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Environment Minister visits Cairngorms National Park

19th June 2007

NEW Environment Minister Mike Russell visited the Cairngorms National Park today to learn about a project that aims to expand and improve the area’s forests.

Mr Russell spent the day at Glenmore Forest learning about the proposed Cairngorms Forest Habitat Network Project (CFHN). There was also a visit to the viewpoint at Coire na Ciste, which allowed him spectacular views of Glenmore and Abernethy Forests and to see how they would benefit from the project.

The Cairngorms National Park, which is the largest in the UK, is home to Britain’s most important and extensive remnants of the Old Caledonian Forest. The habitat is classed in the EU’s Natura network as a priority and unique to Scotland.

The Cairngorms Forest Habitat Network Project is currently being set up by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA); Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS); Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH); Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); Forest Research; Highland Birchwoods and Scottish Native Woods. It aims to work at a landscape scale, given the important role the woodlands play in the Cairngorms National Park.

It aims to conserve and enhance the forests by improving the connectivity between woodlands and important conservation areas within them, for key habitats and species.

The Forest Habitat Network was developed to help address the fragmented nature of many of Scotland’s forests by allowing wildlife to move freely through them. Creating linkages also helps improve the experience of those using the woodlands for recreation.

The project also aims to raise awareness of how the ways that forests are managed to create habitat networks can provide a range of benefits including biodiversity, access and recreation, and the growing of high quality timber.

Initiatives and work that would support the communities and businesses that depend on the forests and encourage residents and visitors to become more involved in them would also be developed.

The visit was Mr Russell’s first to the Cairngorms National Park since becoming Environment Minster and he took the opportunity to meet with officers from the CNPA, FCS, RSPB and SNH who are involved in the project. They gave a series of talks on how it would work and bring benefits to communities and wildlife.

Following the visit Mr Russell said: “The way in which the CNPA, the Forestry Commission Scotland and a range of further bodies including Highland Council are working to protect and expand the forest habitat is immensely impressive and will benefit residents and the local businesses enormously.

“This is a world quality landscape and the care that has been shown will make certain that it is handed on intact and improved to our children.”

The CFHN partners have already identified a number of key areas the project should focus on, including: increasing the National Park’s biodiversity; strengthen the forests resilience against the effects of climate change; increase the forests less common components particularly riparian woodlands, treeline woodlands/montane scrub, bog woodland and woodland pasture and improve and enhance the habitats for target species such as red squirrel, capercaillie, wood ants and pine hoverfly.

Importantly, it will also support and help to deliver the Cairngorms Forest and Woodland Framework, which is the supporting document to the Cairngorms National Park Plan. The National Park Plan is a statutory document which sets out the short and long term future of the Park. Its first Priority for Action for 2007-2012 is conserving and enhancing the biodiversity and landscapes.

It also ties in with the Park’s four aims and a number of other forestry and biodiversity strategies and actions.

Dependant on successful funding, it is hoped the work on improving and expanding the forests will start in 2008 and last for at least four years.

Will Boyd Wallis, the CNPA’s Senior Land Management Officer: “If we can secure sufficient funding, the Cairngorms Forest Habitat Network Project will carry out vital work in the Cairngorms National Park and surrounding areas. This is one of the most important areas in the UK for forest habitats.

“This is something that will bring lasting benefits to the communities and the wildlife in the Park, and support our efforts to combat climate change.

“It was really encouraging to have the Minister visit and show support for the work we are trying to do.”

Bob Dunsmore, Forestry Commission Scotland, said: “The forests are a key part of the Cairngorms’ rich and diverse environment and Forestry Commission Scotland is committed to encouraging the benefits they provide to the community and land-owners.

“The Cairngorm Forests are already important for their landscape and bio-diversity value and the CFHN will help us apply common sense and good science to improving and expanding this.

“It is important that we raise awareness of how bio-diversity, economic and social benefits can co-exist.”

Steve North, Scottish Natural Heritage’s East Highland operational manager, said: “We have developed effective joint working between woodland managers, owners and agencies recently – for instance through the Capercaillie LIFE project – and we are keen to develop this further in the Park for a wider range of biodiversity and public interests.”