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Park Talk: Hello from our new Convener

3rd August 2023

Sandy Bremner, Convener, Cairngorms National Park Authority

I am grateful for this opportunity to introduce myself as the new Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, and to share with you some thoughts about the challenges and opportunities ahead. If you read on, I’ll even let you in on one of my dark secrets.

I should start by explaining that I feel deeply about this area, its nature, and the people whose livelihoods and life experiences depend on it. In a 40-year career in journalism, based in the North of Scotland, I have seen at first hand most of the successes and failures in tackling the big challenges.

More recently, as Chair of the River Dee Trust, I have worked closely with the National Park, land managers and others to deliver landscape-scale nature restoration. That has involved short and long-term measures to save threatened species and help protect livelihoods.

The task is enormous. It means tackling the effects of increasingly dangerous droughts, as well as the floods which have been damaging wildlife, homes and businesses. That can only be achieved by everyone affected working together. I will be taking the same approach as Convener.

Of all the challenges ahead, arguably the biggest is the shortage of affordable housing, blighting lives and the Park’s economy. I will be working to ensure that the new Local Development Plan has affordable housing at its heart and, with the support of my fellow Board members, look to bring forward the target of 75% affordable housing by 2030 to the start of the Plan’s life in 2026. We need action on all possible fronts.

In tackling these challenges, I have the privilege of working with fellow Board members who feel passionately about the Park’s future, a team of talented staff, and a wide range of committed partners without whom our plans could not be delivered.

I would like to pay special tribute to our outgoing Convener Xander McDade for leading delivery of the most ambitious National Park Partnership Plan to date, which includes new targets for affordable housing. He steered the authority through all the challenges of Covid, working with partners to support local communities and businesses.

Xander has innovated on many levels, securing funding for a permanent ranger service which is helping to transform visitor experiences, while expanding many other services. I owe him a big debt of gratitude.

I was asked if I felt excited or daunted by what lies ahead. You will not be surprised when I said, both!

The huge challenges posed by climate change, the cost-of-living crisis and the other pressures in our National Park certainly are daunting. But we have the determination to make a real difference. Working closely with our communities, we have an amazing opportunity to do right by nature and future generations. That really is exciting.

Finally, I did promise to reveal one of my dark secrets. Well, as a young lad, I sometimes got carried away by the wonders of nature. One day, after my parents presented me with a diving mask, snorkel and fins, I decided to join a shoal of salmon as they ascended the river.

They put up with me for the first couple of minutes until they reached fast water, then powered through the torrent. I was left, splashing about like a stranded turtle. I’m still learning!