Home   News   Article

Plug pulled on Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric National Park bid as clear split revealed

By Hector MacKenzie

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
How we first reported the story earlier this month.
How we first reported the story earlier this month.

THE team exploring local support for a possible national park centred around Ben Wyvis have pulled the plug on the bid.

The prospect of the area "benefitting immensely" had been floated just a few weeks ago with hopes of looking after the natural environment and crating jobs.

The Scottish Government has vowed to designate at least one new national park by the end of the current parliamentary session in 2026. Nominations are being sought with a deadline of the end of February. Several prospective bids have been floated.


But the group gauging support within a tight time-frame for a prospective Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric National Park said in a statement today that "over the last few days it has become clear that difficult decisions had to be made".

It says: "Our team has misgivings concerning the limited timeframe and resourcing afforded to nominating groups thus far, and in light of this we do not feel confident that the process going forward to the next stage will be allowed sufficient time and resource to achieve a satisfactory collaborative outcome. Since it is not clear to us that a new National Park can be established to the highest standards within the current deadline, we are – with deep regret – unable to submit a nomination for Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric at this time."

Reasons outlined are:

  • According to the results of our survey and public consultation sessions, the balance of opinion, among those who have expressed one, stands at roughly 50:50 between support and objection to exploring a new National Park (NP) n our area. While no outcome can satisfy everyone, the most strongly expressed views have come from those opposed to a new NP, in particular among members of the farming and crofting community, and landowners.
  • Concerns expressed to us have included:
  • Unwelcome new red tape and a new layer of governance
  • Time/stress/expense for farmers/crofters/estates having to meet environmental demands made to them by a NPA when the farming sector is already under multiple pressures
  • A presumed lack of accountability and responsiveness within the governance of the NPA and its interaction with famers, crofters and estates
  • A presumed lack of farmer/crofter/estate representation in how the park would be run
The proposed boundary of the national park.
The proposed boundary of the national park.

It also acknowledged concerns that tight budgets could be better directed elsewhere and that food production should have higher priority. The statement went on: "Rightly or wrongly, many in the rural community feel that nature restoration is the overriding focus of Scottish Government to the detriment of local culture and economy."

Concerns include:

  • A NP would bring more visitors and visitor pressure, in an area where facilities are already stretched
  • House prices within a NP would rise and affordable housing for local families become harder to find
  • An assumption that a new NP will prioritise biodiversity and nature restoration ahead of rural livelihoods, in a situation in which these are in opposition
  • The NP process has been too rushed, leading to a feeling of being ambushed. Many people said the process should have involved local land managers and farmers from the outset
  • The process of consulting and deciding on a NP hasn’t been clearly set out by Scottish Government, and there’s a widely held belief that a second round of consultation will not be rigorous or representative enough
  • A fear that for the area(s) chosen to go forward, the development of a NP becomes inexorable, with no backstop or get-out once SG has embarked on developing the proposal, because it will be invested in a positive result.

Dan Bailey of the Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric National Park team admitted: "We feel many of the concerns specific to the management and local impact of a new NP could be addressed by a NPA with appropriate local accountability and planning powers, concerns about the current process of consulting on and establishing a new NP are more fundamental."

Ben Wyvis from the Black Isle.Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No..
Ben Wyvis from the Black Isle.Picture: Gary Anthony. Image No..

The group shared its observations of the process so far:

  • The rushed timescale has made consensus-building very difficult. Much more time would be needed in our area to build relationships and have more considered and constructive conversations with all stakeholders, in order to better discuss some of the concerns summarised above
  • The speed of the process and the limited advance publicity from SG has contributed to people feeling ambushed and under-informed, perhaps helping to give rise to an oppositional dynamic from the outset
  • With a longer lead-in it might have been possible in our area to mount a more cohesive single regional bid rather than the confusing overlap of two or even three proposals
  • Due to limited resources and expertise in our nominating team we have been unable to reach enough people or properly gauge the balance of opinion. As such, our results are indeterminate
  • This incomplete initial consultation has fed into a sense in some quarters of the process being opaque and flawed
  • There is a danger of a new NP becoming a wedge issue, both in our area and more widely across rural Scotland, where opposition to a new NP appears to be the consensus view among farmers and crofters. We do not want to contribute to this split, or give hard-pressed farmers and crofters in our community cause to feel they are under further pressure
  • Nominating teams are part of their community, and personal relationships with others of all views are important to every team member. Absent more vocal political support from elected representatives in our area, our small team would bear the brunt of any ill feeling. This is not a sensible basis to pursue a conversation that seems to be proving difficult in nominating areas across Scotland
  • We share the fear, expressed by others, that progression to the reporter stage risks becoming an inexorable process leading to NP designation, whatever the results of a second round of consultation.
  • How a new NP will be satisfactorily delivered within the timeframe is not sufficiently clear to us.

It went on believe that:

  • The target of a new NP by 2026 appears to be driven by political considerations rather than practical ones
  • Only through a painstaking, unhurried consultation with all residents and stakeholders will it be possible to establish a. what the NP should look like (powers, governance, boundaries), and b. if sufficient numbers in the area even support it. Our experience of the process to date, the low level of resourcing and especially the tight timing, leaves us with insufficient confidence that a second round of consultation will be afforded the time and resource to be properly collaborative, comprehensive, transparent and accountable
  • On principle no new NP should be established without presenting a fully-developed proposal to local residents in a ballot. This local vote to endorse or reject a new NP must be the decisive step at the end of a second round of consultation
  • We would argue strongly for a NPA board comprising majority directly-elected members, and an elected CE. A National Park must be run by and for its people and should not be a top-down imposition.

The reasoning went on to state that while the group has chosen not to submit a proposal at this time that "from the many conversations we have had about a National Park, and the responses to our survey and public consultation sessions, it has emerged that there is a significant desire for positive change in our area, and more empowerment for rural communities". It claims significant local support has been expressed for:

  • Greater recognition and protection for landscape, at scale. Noting the dearth of National Scenic Areas on the east side of the Highlands, there may be scope to use the NP consultation as the basis for a further conversation in our area about the possibility of pressing for NSA status for our most valued scenic assets
  • Greater recognition and protection for our cultural heritage
  • An increase in efforts to restore habitats and improve biodiversity, from small-scale projects to landscape-scale projects
  • Better visitor management, including new tourism infrastructure and an expanded and better-resourced service from Countryside Rangers and Access Officers
  • Enhanced provision to allow for public enjoyment of the countryside (new footpaths, cycling infrastructure etc)
  • More local say over how the land is managed, most especially with regard to large scale energy projects, which many local residents fear are proliferating out of control
  • More environmental education and land-based training and job opportunities for young people
  • Exploring the potential of new funding streams to allow locally-led initiatives to be taken forward – for example local food growing and promotion, local tourism infrastructure, or initiatives to increase opportunities in education/training
  • Regeneration of our towns
  • A renewed emphasis on the provision of new affordable housing in our communities
  • Work to develop better rural connectivity and new green businesses
  • Recognition of the vital role of agriculture in our area, and support for local food production as well as diversification

It concluded: "While a new National Park might have gone some way to meeting many of these aspirations, it’s clear that even having had a chance to consider these questions has not been a wasted effort. Perhaps a slow-lane process could be considered for areas in which a new NP at the current time appears a step too far, too fast, but in which there may be grounds to continue a conversation about possible new directions, over a longer timeframe. We would fully support such an initiative"

It confirmed that it will be informing the Scottish Government of its decision not to submit a bid for the Ben Wyvis and Glen Affric National Park before the deadline for submissions on February 29.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More