In a motion debated in the Scottish parliament late this afternoon, MSPs were asked to support a recent report that identifies seven areas worth considering for new National Parks.
The report by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Unfinished Business: A National Parks Strategy for Scotland, was being championed by Claire Baker, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment.
'Two parks is surely not the end of the process' she said, explaining the long gestation of the country's two existing National Parks, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, original proposals for which date back to the 1930s.
The report identifies seven areas that should be considered for designation as new national parks: the Ben Nevis/Glen Coe/Black Mount area; an area based around Mull, Coll and Tiree; Galloway; Glen Affric; Harris; Wester Ross; and the Cheviot Hills - an interesting proposal for a cross-border area linking up with England's northernmost National Park.
Tonight's debate was not about the detail, Claire Baker said, but on how Scotland moves the discussion forward.
However, with an eye on some specific details, in a briefing to MSPs before the debate Ramblers Scotland urged the Scottish Parliament to press the case for a third national park to be established as soon as possible on Harris, and to push the Cairngorms' boundary westwards in order to see off the threat of imminent wind farm developments on its current border.
The charity's Director, Dave Morris, said:
'The SNP Government has been too slow in developing Scotland’s National Park system. Apart from extending the southern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park down to Blair Atholl they have done virtually nothing since then to promote our national parks system.'
'As a matter of great urgency there is the need to commit to a westward extension of the Cairngorms National Park across a substantial tract of the Monadhliath mountains. This boundary was drawn too close to the central massif. The world famous views from the high plateau of the Cairngorms are at very serious risk of being spoilt by wind farm development in the Monadhliath. As the developers circle around the present boundary it is obvious that they need to be driven back by a boundary extension.'
Dave Morris also called for immediate action to investigate the establishment of Scotland’s third national park in Harris in the Western Isles:
'It is time for a third national park' he said.
'The Western Isles need the economic boost that national park designation will bring to the Harris area. For the visitor to Scotland from afar what better way to advertise the presence of outstanding scenery and wildlife on the Atlantic seaboard? Protecting our natural heritage in the Western Isles, along with the provision of more and better facilities for the visitor, would be a logical outcome of national park designation.The Scottish Government needs to sit down as soon as possible with the elected representatives of the Western Isles Council and discuss how national park designation could bring economic and environmental benefit.'
Unfortunately the parliamentary debate this evening was not held in a packed house. Most MSPs had gone home for their tea. Calls were made for a strategic ministerial lead on a national National Parks discussion, but the minister who'd have to take the lead, Paul Wheelhouse (Environment and Climate Change) was against the motion, citing squeezed resources and a desire not to disappoint any pro-Park communities in the event that their particular bid were turned down. The one historical example of this local disappointment, to which Paul Wheelhouse referred, was Harris. Here the local community supported a National Park but were thwarted a couple of years ago by the council and ...the SNP government. No MSPs from the Government side spoke in support of the motion, so it seems this particular bit of unfinished business isn't high on the present administration's agenda.