Cairngorm Mountain VMP Consultation

Sept 2010

Dear Mr. Whitaker, Chief Executive, CairnGorm Mountain Ltd Sept.

I am writing, on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust, in response to your request for consultation on the Visitor Management Plan. We are concerned at what appears to be a process of continually eroding the current "closed system".

This idea originated with the Chairlift Company and was accepted "as a necessary condition of the planning approval". Indeed, the European funding was conditional upon this. Studies by Adam Watson (Ref 1) have clearly shown damage caused to fragile plateau soils by walkers. This evidence was accepted at the original Public Inquiry and remains valid today. The plateau, away from the ski area, is part of a European Natura area and accordingly needs to be protected. This was the purpose of the closed system.

Since then, the closed system" has been gradually "chipped away". First, non-funicular users being allowed into the Ptarmigan Restaurant and then walkers being allowed to descend on the funicular. Now, we have guided walks. Each of these steps, taken in isolation, can be seen as minor, contributing very little to numbers of walkers on the sensitive plateau area. However, we see a process of the thin end of the wedge getting gradually thicker and are seriously concerned at where this will stop. The idea of guided walks was proposed by the Company in the mid 90s and was not accepted by SNH at that time. SNH need to justify the basis for their change of view.

We are aware that some vociferous local businessmen see the ending of the closed system as providing significant economic benefit to the area. We strongly doubt that any ending of the closed system will generate significant extra economic activity. However, a small increase in the numbers of people walking on the plateau will have a significant effect on the fragile environment.

SNH is a key player here. We suggest that SNH be asked to provide a detailed review of the impact of the guided walks in terms of the monitoring done before the walks began and also the results of the monitoring during the current season. These findings could then be extrapolated to assess the impact of any further relaxation of the current closed system. The results of these studies should then be made public.

This touches upon a concern shared by many - changes to the closed system are not being made in an open and transparent manner. Where are the results of the monitoring carried out on behalf of SNH? Why is this data not more openly available? Now would be an opportunity to make this data available and demonstrate an improved process.
I would like to close by repeating our key point - allowing the closed system to be chipped away risks causing considerable damage to the sensitive plateau area for minimal economic benefit.

Dave Windle (on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust)

Ref 1 - Watson, A (1985) Soil Erosion and Vegetation Damage near Ski Lifts at Cairn Gorm, Scotland, Biological Conservation, 33, 363-381; doi:10.1016/0006-3207(85)90077-1; Elsevier Applied Science Publishers Ltd

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