IYM Ballater Weekend

NEMT organised a weekend event in Ballater, from Friday 24th to Sunday 26th May 2002, to mark International Year of Mountains.

Introduction - Mountains of the World: the challenge for the 21st Century.

At the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 focused on Mountain areas of the world. It was agreed then to designate 2002 as International Year of the Mountains, in order to highlight the importance of mountains and mountain peoples in the global context. This year over 130 countries have signed up to the International Year of the Mountains objectives. The United Kingdom is not one of them. NGOs such as the North East Mountain Trust have, however, sought to bring some of the important issues surrounding our mountainous areas to the attention of more people. To do this, we staged a nationally important Conference event this year, in Ballater on the 24th to the 26th May. We themed the weekend around The Recreational Management of the Cairngorms.

A bit of light refreshment...?

The Friday evening saw the event kicked off with a talk from experienced founder member and mountaineer Ronnie Robb on his recent expedition on Kanchenjunga. With slides and an insightful comment on the area's geography, Ronnie Robb certainly introduced us to a cracking weekend. The evening was completed by a mountain quiz led by our very own Alastair Beeley and Dave Windle, with everything from mountains to mountaineers et al! The prize winners, furthermore went home with signed copies of the superb "Call of the Corbetts" (Irvine Butterfield) and "Beinn Eighe - The Mountain above the Wood" (Dick Balharry & J Laughton Johnston) so kindly donated by their respective authors.


On the Saturday's seminar, the North East Mountain Trust welcomed four internationally renowned experts on the conservation and protection of mountain resources to speak on some of the important issues which face the UK and other countries today. In addition, Mike Rumbles MSP (Kincardine and Deeside) and Mr Allan Garvie of Aberdeenshire Council presented views on the proposals for the Cairngorms National Park.

First to speak was Dr Martin Price, head of the Centre for Mountain Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Perth. Dr Price has published many works on the global importance of mountain regions to all peoples, not just those who live in them. He spoke on the theme 'We are all mountain people', the IYM's motto. Dr Price was followed by Dr Robert Moss who highlighted the more local concern of the threats to our important endangered species including climate change and other anthropologically induced stresses. In fact, Dr Moss suggested that the Capercaillie could be extinct within ten years if the environmental pressures on the species, as key environmental indicators, are not addressed urgently. The issue of overgrazing was raised as a major issue causing the decline in numbers.

Mike Rumbles MSP was our next speaker, who candidly shared his valuable knowledge of the Parliamentary process to discuss the implementation of the Cairngorms National Park, from his place on the Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament. Significantly, Mr Rumbles stated that he could not see why the Park should not have full planning powers, but that he would vote for the Park in any form just to ensure the status of National Park was achieved before long. After this speaker a long debate followed, focussing mainly on the planning powers issue. The Draft Designation Order, of course, was published only three days later.

A local issue continued the day's events with Mr Alastair Clunas, Property Manager for The National Trust's Mar Lodge Estate highlighting the Trust's emphasis to ensure a conservationist approach at the estate while maintaining traditional management practices, including the continuation of stalking. Mr Clunas talked of the approaches taken to the restoration of bulldozed tracks, with slides showing a before and after shot of Glen Luibeg and Beinn a'Bhuird. The essence of the Trust's activities was shown to be managing land and visitors in a sustainable manner, while ensuring appropriate access.

Mr Allan Garvie, head of Planning Policy and Environment with Aberdeenshire Council took the floor to highlight how the proposals for the shared arrangement of planning functions for the Cairngorms National Park could work. He outlined the current planning framework, suggesting that this was far too coarse-grained to be applicable to the finer grained issues which the Cairngorms would present. Planning fit for the Cairngorms, he argued, would need to concentrate on land management and must co-ordinate planning with the Authority.

And finally to complete the line up, the Trust's own resident Cairngorm's expert, Dr Adam Watson, presented a characteristically clear-headed, common sense view of the main management problems of the Cairngorms, with typical (and welcome) disregard to contemporary buzzwords and meaningless jargon. He argued that the problem was that current agencies continue a trend of inappropriate management focussing on visitor pressure, which Dr Watson feels, is not the largest problem by any means. Instead, he suggested that overgrazing was the biggest issue conflicting with international conservation priorities, and that the illegal killing of raptors was also important. The Forestry Commission's past policies of uneconomic, subsidised mono-species forestry was criticised and it was suggested that even today's policies were still getting it wrong. Dr Watson also suggested that the ski industry, while causing mainly local problems, were still a major issue as is the general ease at which the Local Authorities in the Cairngorms allow major developments. Top staff in the National Park, Dr Watson stressed, must be conservationist experts and not political appointments.

Debate and Outcomes

In the lively discussion which followed, six major outcomes were agreed under the Chairmanship of Dr Roger Owen and facilitated by Dr Drennan Watson.

These are:

Field Visit to Upper Deeside

The Sunday saw Dr Adam Watson leading a field visit to upper Deeside, culminating in a walk beyond the Linn of Dee to look at some of the issues which were mentioned on the Saturday in reality. From the bus and at sites, Dr Watson pointed out issues such as overgrazing by deer, and where fences were reducing this, the damage to the vegetation being all too evident in this area. The trip was accompanied by Dr Moss, Dr Gus Jones (Pinewood ecologist), Mr Clunas (Mar Lodge Estate) and Mr Simon Blackett, factor of the Invercauld Estate who all played their part in assisting interpretation of the area. This esteemed company allowed practical debate and fact-finding at each site, with every delegate feeling that they learned something special. It was, in itself, a particularly rewarding experience and made a fine conclusion to a very worth while weekend.

Graham Neville, NEMT General Council Member

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