Home   News   Article

NICKY MARR: Hit pause on new national parks

By Nicky Marr

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Scenic view of the Uath Lochans lakes, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, United Kingdom
Scenic view of the Uath Lochans lakes, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, United Kingdom

Those of us who are in favour of the A9 and A96 being dualled, are waiting for our child’s school to be upgraded, or have been on a waiting list for NHS treatment for way longer than is humanly bearable, may feel we have had our fill of the Scottish Government’s commitments. But here’s another one to collectively roll our eyes at.

The Scottish Government has committed to establishing a third national park by 2026. With bids closing this week, communities have been working last minute on their applications. But not all of the applications are going in; having all worked hard to get them submitted, steering groups in Skye and Raasay, Affric and Loch Ness, Wester Ross, and Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric, have all recently withdrawn them.

In Fort William at the weekend, there was furious local opposition to Lochaber’s refusal to withdraw their application. It will apparently still go ahead, but without the backing of the local Highland councillors.

But is a national park not a wonderful opportunity for an area to ‘get on the map’ and boost its share of the tourism market? To protect and enhance its biodiversity, to create opportunities for employment and education, and protect any cultural or historical identity the area may have?

Yes of course, all of these could be benefits of an area gaining national park status – it has certainly boosted the profiles, natural diversity, and visitor numbers to our two existing parks, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, which was established in 2002, and Cairngorms, which followed the following year.

But there are disadvantages too, and fairly hefty disadvantages, if the detractors are to be believed. While tourism and hospitality businesses may rub their hands in glee at a potential increase in visitor numbers, local people, perhaps mindful of ever-increasing incidents of dirty campers and wildfires, and traffic congestion and litter, particularly around the hot spots of Loch Lomond and Loch Morlich, would prefer to keep their remote communities untarnished. Who could blame them?

Click here to read more from Nicky Marr

And that’s before we talk about national parks imposing stricter planning and land-use regulations. Will it still be possible to build schools and business premises? Will farmers still be able to manage their land in the ways they always have done? Will wildlife habitats, or a desire to preserve a natural landscape, get in the way of new housing for local families? And will the demand for second homes in a new national park push up prices, compounding the housing crisis that we already have in our rural areas?

I’ve not even touched on the cost of setting up and maintaining a new national park. Any new park will need office premises, staff, and a board, and there will be running and operational costs too. The Cairngorms National Park’s annual accounts for 2022-23 show that it received a total income of almost £13.5 million, the majority of which came from the Scottish Government.

I’m not saying national parks are a bad idea, far from it. I’m a very regular visitor to the Cairngorms, whether for day or overnight trips, to walk, swim, cycle and – occasionally – ski.

But with the country pretty well on its knees right now, do we really need another area of Scotland dealing with another level of costly bureaucracy? Can’t it wait till we have decent schools and education, better healthcare with decent hospitals and surgeries, and safe and reliable transport links?

In addition to our two national parks, Scotland already has several UNESCO Heritage sites, plus the North West Highland Geopark. The National Trust for Scotland and Forestry and Land Scotland between them own and manage swathes of rural mountainscapes, beach locations and woodlands. There are Designated Dark Sky Parks from north to south, including at Tomintoul and Glenlivet in the Cairngorms. That‘s plenty to be going on with.

So can we press pause on more National Parks? Just till we’re back on track with the vital stuff?

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More