National parks plan for Scotland

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LOCH LOMOND and the Cairngorm mountains should become Scotland's first national parks, the Government's nature advisers recommended yesterday.

Scotland is one of the few countries not to give its finest landscape top-tier protection, though a Scot, John Muir, helped to found the first national parks in the United States more than 100 years ago. Bitter divisions between landowners and conservationists and the demand for local jobs have frustrated attempts to implement Muir's vision in his native land.

Suspicions linger and yesterday's proposals published by Scottish National Heritage received only guarded welcomes by the pro and anti-park camps. A final decision will be left to the Scottish Parliament. So far only the Labour Party is committed to establishing national parks.

Magnus Magnusson, SNH chairman, none the less said he believed Scotland would have parks covering Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms by 2005. "I would be surprised if the parliament jibbed at creating the first two," he said.

The two proposed parks are different in character. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is a mix of lochs, hills and woods, near to Glasgow and the urban belt. Visitors flock in for water sports, to climb and to walk. The "Bonnie, Bonnie Banks" alone get two million a year.

The Cairngorms range, great rolling hills over 3,000ft high with deep, ice-gouged valleys, is one of the wildest tracts of land in Britain and home to rare semi-arctic plants and birds. But though subject to a plethora of special protections, its glorious Caledonian pines have failed to regenerate because sporting estates have encouraged too many red deer and hill paths have been eroded by walkers' boots. There has also been a long-running battle over the ski area below Cairn Gorm.

The parks would not have such powerful planning powers as their counterparts in England and Wales. Parks should be a "contract" between national and local interests, the SNH said.

Brian Parnell, chairman of the Scottish Council for National Parks, said the proposals "lacked the boldness and decisiveness" campaigners had hoped for. "There is really no way a park can be effective unless it is the planning authority," he said.

The Scottish Landowners Federation said it was "encouraging" that landowners had been recognised as part of the management process.