Climate change and nature crisis mean Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park must find a better way for people and nature to coexist and thrive – Dr Heather Reid

Scotland’s first national park may only be 20 years old but its land has been here for millennia.

Now, with the impacts of the twin climate and nature crises becoming ever more apparent, while local communities and businesses adjust to the broader effects of the pandemic, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is at a crossroads. With change happening at a rapid pace, there is a small window of opportunity to tackle these huge challenges and to find ways to shape a new, positive future for the park’s people and environment.

Over the next 12 weeks, we will be asking residents, businesses, communities and visitors to help us imagine its future. We want to hear from people about how we face up to these huge challenges together and grasp the positive opportunities for our climate, nature and economy. This week we got the ball rolling with the publication of our draft National Park Partnership Plan, outlining proposals for some of the ways the significant issues we are facing could be tackled.

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Some of what needs to happen is non-negotiable. Now more than ever nature and climate need to be at the forefront of our minds. The impacts of the climate emergency are becoming increasingly real to those living, working and visiting the park, with more frequent flooding and landslips seriously damaging people’s homes, communities and businesses.

Forecasted increases in extreme weather events and rising temperatures mean that we will continue to see more of these impacts – more blue-green algal blooms in lochs, more tree diseases affecting our forests, challenging conditions for agriculture, and more storms, wildfires and drought. Our damaged peatlands are emitting carbon instead of absorbing it and some of our most precious native woodlands remain isolated and unable to regenerate due to pressures from animals grazing and preventing the growth of young trees. We need to significantly scale up our restoration efforts so the park can achieve its potential to become a major carbon sink for Scotland.

Our warmer and wetter climate also threatens nature, with some habitats and species struggling to adapt to these snowballing changes. Despite this being a national park, nature is in real trouble here with nearly a fifth of even our most special, designated sites for nature being in decline. We are losing nature at a scale never experienced before and it is no longer enough to conserve what we have.

A shift in land use towards more regenerative, nature-friendly systems will be essential. In doing this, we must carefully manage any challenges to ensure this is a ‘just transition’, supporting anyone who may be negatively impacted. National agriculture and forestry support and regulation schemes need to be integrated, more attractive and supportive for land managers.

Nature underpins human existence through the benefits and services it provides, such as food, air, water, materials, health and economic wealth – and its decline impacts us all. Tackling the nature and climate crises is not separate to supporting the rural economy and communities. In fact, working together to address these crises will provide a range of wider benefits, including more investment, business and employment opportunities.

Rising temperatures will mean Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park will see more blue-green algal blooms in its lochs, more tree diseases and more wildfires, among other effectsRising temperatures will mean Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park will see more blue-green algal blooms in its lochs, more tree diseases and more wildfires, among other effects
Rising temperatures will mean Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park will see more blue-green algal blooms in its lochs, more tree diseases and more wildfires, among other effects

Low-carbon local living, more affordable homes and opportunities for jobs in sectors such as woodland creation and ecotourism can all help us transition to a greener economy and help future-proof the park for people, climate and nature. By establishing a pipeline of nature restoration projects over the coming years, we can support the transition of the park’s rural economy and provide a wider range of employment opportunities for people to live and work here.

Despite an increase in affordable housing in recent years, research from 2022 tells us that 75 per cent of the park’s households cannot currently afford average house prices. We are proposing a fresh approach to guiding new development and infrastructure within the park, one that is more closely aligned with facilitating the required land-use change to deliver for climate and nature and meet the needs of those living and working here.

This is also a heavily visited landscape and we have seen an increase in visitors during and post-pandemic, as people reconnected with nature. Going forward, we need to look at transforming the park into a more sustainable visitor destination, supporting people to access the outdoors in a way that is more in harmony with nature and helps to reduce emissions.

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Low-emissions travel is a significant part of that. Around 79 per cent of visitor journeys are made by car and, with volumes of car traffic only increasing, there is an urgent need to improve public and active transport options.

Whether it’s providing better public transport, expanding our woodlands or providing green jobs, collective action will be key. The National Park Authority does not have all the answers and the vision we are proposing for the future is too ambitious and wide-ranging to be achieved by a single agency.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park has a special place in the heart of millions of Scots, whether they live and work here or visit with family and friends to enjoy the stunning landscapes on a sunny day. Now it’s time for all of us to come together to imagine what the future should look like, taking the significant changes and challenges we are facing and using them to reshape the national park as a climate-resilient place where people and nature thrive together.

Dr Heather Reid is the convener of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

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