June/July 2002

Ptarmigan visitor centre opens

The final element of the £15m Cairngorm funicular railway has been officially opened. The new Ptarmigan visitor centre and restaurant were opened near the summit by Tourism Minister Mike Watson. Mr Watson applauded Highlands and Islands Enterprise for having the "vision" to support the development. However, he also appealed for co-operation between the various interest groups and organisations to ensure its success. He said: "It is important that Scottish National Heritage has been closely involved in the project, approving and overseeing the environmental aspects at all stages of the project. "Conservation, communities and commerce should no longer be pitted against each other. The funicular project demonstrates that we can successfully balance environmental concerns with projected economic benefits.''

Boost for red squirrels

Aberdeen's Hazlehead Park woodlands are set to become the first to benefit from a new plan for ensuring that north-east Scotland's threatened red squirrels continue to delight woodland visitors for many years to come. Aberdeen Lord Provost Margaret Smith launched the North-East Scotland Biodiversity Action Plan for Red Squirrels at Hazlehead Park Restaurant in Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen on June 6. Although the north-east has one of the UK's healthiest remaining populations of red squirrels, they face a growing threat from the spread of their non-native cousin, the grey squirrel, which competes with them for food and living space. In most British woodlands that grey squirrels have moved into, red squirrels have died out within 15 to 20 years, and red squirrels are now absent from most of England. The Action Plan will use recent research findings to make Hazlehead Park and other north-east woodlands more attractive to red squirrels and less attractive to greys. It was prepared by the North-East Scotland Local Biodiversity Action Plan Group, which comprises the Forestry Commission, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, the National Trust for Scotland and private woodland owners. Aberdeen City Council countryside officer Ian Talboys explained, "Hazlehead Woods, currently inhabited by both red and grey squirrels and visited by more than 500,000 people a year, will be improved for red squirrels through a process of thinning the woods and selectively removing some trees and replacing them with species that red squirrels prefer. "Over time, this will improve the food supply and shelter required by red squirrels and ensure their proper place in the city. This is very exciting for the future of one of these special native animals. Landowners can make a big difference to the future of the red squirrel with some careful planning and following the guidance in the action plan." Gavin Legge, a woodland officer with the Forestry Commission's Grampian Conservancy, added, "The plan is aimed at foresters, housing planners, private individuals and woodland owners, and outlines how to safeguard existing populations of red squirrels and how to prevent the further spread of grey squirrels in the North-East. "It highlights woodlands that still have red squirrels to ensure they are managed favourably, the desirability of planting the species of trees and shrubs that red squirrels prefer, and the need to ensure that existing groups of red squirrels do not become isolated from one another. "It is most appropriate that this action plan is being launched in the year of Treefest Scotland 2002, when the people of Scotland are celebrating their rich heritage of trees, woods and forests. The red squirrel is a much-loved part of Scotland's woodland heritage, and what better way to celebrate it than by launching this plan, which will help everyone involved in land management to keep a healthy population of red squirrels in North-East Scotland."

£250,000 asking price for former Angus hostel

A former youth hostel put on the market after falling victim to a restructuring by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association has a price tag of £250,000. Glendoll Lodge, a 19th century shooting lodge located at the head of Glen Clova, is being marketed by FPDSavills. The property includes a hallway, drawing room, dining room, games room, drying room, nine bedrooms and office. There is also an integral two-bedroom flat, outbuildings with garaging and storage and a squash court. FPDSavills describe the property as an imposing Victorian shooting lodge believed to date from around 1865 when it was built by the Earls of South Esk. It was later sold to pay for the wall around the family seat at Kinnaird Park. The building faces south east on the edge of Glendoll Forest amidst mature trees at the foot of the Craig Mellon. The lodge was used until the winter of 2001 as a youth hostel and requires some internal upgrading to restore it to a country house. Harled with a slate roof, the property is adorned with ornately carved bargeboards and comprises accommodation over two floors with an integral flat in one wing. It is approached by a track through the trees leading to a parking and turning area. The SYHA closed the hostel following a review of operations prompted by the foot and mouth crisis and changing tourism trends. It has provided a base for walkers and climbers in the popular glen for around 50 years. For more info log on to www.fpdsavills.co.uk

Get fighting fit in the forest

A new campaign launched by the Forestry Commission aims to encourage more people out into Scotland's forests to improve their fitness. To entice Scots off the sofa, foresters have picked their 10 best forest walks, bike rides and events for summer 2002. Amongst the best activities to get the heart pumping are the Glentress Black mountain bike route in the Borders, the beautiful River Garry walk in the Highlands, the popular Woodhead Cycle route near Dumfries and the Balmacara Blue walk in Kyle of Lochalsh. Announcing the new campaign, Scottish Forestry Minister Allan Wilson said: "Our forests offer some of the most stunning and spectacular places to get away from it all. Millions of people take to the forests and woodlands each year either to walk, ride mountain bikes, marvel at the scenery or simply to enjoy the fresh air. "Our top 10 walks, bike rides and events have all the makings of a great day out, and could also be just the kick start needed to improving someone's health and fitness. "This year Scotland is celebrating its rich heritage of trees, woods and forests through Treefest Scotland 2002. This means it is an ideal time not only for taking to the woods and rediscovering what wonderful places they are for getting fit and recharging our personal batteries, but also for learning something about their history, uses and many benefits to us through all the many Treefest events and promotions taking place throughout the year." Health experts believe that we should try to walk at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. It is estimated that people only walk 12 minutes a day - only 72 hours per year! You can burn off up to 5-7 calories per minute if you walk briskly. By simply walking the suggested amount a person can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by over 30 per cent. Regular cycling improves health and can control weight, help you look and feel better. Most regular cyclists have fitness levels equivalent to non-cyclists ten years their junior. A free Forest Fitness information pack is available by calling 0845 367 3787 or log on to www.forestry.gov.uk/fitness for more info.

New MTB centres in Southern Scotland

A new "biking Tsar" has been appointed to run the £2 million Seven Stanes project which will create purpose-built mountain bike centres across the south of Scotland. Karl Bartlett, formerly Forestry Commission ranger at Mabie Forest (near Dumfries), takes up the task of turning the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway into a Mecca for mountain bikers. When completed the project hopes to bring in millions for the local economy through an increase in tourists to the area. "This is a dream job for me but one that's going to have many challenges," said Karl. "My goal is to make the Seven Stanes project a household name known throughout Britain and overseas. "We now have a dedicated team of trailbuilders who are already carving of some fantastic trail in Dalbeattie forest and work is soon to begin in Newcastleton in the Borders. We are getting some rave reviews of the trails in Glentress Forest near Peebles and it's this kind of positive publicity that we want to build on - especially if we want to attract the 2004 World mountain bike championships." The Seven Stanes project will see the construction or enhancement of seven biking centres in the Tweed Valley, Newcastleton, Ae, Mabie, Dalbeattie, Kirroughtree and Glentrool between 2002 and 2004. Each site will have trails for families and experts. All the centres will be upgraded with new signage and way-marking. Car parks, toilets and picnic areas will be provided along with environmental and interpretation facilities. Some of the centres will have play areas for families. The project is being managed by the Forestry Commission and Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway with partners Dumfries and Galloway & Borders Tourist Boards, Scottish Enterprise Borders, Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries & Galloway Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Solway Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. All the partners joined forces to raise £1 million towards the initiative however match-funding from Europe brought the £2m project to life. A keen mountain biker, Karl (40) has been the Forestry Commission's recreation ranger at Mabie Forest for five years. During his time there he helped transform the visitor facilities at Mabie making it the most popular forest in the area. Karl has also spent much of his time developing and sourcing funding to enhance the biking trails within the forest. He's been instrumental in bringing the Seven Stanes project to fruition. It was over two years ago that he first thought of the concept of bringing all the major biking destinations in South Scotland together under one banner. With help from all the partners in the project and other Forest Districts, the funding became a reality. Karl has just recently returned from a week long visit to Utah who he helped promote biking in Scotland at an international conference for mountain bike organisations. The key features of each biking centre is as follows: Tweed Valley - Glentress Forest will act as the springboard for the seven centres. Existing trails and facilities are still enhanced and a new cafe "The Hub" has recently opened. New or enhanced trails can be expected at Traquair Forest in the future. Newcastleton Forest - Substantial investment in new facilities including a network of new trails for beginners and experienced mountain bikers plus toilets, car parking and interpretation. A key to this centre is a trail which will directly link to Newcastleton. Bikers will be able to use the village's facilities before and after rides. Ae Forest - Investment will make this area into a major competition venue boasting both an existing downhill course and a massive new "endurance length" cross country trail. Mabie Forest - Attracts 100,000 visitors already each year. The famous "Riks Red Route" is to be doubled in length and added family routes will attract riders of all abilities. Dalbeattie Forest - A popular holiday destination on the Solway Coast. A new single-track trail and new visitor facilities to be developed. Kirroughtree Forest - The trails at Kirroughtree will be developed to appeal to families and fairly experienced bikers. Glentrool Forest - Based around the visitor centre this venue will play host to a major stamina sapping technical cross country route as well as newly enhanced trails.

Landowner cries wolf

One of Scotland's wealthiest landowners has called for wolves and wild lynx to be reintroduced to help keep red deer numbers down. Paul van Vlissingen, who owns a 32,000 hectare estate at Letterewe, Achnasheen, Ross-shire, commissioned a three-year study costing around £300,000 on deer and their impact in the wild. Mr Vlissingen said he had employed five scientists, including UK experts on deer, on the project. He claimed culling deer had a low long-term effect on deer numbers, and that the number of deer in Scotland is preventing the regrowth of vegetation. Mr Vlissingen said: "I think that something that could be debated is to divide Scotland into voluntary zones - some areas where you have practically eliminated deer, those areas where you want a specific natural regeneration of forests, and other areas where you manage deer as part of the concept of wild land. "In that concept I think wolves and lynx would fit very well, and I can promise you that if you do your research you will find that there are no known cases of anybody ever being eaten by wolves in Europe in the past century. There are thousands of people who live amongst the wolves in Canada and Alaska and that's no problem at all." The study claims Scotland has 300,000 red deer which are preventing regeneration of woodland and shrubs. Mr Vlissingen dismissed culling as a means of control. The last wolf in Scotland was shot in the 18th century. Lynx have been absent since prehistoric times. Mr Vlissingen said he believed reintroduction of both creatures would boost tourist numbers. He added: "Scotland has to create more excitement than a monster in Loch Ness - we have to create in Scotland more excitement about our rural areas. There is enormous eco-tourism building in the world, and Scotland is losing out." The study has been made available to MSPs, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Deer Commission for Scotland and deer management groups.

Talking trails in Wester Ross

MSP John Farquhar Munro officially opened the newly renovated visitor centre and associated self-guided trails at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe. Developed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), who own and manage the reserve, the combined centre and trails will offer an entertaining and informative experience for people of all ages and interests. The new Picnic Trail, Rhyming Trail, Ridge Trail and upgraded centre have been designed to provide both physical and mental access for visitors of all abilities. The interpretation includes an audio-visual presentation, computer touch screen games, hands-on models and close-up encounters with bugs and birds. Out on the trails there are various individual pieces of wood and rock art, rhyming riddles to puzzle over and great opportunities to view the surrounding scenery. Following presentations by MSP John Farquhar Munro, local Councillor Roy MacIntyre and SNH Deputy Chairman Michael Scott, a ribbon was cut at the start of the new trails to mark the occasion. Children from Kinlochewe Primary School also took part in the ceremony having won a local schools competition to create a riddle for the Rhyming Trail. ''Beinn Eighe is already one of Britain's best loved nature reserves and after celebrating our 50th anniversary last year, we are well established to offer visitors a great experience'' said Reserve Manager David Miller. ''The renovation of the centre and creation of these trails will add a whole new dimension to this. By increasing accessibility and improving interpretation we are extending the service we provide so more people can discover what makes Beinn Eighe special and enjoy what it has to offer. Increased visitor numbers will also bring benefits to the whole area. The celebrations mark the formal completion of this two year project but signify the start of something new and exciting for the West Highlands. As far as we know this integrated all-abilities Visitor Centre and Trails is a first for the area and we hope many people will make the trip to visit the new facilities for themselves,'' he added. Funding for the £500,000 project was secured from various bodies. The Heritage Lottery Fund provided £210,000, the Highlands and Islands Special Transitional Programme contributed £150,000, while Ross and Cromarty Enterprise funded £50,000. SNH provided the remaining £90,000.

Glen Doll rescue

Three Dundonians had to be led to safety off a mountain after being enveloped in thick mist. The trio, who asked police not to release their names, were found safe and well by a search team during the early hours of the morning. They had set off from Glen Doll, near Kirriemuir, before getting caught in worsening weather and losing their bearings. Police controllers in Dundee were alerted to their plight by the wife of one of the party who reported that they had run into mist. Her husband had called her from the hills with a mobile phone. As concern grew for the three men, described as having limited experience, police despatched its search and rescue unit to scour the Glen Clova and Glen Doll area. Civilian volunteers of Tayside Mountain Rescue Team were scrambled and ventured into the area from Glen Isla, while Grampian Police and Braemar Mountain Rescue team approached from Braemar. A confirmed sighting of the three men by other hillwalkers assisted searchers and, at around 2 am, the Braemar team sent a message that they had located them around Corrie Kander. They were walked out and collected on the roadside by a friend. A Grampian Police spokesman said, "Fortunately, they were none the worse for their ordeal." Tayside Mountain Rescue Team leader Alfie Ingram said conditions were poor with the mist level down to 2500 feet. "For mid-summer it was almost like November," he explained.

Cuillin sale going through - claim

An American has clinched a deal to buy Skye's Black Cuillin mountain range, it has been reported. It was thought the sale of the peaks, with a £10 million asking price, had fallen through. But owner, clan chief John MacLeod, claims he has been working behind the scenes to secure a secret deal with the American. The business man, who is understood to have visited the estate several times, has been in the frame to buy the mountains for the past two years. The money from the sale will go towards repairing Dunvegan Castle, the Clan MacLeod stronghold. It was the castle's run-down state which prompted MacLeod to put the mountains up for sale. The revelations about the sale came as Mr MacLeod appeared on the Grampian TV series The People Show on Tuesday, June 18. Although he didn't want to discuss the sale on camera, off camera he confided that the sale was in the bag. A source claimed: ''The buyer is an American tycoon who could be described as a kind of landscape collector. John always made it clear he wouldn't sell the Cuillin to just anyone, and he's confident the buyer will not be like some absentee landlord.'' Mr MacLeod announced the sale of the mountains two years ago. A public outcry followed and there were calls for the mountains to be taken on by the National Trust for Scotland. At one point it seemed as if the Scottish Executive's new land reform legislation would put paid to the sale. As time wore on it seemed unlikely Mr MacLeod would find a buyer, especially when it was reported that an American tycoon who had shown an interest had dropped out.

£20,000 for Kinlochleven path network

A project by the Kinlochleven Lands Development Trust to complete a further phase of a path network in and around the West Highland town of Kinlochleven is to receive a grant of £20,000 from Scottish Natural Heritage. The project will build on the series of low-level paths and the 'access to all' strategy already in place as part of the initiative, and includes signposting and way marking. SNH has agreed to support the project as part of its commitment to encourage projects which promote responsible access to, and enjoyment of, the natural heritage. Access officer for SNH in Lochaber, Stewart Sandison, said: ''Helping to improve access opportunities around towns and villages is a priority for SNH. I am particularly pleased that we are able to support projects in economically fragile areas, such as Kinlochleven. This initiative also has a contribution to make to the local economy, both in terms of increasing the number of paths available, and by helping to build local skills through training opportunities.'' The total cost of the project is £100,000, half of which will come from the European Social Fund and the remainder made up by SNH, Lochaber Enterprise and the Government's New Deal training initiative. The Kinlochleven Lands Development Trust is a non-profit making company and a joint venture between Lochaber Enterprise, Highland Council and the local community. It was set up in August 1996 and its overall objective is to acquire heritable property in and around the village of Kinlochleven and to use and manage this property in the social, recreational, economic and environmental interests of the local community.

Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon 2002

Battling against torrential rain, mountains of mud and the most ferocious midges Scotland can remember, competitors in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM) have successfully completed one of the most challenging courses in many years. A nail biting finish meant that overall winners Mark Hartell and Mark Seddon finished just 10 seconds in front of their closest rivals, Nigel Bunn and Ifor Powell. Ranulph Fiennes and Gary Tompsett were the fastest vets. The LAMM is a two day mountain running event which takes place each year in Scotland. The location is kept a closely guarded secret until 48 hours before the event. This year the event took place in the Braes of Balquhidder in the heart of the Trossachs, Scotland. Runners take part in pairs, carrying all they need to camp out overnight in the wilderness. There are a choice of courses to suit all abilities, from novice to elite, but every participant needs to be fit, competent on mountain terrain and have good navigation and camp craft skills. Courses are set by a series of checkpoints, but the route taken by each team is their decision. Route choice and carrying the right equipment are vital. At the beginning of the first day, some of those on the B to Novice teams were in for a surprise, laid on by organiser Martin Stone - transportation by the steamer the Sir Walter Scott up Loch Katrine to the start point. Paul Berensmeier from San Fransisco agreed to enter the event for the first time after befriending four Brits on the John Muir Trail in California last year. Wondering what he had let himself in for with the rain, the mud and the midges, he had even brought his mum across the pond to help with the marshalling for the event. The event this June, tested competitors to the limits, not only with the varying terrain they had to cross, but also their navigation which needed to be absolutely spot on as they ran through thick cloud and mist. Competitors, whose alarm call at 5am each morning was a lone bag-piper, were faced with muddy conditions and river-crossings galore as they disappeared, surprisingly cheerfully, into the clouds. The race over, many agreed it had been an exceptionally challenging and worthwhile event. This year's LAMM will certainly be talked about for many years to come.

Mountain of cash

An extra £1 million is to be spent on protecting Scotland's mountain heritage, it has been announced. The money will be used to maintain upland footpaths across the country to give walkers better access to Scottish mountains. The extra cash has been made available by the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be used by the National Trust for Scotland to carry out a five-year programme of path repair. It will improve public access at the same time as reducing its impact on the natural landscape of the mountains, which the trust has called some of the finest in the world. Chief executive Robin Pellew said: "This is absolutely wonderful news. This support represents a huge public affirmation of the worthiness of the trust's determination to secure sustainability for its mountains." Six mountainous properties owned by the national trust will benefit - Glencoe, Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond, Goatfell, Torridon, and Kintail. They need concerted attention because of the volume of workers that tramp over them annually. The trust said it now hoped to obtain further funding to help maintain mountain pathways.

Argyll Forest Park cash boost

Recreation facilities in Argyll Forest Park on the Cowal Peninsula are set for a £1.6 million boost thanks to new European funding. The funding will go towards improving access opportunities and the upgrading of existing facilities at five visitor destinations within the forest park. Argyll Forest park is to form part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park which is expected to become established this summer. The Forestry Commission, working in partnership with Argyll & the Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage, Tilhill Economic Forestry and Benmore Botanic Gardens, has been successful in securing the European Regional Development Fund grant. Local communities have also been involved and are being invited to comment on the new facilities. Announcing the new funding, Scottish Forestry Minister Allan Wilson said: "Not only is this great news for the new National Park but it is also a welcome boost for the local communities who will benefit from an increase in tourism. "The area has much to offer the tourist with its spectacular rugged hills and scenic lochs. Being only one hour from Glasgow it's a real favourite for walkers, cyclists, picnickers and campers. The additional funding will help go to make everyone's visit more enjoyable." Improvements for access and recreation will include the creation and upgrade of 400 km of forest roads, existing footpaths and newly constructed facilities for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Interpretation panels and information points for visitors will be developed along with new sign-postings and waymarkings for trails. Along with these improvements more work will be carried out to upgrade facilities at Benmore, Inverchapel, Puck's Glen and the Kilmun Arboretum. In detail the following improvements are being planned:

  • Nearly 90 km of hill access are to be improved, including the Cobbler and two Munros
  • 165 km of cycling will be on offer. Linking existing cycle routes around Loch Lomond & the Greenock National Cycle Route. By using forest roads, and by creating new links, the routes will be open to walkers, cyclists and horseriders.
  • 82 km of horseriding trails will be opened up.
  • 70km of forest walks will be enhanced or built (including all ability walks) at Ardgartan/Arrochar, Lochgoilhead, Glenbranter, Benmore & Kilmun and Ardentinny.
  • 167 new or improved car parking spaces which will cater for cycle trailers and horse boxes.
  • New information points at 10 destinations throughout the Forest Park.
  • New interpretation and signage at 12 forest walks and two buildings plus five wildlife hides.

Scottish climber dies in Alps

A Scottish climber has died after plunging almost 1,000ft in the French Alps. The 31-year-old's climbing partner was rescued after clinging onto a mountain for several hours. The Foreign Office has confirmed that Warren Deadman, from Edinburgh, died in the fall on Le Meige Parc des Ecrins. He had been on holiday in the area. His climbing partner, who has not been named, could only look on as his friend fell from the mountain on Saturday, July 20. The survivor was rescued by helicopter after another climber in the area heard him call for help. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: ''It appears that he fell from the rockface in a mountaineering accident. We are unsure as yet if there was a problem with his equipment, the conditions or the rockface itself. The local authority has launched an investigation into the incident." 
He added that Mr Deadman's companion was not believed to have been injured. The incident comes less than a month after two Scottish climbers died in the French Alps. Robin Cooper (57), originally from Edinburgh, and Michael Johnston (51), who was born in Aberdeen, fell 1,500ft onto rocks. The two men had been tackling the north face of Les Courtes near Chamonix in the Mont Blanc region.

First national park opens

Scotland's first national park has been officially opened by the Princess Royal. The ceremony, on Wednesday, July 24, completed a handover period which began earlier in the month. The second largest national park in the UK covers about 1,600 square kilometres, an area with a population of 14,000. Loch Lomond only makes up a small segment, but was the focus of activity on Wednesday when the Princess Royal performed the opening ceremony at the £3m Gateway Centre near Balloch. She also toured the neighbouring Loch Lomond Shores visitor centre. Designed as a modern day castle, known as Drumkinnon Tower, it opened its doors to the public on Thursday. The princess said people outside Scotland regard the whole country as a national park but she could understand why the area at Loch Lomond has been singled out. She also joked about the dreaded Scottish midge. The princess said: "Those visitors who come to Scotland very soon realise that it's pretty well as near perfect as you can get, until of course they come across the 'x factor', which is the midge." Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace, who accompanied the royal guest, said the opening was a proud moment. He continued: "We've got a national park for the first time in Scotland and given that it was John Muir, a Scot, who had the vision of national parks over a century ago, it's overdue but it's very welcome." The park will be overseen by a 25-member board, which began its work two weeks ago. Critics have warned that the park could swamp the area with visitors and new development. But its supporters believe it offers a chance to improve the area and facilities for locals and tourists, while protecting the landscape. It is hoped that national park status will allow the area's conflicting interests to be managed effectively, so that people do not destroy the landscape and wildlife they have come to see. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) has warmly welcomed the launch of the park, but warns that plans for the second in the Cairngorms, due to be launched in 2003, are going disastrously off course. Along with other recreation bodies in Scotland, the MCofS has campaigned for the introduction of this top-tier conservation designation north of the border. The celebrations for the launch of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are, however, overshadowed by the ongoing process to set up the Cairngorms National Park, according to the MCofS. Whereas the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is its own planning authority, the proposal for the Cairngorms is for three local authorities to retain those powers. MCofS Access and Conservation Officer, Mike Dales, said: "This is repeating the mistake that was made in England and Wales in the 1950's." Their first two national parks - Peak and Lake districts - were created in the early 1950's with full planning powers, then the third - Snowdonia - was denied planning powers because of pressure from local authorities. Another seven parks were then created and all chose to follow the Snowdonia model. This costly mistake was finally rectified in 1995 when the Environment Act made all English and Welsh national parks their own planning authority. Mr Dales continued: "Why is it that the Scottish Executive has chosen to repeat a mistake that has now been recognised south of the border; and if history repeats itself, is it likely to be 2043 before we finally get a Cairngorms National Park that is really worth raising a glass to?" MCofS President, Pete Hill, added: "Unfortunately, by then the continued lack of protection of the mountains and lowland woods could have accounted for untold damage from bulldozed roads and pressure for second homes. "The Cairngorms debate goes on, but this is a time to raise a glass to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Scotland has finally become a member of the family of nations with national parks, and the MCofS looks forward to working with the national park over the coming years."

New Cairngorm access path

Access to the scenic beauty of Glenmore and the Cairngorms has been boosted with the opening of a new path linking woodlands with mountains. Scotland's Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services, Peter Peacock, officially launched the new three kilometre path connecting low-level woodland trails in Glenmore Forest Park to the upland path network on the northern part of the mountain range. The path will be yet another tourist attraction for the area which is being proposed as Scotland's second National Park. The new link means walkers can now reach the Cairngorms from Aviemore via Glenmore on pedestrian paths, without having to walk alongside traffic on the busy main road. The £120,000 project has been spearheaded by the Forestry Commission working in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Moray Badenoch and Strathspey Enterprise, The Scottish Forest Alliance and Badenoch and Strathspey Paths Project. The minister praised the partnership approach which brought the project to fruition, hailing it an excellent example of how the aims of new National Parks in Scotland could be achieved. "This path has been designed and built in a manner sensitive to the needs of the very special environment in which it is situated," he said. "Yet it will also be an invaluable facility enabling a range of users to enjoy the outdoors - from keen mountain folk who have grown tired of trudging over tarmac to access the hills, to the less energetic who simply choose to enjoy the sights and sounds of the downhill walk. "The National Park, however, will be about more than conservation and recreation, and this path provides a valuable link in the path network which is so important to the tourism and the people and jobs that it supports. The project is a credit to all the partners, who consulted closely with interested parties over the routes, and ensured it was designed and developed in an environmentally friendly way" Among the partners helping fund the project were the Badenoch and Strathspey Paths Project, which has sourced European funding to develop an integrated path network in Strathspey and Badenoch, and the Scottish Forest Alliance, a woodland conservation partnership funded by BP set up to regenerate and expand Scotland's native woods. The new high quality path follows a route adjacent to the Allt Mor burn, and extensive discussions with local community and conservation interests took place to ensure the best possible route was chosen.

New Borders MTB route

Mountain biking in the Scottish Borders is set for another boost as work on a new competition standard cross country route, with a difference, is about to start in Innerleithen. The 18km red route is part of the £2 million Seven Stanes initiative and will start and end at the internationally renown Red Bull downhill biking site, making the venue a major destination for top level races. The trail is planned to take in spectacular views and ride up onto the Minch Moor and Southern Upland Way but the finish of the trail is to offer something special. The plan is to include numerous jumps and challenges on the final descent where cross country riders will learn some skills that downhill bikers take for granted. The character of the trail will be fast and rolling but without the sheer vertical sections that the Red Bull downhill course is famous for. Trail designer Pete Laing hopes to include the best of what has been learnt through the building of trails at Glentress. Forestry Commission recreation manager in the Borders, Jeremy Thompson, says he wants to give riders the kind of trails they want. "Over the past few years we've been getting loads of feedback from cross country bikers on what they like to ride. They want tough, lung busting, long and technical rides with an emphasis on fun and I'm sure we can fit the bill at Innerleithen. The new trails at Glentress just five minutes up the road have helped raise riding standards and its our intention to raise this a bit further,'' he continued. "We get quite a few bikers coming to the downhill site just for a look but many are put off from trying downhill riding as the red bull trails can be punishing. Once the new trail is finished riders will be able to get a taste of what downhilling might be like when they use the new trail's descent. If they like what they try then they may even think about taking up downhilling which can only be good for both biking disciplines." Site manager at the Red Bull venue is Neil Stoddart. He added, "The proper downhill trails will be untouched by the new developments and the races and weekend rides will continue just as before. "The new trail and downhill-lite descent will offer a half way house to those at the harder edge of cross country riding and enable them to take it a bit further without committing themselves straight away to full-on downhill riding. You never know, some of the downhillers may even want to build up more fitness on the cross-country route." Trail building in the Scottish Borders is in full swing with improvements and new riding facilities being developed at Glentress and Newcastelton as part of the Seven Stanes biking project which aims to create seven new mtb centres across the south of Scotland.

Perthshire peak bought by trust

The Highland Perthshire Communities Land Trust (HPCLT) has been successful in its purchase of Dun Coillich, a small hill sitting close to Schiehallion. In the first example of a community-led land buyout in Perthshire, the charitable trust acquired 420 hectares of land, including the 572 metre high hill, thanks to generous support. Like Schiehallion, Dun Coillich has been heavily grazed by sheep and deer and the trust aims to re-establish native woodland over about half of the area during the next decade. It's vision is to restore the vegetation, wildlife and biodiversity to something approaching its former glory. A fence used formerly to keep sheep and deer in will now keep the animals out and a Woodland Grant Scheme has been secured to assist in planting new trees. Paul Jarvis, a trustee of HPCLT, said, ''We aim to engage the community and to focus on education, of all ages. We hope, particularly, to involve young people in Highland Perthshire through projects in schools and on the ground. ''Our aim is for the community to participate in this and to see and learn from it. We hope that young people will go back in 20 years time and be able to say, I planted that tree, I helped create this marvellous place.'' The area is currently being surveyed for its biological, geological and archaeological resources. An immediate priority is to ensure that visitors to Dun Coillich can park safely and funds are being sought to finance this and other projects. The community buyout has been welcomed by the John Muir Trust, which owns the eastern part of neighbouring Schiehallion, and the two trusts are likely to work closely together. For more info on the work of the trust, visit their website.

Hostels slam grading system

Hostel owners have accused VisitScotland - the Scottish Tourist Board - of introducing a ''grossly bureaucratic'' new grading scheme that acts against their interests. Under the new system, independent hostels - which now outnumber those run by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) by two to one - will be given star ratings between one and five, like hotels. But owners of independent hostels say the system misses the point of cheap accommodation. David Dean, chairman of Independent Backpackers Hostels Scotland (IBHS), who runs the Lazy Duck Hostel in Nethybridge, said the 104 IBHS members offered ''a hugely diverse and often family-run experience''. ''That's very different from having some pin-stripe-suited VisitScotland guy coming round, having a look in and not being able to do much more than look at the facilities,'' he continued. ''We don't think it's in our commercial interests to do that. We do have to provide value for money and we do have to provide certain standards, but we don't need a grossly bureaucratic VisitScotland scheme to help us do it.'' He said grading systems were largely disregarded by backpackers, who tended to rely on word of mouth. He added that the latest Let's Go guide, the world's best-selling budget travel series, said of a VisitScotland three-star hostel in the Cairngorms that it had ''all the amenities but about as much genuine soul as the latest boy band''. An independent hostel in the same area with no stars is described as ''one of Scotland's smallest hostels bedding eight at the most [which] is also one of its best. A snug cottage with magical loft and covered garden, congenial ducks and geese, excellent kitchen and two family guest houses''. Andy Currie, manager of Argyll Backpackers, in Edinburgh, said he no longer deals with VisitScotland but that business had improved since joining the IBHS earlier this year. ''You can't really grade hostels like hotels, people are looking for different things. Backpackers know good hostels and bad hostels and word spreads very quickly,'' he said. Islesburgh House in Lerwick, which is allied to the SYHA, is one of only two five-star establishments announced last week by VisitScotland. SNP MSP Fergus Ewing has taken the issue up with the Scottish Executive on behalf of the many independent hostel owners in his Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber constituency. ''This proposal was foisted on the hostel sector by VisitScotland but a number of independent hostels think it's ridiculous to have a grading of one to five,'' he said. A spokeswoman for Visit-Scotland said some independent hostel owners had opted to enter the new scheme.

Big Ben clean up

Walkers and climbers reaching the summit of Ben Nevis can now breathe a fresh sigh of relief since an army of volunteers put an end to what had become Britain's highest toilet and rubbish dump. More than 70,000 people climb Ben Nevis each year and every year a small mountain of rubbish has to be removed from the summit. If this wasn't bad enough, emergency shelters, designed to help save lives, are sometimes used as a toilet. The main focus of the problem, a dilapidated and vandalised metal shelter on the top, has been demolished by a team of volunteers. The main summit shelter, resting on the walls of the observatory ruins, remains in place. The volunteers, organised by the conservation charity The John Muir Trust, gathered on the summit armed with hammers, crow-bars and hack-saws. This was a day not for sitting back and enjoying the view, but for taking practical action to make the summit of Britain's highest mountain a wilder and more beautiful place. Over 20 bags of rubbish collected from the summit and sections of the old corrugated iron shelter were carried off the mountain. The trust's Will Boyd-Wallis said: ''Although it is sickening to see a wild place spoilt with litter, it's always heartening to know that there are many people out there willing to put in the effort to tidy up and care for our mountains.'' The John Muir Trust, who purchased Ben Nevis Estate in 2000, are appealing to walkers and climbers to respect the mountains and take their litter away with them.

Three peaks warning

Three of Britain's highest mountain areas are being disturbed by increasing numbers of people taking part in the Three Peaks Challenge, leading environmental groups have warned.
The growing numbers of people taking up the gruelling challenge to hike up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in just 24 hours, are causing traffic congestion, intrusion, litter and noise pollution during the summer months.
The National Trust, the John Muir Trust, Snowdonia and Lake District National Park Authorities and the Highland Council met in the shadow of Ben Nevis to discuss the problems associated with challenge events and to consider what can done to reduce their impact.
They called on all participants to follow the Code of Practice developed by the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers when embarking on a Three Peaks Challenge. The plea comes during the International Year of Mountains a United Nations campaign aimed at promoting the conservation and sustainable management of mountain areas.

The organisations are concerned that charity walkers may return to the hills in record numbers this summer following the extended closure of Scafell Pike last year due to the foot and mouth outbreak.
The Code of Practice lists important dos and don'ts when planning a Three Peaks Challenge, and was written by the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers who worked closely with a range of groups including the National Park Authorities and the National Trust.
Will Boyd-Wallis of the John Muir Trust which purchased the summit of Ben Nevis less than two years ago said, "Visitors to the Ben Nevis area are always welcome and very important to the local economy however, large scale three peaks events contribute little except disruption to local people and damage to the environment.

"In this the International Year of the Mountains, we urge people taking part in events to insist that organisers stick to the ICFM Code of Practice."
The National Trust owns 978-metre high Scafell Pike and part of Snowdon. Area Manager Fiona Southern said, "In June 2000, 30,000 trips were recorded on the one of the most popular routes up Scafell Pike whereas in August that year only 7,000 were recorded which shows just how much more congested it can get during peak Challenge months.

"An estimated 4,000 vehicles, many arriving in the early hours, use the single track road through Wasdale, on the way to Scafell Pike, in order to participate in Challenge Events every year.
"We realise most of the people taking part in Three Peak events are doing it for altruistic reasons and that participation is challenging, exhilarating and rewarding and we certainly don't want to put people off raising money for charity.
"But we urge people to consider other ways of raising funds and to think twice about taking part. The sheer number of people participating in these challenges is causing considerable damage to some of our best-loved upland landscapes and creating significant disturbance to local communities."
John Ablitt, Snowdonia National Park Authority's Head of Recreation and Communication said, "Obviously, we are aware of the positive influence events like these have on the local economy. However, the challenge for us is to achieve the correct balance between tourism and conservation.
"Snowdon is usually the last peak to be climbed, often at night, and there are considerable problems with rubbish being emptied from buses and left to be disposed of. Erosion is a considerable problem on Snowdon and we ask people to think imaginatively of other ways of raising funds for charity."