Glen Affric in the Highlands is home to deer, ospreys, otters and one of Scotland’s largest Caledonian pine woods. Often described as one of the country’s most beautiful glens, its scenic landscapes and diverse wildlife are such that it is protected as a national nature reserve.
Now, local community groups have launched a bid for it to become Scotland’s third national park, in a race which has so far seen more than 10 other areas also submit their interest.
The latest bid, submitted by Strathglass community council and supported by a number of local groups, proposes an Affric and Loch Ness national park that would encompass a portion of Loch Ness as well as Glen Affric, stretching from the Dundreggan rewilding centre to the south, mountainous Kintail to the west and the historic village of Beauly to the east.
“The area is already popular with visitors, providing an important income stream in rural areas,” said Humphrey Clarke, the chair of Strathglass community council. “National park status would provide access to funding and empower local people.”
Steve Micklewright, the chief executive of the rewilding charity Trees For Life, which is supporting the bid, said it could bring significant environmental benefits to the area.
“A new national park could enable nature restoration on a major scale in this stunning landscape of mountains, glens, lochs and ancient forests. It would help biodiversity to recover and lock in carbon in trees and peatland to help with the climate crisis,” he said.
The Scottish government committed to the creation of a new national park by 2026 in the Bute House agreement, a power-sharing arrangement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens. Nominations opened in October and are due to close next month, with proposals to be considered this spring.
Other areas to have submitted expressions of interest include Galloway and the Scottish borders in the south, Tay Forest in Perth and Kinross, Lochaber in the west Highlands and the Inner Hebridean islands of Skye and Raasay.
Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens, the minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, said Scotland’s national parks were “among its greatest assets”.
“They are home to internationally renowned landscapes and nature, and provide outstanding opportunities for recreation and local communities,” she said. “They also play a crucial role in tackling climate change and protecting our precious natural environment for future generations.”
Scotland currently has two national parks: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, which stretches from close to Glasgow to the southern Highlands, and the north-east mountain range of the Cairngorms.
Sandy Bremner, the Cairngorms National Park Authority board convener, said the successful bid would see wide-ranging benefits from a national park designation. “National park status offers a heightened focus on the protection and enhancement of the area’s natural and cultural heritage. It can attract vital support to hard-pressed communities, and bring people together to achieve inspirational change,” he said.
There are currently 15 national parks in the UK: 10 in England, three in Wales and two in Scotland. The UK government and Welsh senedd have also committed to exploring proposals for the creation of a new national park each in England and Wales.
Three rival national park bids
Encompassing the historic counties of Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire in Scotland’s south west, Galloway is hoping to become the nation’s most southerly national park. Preparations began early in the region, with the Galloway National Park Association established in 2016 to campaign for the cause.
Home to a diverse mix of hills, moors, pastures and coastline, supporters hope the status would boost the area’s struggling land-based industries and local economy.
Skye and Raasay
At the other end of Scotland, Skye, Raasay and Rona in the Inner Hebrides could come together to create Scotland’s first island national park. Renowned for stunning landscapes, Skye comprises mountains, glens, cliffs, waterfalls and an array of local wildlife. Its neighbouring island of Raasay enjoys similar landscapes, while also being known for the first legal Scottish distillery and as the birthplace of celebrated poet Sorley MacLean.
Backed by Perth and Kinross Council, the proposed Tay Forest national park in the Perthshire highlands takes in a number of popular tourist areas including Aberfeldy, Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Birnam, Crieff and Comrie, as well as the stunning river Tay. The forest consists of over 200,000 acres of woodland and boasts some of Scotland’s tallest trees, while the Tay is the longest river in Scotland and is home to salmon, otters and important marine life.