Head of Land Management for the Cairngorms National Park Authority
Back in November last year I presented the first Adam Watson Memorial Lecture at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. It was a great honour and a pleasure to see the room packed full with people; something alien to us all at the moment. With Coronavirus now at the forefront of our minds it is easy to forget that we are still in the midst of a climate emergency. The talk centred on that fact, entwined with many topics that Adam Watson cared so deeply about.
There are nearly 20,000 people living in the Cairngorms National Park. Unlike many National Parks around the world, the four aims set out in the National Parks (Scotland) Act, 2000 include the sustainable economic development of communities. Our approach to this is to see The Park as a living, working landscape with wild land at its heart; we must protect and enhance the mountains, moorlands, wetlands, forests and farms, along with sustaining the communities that live and work here. With this approach in mind and through our National Park Partnership Plan we bring together statutory agencies, NGOs, businesses and communities to form a collective force for the good of the Park.
Volunteers planting riparian woodland in the Park
Its not easy and its never dull. I cant think of a single
issue we deal with in land management that doesnt have very strong opposing
views, but the climate emergency has focused minds on what must happen now.
For the last ten years much of our work has been aimed at contributing to the
global challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation; this will continue
to dominate every element of our next National Park Partnership Plan.
The Conservation and Land Management elements of the current Park Plan concentrate on three things: Landscape-scale collaboration, deer management and moorland management, and there is very significant progress being made. Guided by our Cairngorms Nature Action Plan and our new Cairngorms Forest Strategy, we are seeing woodland expand in ways that complement other land use and improve habitat networks not the blocks of Sitka that Adam Watson railed against, but a gradual increase in native woodland that enhances both landscape and habitats. The Cairngorms Connect partnership (Wildland Estates, RSPB, SNH and Forest & Land Scotland) are collaborating on 60,000 hectares of woodland and wetland habitat restoration in Strathspey, whilst in Aberdeenshire the National Trust for Scotland has catalysed dramatic habitat changes on Mar Lodge Estate.
Landowners in many locations all across The Park are regenerating woodlands and restoring peatlands; this must continue. We aim to ensure that deer densities are at a level that can allow habitats (including peatlands) to recover and be sustained. Deer managers are now, more than ever before, carrying out Habitat Impact Assessments and setting deer culls to suit. Given the recent Scottish government Deer Working Group review there is even more pressure to ensure that deer are managed with the long-term sustainability of both habitats and local communities in mind.
Moorland management has also been scrutinised in the recent Scottish Government Werrity Review. Our view has always been that every form of land management whether forestry, farming or moorland management must be carried out in the public interest. This is why the CNPA and six estates in the east of the National Park set up the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership. Our aim has been to demonstrate that public and private interests can go hand in hand and that moorland must be managed in ways that support both.
I finished the talk last November with a tribute to Adam Watson and those who, like him, stand up for our mountains and our environment. I closed with a picture of Greta Thunberg because Adam once said to me Dinnae be a Jessie, you have to fight. If Greta Thunberg is anything to go by, maybe he was right about the fight bit, but wrong about the Jessie bit and the age of grumpy-old-bearded-men (including me) needs to move into the age of angry-young-women.
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