Ranger Report: Testing Trees for the Future
Can you imagine the Cairngorms National Park with absolutely no built structures in it? Only mountains, lochs, rivers, forests and fields? And if you were given that blank canvas and told to create a community, where would you begin?
That is exactly what members of the Cairngorms Youth Action Team (CYAT) nave been asked to do via the wonders of Minecraft – a hugely popular game where players of all ages build, mine, battle mobs and explore ever changing landscapes. The game focuses on allowing players to explore, interact with, and modify a dynamically-generated or purposefully designed map made up on one-cubic-metre-sized blocks.
Dan Harris, Planning Manager at the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) has re-created the Cairngorms National Park without its buildings in Minecraft using open data from Ordnance Survey and Forest and Land Scotland. It has taken Dan – whose hobby is creating massive, detailed and meticulously researched historically themed LEGO models – three months to create the online Cairngorms Minecraft map, which he did so in his spare time.
Explaining the inspiration behind the idea Dan said: “We know young people care passionately about the environment and we felt that by using a platform such as Minecraft, we could demonstrate how Planning & Development Management has a hugely important role in tackling the climate emergency and caring for our environment. Using an online platform also means that we can deliver this youth engagement programme without having to worry about Covid-19 restrictions.
“Minecraft is extremely popular and while playing normally, there are no limits to your imagination, but the Youth Action Team – who are road testing the project for us at the moment – are asked to consider how they can build their communities while meeting the aims of the National Park.
“This means they have to start thinking about what policy making means and they will be able to see within the game what effect those policies will have. They need to consider whether or not they want to allocate land, apply design principles and so on, or simply take a more laissez-faire approach. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with.”
Players are ‘dropped’ into the Cairngorms National Park and given the mission to collaboratively create a community that represents the sort of place they would like to live in. In order to cut down on chaos and to encourage collaboration, players are asked to take on specific roles at the beginning of the game, for example builder, lumberjack or farmer.
The scale of the map is based on the movement range of a player on foot within the day/night cycle of the game: ten minutes for day and seven minutes for night, with both dusk and dawn lasting about 90 seconds. In effect, the player should be able to cover roughly the same ground in the game as they would in real life over the course of a day. This scaling down means that it brings everything closer together, making the map easier to explore and geographical features, such as the Cairngorm Plateau or Lairig Ghru much more recognisable.
While Minecraft has been used in similar ways elsewhere, this is the first time it has been used in this way or in the context of a National Park and if testing goes well, this innovative approach to engaging young people in the planning system will be delivered to schools in the Park, giving pupils a fun introduction to the world of planning and policy making.
Ellie Moore is a member of the Cairngorms Youth Action Team, she said: “This has been a really great project to be involved with, finding out more about how planners work and the process that they go through – we’ve been able to learn and experience these things in an interactive, first-hand kind of way. By playing a game, it has really kept me engaged, made me want to spend time on it, and learn more.
“It’s also been really fun wandering around the Park map in Minecraft and recognising real life landmarks. Of course, Minecraft brings the added challenge of mobs like creepers and zombies which thankfully we don’t usually have to deal with but I’ve liked the additional layer of planning that this has demanded. Overall, it’s been a brilliant experience and I’ve learned a lot, both about the planning process in the Cairngorms National Park and how to work as a team.”
The CNPA Planning Committee Convener, Gaener Rodger commented: “Members of the Cairngorms Youth Action Team have been invited to a future CNPA Planning Committee meeting to discuss their experience of the Cairngorms Minecraft project. Having used Minecraft myself, I am really excited about having a Cairngorms Minecraft world and am looking forward to seeing the communities that our CYAT members have built.
“From a planning perspective I can’t wait to hear about their experiences of building these communities while taking into consideration the aims of the National Park. I hope that by using this innovative approach we can introduce young people to the concepts of sustainable design shaped by both policy and social impact considerations in a fun way.”
The Cairngorms National Park is not available to explore on Minecraft just yet but once testing is complete it is hoped to be able to offer it to all players.