Rural Workers Fight for Cairngorms Jobs

Rural workers in Britain’s biggest national park will stage an online protest on Wednesday (20th) over a blueprint they say threatens jobs and red-listed species.

Members of Grampian Moorland Group have organised ‘Protest in the Park’ against the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board’s Partnership Plan.

The draft Plan for the next 5 Years proposes a shift to less economic models of game bird management and advocates swingeing deer culls of up to 50% across the Park’s open hills.

Targets of 35 000 hectares of new forestry by 2045, mostly unfenced, are contained in the draft despite the Cairngorms National Park already boasting a quarter of Scotland’s native forests.

Other moorland groups across Scotland will join the Protest, with support from shepherds and hill farmers concerned at the loss of good farmland to trees within the Park’s 1750 sq mile boundary.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is also backing the action, in solidarity with its members in the Park, who feel there is a widening chasm between Park leaders and rural workers.

“We are Protesting because the draft Plan will make game businesses economically unviable, leading to job losses in the Park,” said gamekeeper, Leslie George, of Grampian Moorland Group, who works in Donside.

“No one has seen any plan from the Park’s Board as to how they intend to replace lost jobs in our sector. We don’t feel the Park is working for the people of the land any more. People in authority are pushing agendas, not the residents’. Game and farming sectors are being singled out.”

He added: “The Plan favours rewilding but no assessment has been done on how rewilding will support red-listed or declining species such as Curlew, mountain hares and Capercaillie in the Park. Where I am, in Donside, the Plan says huge swathes should be planted in trees. What will that do to good farmland and food security? What does it mean for farming jobs in the area?

“Some estates are already exceeding Scottish Government tree planting targets and providing conservation, free of charge. This Plan fails to acknowledge that progress at all.”

The Cairngorms National Park was established by the Scottish Parliament in 2003 and attracts nearly 2 million visitors per year, mostly to enjoy sight-seeing. 

Nearly 50% of the landscape, which covers parts of Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland, Angus and Perthshire, is protected by European law.

Protestors believe the work of land managers was a major reason for such environmental designations to be there in the first place, prior to the creation of the Park.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman, Alex Hogg, MBE, has written to Park Convener, Xander McDade, asking how the proposals came to be included in the draft Plan, which went out for public consultation in winter 2021.

He has also asked for evidence that the proposed afforestation will definitely benefit Scotland’s quest to be Net Zero by 2045, with huge amounts of carbon already stored in existing land in the Park.

“Whilst we agree with well considered tree planting, there is a lack of long-term data in general in Scotland about the carbon benefits of planting trees on organic rich soils. If we don’t know what is already there, how do we know if schemes are going to work or are even helpful?”

Mr Hogg has also questioned the extent of the targeted deer culls, saying it is likely to deter humane deer management in the Park rather than encourage it.

Image: Kirk Norbury