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Park Talk: A look back at 2023

21st December 2023

By Sandy Bremner, Convener, Cairngorms National Park Authority


It’s a bit of a cliché to say that this is a time of year for reflection as well as looking forward. But there’s never been a better time as far as the Cairngorms National Park is concerned.

Our 20th anniversary has been marked by major developments. And, as 2023 draws to a close, we are poised to hear important news about our ambitions to boost the work we deliver with our partners to help people and nature.

Let’s start with investment. Fresh funding over the year has brought the total the National Park has brought into the area to well over £120 million during those two decades.

We will soon discover whether we have been successful in securing Lottery funding for the delivery phase of our Cairngorms 2030 programme. This is a five-year, £43 million initiative, putting the power to tackle the nature and climate crisis in the hands of the people in the Park. It will benefit people’s health and wellbeing, develop sustainable transport solutions and help nature.

We have approved planning applications over the past year for affordable homes in communities that need them most. There’s far more work to do on this, and I want our National Park to play a leading role in developing solutions to tackle a chronic issue that’s blighting lives and stifling businesses.

We have supported other planning applications that help the local economy, from new business units and hotel redevelopments to a new distillery.

Of all the many nature highlights this past year, two stand out. Nineteen captive-bred wildcats were released in the National Park in the first phase of a project to rescue the species from extinction in the UK.

And the government agency NatureScot has granted a licence for the release of beavers at three sites in the Upper Spey catchment following an absence of 400 years. They will enrich our threatened biodiversity and provide other benefits. There are quite understandable concerns about potential impacts. I am especially grateful to those farmers and crofters who have worked with us to shape further mitigation measures. That dialogue continues.

Work has proceeded at pace on landscape-scale programmes to help nature and lessen some of the more destructive impacts of climate change.

Of all the community-based developments this year, one of the most heart-warming has been the opening of the UK’s first dedicated Outdoor Dementia Resource Centre, based at Badaguish near Aviemore. It enables people with dementia, their carers and families, to experience the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors.

It’s yet another example of the amazing things we can achieve, working together with partners. That potential for achievement is one of the most exciting things I have taken from my brief time as Convener of the National Park Board. The chance to make a difference, working with communities to address some of the biggest challenges of our time.

On that note, I would like to wish you a very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.