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Cairngorms park board welcomes formation of new farmers and crofters forum

By Tom Ramage

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Cairngorms Crofters & Farmers Community Ltd has formally launched, spawned from frustrations with the Cairngorms National Park Authority over their lack of engagement and the introduction of beavers.

Flocking to the cause: new farmers group is formed
Flocking to the cause: new farmers group is formed

At the same time, the CNPA has ‘fully welcomed’ the arrival of the CCFC and told the Strathy it is looking forward to working positively with it over the ‘months and years’.

Early in the new year, a group of almost 50 local crofters and farmers came together to improve engagement with the park authority and to work together as a group for the promotion and enhancement of sustainable, local food production ‘and all that comes with it’.

Chaired by Grantown farmer Robert MacDonald, the group now has 11 directors, all crofters or farmers, with a membership building across the whole of the park.

The group will have a Cairngorms focus and intends to work closely with existing organisations such as NFU Scotland, Scottish Crofting Federation, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and Scottish Land & Estates, among other organisations.

While negotiations are still under way regarding the implications of the released beavers and the impact they may have, the capability of the group is already in evidence with discussions leading to substantial improvements in the Upper Spey Beaver Management and Mitigation Plan.

CCFC has also successfully requested the set-up of a Beaver Management Group to include farmer and land manager input.

Other early positive steps have been the rekindling of a farmers forum and the setting-up of an agricultural advisory panel by the CNPA to enable agricultural practitioners, researchers and policy-influencers to feed into park plans.

“Having this type of dialogue should have a marked improvement on two-way understanding between the park authority and the people managing the land,” said Mr MacDonald.

“The culture and extensive nature of farming and crofting in the Cairngorms has created much of the value that created the national park in 2003.”

Andy Ford: the national park's director of nature and climate change welcomes the new organisation. Picture CNPA
Andy Ford: the national park's director of nature and climate change welcomes the new organisation. Picture CNPA

The formation of the new group was good news for the national park.

Andy Ford, the authority’s director of nature and climate change, told the Strathy: “We fully welcome the establishment of the Cairngorms Farmers and Crofters Group and look forward to working with them positively in the months and years ahead.

“The new group gives us a good opportunity to build a successful two-way dialogue and will provide useful opportunities for more detailed discussions on the issues affecting the sector.

“We know there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in the farming community across the national park and, as an organisation, we can benefit from having better, regular channels of communication, offering support where we can.

“There are many changes happening locally, nationally and globally that are having an impact on the sector and we need to work together to meet the challenges head on including tackling the nature and climate emergencies.”

A new era of communication between farmers and the park board?
A new era of communication between farmers and the park board?

CCFC’s aims and objectives are to:

• support and promote local food production and cultural heritage;

• raise awareness and improve education about the positive benefits of crofting and farming;

• scrutinise relevant policy and provide constructive communication and representation

• share best practice, encourage mentorship and provide training and support

opportunities for members;

• work collaboratively with partners on farming-friendly solutions on environmental foot

printing, and management of nature;

• identify opportunities to increase crofting and farming sustainability.

Chair Robert MacDonald commented: “ The group brings a new and powerful voice to the decision-making process in the park. It’s important for us to find a balance between fulfilling the objectives of the park and those of the rural communities that it serves.

“We share common goals of preserving and developing biodiversity and our cultural heritage in the area, and as caretakers of the land, we need to be closely involved in decisions. We’re already seeing the benefits.”

Lucy Grant, vice-chair who farms in Laggan added: “The voice of the local rural community has the potential to change negative perceptions of the park, but they need to ensure they are listening and not just offering lip service to those who have been managing the land for generations.

“On a fraction of the park budget dedicated to agriculture, this group has the ability to deliver not just many of the aims of the park and the Scottish Government but also the needs of the people living and visiting here by providing high quality food, high quality wildlife and high-quality landscapes.

“It is important to acknowledge that agriculture is core to our rural economy and well-being.”

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