Concern mounts for irreplaceable ancient Caledonian woodland in Nethybridge. The woodland has been controversially recommended for development by the Cairngorms National Park Authority planning staff. The planning application is to be decided by the CNPA Board on Friday 28 August 2020. This piece by Roy Turnbull of BSCG first appeared in Parkswatch Scotland:

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In the same week that Plantlife Scotland, with the support of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, launched this new scheme that hopes to “restore and protect some of the rare plants and fungi of our pinewoods, meadows and mountains” and, on the same day my letter appeared in the Scotsman, CNPA’s planners published their report (see here) into the application for 20 new houses in School Wood (see here for analysis on Parkswatch in April).

The Planners’ Report acknowledges that:

  • “The CNPA Ecology Officer advises that the site comprises a semi-natural woodland habitat of high ecological value and the features present within the site indicate that the woodland is a rich and complex resource.”

masonbee
Rare pinewood mason bee Osmia uncinata emerging from a nest hole in a Scots pine snag on the threatened site. The removal of large pine trees including dead ones destroys potential nesting habitat of this Caledonian pinewood specialist. Photo credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.

  • “CNPA Landscape Officer considers that the proposal will result in a significant change to the landscape character of the site. This will be an adverse effect …”.
  • “It is widely accepted that the loss of ancient woodland is considered irreplaceable and therefore compensation for loss of this resource is not possible.”

It is also, of course, the case that Scottish Planning Policy 2014 states:

  • Ancient semi-natural woodland is an irreplaceable resource and […] should be protected from adverse impacts resulting from development.

And, the Cairngorms National Park Forest Strategy, 2018 states:

“The woodlands of the Cairngorms are of national and international importance because they contain the largest remaining areas of semi-natural woodland habitats in Britain!” and the Strategy undertakes to “Continue to protect ancient and semi-natural woodlands from further damage and fragmentation.”

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Spotted flycatcher, on the red list (most endangered) of birds declining in the British Isles in School Wood, June 2020. Photos credit Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group.


So, surely the answer to the question posed in my Scotsman letter, “will the CNP now grant planning permission” for the 20 houses in School Wood should be a resounding “No”!

How could any national park worthy of the name even consider turning part of an ancient pinewood of high ecological value into a housing estate!

But the CNPA planners have resorted to a ruse that they first tried earlier this year for a nearby woodland (by Lettoch Road). CNPA planners argue that, if granted planning permission, the applicant would undertake to manage the remaining woodland better, so that (they claim) there would be an overall conservation gain that could not otherwise be achieved!

Whilst that claim is already extremely dubious in itself, it ignores two important points that are not considered at all in the Report.

Firstly, if planning consent is refused, the present landowner, Tulloch Homes, would have no further interest in the wood and would probably sell. No other property developer would be interested and thus the wood would likely end up with a new owner interested in sensitively managing the woodland. So, a much greater conservation gain would result.

Secondly, the CNPA planners’ ruse could reward any landowner who has allowed any damaging activity such as fly-tipping or serious overgrazing to occur. “Present us with a damaged/neglected/trashed bit of land”, say the CNPA planners, “and behold! we will grant your planning application if you promise to improve the bit left over from your building site!”

It is not difficult to see what the overall effect of such a misguided ruse would be, where landowners throughout the national park would know that neglecting and abusing their land would improve their chance of obtaining planning consent from the CNPA.

Fortunately, there is still hope. The CNPA Planning Committee will make the final decision on 28th August, and when this same ruse was suggested, at Lettoch Road, the Committee made the brave and very welcome decision to refuse planning consent. Moreover, when the applicant then appealed to Scottish Government Reporters, his appeal was dismissed.

So, if the Committee refuse consent in School Wood, it is likely that any appeal would also be unsuccessful, particularly as the new Local Development Plan, which would then be in force, is expected to have no allocation for housing in School Wood.

All members of the CNPA Board are on the Planning Committee so, if you live in the National Park, please let your directly elected local representatives and councillors who serve on the Board know your views. You can find their names (click on their names to email them) here.

And for readers who don’t know the wood to get an idea of what’s at stake, here are a few more of the plants and animals that have been photographed there by the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group………………

pinewood
The part of the wood due to be felled provides a home to all sorts of creatures – note hedgehog in foreground. Photo credit BSCG.

twinflower
Twinflower, just outside the area threatened by the housing development. This is one of the plants whose range the new Cairngorms plants project is trying to expand to expand……..but for this to happen, it needs somewhere to go. Photo credit BSCG.

crestedtit
Crested tit, Photo credit BSCG.

melanostoma scalare
Melanostoma scalare female syrphidae Female Melanostoma scalare visiting serrated wintergreen, another threatened plant who range needs to expand, in School Wood. Photo credit BSCG.

red squirelPhoto credit BSCG.

Scotsman letter Roy Turnbul 13March 2020

Situated beside the forest village of Nethy Bridge, School Wood is an outstanding ancient woodland supporting exceptional biodiversity. Following a visit to the wood in 2002 the late Dr Adam Watson, ecologist and authority on the Cairngorms, recognised its high value. He commented in the press, “Nethy Bridge is exceptionally fortunate in having this incredible amenity and educational site beside the village. It would be tragic if this irreplaceable asset were damaged by .. housing development”.

With others, BSCG has been campaigning to save School Wood from development threats since 1993. So far no development has taken place. Appreciation of the value of the site has grown. Reflecting this, in their next Local Development Plan the National Park Authority has removed the area allocated for 15 houses in School Wood “due to significant natural heritage constraints”. BSCG has welcomed this. However the new Plan is not due to be formally adopted until later this year. Unfortunately, the present Plan still includes a housing allocation.

The above letter by Roy Turnbull emphasises that it is now more unacceptable than ever to propose this precious ancient woodland as a building site.

This letter was published in The Scotsman on 13 March 2020.


Dr Adam Watson in 2002 in School Wood NethybridgeAdam Watson in School Wood in 2002.

jan 2020

BSCG Vice Convener Roy Turnbull commented after the vote, "For too long, woodlands, and other sites important for nature in the Cairngorms National Park, have been regarded by unscrupulous landowners as a means of making money via development, and the Park planners have not done enough to protect such sites. This welcome decision by the CNPA Planning Committee helps to establish the principle that such high-quality nature sites should be safe from development."

Lettoch Road Wood site visit 24 Jan 2020 BSCG

 

At their public planning meeting on the 12 October the Cairngorms National Park Board resoundingly rejected the application for artificial ski slopes at Cairn Gorm.

In arriving at their welcome decision, the National Park Board took time to quiz the applicant and listen to concerns of BSCG and Aviemore Business Association, all of whom gave presentations at the meeting.

The Press & Journal report indicates that the applicant, Natural Retreats, is considering its options.

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P & J article 13 October 2018

Visualisation of artificial ski slopes

Visualisation of artificial ski slopes 

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View from proposed artificial ski slope site 

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View from proposed artificial ski slope site

Questions are being asked about how Cairngorms National Park Planners have recently recommended approval for a costly proposal for artificial ski slopes on the hill. It is shocking (but convenient for the developer) that the public screening opinion claims this project would not have any “significant effects on the environment”. Envisaged in the high altitude development over a footprint of 2.1 ha is the stripping of thousands of cubic metres of peat. No mitigation is possible for the habitats to be destroyed. These support valued wildlife including mountain hare, mountain bumblebee, plants like interrupted clubmoss, heathland with natural bearberry, juniper and lichens that with the natural landform has developed since the end of the last Ice Age. The compensation proposed (of some tree and shrub planting) is arguably what should already be happening on responsibly managed land in public ownership in such a special area in the heart of a National Park.

Apparently requiring £1.5M of public money, this climate-unfriendly project is plainly highly unsustainable in financial, social and environmental terms . If in the teeth of considerable community opposition this project is consented it has enduring reputational implications and would illustrate subservience to a speculative unreasonably optimistic and disastrously ill-informed vision.

If the CNPA Board approve this project it opens the way to a new wave of major environmental and landscape damage on the hill.

Today ( 11 Oct 2018) the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald reported the planners recommendation for approval of the controversial project "is despite growing protests that it will damage the environment and become a white elephant".

18 10 11 Artificial Ski Slope Strathy

Strathspey & Badenoch Herald ( October 11 2018, extract from page 4 )

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The exposed high altitude site has an extensive footprint in a sensitive location with multiple potential significant environmental effects

BSCG is among Highland environmental groups that have written objections to Highland Council Planners over controversial proposals for a golf course on designated land at Coul Links in East Sutherland. If approved this seriously damaging development would set a precedent of allowing development that conflicts with sustainable development. Below is a personal letter of objection from Roy Turnbull that draws attention to two issues that illustrate the far-reaching repercussions raised by the Coul Links proposal.

wet windyquote Coul sn


Dear Sir,

17/04601/FUL - Development of 18 hole golf course, erection of clubhouse etc.

Land 1700M NW of Embo Community Centre School Street, Embo.

 I write to add my strong objection to the above proposed development.

 I have studied the detailed objections you have already received from numerous informed and knowledgeable sources concerning the damaging impacts this proposed development would have upon the exceptional and valued flora and fauna and landscape of this important designated site. Whilst there is little point in my repeating all this information, which I trust you will study and absorb, I would like to draw your particular attention to just two issues:

 1. From the Scottish Wildlife Trust objection, dated 27th October 2017:

 “assessing the impact of the development is not simply a case of totalling up the areas of the various habitats which the footprint of the development will cover. The creation of a golf course, and aspects of its management such as drainage, irrigation, seeding, cutting, fertilising, application of pesticides, water abstraction from boreholes and resultant impacts such as changes to grazing, and disturbance, will fundamentally affect the operation of these natural processes which have created the sand dune features which are a notified feature of the Ramsar site.

The development will freeze this dynamism over time and steadily impoverish the biodiversity to make it a very ordinary place, like most of Scotland’s links golf courses (lawns and scrub). Construction and management will fundamentally affect these processes of seasonal and longer term changes”

 This, it seems to me, gets to the crux of the matter. It is simply not possible to make large scale alterations to the functioning of a complex, dynamic, living system of sand, water, plants, animals and fungi without fundamentally degrading and unravelling the whole system. A similar warning was sounded during consultations over the Menie golf course development near Aberdeen, and the recent announcement by Scottish Natural Heritage that de-designation of the SSSI there is under consideration because of the damage to its special features following development emphasises the validity of such warnings. I submit that the developers should heed the advice contained in both the SNH and SEPA objections: to consider an alternative site on agricultural land.

 2.  Please assess this proposal beyond just the confines of local concerns. There is widespread and increasing global concern about the continuing incremental loss of biodiversity and of natural and semi-natural habitats. For example, a very recent global study by the University of Queensland, Australia

https://www.uq.edu.au/news/node/121416 ] states,

 “Despite their importance, wilderness areas are being destroyed at an alarming rate and need urgent protection with almost 10 per cent being lost since the early 1990s. Their conservation is a global priority.”

Approving this application would damage Scotland's reputation for looking after its own natural and semi-natural areas, and weaken its voice on the global stage at a time when stopping the loss of such areas is an urgent necessity. As one of the wealthier and better educated countries on Earth, Scotland should be leading by example.


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