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Park Talk: Challenges and Changes

4th October 2017

By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener


I attended the annual conference of the Europarcs Federation in September; it was held in northern Portugal in an area promoted as The Magic Mountains. The Conference brought together representatives of National Parks and other protected areas from all across geographical Europe. It was extremely interesting to hear about the issues facing colleagues across the continent.

The Federation has 370 members who between them manage 40m hectares of Natura 2000 sites, including 880 regional parks across 22 European states. As an organisation bringing together such a wealth of experience and knowledge, it is gaining a position of considerable influence in Europe. This was reflected by the presence over the conference of three Secretaries of State from the Portugese government and the welcome video from the Secretary General of the UN.

The area was devastated by wild fires last year; something like 60 per cent of the Magic Mountains were impacted and the signs were clear to see. Wild fires are a major challenge and the frequency and severity of them is yet another sign of the changing climate. The Portuguese are facing hotter and drier summers, making the likelihood of fire ever more likely.

The other major challenge they face is from the eucalyptus tree. This very attractive and indeed elegant species was first introduced for commercial planting to provide raw material to the paper industry. It is a very fast-growing tree – as much as two feet per year – but sadly it has turned out to be massively invasive.

Because of its rapid growth it quickly overtakes and smothers native species; its dense habit also overwhelms competition. In areas burned by wildfire, eucalyptus quickly regenerates so that burned areas are frequently little more than eucalyptus forest. It is also very hard to eradicate and adds to the impact of wildfire by burning fiercely because of the oils within it.

It was, in short, an object lesson in what can result from the introduction of what are alien species into an increasingly fragile habitat.

The Conference ended with the long-awaited announcement of the venue for the 2018 event. I was delighted to be able to be part of that ceremony as we have succeeded in bringing the Europarc Federation to the Cairngorms for 2018. As next year is the year of Youth in Scotland, we also hope to run a Youth Festival alongside the main Conference. The events will be based in Aviemore but will involve many parts of the Park. A wonderful opportunity for the Cairngorms National Park and the announcement was greeted with genuine enthusiasm.

Finally September has also seen the second Wee Walks Week, an opportunity to celebrate the myriad of ‘wee walks’ there are around the Park and to encourage everyone to get out and about in our unbelievably fresh air with friends and family or by joining a Ranger-led walk.

The health benefits of walking are of course well known and undoubted; it would be hard to think of any area better suited to regular outdoor exercise than the Cairngorms. We are encouraging everyone to take part and let us know about the walks they have done.

One thing is sure; walking in the Cairngorms does not involve temperatures in the high thirties or strolls through Australian looking eucalyptus forests. Best foot forward!