This time last year I was fairly ambivalent about the two National Parks in Scotland and whether they are effective or desirable designations. Now, I am very much in favour of them, and I am fully in support of a new one in Lochaber.
So, what changed?
Simply, I have done some research. My thoughts were based on an idea that they are not very effective at changing land management for restoring nature or boosting biodiversity, and there are negative factors such as increased house prices and tourism.
But first, did you know that there will be at least one new National Park in Scotland in 2026? That's just three years away and areas that wish to be considered need to nominate themselves by the end of February.
The size and scope of any new national park is still to be determined, and several other areas in Scotland will be considered for the designation as well. It is during the process that the size and boundary of any new national park will be decided in conjunction with the communities there. The aims and powers of the new national park will also be finalised in the process.
These things will be done in a year long public consultation after the initial decision is made by MSPs about which area(s) should be considered. It is likely that there will be around 6 or 7 areas that nominate themselves for consideration.
So, what are the benefits of National Park status?
As we all know, at this time of year Lochaber is overwhelmed with visitors. Traffic grinds to a halt on the clogged roads, the glens, lochs, and coastal beaches are crowded with campervans and tents, bins overflow, rubbish is scattered far and wide for locals and seasonal rangers to clear up, and businesses struggle to recruit and maintain staff due to the housing shortage as ever more homes are turned into short-term let properties.
We already have the impacts of a huge number of visitors but we do not have resources and funding to help deliver solutions and infrastructure to manage the impacts of these visitors. Many businesses depend on these visitors, but investment and infrastructure have not adapted to rapid changes in tourism. Visitors are becoming far more mobile in the area and there is a need to fund resources and services to manage increasing visitor numbers.
National Park designation can help us manage for our visitors by coordinating resources, supporting the building of infrastructure such as car parks and toilets, and managing a permanent, well resourced, properly equipped ranger service for the whole area.
There is a housing crisis in Lochaber. We do not have enough houses for sale or for rent, especially affordable housing. So, why would we want another hoop for builders and developers to jump through?
Scotland's existing national parks try to play a progressive and facilitating role in planning decisions, not an added barrier to sustainable development. A National Park in Lochaber could become the local planning authority for the area or it could "call in" only certain planning applications. Either way, we would have a far more local planning authority with clear aims and objectives laid out in the National Park Plan. National Park Authorities bring together all relevant interests to agree and deliver a shared National Park Plan.
National Parks can introduce rules such as requiring more affordable housing to be built and controlling second home ownership. Both of these measures will help with the housing crisis we have currently.
So, that's my initial questions answered, but there are many, many other good reasons to be in support of National Park designation for Lochaber.
Cairngorms National Park employs 124 people and receives £12m every year directly from the Scottish Government. Over the next five years it will invest £50m into the area in nature restoration projects.
Some examples of Heritage Lottery Fund projects planned by Cairngorms National Park include -
The new Scottish agriculture bill will have far reaching effects on national subsidy mechanisms across 70% of the landscape. A National Park could help the agricultural transition of farms and crofts to low carbon nature friendly farming.
Both Scotland’s existing National Parks have actively encouraged further woodland expansion, for example through the Great Trossachs Forest and Cairngorms Connect projects. Cairngorms National Park Authority offers uplift grants for native woodland creation on top of the National Forest Grant Scheme.
Will local people be guaranteed representation on the National Park Authority? Yes. At least 20% of the National Park Board’s members are directly elected local people. Of the remainder, half is selected by local authorities within the area (usually our elected councillors) and the other half is selected by Scottish Ministers.
There is some more information here - https://nationalparkforlochaber.blogspot.com/
As well as on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100095478254204
It would be good for us all to think about this. It might prove to be a solution to many problems without too many drawbacks.
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.