Tag: vision for National Parks

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relatively simple, reducing the number of directly elected members would require electoral boundaries to be completely withdrawn, a complex business.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.



June 21, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

The official consultation on the draft Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Partnership Plan (NPPP) 2018-23 closes on Monday 3rd July.  The NPPP is the key document governing what the LLTNPA is supposed to do over the next five years so its important people respond.   In this post I will take an overview of the consultation documents and then, in three further posts, will consider the three themes in the consultation, Conservation and Land Management, Rural Development and Visitor Experience, which broadly mirror the National Park’s statutory objectives.     I hope people with an interest in our National Parks will respond to the consultation and that these posts may inform those responses.    Its easy to be cynical about consultations, and I believe the LLTNPA consultation  demonstrates just how hollowed out consultation processes have become, but public pressure does work.   A good example is the pledge which was added to the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan to eliminate raptor persecution over the next five years.  Pressure needs to be exerted on the LLTNPA to radically up its game.


Where is the review of the current NPPP?


A rational starting point for developing any new plan should be a review of existing plans, covering matters such as successes, failures and consideration as to what needs to change.    The current NPPP,  2012-17, was initially reviewed on an annual basis, at a meeting chaired by the Environment Minister.     The Reviews are available on the LLTNPA website NPPPlan but you will never come across these if you go straight to the consultation pages and  there is no mention of them in the consultation documents nor is there any explanation of why the last one was in 2014.  Had the reviews been undertaken as originally intended, the information from them could have been fed into the new planning process.   Instead, publicly at least, there is a huge hole.


What the last review in 2014 does show is that the LLTNPA was facing certain serious issues and was lacking data on critical issues.

Extract from NPPP Review

Note how the LLTNPA classed a drop in percentage of designated conservation sites in favourable conditions with an “equals” symbol, meaning there was nothing to worry about.  And, were the LLTNPA to have collected data on % of visitors satisfied with cleanliness of the countryside I suspect there would have been a massive drop from 86%.   This raises the question about whether the LLTNPA is now simply operating in a post-truth environment, that its not collecting and reporting data because it would not support its marketing hype.  Other measures from 2013-14 were even worse:  a drop in the percentage of new affordable housing from a baseline of 75% to 43% and a drop in new business start ups.


Where is the consultation on the issues the LLTNPA is facing?


The consultation documents do not ask people to consider the issues the National Park faces, quite a contrast to the Cairngorms National Park Authority consultation which was based around “The Big 9” issues they had identified.   The only place that there is any  consideration of the issues is in the Strategic Environment Assessment which most people won’t read as nowhere in the consultation does it suggest this might be worth reading.  I can see why, because the SEA  explains how the consultation should have been undertaken:


“the dynamic assessment of environmental objectives / targets with
trends data can help to identify emerging environmental issues that should ideally be
addressed early on.”


It then goes on to highlight “the most critical environmental issues (problems and opportunities) that should be considered in the development of the NPPP 2018-2023”.   Nowhere does the LLTNPA explain how these issues have informed the development of the NPPP, indeed its not clear they have been considered at all.
Its well worth looking at Appendix 3 to the SEA to see how the LLTNPA is actually doing.  Here is an example:
And here’s another:   “The Park has 27 designated sites assessed as being in “unfavourable” condition due to grazing pressures.”
So we have a draft NPPP which makes almost no mention of the serious issues the NPPP faces.  This is a fundamental failing, nay a dereliction of duty – the plan has no foundations.

An outcomes based plan


Instead of considering the evidence and what issues it faces the draft NPPP starts and ends with a consideration of outcomes.   It appears that what is driving this is the Scottish Government’s National Outcome framework.

If our National Parks really have a “significant contribution” to “making our Education system world class”, why then is there no commitment to re-open outdoor education centres throughout the National Park?

While our National Parks can contribute to some national outcomes, actually that’s not their primary purpose, which is to meet their statutory objectives.  The Plan though, instead of considering how it can meet those statutory objectives, is full of meaningless claims to be contributing to certain outcomes.

Near the top of each section in the plan there is this graphic – a graphic illustration of priorities.  While the civil servants must be slavering all this does is make the LLTNPA look like a meaningless pawn controlled by central government.
The outcomes themselves,  are very worthy – it would be hard to object to any of them – but so broad as to be meaningless.
Conservation outcomes from the NPPP
If they were meaningful the LLTNPA should be able to explain the extent to which the outcomes are being met at present.    They have made no attempt to do so.   The problem is the first two  consultation questions are devoted to asking people if they agree with these very broad statements:
Its unlikely any people will disagree.   The Park has then identified a number of priorities for each outcome without any analysis of why that priority makes sense and again the priority is so broadly defined its rarely possible to tell what if anything the LLTNPA and its partners are planning to do:
Extract from conservation priorities. In this slide only under priority 4 does the LLTNPA give an indication of what might be going to happen.
The danger is that anyone who agrees with the priorities as proposed will be treated by the LLTNPA as agreeing to whatever actions they have or have not planned to do.  It is amazing that under the conservation of landscape priority the only two actions are actually about altering, one might say “destroying”,  the natural landscape.

The secret and biased consultation process

The draft plan does not explain how its been developed or how priorities might have been selected.  To know this you need to read the LLTNPA’s Annual Report approved by its Board this week:

“The close of the year saw the Board approve our new draft National Park Partnership Plan 2018-23  for consultation following a hugely positive workshop with a wide range of stakeholders to discuss important issues and potential priorities. This presented an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the current plan.


To this end, a comprehensive discussion paper was developed and a day-long event was held for partners that have a role to play in the delivery of the new Plan”


So why is the comprehensive discussion paper not public and why has the LLTNPA not told the public what it believes these achievements were?   (I have asked for these to be made public immediately).


What I do know is that the LLTNPA selected the invitees to the consultation meeting very carefully and the range of “stakeholders” was limited:   recreational and other organisations were not invited to the main workshop though there was a later briefing.    No wonder the NPPP gives no consideration to issues like the destruction of landscape and failures in conservation in the National Park.


Nowhere in the NPPP are the organisations which represent people who visit the National Park treated as partners or even key stakeholders.  A fundamental failing – although of course the glossy brochure is full of photos of the people such organisations represent.

How does the NPPP fit with other Strategies and Policies?


Unlike the Cairngorms NPPP, which attempted to describe how their NPPP fitted with out plans that had been agreed for the area,  the LLTNPA makes almost no mention of other local plans or targets and how they might feed into the NPPP.   There are references to national plans and strategies, but generally this is again at a very high level and so broad as to be meaningless.


Part of the issue is that the LLTNPA has far fewer plans and strategies than the CNPA and those that it does have tend to be focussed on developments (Callander and Balloch).   It does though have a biodiversity plan, Wild Park 2012 (see here) with lots of detailed actions and targets.  How this fits with the NPPP, how its informed priorities and whether the LLTNPA is committed to a new biodversity action plan is unclear.


The draft NPPP would have us believe it is joined up to everything when the reality is it appears joined up to almost nothing and practically empty of real commitments from either the LLTNPA or the organisations it has identified as its partners.


Not all of this is the fault of the LLTNPA, much comes down to austerity – our public authorities are no longer being allowed to plan to do things which could improve everyone’s lives.   But in my view our National Park Authorities out loud about resources,  not just for themselves but for other partners, if any of its statutory objectives are to be achieved.


What needs to happen


People and organisations need to put pressure on the LLTNPA and the Scottish Government.   A good start would be to respond to the NPPP objecting to the failure by the LLTNPA to review progress under the existing NPPP, consider the multitude of information about what is actually going on in the Park and the serious issues it faces.  People should then use that reality to inform what issues they  would like the LLTNPA to address in the new plan.


The LLTNPA needs to ensure that the new NPPP is based on a proper analysis of the evidence it holds and needs to take a critical look at how its being doing in relation to its statutory objectives.


I will cover the detail of this in posts over the next 10 days.

June 7, 2017 Nick Kempe 1 comment

What has been going on, and going wrong, in Scotland’s two National Parks since they were created has been a microcosm of our society as a whole and I believe reflects the current crisis in capitalism.  Increasing inequality, public authorities whose main purpose is to facilitate business interests (whether through outsourcing services or paving the way for developers), a wilful disregard for people and other species.   I have avoided mentioning the General Election since it was announced (see here) but what happens tomorrow is very important to the future of our National Parks, despite what I regard as the sterile political “debate” that has been conducted in Scotland.


I am a Social Worker by trade and have sometimes question how I can justify time campaigning for better National Parks when there are so many homeless people on the street and we live in one of the richest countries in the world (whether you see Scotland or Britain as your country).   I don’t however think that social justice and access to the natural environment are separate issues.   Historically some of the greatest campaigners for the countryside ( Patrick Geddes in Scotland who was both a Professor of Botany and a Professor of Sociology) were also  campaigners for social justice and its no coincidence that the post-war Labour Government created both the NHS and National Parks:


“the enjoyment of our leisure in the open air and the ability to leave our towns and walk on the moors and in the dales without fear of interruption are……….just as much part of positive health and well being as are the building of hospitals or insurance against sickness…….This is not just a Bill.  It is a People’s Charter……..”  

(Lewis Silkin introducing the National Park and Access to Countryside Act 1949).

The Party manifestos


I have taken a  look at the Scottish political party manifestos to see whether they any are making the links between social and environmental justice and have any vision for the role National Parks could play in delivering this.


The SNP manifesto is interesting because while it articulates a vision for social justice, including at the UK level, there is almost nothing on the environment apart from climate change and no mention of National Parks.   In my view it reads a bit like one half of the labour programme from the 1940s, albeit not fundamentally challenging the philosophical basis of neoliberalism.


The Scottish Labour Manifesto repeats the UK manifesto and at least recognises what is going wrong:  “The balance needs resetting: our air is polluted, our farms face an uncertain future, our fish stocks are collapsing, our oceans are used as dumping grounds, our forests, green belt, National Parks, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are all under threat.”   The proposals to redress the balance are mainly focussed on improving enforcement of environmental and other laws, which though welcome, is only half the challenge.   There is little articulation of what a fairer Britain means for our landscapes.


The Liberal Democrat Manifesto also makes no mention of National Parks and focusses mainly on the risks that the protections offered by European environmental laws could be undermined by Brexit.  The assumption is these laws are working and there is little vision for a different future (apart from a ban on the neonicotonids which are destroying bee populations).


The Scottish Green manifesto is brief and although the most radical makes no mention of National Parks.  Unfortunately the Party with perhaps the most potential to shift the terms of the current debate is hardly participating in the election – a missed opportunity.


Interestingly its the Tory manifesto which appears to offer the most holistic vision:


We can no longer think of economic development as a competing force against
environmental protection. Earlier this year, the Scottish Conservatives set out our
approach to environmental policy in a comprehensive policy document. The paper
included ambitious plans across seven key sections including the circular economy,
biodiversity, energy, homes and transport. In it, we have argued for the setting up of
new national parks, the introduction of a range of non-fiscal incentives for the use of
electric vehicles, new urban consolidation hubs to reduce traffic emissions or further
development of district heating networks. Our approach will provide a greener and more
sustainable Scotland for us all. We set ourselves this task because we believe it is one of
the greatest challenges of our times. It is for this generation to tackle the issue and ensure
that the next will live in a better, more productive and more sustainable world.


The debate on the establishment of New National Parks – Scottish Parliament: 24 May 2017


In the middle of the election campaign there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament on new National Parks, which you can see on Scottish Parliament TV (see here) .   The motion, put by the Tories,  was


“That the Parliament recognises the value of Scotland’s outstanding natural beauty, which creates jobs, contributes to the economy and attracts millions of tourists from Galloway and West Dumfries, the rest of Scotland and the world; notes what it sees as the success of the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs national parks in conserving and enhancing the natural heritage of these areas, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to conduct a review of national parks and consider the establishment of new ones.”


What the Tories have recognised is that people care about the landscape and this can be good for the economy.   The debate showed however that in Scotland the whole framework for discussion for conservation and enjoyment of the countryside is being held in a resolutely neo-liberal framework, which assumes neo-liberalism and  austerity is here to stay (despite the possibility of an earthquake south of the border tomorrow which no-one could have anticipated 6 weeks ago).


This was summed up by the Minister of the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, at the end of the debate where she said she did not share the optimism that new National Parks could be set up with little cost and that the reality is there is less money and that the money has to come from elsewhere.   She described the silence on this from the other contributors to the debate as telling.  She went on to say that the  “costs associated with all 7 Natonal Parks (as proposed by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks of which I am a member) would run into tens of millions…………….in the current circumstances there is no likelihood of being able to assign the finance”           While she applauded the “desire to protect Scotland’s iconic landscapes”  she also stated “National Parks are just one designation that can boost economic development of an area” suggesting she sees National Parks as a means of economic development, albeit one we cannot afford.    The response from the Tories to this challenge was that new National Parks was all about getting the right Business Case but they did not challenge the austerity narrative, suggesting they agreed with Roseanna Cunningham, that the main issue is about how we spend limited resources.


They are not alone in this.  In Wales the Labour Government has been trying to change the law on National Parks in order to “free up” economic development (see here).  A reflection of the schism between the economic philosophy of the Corbynite UK labour party and the labour party in the devolved administrations.


I found the debate very disappointing.  It provided little indication at present that our politicians in Scotland are able to articulate a vision which is not entirely based on money and that National Parks matter for reasons other than our neoliberal economy (though Alison Johnstone from the Greens did make the case for National Parks protecting mountain hares).


I still haven’t decided how I will vote tomorrow.  The possibilities of alternative visions of society – in which National Parks could play an important role – which were around during the Independence Referendum appear to have shifted to south of the border.    I hope they remain after tomorrow as I think this could help rejuvenate visionary thinking and debate in Scotland.

January 9, 2017 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Beauly Denny – aside from the visual impact of the powerlines, is ground “restoration” like that in the foreground acceptable, let alone in a National Park?

The entire edition of Out of Doors on Saturday was devoted to National Parks, in the USA and Scotland http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b087tgv4#play.   This gave critical coverage of our National Parks, in which the presenters Euan McIlraith and Mark Stephen were, in their inimitable style, raising questions about what National Parks should be for.  This is to be welcomed.   There are interviews with Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority Chief Executive,  Gordon Watson, at 7mins 50 secs, a discussion on east Loch Lomond from 1 hour, 5 mins and 50 secs and an interview with Grant Moir, Cairngorms National Park Authority Chief Executive, at 23 minutes.


The photo above is to illustrate the excellent question to Grant Moir by Mark Stephen who observed that in travelling up the A9 corridor on entering the Cairngorms National Park you “are hit” with pylons and asked whether this gave the wrong message?   While Grant explained the CNPA had adopted a policy of no large wind turbines in the National Park, and that national priorities had overriden the objections of the CNPA to the Beauly Denny powerlines, he said nothing about whether the CNPA was happy with the quality of the work.    The standards of ground restoration in the Drumochter appear all to similar to those in Glen Bruar (see here) and (here).   A question for another programme maybe?

Our National Parks in context


The programme raised questions about what is perhaps the primary reason why our National Parks struggle so much at present, landownership. The contrast was made between Scotland, where much of the land in our National Parks is privately owned, and other countries where most land in National Parks is in public ownership.   The programme did point out that in the USA rights of access are very different to Scotland and therefore part of the need there for public ownership is to enable public access.   It also described the very interesting case of Point Reyes National Park in California, where in order to save land from development, it was purchased from farmers and then leased back to them.   While suggesting this might be a model for Scotland, it did not explore the implications – too “political”  for the BBC – indeed while a comment on Facebook that our National Parks are managed for landowners was read out it was accompanied by the comment “oh that’s rather political”.


Why not though nationalise all the hunting rights in our National Parks and then only lease back hunting rights to owners who were prepared to meet targets for deer culling and change the way grouse moors are managed?     The programme also gave lots of other ideas that could be considered for our National Parks such as the way the US parks manage “visitor density”.  Instead of making it up as they go along, as is happening in the LLTNPA, they could be learning from abroad.   Neither interview with our National Park Chief Executives gave any suggestion that this was on their radar.  If we want proper National Parks they need to be far less insular.

The usual parkspeak


Gordon Watson has got away with misleading statements to the media ever since he became LLTNPA Chief Executive and repeatedly claimed that the east Loch Lomond byelaws were responsible for an 81% reduction of irresponsible there when the police statistics were for a wider area.    In a recent interview  on Good Morning Scotland he claimed that the Loch Chon campsite was all about providing facilities for lochside camping when its quite clear that the campsite has been specifically designed to stop people camping by the lochshores (see here).   The best example on Out of Doors was his statement that the “measures we are taking are purely about heavily used areas”.  How then Mr Watson can you explain why you extended the camping byelaws to areas which are not so heavily used, as shown by the maps that were presented to the secret Board Meetings in September and October 2013 (see here) or why the LLTNPA are now building a large campsite at Loch Chon, where currently very few people camp?      Gordon Watson also ducked a number of key questions including why the LLTNPA is trying to get FCS to raise its camping prices at Sallochy from £5 to match the £7 it wants to charge to pay for its development at Loch Chon.


“No National Park is anything without the people who visit them” (Mark Stephen)


While the presenters did not pick up on the detail of Gordon Watson’s claims – another was “it has to be realised that access can be damaging to the local environment and communities” (where is the evidence for this?)what they did very effectively was to describe what its like on east Loch Lomond nowadays:


“We drove up from Drymen, just about every space where conceivably you could park, had a sign saying “no parking””.

“You know you are in a National Park by the number of signs saying no”


They then  effectively mocked the current rules for managing visitors at Sallochy where they pointed out there are NO signs everywhere, no parking, no camping, no alcohol, no fires right next to signs that say but you can camp here, you can have a fire if you pay etc.   They point out this is “very draconian”.   Its worth a listen.  Then, when Mark Stephen put to Gordon Watson there are lots of no signs, after first trying to dispute this he came up with the extraordinary statement that “some signs are put up by landowners that shouldn’t be there”.  And whose job is it to ensure that there are signs that shouldn’t be there are taken down – the National Park Authority?!   I enjoyed some of Gordon Watson’s other comments too, on wear and tear caused by visitors, including there is a “lot of human waste, however much you dig it in”.   Gordon Watson keeps repeating this stuff when it appear to have been his decision to stop the programme of toilet installation planned for the Five Lochs Area.     The mockery of the presenters was completely justified.


Knowing the LLTNPA  I suspect what they will now do is submit a complaint to the BBC – I learned recently that when the Guardian ran a piece by Patrick Barkham against the byelaws the Park’s bloated media team submitted  a complaint – so I hope readers interested in the byelaws will listen to the programme and let the BBC know what you think.  You can also, if you believe any of Gordon Watson’s statements are misleading, submit a formal complaint to the LLTNPA.


A couple of other things that struck me from the programme

  • The first clip with Gordon Watson was about what National Parks are for.  His answer was primarily visitor management and then he referred to development and promoting tourism related businesses.  What is interesting is that conservation was not mentioned.  I think that is an accurate reflection of where the LLTNPA is – conservation, which is supposed to take precedence over other National Park aims, is only considered in relation to visitor impacts which are minor compared say to all the hydro tracks that have been created in the National Park
  • Grant Moir was much better at putting development planning – the question he was asked about – into the wider context of the statutory aims of the National Park.  However, what struck me was how accepting of the rules he is so he explained clearly that most housing in the National Park is being delivered by housing developers who have bought up land and that a quarter of this is for affordable housing because “that is the standard”.   But hang on Grant, I wanted to say, your own Park plan clearly shows wages in the CNPA are well below the Scottish national average (which is low enough as it is) so how on earth will abiding by this standard address the need for affordable housing in the CNPA?
September 22, 2016 Nick Kempe 1 comment


By coincidence, the above article appeared in the Sunday Herald (in their towns supplement) just a few days after Flamingo Land had been announced as the preferred developer for the west riverside site at Balloch (see here).    The contrast between what Kevin Stewart is saying and what Scottish Enterprise announced is stark:

    • The “solution” to the west riverside site has NOT been developed by those who live and work in Balloch apart from the aspiration that the site should link the Loch Lomond shores development to the town centre by means of a riverside site.   The actual use of the rest of the site has not been subject to consultation.
    • The decision to make Flamingo Land the preferred developer was not made by the local community but by Scottish Enterprise and could well have involved another member of the Scottish Government, the Business Minister.
    • A Development Trust, the Scottish Government’s apparent preferred solution for re-invigorating towns like Balloch, appears not to have been considered.


Announcements that the LLTNPA was in discussions about the development of a theme park on the shores of Loch Lomond were made back in 2011 (see here)  (thanks to a reader for the link!).  It appears very likely that the secret site referred to by Wayne Gardner Young was west riverside.   Meantime, Government policy has changed so cosy deals with developers are no longer supposed to happen and the community should be put in the lead.     Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA however have just blundered on (I don’t blame the staff, just the senior management and Boards) with an approach that is now discredited.


I have submitted a number of Freedom of Information requests about this, such as whether the LLTNPA has assessed  the likely impact this development could have on existing local businesses or if Scottish Enterprise advertised the opportunity.   (I have not been able to find any contract advertisement on the Scotland Contracts Portal – that may just be me – but the public sector is now supposed to advertise all such opportunities there).  In terms of public policy, following Kevin Stewart’s piece, I believe the local community should have been given a chance to bid for the development or alternative use of the west riverside site.


So why the gap between rhetoric and reality?


The main reason I believe lies in neo-liberal thinking, which accepts there is no alternative to private finance to make things happen and indeed believes private enterprises do everything best.   The problem is that despite all the evidence for the failure of neo-liberalism, the Scottish Government has not worked out any solutions to make Kevin Stewart’s vision a reality.  This I believe needs to involve local sources of finance (in German local banks finance local business and development) and more public expenditure (which is about our tax system and most pressingly tax evasion).    However,  Scottish Enterprise has hardly started to think about this, despite it having a co-operative development team,  and it still operates as if  large developers and developments are the only option.


Added to that,  Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Goverment Minister responsible for tourism and enterprise from 2011 until earlier this year, has always been on the right wing of the SNP.   He was responsible for both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Island Enterprise and I don’t think its a coincidence that outside developers have been brought in to develop two prime sites controlled by them,  Natural Retreats at Cairngorm and now Flamingo Land at west Riverside.    Its the way he thinks and he was never going to say to Scottish Enterprise “hang on a moment, is this the only option?”


At the same time the LLTNPA adopted an explicit neo-liberal path under their previous Chief Executive, Fiona Logan, who saw business as the answer to everything (this is well illustrated by her flirtation with Wayne Gardner Young – see link above).   She then got her Board to adopt an explicit Commercialisation Policy in 2013 which covers every aspect of what the National Park does, from how to develop tourist facilities to charging for toilets and carparks (which I will cover further in due course).    Part of this involved the Board getting big developers to pay for their planning section by increasing charges – a conflict of interest if ever there was one – as  the future of the planners’ jobs at the National Park in part depends on developments such as Flamingo Land going ahead.


While the LLTNPA still claims to put the conservation and public enjoyment of the National Park first, the reality is that commercialisation is driving everything in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.   This is bad for local communities and bad for the people who visit the National Park.    While we cannot expect our National Parks to address all the ills of neo-liberalism and the austerity that goes with it,  if our National Parks are not about other values such as protecting landscape and nature from the excesses of capitalism and enabling people to enjoy these things, then they are not worth anything.


I think the organiser of the petition to stop Flamingo Land was right (see here) The Scottish Government should intervene, tell Scottish Enterprise and the LLTNPA to scrap the Flamingo Land proposal and start work with the local community and other organisations to develop alternatives.  I would hope Kevin Stewart, the Minister, will publicly support that as a way forward in accordance with his thinking.



September 12, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

I have previously touched on elements of the Cairngorms National Park Authority draft Partnership Plan (e.g see here and here) and wanted to take a look at the Plan as a whole as it is supposed to provide the framework for what the National Park will do over the next five years.  It’s therefore the key document for anyone interested in what the National Park intends to do in future (which is not to claim documents are everything).


The CNPA consultation, which closes 30th September) focuses on what they have identified as major issues, or the Big 9 as they have branded it.  Before reading the Plan, or the nine evidence reports that accompany it, I would suggest you jot down your own list of issues and compare these to the those the Park has identified.     What doing this highlighted for me was there are major omissions from the draft Park Plan.


My Big 9 The CNPA Big 9
The landscape of the Cairngorms Landscape scale conservation
Wild land and natural processes Deer and moorland management
Land ownership and use Flood management
Recreational infrastructure Visitor Infrastructure
Resources to make things happen Active Cairngorms
The CNPA’s powers and use of them Learning and inclusion
Better paid jobs and sustainable land-use


Accessibility of the National Park Community Capacity and empowerment
What improvements the CNPA will deliver in the next 5 years Economic Development




While the Plan makes a reference to the special landscape qualities of the National Park, this paragraph is about the sum total it has to say about landscape:


Don’t be fooled by the heading in the Park’s Big 9 “landscape scale conservation” as this is about conservation, not landscape.   There is nothing in the Plan about landscape threats to the Park or what the CNPA has been doing about this, except a brief mention that it will maintain its opposition to all wind-farms in the National Park.   Welcome, but is that it?   Its almost as though, having taken a stand against wind-farms, the CNPA feels its stuck its neck out far enough.  There is no reference to the extent of the new hill tracks that scar many of the hills in the National Park, no mention of the impact of the Beauly/Denny power line in the Drumochter, no mention of the destruction at Cairngorm, no consideration of whether attempts to mitigate hydro schemes to date have been successful nor how best to mitigate the dualling of the A9.   Nothing.

The absence of any plans to protect the landscape unfortunately implies the CNPA will allow the attrition of the Cairngorms landscape to continue.   Is this what National Parks are for?


Wild land and Natural processes


Closely related to landscape issues, is how we protect wild land and allow natural processes to flourish.   While the Plan includes the SNH wild land map there is no analysis of how wild land has been impacted on over the last 5 years.  The sad fact is that the CNPA has allowed the area of remote land to reduce, mainly through a failure to control the creation of hill tracks.  This is what the Plan has to say about hill tracks:


This view, that hill tracks are required to facilitate access to remoter areas for land management purposes, needs to be challenged.  Deer used to be culled and shot without tracks and tracks have made it much easier for estates to kill wildlife they perceive as vermin.   Tracks are not necessary, they are a political and economic choice but the consultation offers us NO choice.


Moreover, while the Park considers conservation from a management perspective I could find not a single mention of restoring natural processes outside the paper on flood management.  Indeed, the current re-wilding debate seems to have passed the Park by.   The de-designation of the Cairngorms National Nature Reserve has allowed the CNPA simply to abandon any commitment that in the core of the National Park nature should come first.  Instead, the Plan asks us to consider how to ameliorate the worst excesses of landed estates in the way they manage the land for grouse and red deer.


The management approach though is clearly failing.  The CNPA’s own figures show that 1/3 of the European protected sites are in unfavourable condition, almost entirely down to the way the land is being used or rather abused.  The Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation were supposed to be the jewels of the crown in the National Park, until Brexit at least, and it should be to the CNPA’s shame that they are still in such poor condition.  The Plan will only be able to offer more of the same, and continued failures, until its starts to look at alternatives that put wildness at the core of nature conservation in the National Park.


Landownership and use.


The draft Plan contains no critical analysis of the impact of current systems of landownership in the Park and proposes no ideas for change.  While one of the Big 9 issues is Community Empowerment, there is no analysis of the potential for community ownership or control of land in the National Park and nothing about how the CNPA might assist communities to take over and run estates.   There is no analysis either of how the different types of landowner (public agency, voluntary sector, progressive private landowners such as Glen Feshie, traditional estates) impact on the ability of the CNPA to meet its statutory objectives.    Without such an analysis, its simply not possible to devise a Plan which will deliver those statutory objectives.


Powers of the National Park  


The Plan contains no analysis of how the CNPA has used its powers to date and how it might do so in future.  The implication of the many failures of the CNPA to enforce planning decisions effectively is that landowners can do what they want.  There is hardly a reference to Development Planning in the entire document, a major omission when the CNPA does not have full planning powers and needs to work in partnership with local Councils on planning matters.   There is also no consideration of how the CNPA might uses to powers better to meet its statutory objectives, whether bringing in byelaws to control hunting or ensuring that there is cross compliance between the grants the Park and its partners award and statutory objectives.   I suspect for example that all the estates where illegally killed raptors have been found are in receipt of public monies of one type or another.   The CNPA should be able to co-ordinate withdrawal of all public subsidies where landowners are failing to respect the objectives of the National Park.




There is no analysis or even estimate of the resources needed to deliver the Park’s statutory objectives or the Park Plan.  Instead, there are references through the Plan to various pots of money that could be drawn on to meet the specific initiatives that are described in the Plan.    There is no analysis of whether this is sufficient or what is really needed.  The Park Plan seems to just accept the current Government narratives about austerity and that the National Park and other agencies should still devote considerable effort to scrabbling about try to find funds from wherever.  This is very important because without proper resourcing, its not possible for the National Park for firm up any clear strategic direction, and the Plan is limited to aspirational directions of travel.


What improvement the CNPA will deliver in the next five years


The draft Plan refers to some existing targets, contained in other plans, but contains no new ones that I could see.   Where aspirations are expressed, such as that in five years time  sites protected under European legislation will be in better condition than others in Scotland, there are no firm commitments.  On my reading,  I am none the wiser of what changes the CNPA is hoping to deliver.


A comparison with the existing Park Plan


Having drafted this, I was concerned that I was being too critical, because there are some good things in the draft Plan (which I will cover in future posts).  I therefore did a comparison between the current 2012-17 Plan http://cairngorms.co.uk/working-partnership/national-park-partnership-plan/  and the proposed new Plan and found significant changes in approach.   Here are three illustrations of this:

  • The current plan has five pages on the vision, the new Plan has reduced this to 15 words (which were in the last plan):   “An outstanding National Park, enjoyed and valued by everyone, where nature and people thrive together.”     Everything that is visionary, along with the inspirational photos, has been stripped out.   Maybe this is not intentional, maybe the Board and senior staff know the vision so well that they thought there was no need to repeat it again,  but for me the lack of visionary statements reinforces the impression that the CNPA has lost its vision.
  • The current  Plan contains a whole page on landscape qualities of the Park.  Its so good, I have appended it below.  The contrast with the void in the current plan is striking.
  • The current Plan clearly identifies which Partners would be involved in delivering what.   Now  it wasn’t perfect and I regret the omission of recreational organisations and many conservation NGOs from the list of partners BUT the proposed new Plan does not even contain a list of partners.   While some organisations may be signed up to some of the other subsidiary plans referred to in the document (its impossible to tell without wading through all those documents too) its not difficult to identify gaping holes:  Scottish Natural Heritage  for example, does not appear to be included in any of the mechanisms mentioned for moorland and deer management when it has statutory responsibility for Red Deer numbers.  If this really is a Partnership Plan should we not know SNH’s views about deer numbers in the National Park and what it intends to do about them?   You could ask similar questions with all the organisations listed as partners in the current Plan.


The muddled approach in the proposed new plan is summed up for me by this statement on the Role of the National Park Authority:


The purpose of a National Park Authority is to ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in a coordinated way [a quote from S9 of the National Parks Act] This means leading the vision for the National Park and the partnerships necessary for delivery.


So where is the vision?   Who are the partners and what will they do?


Addendum – The Cairngorms landscape



May 9, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

The failure of Aileen McLeod to be re-elected to the Scottish Parliament means there will be a new Minister for the Environment in the new Scottish Government.  This post – which is responsible for our National Parks – has existed, under one title or another, since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.     Dr McLeod was the tenth different person to hold the post, the incumbents surviving on average for 18 months.  Hardly time to get your feet under the table and where the appointee has  had little or no background expertise in environmental matters this has left power either with the civil servants or the senior Minister.


The contrast between the length of period in office of these junior Ministers and their boss, in the post that is now called the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, is striking.  Just two people, Ross Finnie and Richard Lochhead, have held the senior posts since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.  I hope Nicola Sturgeon will appoint a Minister for the Environment for the long-term, but it has to be the right person – someone who have a vision for the environment.   I was not hopeful, given the lack of any vision in the SNP election manifesto, that this could happen but there is now an opportunity because Nicola Sturgeon has identified the environment as an area where the SNP will work with other political parties following the election.


Aileen McLeod made a number of disastrous mistakes as Environment Minister some of which have been listed by raptor persecution scotland.   I would add a few in respect of the National Parks:

  • Her failure to stand by access rights or challenge the misinformation propagated by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority and Forestry Commission Scotland that access rights do not apply to roadside camping
  • Her failure to recognise the key role of recreational organisations in representing the largest group of stakeholders in our National Parks or listen to them
  • Her failure to scrutinise or seek advice on the so-called evidence for the camping byelaws presented by the LLTNPA
  • Her failure to respond to the flooding on Deeside with any vision for how National Parks might help reduce the impact of such catastrophic events  in future through changing land-use from grouse moors to forest
  • Her failure to respond to the latest persecution of raptors in the Cairngorms National Park with any message encouraging the National Park Authorities to use their existing powers to prevent this
  • Her failure to respond to serious failures in governance  in the LLTNPA:
    • Allowing the LLTNPA continuing to meet and make decisions in secret
    • Her silence on the role of the LLTNPA Board in covering up the Owen McKee case
    • Ignoring  letters about serious flaws in the LLTNPA complaints process and the need to  address the absence of further mechanisms for public redress


Perhaps Dr McLeod’s greatest failure of all though was to create any space in which to articulate a vision for the future.  She seemed content to restrict her role to one of overseeing our National Parks and, as long as they met targets previously agreed with her civil servants, there really was no need to look too closely at what was going on or what the alternatives might be.  Management not leadership.

I hope the new Minister will be open to discussion on questions such as:

  • Conservation – what role could National Parks play in re-wilding, species introduction programmes and alternative ways of using the land?
  • Recreation – what role could National Parks play in enabling people to experience and learn about the natural environment (particularly those without cars), in green tourism or in inspiring people to keep fit and healthy?
  • Sustainable development  – what role could National Parks play in Land Reform,  shifting jobs from destructive to conservation land-uses, creating better paid jobs in tourism, tackling second homes that are empty for 11 months of the year?


A review of our current National Parks and what they have achieved – it does not need to be expensive – should be part of the discussion.

May 6, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Try getting to:

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

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











May 4, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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


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


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


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

“The cork that can’t be travels –

Nose of a dog otter.”

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


I wonder what MacCaig, who wrote

Who possesses this landscape? –

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for

this landscape is


would have made of it?


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


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



April 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist
The Scottish Labour Party issued its election manifesto on Wednesday, for some strange reason long after the other political parties.    Judging by the 2.7k hits on its website there has not been that much interest but, unlike the SNP, it does make commitments in respect to National Parks:
Scottish Labour in government  established the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Parks to conserve and enhance the natural heritage of these areas of beauty. We will review the future of National Parks to protect them and consider options for establishing a new National Park.”
While the language is a little vague, no other political party has made a commitment to a review which will include existing National Parks – politically this is a significant step forward.   We need our politicians to recognise the failures of our existing National Parks and that they could and should do better.  Unfortunately, the next statement about “establishing a new National Park” does not inspire confidence that Labour has much understanding of the issues.   Why just one National Park?  If Labour believes there should be just one more, why not tell the public where it will be? 
There are some other goods things in the manifesto, particularly the connection between our land and poverty:  “We have land and sea in plenty, but too many in Scotland rely on food banks in order to eat, while farmers and fishermen find it hard to make a living”.  Unfortunately though, the manifesto contains almost no ideas about alternative environmentally sustainable uses for the land which might address these issues.    Our existing National Parks, which include many inhabited areas, could and should be tasked with developing alternative models for the rural economy which put conservation and enjoyment of the countryside first.

Making the National Parks a political issue

Dave Morris, a contributor to Parkswatchscotland, is doing his best to raise political awareness of the failures of the current Scottish Government in relation to National Parks and the wider countryside as in his  Herald Letter, published 29th April (its the second letter down and not about the Labour Party!), and also available here Herald Letters 29 April 2016).
While not everyone will agree with Dave’s proposed political solution,  there is much to commend  his succinct analysis of the Scottish Government’s failures in respect of Land Reform and the natural environment, including National Parks.  Ultimately, if we are to achieve change in our National Parks, we need these issues to feature far more highly in the internal agendas of all the political parties.  Parkswatchscotland is not party political but wishes to raise public political awareness and debate about how our National Parks operate.
April 25, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

Judging by the election manifestos, our political parties do not see National Parks as a political issue issue or believe they are so far down the political agenda that there is no need to say anything meaningful about them.  I think this is not just unfortunate, its a  mistake politically. Part of any vision for Scotland should be about how we treat our finest landscapes and natural heritage.


Yes, I know “its the economy stupid” that decides elections and, in these times of neoliberal austerity, there many basic issues about how people live – jobs and income, housing, services – which could be seen as having greater priority for election manifestos.    But, if we are not to destroy the world entirely, there have to be places where human economic systems come second and, as importantly, humans need to be able to articulate the importance of values that cannot be expressed in monetary terms.    National Parks, and other areas of the countryside which are not subjected to intensive human use, play an important role in this and what the political parties say about them therefore  matters.


Three of the political parties make commitments to new National Parks in their manifestos:


“Establish new national parks or landscape partnership areas, learning from the first two national parks in Scotland, bringing the benefits of improved management, conservation and tourism to other parts of the country;” (The Scottish Liberal Democrats)

“New national parks. Scotland has many areas of outstanding natural beauty that  merit national park status, but currently recognises only two such areas. As a worldwide recognised designation for high quality environments, creating new national parks would bring a range of environmental, social and economic benefits to Scotland by increasing tourism in remote areas. The Scottish Campaign for National Parks has identified seven possible sites including the Isle of Harris, Galloway and the coastal areas of Mull, Coll and Tiree. Green MSPs will champion the creation of new national parks in these areas”.

“Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world and we are all rightly proud to call it home. We have hundreds of natural wonders sitting on our doorstep – no matter where in Scotland we live…………………….That’s precisely why the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party supports the creation of further national parks across Scotland. They would not only help protect some of our greatest landscapes, but would also help attract more tourists and support local businesses.”


Of the three parties that support new National Parks, only the Liberal Democrats indicates there might be lessons to be learned from the existing ones but unfortunately do not say what these might be.  So, three commitments to new National Parks but not a single indication that all might not be well with our existing National Parks, whether inappropriate developments, restrictions on access rights or continued failures to conserve or enhance the natural environment.


National Parks of course while providing a means to present a vision for the natural environment, are not everything, and the political parties need to be judged on the what they say more widely about our relationship with the natural environment.


For me, there are some paradoxes in the manifesto.  The SNP, whose growth originated mostly in the rural areas, while making a number of pledges in terms of rural subsidies, has little to say about the natural environment.  What is included is mainly a rehash of current Scottish Government policies (including keeping windfarms out of National Parks).  There is no attempt to articulate a vision for our natural environment in contrast to other parts of their manifesto which are quite visionary in tone.  I find this gap strange and quite a contrast to the Scottish Tories whose view of the natural environment “Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world” is nationalistic in tone.    Its almost as though the SNP is now acting as a predominantly urban political party, in the old labour mould, where people mattered but the natural environment was very much an afterthought (the Labour Party manifesto has not yet appeared).     The other paradox is that RISE, who have very much presented themselves as representing the urban working class living on housing estates, have quite a radical vision for the countryside:  “Hunting estates create conditions suited for blood-sports but not for biological diversity. We would curtail the size of these estates and begin a process of reforestation, re-wilding and re-introduction of native species. To assist in this, we call for newly re-introduced beavers to immediately be given protected status, in light of their crucial role in flood prevention.”


The Greens had the most articulated vision for the natural environment, as one might expect, and are the only party to commit to widespread natural habitat restoration projects – something I believe that National Parks should be leading on.  At the other end of the spectrum UKIP predictably wishes to get rid of all EC rules and subsidies, which determine how much of the countryside is used and managed,  and leave all decisions about land-use to landowners (which probably implies they see no role for National Parks at all).


In-between,   I am not sure that anything the political parties have said in their manifestos, really progresses our thinking.  While in many ways that is disappointing, it is also an opportunity – the SNP, who are likely to form the next Government,  could be seen as blank slate.   We therefore need to work on developing a vision for new National Parks – as the Scottish Campaign for National Parks is doing (I am on the Executive) but also for existing ones.    The post that follows from Ron Greer which  articulates a new vision for National Parks based on wildlife refugia, does both and  incidentally challenges a couple of my most profoundly held beliefs.  I hope it helps promote debate.


April 25, 2016 Ron Greer 13 comments
The edge of the Monadhliath from Creag Dubh
The edge of the Monadhliath from Creag Dubh

Our current ‘national’ parks in Scotland are little more than a fiasco.  I detest even using that term to describe what the last Labour administration delivered and what the subsequent SNP administration still supports, as what they have given us are not real national parks, but a farrago masquerading as a façade that is parodying a mirage.


When I have discussed the status if our so-called national parks with professionals engaged in running real ones in Alaska, Oregon, Sweden, Canada, and Ireland they either feel very sorry for us or just burst out laughing. Not that they are uncritical of their own set ups, far from it, but not one of them would ever endorse the product of lazy and incomplete political thinking and indeed perverse political actions, that the then Scottish Executive had the brass neck to call a National Park and that the SNP has the gall and hypocrisy not to address.


It’s difficult to know where to start, such is the enormity of the failure to embrace the true potential and good will that once existed. As good a place as any, is the basic concept behind the very name. A National Park should actually be what it says ‘on the tin’; an area of the country owned by the nation as a whole and professionally administered by a State ministry or other department, directly responsible to elected officials. These officials would hopefully have expertise in the subject area and certainly be well on top of their portfolios.  This is normality in most other countries and indeed is what the famous Monty Python would have called ‘the bleedin obvious’. Sadly, our current batch of politicians seem to be incapable or unwilling to embrace the bleedin obvious. What we actually have, is an area of land owned by a mixture of Quango’s, NGO’s and the usual quasi-feudal sectional private interests, into which mix has been thrown, not a professional National Parks Service, but a so-called ‘Authority’ of diverse, indeed prismatic provenance, ability and, no doubt, agenda.  It is a volatile mix likely to implode in an underwhelming conflagration of prevaricating compromises and sheer mucus-secreting, bureaucratic incompetence. The resulting mess will of course have to be dealt with at the tax payer’s expense. This mess, metaphorically and literally, as exemplified by the current controversy over camping access and litter deposition in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, is spreading out in front of our eyes.



Not only does the current set up fail to meet the basic fundamental requirement, but then goes on to fall down in other primary areas, such as the point of singularity of the NP existence and its boundaries. Actually worrying about such examples as whether or not Blair Atholl should have been in the Cairngorm Park at its inception, is like worrying about having head lice while a grizzly bear is chewing your leg off, or like a passenger on the Titanic moaning about lumps of ice blocking the WC. The parks are supposed to balance the needs of economic and social development with conservation of natural resources, with any dubiety to be resolved in favour of the last. Financial support mechanisms specific to achieving this aim are in place.  Does this then mean that, one millimetre outside of the park boundary, this will not or cannot happen? Indeed ‘compensatory’ fiscal mechanisms will be used to counterbalance or offset any disadvantages of not being in an NP, or being in a corridor- effect area. So if the same aims are to be funded from the same purse, both inside and outside the NP boundaries, what then is the point of having a NP in the first place!? Are we actually saying that true sustainability is only going to be attempted within the NP boundary and the rest of Scotland can continue to burn the ‘national furniture’ in order to boil the ‘national kettle’?


The core area of the Cairngorm Park is of course the mountains of the same name and why? Well, it’s because this is the largest area of boreo-Arctic montane zone outside of Fennoscandia and supposedly the last great wilderness in Europe (I can hear Laponia laughing as I write). The Cairngorm area is now also one of the largest (so-called) national parks in Europe. So we have then the ‘last great wilderness’ combined with one of the largest NPs in Europe. So what are we going to do about the lack of bears, wolves, beavers, elk, wild boar, wild cattle, the surplus of deer, non-native sheep, excessive muirburn and persecution of birds of prey? That’s just for starters of course, because we still have the ‘wasteland ripe for development’ attitude prevalent in the mind of local sectional interests and external commercial building interests. The recent plan for 1500 new houses will just be the tip of the iceberg. That character MacChuckemup in the 7:84 Company’s satire really does exist in spirit.


Then we have, in addition to this, the old chestnut of the landed estates with their quasi- feudal/Victorian/Edwardian agenda and of course, now, we also have the conservation Quango’s with their own corporate aims, backed up with direct ownership of land. A ‘nightmare’ is not sufficiently pejorative to cover the issues raised. In my personal experience of over 35 years of study trips in the Northern Hemisphere I do not know of any other country where the above mess would be tolerated and even the complicated matrix of relationships between the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the various State and Federal wildlife and fisheries agencies in the USA, pales to insignificance by comparison.


It is also very easy to criticise, but much harder to offer a constructive way forward. The first step is to take the correct strategic political decisions that are based on the courage of the political convictions and, above all, upon the dedication to see them through. The WWF, the John Muir Trust, the RSPB, the SLE and other NGO’s are not political parties that will ever answer to an electorate. SNH, SEPA are not, per se, the Government. All of them need to realise that they are not the democratically elected Executive, but servants of it and assistants to it.  This will put us in a much better position to deal with the institutional arrogance of the present colonial-style Civil Service, the Quangocrats and the oligarchs of the NGOs.  At the same time, we have to come up with an alternative end point so that people can see where (and indeed why) we are heading and that we can then put to the electorate, for their permission to implement. Then, chastened or enheartened by the vox populi, we can progress to clearing up the present mire of confused priorities, agendas and protocols.


Much of the problem lies in defining physical and intellectual perimeters and parameters that can be secured for the chosen intrinsic aims of any designated areas of land. The very fact that we initially argued about the possible inclusion of Highland Perthshire in the Cairngorms NP and the kind of housing development mentioned above, is a clear indication that neither the perimeters, or the intrinsic aims, are secured, or in harmony. To get the ball rolling, I put forward the following points, below, for general discussion, on the issues above, that could then lead on to new policy definition.


We should designate Scotland into three main strategic zones which could subsume/rationalise existing land and urban designations.


a:  Sustainable Rural Cultural Landscape (i.e. All non-urban & non-industrial land in Scotland) —-   SRCL

b: Sustainable Urban/Industrial Cultural Landscape— SUICL

c: National Wildlife Refugia —-NWR


For the purposes of the present discussion on this forum the first two categories will not be discussed for the moment, though the first does not necessarily exclude elements of wildness


NWR get rid of many of the problems currently inherent in the present national park concept and structure. Here, there will be much less dubiety, because we can establish a perimeter within which there will be a totally different set of aims from all existing designations and even from what will be happening in the SRCL area. This will derive from these refugia being for wildlife only (from soil microbes right through to higher non –human animals): no new human settlements, no new adopted roads (and possibly de-adoption in some cases) or other site- specific infrastructure, no industrial development, no low flying, no sport hunting or fishing, no commercial forestry or agriculture, no use of exotic plants and animals (including sheep); no universal right to roam, no public vehicular access and indeed access to be by permit only.  There will be no evictions of existing human residents, but there will be voluntary resettlement financial packages and compensatory measures will be available for those wishing to stay on, but where their ‘traditional, land use, outwith of the immediate curtilage of their homes, will be terminated.  These NWR will be State-owned and managed (as per known international analogues) and in addition to being refugia for extant wildlife, they will also be possible sites of reintroduction of species made extinct by post-glacial human activity.


They will be areas where the ‘re-wilding’ so detested by sporting-estate apologists, will take place, where we can honour our legal obligations to the IUCN protocols and where we can make a huge national and even more importantly, an international statement about Scotland accepting its responsibilities to the biodiversity of our planet. A place where we can put our money where our mouths are and stop cajoling and castigating people in Africa and Asia about sacrificing potential farmland to preserve tigers, elephants and Mountain gorillas. Will it be controversial? Will it raise an almighty ‘stooshie’ as we say in the vernacular?  Damned right it will! Do we have the guts for it and if not why not?


Two sites come to mind in respect of initial candidates for such a NWR, the greater Monadhliath and Glen Affric. The Monadhliath are especially attractive for a variety of reasons:


  • They contain only four Munros attractive to hillwalkers, none especially spectacular in nature
  • They do not have a large internal human settlement, or major industrial/tourist infrastructure.
  • They have a wide range of topographic, bio-climatic and bio-geographical attributes highly desirable for a Wildlife Refugium.
  • They have a large geographical extent (circa 700 square miles) offering an extensive potential range area for large mammalian herbivores and mammalian/avian carnivores, thus overcoming the limitations of scale inherent in otherwise highly laudable and admirable re-wilding projects in the UK.
  • They have, via the pentangle of the A9, A82, A86, B851 and B862 roads, a clearly defined perimeter with established fence lines and traditional stone walls, behind which, a new major bespoke fence could be erected, without the intrusion causing so much antipathy as at Alladale.
  • Symbolically they were according to tradition the place where the last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1743AD


To this we might add that they already include the Craig Meagaidh NNR with all the lessons gained ready to be applied at the larger landscape scale.


This will not be a commercial enterprise and there will be no specific ecotourism function major tourist visitor centre, standard commercial forestry, or any form of agrarian or pastoral agriculture. Its scale in the Scottish/UK sense will be integral to its nature and we  should not underestimate the scale of the investment in cash, effort and commitment this will require, but such a project would be significant in an international context and could attract inward investment from global agencies. If fruition arrives, I would like to see it named in honour of Dick Balharry.

March 29, 2016 Nick Kempe No comments exist

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

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


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


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


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