Document 1248

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 99-26 National parks in Scotland

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Note 99/26
13 August 1999


This research note was prepared in response to expressions of interest from a number of Transport and Environment Committee members. It outlines the current situation with regard to National Parks in Scotland, the current recommendations for designating National Parks and the views of key interests in the debate.


Throughout the world there are many different types of National Parks. Scotland has a complex system of Nature Conservation designations (1). However, none of these are National Parks which provide for the integrated, positive management and enhancement of wide areas of the countryside (2). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has an internationally recognised model for the designation of protected areas. This, and its application in Scotland, is summarised in Table 1.

Table 1 IUCN model for protected areas and its application to Scotland
[NOTE: Table here in original]

In 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act established National Parks in England and Wales, which fall into IUCN category 5, but not in Scotland. At that time, there was much debate over whether National Parks would be appropriate for Scotland and there has been considerable debate since. On 15 September 1997, the government expressed its intention to take forward National Park legislation for Scotland. On 16 June 1999, Donald Dewar announced the intention to lay a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to allow the creation of National Parks in Scotland.

In 1997, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was asked to lead the consultation on National Parks and to look particularly at arrangements to establish National Parks in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms. They issued an open invitation to comment on the proposal to designate National Parks early in 1998 to which around 250 responses were received. Towards the end of 1998 they invited comments on a more detailed consultation paper (3) to which 451 responses were received. In addition, several local meetings, five subject specific seminars and a national conference were held to inform the development of SNH’s advice. This was issued to government (4) on 2 February 1999 who responded on the same day (5).

Since Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms are to be Scotland’s first National Parks, they were crucial to the consultation process. A number of initiatives have already commenced which will provide the basis for the establishment of National Parks in these areas, these are outlined below.


During the consultation process five meetings (6) were held in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area. Over 200 people attended these meetings (7).

The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Joint Interim Committee was established on the 14th June 1999 to pave the way for the establishment of a National Park. Prior to this, an officer group comprising staff members from each of the 3 councils (Argyll and Bute, West Dunbartonshire and Stirling) paved the way for the establishment of the joint committee under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Although the boundary for the proposed National Park is not known at this time, the area over which the Joint Interim Committee has jurisdiction is shown in the map in Annex 1.

The objectives of the Interim Committee, which are those SNH recommend for all
National Park Authorities, are as follows:
• to safeguard the natural and cultural heritage of the area
• to promote the sustainable use of natural resources
• to promote the social and economic wellbeing of local communities; and
• to provide for public enjoyment and understanding (8).

The Committee has responsibility for the following key tasks within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs area:
• to continue and extend environmental and visitor management activity on the ground;
• to promote integrated partnership working between the relevant agencies;
• to help involve all interested parties in the National Park discussions; and
• to help pave the way for the National Park (9).

The Committee will have a significant focus on the preparations for the National Park and is only intended to operate until April 2001 unless there is a delay with the introduction of the National Park. At this time the National Park Authority, which will be an independent body, will take over the role of the committee. It is likely that there will be a period of overlap when the Joint Interim Committee and the National Park Authority are both operational, the Park Authority is likely to be established prior to April 2001.

A regional park authority for the Loch Lomond Area has existed for some time. A subject plan for this area exists which covers the issues of tourism, recreation and conservation and attempts to go beyond the conventional boundaries of planning jurisdiction. However, this covers the Loch Lomond Area alone, not the proposed National Park Area which includes the Trossachs. The Loch Lomond Park Authority is currently working with the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Joint Interim Committee towards establishing a National Park Body.


During the consultation process, 22 meetings were held in the Cairngorms area during October and November 1998 at which attendance ranged from eight to 65.

The Cairngorms Partnership was established by government in 1994. The area over which it has jurisdiction is shown in the map in Annex 2 although this is not necessarily the proposed National Park area which will be the subject of further consultation.

When it was established, the Secretary of State set the priority objectives for the Partnership to be the preparation and implementation of a Management Strategy that would guarantee a sustainable future for the area. The formal structure of the Partnership comprises: an Advisory Board, chaired by Ian Grant, made up of the Chairmen and Chief Executives of all the main partner organisations with significant funding influence and powers; an Elected Members group made up of the fifteen local authority Councillors elected to wards in the Cairngorms area; a Recreation Forum made up of representatives of all the main outdoor sports and recreation groups in the area; and a Community Councils group designed to involve the 26 communities in the area in the work of the Partnership.

The wider informal Partnership is made up of all those who have an interest in the management of the Cairngorms area. It includes the people who own and manage the land; those who seek recreation in the area; those who live and work locally; and those with a statutory interest, such as the local authorities and a wide range of agencies. Overall, there are well over a hundred groups involved in the work of the Partnership at all levels.

The Partnership which is a private company, limited by guarantee with charitable status, is supported by a Management Team of eight staff based in Grantown-on-Spey. Individual projects are funded by the Partners, and the cost of the Management Team is covered by central government.

Since the publication of the Management Strategy, Managing the Cairngorms in 1997, the remit of the Cairngorms Partnership has been revised. Principally the overarching objective of the Partnership continues to be to co-ordinate implementation of the Strategy. The remit of the Partnership now includes the following statement to:

• “Facilitate locally the work SNH is undertaking at the request of the Secretary of State to identify areas within Scotland that might benefit from National Park designation, tailored to suit particular circumstances; and provide SNH with advice on behalf of the Partnership.(10)’

A detailed work plan outlining actions that will be taken to fulfil the Management Strategy was finished in spring 1999.

The Cairngorms Partnership has played a key role in facilitating the local level consultations over the development of a National Park in the area. It will continue to consult with local interests over the development of a National Park in the longer term. Government has suggested that the Partnership should keep in mind the long-term likelihood of at least some of its area becoming a National Park and conduct its business accordingly.


SNH see the purpose of National Parks in Scotland as being to:
• “safeguard and enrich the biodiversity, natural beauty and amenity, the natural systems which support these qualities and the cultural heritage of the area;
• promote the sustainable use of its natural resources;
• promote the social well-being and economic prosperity of its local communities; and
• provide for and enrich the enjoyment and understanding by the public of its natural and cultural values.
These purposes should be pursued in ways which are mutually supportive. The resolution in the event of any conflict between them shall be guided by a precautionary approach in favour of the long-term conservation of the natural heritage.” (11)

SNH recommend a two-step approach to National Park legislation. The first step would involve primary legislation to detail the general purposes, criteria for selection and operation of National Parks. This would be followed, for each separate National Park, by secondary legislation detailing the specific powers and structure of the Park Authority and its area of jurisdiction. SNH’s detailed recommendations on National Parks in Scotland fall into three broad areas:

• The selection of National Park areas
• The management structure for National Parks
• The National Park plan

The recommendations relating to each of these areas are discussed in more detail below:


SNH advise that an open and transparent mechanism be established for the identification of potential National Parks. They advise that criteria for the selection of National Parks be set down in primary legislation and suggest these should be based on the following:

• The area is of outstanding natural heritage importance to the nation.
• The area has both a distinctive character and a coherent identity.
• There is local and national support for the designation of the area.
• Designation would satisfy the special needs of the area and provide more benefits than other approaches.
• The area should be large enough to secure the long-term future of the natural resources and enable the pursuit of multiple objectives through integrated management.

SNH consider Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms to each meet these criteria.

Following the selection of an area, SNH recommend that there should be a thorough process of dialogue and consultation between local and national interests to agree objectives and the powers to achieve them prior to the development of the secondary legislation.


Structure and funding

SNH propose that a National Park Body is established for each of the National Parks. They outline six possible types of governing structure for this Body:
• local authority committee or joint committee (when the National Park area covers more than one authority area);
• local authority joint or special board;
• independent authority;
• local authority-public agency partnership with advisory powers;
• local authority-public agency partnership with executive powers. and
• national agency-led

Although they suggest that the form of the National Park Body should reflect local circumstances, SNH favour the option of an independent authority which will require separate legislation. The option of a national agency is rejected since it runs counter to the drive to secure local involvement in governance and local authority committees or boards are rejected since they would not be independent.

They suggest that the National Park Body should comprise no more than 20 members, that each member should represent the wider interest of the National Park area rather than a specific constituency of interest and that the convenor should be elected by the members. They suggest that the main sources of members of the National Park Body should be local government councillors, community councillors or community representatives and selected national appointees.

A key element of SNH’s recommendations is a long-term contract between national and local interests. In practice this would mean the satisfaction of nationally agreed objectives with local control over their means of satisfaction. Responses to the consultation paper gave SNH no overall consensus on how this contract might be met through selection of membership for the National Park Body. They suggest that this is a matter for political debate but the need for representation of local interests, local authorities, national appointees and land management interests must be considered.

SNH also acknowledge that involvement of local community interests in the management of the National Park must be taken into account. This could be through a National Park Advisory Council (with cross-membership with the National Park Body) made up of representatives of local communities.

The National Park Body will need to be accountable to the wider Scottish public beyond the National Park area. Government will therefore be responsible for ensuring this accountability and accordance with purposes, objectives and standards of National Parks. SNH make no recommendations as to manner in which this function might be satisfied, although they suggest that there may be a role for a special committee of Members of the Scottish Parliament.

SNH suggest that not less than 75% of the funding required for the National Park should come from Central Government in recognition of the national interests they represent. Some of this will come from redirecting existing central government expenditure in the area, on agri-environment schemes for example. However, they propose that new resources will be necessary for core operating and programming costs. Since local authorities will have a crucial role in National Parks and on the National Park Body, SNH suggest that they should make some financial contribution. SNH also propose that grant aid could be sought from other sources such as the National Lottery, commercial sponsorship or the sale of branded goods.

In the consultation paper SNH asked for views on alternative ways of raising resources to finance National Parks such as road tolls, bed taxes or natural resource levies. In general, these options received little support from the respondents to the consultation. However, SNH suggest that there may be scope to use such options when they contribute to specific projects and give rise to an increased level of service for the consumer.

Role of the National Park Body

SNH suggest that the powers of the National Park Body should vary for different Parks. At one extreme, the body may have extensive executive powers transferred from national and local bodies, alternatively it could have limited direct functions and play a predominantly co-ordinating role. Whatever model is adopted they suggest that certain roles should be common to all National Park Bodies, these are outlined in Table 2.

Table 2 Suggested roles for all National Park Bodies

[NOTE: Table here in original]

To fulfil these roles, SNH suggests that the National Park Body should have the statutory right to be consulted on plans of, and cases dealt with by, local authorities and other public bodies as these affect the National Park interests. If agreement cannot be reached then the Park Body should also have the power to refer to the appropriate Minister for determination. In addition, they should be able to enter into agreements with local authorities and public bodies to influence land management and to activate reserve powers on behalf of the responsible Minister to influence land management when it threatens the special qualities of the Park.

In addition to the roles common to all National Park Bodies, SNH propose that specific functions be conferred on the Bodies to facilitate their involvement in issues that are crucial to the success of the particular National Park. Such functions might include the National Park Body, possibly by acting on behalf of others, administering land management grant schemes; managing land; entering into land management agreements; or adopting planning functions.

SNH are of the view that the planning system plays a wider role than the proposed purposes of National Parks. Therefore they suggest that it would be inappropriate for the National Park Body to be the planning authority with the fullest range of development planning, control and enforcement powers, as is the case for National Parks in England and Wales. Rather they suggest that the National Park Body should share planning functions with local authorities. Although they suggest that the exact model for sharing planning functions should be different for each National Park, they propose a minimum role for the National Park Body involving them:

• “being the principal partner in the preparation of the structure plans covering its area, with each local authority being required by statute to discuss with the National Park Body the proposed contents of the structure plan as it affects the National Park area, to work with the National Park Body during its preparation and obtain from the National Park Body a certificate of conformity with National Park objectives prior to submission of the structure plan to the relevant Minister for approval;
• being the principal partner in the preparation of the local plans covering its area, with each local authority being required to agree with the National Park Body the proposed contents of the local plan, to work with the National Park Body during its preparation and to obtain from the National Park Body a certificate of conformity with the National Park Plan prior to deposit;
• having referral powers to the relevant Minister for cases where it objects to a local authority’s development control decision; and
• actively working with the local authorities to improve the standards of built development across the National Park.”

SNH also suggest that a tailored agri-environment scheme (through which farmers might be paid for adopting environmentally beneficial management practices) linked with a local forestry framework and Woodland Grant Scheme should be designed for each National Park. Their preference would be for the National Park Body to work with SERAD and the Forestry Commission to prepare and implement such a scheme, rather than for it to adopt the roles of these bodies.


SNH suggest that the National Park Bodies should have a statutory duty to prepare a National Park Plan. The Plan should have statutory basis in National Park legislation and be subject to approval by the appropriate Minister or the Scottish Parliament. It may also have statutory meaning in other legislation, such as the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, but they do not see it as replacing the development plan for the area.

They suggest that the purpose of the National Park Plan should be to provide a lead to, and integrate the policies of, existing land use plans and guide various management and community objectives to ensure they do not undermine the purpose of the National Park.

The Plan should be prepared in two stages. The first stage should establish longterm vision, objectives and strategy and the second would develop this into more detailed zonal policies and programmes of action. Existing plans of local authorities and public bodies would have to be reviewed to fit with the National Park Plan.

SNH propose that the National Park Plan should adopt a zonal approach. They suggest this might comprise:

• A conservation zone, where the overriding objective is strict protection of natural assets but where grazing, recreational and sporting activities would be allowed if compatible. (Akin to IUCN category 2, see Table 1)
• A management zone, where the objectives are similar to the conservation zone but where a wider range of social and economic land uses might be compatible. (Akin to IUCN category 4)
• A community development zone within which settlements, economic activity and services to allow the park to operate effectively are concentrated. (Akin to IUCN category 5/6)

SNH suggest that the full range of interests in the National Park will have a role in implementation of the National Park Plan. However, they highlight crucial roles for the National Park Body, Local Authorities and other Public Bodies and owners, managers and users of land and water.

In influencing this later group SNH suggest that there should be a shared responsibility for care and management of the natural and cultural heritage of the National Park, this should apply to all individuals and organisations whose decisions impact on the National Park. However, SNH recognise that the role of land managers will be particularly important. They suggest that all land managers could be required to provide whole farm or estate plans showing how their land management influences Park objectives before qualifying for other public funds. They also suggest that the National Park Body might encourage this by offering advice and financial assistance in the preparation of these plans and by offering enhanced payments through targeted agri-environment and forestry grant schemes for particularly beneficial management practices.

SNH seem confident that their advice to government regarding the reform of access legislation in Scotland (12) will tackle problems relating to access to all land in Scotland including that in National Parks. They also recommend the production of new national planning guidance on National Parks.


This section summarises the views of key interest groups in the National Park debate in Scotland. The analysis is based on consideration of the responses of these groups to the consultation paper in November 1998 and discussions with representatives from a number of relevant organisations.

When responding to the last consultation paper most respondents took the view that the decision had been made to designate National Parks in Scotland and it was too late for it to be changed. Therefore the majority concentrate on practicalities of how National Parks might work, rather than on whether or not they would be appropriate in Scotland.

However, there is evidence that some groups remain to be convinced as to the need for National Parks in Scotland. Examples of those who remain to be convinced include some Cairngorms residents (13) and the John Muir Trust (14). The Scottish Landowners Federation are uncertain as to the necessity of the ‘National Park’ label but go on to state that that title is almost insignificant anyway.

Further comments by the key interest groups fall into the following general groups:
• The role of National Parks within the overall designation framework
• The selection criteria for National Parks
• The roles of the National Park Board and the National Park Plan
• Funding for the National Parks
• Possible further National Parks
The key comments in each of these areas are outlined in the following sections.

The role of National Parks within the overall designation framework

A number of organisations, including the Convention for Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) would like the National Park designation to assist with a rationalisation of the complex conservation designation framework operating in Scotland. Other groups, such as the RSPB, however, agree with the SNH recommendation that existing designations should not be removed. They would like existing designations to be used to assist targeting of resources and action within the National Park and consider that designations such as SSSI, SACs and SPAs play a separate role to that of the National Park designation.

The RSPB also express concern that SNH do not consider designating any National Parks under IUCN Category 1. They are of the view that, although this category may not be appropriate in the short-term, in the longer term parts of some of Scotland’s National Parks may qualify. They also ask SNH to clearly express which IUCN category the proposed National Parks and zones of the parks fall into.

Selection criteria for National Parks

Most respondents express broad satisfaction with the selection criteria for National Parks suggested by SNH. Only COSLA proposed one further selection criteria, that of ‘special need’ which might justify designation of a National Park. They suggest that such ‘special need’ might include exceptional visitor pressure or special complexity of issues that would benefit from the integrated and focussed approach. They do not consider the National Park designation, as proposed, to create a ‘top tier’ in the designation hierarchy but rather to provide special governance arrangements for areas with special needs.

The National Park Board and Plan and their roles

A large number of interests are concerned as to the practical ways in which the proposed local/national contract may work for National Parks. COSLA request more detail on this issue. The RSPB dislike the use of the word ‘contract’ in explaining the relationship between local and national issues and consider it requires further explanation as to how it will be translated into legislation and practice. They consider the word ‘contract’ to imply voluntary agreement between local and national interests which may be inappropriate for a National Park. Both RSPB and the Scottish Landowners Federation (SLF) express support for the national interest to override opposing sectoral or geographic interests.

The John Muir Trust (JMT) on the other hand are keen advocates of the ‘bottom up’ approach to operation of the National Park. They suggest that the role of the national Government should be solely to empower local management and ensure national accountability by:
• setting standards and high level aims
• distributing resources
• auditing local management
• holding last resort powers for issues of national importance

A number of respondents also request more detail concerning the National Park plan and its relationship with other local and structure plans, they are concerned at the increased complexity that may be caused by SNH’s proposals. COSLA, in particular, emphasise that structure plans should be about land use planning whereas the National Park plan should be about visitor, land and resource management. They therefore suggest that local authorities should all retain planing powers and only delegate or transfer these to National Park Bodies on mutual agreement.

RSPB, on the other hand, consider that the National Park Body should have a stronger planning role. They advocate, for example, complete planning control for the proposed Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Body. They also suggest that the National Park Plan should do more than simply ‘inform’ plans for other sectoral and local authority plans. They propose that all plans and operations of other public bodies either be transferred to the Park Planning process or, in a way that is enforceable, they be made consistent with the Park Plan unless a justifiable argument is put forward and accepted by the Scottish Executive/Parliament.


Many respondents express concerns about the funding of the National Parks. COSLA, JMT and RSPB all suggest that additional new resources will be required for National Parks. RSPB suggest that 100% of all the National Park funding should come from central government since this is the case for National Parks in England and Wales. COSLA request that the power to raise money be explicitly conferred on National Park Bodies. The JMT suggest that additional resources could be obtained from a number of sources including redirection of current Common Agriculture Policy expenditure.

New National Parks

Rather than further National Parks, JMT suggest that the scale of the National Parks proposed by SNH is wrong. They would rather see National Parks as being of the widest possible extent to avoid boundary definition problems. They suggest that most of the Highlands and Islands should be treated as a whole and designated as a single National Park. They then suggest that management be translated to the local level through integrated and zoned local management strategies.

The SLF is concerned that proposals for more National Parks may result in the same resources being spread over a larger area, so reducing the particular benefits of National Park designation.

Although none of the responses considered make definite proposals for the designation of further national parks, these are implicit in some. RSPB, for example, suggest that a network of National Parks, covering marine as well as terrestrial areas would be appropriate.

SNH, in their advice, do not make any proposals for further National Parks mainly because they consider there is a need to learn from the early National Parks before considering new proposals. They do mention, however, a number of areas that respondents to the November consultation paper suggested as further candidates for National Park status. These include parts of Easter Ross, extensive areas in the Southern Uplands, St Kilda, a link with the existing Northumberland National Park, the Inner Clyde Estuary and the Isle of Mull. Glen Coe and Ben Nevis received most mentions in the debate about further National Parks but mostly this expressed caution as to the prospect of designation. A large number of respondents welcomed the prospect of Marine National Parks in the future.

SPICe Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 See Badger R (1999) Nature Conservation, Information Centre subject map, Devolved Area 7, 27 May, 1999.
2 Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Link (1997), Protecting Scotland’s Finest Landscapes: a call for action on National Parks for Scotland, A discussion paper, May 1997.
3 SNH (1998), National Parks for Scotland: a consultation paper, SNH, Perth.
4 SNH (1999), National Parks for Scotland: SNH’s advice to government, SNH, Perth.
5 The Scottish Office (1999), Speech for Secretary of State on Natural Heritage Policy, Tuesday 2 February 1999.
6 These meetings were held in Balloch, Crianlarich, Arrochar, Callander and Aberfoyle.
7 SNH (1999), National Parks for Scotland: report on the process of consultation, SNH, Perth
8 Cited in Stirling Council (1999), op cit but taken from Scottish Natural Heritage (1999), National Parks for Scotland, SNH’s advice to government, Perth.
9 Stirling Council (1999), Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Factsheet: Towards the National Park, 4th May, 1999.
10 Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department, Revised remit for Cairngorms Partnership,
11 SNH National Parks for Scotland: Scottish Natural Heritage’s Advice to Government, SNH, Perth.
12 SNH, Access to the countryside for open-air recreation, SNH’s advice to government, Perth 1999.
13 Cairngorms Partnership personal communication, 11 August 99.
14 John Muir Trust personal communication, 3 August 99.

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 99-26 National parks in Scotland


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