Campaigners lobbying for more National Parks as swathes of Scottish countryside is lost to development
Campaigners are lobbying for better conservation of Scotland’s internationally acclaimed countryside while it emerged an area the size of Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire has been lost to development over five years.
Conservationists are putting fresh pressure on Holyrood ministers to agree to more national parks to help protect the environment after a campaign faltered following concerns over cost.
They are now lobbying all five parties to include a commitment to more national parks in their 2016 Scottish Parliament election manifestos.
The Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland are concerned that there continues to be no specific action from the government, despite a 2011 SNP manifesto promise to work with charities “to explore the creation of new national parks”.
Research by Scottish Natural Heritage shows that the developed area of Scotland has risen from 65 per cent (19,890 square miles) in 2008 to 73 per cent (22,204 square miles) in 2013. It shows that the rise in wind farms has been to blame, with now nearly half the nation visually impacted by wind turbines.
The study showed that the largest change in visual influence comes from wind turbines increasing from 19.9 per cent in 2008 to 45.9 per cent in 2013.
They argue that seven proposed additional national parks extend into only one or two council areas and could each cost from between £1.5 million to £3m per year to run. They would also require no more than 10 to 30 staff and eight to 13 board members.
They say Scotland ranks near the bottom of the world league in terms of its number of national parks.
Only a small percentage of the country’s spectacular countryside and landscapes has been given the international recognition of national park designation, at 7.2 per cent of Scotland’s land area, compared to 9.3 per cent of England and 19.9 per cent of Wales.
They are leading internationally-recognised designation for places of the highest national importance for natural or cultural heritage, including landscape, wildlife and recreation.
SCNP and APRS say Scotland has been relatively slow to realise the potential of National Park designation. The nation currently has two; Cairngorm and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs.
The charities argue Ben Nevis, Glen Coe and the Black Mount range in Argyll and Bute should become a national park along with a coastal and marine national park, centred around Mull.
A report published last year suggested Galloway, Glen Affric, the island of Harris and Wester Ross should also join them.
They also claim the Cheviots, straddling the Scotland-England border, should become an extension to the Northumberland National Park.
They have called for a ministerial-led national parks strategy group and a plan of action.
Aileen McLeod, the environment, climate change and land reform minister told the campaigners that cost was an issue, adding: “Substantial cuts to the Scottish Government’s budget mean that ministers must consider how any new designation may impact on our ability to support existing parks where resources have been focused to ensure that they continue to deliver a first class visitor experience.”
Ms McLeod said they also had to fulfil the aims set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act.
Simon Skinner, chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland has called for more positivity towards the plans.
“The Trust believes that National Park status has brought many benefits to the areas already designated,” he said.
“We therefore urge the government to take the lead and to prepare and implement a strategy that empowers further communities to to take this step, creating more sustainable communities and places for the future whilst also protecting areas of Scotland’s most outstanding landscapes and heritage for all.”
Carol Evans, director of Woodland Trust Scotland has told ministers that they ” do not consider it unreasonable for the Scottish Government to have a strategy for the creation of new National Parks” in the light of the “unfulfilled SNP manifesto pledge”.
A government spokesman said while it was committed to working with communities over new national parks, this would only be appropriate “where there was strong support from communities and evidence to justify the case.”
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