During the summer, the NTS published their draft management plan for the estate for public consultation. The plan can be found at http://www.nts.org.uk/property/mar-lodge-estate. NEMT produced the reply set out below. You will see that we have continued our supportive position. Yes, things at Mar Lodge aren't perfect but they're a lot better than much of what's going on around us.
"Overall, we support this plan and think that it offers an excellent way forward. In particular, we commend the Trust on its efforts to be more transparent and accessible. However, we would have liked to see reference made to the need to gain understanding in the local community of the substantial economic benefits generated by the 100,000 visitors a year in comparison to the economic benefits generated by stalking. Indeed, many of the actions in the plan should generate increased economic benefit for the local community. The plan is well written and carefully worded. A lot of thought has obviously gone into providing future room for manoeuvre. However, some targets are useful and the Trust itself would probably benefit from clear milestones to help with future decision points. We suggest that it might be better to have some targets that might need to be revised in the future rather than no specific targets. The John Muir Trust reports on cm. of tree seedling growth at its properties - wouldn't that be appropriate for Mar Lodge? Similarly, moorland quality is left undefined. The comment applies throughout the plan.
River Dee at Braemar
The reference to "signs of regular muirburn" is probably inappropriate. See comment below.
This sections states that "Every management plan, however, needs defined milestones". Yet, see comment above.
We support the proposed Vision, although suggest that care needs to be taken with "collaboration with neighbouring estates". Income for the landowner will be an important consideration for the neighbouring privately owned estates but should be less of a consideration for a charity-owned estate. Many NEMT members are also members of the Trust and expect the Trust to run the MLE to different objectives than a privately-owned estate. Otherwise why become members as we could simply leave the private landowners to it? There should always be a misalignment in objectives between a privately-owned estate and an estate owned by a charity, although, clearly, both should be good neighbours.
5.1 Woodland Management
We have, in the past, supported the Trust's efforts to secure regeneration through natural means. However, we now agree that the time has come to assist natural regeneration as proposed here and see this as a positive step forward. This section refers to the use of enclosure fencing. Nowhere in the document are the problems of bird strike discussed. Does this assume that the problems can be overcome? See comment above on the use of quantifiable targets for tree seedling growth
5.2 Deer Management
We find this section well worded and are pleased to see that, despite the recent issues on this topic, the Trust has largely maintained its current course. We think that, in the document, it would be useful to compare the target population of 1650 with local population records from, say, 50 years ago. We understand that overall deer numbers were much lower in such times and that such a comparison would give some useful context. We are pleased to see the reference to continued use of ponies for extraction.
5.3 Moorland Management
In the Foreword, muirburn appears as an output. It is, of course, an input and should be limited to the extent necessary to ensure that "the moorland remains in favourable condition across the estate". We support the target and agree that muirburn will be necessary. While, we're sure that this is what you mean, it would be helpful to clarify the wording for others.
5.4 Wild Land
Reference is made to the use of ATVs. It would be good to understand where ponies cannot be used as we don't want to see a creeping growth in the use of ATVs for, say, cost or stalking comfort reasons. The proposed policy needs to be very clear on these aspects. Fencing is mentioned in the context of "accepting a short-term intrusion in the landscape". However, we don't understand the reference to "clear economic benefit".
See comment above about the need for some harder targets. 75% of seedlings showing positive growth seems rather weak compared to the numbers on average growth in cm. published by the John Muir Trust.
5.7 Hydrological Management
It is a pity that fishing as a source of income has been under-exploited in the past. We fully support efforts to realise its full potential.
5.10 Visitor Management
We support efforts to market the property more effectively and agree that despite, its many excellent attributes, it is, at present, undersold. Not enough people know about it and visit it. The more that we can educate the public about such places, the better. We note the action to review signage. While we fully support improving low level signage, we would be against any form of signage or waymarking that interferes with the "wild land" experience, generally on the higher ground.
5.13 Communication & Engagement
The actions listed here are excellent and should go a long way to improving relationships with the local community."
The Cairngorm Club also replied taking "rather different approaches to rather different topics" but not differing in substance and basically again generally supportive.
The Cairngorms Campaign chose to take a much harder line. Disappointed with the review panel's approach and some clear errors in their arithmetic on actual deer numbers together with a bias to the surrounding landowners, they chose to not comment. Resources are scarce for all of us and they chose to "focus their efforts on issues where they are more likely to have a beneficial result".
So, three rather different replies! It has been said before but it's worth repeating. One of the strengths of NGOs is their flexibility and speed of response. Their Achilles heel is their inability to work together!!!! We see the same failing in the disjointed responses on the siting of wind farms in wild land.
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