Plans to create a new national park in one of Scotland’s most overlooked regions have moved a step closer to being realised.
Scotland currently has two national parks – Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs – part of a network of 15 across the UK.
Now a group of residents has secured funding to investigate proposals to create a new one in the Scottish Borders.
Scottish Borders National Park (SBNP) campaigners say designating a new park will put the area on the map, attracting much-needed tourism and boosting the local economy.
They believe it will help establish an instantly identifiable “Scottish Borders” brand for the region, which is often considered just a part of the country to pass through on the way to more popular destinations.
Having official national park status, alongside renowned landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite in the US, would attract visitors from across the globe.
More than 150 residents and local business owners met up in Jedburgh town hall last week to discuss the idea and the best way to move forward.
Campaign leader Jane Bower, who is also vice-chair of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), hosted the meeting.
She said the turnout and feedback had far exceeded expectations: “We began with a simple objective – to gauge local support for a proposal that could unite the region’s diverse businesses, but especially the tourism, agriculture, forestry and recreation industries, behind a powerful, internationally recognised brand with the potential to transform the Scottish Borders’ economy,” she said.
“Understandably, a few people remain to be persuaded of the widespread benefits that national park status would bring but the vast majority of participants were supportive in principle.”
The region is one of the country’s most picturesque, belying a turbulent history.
The Romans marched over it around 2,000 years ago, building roads and forts, before being driven back south of Hadrian’s Wall.
English and Scottish armies fought back and forth across the border during the late medieval period.
Later it became a lawless land inhabited by the reivers, who staged raids on the prosperous farming lands of lowland Scotland and northern England.
The area is sparsely populated, with farming and textiles the key industries historically. It has the lowest levels of tourism in Scotland.
John Mayhew, project director of the Scottish National Parks Strategy Project and director of APRS, insists the Scottish Borders fulfils all the criteria to become a national park.
Based on evidence from elsewhere in the UK and abroad, he is convinced the status would bring positive socio-economic benefits for people and businesses right across the region.