so far NO enforcement action has been taken against Natural Retreats.     Indeed I understand that significant other parts of the work undertaken by Natural Retreats had no planning permission and hope to cover this on Parkswatchscotland in due course.

The new fencing is more concentrated lower down the hill


There is an aesthetic debate to be had on whether the new fencing looks better than the former chestnut fencing.  The old fencing was well past its sell-by date and it may be the new horizontal plank design is more effective at trapping snow.   What is indisputable though is that the new fencing does not make this a good place to walk and partially undermines previous attempts to create paths for general tourists through the ski area.






Where now?

The destruction evidenced in these photos at the heart of our National Park should be of serious public concern and though harder to address than the rubbish that is littered everywhere, that would  not prevent effective action if there was the will from our public authorities and politicians.


That Natural Retreats has breached planning requirements in the first two years of what is a lease which has something like 22  more years to run should not just be taken as an awful omen, it should trigger a review of the lease by HIE who own the land.  I have already asked HIE for a copy of the lease and if this does not contain a require to adhere to planning conditions, one needs to be inserted immediately.  If Natural Retreats failed to accept this I believe this would demonstrate they were unfit to operate any ski area in National Parks and that alone should be grounds to terminate the entire lease.


Breaching planning permission in the core of a National Park is unacceptable and the CNPA now needs to undertake a full audit of what elements of the works undertaken by Natural Retreats had planning permission and which did not and then take appropriate enforcement action.   They also need to look at the quality of the restoration work in consultation with Scottish Natural Heritage who were involved in setting standards for the funicular development.  I believe this should include commissioning an independent report on the damage that has been done here and how it can be repaired.


The damage caused by Natural Retreats means the ground and vegetation cover in Coire Cas will almost certainly never be able to be restored to its previous condition.  To put it bluntly the land here has been trashed.    I believe this is unacceptable which is why there need to be serious consequences for Natural Retreats.   I very much doubt now they are fit to manage this area but the who care about this area, and the public authorities that are supposed to be its custodians, need to look forward and find solutions.   I will argue in my next post on Cairngorm that the destruction caused by Natural Retreats provides an opportunity to develop a new vision for the ski area that would make it better for skiing, walking and wildlife.