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".

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


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 ] 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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site of a proposed new town in the cairngorms National Park bscg

Sunday Herald,17 September 2017:

FAR more people oppose building a new town in the Cairngorms National Park than are in favour, according to a new opinion poll.

More than 44 per cent of those questioned said they opposed a plan for 1,500 new houses at An Camas Mòr, near Aviemore. Just under 25 per cent said they supported the idea, and the same proportion said they neither opposed or supported the plan.

The development was granted planning permission in principle by the Cairngorms National Park Authority last month, despite prolonged and fierce opposition from conservation groups. The scheme was initially approved in 2014, but lost a major financial backer.

The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group (BSCG), which opposed An Camas Mòr, commissioned pollsters Survation to assess views on the development. More than 1,000 people across Scotland were interviewed between September 8-12 .

BSCG’s convener, Dr Gus Jones, said he was encouraged by the poll results. “There is considerable opposition to this large-scale development in a national park,” he told the Sunday Herald.

“An Camas Mòr is a controversial and damaging development in a highly prized and sensitive area, and requires large-scale public funding. We hope the results of this poll will encourage the Scottish Government to think again.”

The Cairngorms Campaign argued that supporting the new town went against the will of the Scottish people. The park authority had issued approval “without due regard for the natural and cultural heritage of the area, which should be their first aim,” said the campaign’s Helen Geddes.

Cairngorm park authority’s chief executive, Grant Moir, pointed out that developers still had to conclude a legal agreement. “The applicant has to comply with a suite of conditions and supply a significant amount of detail to the authority’s planning committee on these conditions before any work can begin on An Camas Mòr,” he said.

Article link:

Poll question:

There are plans to build a new town in an area of the Cairngorms National Park. The area in question is a National Scenic Area and close to designated conservation sites. The new town is proposed to consist of around 1500 houses and would be about the size of the largest existing settlement in the Cairngorms National Park. There are plans to build a new town in an area of the Cairngorms National Park. The area in question is a National Scenic Area and close to designated conservation sites. The new town is proposed to consist of around 1500 houses and would be about the size of the largest existing settlement in the Cairngorms National Park. Supporters of the proposed new town say that the planned community on the site would be ‘appropriate for its outstanding location and delivers much needed new homes and commercial space locally.’ Opponents say that the plans would be over-development that would damage the special landscape and wildlife that the National Park was set up to protect.To what extent do you support or oppose the building of this new town in the Cairngorms National Park?

Strongly support / Somewhat support / Neither support nor oppose / Somewhat oppose / Strongly oppose / Don't know.

Bad 1

BSCG is concerned about inappropriate development at Badaguish - Speyside Trust's outdoor development in the heart of Glenmore forest. The Cairngorms National Park Authority’s poor planning and ineffectual enforcement are causing damage to this prime area of Caledonian forest. Glenmore is one of Scotland's most important forests, yet the CNPA are approving further unnecessary and unsustainable developments within it. Major issues include numerous breaches of planning rules, provision of false information and pervasive haphazard development. The CNPA’s extreme unwillingness to say no to any proposal at Badaguish is resulting in major long term environmental degradation. This is eroding the special qualities of the national Park that the Authority is supposed to be conserving and enhancing.

The latest unanimous approval by the National Park Authority includes permission for a new car park and unsightly portaloos, neither of which are justified. The development will increase traffic on the road through Badaguish on a stretch already shared with cyclists, walkers and horse-riders. The CNPA did not even consider a traffic-free access route. On top of this, the CNPA have never mentioned the fact that new, additional car parking on public ground in Glenmore contravenes their own transport strategy for this core part of the National Park. So why didn’t the Board members simply reject the whole application? Are they under orders not to rock the boat?

As well as approving damaging development, the CNPA have failed to enforce mitigation measures they demanded as conditions for planning consents. For example, tree planting was supposed to mitigate for deforestation and impacts on capercaillie - but it is years late, only half done and much of it is already dead and dying. Meanwhile, the development area is a massive scar on the landscape that is visible from surrounding hills and will be that way for years to come. Furthermore, the predicted ‘likely significant impacts’ on one of Scotland’s most endangered birds, the Capercaillie, is effectively unmitigated by this failed planting.

Bad 2

The other main component of mitigation for capercaillie was the provision of signs asking people to stick to tracks, but these signs were never erected and for the best part of a year the CNPA didn’t enforce compliance. It was only on the day before the CNPA’s decisive meeting (19 August 2016), just hours after BSCG informed the Board of the absent signs, that these miraculously appeared (albeit with a typo).

Of even greater concern, the CNPA mislead the public and the Board by claiming a ‘Masterplan’ for developments at Badaguish existed. Such plans are a vital part of good planning and should prevent the type of chaotic development that plagues Badaguish. On three occasions the CNPA have claimed the existence of such a plan: in writing to BSCG, at the July planning committee meeting, and in documents for the decision meeting in August. The day before the August meeting, BSCG informed the Board that the ‘Masterplan’ that the CNPA planners were claiming existed contravened the standards for a Masterplan set by the Scottish Government’s guidance. Consequently, the CNPA planners had the embarrassing task of explaining that the document they had labelled as ‘Appendix 4 Masterplan’ was not actually a Masterplan ‘in the true sense of the word’. Only days before, the CNPA planner emailed BSCG stating that not only this document, but also 2 others, all constituted Masterplans for this site.

Scottish Government guidance on Masterplanning emphasises the importance of public involvement in Masterplanning. The document the planners tried to pass off as a Masterplan was made public only a week before the meeting and is called ‘Site Layout Plan January 2016’.

The record of the CNPA at Badaguish is worrying. They are approving haphazard and chaotic development, failing to enforce their own mitigation requirements, and attempting to mislead the public and the Board.

Dear Sir,

On Monday, April 4, The Scotsman published an article giving the sporting estates' defence of muirburn - the burning of heather during grouse moor management.

On Friday, you published the results of research from Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities, indicating that adopting the latest "sustainable land use practices" would allow the locking away, or sequestration, of huge quantities of greenhouse gases in "farmland and natural wild spaces".

Thus we witness a nineteenth century indulgence confronted by twenty first century reality.

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Recent muirburn next to woodland in the Cairngorms National Park, Spring 2016.

Grouse moors and deer stalking estates have this in common: they both minimise carbon sequestration.

Burning of grouse moors and over-grazing of stalking estates prevents woodland regeneration and devastates ground vegetation, whilst compacting soils and reducing their carbon retention capacities. These systems are the very opposite of "sustainable land use practices" if that sustainability has any reference to the aspirations of the recent Paris summit on climate change, to which our governments are committed.

The questions arise: How long, in a world divesting its money from fossil fuels and increasingly desperate about global warming, can these anachronistic and damaging land-uses prevail? When will the monetary value of sporting estates begin to plummet? How long will it take before the Scottish Government faces up to this reality and provides scientifically appropriate legislation to govern the demise and transition of Scotland's sporting estates?

Yours sincerely,
Roy Turnbull
Nethy Bridge, Inverness-shire



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Dick Balharry who attended the very first meeting of BSCG in 1975 deserves warm congratulations for the award of the prestigious Patrick Geddes medal for his outstanding contribution to conservation.

Presenting the award at a ceremony at Glen Feshie the Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society described Dick as “a relentless and passionate advocate for improving and protecting Scotland's natural landscapes" who "has influenced, advised, inspired and encouraged so many people and organisations".

The Sunday Herald (19 April 2015) reports on the award and mentions that Dr Adam Watson who spoke at BSCG’s inaugural meeting recalled vital work in Wester Ross undertaken by Dick on the poisoning of golden eagles that contributed to the banning of some persistent organochlorines pesticides in the 1970’s and 1980’s. BSCG members will also recall Dick’s important contribution to the establishment of Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.

Referring to his speech the paper reports that Dick Balharry criticised landowners for erecting fences to protect native woodlands from marauding deer and commented this damaged the landscape, inhibited public access and deprived deer of shelter. The report is followed by an editorial headed 'Cairngorms talk highlights need for land reform'. This echos Dick’s views and comments "What's now crucial is that ministers introduce measures that oblige landowners to manage their estates for the public, good, rather than private gain."

See the article here: