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Concerns over vast areas of land being snapped up in Cairngorms National Park for carbon off-setting


By Gavin Musgrove

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Fears have been expressed that a mini modern-day version of the Highland Clearances could be sparked by the rush to buy land for carbon off-setting.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) is now being urged by some of its own board members to set out policies to get a grip on the vast chunks of land being snapped up for compensation planting.

But CNPA chief executive Grant Moir seemed relatively relaxed about the situation, pointing out the national park is less wooded than the Scottish average and trails well behind the European figure.

The park authority has recently been consulted about several significant woodland creation proposals.

Board member Deirdre Falconer said that there were concerns in Drumguish over what was happening at nearby Lynaberack and Gaick estates owned by Aviemore-based Wildland Ltd.

She told the latest meeting of the CNPA board: “There are fears that all this expansion of woodland is going to have an negative effect on communities, and they also want to see the evidence that there are going to be benefits for the area, flora and fauna.

“We have to be very honest and open about what the pros and cons of this regeneration and woodland planting is going to do to the local area in terms of biodiversity and landscape, etc.

“If it means that people are going to be pushed off their farms and pushed off estates, it is not something that I would want to put my name to as a board member.

“We do need a policy about who is coming into the park to buy land and what are their reasons for doing so.”

Fellow board member Eleanor Mackintosh backed the call: “Why communities are getting angst is not so much because of the trees going in, but the rewilding. This is what is really concerning communities.

“They just can not see a future for themselves in that scenario.

“I do think we need to have a position on this, and we need to have it pretty urgently so that we can then go to the Scottish Government and flag up our case if there is one to be made.”

Board member and farmer John Kirk believes much of the carbon credit money will not benefit local communities, adding: “The next generation will be appalled if we plant trees that are of no use to them. Rewilding will be a total waste of time.”

Board colleague Willie Munro also warned against the national park becoming a magnet for businesses off-setting carbon emissions.

CNPA board member Pippa Hadley, also a local Highland councillor for the Scottish Greens, believes the benefits of carbon off-setting and re-wilding are not being properly highlighted. She is pictured out walking in local woods with her dog Hunter.
CNPA board member Pippa Hadley, also a local Highland councillor for the Scottish Greens, believes the benefits of carbon off-setting and re-wilding are not being properly highlighted. She is pictured out walking in local woods with her dog Hunter.

But board member Pippa Hadley said: “I do understand the fear, and that when people are not communicating visions then people can get very concerned about where they fit within this.”

She said that there was plenty of readily available evidence rewilding could create good numbers of jobs and urged those involved to share their success stories.

Ms Hadley continued: “I spoke to Balavil Estate recently about their last grouse shoot. They bagged six grouse; that was all.

“But the factor said the highlight of the trip was the fact the group saw sea eagles, a golden eagle and many different types of wildlife.”

“The factor said in 10 years’ time they will be pretty much doing what they are doing now, but there will be a shift in balance and they will be calling themselves wildlife rangers.

“He said all of the jobs will be secure, but they will change and develop with the landscape, but there will always be a place for them.

“There is really something to be said for all the concerns we are hearing to get ahead of the game and to communicate the positive benefits and not just bump our gums.”

Mr Moir pointed out almost all woodland applications are already subject to public consultations and the CNPA has no power over land transactions.

He said: “The average woodland cover in the Cairngorms National Park is around 15 per cent, which is below the Scottish average, and the European average sits at 37 per cent so we are one of the least wooded places in Europe.

“I agree we need to discuss, but the one thing I would say is that a lot of people have bought land in the national park over the past 20 years for lots of things, but we don’t seem to have been particularly upset by that.

“Carbon money could be extremely beneficial to the park, but if it is done the wrong way then it has issues.

“I think one of the things is to ensure there is community benefits, and that is something for our policy position rather than necessarily some of the other comments that have been made.”

A CNPA spokesperson said after meeting: “The Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan will be out for public consultation next week, and there is a good opportunity to discuss the policies around future land use, ownership and management as part of that.”

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