Campsite at Cairngorms' most famous beauty spot bought by government's forestry agency
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Hopes have been expressed that there will be a clamp down on dirty camping and other antisocial behaviour at the Cairngorms’ most famous beauty spot.
It comes after Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and Forestry England announced they have bought Camping in The Forest (CiTF) from the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC).
The deal for an undisclosed sum involves three campsites in Scotland – Glenmore, Cobleland in The Trossachs and Cashel by Loch Lomond – effectively entering Scottish ministers’ control, and 16 overall in the UK.
There was outrage in summer 2020 when CiTF refused to open the campsite on the shores of Loch Morlich after the end of the first Covid lockdown citing commercial reasons.
The decision sparked many months of dirty camping and misery for Glenmore residents and astonishment that Scottish ministers had entered into a lease of 75 years with an annual rent of just £35,000 that left them powerless to reverse the situation.
CiTF bosses were described as a “bunch of numpties” by Highland Council convener Bill Lobban for their refusal to open up the site. It remained closed until the following spring.
Strathspey MSP Fergus Ewing, in his role then as cabinet secretary for rural economy and tourism, had been involved in the initial furore stating at the time no stone would be left unturned as the government tried to force the reopening of the campsite as staycations numbers boomed.
This had included an offer of rent support for the campsite operators.
He has welcomed confirmation of the deal which had been initiated during his time in office.
Mr Ewing told the Strathy: “I am pleased that this purchase has gone ahead and hope that FLS in the running of the site use local knowledge and offer local businesses who are already familiar with how to run these sites well – a specialised area of expertise – are given the opportunity to do so on a commercial footing.
“That would I think ensure the best outcome for the local economy, local business and indeed for holidaymakers.
“There are many such run sites in the strath, and when forestry minister, that was certainly the view that I offered to FLS management.”
Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes described the deal as 'an excellent result' after campaigning for a new direction for Glenmore.
She said: “There is no doubt that Glenmore is one of the most popular sites in the whole of the Highlands, so I hope the transition to FLS ownership is a smooth one.
“Given that the previous regime insisted in the site remaining closed when there was a staycation boom after the first lockdown, I believe the new owners will have their ear closer to the ground locally.”
FLS and Forestry England have bought a controlling shareholding of 72 per cent from the CCC.
They said it will enable each country to separately manage its future national forest camping offer.
FLS chief executive Simon Hodgson told the Strathy: “Camping is an important and accessible activity, which is only going to become more popular as more people consider their carbon footprint and opt for ‘staycations’.
“This purchase is part of FLS’s commitment to expand our tourism offer, to secure the future of the camping offer and to allow us to have greater control of the three Scottish sites.
“CiTF campsites are currently used by less than five per cent of CCC members, and following a detailed review of their operations, they took the decision to focus on its core sites which they run for their members.
“The club will continue to operate all 16 CiTF sites until November 2022 ensuring minimal disruption to campers and to provide an adequate transition that will allow us to determine how best we want to run the sites in future.”
A FLS spokeswoman said on the cost of the deal: “This information is commercially confidential, but we sought independent advice to ensure that the value paid represents best value for the public purse.”
There have been ongoing problems with litter and human excrement, campfires being lit requiring the fire service to attend and trees cut down for fire wood in and around Loch Morlich.
Local residents are angered and feel swamped by the influx of people with little infrastructure in place to serve them.
One Glenmore resident, who did not wish to be named, said he had little hope of any major improvements.
He said: “It has been horrendous. There were 50 people parked up for Hogmanay and every weekend every lay-by is full. I don’t think FLS buying over the campsite is going to stop this happening. I can’t seeing things changing at all.
“They need to put a ban on this ridiculous situation where people can pitch up on the shores of Loch Morlich for free and leave their mess behind.”
He added: “The CCC has been raking this place for profits and not putting much back into the infrastructure.”
CCC director general Sabina Voysey said: “We’re pleased to be leaving the business in such a strong position, and the club will work closely with Forestry England and FLS to ensure the transition period is as seamless as possible for CiTF’s valued customers.”
The campsite lease was signed between Scottish ministers and Forest Holidays (Scotland) LLP – then the commercial arm of Forestry Commission Scotland and site operators – in May 2006.