Society management

Political debate over national parks in Scotland

The British Ecological Society-Scottish Policy Group (BES-SPG) co-hosted a ‘Pie and a Pint’ (PAAP) Policy Debate on National Parks with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), on 6 Octobere 2022.

Forty-five conservationists, stakeholders and interested parties from Scotland and beyond gathered in Summerhall, Edinburgh earlier this month for the first in-person PAAP event since 2019.

The topic of debate for this PAAP was national parks, this following the outcome of the Scottish Government’s agreement at Bute House in August 2021 to establish at least one new national park in Scotland before the end of the current parliamentary session in 2026 .

The evening followed the traditional PAAP format of a series of short lectures by field experts, followed by panel discussions to synthesize participants’ thoughts on the debate in response to three proposed questions.

Trossachs National Park Free Photos - dunblane Trossachs National Park in Dunblane, Scotland

Annie Robinson, CIEEM Scotland Project Manager, opened the discussion, noting the timeliness of the event given the launch of the National Parks consultation that day. Annie also encouraged participants to contact BES-SPG and CIEEM if they wish to be involved in BES-SPG and CIEEM’s responses to the government consultation.

The evening’s five speakers then introduced the two current national parks in Scotland (Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and Cairngorms National Park) and gave an overview of the many considerations to be taken into account when deciding which location of the new park(s). . Speakers also highlighted examples of regional offerings for national parks, including those in marine, mountain and urban areas.

Key points from speakers:

  • The main rationales for designation as a national park include, but are not limited to: protection of world-class landscapes, support for measures to address the climate emergency, protection and extension of ecosystem services, support for health and well-being, tourism and stimulation of rural development.
  • National parks can be selected for any/all of their natural and cultural heritage features.
  • The future of our national parks should focus on the simple adage of the 2010 Lawton report Make room for natureBigger/Better/More joined.
  • It is imperative that local communities have a central role in the creation of proposals, and that these communities remain involved at all stages of the bids, including in the continued development of the parks thereafter.
  • The establishment of a statutory body, namely the National Park Authority, enables landscape-scale management to be implemented in a more efficient, effective and coherent strategy than might be observed in the absence of such a body.
  • The knowledge of existing national park authorities can be used to ensure an effective start for the new park(s).
  • Ideally, the boundaries of future national parks should align with the boundaries of other designations (eg RAMSAR and SPA boundaries) that may be present in an area to facilitate management by landowners and practitioners.
  • It is important to consider potential new areas for national parks not only for what they are now, but also for what they may become in the future.
  • Join emerging financial backer – Revere – a partnership between Palladium and UK National Parks to catalyze private funding to restore the UK’s 15 National Parks –https://revere.eco/
  • Speakers also celebrated the work of community-led groups to engage individuals in the exploration and enjoyment of national parks, such as the Glasgow-based ‘Boots and Beards’ group, which strives to engage and to provide access to nature and the outdoors for all, especially those from ethnic minorities and to offer members of these communities the opportunity to get involved: https://www.bootsandbeards.co.uk/

Summary of interventions by Brian EardleyScottish Government Biodiversity Team Policy ManagerJohn Mayhew (Director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland), Chris Spray (Park Authority Board Member, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority), dominic room (Convenor of the Glasgow National Park City), and Grant Moire (Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority).

Clockwise from top left: Brian Eardley begins the lecture series; John Mayhew delivers the second speech of the evening; The panel of speakers answer questions from the floor (left to right: Chris Spray, Dominic Hall, Grant Moir, John Mayhew and Brian Eardly); The venue for the event in Summerhall, Edinburgh.

Speakers and participants then broke into small groups to discuss three questions:

  1. Going forward, what role should national parks play in achieving national priorities for local communities and biodiversity and the climate crisis? What responsibilities and powers would they need to achieve these goals?
  2. What role should the national park authority play in the realization of the national park plan? How could they best influence or direct other government agencies to achieve the results required in the Plan?
  3. Where should we designate a new national park and why?

The discussions stimulated a flood of ideas, thoughts and recommendations in the groups on the future of national parks that continued long after the arrival of the famous pies of the event. Below is an overview of responses to the above questions from participants. More details can be viewed here.

Issue 1: Going forward, what role should national parks play in achieving national priorities for local communities and biodiversity and the climate crisis? What responsibilities and powers would they need to achieve these goals?

  • We need to have coordinated strategies between legislation and bills in national parks, as well as within the boundaries of different land designations
  • National parks operate more effectively when they are the product of partnerships between all parties involved
  • There should be clear priority scales, ie Local? National? Global?
  • Restoration, not just preservation, of lands inside national parks should be a key outcome. Expectations of land remaining the same therefore need to be managed.
  • National parks should be examples of best practice
  • Considerations on communities and their complexities – Who are the local communities and How? ‘Or’ What engaged/served by the national park?

Issue 2: What role should the national park authority play in the realization of the national park plan? How could they best influence or direct other government agencies to achieve the results required in the Plan?

  • It is crucial to balance both the potential negative and positive impacts of increased tourism and the appearance of second homes and Airbnbs in areas proposed for national parks.
  • Current regulations on the exclusion of wind turbines inside national parks may need to be reviewed as the adoption of renewables is key to meeting energy targets
  • There must be effective trust building between the organizations involved and between the scale of stakeholders
  • National parks and their authorities need comprehensive accompanying legislation to be more effective
  • Role of National Parks as Trusted Leaders and Facilitators in Partnerships and Convening Hub for Landscape Scale Initiatives
  • governance structures how do we ensure community voice and representation
  • National parks need energy to test new ideas

Issue 3: Where should we designate a new national park and why?

  • There are clearly many areas of Scotland that would merit national park status
  • Considerations should include promoting landscape restoration and what the area might become, not just what it is now
  • We need better data on how national parks affect local biodiversity and tourism
  • The placement of new national parks should be based on problem-based decisions, as with the two current national parks
  • National park size and boundary considerations are very important
  • Prioritize areas where there is ‘buy-in’

If this blog has whetted your appetite for the national parks conversation and you would like to contribute to the BES-SPG and CIEEM responses to the national parks consultation, you can contact Sarah sarah@britishecolgicialsociety.org and Annie annierobinson@cieem .net.

BES is currently planning future PAAP events for 2023, so watch this space to find out how you can participate in the next gathering of environmentalists and environmentalist-adjacent people by signing up to our newsletter.

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