History was made on July 24th this year when the opening ceremony for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park took place at Balloch. Princess Anne officially opened Scotland's first National Park. Its boundaries include the core area of Loch Lomond, the Argyll Forest Park, the Lake of Menteith, Ben Vorlich, Glen Ogle, Loch Earn, Ben More and the communities of Tyndrum, Crianlarich and Killin. Unlike the proposal for the Cairngorms National Park, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park Authority will have full planning powers.
The long-running dispute over the proposal by Lafarge Aggregates (formerly Redland Aggregates) to develop a coastal superquarry at Lingerbay on Harris has still not reached a final conclusion. The saga began with a planning application in 1991. A public enquiry was held between October 1994 and September 1995. It then took six years for the reporter to complete and submit her report to the Scottish Office recommending that the development should go ahead. This was passed on to the Scottish Executive when it came into being in 1999. The following year, the planning application was rejected by then Environment Minister Sam Galbraith. Lafarge appealed against the decision and subsequent legal advice to the Executive was that Mr Galbraith had failed to give "sufficient and adequate" reasons for rejecting the application, leaving the Executive likely to lose the appeal. Although not guaranteeing that the quarry would go ahead, this advice did mean that the Executive would need to consider further submissions from any of the parties to the public enquiry. In the meantime Lafarge have attempted reactivate a 1965 planning permission for a quarry at Lingerbay. This May the Executive ruled that the 1965 permission only applied to 12 acres of the 1,500 targeted by Lafarge. The aggregates giant has now lodged an appeal against that decision in the Court of Session.
Friends of the Earth Scotland have recently named Lafarge in an environmental "roll of dishonour". Lafarge is one of a number of companies accused of trumpeting green credentials while acting quite differently. FoE Scotland's Kevin Dunion commented "Lafarge is pressing ahead through the courts with its plans for a massive superquarry even thought its projections of national demand for aggregate have been exposed as massively inflated." Other companies on the roll are Aventis CropScience, who are behind the GM crop trials recently shown to be contaminated with non-authorised genetic material, British Energy, financially ailing operators of nuclear power stations and oil giant ExxonMobil, widely considered to be a major influence on the Bush administration's policy of undermining attempts to combat global warming.
The ongoing saga of the proposed hydro-electric development for the Shieldaig-Slattadale Forest hasn't yet reached Lingerbay proportions but it has been running since 1997. The scheme proposed by Highland Light and Power would affect four lochs in the Wester Ross National Scenic Area. It was the subject of a public enquiry in 1997 when the developer ultimately withdrew the proposal, thus ensuring that the evidence presented by objectors could not be published. A revised proposal has been expected for some time and, at the time of writing, is thought to be imminent. Once the planning application to submitted, the public will have four weeks to submit representations.
Objectors, who include the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and John Muir Trust, are generally supportive of the principle of developing Scotland's renewable energy resources but consider that the scheme is inappropriate for one of the UK's most significant wild areas. The proposed scheme would affect an area of roughly 400 hectares of loch and 20 kilometres of shoreline. Visual intrusion of pipelines, dams and access tracks is likely to be unavoidable, however careful the developers are. The proposed scheme is expected to generate a maximum of 3.55 megawatts of power. Scotland's current installed hydro-electric generating capacity is around 1,000 megawatts.
Critics of the Funicular were amazed to learn that the controversial development has been awarded a gold standard in green tourism. The award is made by the Green Tourism Business Scheme in association with VisitScotland. It was made after an on-site audit covering environmental issues such as energy saving, waste minimisation and disposal, transport, communications and purchasing as well as wildlife and landscape. Bill Wright of the Cairngorms Campaign commented "I think it is ridiculous because green tourism must be about people actually being able to experience the environment. Green tourism is not about whether a company is using recycled paper or not. It is about people feeling the wind in their hair and the earth beneath their feet. How on earth VisitScotland can square that with taking people up the mountain in what effectively is a cage to what effectively is another cage, a prison, absolutely defeats me." The resort has also recently been named "Europe's most improved ski resort" by the Good Ski Guide.
Increasing calls are being heard for a lifting of the ban on funicular passengers having access from the summit station to the Cairngorm plateau amid revelations that some passengers have been circumventing the closed system. The introduction of this restriction was the reason for Scottish Natural Heritage withdrawing its original objection to the development.
Ramblers Association president Cameron McNeish has called for Highlands and Islands Enterprise to hand over its ownership of the land surrounding the funicular to the Cairngorms National Park Authority when it comes into being. He argued that the Park Authority would be in a much better position than HIE to build consensus on future developments and avoid the mistakes of the past. HIE president Jim Hunter, known for his past advocacy of community ownership of land, has suggested that HIE would be interested in a solution which gave the local community of Aviemore and Strathspey a "meaningful stake", adding that HIE was "quite happy to be moving in the general direction that Cameron McNeish is suggesting." Mr Hunter's remarks have been seen as a snub to the incoming National Park Authority.
Although no official announcement has so far been made, it was reported recently that landowner and clan chief John MacLeod of MacLeod, has clinched a deal with a mystery American buyer to sell off the Black Cuillin range for £10 million. Mr MacLeod wants the money to restore his ancestral home of Dunvegan Castle but the proposed sale of the world-famous mountain range has aroused enormous controversy. The unknown buyer is described as a "collector of landscapes". The 26,000 acres being offered for sale include 11 Munros, 14 miles of coastline, two salmon rivers and Glenbrittle farm. Mr MacLeod revealed on a Grampian Television programme that selling the Black Cuillin was the hardest thing he had ever done. The unknown buyer is said to have the best interests of the Cuillin at heart.
Sigrid Rausing, owner of the 40,000 acre Coignafearn estate in the Monadhliath and heiress to the Tetra Pak billions, has roused controversy amongst neighbouring landowners by ordering a major cull of red deer on her estate. Ms Rausing aims to turn her estate into a nature reserve for golden eagle, hare and capercaillie. The cull would allow native vegetation to regenerate - a natural process which has been prevented in modern times by the grazing pressure of high densities of deer. Ms Rausing's factor has said that she intends to continue to operate Coignafearn as a sporting estate but with reduced deer and grouse numbers. Neighbouring landowners, however, see her deer management policy as part of a hidden agenda to destroy Highland sporting estates. Scottish Natural Heritage has approved the proposed cull.
The River Dee has been proposed to the European Union as a candidate Special Area of Conservation. The entire river would be covered by the proposed designation. The Dee is recognised to have particular importance for three species, Atlantic salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and otter, all of which depend on maintenance of high water and habitat quality and sympathetic management. Designation would make it part of the 'Natura 2000' series, which aims to conserve EU habitats and species of plants and animals which are recognised to be rare, endangered or vulnerable. All public bodies would be required to ensure their activities have no adverse effects on the qualifying species and habitats. Scottish Natural Heritage is currently consulting with owners and occupiers as to whether salmon-accessible tributaries of the Dee should be included within the candidate SAC.
Will Campbell, 25 September, 2002
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