National Parks Advice to Ministers - February 2023
The annex documents below provide background information on the consultation including the stakeholder events and analysis of the survey responses.
This report fulfils the request by Scottish Government for NatureScot to provide advice on National Parks, and specifically: on changes to the role and approach to National Parks, and how nominations for new National Parks could be evaluated. We have summarised our advice below.
The engagement and consultation work we have undertaken suggests that there is broad support for new National Parks and that 5-10 nominations may come forward next year from across Scotland. There are a few key exceptions to this, with some reservations expressed about the potential impact of National Parks on businesses and communities, and criticism of the inaccessibility of the policy language used.
Refreshing Scotland’s approach to National Parks
NatureScot agrees that a refreshed purpose of Scotland’s National Parks is essential if they are to provide leadership for nature recovery and contribute to a just transition to a nature positive and net zero Scotland.
We are also strongly of the view that the integrated approach to people and nature should remain at the heart of Scotland’s National Park model. This is key to realising a just transition in practice. Our National Parks should be special places where nature is thriving and enjoyed by all; nature based solutions drive forward the urgent action needed to address climate change; and where sustainable use and enjoyment of the area are at the heart of community well-being and prosperity.
NatureScot strongly supports the preparation of a national statement that provides a clear policy direction for National Parks and further details how their purpose and aims are to be achieved more effectively. Key elements of this policy direction include the following:
- A clear and strong alignment with key Scottish Government strategies, including implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and delivery of the “30x30” and Nature Networks commitments;
- A step change in ambition and leadership by National Park Authorities with funding to work at the pace required to deliver;
- Increased emphasis on the role of the Park’s communities, third sector organisations and both the public and private sectors in the development and delivery of the Park Partnership Plan;
- The endorsement of National Park Partnership Plans by the Cabinet with national funding streams positively facilitating priorities identified in them;
- Regular review by Scottish Government and other stakeholders on progress with the implementation of the National Park Partnership Plans.
As exemplars of the changes we need to see in Scotland, NatureScot would encourage this or future Governments to consider further expanding the suite of National Parks by 2030 beyond the current commitment. At least one coastal and marine National Park should also be prioritised to provide an exemplar for this nationally important ecosystem and iconic Scottish landscape.
NatureScot supports the inclusion in the legislation of an overarching purpose for National Parks to increase their contribution to the nature and climate challenges we face. We also support updating the wording of National Parks aims; updating the definitions of the natural and cultural heritage; clarifying the role of the National Park authority; and strengthening the duties of public bodies to support implementation of the National Park Partnership Plan.
Any legislative changes will need to be clearly signalled prior to the nomination process so all potential candidate areas are clear on the approach to National Parks being sought. The implications of changes for the mandate of existing National Parks will also need to be considered further.
NatureScot considers that there are a number of powers and functions that would merit more detailed consideration either for all National Parks or some of them. Of particular importance are powers and functions which would support delivery of nature recovery and visitor management. The identification of “priority nature zones” in National Park Partnership plans would enable Parks to formally contribute to 30x30 and nature network targets (with equivalent approaches for marine elements).
NatureScot supports the current approach of using the designation order to tailor the specific powers and functions of each Park body to meet the specific needs of each area. We do not think that new National Parks need to have the same arrangements for planning as the existing National Parks, especially if they are within one local authority area or have little development pressure.
NatureScot considers that the existing legislation could allow new forms of governance and management to be developed to meet the needs of the areas that come forward for designation as a National Park. This could include consideration of much smaller boards. The scope for establishing a single park body for more than one area, or the hosting of the park body within an existing public body, could also be explored further as part of the statutory reporting stage.
Selection process for new National Parks
NatureScot considers that the key elements of the proposed selection process have been correctly identified in the consultation document, though further effort is needed to improve the language used and keep the process as simple as possible. Further work is also needed to develop the evaluation framework for assessing the nominations that are made, and making recommendations to Ministers.
While local groups and organisations need to be at the forefront of leading a nomination, we do not think there is a need to prescribe which groups and organisations these could be. Nominations though will need to say who has been involved in discussions, who is supportive of the proposal, and what concerns have been expressed. We also see no reason why local authorities could not lead a nomination or nominations if they wanted to.
We propose that an independent panel should be asked to finalise the recommendations for Minsters. Such a panel should include relevant expertise across all four Park aims and have Scottish, UK and European experience of National Parks in practice. The chair of this panel will need careful consideration and should be independent of Scottish Government.
The evident interest from across Scotland we have heard during this consultation is very promising and we hope will translate into a number of nominations coming forward. In such circumstances, Scottish Ministers should explore a more ambitious approach which includes more than one area for designation by 2026 and a short-list of other areas for future consideration by the next Scottish Government.
We consider that it will be particularly important for nominations to draw out the added value of a National Park for nature recovery and a just transition to net zero including clear and bold ambitions for landscape-scale habitat restoration.
A number of policy issues have been raised during the consultation which will need to be clarified by Scottish Government in order to facilitate the nomination and evaluation processes. In particular, a clearer policy is required on current and future wind farm proposals which will come forward in the next couple of years, and how these should be taken into account in the selection of new National Park areas. More work is also needed to clarify how a coastal and marine National Park could provide a model of best practice in drawing together the different, often overlapping, designations and planning processes that exist, and demonstrating how they can collectively be used to deliver a coherent approach.
Section 1 - Introduction
1.1 This report fulfils the request by Scottish Government for NatureScot to provide advice on National Parks, and specifically:
- on changes to the role and approach to National Parks, and
- how nominations for new National Parks could be evaluated.
1.2 The Scottish Government is committed to the designation of at least one new National Park during the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament. As it is nearly 20 years since Scotland’s first two National Parks were created, Scottish Ministers also wished to review the role of our National Parks, especially their role in addressing the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.
1.3 To kick off this work, the Scottish Government launched an online consultation earlier this year to seek views on what people want Scotland’s National Parks to deliver for the environment, culture and local communities. The ideas and comments generated by this online call can be seen here: The Future for National Parks in Scotland.
1.4 Building on this initial consultation, NatureScot was asked to provide more detailed advice to Scottish Ministers on the role and approach to National Parks, and how nominations for new National Parks could be evaluated.
1.5 The finalisation of this advice is only the second step in designating a new National Park. Having considered this advice, Scottish Government will consult further on formal proposals before running the selection process for new National Parks and the formal designation of at least one new National Park by early 2026. The indicative timeline for these key stages is set out below.
Public Consultation – (The Future of National parks in Scotland)
Late Spring 2022 – completed
Public Consultation – Approach and Criteria of National Parks in Scotland
Autumn 2022 – Winter 2022/3 – completed
Finalisation of selection process and any legislative changes required (including public consultation)
Winter 2022/3 – Summer 2023
Nominations and Assessment of proposals for New National Park(s)
Summer 2023 – Winter 2023/4
Reporter Investigation (including public consultation on proposals for new National Park(s) and advice to Minister)
Spring 2024 - Winter 2024/5
Designation Order(s) (including public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and order coming into effect to designate the new National Park(s))
Winter 2024/5 – Spring 2026
Developing our advice
1.6 A period of 12 months was available for the planning and development of our advice with the bulk of the engagement and consultation work taking place between May and December.
1.7 Key considerations in the development of our advice included the:
- statutory framework provided by the existing National Park legislation;
- experience of Scotland’s first two National Parks together with developments in the rest of the UK, Europe and elsewhere;
- scope to include consideration of coastal and marine National Parks, though not wholly marine ones;
- focus on principles rather than detailed proposals or geography; and the
- need to design an approach which meets Ministerial ambitions to encourage debate and attract good quality nominations worthy of consideration as new National Parks.
1.8 In developing this advice, NatureScot established a national stakeholder advisory group to bring together organisations and sectors with an interest in this area. We also undertook a formal consultation on the issues involving a wider range of stakeholders and interested groups and individuals.
Structure of our advice
1.9 The structure of our advice is as follows:
- Section 2 sets out the consultation and engagement work NatureScot undertook to develop this advice
- Section 3 provides NatureScot’s advice on refreshing the role of National Parks
- Section 4 provides NatureScot’s advice on possible legislative changes
- Section 5 provides NatureScot’s advice on the selection process for new National Parks.
Sections 3 to 5 include the core of our advice. For each, we have adopted a three-fold structure: 1) an introduction of the topic drawing on the material from consultation paper; 2) a high-level summary of the views expressed on these topics; and 3) NatureScot’s conclusions, including specific advice.
1.10 Separate annexes provide further detail of the commission from Scottish Government consultation and engagement work undertaken, and the analysis of the responses received.
Section 2 - Overview of consultation and engagement process
2.1 The main elements of consultation and engagement undertaken to inform our advice were as follows.
- The establishment of a Stakeholder Advisory Group.
- Online consultation, supported by a background information paper (October -November).
- Consultation events during October to November
- north, south and national
- sectoral consultation event on cultural heritage
- Attendance at meetings organised by others.
- A range of bespoke engagement work with national bodies representing people with disability, ethnic minorities and young people (August-November).
2.2 To support this work, we provided up-to-date information on our website on the National Park commission, including background material on National Parks; the Stakeholder Advisory Group; and a list of Frequently Asked Questions to support the online survey. We also provided an email address for related queries and the submission of survey responses. Throughout the process, Scottish Government and NatureScot prepared press briefings and social media notices to increase awareness of our work and the opportunities for engagement.
Stakeholder Advisory Group
2.3 The establishment of the Stakeholder Advisory Group helped us ensure a wide range of engagement with different sectors, with a range of national and local groups and organisations.
2.4 NatureScot provided the chair (Heather Reid, NatureScot board member and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority board member) and secretariat to the Group. Five meetings were held in July, August, September, November and December, with the minister attending an in person in August. The Group’s membership, Terms of Reference, confirmed meeting notes and published papers were made available on the National Park pages of NatureScot’s website.
2.5 A list of members of the stakeholder advisory group and the papers it discussed are presented in Annex A.
2.6 The consultation document, containing the survey questions and explanatory and background information, was prepared by NatureScot with input from the Stakeholder Advisory Group and Scottish Government.
2.7 All questions were open ended, with free text rather than tick-boxes. This provided richer information and more in-depth opinions but meant they were more difficult and time-consuming to analyse.
2.8 The 38 consultation questions were hosted on the SmartSurvey platform. The survey was live from 6th October to 30th November.
2.9 We received 231 responses from a wide range of organisations (around 1/3 of total responses) and individuals (2/3 of responses). For each question in the consultation, we assessed the degree of consensus on this issue and identified the top three points to report on and inform our Advice to Ministers. The list of respondents and an overview of the analysis of the comments received are presented in Annex B.
2.10 During the consultation period, we hosted three online events: north (11/11/22), south (16/11/22) and national (17/11/22). There was also an online meeting for the Outer Hebrides organised and led by the Council; an in-person presentation and Q&A with The Highland Council’s Climate Change Committee; and an online event with Planning Advice Scotland. An in–person event for the cultural heritage sector was also held, organised by Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) and hosted by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). One-to-one discussions have taken place with Nevis Landscape Partnership, the Galloway National Park Association and the Campaign for a Scottish Borders National Park.
2.11 Nearly 100 people attended the online events with a good range of interests and geography represented including local authorities, business, regional and national conservation bodies, land use, and recreation. The list of organisations attending together with a summary of the discussions and workshop outputs is presented in Annex C. A report of the discussion and key outputs from the cultural heritage sector event is presented separarately in Annex D.
2.12 For all the meetings, discussions were generally positive. Those attending were mostly supportive of establishing new National Parks and wanted them to make a difference both for nature and for people. Despite a standard format being used, it was notable that the focus of the discussion and ideas generated by the questions and during the break-out sessions at each of the meetings was different:
- the north event talked more about the practicalities of the process, including role of local authorities;
- the south event raised more issues around the need to prioritise outcomes for people as well as nature; and concerns over possible restrictions on land managers;
- the national event questions included unease on how to engage local communities with proposals for new Parks when they may be very different from the current ones; about potential restrictions on fisheries if a new National Park had a marine element; and the balance between sustainable economic growth and visitor pressures.
2.13 Overall, the main concerns raised were around the perceived risks over too much control of activities such as agriculture or fishing; further restrictions on development and creation of additional unnecessary bureaucracy. There were also some concerns around the amount of work that a nomination might involve in practice, especially as this is likely to be done by volunteers.
Engagement work with all abilities, ethnic minorities and young people
2.14 To ensure we heard from a diverse range of voices, we invited the following intermediary bodies - Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary sector Organisations (CEMVO), Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and Young Scot onto the stakeholder group. We also supported them to undertake further engagement on this issue with their members which included the following elements:
- CEMVO contributed perspectives from their members to the SAG meetings and circulated the consultation within their network;
- Disability Equality Scotland carried out a poll with their members on national parks, and produced a full report;
- An event run with YoungScot that gathered insights from young people in Scotland on the issues or challenges for young people in relation to biodiversity, 30x30 and national parks and what a successful National Park would look like for young people; and
- An event organised by Planning Aid Scotland that involved young people.
2.15 A summary of these useful discussions, views and feedback is presented in Annex E, and they have helped shape key aspects of our advice.
Overview of findings
2.16 The next three sections of this report provide detail on the key findings from the survey, events, wider engagement and Stakeholder Advisory Group input which we have been asked to provide advice on. The following paragraphs summarise some of the more general points that have emerged from this work.
2.17 While we did not consult on this issue, it is worth noting the broad range of support for new National Parks overall with only a few survey responses expressing opposition to them. This mirrors the forthcoming findings from our latest Nature Omnibus survey of public opinion in Scotland that indicates that 89% of the population support the creation of new national parks with only 3% opposed. In view of this support and the interest shown from stakeholder across Scotland, it is possible that 5-10 nominations may come forward next year from across Scotland.
2.18 There are some key exceptions to this general picture of support with reservations expressed both about both the impact of National Parks on businesses and communities and criticism of the inaccessibility of the policy language used. National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) undertook a helpful poll which suggests that their members are not generally supportive. However, they recognise the political commitment to National Parks and are seeking engagement in the development of more detailed proposals as well as the management and governance of new National Parks themselves. Similar concerns were raised by the marine fishing interests who attended the consultation events as well as a number of individuals who responded to the consultation. Generally, though, fisheries interests, as well as other marine stakeholders did not engage with this phase of engagement and consultation.
2.19 Nevertheless, from the analysis of survey we have undertaken, we are confident that there is broad consensus in many of the areas we sought views on, which is welcome. Many useful comments have also been made which we will present as part of our advice. Inevitably, there are also a number of areas on which there are more mixed views being expressed which cannot be easily reconciled, and where appropriate we have advised on a way forward on these issues.
Future engagement and consultation
2.20 Responsibility for the next phase of work required now passes to Scottish Government. However, we consider that the key elements of engagement and consultation that have been put in place should be built on to help shape more detailed proposals. In particular, we suggest that the work of the stakeholder advisory group continues and the bespoke arrangements we have started for engaging with ethnic minorities, disabled people and young people are developed further. If proposals for legislative change are taken forward, further work will also be needed to consult with the communities and stakeholders with the existing National Parks.
2.21 In terms of process, formal assessment will be needed to inform future proposals, including equalities and island impact assessments. The preparation of plain English versions or summaries of future consultations that are more accessible to everyone should also be considered to help build understanding and increase engagement.
Section 3 - Refreshing the role of Scotland’s National Parks
3.1 Drawing on Questions 1-7 of the consultation, this section considers the future role of Scotland’s National Parks. It covers a refreshed purpose; the role and key elements of a national statement; the changes needed to support delivery; and the role of Parks as exemplars.
3.2 Scotland has ambitious targets and priorities to meet the challenges we face in tackling the climate and nature emergencies and we need to transform what we do, and how we do it, if we are to deliver them. Within this context, Scottish Ministers wish to see Scotland’s National Parks as special places for wildlife and landscape that will actively demonstrate nature recovery and the transformational change needed in our approach to land-use, providing leadership and showcasing a just transition to net zero in Scotland.
3.3 The establishment of one or more additional National Parks is therefore not only a goal in its own right, but must be seen in the context of a range of connected Scottish Government strategies and policies including the:
- National Strategy for Economic Transformation – including its ambition “to demonstrate global leadership to deliver a just transition to net zero nature positive economy and rebuilding natural capital” – and the Blue Economy Vision for Scotland;
- Environment Strategy 2020 with its outcome that ‘Scotland’s nature is protected and restored with flourishing biodiversity and clean and healthy air, water, seas and soils’;
- delivery of vision and outcomes of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, to protect nature by 2030 and restore it by 2045 including
- Preventing any further species extinction, halting declines by 2030 and making significant progress in restoring the natural environment by 2045;
- 30x30 - securing by 2030 that at least 30% of Scotland’s land and seas are conserved for nature;
- Nature Networks - ensuring every Local Authority area will have a nature network of locally driven projects to improve ecological connectivity;
- Establishing a world-leading suite of highly protected marine areas;
- commitment to meeting carbon reduction targets and adapting to climate change through implementation of the Climate Change Action Plan by developing “thriving rural economies based around woodland creation, peatland restoration and biodiversity as well as sustainable tourism, food and drink and energy”;
- delivery of Scotland’s national planning framework, land-use strategy and national marine plan, including the development of regional land-use partnerships and regional marine plans;
- the development of new legislative proposals for land reform including the introduction of a public interest test for transfers of large-scale landholdings;
- implementation of Scotland’s vision for Responsible Tourism for a Sustainable Future in Scotland Outlook 2030 and its visitor management strategy; and the
- refresh of Our Place in Time – Scotland’s strategy for the historic environment.
3.4 Scotland’s National Parks currently play a number of key roles that support many of these strategies and plans through demonstration and good practice. In particular:
- they help protect some of the very best of Scotland’s nature and landscapes;
- they are at the forefront of landscape-scale action for nature restoration;
- they provide exemplars of community engagement and sustainable development, including natural capital approaches;
- they are an important part of Scotland’s visitor offer and provide a range of outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoyment of nature; and
- they are an important mechanism for land-use planning and the piloting of regional land-use partnerships.
3.5 Building on this existing work, the Minister has proposed that National Parks now need to place increased focus on action “to lead nature recovery and a just transition to net zero”. A number of elements of leadership and action required to deliver this could be suggested – for example:
- promoting the need to do things differently and at greater pace to address the climate and nature emergencies;
- recognising that nature recovery should be inspired and informed by the past but not seek to simply replicate it;
- accelerating the transition in land and marine use needed to deliver climate mitigation and adaptation and nature recovery;
- testing and embedding natural capital approaches to growing a well-being and sustainable economy;
- generating opportunities for greater private investment in natural capital;
- championing a just transition by reskilling and new employment opportunities to help ensure that no local community in the Park area is left behind;
- leading on improving ways of design and place-making that achieve optimum outcomes for people, nature and landscapes.
3.6 It has also been proposed that a new national statement that sets out this Scottish approach to National Parks would be useful to provide further clarity on the role of National Parks and to promote their work more widely.
A new purpose
3.7 There was strong and widespread support across respondent categories for “leadership of nature recovery and a just transition to net zero” to become the overarching purpose of Scotland’s National Parks. Such a refreshed purpose was considered necessary given the urgency of the climate and nature crises Scotland faces. It would also ensure greater clarity over the role of National Parks moving forward for all who are involved in the planning and managing of them.
3.8 This support was caveated in several ways, including the use of different language and the need for greater clarity on the meaning and intent of the proposed language. However, significant concerns were also raised over the implications of this overarching purpose for the existing four aims of National Parks, especially social and economic development and cultural heritage.
3.9 Specific suggestions of note included:
- using the language adopted by the SBS and NPF4 in respect to “nature positive” in addition to nature recovery;
- using more ambitious language;
- referring more widely to the special qualities of the Park including landscape and cultural heritage;
- adding a more direct reference to social and economic recovery alongside nature recovery;
- adding specific reference to “testing and demonstrating” in the role; and
- making reference to the need to sustain and grow the population of the area, particularly in areas which have suffered from historic depopulation.
3.10 Most of the respondents considered the role in relation to National Parks, though a few noted that the legislation already provided the National Park Authority with an overarching conservation purpose set out in Section (9) 6.
3.11 A number of respondents expressed concern over how this refreshed role could affect the success of the nomination and designation process, given that nominees may be uncertain over what they were being asked to propose. This was particularly the case if the refreshed role required significant legislative changes including changes to the Park aims and their operation.
Elements of Leadership and action required
3.12 There was strong and widespread support expressed for the proposed elements of leadership and action required by National Parks to deliver the proposed overarching purpose.
3.13 Some respondents sought greater emphasis on the economic impacts of these actions and the need to protect rural businesses, retain workers, address local housing needs and avoid increasing bureaucracy and the stifling of innovation.
3.14 Four of the proposed actions generated most comments, with changes suggested to these to increase the emphasis on well-being and sustainability. There was also a desire for more emphasis on realising responsible private investment and supporting sustainable economic benefits for the local community. Others highlighted the need for greater effort to engage communities of place and interest, increase accessibility and inclusion and realise the potential to grow climate and nature literacy and positive behaviours.
Role of private sector investment
3.15 The active engagement of the private sector is seen as critical to making National Parks a success. Many respondents also highlighted the leading role of the public sector in providing the regulatory and policy framework for the private sector as well as funding of infrastructure, agri-environment support and pump-priming product innovation.
3.16 In terms of private sector funding, a number of useful suggestions were made including:
- Carbon offsetting and carbon credits as well as the woodland and peatland carbon codes;
- Payment schemes for ecosystem services;
- Sustainable local products/produce, including tourism;
- Planning gain, Biodiversity Net Gain and Marine Net Gain.
3.17 While such funding streams had considerable potential, it was noted that they needed careful development in National Parks to ensure they contributed to nature recovery and a just transition including through funding for community development. Landowners and managers had a critical role in realising this broader approach.
Role of local communities
3.18 All the responses to this question strongly affirmed that local communities have a very important role to play in success of National Parks. Most responses focused on ‘working with’ rather than ‘working for’ local communities with some also highlighting the central importance of local communities in realising a just transition.
3.19 Key points emerging included the following:
- recognise the diversity of local communities and the wider population by developing a range of opportunities for more active participation;
- value the range of perspectives that communities bring and ensure that there is effective representation in governing structures at all levels;
- build community capacity and skills for engagement and provide adequate resources so that local communities can take an active role in the decision-making processes within the National Park, and local people have equitable access to new training and employment opportunities that a National Park is likely to generate;
- invest in essential infrastructure including broadband and public transport to ensure that rural communities are not left behind when it comes to a just transition, giving people access to jobs, education and training and supporting remote businesses; and
- draw on existing community led plans and strategies and learn from best practice including experience – both positive and negative - from the existing national parks and similar mechanisms.
Key elements of a National Statement
3.20 There was very strong support for the development of a national statement that provided additional clarity on what national parks should deliver. It was argued that such a statement was needed to provide the national steer for all of Scotland’s National Parks; help provide coherence of purpose, ambition and identity; highlight priorities for action; and improve understanding of our National Parks by the public and policy makers alike.
3.21 A particularly important role for the statement would be developing the direction of travel sought by the proposed new purpose in achieving nature recovery and a just transition to net zero. The importance of the statement highlighting community benefits and the need for active engagement by local communities in the work of National Parks was emphasised by many as critical to delivering this purpose.
3.22 Given the scale and urgency of the climate and nature emergencies, most respondents agreed that National Parks should be about the future potential of an area for nature restoration as well as what’s currently in place. The theme of rewilding featured positively in a number of responses, with the critical importance of not leaving people out of nature restoration also noted.
3.23 In addition to the proposals in the consultation, it was suggested that the statement should make links to relevant Scottish policy and practice including Scotland’s National Performance Framework and our international commitments, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The statement should also made links to the UK, European and global family of National Parks; encourage co-working between Parks; and consider the relationship to other nationally designated sites/landscapes in Scotland.
3.24 While generally supportive, a number of responses argued that the national statement should not replace the role of the National Park Partnership Plan in setting out the more detail the local vision and mission for each National Park.
3.25 There is clear and significant support for the principle of a new overarching purpose and proposed national statement setting out Scotland’s approach to National Parks.
3.26 Nevertheless, the consultation revealed mixed views on how best to deliver these changes in practice. In particular, significant concerns were raised by community groups, local authorities, and land management groups and their members, over the perceived de facto weakening of the last three of the existing aims and the implications this has for local communities and the rural economy. It was argued that in a Scottish context, these three people-focused aims remained essential if our Parks were to deliver more for nature and climate. How these issues can be addressed through the legislation are considered further in the next section.
A refreshed purpose
3.28 NatureScot believes that the integrated approach to people and nature should remain at the heart of Scotland’s National Park model. Community engagement, co-design, management and governance remain essential. They are also key to realising a just transition in practice.
3.29 The current aims of our National Parks recognise the connections between our natural and cultural heritage and it will be important that we build on this strength in making the changes needed in approach. In the same way that we are looking to refresh the role of our National Parks in line with the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, we also need to take account of the considerable recent changes in cultural heritage policy. The work started on refreshing Our Place in Time should provide the opportunity for this.
The national statement
3.31 Building on the useful discussions during the consultation and at the stakeholder advisory group, the key policy elem ents of such a statement, including a vision and overarching purpose; the long-term outcomes sought; and the elements of leadership and action required of National Park Authorities, are proposed in Boxes 3-1 and 3-2.
3.32 Designating at least one new National Park by early 2026 is challenging and will require substantial planning and resourcing. We agree with the concerns raised by some respondents that any proposals for changes at this stage of the process could create additional uncertainty for nominees and stakeholders which could put off nominations or undermine the formal designation process itself. To mitigate these risks, NatureScot advises that a draft of the proposed national statement is prepared for consultation alongside any changes to the legislation and the proposed selection process.
Changes needed to support the new purpose
3.33 NatureScot considers the following changes are needed in policy and practice for National Parks to deliver the refreshed purpose.
- The contribution of Scotland’s National Parks to the refreshed Our Place in Time should also be recognised along with their contribution to the other Scottish Government plans and strategies listed earlier.
- National Park Authorities should provide the elements of leadership suggested in Box 1. They will also need to be well funded to work at the pace required to deliver the step change needed in delivering the vision and outcomes.
- National Park Partnership Plans should provide the frameworks for just transition to a nature positive net zero Scotland both for their areas but also as exemplars for other parts of Scotland.
- The Park’s communities, third sector organisations and both the public and private sectors should all play a key role in the development and delivery of the Park Partnership Plan.
- National Park Partnership Plans should be endorsed by Ministers from across relevant portfolios to aid necessary policy integration, with national funding streams positively facilitating priorities identified in them.
- Progress with the implementation of the National Park Partnership Plans should be subject to regular review by Scottish Government and other stakeholders as well as the Park Authorities themselves.
The importance of National Parks as exemplars of change
3.34 A particularly important element of the debate to date has been the potential role of National Parks in providing exemplars for the action needed for nature recovery and a just transition to net zero.
3.36 We consider such a level of ambition will be necessary if National Parks are to contribute significantly to the new SBS (including meeting the 30x30 and nature network commitments), be relevant to the range of Scottish Government priorities to deliver a just transition to net zero; and be relevant and truly accessible to everyone in Scotland.
Box 3-1 - Key Policy Elements of the national statement
National Parks are recognised as some of Scotland most special places for our natural and cultural heritage where nature is thriving and enjoyed by all; nature based solutions drive forward the urgent action needed to address climate change; and where sustainable use and enjoyment of the area are at the heart of community well-being and prosperity.
Purpose, Aims and Outcomes
Overarching purpose of National ParksPolicy version - To manage the special qualities of the area in the long-term in order to secure transformative nature recovery and contribute significantly to the just transition to a nature positive and net zero Scotland.
Plain English version - To manage the special qualities of the area in the long-term in order to achieve a step-change in nature recovery and to ensure the benefits of a healthy natural environment are shared equally and Scotland’s climate ambitions are achieved.
Conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area
Promote the sustainable use of the natural resources of the area
Promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area
Promote the sustainable social and economic development of the area’s communities.
- National Parks are significant carbon sinks for Scotland.
- The living and working landscapes of the Park are in good shape, and provide a sustainable livelihood for the people who manage them.
- National Parks are a core part of Scotland’s nature, active travel and public transport networks.
- All of Scotland’s people have opportunities to visit; learn about and care for Scotland’s National Parks.
- Scotland’s national parks are actively contributing to the health and wealth of our nation, and the communities of the Park are happy, heathy and resilient.
- Scotland’s National Parks are recognised as a role model in nature recovery and a just transition to net zero for Scotland and elsewhere in Europe.
Box 3-2 - Key elements of leadership and action by National Park Authorities needed to deliver these outcomes.
2. Recognising that nature recovery should be inspired and informed by the past but not seek to simply replicate it.
3. Accelerating the transition in land and marine use needed to deliver climate mitigation and adaptation and nature recovery.
4. Building community capacity and skills and provide resources so that local communities to take an active and meaningful role in the decision-making processes within the National Park.
5. Maximising opportunities for local people to access new training and employment opportunities that action to tackle the climate and nature emergency within a national park will generate.
6. Getting more people involved in learning about and looking after nature.
7. Testing and embedding natural capital approaches to growing a circular economy for well-being and sustainable development.
8. Delivering higher standards of design and place making in land use and built development that meet the needs of local communities and achieve the best outcomes for nature and climate.
9. Realising nature-positive opportunities for greater private investment in natural capital.
10. Putting into practice an inclusive approach that makes National Parks accessible and welcoming for everyone.
Section 4 - Legislative changes
4.1 Drawing on Questions 8-18 of the consultation, this section considers possible legislative changes for Scotland’s National Parks in four areas: overarching purpose; changes to the aims; powers and functions; and governance and management.
Purpose and Aims of National Parks
4.2 In covering environment, social and economic dimensions, the four statutory Park Aims currently provide the basis for Scotland’s integrated approach to National Parks which sets them apart from others. While none explicitly refers to it, these Aims have also enabled the two existing National Parks to contribute to nature recovery and a just transition to net zero.
4.3 The National Park Authority is required to take forward each of the Aims in a joined-up way unless this is likely to lead to the detrimental loss of the natural heritage and cultural heritage of the area, at which point it must give “greater weight” to this first Aim. This “balancing duty” included in Section 9 (6) of the legislation is essential to the international recognition by IUCN of Scotland’s National Parks as protected areas.
4.4 While the current legislative approach has generally been seen as successful, a number of changes to these statutory Aims could be considered to strengthen the focus and contribution of National Parks, including the proposed inclusion of an overarching aim. Obvious options going forward include:
- retaining the current status quo i.e. keeping the existing four Aims as currently worded;
- keeping the policy intention of each Aim unchanged but rewording them to better reflect the new vision and mission in the proposed national statement;
- keeping the four Aims but include a new overarching statutory purpose of National Parks to secure nature recovery and a just transition to net zero;
- adding additional aims e.g. “to promote the just transition to net zero” or “to increase the accessibility of the areas for all”; and
- reducing the Aims to the first one only and change the other three Aims to duties, thus giving the National Park a much stronger, single statutory focus on the protection and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage.
4.5 Other public bodies are also bound by these statutory Aims when they are exercising functions within a National Park through the duty on them “to have regard” to the Park Plan. This wording does not itself require action by public bodies. While the record of partnership working by public bodies in National Parks is strong, issues can arise between policy objectives which may slow or block delivery of the Park Plan. To address this, there may be value in strengthening the effect of this duty so that public bodies exercising functions within a National Park are required to positively support the delivery of National Parks Plans.
4.6 Views were split on changes to the existing aims and the options presented. Of the respondents who felt that changes are required, many of them stated that nature recovery and net zero should be the focus. The first and second aims attracted the most number of detailed comments. At the same time, a quarter of respondents were clear that they felt no changes were required, although a smaller number of those respondents did go on to then suggest some possible changes if changes were to be made. Some respondents also considered changes to the definitions of the natural and cultural heritage were needed to bring these up-to date with current policy.
4.7 Of the options presented, there was strongest support for Option 2 (keeping the policy intention of each Aim unchanged but rewording them to better reflect the new vision and mission in the proposed national statement), Option 3 (keeping the four Aims but including a new overarching statutory purpose of National Parks to secure nature recovery and a just transition to net zero;) and Option 5 (reducing the Aims to the first one and changing the other three Aims to duties, thus giving the National Park a much stronger, single statutory focus on the protection and enhancement of the natural and cultural heritage).
4.8 The majority of individual responses expressed support for Option 2 or 3, though a significant number of the former were based on a template response. A number of responses again voiced concern that making any changes to the National Park model could undermine the success of the nomination process.
4.9 Very few respondents suggested the need for additional aims, though of the responses to this question the most frequent theme was for clear definitions of the Aims to be provided. This included the definition of greater weight in Section 9(6) and how it should be applied to the first aim given that conflict could occur between natural and cultural heritage. The need for monitoring and evaluation of progress towards these aims was also mentioned, as was the need to engage young people, encouraging a stronger “Parks for all” approach, alongside supporting the development of the circular economy.
4.10 Views were evenly balanced on the need for strengthening the wording of the duty on public bodies to positively support the implementation of the National Park Partnership Plan. Those who supported the change suggested that additional resources and budget would be required to help other organisations meet this requirement were it to be introduced. Practical issues over how public bodies could contribute to the National Park Plan without undermining their own specific duties and plans were also raised. There was strong support for increasing the effectiveness of partnership working with Parks through policy and funding alignment and using the skills and knowledge of all stakeholders more effectively.
A new legislative purpose
4.12 We recognise that making this legislative change is not straightforward because of the way the Act is structured and will need to be done carefully. The following options for this could be considered:
- Creating a new section 1 of the Act to set out a new overarching purpose of National Parks. e.g.
The overarching purpose of a National Park is to manage the special qualities of the area in the long-term in order to secure transformative nature recovery and contribute significantly to the just transition to a nature positive and net zero Scotland. This overarching purpose will be achieved through the implementation of the National Park aims.
- Amending Section 1 of the Act to clarify how the existing aims are taken forward in relation to the overarching purpose set out in national mission statement e.g.
The implementation of each of these aims should contribute to the overarching purpose of a National Park.
- Amending Section 9(1) of the Act to modify the purpose of the National Park Authority e.g.
To ensure that the National Park aims are collectively achieved in a co-ordinated way in order to achieve the overarching purpose of a National Park.
Changes to the aims
4.14 We advise that the following should be considered further in doing this:
- While there is clearly scope to modernise the wording of each, all four aims should be retained, as each remains essential to delivering the proposed overarching purpose and outcomes.
- Rather than making changes to the policy intent of the first aim, we consider that Section 9(6) should be clarified to ensure that the Park body should give greater weight to the conservation and enhancement of the natural heritage rather than the combination or natural and cultural heritage. The concept of “greater weight” itself should also be developed further in guidance.
- There is a need to increase the emphasis on accessibility and enjoyment of the National Parks by all of Scotland’s people. Simple changes to the third aim such as adding “for all” at the end could achieve this, together with the outcomes sought in the proposed national statement.
- The definitions of both natural and cultural heritage could be usefully updated to reflect current policy. To make the link to the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and European Landscape Convention, specific reference to both biodiversity and landscape should be made in the definition of the natural heritage e.g.
Natural heritage includes the species, habitats and landscapes of a National Park or a proposed National Park; its geological and physiological features; its biodiversity; and its natural beauty and amenity.
- The duties on public bodies should be updated to reflect modern wording e.g. It is the duty of every public body and office-holder, in exercising any functions, to further the implementation of the National Park Partnership Plan so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions. More important though would be the procedural changes proposed in Section 2 to the sign-off of the National Park Partnership Plan by relevant Ministers. Additional funding of any new requirements of the National Park Partnership Plan on the relevant public bodies operating in the Park should also be considered.
4.15 The operational experience from the first two National Parks suggests that making these further legislative changes would be valuable. We do, however, recognise that small changes to even the individual aims could be complex and even controversial. They would also need to be considered carefully in terms of their impact on the operation of the legislation as a whole. NatureScot therefore advises that any changes to legislation need to be clearly signalled prior to the nomination process so all potential candidate areas are clear on the approach to National Parks being sought. The implications of changes for the mandate of existing National Parks may also need to be considered further.
Further Scottish Government consultation will be needed on the detailed wording of an overarching purpose for National Parks and changes to Park aims, definitions of the natural and cultural heritage, and the role of the Park body and duties on public bodies. NatureScot advises that if, following this consultation, there remains a significant risk that making some or all of these changes to the legislation could undermine the selection and designation process then these changes should be postponed, with any new National Parks designated under the existing legislation and the proposed national mission statement and associated changes proposed in Section 2. A more considered view of the need for further changes could then be taken based on the progress made towards the proposed outcomes of National Parks sought by 2030.
Powers and Functions of National Park Authorities
4.16 At present, the Act provides the following powers and functions to all National Park Authorities. These include:
- general powers of non-departmental government bodies (charges, advice, research, grant-aid; land acquisition and compulsory purchase etc.);
- natural heritage functions of local authorities and NatureScot (for example for countryside management, ranger provision, nature reserves, compulsory purchase and grants etc.); and the
- planning and access authority functions of local authorities.
Through the designation order, these powers and functions can be further specified to meet the needs and circumstances of the area.
4.17 All National Park Authorities also have general powers to make bylaws and management rules in relation to the achievement of the National Park aims. While not yet used, the legislation also contains unique powers for Scottish Ministers and public bodies to transfer their functions and powers to a Park body and vice versa.
4.18 To take forward a refreshed “vision and mission”, National Park Authorities may require strengthened or new powers and functions in relation to the following areas:
- improving protection, enhancement and enjoyment of nature;
- delivering Net Zero;
- better management of land or sea;
- funding schemes and grants; and
- community well-being and development.
4.19 In thinking about powers and functions, a key question is the extent to which we want all our National Park Authorities to be similar.
4.20 A common theme of the many responses on this issue was the need for National Park authorities to be empowered, confident and sufficiently funded to use the full range of their existing powers. Compulsory purchase, land acquisition, development control and enforcement powers were seen all seen as important for improving habitat connectivity, accelerating nature recovery or preventing negative impacts. The importance of using their powers and functions to manage visitor pressures more effectively was also highlighted, including traffic and parking management, provision of bins and toilets, and having a range of enforcement options. It was suggested that visitor taxes could be collected by National Park Authorities to pay for this activity, or at least a mechanism put in place to ensure that visitor services benefit from any visitor levy that was developed.
4.21 Although some of the powers and functions had not been used to date by the existing National Parks, most consultees did not see that as a reason to remove them from the existing legislation. Some advocated greater use of the transfer powers for matters such as responsibility for right of way legislation where this was appropriate.
4.22 Responses generally supported maintaining flexibility in how the planning function is delivered in each National Park. Several consultees expressed the view that the planning function in new National Parks should remain with the local authority. It was also suggested that a review of the existing planning powers and the differing arrangements between the two existing National Parks was needed to identify how the effectiveness of local planning control could be improved, particularly in the light of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 and also resource constraints. Several responses advocated that the planning functions and Park Plans should be better aligned with Scottish Government’s commitment in NPF4 for climate change and nature recovery. It was noted that the powers and functions of coastal and marine National Parks would require further detailed consideration, including how to best integrate the coastal and marine planning functions.
4.23 There was general support for considering new powers in all of the areas suggested, with a significant number of suggestions made on what these could be. Most comments were made in relation to the better management of land or sea and improving protection and enhancement or nature. In contrast, very few suggestions were made on delivering net zero, perhaps reflecting uncertainty over what this meant in practice in a National Park or assuming that other suggested topics would address this.
4.24 Suggestions for additional powers and functions to better align land management within the National Park to the Park aims, included:
- devolving agricultural and forestry funding to National Park Authorities;
- strengthening the role of National Park Authorities where a land-use decision by other parts of the public sector would have an adverse impact on the Park purposes and aims;
- National Park Authorities owning and/or managing more or all public land in the Park;
- National Park Authorities having greater powers with respect to deer and grouse management and INNS; and
- introducing minimum standards for land management and the powers to enforce them.
4.25 Another significant theme to emerge was the designation of nature protection and/or recovery zones within National Parks to enable landscape-scale restoration and contribute to 30x30 targets. There were differing views as to whether such zones should be areas not currently designated or to replace existing piecemeal habitat designations.
4.26 Responses advocated strengthening the powers to deal with irresponsible and anti-social behaviour, with specific suggestions including more scope for National Park Authorities to use fixed penalties and the potential for management rules to be made available as a management tool by National Park Authorities on all land in the Park. There was also call for increased ranger provision with enhanced enforcement powers. A number of respondents also called for increasing the general powers and functions of Parks to support community well-being and development. It was suggested that such powers should be aligned with, and support, wider goals for creating sustainable, resilient and thriving communities.
4.27 Finally, there was a mix of views on the question of how much difference there should be in the powers and functions between Parks which the legislation allows for. Many argued for the powers and functions to be decided on a Park by Park basis, as this would enable consideration of; local socio-economic and environmental circumstances, needs and opportunities; different requirements, potential and ambitions for each area; and different local aspirations, constraints and conflicts. But more responses were in favour of all powers and functions applying to all National Parks and not on a Park specific basis, particularly relating to natural heritage and (in contrast to responses on other questions) planning matters. Such an approach was considered necessary to provide both the consistent and effective approach needed and also to provide a clear public message in terms of the purpose and functions of National Parks. Whatever approach was adopted, it was suggested that National Parks should be seen as part of the same family with a well-understood set of operating principles and common “brand”.
4.28 The consultation has generated a range of ideas for powers and functions which could be explored further. At the same time, a strong theme to emerge is for National Parks to make more use of the powers they already have, or could have, through the transfer of powers from other public bodies.
- Using the statutory National Park Partnership Plan to identify and plan for “priority nature zones” to enable landscape-scale restoration and to allow Parks to formally contribute to 30x30 and nature network targets (with equivalent approaches for marine elements).
- Providing National Park Authorities with further powers and functions for nature conservation and land management, including those currently being considered in new legislation on wildlife management and the natural environment.
- Strengthening the role of National Park Authorities where a land-use decision by another public body would have an adverse impact on the Park purpose.
- Allowing National Park Authorities to use fixed penalties and simplifying processes to develop management rules on all land in the Park for visitor management purposes.
- Requiring a regional land-use plan to be created for each National Park area, building on the experience of the current pilots. Further consideration is also needed on development of bespoke marine plans for the Park area or whether the National Park Plan could provide this.
- Ensuring future support for agriculture, forestry and fishing is tailored to meet the needs of National Parks and/or more is devolved to them locally to administer.
- Having greater ambition in National Park areas for the Land Reform proposals.
4.30 NatureScot supports the current approach of using the designation order to tailor the specific powers and functions of each Park body to meet the specific needs of each area remains appropriate. In particular, we do not think that new National Parks need to necessarily have the same arrangements for planning as the existing National Parks, especially if they are within one local ahority area or have little development pressure. The need for different arrangements for coastal and marine National Parks as proposed in Section 30 of the Act will also be required and options for this should be clarified to help inform the nomination process.
4.31 The development of a common set of operating principles and national identity of National Parks is also important to ensure consistency of approach between Parks and common understanding by stakeholders and the public. The existing National Parks have already begun to develop this and we believe it will be strengthened further by the proposed development of the National Statement and associated guidance on matters such as Section 9 (6) for all National Parks.
Governance and Management of National Park Authorities
4.32 The flexibility in the legislation also applies to the governance and management of National Park. It could be that a new National Park Authority will need to be similar to the existing ones. Alternatively, very different approaches could be developed though bespoke arrangements set out in the individual designation order for each new National Park Authority that best reflects the needs and geography of its area and its administration.
4.33 Nearly all responses to this suggested that there should be changes to the governance or management arrangements of National Park Authorities. There was little commentary on the balance of representation on Park Boards, though the need to maintain local presentation was commonly mentioned.
4.34 The main themes for change in governance included; more and regular training for members; and the inclusion of members who have ecological expertise and the ability to think strategically and for the long term. There were also calls for more balanced representation, including from individuals who live within the National Park area. Greater representation from youth, gender, and ethnic minority groups was recommended to better reflect the Scottish population.
4.35 A number of responses suggested moving towards a National Park Service (or similar) where National Parks could work together to save costs and duplication and benefit from an economy of scale, joint national promotion and the sharing of best practice.
4.36 There were also calls for strengthen monitoring of National Park Partnership plan progress, reporting on targets and natural capital accounting.
4.38 NatureScot considers that the existing legislation could allow new forms of governance and management to be developed to meet the needs of the areas that come forward for designation as a National Park. This could include consideration of much smaller boards and measures to increase their diversity. The scope for establishing a single park body for more than one area, or the hosting of the park body within an existing public body, could also be explored further as part of the statutory reporting stage.
4.39 Nature Scot considers that options for sharing services and joint working between the National Park bodies should be developed further. Given the similar remits and Ministerial leads, the strategic and operational relationships between the National Parks and NatureScot may in time also need further consideration.
4.40 A more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of the progress and impact of National Parks should also be put in place. As well as drawing on the new technology, this should maximise opportunities for engaging local communities, land managers and other stakeholders in monitoring and data collection.
Section 5 - Selection process for new National Parks
5.1 Drawing on Questions 19-37, this section considers the range of issues that will need to be addressed in selecting new National Parks. It covers the key elements of the selection process; criteria for the nomination and evaluation; undertaking the evaluation; and policy clarity.
Developing the selection process for National Parks
5.2 Scottish Ministers have committed themselves to an open, transparent and bottom-up nomination process for selecting new National Park areas rather than the traditional expert-led, top-down approach. This fits well with new thinking about “co-production” in protected areas approaches, conservation practice and public policy more generally.
5.3 There is no process of selecting new National Parks set out in the legislation. Instead, Scottish Ministers have proposed a non-statutory approach including the following key elements:
- development and publication of an evaluation framework to assess nominations;
- use of a straightforward process with clear guidance and a timeframe that encourages nominations from all parts of Scotland;
- the provision of advice and other support for potential areas to prepare nominations;
- an open and transparent evaluation of the nominations based on the agreed evaluation framework;
- decisions on which area or areas to progress made by Scottish Ministers based on recommendations following this evaluation.
5.4 Both organisations and individuals were strongly supportive of the listed elements of the nomination process, though concerns were raised over the competitive nature of the process (which could end up judging the best nomination rather than the best area itself) and also the balance needed between a bottom-up approach and contributions of appropriate expertise from both organisations and individuals. It was noted - both positively and negatively - that despite the bottom-up nature of the nomination process, the final decision still rested with Ministers.
5.5 A number of other useful suggestions to improve the process were suggested, including the following.
- The need for clear and publically available guidance and a reasonable timeframe for nominations to encourage nominations from all parts of Scotland.
- The need for clarity over who can make nominations and the role of local authorities in this.
- The provision of a template for nominees to ensure consistency in approach which will make the evaluation process easier to manage at both nomination and evaluation stage.
- The need for effective communication to promote and explain the process and raise widespread interest in it.
- The need to provide a range of support to groups and organisations making nominations.
- The scope to drawing on lessons from the practical experience of local authorities in using the Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and NatureScot guidance on selecting local landscape designations.
- The need for transparency in the evaluation process and the benefits of selecting a range of independent experts and practitioners to contribute to it who have wider UK and European experience.
5.7 While local groups and organisations need to be at the forefront of leading a nomination, we do not think there is a need to prescribe which groups and organisations these could be. We consider that local authorities should be able to lead a nomination or nominations if they wanted to. Alternatively, they could indicate support for one or more nominations in their area or simply remain neutral. The same is true of national interests.
5.8 NatureScot considers that next steps in developing the nomination process should include the following.
- Development and consultation on the draft guidance for the nomination process. As we have suggested in the earlier sections, alongside this consultation a draft national statement and information on any proposed legislative changes should also be circulated for comment.
- Development of a well-resourced communication and engagement plan for the nomination process.
- Identification of a range of resources to support nominations coming forward, including a seed core fund of up to £5k for groups and organisations preparing the nominations. A call-off contract to provide advice and support to those involved in preparing nominations should also be set-up.
5.9 NatureScot considers that further work is also needed to develop the detail of steps 4 and 5. We propose that an independent panel should be asked to finalise the recommendations for Minsters. Such a panel should include relevant expertise across all four Park aims and have Scottish, UK and European experience of National Parks in practice. The make-up of the panel should also seek to be inclusive of the diversity of Park users. The chair of this panel will need careful consideration and should be independent of Scottish Government. While staff from Scottish Government, the two existing National Parks and possibly NatureScot will need to support the work of the panel, the final recommendations should rest solely with the panel itself.
5.10 The evident interest from across Scotland we have heard during this consultation is very promising and we hope will translate into a number of nominations coming forward. In such circumstances, Scottish Ministers may wish the evaluation to make recommendations that allow them to consider one of the following options.
- Selection of only one or more areas for designation.
- Selection of one more areas for designation and a short-list of other areas for future consideration by the next Scottish Government.
- Selection of one or more areas for designation; a short-list of other areas for future consideration and proposals for improving management of the other nominated areas by the next Scottish Government.
5.11 To meet the proposed policy aspirations for National Parks in Scotland, NatureScot can see considerable merits in the 2nd and 3rd of these options which will improve the management of these areas, provide a range of economic benefits for the local economy and help support delivery of the 30x30 and nature network commitments. We note that the recent outcome of the Belgian process of selecting its new National Parks, including funding for unsuccessful areas to take forward the development of a strategy for the area to improve its management, and a similar approach could be considered in Scotland for the strong candidates who are not selected for National Park status by 2026.
Criteria for nomination and evaluation
5.12 Drawing on the existing legislation, possible criteria for selecting national Parks could include the following.
Outstanding national value - What are the special qualities of the area that merits its designation as a National Park?
5.13 In terms of international practice, National Parks are normally “the best” of a nation’s nature and landscapes and/or representative of “the best”. The existing legislative conditions in the Act refer to “natural and cultural heritage” and the latter also remains an important consideration in thinking about future National Parks.
Size and Coherence - Does the area proposed make sense as a National Park?
5.14 National Parks are normally contiguous, discrete areas with shared heritage, cultural associations and traditions. Smaller settlements can be included though larger towns are normally excluded. There may also be additional considerations in terms of defining the marine extent of an area where this applies.
Need or added value - How would establishing a new Park help deliver nature recovery and a just transition to net zero in this area?
5.15 If our ambition for National Parks is to provide leadership and practical action to demonstrate nature recovery and a just transition to net zero, the potential for this should provide a key basis for evaluation of new National Parks.
Value for money - Is the investment in creating a new National Park Authority for this area justified in terms of these outcomes, or are existing approaches sufficient?
5.16 The Act also requires a dedicated National Park Authority to be created, so a key judgement to be reached is whether the issues and opportunities in an area merit this, over and above existing mechanisms or approaches.
5.17 Two other criteria should also be considered.
Degree of support - is there sufficient evidence of local support for this proposal to be considered further?
5.18 While tested thoroughly during the statutory process of designation, Ministers will be keen to know the degree of local support for a proposal and the arguments being made for and against it locally.
Strategic contribution - Would the designation of the area increase the impact of Scotland’s National Parks as a whole?
5.19 The national intent and investment in an area should contribute to Scottish Government priorities and bring benefits to Scotland as a whole
5.20 Further work will be needed in developing these criteria as part of the guidance for nominees and for practical use in the evaluation. A key consideration will be keeping the nomination process as simple as possible, with clear and accessible language used throughout.
5.21 There was strong support for all the proposed criteria with a range of helpful suggestions made on improving some of their components.
5.22 Key suggestions or areas of difference between responses worth noting include the following.
- “Outstanding” national importance needs to be clearly defined. Some respondents - especially the individuals - suggested that this should be just about nature – others that it should be about social/cultural as well; while some suggested that it should be left for nominees to make the case for national importance, rather than predefining this.
- Many considered that Parks needed to be large to secure nature restoration, improve ecological connectivity and support nature networks. Administrative boundaries were an important aspect as well as consideration of the possible impact on surrounding areas. A diverse range of points was made in relation to the inclusion of settlements, intensive land-uses and large-scale infrastructure, with greater clarity sought in relation to large-scale wind farms and afforestation.
- In terms of added value, greater clarity was sought around the definitions of nature recovery, net zero and just transition: how these would be achieved and at what landscape-scale and time-scale. The types of infrastructure needed to contribute to net zero within National Parks needs to be made more explicit. Negative as well as positive impacts should also be considered.
- The relationship and different roles of other national designations needed to be more clearly explained, especially in the marine environment.
- There was strong support for considering in more detail the cost and benefits of National Park status compared to other mechanisms and approaches, including the financial impact on the public and private sector and communities.
- Equally, the degree of local support was considered essential by nearly all respondents, though views varied on how this could be assessed in practice and the extent to which communities of interest could be considered. The dangers of the loudest voices dominating was also noted.
- A range of Scottish environmental priorities was also suggested as important for the consideration of strategic importance. While National Parks are already recognised by IUCN as a protected area, it was argued that while they should contribute to 30x30 this should not be a result of designation of the whole area per se but rather its management.
- Throughout there were strong calls for community engagement and consultation to be at the heart of the selection process.
5.23 There were some differences in terms of relative ranking of the proposed criteria. In terms of the responses to the consultation, the largest call was for added value for nature recovery to be given the strongest weighting - though at the consultation events the ranking of these criteria indicated that outstanding national importance and support were the most important ones. Others argued for equal weighting between the criteria, or considered that the weighting may need be vary between areas.
5.24 There is strong support for the selection criteria proposed though the consultation has highlighted a number of concerns over their detailed components and the complexity of using them in the nomination process. Not surprisingly, some uncertainty also exists over the difference between this non-statutory stage of selecting new National Parks and the detailed consultation and assessment which is part of the statutory designation stage.
A simplified nomination process
1. A description of the proposed area (or options for the area);
2. A description of what is particularly special about the area and the issues in its long term management;
3. A description of the difference designating a National Park would make for both people and nature;
4. A description of who has been involved in developing and discussing the nomination, and the issues and opportunities that have been raised.
5.27 NatureScot considers that for 3 it will be particularly important for nominations to draw out the added value of a National Park for nature recovery and a just transition to net zero. For example, for the former, we would particularly want to see nominations for new National Parks set out clear and bold ambitions in relation to:
- landscape-scale habitat restoration drawing on the positive examples of Cairngorms Connect and the Great Trossachs Forest that have been established in the heart of the existing Parks;
- high level priorities for key species and wildlife management, including positive action for threatened species, the control of INNS and managing herbivore impact (including where relevant the reduction of deer numbers);
- making the changes needed towards nature restorative farming, forestry and marine use – for example the enhanced contribution that we should expect a Park can make to the national ambition to have at least 30% of Scotland’s land managed as nature-rich habitat with equivalent approaches for the marine environment;
- building community capacity and skills to steer, deliver and gain economically from these actions for nature recovery; and
- new funding approaches which combine private and public investment in natural capital.
Undertaking the evaluation of nominations
1. A scoring of each nomination against the individual criteria suggested in Table 5b – High Medium Low.
2. Using this scoring to produce an overall assessment for each nomination of the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats.
3. Using this assessment to rank or group nominations to indicate prioritisation for the Minister.
5.29 Care is needed to ensure that the evaluation process does not seek to replicate the detailed focus on the three statutory conditions for national park designation that will occur during the statutory reporting phase of a national park proposal. Nevertheless, the scoring phase is likely to require additional material, including quantitative data, to that provided solely by the nominations.
5.30 The proposed independent panel should be supported to work through this process by staff with a thorough understanding of Scottish National Parks. Either public servants or an external consultancy could be asked to provide this support.
5.31 The finalised assessment should be published alongside the Ministerial announcement on next steps in the process. To improve transparency of the process itself, nominees could be given the opportunity to comment on the first two steps prior to the third being completed.
Depending how it is planned and delivered, we consider that the evaluation process can be completed relatively quickly and should take no more than 8-12 weeks.
The need for greater policy clarity
5.33 A particular issue relates to large-scale onshore wind farms and other renewable developments. The Scottish Renewables Forum (repeated by separate responses from some individual energy companies) have re-stated their call for new National Park proposals to only be located within existing National Scenic Areas in order to protect renewable energy targets and the policy priority given to them in NPF4 and the new onshore renewable energy statement. Several responses also raised the issue of whether nominations which included large wind farms (or proposals for large wind farms) would be considered for National Park status given the current planning policy restriction in the existing National Parks, while others noted that these could be encouraged by new purpose/aims which emphasised net zero.
5.34 NatureScot remains of the view that there is space in nearly all parts of Scotland to accommodate new National Park(s) and large-scale wind farms. A clearer policy steer is now required from Scottish Government on current and future wind farm proposals which will come forward in the next couple of years, and how these should be taken into account in the selection of new National Park areas.
5.35 Similar issues were raised in respect of whether commercial afforestation should be largely excluded from a National Park or whether its presence is needed to support positive action on climate by the National Park.
5.36 NatureScot sees no reason in principle why larger areas of commercial afforestation as well as other more intensive land-uses cannot be included in a National Park provided that it complements the special qualities of the area and does not detract from their long-term positive management. There is useful experience of how both forestry and agricultural management can evolve towards more nature positive approaches within the existing National Parks which we can learn from in considering new ones. Nominations for new National Parks should therefore set out clear and bold ambitions for thetransformation of existing forestry and agricultural practice towards nature positive approaches.
5.37 Finally, we consider that further policy clarity is essential to support the discussion needed with marine stakeholders on possible coastal and marine National Parks. In particular, further work is required on the relationship between fisheries management, Marine Protected Areas (MPA, including Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA)), Regional Marine Plans and National Parks.
5.38 NatureScot can see no reason why both existing MPAs and new HPMAs cannot exist within and close to a coastal and marine National Park. More positively, we see their role as complementary and supporting both the proposed purpose and existing aims of National Parks, which collectively aim to secure the recovery of both nature and the local communities. A new coastal and marine National Park could provide a model of best practice in drawing together the different, often overlapping, designations and planning processes that exist and demonstrating how they can collectively be used to deliver a coherent approach.
Table 5A - Illustration of a proposed nomination template
|Notes for nominees
|Indicative Word count
Provide a name and simple written description of the potential area (or options for the area) including its main settlements and transport links.
Provide a non-technical description of what is special about the area and what are the current issues involved in its term management.
Make the case for the National Park by describing the key ideas and aspirations particularly for nature recovery and a just transition to net zero for the area. These could include:
The name of the lead group or organisation and their role in the nominated area.
A list of who has been involved in developing and discussing the nomination and a summary of the issues and opportunities that have been raised. As a minimum, this list should include local landowners and managers, businesses and young people.
Further material including simple maps, photographs, a list of relevant designations and quantitative data can be included in separate annexes if this is considered relevant to the nomination and useful in its evaluation. Each annex should be clearly linked to one of the four questions above.
Table 5B - A proposed framework for evaluating national park nominations
Outstanding Value –
Are the special qualities of the potential area likely to merit its designation as a National Park?
Size and Coherence –
Does the area proposed make sense as a National Park?
managed by a Park body
How would establishing a new Park help deliver nature recovery and a just transition to net zero in this area?
Added Value –
Is the investment in creating a new National Park Authority for this area justified in terms of these outcomes, or are existing approaches sufficient
Current degree of support –
Is there sufficient evidence of local support for this proposal to be considered further?
Strategic contribution –
Would the designation of the area increase the impact of the suite of National Parks as whole?