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Public consultation helps to form new draft plan for Cairngorms National Park

By Niall Harkiss

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Cairngorms National Park Authority have drafted the plan following a public consultation
Cairngorms National Park Authority have drafted the plan following a public consultation

The Cairngorms National Park Authority have published a final draft of the National Park Partnership Plan, incorporating a range of suggestions from members of the public and partner organisations.

The new draft draws upon feedback from more than 1400 people who took part in the formal consultation, which ran from September 23 to December 17 last year.

The plan will now be reviewed by the Park Authority board on June 10, before being submitted to Scottish Government for approval over the coming weeks.

Of the responses received to the formal public consultation, more than half came from people living or working within the National Park, with a range of businesses, community groups, land managers and environmental NGOs also represented.

Over two thirds of respondents supported the draft plan’s outcomes and objectives across the three themes of nature, people and place, however, there were a number of areas which respondents were keen for the Park Authority to review.

Whilst there was a good level of support for this section of the original draft, a number of changes have been proposed based on respondent feedback, such as being more ambitious and targeted in tackling both the climate and nature crises – the Park Authority is working with independent experts Small World Consulting to establish firm targets for reaching both a net zero and carbon negative position. The suggested target for peatland restoration has also been increased from 35,000 ha to a minimum of 38,000 ha following a detailed mapping exercise (a nine per cent increase).

The need for more targeted action on species conservation and wildlife crime was highlighted, with specific actions added on tackling wildlife crime, as well as targeted support for species including beaver and capercaillie.

Another aspects of the Nature theme was ensuring private finance delivers public benefit – the final draft suggests that green investment ‘must deliver long-term benefits and be in the public interest, shared between the owner and local communities.’

In response to some concerns over indiscriminate tree planting, particularly on agricultural land, the new plan takes the approach of ‘the right tree in the right place for the right reason’, ensuring that the relatively limited area of in-bye land in the National Park continues to play a part in the nation’s food security and is protected from wholesale conversion to woodland.

There were strong views on either side of the debate regarding moorland management too. However, the important role moorland managers play in supporting nature in the National Park has been recognised, and deer targets have been broadened to include wider herbivore impacts. Reference has also been made to a new national licensing regime for grouse moors.

Nearly 75 per cent of respondents agreed with the original draft outcome and objectives for People; however, a number of changes were requested.

These includes providing more explicit support for under-represented groups, support for rural works to take advantage of the growth in green jobs in the form of skills and training opportunities, community ownership and benefit, and Gaelic and a celebration of wider cultural heritage.

As with the People theme, a large majority of respondents supported the draft outcome and objectives for Place, but there were a few key areas that required attention.

The feedback suggested highlighted the need for affordable housing, improvements to public transport to better connect communities and a better visitor infrastructure, including accessible toilets. There was also a desire for improvements to path and cycle networks across the Park (with a specific focus on accessibility).

Diversifying the economy – the new draft plan includes a commitment to encourage and support businesses to use nature-based solutions to support a diverse economy, making the Cairngorms an exemplar for rural economies across Scotland.

Xander McDade, board convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “The Park Authority board has been delighted with both the volume and quality of responses to our fourth National Park Partnership Plan, and it is encouraging to see the final draft addressing specific comments from residents, local businesses, land managers, partners and many other groups.

“The public consultation and analysis stage is an integral part in the process of delivering a Park Plan that reflects local and national priorities and I would like to again thank the more than 1400 respondents who took the time to give feedback. The board will now discuss the final draft in public session on Friday June 10, with a view to a final plan being sent to Scottish Ministers for approval over the next few weeks.

“I believe that this draft plan is the most ambitious ever written but, crucially, it is also achievable, helping harness the energy and participation of Park residents, visitors and organisations operating in the National Park over the next five years.”

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