Hilltracks Update

Last year, we wrote of "A summer for action!" As the following shows a lot has happened on some fronts and little on others.

Balmore to Auchtavan track

The hearing on the re-determination of the Balmore to Auchtavan track was held at Glen Lui Hotel in Ballater on Tuesday 16th November. NEMT was represented by Jennifer Cook, Kenny Freeman and Kenny Ferguson. Using technical evidence supplied by Adam Watson, Sandy Walker and Rodney Heslop, we submitted a report (full copy of this report - 1.4 MB), inclusive of photographs, outlining the basis for our objection:

Aberdeenshire Council, SNH and the Cairngorms National Park Authority also submitted similar reports. We are pleased with the report submitted and the way our representatives were able to present their evidence at the hearing. They did a very good job for us. The hearing was reported in next day's Press and Journal, echoing these points and the united opposition from hillwalkers, the Council and the Cairngorms National Park Authority and SNH.

We are still waiting for the Reporter to present his determination. We expect that he will be looking for some form of compromise.

non functioning culvert on Balmore to Auchtaven track
Photo from NEMT Balmore to Auchtaven Report illustrating how culverts had not served their intended purpose

This must not be so soft as to let estates think that working on tracks without planning permission is an acceptable risk. We are also concerned that as and when planning permission is granted that it should be conditional on a higher standard of workmanship that will be monitored - hence the estates will have to budget accordingly.

STOP PRESS: Balmore to Auchtavan - Reporter's Decision

As we go to press in comes the Reporter's Decision letter on the re-determination of this track. This was caused by the CNPA deciding to challenge the Reporter’s original decision to over throw the Aberdeenshire Council's decision to require the estate to re-instate the work carried out to upgrade this track (ie the Reporter's rejection of local democracy).

As expected, the new Reporter's decision is a bit of a compromise between upholding Aberdeenshire Council's original enforcement notice of 26th May, 2005 and allowing some of the terms of the sporting tenant's appeal to overthrow this notice.

An itemised list of "What you are required to do" is provided at the end of the letter and of course the value of this decision now depends on whether these conditions are met. The fact that it has taken a full 3 years to get to this stage is a clear indication that the planning regulations governing hill tracks are still in a very confused state. We will put these conditions up on our website for obvious reasons! (available from Planning Committee papers - 6MB)

Track up Gleann an t'-Slugain

In the last Newsletter, we stated that we would be monitoring the estate's compliance with the conditions attached to the planning permission. Simple enough you might think! Well, Aberdeenshire County Council has been reluctant to tell us what they think is going on and how the conditions are being met. We need to explore ways of putting pressure on them to uphold these conditions.

Hilltracks Survey Pilot Project

Since the last copy of Mountain Views, we have had volunteers out in the hills surveying. Response has been less than we were hoping for but we have still managed to cover a good range of tracks. We have decided to continue the project for another year to improve our coverage of the tracks in the Park. We now plan to finish the pilot project at the end of this year.

Hilltracks Survey Project

The following was circulated to our Hilltracks Survey participants and it will bring our readers up to date with what has been happening.

Firstly a "thank you" to all those who attended the Workshop / Training Day in January. It ran on well into the afternoon refreshed by tea and sandwiches and was generally considered a success with all participants learning from others' experience. A second workshop will be organised if there is sufficient demand and there's talk of a Barbeque in June.

Now Spring is with us there's no excuse for not getting out into your favourite bit of the hills, armed with GPS and camera of course, and sending in your photos. All returns gratefully received but please use the spreadsheet templates provided. A plot of returns is published on the Hilltracks webpage and in our web journal to assist in route selection.

The Hilltracks Group reported to our partners (CNPA and SNH) in February. Whilst we were concerned at the relatively low uptake last year, CNPA/SNH were pleased with start we had made and praised the amount of effort that had been put in by the volunteers. It was agreed that a good start had been to giving greater clarity to the overall state of hill tracks in the National Park and providing baseline information for monitoring their condition.

The Group will shortly meet to examine the photographs submitted to see what additional information relating to the tracks can be extracted and to make a start on classifying them. Please note the points below and keep an eye on the 'Tech Tips' page on the website which is updated in response to contributors’ problems.

If you have any comments or want suggestions of where to start please contact us nemt.info@gmail.com

Thanks again for your continued support

NEMT Hill Tracks Group
Spring 2008

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