Highlands and Islands Enterprise has announced that it is seeking to dispose of the Cairngorm Mountain estate. The estate on the north side of Cairn Gorm contains the skiing areas of Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste and also the Northern Corries of Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain as well as Creag an Leth-choin (Lurchers Gully). The area was part of the Glenmore Forest Park and belonged to the Forestry Commission until, in 1971, the Scottish Office transferred the upper half of the Park to the Highlands and Islands Development Board, HIE's original incarnation, on the basis that a development agency was better placed to manage downhill skiing developments. That decision set the scene for 30 years of conflict between the local ski industry and conservationists which climaxed with the acrimonious funicular dispute.
HIE took over full ownership of the ski complex in 2001 and, soon afterwards, reduced the annual charge to the operator, Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, from £513,500 to £100,000 as the company struggled for financial viability amid the rapidly escalating costs of the funicular development. The company's lease was also extended for another thirty years and that lease would, presumably have to be honoured by any prospective purchaser. Local MSP Fergus Ewing has insisted that any prospective buyer must be supportive of the funicular while SNP land reform spokesman Rob Gibson has said the estate should not go to a private owner. For the Ramblers Association, Dave Morris commented that the sale would remove "a dark cloud that has hung over these mountains for over 30 years."
But who would want to buy the estate? If the funicular operation became unviable, the question of removing the infrastructure would arise and. for the funicular at least, that currently lies with the owner, HIE. Former HIE Chairman Jim Hunter has promoted the idea of a community buyout but the potential burden of heavy maintenance costs and, possibly, infrastructure removal. may make that option unattractive.
Highland Council is modifying the Wester Ross Local Plan to reflect its opposition to High Voltage Transmission Lines in the area. This is in response to Scottish and Southern Energy's proposal to transmit electricity from Western Isles wind farms into the national grid through a new overhead transmission line which would run from Ullapool to Beauly then south to Denny. SSE has told the campaign group Highlands Before Pylons that the company is actively surveying a possible underground route for the interconnector with the Western Isles but ithe company is still also surveying possible pylon sites in Wester Ross. If SSE publishes plans for a pylon route, Highland Council is expected to demand a public enquiry.
The Deer Commission for Scotland has suggested to the Scottish Executive that there is no justification on welfare grounds for continuing the current system of closed seasons for killing deer in Scotland. The Commission has suggested that hunters should be allowed to kill deer at any time provided they can demonstrate a suitable level of competence. The proposal follows an industry-wide consultation on ways to improve the sustainable management and welfare of deer. Responses suggested that closed seasons were not effective and the commission proposes to safeguard deer welfare in future through a recognised standard of competence for anyone shooting deer and a monitoring system. If the proposal was to be approved, it would come into effect in five years time. The Association of Deer Management Groups has expressed strong reservations about the idea of scrapping the closed season and will expected to be consulted.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has received an offer from Balmoral estate to lease a building to it for use as a "national" mountaineering hut. The building in question is the stable at Allt-na-giubhsaich, near the car park at Spittal of Glenmuick. McofS is keen to hear the views of its individual members and member clubs before committing to what would be a demanding project. Some views have already been expressed and are summarised in the latest issue of Scottish Mountaineer, McofS also invites opinions on a proposal to reinstate part of Derry Lodge for use as a mountain hut.
Plans by Scottish Natural Heritage to reintroduce the European beaver to Scotland were recently rejected by Scottish ministers. The refusal of a licence for a trial reintroduction of beavers at a forest site in Argyll was greeted with dismay by wildlife campaigners although satisfaction was expressed by Donald Linton of the Scottish Crofting Foundation. Deputy Environment and Rural Development Minister Rhona Brankin said that the SNH case for reintroduction had been carefully considered. Concerns centred round possible negative impacts on the trial area, part of which is a European Special Area of Conservation, and on the strategy of killing beavers found outside the trial area or causing excessive damage. Ministers feared that European conservation law would be infringed. The Scottish Wildlife Trust, however, accused ministers of finding "spurious reasons" for refused a licence. SWT described the decisions as "a major setback for SNH and conservation in Scotland" but insisted this must not be the end for the proposal to reintroduce the beaver. Ms Brankin said that the door was not closed to further reintroductions.
Pearl Mussels have recently been reintroduced to two locations within the Cairngorms National Park. Freshwater pearl mussels, a threatened species of European and global significance, play an important part in maintaining healthy rivers. The species has been in decline for centuries and is still threatened by illegal fishing. The reintroduction is the result of co-operation between the Cairngorms National Park Authority, SNH, sporting estates and fisheries boards. The locations, one on the Dee and one on the Spey, are a closely guarded secret because of the threat from illegal fishing. It is an offence to kill, injure or disturb the mussels or damage their habitat and an SNH spokesman has encouraged the public to report any incidence of mussel fishing to the police or their local SNH officer.
Suilven by Gavin Shaw
The John Muir Trust has launched an appeal to raise £500,000 in support
of the community buyout of the Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates, described by
the Trust as "one of the finest areas of wild land in the Scottish Highlands".
The area includes the iconic mountain Suilven as well as the Corbetts Canisp,
Cul Mor and Cul Beag. It also supports a number of internationally important
animal and plant species, including the Black throated Diver, enjoys European
Geopark status and is a potential World Heritage Site. The buyout bid by the
Assynt Foundation was successful at the beginning of June. See also www.assyntfoundation.co.uk.
Will Campbell, 14 September 2005
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