14 years have passed since Loch Lomond and the Trossachs became Scotland’s first National Park and 13 since the Cairngorms. However over the last decade there has been nothing.
Scotland has 3 Regional Parks (The Pentlands, Clyde Murshiel and the Lomond Hills), a number of Country Parks, National Scenic Areas and National and Local Nature Reserves but only 2 National Parks, which is something of a disgrace.
I have spent much of the last 9 months walking and photographing in Lochaber, working on a guidebook, and as we all know it is a quite stunning area.
It has Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, Buachaille Etive Mor (perhaps our most iconic peak), the serrated ridgeline of the Aonach Eagach and a litany of mountain ranges including the Mamores and the Grey Corries.
Add to this a number of stunning lochs and glens, an array of wildlife to match anything else in Britain, an excellent road and public transport infrastructure, accommodation to suit all pockets, pubs, restaurants and shops and you have, at the very least, the bare minimum of what is required for an area to be granted National Park status.
You also have a central hub in Fort William, which could really do with a helping hand. Whereas Aviemore has reaped the economic and social benefits that the Cairngorm National Park brings (in 2013 both of Scotland’s National Parks contributed nearly £300 million pounds between them to their local economies), Fort William has a tired High Street and several shops and pubs boarded up.
Yet this is the place that holds the World Mountain Bike Championship every year and where the West Highland Way starts or ends.
It is also geared up for walking (from low level to big mountains), skiing, cycling, mountaineering, wildlife watching and a whole litany of other outdoor pursuits.
Glencoe and Fort William already have National Scenic Area status but this is mere lip service to the benefits that a National Park would bring.
National Park status would not only benefit Fort William but places such as Spean Bridge, Ballachulish, Glencoe and Kinlochleven. You could extend the park to include the Ardgour and Ardnamurchan Peninsula’s and along the Road to the Isles past Glenfinnan and Arisaig to Mallaig.
All in all a magnificent area with an awesome diversity of wildlife and landscape.
But most importantly National Park status would provide much needed protection of the landscape, and not just from major housing developments and intrusive windfarms. More resources would be given to tackle path erosion, wildlife and conservation projects and the cultural heritage of the area while the recent spate of anti-social behaviour in Glen Etive would surely have been tackled better.
I realise that National Park status has only helped Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms to a certain extent as developers are always looking for loop holes, but some protection is better than just a little. The Scottish Government has also set ‘green’ targets, which is why the Allt Duine windfarm development in the Monadliath (and many others) doesn’t seem to be going away. Take a drive along the M74 and see the devastation of the hills along this corridor – is the landscape and wildlife here any less worthy than that further north?
At least a Lochaber National Park would stop these developments happening within its boundaries and we need to start pressing those in charge a little harder to give our natural landscape as much protection as possible.
Social media has provided a new voice to get our opinions over to our MSP’s and so why not tweet (or write) to the likes of Fergus Ewing (Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism @), Paul Wheelhouse (Minister for the Environment and Climate Change @) and Partick Harvie (@) of the Green Party, and express your opinions, thoughts and concerns.
The Western Isles and Northern Isles and Argyll and Bute (to name but 2) could also be future National Parks. But let’s start with baby steps and go forth to Lochaber.