Britain's biggest national park is opened
RIGHT on cue, the curtain of mist concealing the top of Cairn Gorm lifted temporarily, revealing the spectacular scenery of Scotland’s newest national park.
More than half a century after it was first mooted, the Cairngorms National Park, Britain’s largest, was officially opened yesterday at a ceremony near its highest point, 3,600ft up the mountain.
The park has been stalked by conflict along the way, and even yesterday, controversy was still not far away. As guests took the funicular railway up Cairn Gorm for the opening, campaigners held their own event, ascending Carn Liath in Perthshire in protest at the area being left outside the park’s boundary.
Allan Wilson, the deputy rural affairs minister, gave the protesters some hope their views will be heard, albeit not for another five years.
Stretching from Grantown to the Angus glens, from Ballater to Dalwhinnie and Drumochter, the Cairngorms park, at 1,466sq miles, is double the size of Scotland’s only other national park, in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, with a population of 17,000. But the Perthshire Alliance for the Real Cairngorms (PARC) wants to extend it further to include Highland Perthshire.
The area was included in the recommendations from Scottish Natural Heritage, which proposed the park should cover 1,775sq miles across the Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perth and Kinross council areas.
The Scottish Executive later halved the size to 950sq miles within Highland, Aberdeenshire and Moray, then widened it again to include parts of Angus and Laggan, but left out Perthshire.
Mr Wilson, who attended the opening ceremony, said any review of the boundary will not take place until the park has been running for five years.
"I cannot rule it out [a review], you never say never. But the quinquennial review [of the park authority] would be an appropriate time to look at how the park is functioning, whether it is meeting our aims and aspirations.
"However, it is important we leave old arguments behind and work to make the park a success from today, and that means taking the existing boundaries and working with the existing board to make it a success.
"My argument has been that we had to agree a park which had a coherent identity and a national focus. The national focus was around the central Cairn Gorm massif, and we have created a boundary around the central Cairngorms that will preserve and conserve that for future generations. I believe we’ve got it right, but time will tell."
The ceremony attracted another protest from a small group of opponents of the "closed system" of visitor management of the 15 million funicular. A condition of planning consent for the railway was that travellers on the funicular cannot walk on to the mountain because of its sensitive environment.
The protesters, who walked from the bottom of the hill, passed outside the ceremony in the Ptarmigan restaurant, carrying banners saying "Welcome to the Cairngorms National Park, pity you cannot get out."
The new park includes 52 summits above 900 metres, including four of Scotland’s five highest mountains and 43 Munros.
Andrew Thin, the park authority convener, said the Cairngorms park will be for everyone, regardless of age or background, a view echoed by Liz Hanna, the great-great-granddaughter of John Muir, the Scot who founded the national park movement.
Ms Hanna, who travelled from California for the ceremony, said John Muir saw nature as something that people from all walks of life should enjoy: "The gift you are giving to Scotland today is to ensure that the world, as well as Scotland, is going to enjoy your wild spaces."
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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