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Response on Guidance on Mass Outdoor Events

28-07-2009

Consultation on Additional Guidance on Outdoor Access and Mass Outdoor Events in the Park

Thankyou for contacting us and reminding us to offer a response on the above consultation.  While these comments are robust, we have tried to ensure they are constructive and do not deny the considerable valuable work the CNPA staff, including yourself and Sandra Middleton, have carried out on the question of recreational management.

We would respond as below:-

1. Basic Situation
Recent problems arising in the Cairngorms regarding mass outdoor access events  and access in general spring we feel from several factors:-

1.1    What is Happening in Outdoor Recreation in General
New forms of outdoor recreation appear on the scene over the years, such as windsurfing, mountain byking and jet skiing. This trend is driven by at least two factors. One is advances in technology which create new materials like carbon fibre or improved metal alloys, making it possible to create new recreational “gear.” Another is fashion, as recreations such as competitive long distance hikes or other journeys develop, often stimulated by TV shows or other publicity. Examples are the recent proposals to start a “Real Four Peaks” hike using Cairn Gorm, Ben MacDui, Cairn Tour and Braeriach, and the proposal for a “round the Cairngorms” hike using the valleys.

It is important to realise there is no foreseeable end to this process and new forms of outdoor recreation will continue to emerge!  Each recreation then produces supporting lobbies in the form of its participants and the manufacturers and suppliers of the appropriate recreational gear.  In the case of an area like the Cairngorms National Park in particular, local businesses directly engaged in such events or benefiting by them through supply of accommodation etc, taking advantage of the marketing “cache” of the Cairngorms National Park and using its logo freely, form an additional, well-connected lobby.

The overall result is a set of potentially powerful current and emergent lobbies which, individually and collectively, provide strong political pressures for promotion of diverse recreations, many of them involving mass outdoor events.

1.2 The Failure of the National Park Authority to Take a Clear Stand on Key Issues
In this situation, it is vital that the CNPA provides clear guidance on what is and what is not acceptable, as stated in its own Guidance for Organised Outdoor Access Events, ensuring “events are contributing to the aims of the Park”. Recent events with regard to the proposed “Real Four Peaks Hike” demonstrate the point. It planned to use a route taking in the summits of Cairn Gorm, McDui, Braeriach and CairnToul. Landowners of land affected by the proposed hoped for a leadership from the Park Authority. It did not emerge, finally leading them to oppose the event on their own account. Even the current proposal for a round the Cairngorms hike using passes and valleys raises issues that need clear guidance.

In the report on Developing Guidance for Outdoor Access Events at the Lecht Centre 26 Nov 2007, participants’ answer to question 2 on the role of the Cairngorms National Park Authority was:-

“CNPA is viewed as playing a co-ordinating and signposting role rather than having a specific managerial or decision-taking function. The Authority would be valued primarily as a host, co-ordinator, adviser and facilitator, acting as a letter box and providing a monitoring function on outdoor access events within the area covered by the Park.”

This seems to be the role the Authority is adopting in drawing up guidelines on access, core paths, and mass outdoor events. While this may be a significant part of its role, to confine it to that is incompatible with the aims of the Park that the Authority is required to fulfil. It must have standards that it is willing to stand by on matters like the protection of the natural environment. The declared aim of the Guidance for Organised Outdoor Access Events is stated as being to provide “ a strategic approach that suits the special circumstances of the Cairngorms National Park; “ but in fact, except in extremely general terms, the guidance does not tackle these special circumstances. An example is the question of outdoor events of this kind on the plateaux areas. This document and the Authority’s Access Strategy. contain statements like “the mountain areas contain some of the most sensitive plants and animals that have adapted to live in this arctic-like climate.”, or refer to species sensitive to disturbance.  What the guidance needs to say bluntly and truthfully is “The soil/plant systems of this kind of environment simply cannot withstand heavy foot traffic, they simply and literary fall apart, and NO organized outdoor events should be held in these areas!” The Cairngorm-Madui Plateau is the scene of possibly the best  researched example, globally, of the impact of increasing recreation on foot and the damage caused on tundra. The findings of a six week major public inquiry that confirmed this and the above simple statement is now surely beyond debate.

1.2    The Lack of an Overarching Recreational Strategy for the Cairngorms, Including the National Park
The Campaign has previously emphasized the need for and overall Recreational Strategy for the Cairngorms. The National Park was declared in the Cairngorms not primarily because of their natural and recreational values but because of conflicts between recreations and between recreations and their scientific and wildlife values. The designation of the Cairngorms NNR and the creation of the Cairngorms Partnership were similarly motivated.

The CNPA Access Strategy states that, ““1.5 It is important to note that this is not a general strategy for recreation.” But para 5.3.3 of the Park Plan commits the CNPA to “Protect the more fragile areas of the Park from pressures arising from outdoor access and recreation.”  Since then, political pressures have induced the CNPA to protect wild areas and a key property of such areas is the relatively low use for forms of quiet recreation. These commitments, alongside the pressures outlined above, cannot be met outwith a Recreational Strategy in which, among things, the CNPA addresses the difficult but important issue of constraints both environmental and recreational.

2. Will the Additional Advice Proposed for the Outdoor Access Strategy Solve the Problems Identified by CNPA?
The consultation poses three questions:-

1.    Do you think there is an issue here to address? Do you have any examples?
Clearly, the Cairngorms Campaign believes there is a major issue to address that will continue to develop.
2.    Does the draft policy address the issue satisfactorily?
No – This broad issue cannot be tackled within an Access Strategy that does not really tackle the broader problem which we point out above will be ongoing and developing. It states for example that organisers should, “Consider carefully whether promotion of the recreation opportunity will potentially cause environmental damage, problems for land managers or other users.” But most organisers do not have the expertise to assess likely environmental impact, or in addition impacts on other recreations. It is a function of the CNPA to provide clear guidance and policy on this within a Recreational Strategy!

3.    Is there anything more we (or others) could do?
Our recommendations are as derived from the above comments:-

3.1    Incorporate into policy on and management of  conflicts between recreations and between recreation and wildlife/scientific interests are a fundamental part of managing the Cairngorms National Park.
3.2    The CNPA must provide clearer leadership and take clear stances on key issues within this.
3.3    That this needs to be incorporated within a Recreational Strategy for the whole of the Cairngorms including the National Park.

We would be happy to discuss any of the above points further  with you or other members of your staff or board.

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