21st August 2018
By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener
The last week of July was National Parks Week across the UK and a number of events were held in the 15 National Parks from Dartmoor to the Cairngorms to mark this celebration. There can be no doubt that National Parks are of real importance, not only to the conservation and protection of fantastic landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage but also to the economy.
I have previously written about the extent to which the existence of a National Park influences the decision-making of overseas visitors in particular. The term ‘National Park’ is a internationally respected ‘brand’ that donates (and in the CNP delivers) a high quality experience for visitors.
Recently published statistics show the number of overseas visitors coming to Scotland rose by almost 17% to 3.2 million in 2017. Expenditure by these visitors rose by almost a quarter to £2.3 billion. This only serves to reinforce the importance of tourism to Scotland and to areas like the Park. I think the value and significance of this sector is sometimes forgotten when thinking about the economics of Scotland.
Not that this success is without its own challenges. I am sure most people will be aware of some of the pressures on infrastructure and the environment along the route of the North Coast 500 or on the Isle of Skye for example. In Loch Lomond & Trossachs there has been much debate about visitor management issues such as wild-camping and litter.
It is essential that the importance of the tourism sector to the national and local economies is recognised and supported through appropriate investment in infrastructure and visitor management. A lot of care will be needed to ensure that the very things that bring visitors here are not damaged or undermined by the number of visitors.
It was a great pleasure for me to join the newly appointed Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon MSP when she toured the Park last month. I got to know the Minister when she was a councillor on Angus Council so it was good to be able to welcome her in her new role.
The Minister was in the Park for a whole day. Starting in Grantown where she heard about challenges faced by fresh water pearl mussels on the Spey, she travelled to Tomintoul and the Discovery Centre – experiencing the Snow Roads of course and looking at installations at Tomintoul and Corgarff.
From there it was on to Ballater and a tour of the station building, nearing the end of a complete restoration after the disastrous fire in May 2015. The work that has been done to bring this iconic building back, phoenix-like, from the ashes was incredible in its attention to detail, care and accuracy. The Minister was extremely impressed – rightly so.
Finally she opened a new section of footpath on the south side of the Dee – her first ribbon-cutting since taking office. Again it was good to see this project completed. Delivered by the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (formerly COAT), not only does it provide a safe footpath away from traffic but it also signals the renewed confidence of the Ballater community after Storm Frank in 2015 when so many valued footpaths and bridges were lost.
The CNPA has been working with communities, community and other groups and with a variety of agencies to deliver an extended network of footpaths throughout the Park – and to ensure that they are maintained. Not only is walking a key reason for visitors to come to the Park, it is also of great importance to residents.
The CNPA fully recognises the vital importance of the tourism sector to the economy of the Park; we also recognise the need to work with all our partners to ensure that the golden-egg-laying goose is not inadvertently injured by visitors numbers or visitor behaviour.
The Minister’s extremely positive reaction to all she saw and heard during the visit was highly encouraging, as was her enthusiasm and very evident interest.