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Park Talk: Being Convener has been a huge privilege

19th July 2023

By Xander McDade, Convener, Cairngorms National Park Authority

It is quite hard to believe that it has been five years since I took over from Peter Argyle as Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority – and it’s safe to say – it hasn’t been without its challenges, but it has also been a huge privilege to be entrusted to help look after our beautiful area.

An international pandemic in the middle of my time wasn’t something I was expecting or had planned for, but the Park Authority did everything we could to work with partners, such as the Cairngorm Business Partnership, to support local businesses. We worked with public sector partners to support our communities and critically lobbied government for the support for rural areas, including with visitor management issues that became so prevalent as restrictions eased.

These visitor management issues led to the Authority introducing a seasonal visitor ranger service to support local communities and businesses. The seasonal service was so successful that it led to us bidding to Government, and successfully securing, long term funding for a permanent ranger service which is doing huge amounts to help visitors across the National Park, ensuring they enjoy our area responsibly. The new ranger service is the thing I am most proud of helping deliver during my tenure and the impact our rangers make is very clear to see for those of us who live in the Park near tourist hotspots.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic we continued to prepare a new partnership plan for the park with both the challenges of a post COVID world and the net zero ambitions at the forefront. This led to the most ambitious National Park Partnership Plan to date and includes targets of up to 75% affordable housing. Affordable housing remains arguably the single biggest challenge in most of our communities for individuals and the economy and the Park Authority continues to increase the work we do to support communities, public and private sector partners to deliver more. My biggest regret is not doing even more on housing and I hope that my successor will push even harder in this area.

The part of the role I enjoy the most is getting out and meeting with people across the Park. In the past five years I have met a huge number of land managers, small business owners, community groups and they all share an incredible passion for looking after our area and protecting it for the future. Harnessing this passion will be absolutely necessary to tackle the challenges we face going forward.

I will take this opportunity to congratulate my successor, Sandy Bremner, who I know will be an excellent Convener. His background as a journalist has given him a great ability to communicate with others and his experience as chair of the River Dee Trust means he understands the importance of partnership working to achieve our net zero ambitions.

I would like to thank our public, private and third sector partners for all their support during my time as Convener and without whom we would not be able to deliver our National Park Partnership Plan. Finally, I owe a huge thanks to the staff and Board of the Park Authority for their help and advice over my five years – they are all just trying to serve our communities and make the Park a better place for generations to come.